He hadn’t asked a single question yet, which I took to be a good sign that he wasn’t demanding to be released. Then again it may have been because of the pace at which I was dragging him through the castle gave a subtle hint that now was not the time for conversation.
The door to the Room of Requirement materialised on sight and I pulled Fred through into the room, which was slightly smaller than an average classroom with very little in the way of furnishings. I closed the door with a wave of my wand and shrugged off my coat.
“Feel like explaining?” Fred asked finally.
“We,” I began, holding out my wand and gesturing for him to do the same, “are duelling. You are going to pretend I’m Draco Malfoy, or Umbridge, whoever, I don’t care, but you are going to throw every curse you know at me because you didn’t get to punch the shit out of Malfoy, and I’m going to block you. And we are staying in this room until you either feel better or one of us gets knocked out. Kapeesh?”
“I’m not fighting you. You’re a fifth year girl.”
“Oh, bloody hell,” I muttered. “I’m also the leader of Dumbledore’s Army, top of the school in practical Defence Against the Dark Arts, daughter of two Aurors and recipient of duelling lessons from Flitwick himself, I think I can handle whatever you throw at me. You can either fight, or you can storm through the castle and sit in gloomy silence with your other disgraced teammates.”
I knew I was deliberately winding him up, but I also knew I had to. And sure enough, it worked.
“Expelliarmus,” Fred muttered, and I blocked it easily.
“You can do better than that, I’m sure.”
It didn’t take long before the duel intensified; we were firing spells at each other of increasing complexity and I could tell his frustration was increasing; he was shouting incantations now with such force it was a wonder half the school didn’t come running and it was becoming more and more of a challenge to keep blocking and dodging the powerful spells.
I leapt aside from the bolt of red light, shooting a Petrificus Totalus in his direction.
“Finite,” I murmured calmly, negating the effects of the spell I had stupidly allowed myself to get caught by and sending another jinx at him.
And so it continued, for minutes, hours, I couldn’t tell. There was an intensity, a concentration written across Fred’s face; I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him even if I wanted to. Slowly, he calmed down, meaning the duel was entirely non-verbal and somehow even more intense, thought out, focused. I was exhausted, but I dared not let on, caught in a seemingly endless cycle of block, attack, block, attack.
We duelled on. I wondered when it would end, whether either of us would yield enough for the other to defeat, and continually watched his face for any signs of tiredness, for a desire to stop, but I saw none.
I was beginning to really regret this, realising the only way out would be to allow myself to be defeated. And I had gone against everything I stood for enough already, thank you.
To my relief, however, it was Fred who held up his hands in surrender only seconds later.
“Truce?” he asked.
“Thank Merlin,” I said emphatically, and promptly fell to the floor on my arse.
Fred joined me on the floor, though he was silent. We sat in a tense, awkward silence for a while; I should have moved, I should have said something, but I didn’t want to.
I wished I knew why he wasn’t saying anything. I wished I knew what was going on in his head—I wished I was actually a Legilimens, but Dad had drawn the line at Mum teaching me it, said it bordered on Dark magic and there was no positive use for it.
Most of all, though, I wished I knew who that damn Ravenclaw he liked was. It could be Lydia, maybe—she was bright, bubbly, cheerful, fun, and not a prefect. It could even be Cassie—she was loud, outgoing, a smartass, not a prefect, and she was the one who suggested the twins for that ridiculous list for Sleeping Dragons.
And then there was me, and all I had in common with him was red hair and a beater’s bat.
Not keen to dwell on this happy thought in the very presence of the source of the torment, I got to my feet, and Fred did the same.
“Feeling better?” I asked quietly.
“Unbelievably,” he replied.
I was suddenly aware of the tension in the room, and my heart began to pound as our eyes met. He was nervous, yes. Nervous in the same way that I was, though I knew I didn’t show mine. But there was something else…something in the way he looked at me, which pushed me to take a massive step which I thought should be enough to get me shifted into Gryffindor immediately.
“Fred,” I began, and was astonished when my voice didn’t crack or waver, “That Ravenclaw girl George said you had your eye on.”
I kept watching his face as he responded.
“What about her?” he asked, though his voice lacked the confidence his words suggested; he had reacted to that, but his eyes still hadn’t moved from mine.
He was really, really close.
Forget Gryffindor, I should have been in the Order of the Phoenix for this.
“She’s me,” I said simply. It was a statement, not a question.
“She certainly is.”
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