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Chapter 11 : Rules of the Challenge
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 27|
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by Grelda Wumpus
2 June 1998
Early this morning I was able to snag an exclusive interview with none other than Vincent Crabbe, age eighteen, who is one of this year’s competitors in the races! After ordering enough cauldron cakes between the two of us to put Mr. Taffet out of business, we sat down in a cozy booth overlooking the main street and chatted about the dangerous adventure he will be embarking on in just three hours from now.
With a quill in my hand and my heart in my throat, I asked, “Do you think you’re ready for such a physically and emotionally demanding tournament?”
“I suppose,” he said, although in this reporter’s experienced opinion, he looked as though he wanted to share more information but did not dare for fear of giving his opponents an insider view of his skills.
I switched to a new question. “What made you want to enter the Devil’s Duel? Is it a quest for fame? A twisted wish for mortality? Did you join because you have a girlfriend at home you want to get one last glimpse of?”
Mr. Crabbe shrugged and took another snap at his decadent cauldron cake (stipulated advertising: buy one cauldron cake from Taffet's Trunk, get the second one at a reduced price). It only took him three bites to eat the whole thing; an extraordinarily impressive accomplishment! “I dunno. I entered ‘cause I wanted to win?”
A fine answer! The young man shows plenty of promise in his understated ways, his silence likely a mask for stealth and deadly powers. I know I won’t be the only one who keeps a keen eye on what the Devil’s Basin says about him. Might even put up a few bets!
- continued on page four
The time had wound down to the eleventh hour, leaving half of the village conversing in whispers and the other half flapping about with energy, flocking to the Town Hall where each contestant’s vial of blood was being emptied into the Devil’s Basin. It wouldn’t start to boil until the tournament actually began, but Cassandra Trelawney was standing over it, anyway, ready to interpret its ripple patterns.
A queue of witches and wizards straggled down the road in a straight line, all of their wrists bound to one long rope. They were all wearing black veils over their faces to help their eyes slowly adjust to sunlight. A number of them had cloth gags in their mouths to prevent them from spitting on people, and at least half of them had been stricken with Silencio. Still, beneath many of the veils one could easily see wide smiles lacking teeth, their eyes swiveling all around in their sockets to soak up as much color and life as possible. Some of them sneered at passers-by, calling out to friends and families of their victims; most, however, were so drained from life in the Grotta that they could barely walk at all. Their knees shook, arms thrashing so hard with tremors that they gave themselves burns on the areas where rope met flesh.
“Don’t know why we let them come here,” Edmund McKinnon muttered gruffly, wrapping one arm protectively around his wife. “Isn’t it enough that they terrorized us when we were alive?” He raised his voice in frustration, glowering at the train of prisoners. “Having a nice little holiday so far? Relish it while you can! You’ll be going back where you belong soon enough.”
One of the inmates stopped dead in her tracks, causing several people on both sides of her to fumble and fall. One of them was Walburga Black. Her husband Orion came running over, deeply upset, but found a wand pointed in his face.
“Get back,” said Caradoc Dearborn, one of the guards. Pity was evident in his eyes, but he had no choice. “I’m sorry, Mr. Black, but you’ve got to keep your distance.” Caradoc then helped Walburga to her feet, so desensitized to her pungent odor, sagging, unwashed skin, and jaundiced eyes that he didn’t even flinch. Orion was not so used to seeing his wife in such a state, and nearly lost his mind. Ollivander and Vesper Lovegood each slid an arm around his shoulders and urged him away from the crowd, his wails loud enough to be heard from the nearly-empty Grotta.
The witch who’d stalled the procession bent her head down and pawed at the veil over her face, gradually easing it up over her head until it fell off. Bellatrix Lestrange then applied everyone she passed with a huge grin, clearly overjoyed to be immersed in the company of people who hated her and feared her, knowing very well that they could not harm her. If her safety had only depended on the cluster of guards marching in a sinister rhythm on both sides of the line, their expressions fathomless, then she might have been dead within seconds. Many of the villagers in Cliodna’s Clock probably would have attacked the Grotta residents, hating them not for their own deaths but for the deaths of their loved ones. Unfortunately for them, only one person could ever die in Cliodna’s Clock every year, and it wouldn’t be from a brawl in the street.
Cliodna’s Clock glared at the hundreds of unwanted guests in various states of dislike; some stood behind half-closed shutters with their families and some had dared to stand in their gardens or on the pavement. Sirius Black was chastised for trying to throw rocks at them while his brother Regulus shrank away from the scene, watching raptly from behind a fork in a tree.
People from the Grotta were escorted into the stands before everyone else, their positions secured before others could be allowed entrance into the place where everyone would watch Round One of the Devil’s Duel. Cliodna herself was sitting in the very front row, a balaclava obscuring her face from view. It was rumored that the three birds who traveled with her everywhere she went also pecked at her face, disfiguring it beyond recognition. One was a blackbird, one was a bird of paradise, and one was a vulture. Claudius Ptolemy was positioned at her left and Merlin at her right, and Mr. and Mrs. Dumbledore sat with their daughter Ariana behind them next to the Flamels. The only one in their lot not present was Albus.
A filthy, wild-looking man in the Grotta section cranked his head around to glare at a young woman sitting several rows up from him. Her eyes naturally gazed in two different directions, rather like a fish, but she managed to narrow them well enough to stare insolently back. She arched one defiant eyebrow before fixing her attention on the enormous hollow in the ground below, ignoring him.
Claudius Ptolemy glanced at Cliodna, awaiting her cue. At last, her head gave a little jerk and he jolted upright, his eyes following the very last villagers emptying into City Center. The metal stands they’d erected here were borrowed from the Quidditch pitch, forming a perfect circular stadium around the immense hole in the ground. Gravel and brick had been dug up, leaving behind six feet of vacant space with muddy sand lining the bottom.
Claudius cleared his throat, motioning for the ten contenders to join him. One by one they sauntered forth – Cedric Diggory, Fred Weasley, Tonks Lupin, Vincent Crabbe, Lily and James Potter, Rufus Scrimgeour, Colin Creevey, Severus Snape, and Peter Pettigrew. Peter was trembling from head to toe, and for a moment it seemed as though he might turn right around and run out of there. One cold frown from James Potter stopped him from doing so; as if on an invisible tether, Peter obediently sulked along after them and took up his spot at the six o’ clock position around the chasm in the ground.
Claudius aimed his wand at his throat. “Sonorous.” He looked over his shoulder at Cliodna again, and taking note of another nod, continued, “The first Tuesday of June! It’s a day of excitement, a day of tragedy. For two of the exemplary witches and wizards here with me, it marks failed attempts at winning the best prize our corner of the world has to offer. For eight others, it lights a path that narrows down more the farther you go, until it’s just you against yourself, along with the query: ‘Do I have what it takes?’” He looked the contenders up and down with a critical air. “I don’t think we could have asked for a more talented, driven bunch than the ones who’ve so bravely offered themselves up.”
All was quiet in the stands. Even most of the Grotta inmates had stopped trying to fight their magical chains, all except for a man with no eyes and unkempt red hair, who was writhing all over his neighbors in mad confusion. He didn't have a tongue, either, and emitted strange, garbled language. Mrs. Lestrange, who sat just behind him, was preoccupied with maintaining fierce eye contact with Tonks, mentally antagonizing her. She had the intent concentration of one practicing Legilimency.
“We will lose one of them, of course,” Claudius went on gravely. “I believe we are all in agreement that July the first, which is just a month away from catching up to us, is the worst day in our town. We are given a month to mourn all ten of them, and when we are spared nine lives it is almost a miracle – almost. I cannot guess which unlucky soul here will be the one to go, but I encourage all ten competitors to make the most of these upcoming weeks. Settle all of your quarrels, love as much as you possibly can, and make every moment count. For one of you, your moments are severely numbered. I, along with everyone else in Cliodna’s Clock, applaud you for your courage. It is only because of your cooperation and willingness to risk it all that we are able to enjoy a relaxed, controlled population. To the witch or wizard who earns the prize, let it be known that you very much deserve it.”
One more exchange of nods from Cliodna to Claudius passed before he declared in a tone of unhappy finality, “Well, then. It’s best that we get started.”
James found Lily’s hand and gave it a squeeze. She was gaping in disbelief at her feet, cheeks drained of all color, as if this was the last place in the world she had ever expected to end up. She kept staring without seeing, her skin crawling under the inspection of a thousand faceless people throughout the stadium, all of them beginning to form opinions about who might win and who might lose. Having been a champion so many times, Lily had little doubt that most of the villagers were busy picking her opponents to pieces, assuming that Mrs. Potter would obliterate them all. Lily, the steadfast winner. Lily, the destroyer of her own friends. Ruthless. Inhuman. Her panic in response to their accusatory thoughts that she couldn’t even be sure were real made it difficult to breathe.
Claudius pointed his wand somewhere out to sea, brow furrowing. On his orders, a monstrous scallop seashell lifted out of the ocean and into the sky, dripping waterfalls over the ceramic-tile roofs of houses in musical harmonies. The scallop was jade-green, slimy and scabbed with barnacles; it hovered between the stadium and the sun for a full ten seconds, plunging them all into early evening, before lowering itself perfectly into the hollowed-out earth. Vincent Crabbe took a quick step back, eyes bulging.
“A Pensieve,” Claudius’s loud voice boomed. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a shining glass phial. He held it up for everyone to see, even though that would be an impossible feat for those anywhere above the tenth row. “A memory.” Fred looked confused about this, scratching the back of one elbow and gawking at Claudius as though he might be barmy. “This year, all five rounds of the Devil’s Duel will be taking place inside of memories.” He flicked the slender bottle with one fingernail.
“This one has been extracted posthumously from Mr. Alrik Bronstad of the Grotta, who died just a little over two months ago. In his time on earth, he was Captain of the Admiral Murman, a ship that sailed the Barents Sea, Greenland Sea, Kara Sea, and the North Sea. It spent six centuries servicing Durmstrang Institute before it sank in 1924. What our competitors are about to witness was taken from an ordinary voyage that stretched from Jan Mayen to Bear Island. As a few select villagers here may know,” he nodded toward Igor Karkaroff, who was trying to hide behind Dexter Fortescue’s large head, “those in the Durmstrang area do not employ the usual garden variety ocean liners. Their ships are rich with magic, the Murman in particular, and it has been deemed a perfect setting for Round One.”
He uncorked his bottle and tipped its contents over the massive seashell’s lip. The memory began to burgeon and spread, its silky clouds of silver vapor multiplying by the millions within seconds. The surface roiled like the sea, one man’s miniscule memory chewing up thin air with swells and swallows, until the whole shell lay completely filled and the surface ceased to roll. A tranquil fog floated over the metallic pool, temporarily distorting Claudius’s head with its haze, but he swiftly drew back from it and gestured with one sweeping arm.
“I will count down from five,” he said, more to the spectators than to the actual competitors. “At my final word, you are to enter the Pensieve. You will find that instead of entering only with your mind, and leaving your body behind, you will drop entirely into the memories. This is to ensure full physical capabilities and interaction with the ship and those on board. You will be noticed by fellow shipmates; therefore, we have taken ten authentic passengers from the Admiral Murman and designed it so that you will replace them. You will look exactly like these other people.
“This is where it gets tricky for the ten of you. There are forty people on this ship. Ten of them will be you, changed to reflect their lot, and the other thirty who were actually on the ship at the time of this memory are to be considered decoys. With each challenge comes a set of rules, and these decoys prompt the first one: You are not to attack a decoy. If you do, you will freeze in place for approximately five minutes, granting your enemy the advantage as you will be stationary and vulnerable to their attacks.
“Now, with that said, the name of the game is to get a member of your team off the ship. You must do whatever it takes to throw them into the water – anything goes. However, since your teammates will look like completely different people to you, it will be hard to distinguish between opponents and decoys. It’s up to you to use your cleverness to tell the difference.” He paused for breath. Colin Creevey was beginning to look quite nervous. He kept fiddling with his wand, thumping it against one leg of his trousers.
“The round lasts until both teams have successfully eliminated one teammate each. The two eliminated will be instantly disqualified and pulled from all future rounds, and the remaining winners will go on to Round Two next week. Now, it is wise to remember that attempting to attack members of the opposite team is fruitless, as they will appear invisible to you and you cannot harm them. You will only be able to see the thirty decoys and the four members of your own team, although everyone will look like complete strangers. For emphasis: If you attack decoys, you freeze for five minutes. No one will resemble themselves. You are to cast a member of your team overboard. The round does not end until both teams have accomplished this.
“When I release you, you will appear in various locations throughout the ship, all strategically placed so that you are spread out an even distance from one another. Are there any questions?”
The crowd chorused with boos, as they always did whenever that year’s announcer asked competitors if they had any questions. The impatience to get things moving was a part of Devil’s Duel tradition – even James Potter had boo’d it a few times, and it was Sirius’s favorite part.
“So we –” Vincent piped up frantically, pointing at the giant Pensieve “– we have to go in there? But I don’t know how to swim.”
A few people from the Grotta (and even the Clock) snorted derisively, all save for one man who had fainted at the sight of the boy, but Claudius had the good grace to be kind about it. “It’s a Pensieve, son, not a swimming pool. Don’t worry, you won’t even get wet. You just jump right in when I say to, all right?”
Vincent still looked unsure, but didn’t ask any more questions.
“Now.” Claudius pivoted to flash a megawatt smile at all ten witches and wizards. “Everyone get ready.” Lily bent one knee, grinding her heel into gravel like a tiger poised to spring. Mostly, everyone else just watched her and tried to mimic her movements – except for Colin, who had been looking at a girl somewhere up in the stands. She mouthed the words ‘good luck’ at him and grinned. He gave her the thumbs-up and a hesitant smile, trying to display confidence. Fred chose that moment to elbow Cedric in the ribs. Cedric swiveled, alarmed, but saw that Fred was smiling.
“Break a ton of legs, Ced. Er – except for mine.”
Cedric laughed, surprised, and Fred turned back to face the Pensieve with a smile still firmly upon his lips. His eyes were the only bit of him that gave him away – that he wasn’t in this duel on accident, and that he wanted to win it. That he would give anything to be the last one standing, because it was the only thing in this place he had to give. His will was his only belonging.
Severus Snape peered at Lily out of the corners of his eyes, but she was turned, angled perfectly so that she wouldn’t have to look at him. James was gripping his wand, silently murmuring a string of charms and hexes to himself. Tonks was staring at the Pensieve with wide, unfocused eyes, preparing herself mentally rather than physically.
Vincent Crabbe caught sight of his father, who was being revived by Benjy Fenwick, and forgot everything else. The world grew quiet in his buzzing ears. He had eyes for no one but the pale-faced man with leprosy lesions all over his cheeks and neck.
Remus Lupin’s hands were pressed together, fingertips meeting under his chin. His chest was rising and falling rapidly and there was no color at all in his face. He watched his wife brace herself, his pride for her bravery and determination growing brighter and brighter until it all but eclipsed his fear.
Rufus Scrimgeour swallowed thickly, listening to a drone of voices somewhere behind him as they discussed how he might do. They planned to place bets on the brawny boy, Diggory, as his blood had once shown a lot of promise in the Devil’s Basin. That scruffy-looking man, Scrimging or Scrimmage or whatever he’s called, doesn’t look like he’ll amount to much. Probably a first or second-rounder.
By the time everyone looked up, wondering if they’d only imagined Claudius saying it, Peter Pettigrew had already dived head-first into the Pensieve.
A/N: And so it begins! Originally I was going to make the setting for Round One the Titanic, but recently saw lots of posts on the forums from another author who coincidentally is writing about a duel of sorts that also takes place on the Titanic. WHAT ARE THE ODDS, AMIRITE? So I tweaked it a bit. By the way, I called the ship the Admiral Murman because in the Middle Ages, the Barents Sea was called the Murman Sea. I hope you enjoy what’s to come! Thank you so much for reading. :)
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