Harry pulled the invisibility cloak off Ginny and himself and they had only a moment to wait before Nott and Goyle stepped into the Astronomy tower.
"Potter," he sneered in lieu of a greeting. "Hope you said goodbye to your daddy or should I tell him for you? After you are incapacitated, that is."
Harry growled. "At least I know the tip of my wand from the handle, unlike your friend here."
Nott turned to Ginny. "A first year? Nice one, Potter. I knew getting that scar gave you brain damage."
"Can we just get this over with?" Harry snapped.
"Want to get back to your beauty sleep?" Nott said as he took up position.
They began to count. Nott turned a moment early and fired a curse at Harry. Harry was prepared for this sort of trickery and raised a block to absorb the bolt of light. Without hesitation, he shot a leg-locking hex back at his opponent. Nott dodged and the spell hit off the wall, catching Goyle in the back. His legs snapped together and he fell to the ground with a short yell. With the slash of his wand, Nott shouted a spell.
Unprepared for an unknown spell, Harry raised the only block he knew. The result was both Harry and his block flying into the air, Harry no more than a jumble of limbs. He could feel the pressure change as he accelerated towards the floor and fumbled for his wand. He could not point it fast enough and braced for the crash. In a moment reminiscent of his first Quidditch game, Harry was caught by his ankle inches above the floor, then lowered less than gently. Once he got his bearings, he glanced over at Ginny who bore a surprised expression. Harry rubbed his elbow and looked around in the darkness. Nott had frozen, seemingly of his own accord rather than by work of a spell.
A dark figure stepped out of the opaque shadows.
"Five points from all of you for being out of bed," Snape said in a tired and irritable voice as he waved the hex off of Goyle's legs. "And five additional points for unsupervised duelling."
Harry hesitated a moment, "But sir? Technically, you were here so doesn't that make this a supervised duel?"
Severus fixed Harry with an icy glare. "Fine. But if any of you are still here after ten seconds it shall be thirty points from your house."
They rushed to leave at this proclamation.
"But will you take thirty points?"
Severus sounded exasperated. "Of course not, you are staying on my command."
They were alone but a moment later. "The counter for that is extedartis. You may go."
"That's all?" Harry asked. "You don't have anything to say about the duel?"
Severus inclined his head. "What would you like me to say? It was very inexpert duelling on both sides. Tell me, if you had succeeded in hitting Mr. Nott with that leg-locking hex, how would that have stopped him from firing something else at you?" Severus shook his head. "I hope that you will give your moves more forethought at tomorrow's meeting."
Severus seemed distracted. "More like today's meeting now."
"Sorry," Harry said, genuinely ashamed that his guardian had woken up in the middle of the night to watch him fail miserably.
Severus shook his head. "I am glad that you did not think to conceal the details from me. You could have been seriously injured if Ms. Weasley did not react quickly enough with the cushioning charm she had prepared."
"How do you know she prepared one?" Harry asked.
Severus gave him a look.
"Oh," Harry said.
"Go to bed."
Harry strode to the door and turned. "Any chance I can get those points back if I go back to bed?"
Severus's glare implied that the answer was a no.
"So how did it go?" Draco asked eagerly as Harry rubbed his tired eyes. Draco and Ron had tossed back the curtains on Harry's bed, waking him up, in hopes of details.
"It could've been better," Harry admitted.
"Who won?" Ron asked.
"Er, no one exactly," Harry hedged. At their confused expressions, Harry explained Snape's intervention.
Ron made a disappointed noise, "I told you that he wouldn't let you have any fun."
"In your world, does falling on your head constitute fun?" Harry asked rhetorically, then turned mock thoughtful. "Though it would explain a lot..."
Ron punched him lightly on the arm. "Hey!"
"I feel horrible about losing those points though," Harry said, turning serious. "It's my fault for agreeing."
"Nah, don't worry about it, Harry," Ron said. "Fred and George have lost more points than they can count and we still won the cup last year."
"Yeah, just make it up in Quidditch!" Draco suggested. "Speaking of which, when are tryouts?"
Harry thought for a moment. "Today, I think?" he paused. "Oh Merlin, Quidditch tryouts are today!"
Draco looked nervous. Ron clapped him on the back. "Best get a good breakfast. I like to."
Draco gave Ron a quizzical look. "Are you trying out too?"
"No," he stated simply. "I just like to eat a good breakfast."
Following Ron's inexpert advice, they dressed and headed down to the Great Hall. Murmurs spread through the hall upon their entrance and Harry could guess the reason. One glance at Nott flailing his arms before a group of chuckling Slytherins confirmed that everyone had heard of the duel. Harry tried to force down a blush as he took his customary seat at the table.
"Hey Ginny," he greeted, leaning forward. "Thanks for your help last night."
"I didn't do anything," she said with a fierce blush.
"You would have."
Harry left her looking mildly confused and turned to explain the recent events to Hermione. Afterwards, he merely sat sipping his pumpkin juice.
"Harry, you really should eat something."
"But everyone is staring at me," he protested.
Hermione sighed and pushed over a plate of toast. "Its breakfast, nobody will care if you eat. You can't go through life wearing an invisibility cloak."
"Fine," Harry acquiesced. "Hang on, my invisibility cloak... I didn't bring it back last night! I left it in the tower."
Harry stood up to go fetch it.
"Harry, it can wait until after you eat," Hermione said. "I don't want you to pass out on your broom."
Harry rolled his eyes and took a piece of toast with him. He climbed quickly up to the Astronomy tower. When he arrived, he shoved the remaining food into his mouth so as to free his hands for groping on the floor for the invisible cloak. After several minutes of searching everywhere he had been, Harry came to the conclusion that the cloak was not the there. Dearly hoping that Ginny had scooped it up, he returned to the Great Hall.
Keeping his voice low, he asked her, "Ginny, did you bring the cloak back last night?"
Eyes wide, she shook her head. An uncomfortable feeling clenched his stomach as he sat to contemplate his next move. Severus. Rising, he strode confidently up to the head table and politely requested a word.
After erecting a silencing charm, Severus asked, "What is it?"
"Do you know where my Invisibility cloak is?"
Severus raised an eyebrow. "You mean to tell me that you misplaced your prized possession, the only token of your father and an expensive, if not priceless garment of considerable use?"
Harry winced, for Snape hit a sensitive point. "Um, yes?"
"Then you shall not get it back until you have learned some responsibility."
Harry relaxed, "So you have it then?"
"I did not say that," Severus stated cryptically and dissolved the silencing charm. He returned to his seat at the table, leaving Harry to ponder where the cloak was.
"Okay, uh, fly three laps around the pitch," Wood ordered. Harry and Draco shot off, racing around the pitch. After the third lap, Harry skidded to a stop, Draco right behind him. Angelina rolled her eyes. Next, Wood made them dodge Bludgers hit by a grinning Fred and George. If this was satisfactory, the students were allowed to try out for a specific position.
Harry hoped that he got priority due to his inclusion the year before. Even if he didn't, however, Harry realized that as a Seeker, he had hardly any competition. One boy was cut off after chasing the snitch around for fifteen minutes and another had thick glasses yet still mistook a dropped glove on the pitch for the snitch. After hurtling down at it and realizing his mistake, he was so embarrassed that he simply left. Those trying out for Chaser were decent but, in Harry's opinion did not match up to Katie, Angelina or Alicia. The Beaters were good but could not hope to be as in sync as the twins were. Oliver was obviously Keeper as he was the Captain. Assuming that Harry was given Seeker once more, Harry wondered if Draco would get a spot. He had tried out for all of the positions and was fairly good at each of them, though not outstanding in only one.
At last, Wood wrapped up the tryouts only a few hours before dinner time.
"Good job guys," he said. "We'll post the team in the common room in a week or two."
By the time they made it down to the first Duelling club meeting, Harry was thoroughly exhausted. Famished, he had eaten too much at dinner and was sleepy as a result. When the four of them walked into the room, they found it already filled with people. Harry pushed his way towards the duelling stage and ended up standing beside a Hufflepuff boy. He leaned over to Harry.
"I think half of this room is just here to see Lockhart duel Snape," he commented.
"Who do they want to win?" Harry asked.
The boy grinned mischievously. "It's mixed. Either way, its bound to be interesting."
Harry nodded earnestly. A few minutes later, Severus and Lockhart stepped onto opposite ends of the long, narrow stage.
"Welcome all!" Lockhart said with a smile. "I am very glad that you have decided to join me for some duelling lessons, not that I can blame you for wanting to learn from the best." He waited, as if this were a joke anticipating laughter. "Anyway, Professor Snape has graciously agreed to be my assistant, so do be kind to him."
Severus's glare could have frozen hot tea. A couple of people giggled quietly. In truth, it was an amusing picture: a tall, dark, glaring wizard facing a smiling blonde idiot in periwinkle robes. Harry chuckled to himself.
Oblivious to the students' true thoughts, Lockhart went on. "Well, Professor, shall we give them a demonstration?"
Severus nodded curtly and assumed his position at the center of the platform. Counting steps, they advanced away from each other, heels clicking in the silence. They turned simultaneously.
"Rictumsempra!" Lockhart shouted.
Severus lazily waved a block and returned with, "Expelliarmus."
Lockhart's gilded wand flew to Snape's hand.
"Well," Lockhart said. "I allowed him to do that as a demonstration. May I have my wand back?"
After handing his wand back, Severus resumed glaring.
Lockhart clapped his hands together. "Why don't we get some students up here?" he looked around. "Harry Potter, would you do us the honor?"
Harry rolled his eyes and reluctantly climbed up onto the stage.
"May I suggest someone from my own house?" Severus asked silkily, not waiting for a reply. "Nott."
Nott climbed up and stood proud and arrogant. They repeated the formalities much as they had the night before. In the crowd, Ginny craned to see. They turned and Harry raised his wand.
"Expelliar-" Harry was forced to cut off his spell in favor of blocking the Bombarda spell flying at him.
"No damaging spells!" Lockhart cried in vain.
Harry slashed through his block with a Petrificus Totalus, following Severus's advice from the night before. This was dodged and a blue jet of light shot in an arc in the air from Nott's wand. It materialized into a large black and green snake.
Harry froze as it slithered towards the crowd, hissing. At the edge of the platform, Seamus paled and froze. The snake's tongue tasted his fear.
"Back off," Harry ordered. The snake's head snapped towards him. "Back off," Harry repeated.
Severus shook off the shock and incinerated the snake. He shot a look at Harry. To anyone else, it would seem as if he were angry, but Harry saw the concern and worry underneath the façade. Harry's brows furrowed. Seamus looked up at Harry with horrified eyes.
"You creep. You should be in Slytherin. Stay away from me," he spat before turning and storming out.
Harry glanced around frantically. The crowd was silent and they all looked scared. Harry didn't understand why; he was only trying to help Seamus.
Lockhart laughed nervously. "Why don't we call it a night? Same time next week?"
No one answered.