Chapter 6 : Darkness
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“Wow,” Scorpius says as we meet as a group in our usual corner of the common room. “Lily defeated Natalia Dolohov? I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”
“Neither,” Alyssa chimes in. “She’s never seemed the duelling type. Lily, I mean.”
“She was all right when we had the duelling club way back in the day,” I say. “She was only versing kids her own year though, so I didn’t really think much of it when she won. But she’s held off Damascus Zabini for an hour, and defeated Natalia.”
“Pretty impressive,” Jeremy agrees. “Though lucky for her, I suppose, if some of those curses had hit her she’d probably be in the hospital wing.”
I shudder. “Dark magic, you reckon?”
“I can recognise it,” Jeremy says quietly, and I regret raising the subject; like Scorpius, Jeremy’s parents and grandparents were involved in the Dark Arts and it’s something he’d rather forget about.
“We have to put a stop to that,” I say determinedly. “Dark magic anywhere is bad, but at Hogwarts? In a duelling club? Against my little sixteen-year-old cousin?”
“You’re telling them,” Jeremy says immediately.
I roll my eyes. “Man up, Jeremy.”
“You’re the Head Girl, it’s your job.”
“It’s not my job, it’s the job of Astoria, or McGonagall, or even the Aurors, but it’s not mine.”
“Then you’re telling Mum,” Scorpius says. “Though she’s probably already aware of it.”
“She hasn’t been to any of the DA meetings,” Alyssa points out. “Anyway, you could always talk to Lily, see what she thinks it was.”
“I don’t think she’d know,” Jeremy points out. “It’s not like she got hit or anything, thank Merlin.”
“And they were both duelling completely non-verbally,” Scorpius adds. “That’s what makes it hard. We can’t accuse them of using Dark magic unless we’re certain of it, and we can’t be certain if we didn’t hear the incantations or see the effects, no matter how highly tuned your intuition is, Jem.”
Jeremy grunts. “No harm in having a word to them, I’m sure.”
“And when was the last time you talked to any of the Darkies?” I ask.
“Talked to Damascus yesterday,” Jeremy says. “Asked him if he was going to be long in the bathroom, coz I wanted a shower.”
“That doesn’t count.”
“Sure it does,” Jeremy says earnestly. “A bit of general co-habitation conversation, shows we’re comfortable conversing with each other…”
“Then you can go ask Damascus very nicely to keep his duelling club magic legal,” I tell him.
“I’m all right,” Jeremy says. “Wouldn’t want to push the relationship, see.”
“And that’s why none of us are in Gryffindor,” Scorpius notes.
To say that Scorpius, Alyssa, Jeremy and I have avoided the Darkies for the past seven years is a bit of an exaggeration. We live with them; the Slytherin seventh-years are a relatively small group and seven years is a long time to share dorms with people without forming some kind of friendship with them. But the Darkies are different, it would be lying to deny it. They keep to themselves; their families are known to have connections to Dark magic (“Not that that means anything,” Scorpius has pointed out on several occasions) and they all seem slightly macabre; Emily Burke has drawn many a Dark Mark on the wall behind her bed and on her textbooks. They seem to get a kick out of intimidating other students as well; they stride down the corridors, heads held high, eyes blazing with purpose, never stopping to talk to other students. Dark is the best word I can use to describe them, too: not only for our suspicions on their magic, but in their appearance and attitudes as well. Damascus is big and brown; Natalia is thin and willowy, with shoulder-length black hair and dark makeup; Emily is pale with dark brown hair and piercing blue eyes, not as dark as the others, but somehow she comes across as more frightening than the other two; despite themselves, Damascus and Natalia seem human. Very powerful, but human. There’s something almost otherwordly about Emily, a sense that hasn’t really gone away even though I’ve seen the girl in her pajamas stressing about OWL exams.
So it’s to Natalia that I take my concerns about DA.
“Evening, Natalia,” I greet her casually. Sitting on her bed clad in green pajama pants and top emblazoned with the Slytherin serpent with damp hair, face free of makeup and a novel open in her lap, Natalia looks comfortingly normal and unthreatening.
“Rose,” she returns, which is as much of an invitation to keep talking as I’m going to get.
“Dragons Awakening tonight,” I begin.
“I was there,” she replies mildly.
“As was I, not sure if you noticed. Your duel with Lily Potter looked intense.”
“She shouldn’t have beaten me.”
“I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t surprised by that, but what I actually wanted to talk to you about was—how legal is your duelling magic?”
Natalia finally looks up from her book. “Legal enough,” she replies briefly.
“Legal enough?” I repeat.
“Look, Rose. Nothing I do in Dragons Awakening is going to land my opponent in the hospital wing with serious, irreversible injuries, or myself in Azkaban. I’m not that stupid.”
“Can you speak for Damascus and Emily as well?”
“I would assume so.”
“Nothing further,” I inform her, and make my retreat.
“Your holiday is over,” Scorpius declares ominously. We’re standing in the middle of the Quidditch pitch in the slowly closing darkness. It’s seven o’clock, it’s cold, it’s windy, and we’re not happy to be here.
“Wasn’t aware we had one,” Jeremy comments.
“We’re playing Ravenclaw in three weeks,” Scorpius continues. “Ravenclaw aren’t much in the way of competition, but I have a challenge for you. Let’s break some records this game, shall we?”
“Closest the Captain of any team has got to being murdered by his teammates?” Jeremy suggests.
“Grow some balls, Jeremy Nott, we’ve only had five practices this year. Do you want in this team or not?”
“Yessir,” Jeremy says humbly.
“All right, with that sorted, let’s get going. Alyssa, do you have something you can work on? Good. Danny, up the other end, I want us flying into the wind today. Rose, the Quaffle, if you please. Tobias, Anton—just some simple warm ups batting the Bludger back and forth would be good, then I’ll let you know what to do from there. Let’s go!”
Scorpius claps his hands sharply and kicks off into the air with Jeremy close behind him. I take the Quaffle from the wooden box on the ground and kick off, lobbing it towards Jeremy.
We’re in the air for an hour and a half, by which time the clouds have opened and the gloom and driving rain make visibility almost impossible.
“All right, you lot, that’s enough!” Scorpius yells, and we hit the ground with a relieved thud, trudging off in the direction of the changing rooms.
“Not bad,” he concedes, leading the way, “But there’s definitely some room for improvement. Rose, if you…”
“Tell me to fly any faster in a headwind and your ass is dumped,” I mutter through gritted teeth.
He holds his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. Practice tomorrow, same time.”
We groan, but I don’t think any of us were expecting anything different. The season starts officially in three weeks and Scorpius’s eyes are completely fixed on the Cup that has been residing in Professor Longbottom’s office for entirely too long.
“Lily,” the girl I duelled with at DA says, passing me in the corridor. I hesitate, wondering why she’s talking to me.
“I’m Natalia,” she says. “Perhaps you should duel with us again at DA next week.”
“Sure,” I agree, slightly confused by the offer of what seems to be friendship. By all accounts, she should hate me.
“You can duel,” Natalia explains briefly. “Not many others at Hogwarts can. You’re powerful, more so than most of the other students. If we’re going to benefit from Rose’s little idea, we have to be matched to ability.”
“Makes sense,” I agree. “Who’s ‘we?’”
“My friends,” Natalia says simply. “You met Damascus. And there’s Emily as well.”
“Right. I’ll see you then.”
“What did that creepy Slytherin girl want to talk to you about?” Molly asks conversationally.
“The DA,” I explain. “I duelled her last week and her friend the week before, and she invited me to join them. Says we need to be matched to ability.”
“What fun,” Cameron says. “I don’t think she’s cracked a smile the entire time I’ve been at this school.”
“They’re good to duel with,” I point out, though I’m not sure why I’m defending these people I don’t know and probably don’t really want to know.
Cameron raises his eyebrows. “Half those spells they were firing at you would have landed you in the hospital wing with life-threatening injuries.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t, but they seem the types.”
“Way to stereotype, Cam.” I can’t really deny his words though; I got the exact same impression from Damascus and Natalia when I was duelling them.
The next DA meeting, Rose is conspicuously absent.
“Family crisis,” Jeremy Nott explains briefly. “I’m sure you all know the drill by now. Track down some random to duel with, and go for it. No killing each other.”
I seek out Natalia and her friends, who aren’t hard to find standing in a far corner of the entrance hall.
“Hello, Lily,” the girl I haven’t met says. She has the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen, and the way they seem to be boring into me is slightly unsettling. “I’m Emily.”
I’m about to say ‘I’m Lily’ before I realise the uselessness of such an introduction and content myself with nodding.
“Shall we duel?” she continues, drawing out her wand.
Emily, I soon learn, is a very interesting duellist. She seems to be watching me more than firing off any hexes, casting shield charms before I even get a chance to cast my own spells, and catching me the moment my guard is down. For all this, however, I’m more powerful than her, and my spellwork is better. Emily tends to move slowly, and after twenty minutes I manage to defeat her with a series of twelve rapid-fire hexes.
“Emily needs to work on her speed,” Damascus explains. “Natalia usually duels with her, and she’s getting better.”
“You would have to.”
For the first time, I manage to have a good look around the hall as dozens of pairs battle it out. Everyone seems so clumsy, yelling incantations, mispronouncing incantations, being hit by stray hexes from other pairs and moving and reacting so slowly I can’t believe they’re not doing it deliberately.
“They suck, don’t they?” Natalia says dispassionately. “See why we asked you to join us.”
I can see. It seems the three of them form the elite of Hogwarts’ duellists, and now I’ve been invited to join them. A thrill courses through me at the thought; finally, I’m doing something others hadn’t predetermined that I would do.
For the next couple of weeks, I duel with Damascus, Natalia and Emily without too many questions being raised. However, this armistice is short-lived.
“You friends with those creepy Slytherins?” The inevitable question comes from Al just before DA.
“Not friends,” I correct. “They’re my duelling buddies.”
“Don’t befriend them,” Al warns. “They’re creepy.”
“You called them creepy just before, no need to repeat yourself.”
“Well, they are, and Mum and Dad wouldn’t be happy with you hanging around them.”
“For Merlin’s sake, Al, I’m sixteen years old! You are not my keeper!”
“You’re my little sister, and I’m looking out for you.”
“Don’t give me that shit, Al, you’re just one more person trying to dictate my life, and I’m sick of it.”
“What’s gotten into you today?”
“I’m on my period.”
It works. Al backs off, staring pointedly at his shoes as he retreats. I know he won’t be back for a long time, and pointedly leave the common room early to meet Damascus and Natalia on their way from the dungeons.
“I have an idea,” Natalia says at the conclusion of the evening’s DA meeting.
“Continue,” Emily says.
“We should meet more often. In the Room of Requirement. That way we can practice some more advanced magic, without rubberneckers trying to see what we’re doing.”
“Good idea,” Damascus agrees, glancing briefly at where Rose and Jeremy are overseeing things.
“You in, Lily?” Natalia asks.
I hesitate. Something tells me they’re going to practice using Dark magic, away from prying eyes. The warnings of Al, Cam, Molly and everyone else who’s warned me away from them flash through my mind.
Just another way of trying to dictate my life.
Emily’s watching me very closely, and I can almost feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end; she seems to be looking straight into my mind with those ice-blue eyes.
Natalia glances at Emily questioningly.
“We can trust her,” Emily says softly. “She’s a Gryffindor and a prefect, but we can trust her.”
“Trust me with what?”
“With us,” Natalia says simply.
“You go out with Lorcan Scamander, don’t you?” Emily asks suddenly.
“What’s he like?”
“Well, he’s…What are you asking?”
“Is he powerful?”
“Can he duel?”
“Would he ask questions about what we’re doing? Would he disapprove?”
“No way,” I say, shaking my head. “My brother and my cousins have told me you’re creepy and not to hang around you, but if Lorcan did that I’d dump him.”
“Bring him along, then,” Natalia says. “Emily? You agree?”
Once again she looks at me, once again I feel unnerved by her gaze.
Natalia nods. “We’ll meet you in the Room of Requirement tomorrow at seven, all right? Do you know where it is?”
“Opposite the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy on the seventh floor,” I recite. “Dad told me.”
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