Chapter 1 : The Dueling Contest
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The dream was always the same: the black nothingness of night, the icy breath on her neck, and the hiss of a heartless voice whispering in her ear. The more days she spent at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the more vivid the dream became.
There was no other word to describe the creature that clutched her arm, hissed in her ear, and sent chills through her heart. If he wasn’t a demon, then he was the devil himself. No other spirit could create such depression in her mind or unbearable coldness in her heart. She was dead in his grasp, and it terrified her when the same vision appeared night after night. Soon it carried with her through the day, making it difficult to concentrate on her schoolwork.
She tried to tell herself that it was simply a vivid nightmare. She didn’t believe in forewarnings or omens or anything of that nature. Only in dark fiction novels did those things appear.
But she was forced to dispose of all previous beliefs one night when she comprehended the words the demon was speaking to her:
“Why are you running from your destiny, girl? Your stubborn nature refuses to believe the truth I speak in your ear night after night. You are here for a reason, girl, and when the day comes when I claim you, you will have no choice but to run toward me and collapse at my feet. I am the only thing that matters now. I AM your future!”
Kiana Karn awoke with a start, clutching her hand to her racing heart. She closed her eyes and concentrated on slowing her breaths. When she was finally able to dispel the chilling gloom of the dream, Kiana turned in her bed and studied her fellow Hufflepuffs with intensity. She squinted in the darkness to study their forms, anxious to know if anyone had sensed her anxiety or – even less likely – experienced the same nightmare.
Kiana was somewhat disappointed when she listened to all four of her roommates breathing deeply and soundly. No one except her had been haunted by the vision-like dream. It had come from her mind alone.
To settle her mind, she closed it off, consciously trying to not think of anything as she lay back against her pillows. She had become accomplished at this from years of practice (she had been suffering from anxiety for most of her life and had trained herself in ways to fight it). Her dutiful practice, however, was broken that night as she subconsciously read the tiny numbers on her watch, which still lingered on her wrist.
It was 1:30 a.m.
“Shit!” she gasped, bolting upright and instantly throwing her yellow bedcovers aside. In her panic, she made more noise getting out of bed than she intended, and the girl to her right, Hannah Abbott, murmured sleepily and rolled over onto her side.
Kiana instinctively froze, holding her left shoe in midair as she waited anxiously for Hannah to either wake up or continue sleeping. Luckily, her soft breathing continued, so Kiana slipped her shoes on with haste and, grabbing her wand from her bedside, dashed out of her dormitory.
Fresh anxiety crept slowly into her mind, causing her stomach to tighten sickeningly. Kiana Karn had only been at Hogwarts for a few weeks, but somehow she had already found herself wrapped up in the secret activities run by the students. This particular activity – a dueling contest of some sort – had started off small and broadened to include quite a few students from three of the four Houses (Slytherin, of course, being that one House left out. Slytherins didn’t often engage with students from the other Houses). Kiana didn’t know how many kids she’d encounter when she arrived in the small, vacant classroom in the dungeons, but she hoped the amount didn’t overwhelm her.
As Kiana turned a corner and rushed down the staircase to the dungeons, she knew she should be grateful for this opportunity to meet more students at Hogwarts. She had transferred to the British wizarding school that year with a few friends (all siblings) once some vacant spots had opened up for foreigners. Kiana, knowing a decent amount about the renowned wizarding school in the U.K., was thankful to have gotten to Hogwarts at all so late in her schooling.
All her apprehensions about beginning a new school vanished when she had met Hermione Granger, a fellow sixth year who had welcomed her with open arms and even assisted her in a few subjects she struggled with. It was Hermione who had invited her to the dueling contest that night, and Kiana had quickly accepted her kind offer. Despite her fears about showing her dueling skills to a room full of mostly strangers, Kiana knew that, if she ever wanted to get out of her American clique, she needed to involve herself more.
And it all started that night.
“Kiana! You made it!”
Kiana had hardly begun to survey the crowded classroom before she was swept up in a tight embrace. Hermione Granger pulled back and beamed through her bushy brown hair. “I have so many people to introduce you to. Come on!”
Kiana’s head buzzed as she met face after new face, most of them Gryffindors like Hermione. She met round-faced Neville Longbottom, extroverted Seamus Finnigan, and a few others Hermione mentioned too quickly for Kiana to remember their names. Hermione did, however, halt in their tour around the room when she came to Ronald Weasley, Hermione’s best friend since first year.
“Pleasure,” Ron grinned as he shook her hand. “Hogwarts treating you well so far? It must be scary to come so late in your schooling.”
Kiana found her nerves calming as she picked up Ron’s relaxed demeanor. “Not too bad, though it’s hard to find new friends when all the cliques have already been formed. A few stares here and there…”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry about gossip, Kiana; we’re not used to getting too many foreigners here. Some may seem unkind, but most of them are enjoyable if you don’t count the Slytherins.”
“Yeah, a friendly handshake to a Slytherin may just be the last thing you do,” Ron added. “Unless you can duel properly.”
“I guess that’s why I’m here,” Kiana said with a shrug. “I just hope I don’t get paired up with a seventh year who has mastered the secret art of dueling. I may find half my brain missing within the first two seconds.”
“Excellent optimism, Kiana; that’s the reason we followed you to this one-of-a-kind experience.”
Kiana spun around to find her two best friends from America, Michelle and Jennifer Simonson, standing behind her with almost identical grins. Kiana couldn’t help but smile back, though their sudden appearance had created a painful jolt in her chest.
The girls, although sisters, were never mistaken for twins. Although both had the same dark brown hair, Michelle’s was straight and thin down her back, while Jenny’s curls were her trademark. Jenny was also two inches shorter than her sister, being the younger one and in fifth year. She was in Hufflepuff with Kiana, while Michelle had been sorted into Gryffindor.
Hermione, slightly familiar with the sisters, greeted them and quickly introduced them to her friends in Gryffindor. Kiana zoned out for a moment, studying the other faces in the room. There weren’t as many gathered as she had thought; she counted about twenty. She was only brought back to the current happenings when she heard Michelle’s voice beside her.
“So, where is this infamous Harry Potter we’ve heard so much about?”
Kiana, slightly startled to hear the name, whipped around to face her friend and studied her with a teasing smile. “You’re so typical,” she told her playfully. “You still mix up your worlds of fiction versus reality.”
Her words, surprisingly, caused a few pairs of Gryffindor eyes to rest on her. There was a tense silence where Kiana’s smile faded and she stared back quizzically. “What did I say? Don’t be so surprised that I actually picked up a mythology book in Hogwarts’ library and read it - I found Harry Potter’s tale to be intriguing. I couldn’t remember what century he was supposed to have lived in, though. You must remember, Michelle, since you brought him up?”
The faces who continued to gawk at her now looked almost embarrassed. Ron smirked a little, mumbling something as he turned away. Hermione swallowed hard, her face flushing, and mumbled something to Michelle at her side. Michelle frowned and replied with her hand over her mouth to keep Kiana from listening in.
Finally, Kiana could stand the strange silence no longer. “Okay, what the hell is going on? I could hardly have gotten my facts messed up…unless Harry Potter was a more recent hero. I guess I enjoyed placing him in medieval times in my mind; perhaps slaying a dragon or something…”
“This shows how often she’s read The Daily Prophet, for one thing,” Seamus said aloud with a chuckle.
Kiana’s brow furrowed in anger, and she was about to speak aloud some not-so-dignified words when the classroom door opened and two tall boys walked in. One was wearing Hufflepuff robes and Kiana recognized him almost instantly as Ernie Macmillan, but the other boy – a Gryffindor with messy black hair and glasses – she didn’t recognize.
While Ernie went to find another gathering group of Hufflepuffs, the Gryffindor boy stopped in his tracks and laid eyes on the pack of Gryffindors beside Kiana. His face went blank and his dazzling green eyes darted from person to person, finally to rest on Kiana’s face.
The sudden, intense gaze of the strange boy upturned her stomach, and, feeling the blood rush to her face, Kiana ducked her head and pulled Jenny aside.
“Will you tell me what’s happening?” she hissed to her friend, a sudden flash of anger filling her words. “Why does it seem like I’m suddenly the subject of some uncomfortable joke?”
Jenny looked like she was trying hard not to laugh. She was, after all, the comical one of the group. “Kiana, that’s Harry Potter.”
Kiana’s frown deepened and she shook her head in frustration. “This is one of the worst times for your jokes, Jennifer! I thought I told you…”
Jenny was shaking her head, too, but hers was one of apparent disbelief. “Kiana, you most likely read about Harry Potter in a history book, not a mythology book! He’s in sixth year, too, and is apparently ‘The Chosen One’ if I’m quoting the Prophet correctly. Are you really so out of the loop that you didn’t realize he went to school with us?”
Dazed and speechless, Kiana purposefully kept her wide-eyed gaze on Jenny so that she didn’t have to see whose eyes were locked on her from behind. She had the terrible suspicion that the full-bodied, live version of her mythological hero was staring at her with concern for her mental health.
To her infinite relief, a seventh year separated himself from the crowd and announced that the dueling contest would begin. He explained the instructions in a blur of rushed words, and Kiana had to concentrate hard to understand the rules. She heard something about several pairs all dueling at once during three rounds, then the winners dueling the winners until only two people remained.
As the room suddenly erupted in a bubble of voices and movement to pick who would compete in which numbered round, Kiana felt extreme nausea hit her like a brick. She staggered, holding a hand to her throbbing hand.
“Kiana, you can’t back out now!” Jenny whispered to her, translating Kiana’s scenario with one glance. “You’re the best dueler among us; this is your chance to impress everyone!”
“Fine,” Kiana muttered, grinding her teeth together as the seventh year announcer from before placed Jenny and Kiana together in round two. “But I’m going to act slowly and then you’ll hit me before…”
“No way!” Jenny interrupted, aghast. “You will be in this contest, Kiana, and you will try your best! I refuse to be your friend the rest of the year if you embarrass me tonight.”
“Harsh terms,” Kiana snapped back, but Jenny ignored her as she watched the first round of dueling pairs take their places. Kiana sighed and copied her, noticing Hermione and Ron standing opposite each other in the two rows of duelers. She almost smirked, for she knew only too well how quick Hermione’s reflexes were. Kiana, herself, had been caught at the receiving end of Hermione’s unpleasant jinxes and felt intense sympathy for her friend Ron.
Sure enough, Ron had been blasted to the floor within the first seconds of the round. Hermione looked pleased but not overly enthusiastic at her victory. Ron was grumbling as he wiped the dust off his behind and did not meet Hermione’s eye for quite awhile.
When round two began, Kiana once again contemplated hesitating with her attacks to be sure that Jenny hit, but after seeing the warning look in her friend’s eyes, Kiana was resigned to her fate. It took only a few well-aimed jinxes and spells before Jenny found herself on the ground with several boils along her limbs. Michelle quickly undid the jinx for her sister and Jenny was ushered away, but Kiana distinctly noticed the smile on Jenny’s flushed face. In one crazy moment, Kiana realized that it was Jenny who had not tried her very best during the duel.
Your turn will come, she thought menacingly as Jenny passed her a discrete wink. One day you’ll have to embarrass yourself in a room full of strangers and then…
“Hey look, the medieval dragon-slayer is dueling next!” Seamus Finnigan blurted out amongst a few chuckling boys. He caught Kiana’s eye and smiled kindly, letting her know he was playing with her, but Kiana simply grunted and turned away. She continued to keep her gaze away from Harry Potter in case he was passing her sickening looks or taunting her along with the others.
So Kiana was quite unaware of Harry’s victory the first time he dueled, as well as the second…She only focused on her own nerves as she dueled Michelle, then Ernie, and finally Hermione.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean for it to hit…” Kiana told her earnestly as her jinx was removed from Hermione.
The Gryffindor, to Kiana’s surprise, merely laughed. “Kiana, I swear that you’d rather duel with sticks instead of real spells. What’s the point of a dueling contest if everyone doesn’t want their spells to hit? Congrats, though, you were brilliant. I really had to stay focused!”
Kiana shrugged modestly as the announcer spoke to the room at large: “For our semi-final round, we now have two pairs: Ginny Weasley and Harry Potter from Gryffindor, Kiana Karn from Hufflepuff, and Terry Boot from Ravenclaw.”
At hearing Harry’s name, her insides gave another painful lurch, making her hold her hand across her mouth in case she vomited in front of everyone. She glanced longingly at the door, but she knew her friends would never let her live it down if she backed away now.
Thus, Kiana found herself gluing her gaze at Terry lest her eyes accidentally strayed to Harry.
Terry frowned within a few moments of her personal staring contest. “Blimey, don’t look so harsh! It’s only a silly contest.” He sounded like he was questioning her mental health, as well.
Kiana groaned and glanced down at the floor. “I’m a little out of my league, I think,” she mumbled, not sure if Terry had heard her or not.
“Duelers, begin!” came the announcement.
Terry responded quicker than Kiana would have preferred. She hadn’t quite prepared herself and had to twist her body hard to dodge the spell flying at her shoulder.
Determined to focus her mind only on the duel, Kiana narrowed her gaze at her opponent and shot every simple jinx she could remember. A few Terry only barely managed to rebound upon her, and Kiana acknowledged his unusual skill. She actually had to work at dueling this time.
Kiana did well at focusing only on Terry, so she was oblivious to what was occurring with the other pair – Harry and Ginny. It was only after she had successfully hit Terry with a leg-locking curse that she realized they were the last to finish.
She felt her stomach tighten into painful knots when she found herself staring into the curious green eyes of Harry Potter. She was immobilized by his gaze, as if he had spoken a silent spell and frozen her eyes.
It was not until the announcer’s voice blasted through the room when the spell was finally broken, and Kiana could divert her gaze and focus on the words being spoken.
“And now we have our final two challengers! Kiana Karn and Harry Potter will battle each other for the title of dueling champion.”
Kiana had to steady herself against the wall to stop herself from fainting.