"You played well," Nott said as he walked over to Harry.
"Thanks?" he replied slowly, surprised by the wizard’s appearance. "What are you doing here?"
"We were missing a third person for Monopoly, so figured we'd come over to see how you were doing in this Muggle sport instead. It was actually Professor Snape's idea." Nott smiled innocently at the man, who threw him a basilisk gaze.
"Well done, Potter. You're doing well on the field," said Severus, turning his attention back to Harry.
"Thanks." Harry smiled at the man.
"Come on, we're taking you to dinner."
"I don't have any money with me."
"Cut it up. I'm paying."
"Don't even start. We're skipping the part of the conversation where you refuse because you're not used to taking anything. Let's just go."
Harry nodded uncertainly.
Snape took them for a pizza at an Italian restaurant in the city centre. He also let them order a Coke, and of course, did not go without commenting on how unhealthy and worthless the drink was. The man himself chose lemon-ginger tea.
"Help yourself," he nodded toward the food as the waitress laid a hot pizza on the table. He also put a piece on his plate himself. "How is it going with Tobias?" Severus asked.
"Fine." When the man raised an eyebrow, encouraging him to continue, Harry added: "Well, we haven't argued lately. It's alright."
"Mmm, I'm glad that you had five whole days of relative peace. And what are your plans for the rest of the evening?"
"Well, I was going to go to the cinema, and I already have a ticket…." Potter hesitated. "Actually, I have two. One is free. I can give it away".
"How about the cinema, Theo? You've never been there, have you?"
"No, I haven’t, and I'd love to go." Severus knew very well that one of his favourite Slytherins was interested in Muggle culture and wouldn't pass on such an offer.
"Then it's decided, we'll buy one more ticket and go. What time does the film start?"
"Then, can we, on the way back, walk Potter home and go into the forest to pick up the bark of Wiggen's tree?" Theo asked. "It's a full moon in three days, and today is a perfect day."
"If you want to," Severus replied. He had no plans for the next day, so there was no reason not to sleep a little longer than usual. "I understand that you want to continue the experiment."
"What experiment?" Harry interjected, taking a long sip of his Coke. Severus winced as he imagined the acids in it eroding the kid's teeth enamel. However, he did not comment on it again. After all, they were supposed to celebrate the match Potter won.
"The one you were supposed to describe in your essay."
"Oh, yeah," the boy muttered, suddenly very interested in his slice of pizza. Severus narrowed his eyes.
"And, in your essay, did you agree with the thesis that plants harvested in the fourth quarter of the year are more potent in poisons; however, in healing potions, they are practically useless?"
Harry looked at Nott, who widened his eyes and began to shake his head, clearly gesturing for him.
"Er...No?" He replied hesitantly.
"Because... Is it about another quarter?" As soon as the words fell out of Harry's mouth, Theo did a facepalm.
"No, because the essay is not about that. There isn't even such a theory. I just made it up." Severus said calmly, rolling his eyes. It was so like Potter, to leave Potions homework until the last minute.
"Oh ... So ... I think we have a problem ... Are you sure there's no theory like that?" Harry smiled apologetically.
Severus noticed that when the boy knew he deserved to be told off, he usually became passive-aggressive, at least towards him. He would raise his chin arrogantly and begin to talk back, grunt something under his breath, or less often, he would be visibly frightened, and cringe. The fact that the boy was making a joke at this point was decisive proof that there was a positive change in their relationship. However, Severus did not miss that the kid inadvertently glanced at the front door, clenching his hands on the edge of the table. Every muscle in the boy's body was tense. Evidently, even if unknowingly, he was prepared to flee. Potter just waited for his reaction.
Severus' expression softened.
"Yes, there is definitely no theory like that. So, what's your suggestion to resolve this problem, hmm?"
"I promise that I'll do nothing else but write essays this week?"
"It's almost the end of August, so I guess you won't have a choice. But I'd like you to try not to lie to me again," the Potions Master said, ensuring his voice didn't show any trace of irritation.
Potter relaxed a little. Contrary to what Severus had thought about Potter for the past four years, his tendency to lie was not at all the result of mythomania or wanting to brag. The boy didn't invent nonsenses out of pure spite or to get others in trouble. Potter just lied to the authorities because he was simply terrified of the consequences. "Come to Flukey Road tomorrow, and you will write them at mine."
"Thanks, but I can handle it myself." The boy rejected his offer without hesitation.
"Potter, I'll see you at my place tomorrow. You can't leave everything to the last moment. And knowing you, just like the previous two months, you won't do it tomorrow either, because you'll find something more interesting to do. And at least at mine, you will have peace, quiet and books that you can use to write the essay at some acceptable level.”
"What difference does it make? I always get poor or dreadful anyway."
"If you leave everything for the last minute and then unreadably scrawl or confuse the basics, it's no wonder," Severus snapped.
"I don't always leave everything for the last moment. Sometimes I just can't write it earlier, and sometimes it's not even up to me.”
"If you mean your aunt and uncle who locked up your school supplies..." Severus saw in the Dursley's mind that he chained and padlocked Potter's trunk, books and wand so that the boy did not actually have access to them. “That would be an explanation, if you were spending your entire summers with them. But as far as I know, you hadn't been, so it's a really lame excuse. Come tomorrow, I will check the essay for you right away and, if necessary, tell you what you need to improve.”
"I'd rather not."
Merlin, why was this kid so stubborn? Why did he always have to put his patience to the test?
"I see. It's your choice," Severus decided to approach him from a different angle. "But if your level of work is below satisfactory, you'll earn a detention with Filch."
"Why on earth? Nobody gets detention for poor homework."
"Professor Snape has all Slytherins rewrite essays that he thinks are of an inappropriate level."
"But why?" Potter raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"I don't know if you are aware of it, but teachers ask students to write essays to get them to learn something, not because checking homework is their hobby. Believe me, we'd find more interesting things to do in our free time. Also, since I introduced this rule, the Slytherins have improved their Potions' final grades by twenty percent. Nobody wants to write the same thing twice."
"But I'm not a Slytherin, and to be honest, I don't see myself being treated as one of them," the boy said, clearly terrified at the prospect of more study.
"Then I advise you to extend your field of view, Mr. Potter. I'm going to make sure your grades improve, and if that means detention, I have no problem giving you one."
"I think I'm going to pass." Severus looked at him pityingly, and Potter sank back against the chair, finally realising that he would not win anyway. "Okay, but what do you care about my marks? They are my marks."
"Potter, I just care." The man didn't seem entirely comfortable saying it out loud. "I care about your marks as much as I care about marks of every Slytherin of mine. I don't know, maybe you hadn't realized it yet, but you go to school to learn, not to kill basilisks, free unjustly convicted murderers, or save philosopher’s stones. You need to pass NEWTs to get a good job and have any prospects for the future."
"What future?" Potter shrugged. "Let's face it. There is no future for me. Voldemort will see to it." As soon as he uttered the last sentence, he put his hand to his mouth, apparently surprised himself that he had shared his fear with his companions.
It stopped Severus a bit. Did the boy really think he would not survive the upcoming war? He himself knew only part of the prophecy, and Dumbledore assured him that Potter didn't even know it existed.
"What are you talking about, you idiotic child?"
"I'm just saying aloud what we both know. I have no chance against him, and he won't rest until he kills me, and it will happen sooner or later. So please don't tell me that I have any future."
Severus looked at Theodore. The Slytherin stared at Potter, uncertainty rising in his eyes.
"Potter, I promise you that I will do everything in my power to help you survive this war. And I also promise you that if you do any foolishness just because you think your life doesn't matter because the Dark Lord will kill you anyway, you will suffer. I will turn your life into hell, and compared to me, the Dark Lord will only seem like a nice old grandfather. Do you understand?" The teen looked at him intensely, as if trying to see if he was telling the truth or just saying empty words of consolation. "We'll beat him. He's not indestructible," Severus added confidently, though he doubted it himself. "And you, Potter, have a future, and I'll take care of it. Just work on it to make it as good as possible."
"Okay," he replied softly, looking down. Severus wasn't convinced Potter believed him.
"Now get on with your food because you're nibbling again."
As planned, after dinner they went to the cinema (Harry was delighted - every detail of the movie was clearly visible on such a huge screen, and in addition, the sound was coming from all sides), and then went with Snape and Nott to the forest to look for the bark that Theo had mentioned.
As midnight approached, they escorted him home. Before opening the door, he turned and looked at the retreating silhouettes of the two Slytherins. As ridiculous as it might sound, he'd rather go back to Flukey Road with them.
Already from the entrance, he heard loud conversations and laughter. Apparently, Tobias had visitors. Harry headed for the kitchen, which was all covered in cigarette smoke. Tobias was sitting at the table with his friends, playing cards.
"Hello," the boy grunted, marking his presence.
"Harry!" The man exclaimed. "Look at the time! Where are you wandering around at night?!"
"I was at the final match. You said you'd come…" the teen said. Even though he had a nice time in the company of Theo and Snape, he still felt disappointed that Tobias had ignored him and apparently chose the company of colleagues and alcohol.
"Oh, that's today?"
"No. I've just got back from tomorrow's game." Harry couldn't help but make an ironic remark that Tobias didn’t even notice.
"It slipped my mind. But at least you won?"
"Yes, I scored two goals."
"My boy!" The man exclaimed and turned to the other men sitting at the table: "See, Sam, what kind of kid I have? He rocks next to that pompous asshole Brown's whelp."
Harry's father's friends laughed loudly.
"If he's so good, let him play with us. Can you play poker?" One of them asked.
"A bit, but I'd actually rather go to bed now," Harry said, completely reluctant to sit with them. Besides, he was exhausted, and he had promised Snape that he would come over to write these essays the next day and he would like to finally get some sleep. Maybe Snape was right, and Harry would actually write them faster there. Plus, the man said he had books he could use. Not to mention that Snape's house seemed so cosy compared to this house, where the smell of cigarettes and alcohol was always in the air. In addition, here, he had to deal with Tobias' changing moods, which made the teenager feel constant tension.
"Oh, shut it, kid. Sit down." One of the men pulled him so that Harry sat down in the chair, and then the man put his hand on the boy's shoulder. There was an unpleasant smell of alcohol and cigarettes on the breath. “Why are you so shy?"
Fortunately, after a while, the man left him alone, took the cards and began to deal.
After two hours, he finally managed to get out of the game and go to his room. But he couldn't sleep. He still could hear a loud conversation coming from downstairs. Someone broke some dishes. After a while, the men started arguing.
Harry really wanted them to go away, and he was a little jealous of Theo for having peace and quiet every day. On the other hand, Harry consoled himself. He was still in a privileged position compared to Nott. At least Tobias wasn't a Death Eater.
His father's friends left in the morning, and Harry fell into a short, restless sleep.
Saturday, August 19th, 1995
When Harry came downstairs in the morning, he found Tobias sleeping on the couch. The kitchen looked like a hurricane had passed through it, and the worst part was that there was a huge red stain on the wall right next to the door frame leading to the living room. It looked like a glass or a bottle of wine had been thrown at it. Harry clenched his fists. The whole week he had been burning candles at both ends just to finish painting, and obviously, Tobias didn't give a damn about it.
"Harry, are you up yet?" He heard a man's husky voice from the living room. "Get your father some water, huh?"
Harry obediently poured water into the glass and handed it to the man.
"How are you?”
"Ill. Ya'know I'm not young anymore." Harry nodded, seeing no point in trying to make him realise again that it wasn't due to old age that he barely moved. "Take the money from my jacket and go to the store. I don't know... Maybe the beer will help me."
"But I don't have time. I have to go." Harry checked the time. He had fifteen minutes to get to Snape's on time.
"You can go out later."
"I can't. I don't want to be late."
"And where are you going so early?
"To a friend's house..." Harry lied.
"Nothing important then." Tobias waved his hand dismissively. "Hurry up with the shopping then. And I've run out of ciggies too. Buy two packages." Harry made a vague sound of frustration that Tobias completely ignored and ran to the store, cursing the man under his breath.
When Harry returned home twenty minutes later, Tobias was taking a shower. He went into the living room to take the keys he had left there the day before and froze when he saw the man's leather belt lying on a coffee table. Next to it was a parchment with the Hogwarts emblem and an envelope addressed to Tobias. The parchment looked as if Tobias had crushed it in anger and then straightened it. Harry felt sick. He did not believe that his marks could be so bad as to make the man mad.
With trembling hands, he picked up the parchment. It was the list of subjects and marks he received at the end of the year. Harry looked through them. Of course, he couldn't compare them to all Outstandings, which Hermione must have gotten. Still, there were mostly Acceptables and Exceeds Expectations on the parchment. Only Potions, Astronomy, and History were below. Harry grinned when he saw the last subject. He got two hundred and forty percent and an Outstanding mark in DADA. On the back of the parchment were notes about him written by all the teachers. Funny, or perhaps more pathetic, was the fact that the first one was written by fake Moody.
Interestingly, the man was very flattering about Harry's skills. Apparently, the teachers' opinions had been prepared before the final of the Triwizard Tournament. The following note belonged to Flitwick. He could see that the professor liked him. He wished the Dursleys had shown him these letters.
Suddenly he heard the characteristic sound of creaking stairs. After a moment, he heard Tobias making his way toward the living room. When he saw Harry, his eyes narrowed.
"What the hell is that?" The man hissed in a tone that made Harry tremble.
"My marks," he replied, swallowing. He didn't know why Tobias seemed so furious. After all, his grades were quite good. He doubted Ron's or Neville's marks were any better.
"You call those fucking marks?" Tobias shouted, and Harry flinched. "Are you really that stupid? Or just lazy? I will fucking teach you!"
"I'm not ..." Harry shook his head and took a step back as Tobias walked over to the coffee table and picked up his black belt. Seeing that, Harry really got scared.
"They're not bad.” When the man shot him a furious look, Harry added quickly: "Tobias, please calm down. I promise they will be better this year," he said pleadingly, and his breathing quickened.
"Of course, they will. Take off your pants and lie down on the couch." Harry took another step back. He couldn’t believe this was really happening. "You'll see. You'll fucking learn a lesson; you'll remember once and for all."
"Tobias, please. Really, I promise." Harry was aware of how much he was grovelling in front of the man, even though he saw little chance that Tobias would change his mind. The man was too furious, and Harry had already found out that no arguments appealed to him when the man was like that. Still, he kept trying. "Look, I have the Outstanding in Defence, two hundred and forty percent, best in class," Harry stepped back even further so that he was already standing against the wall. Unfortunately for him, Tobias was blocking both the kitchen and yard doors, and Harry had no way to escape.
"I said something," Tobias growled and swung the belt with all his might, hitting Harry in his thigh. The boy inhaled deeply. It stung terribly. He cringed, pressing even farther into the corner. At this point, all of Riki's lessons seemed to be useless. He couldn't defend himself against an ordinary Muggle. "I'm counting to three."
"Tobias," Harry tried to talk Tobias over once more. "Dad, I'm sorry. I promise. Listen, in the next letter, you will see all Exceeds Expectations and Outstandings. I will be studying all the time. Give me a chance."
"One," Tobias said, trying to hit him again, but Harry was pressed into the corner in such a way that the belt hit the wall, losing all of its strength.
This made Tobias even angrier.
"Dad, please, I'll impr ..." Harry couldn't finish because the man pulled him by his sweatshirt and threw him effortlessly onto the couch, then began to swing the belt without any mercy. At first, Harry gritted his teeth as he silently tried to endure the torture, trying not to give the man any satisfaction. After a while, however, the pain became unbearable, and the boy started screaming, begging Tobias to stop, promising everything came to his mind. Finally, he did not even have the strength to do so and only cried softly. Tobias was adamant. Harry didn't know how long the man beat him, and he didn't know how long it would have been if they hadn't heard the doorbell. The man hit him one last time.
"You are lucky." He growled, tossing the belt to the floor. "Stop blabbering, or you'll get it again," he said, then went to open the door.
As much as he would have liked to curl up in a ball, Harry had to get up. He didn't want anyone to find him in such a compromising situation. Harry's lower back, thighs, and buttocks were burning hot. He wiped his face with his sleeve and slowly rose from the couch. He shuddered as he looked down at the floor, where Tobias had left his thick belt, and he gave it a wide berth. He was sure the man had cut his skin in several places.
"Harry," Tobias reappeared in the room. "Some whelp is asking for you. Say you won't go out because you're cleaning. And after that, you will study,” he growled.
Harry slowly made his way towards the front door. Every step hurt him.
"Nott?" He said, slightly perplexed, wiping his nose with his sleeve, "What are you doing here?”
"What's wrong, Potter?" Nott asked, seeing his flushed face and swollen, glazed eyes. Harry felt absolutely humiliated by the condition Slytherin had found him in. He hoped Nott couldn't hear anything when he stood outside the door.
"Nothing. What d'ya want?" He repeated, a little less polite this time.
"Snape asks why you didn't come today as you promised."
"I didn't feel like it," he lied easily. "Besides, I didn't promise anything. I will write essays home." Nott raised his eyebrows in disbelief, and Harry looked away.
"No. I'm not going to go to Snape's. Anything else? Coz I'm busy."
Theo opened his mouth to say something but closed it, changing his mind. Instead, he said:
"Are you going to go to this party tomorrow at the end of the Muggle football season? Chloe invited me."
Harry felt terrible. His whole backside burned him, and he knew that every step would hurt him when he bruised tomorrow, let alone sit. He turned uncertainly to see if Tobias was standing behind him. The boy also doubted the man would let him get out of the house anyway.
"I don't feel like it," he said shortly.
"Come on, Potter ..." Theo said almost pleadingly. "Just for a bit."
Harry hesitated; Nott rather avoided such parties.
"Why do you care so much about it?"
"It's about Chloe. I think, paradoxically, Snape will be more willing to let me go if you are there too."
"Yes, it does sound a little absurd." He shifted from foot to foot and flinched as the rough material of his pants slid over his sensitive skin.
"If you go, I could say I'll keep an eye on you, so you don't do anything stupid," he said, ignoring Harry's "hey". "And Snape also realises that being in a group with you and your friends will be safer than if I went alone."
"Well… there is something to it." Harry smiled slightly at the strange logic of Nott.
"Get rid of him and go home this instant!" Gryffindor flinched once more, hearing Tobias' voice suddenly coming from the kitchen.
Nott looked at him more closely.
"Are you sure everything is okay?" He paused, then added: "If you need, I can go get Professor Snape."
"No!" Harry said instantly, sharper than he intended. "Don't you even dare mention anything to him. Everything's fine."
"Promise me you won't tell him anything, please."
"Potter, um ... Harry, listen ..."
Harry shook his head.
"Promise me. Prove me that I can really trust you," the Gryffindor said softly. He had to make sure Theo didn't say anything to Snape, which would only worsen his situation. What could a Potions Master do? Come and talk to Tobias? It would only make the man more furious, and he would take revenge on him later. Besides, he was terribly ashamed of the situation. He hoped Nott wouldn't blow it any further, and preferably he would forget about it.
"Harry, that's not fair." The Slytherin looked at him seriously.
"Please." There was desperation in Harry's voice.
"Okay,” he sighed. “I promise," Nott agreed, but the look on his face showed that he wasn't convinced at all.
Harry jumped when he heard the sound of the chair being pulled back and the quick footsteps of Tobias making his way towards the front door.
"Go now, Nott; maybe I'll see you tomorrow. At the pub."
Suddenly Harry felt a blow to the back of his head. Tobias didn't slap him hard, and it didn't even hurt him that much. The problem was that Nott witnessed the man's behaviour as he was still standing in the doorway.
"Didn't you hear? Get out of here," Tobias growled at Theo and slammed the door in his face. "And you, go clean the kitchen. Now!" He turned to Harry, who obeyed him without hesitating, not wanting to get hit again.
Sunday, August 13th, 1995
Harry had spent the whole previous evening lying on his bed trying to write the Potions essay. He's already finished the entire essay on Divination. After he briefly summarised the acacia leaf fortune telling theory, he moved on to describing the prophecies he had "foretold". In short, he did not spare Tobias (described anonymously as "a tall, black-haired Muggle with a huge crooked nose"). This way, he tried to release his anger by describing the unluckiest day that could happen to anyone. The man ended up drenched in yellow paint, glue, all feathers from a ripped pillow and a broken nose.
Not really wanting to show himself to the man, Harry only came downstairs when the man called him for dinner. He asked Tobias if he could eat upstairs. His father agreed, and Harry, deciding to keep up the momentum, asked if he could go to the end-of-season party where all the team members would be. The boy also suggested that his presence was almost mandatory. Again, the man did not mind. Or, to be precise, he said that he could "go wherever he fuck wants to", so Harry decided to take this opportunity.
There was a whole team in the pub, players' friends, and even a coach with his company. Noticing Nott sitting alone at the bar, he walked over to him.
"Hi," he said.
"Potter," Nott sized him up. "Are you okay?"
"Look, I wanted to talk to you about yesterday. Maybe you should talk to..."
"Yesterday, Tobias had a bad day." Harry interrupted him. "Nothing to worry about. Today it's already okay."
"No, we won't talk about it. You promised," Harry said firmly.
"I promised I wouldn't tell Snape anything, but I didn't mention that I wouldn't try to convince you to ask for his help yourself."
"Nott. I don't need any help. It's fine." He clenched his fists. Anyway, in less than two weeks the summer ends... And the case will be closed. We're not going to talk about it anymore."
"Okay, calm down." Theodore sighed. "Anyway, thanks for coming. I'm buying you a Coke."
Harry agreed. He himself had no money with him. Tobias was still furious, and Harry didn't even dare ask him.
"Where's your girlfriend?'' Harry asked, changing the subject.
“She went shopping with her parents in London. She will come a little later.”
After a while, Pele and Oasis joined them, and they all went to occupy the box between the window and the pool table. They decided to play a few games, so Roo rented pool balls and cues. Harry was with Nott during the first game, and Pele was with Oasis. Harry and Nott lost. Harry was on the team with Oasis, Roo with Pele, and Nott, seeing Chloe standing by the bar, joined her during the next game. Moments later, Harry and Oasis won because Pele shot the black ball into the pocket. The Gryffindor decided to wait out the next round, and Dunkan came in this time.
Harry watched his friends play for a moment, then looked around the room. The coach sat in the corner talking to people he sometimes saw at matches, utterly oblivious to the youth. Harry looked towards the bar.
"Shit," he cursed under his breath and hurried off in that direction.
Dredd and his friends were surrounding Nott. Even in the room's dim light, Harry could see that the Slytherin's face was turning red with anger or embarrassment. The boy clenched his fists and took a step back as Dredd approached him. Harry tried to speed up, but there were a lot of people in the pub, and it wasn't easy to get to the other end of the room. Dredd pushed Nott, knocking a Coke glass from his hand.
"Leave him alone," Harry growled, finally standing next to Theo. He was furious. The situation was similar to that of a few weeks ago when Dredd started harassing the boy for no reason whatsoever. But now Harry felt a lot angrier. A few weeks earlier, the young wizards had been talking about a truce and an alliance against Voldemort. Still, at this moment, Harry realized he had become attached to a Slytherin. He no longer treated him as a mere acquaintance or ally but more as a friend. And it seemed to him that he would not have felt angrier if it had been Neville, the twins or Ron or Hermione in the boy's place.
"Easy, Potter, it's all right," Theodore said, but his voice was subdued.
"Dolly, hello," Dredd laughed unpleasantly. "And fuck off. It's not your business."
"I already told you to leave Theo alone. What the hell did he ever do to you?" Harry snapped.
"He's a freak! He has a screw loose. This head case just called the cash register an electronic device. He counted the money for a Coke as if he was ten years delayed in development. That's enough."
"Take it back!"
"And you? Who do you think you are to tell me what to do? You pretend you’re so cool, when in fact, all of you are just one big fucking pathology. Because of you, this country goes to the dogs. Your old man begs for another bottle of vodka in the store, your brother is a freak who looks like he was dropped off from a Halloween party, and he's taken in a boy who's so dumb it's a wonder he doesn't trip over his own legs." Dredd's friends laughed, and he, encouraged by their reaction, continued: "By the way," Dredd looked Harry straight in the eye. "There’s a big age difference between him and this freak ..." He nodded at the embarrassed Nott. "Half his age. Doesn't your brother know it's illegal?" Harry's blood boiled. Nothing mattered to him anymore, and he threw his fists at the much taller boy. He didn't care that he didn't stand a chance against him. The Gryffindor just wanted Dredd to regret his words. How dare he say such things. The teen didn't even notice when Nott tried to stop him.
"Enough! Enough I said! What the hell is going on here!" Harry heard the coach's voice as Nott finally managed to pull him away. A dozen or so people were standing around them now, including the coach and his friends. Oasis and the rest of the boys started pushing their way through the crowd toward them as well. Harry wiped his chin as it dripped with blood. Dredd did not remain indebted to him, having also inflicted a few blows.
One of the coach's friends approached Dredd, trying to take his chin in his hand to examine the injuries, but Dredd pushed his head away.
"Jeez, don't come down on me," he growled at the man who ignored his words as he turned to the coach.
"That little whelp," the man growled, pointing at Harry, “went at my son. Martin, I will not allow this kind of behaviour. He's out of the team."
"John," the coach replied, raising his hands reassuringly. "It's offseason already. There is no point."
"I am well aware that this season is over. I meant the next year. This boy is aggressive. There is no place for fist-fighting in our team."
"It's just boyish antics." The coach tried to reason with the man, then walked over to him and whispered something in his ear.
After a moment's thought, the man nodded and turned to Harry.
"Give me your father's phone number."
Harry paled at the words.
"I ... but we don't have a phone," he stammered. He was suddenly all too aware of the pain he still felt from yesterday's licking. He felt sick.
"Harry just stood up for me," said Nott. "That boy," he pointed at Dredd, "provoked him."
"I don't care. We are here because we’re celebrating a sporting event, and there is no place for violence in sports. This is not how arguments are resolved." The man turned to the coach again. "In this case, Coach, drive him home and talk to his father. After all, it is you who organized this motley crew, and you are responsible for these boys."
"I really didn't mean to hit him. Please don't tell my father about it," Harry whispered as they sat alone in the coach's car, increasingly frightened at the prospect of meeting Tobias.
"You make stupid decisions. You suffer. Mark's father is one of the sponsors of the team. I can't be seen to do anything, or I'll lose my job. It’s only because I said it was thanks to you that we won the final that you’ll be able to play next year."
Even when Harry told the coach that he could quit the team as long as the man wouldn’t tell Tobias about the incident, the man refused to agree with his proposal. The coach told him to pull himself together because he needed him for the team next year, and the boy should be grateful to have a chance to play.
The trip to Spinner's End was too short. Harry thought he was going to throw up with fear. He would rather face the Hungarian Horntail once again than face his father. As they approached the door and the coach knocked, Harry prayed silently that Tobias wasn't home. Of course, the Gryffindor was not so lucky, and as the coach talked about the incident, sheer rage appeared on Tobias' face.
"Thanks for bringing him. I'll take care of it," said Tobias. He then said goodbye to the coach, grabbed Harry by the sweatshirt and closed the door. "What the fuck is wrong with you ?!" He started screaming, specks of saliva flying over Harry's face.
"Nothing, I'm sorry." Harry started shaking, unable to control himself.
"You're only about to be fucking sorry. Wasn't it enough yesterday? Did I go too fuckin' easy on you and teach you nothing? Or should I whip you on the off-chance every day so that you remember not to do anything stupid? This time, you'll get it so bad that you will fucking remember. You'll be dancing like a fucking peacock."
Harry was terrified. There was no way he would withstand another beating from Tobias. Not so soon after the last one, when he was still covered with fresh bruises. He panicked. He crouched down, simultaneously raising his hands and manoeuvring his head so that he got free of his sweatshirt and before Tobias realised he was running up the stairs to his room.
"Come back, you little bastard," came Tobias's voice. He heard the man rushing upstairs. Harry closed the door. The only way out was the window. He opened it, put his legs over the sill and, catching his hands on it, slowly lowered himself. He was still about a metre and a half to the ground. Still, hearing Tobias open the door, cursing loudly and threatening Harry, he jumped without hesitation. As he felt a piercing pain in his ankle, he remembered Snape's words about being careful with his foot. A little too late. But, he had to run before Tobias caught him. He limped as fast as he could towards the park. Harry was going to Flukey Road. Snape had offered him repeatedly to come over, and if Harry told him that he had argued with Tobias a bit, maybe he would let him stay overnight.
After a dozen or so metres, the pain in his ankle seemed unbearable. He had to rest for a while. He managed to reach Nott’s bench, hidden in the shade of the trees. The teen sat on it. As his bruised body demanded that he change position, he lay on his side, pulled his knees to his stomach, and wrapped his arms around himself. To make matters worse, it was starting to rain, and he was wearing only a thin T-shirt.
How much he dreamed right now about sitting on the couch in Snape's living room, covered with a warm blanket, and drinking hot tea with lemon and honey. He wiped his hand over his wet eyes and shivered with the cold.
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