On the day before Round Two, Odo found himself swamped with customers. This was always the case before a round of the Devil’s Duel – everyone wanted to collect together at tables and swap predictions. The actual Duel days left Odo’s pub empty. He took advantage of this reprieve by staying indoors and basking in the sweet absence of spilled food and drink all over the freshly-mopped floor.
For now, though, the place was a mess. It was loud, too, at almost every single table except for two near the back. Salazar Slytherin thought himself quite unlucky to have ended up in such close proximity to none other than Albus Dumbledore, and against his better urges to ignore neighboring tables, found himself straining to listen to whatever Dumbledore was saying to his young friend.
“Are you paying any attention to me at all?” Vincent Crabbe demanded, taking a surly sip of his pumpkin juice. “I’m going to lose.”
“You are not,” Salazar replied impatiently, turning back with some reluctance to the boy seated across from him. “You did well for the first round, lying low. Your strengths and weaknesses are as yet ambiguous to the others. It’s a decent strategy, making yourself out to be a numpty.”
“What’s ‘ambiguous’?” Vincent drawled through his straw.
Salazar’s back teeth grinded together. “Never you mind. Just keep doing what you’re doing for now.”
“But I’m not really doing anything.”
Salazar rubbed his temples, aggravated. Why must he be cursed with this annual desire to torture himself? Why must he always look for someone to advise throughout the tournament? He was certain that some split-personality dormant inside of himself absolutely hated him, and chose this as a method of punishment. “The Devil’s Basin hasn’t been saying much about you, at least,” Salazar settled on replying. “Which is a good thing, trust me. The more low-key you remain, the less concerned your opponents are going to be about you. They’ll be focusing on others.”
Vincent shrugged. “I don’t care if they try to come after me. I’m pretty good at Dark spells.”
“You can’t let them know that, though,” Salazar insisted, leaning forward intently. “Not until the end, when it really counts. You couldn’t have asked for better conditions – you’ve got Potter and Snape on the same team. They’re going to be obsessed with destroying the other. And that other boy is a total non-issue; he’ll have no trouble at all in getting rid of himself, as he’s likely to do.”
“You’re allowed to do that?” Vincent asked excitedly. “Get rid of yourself? I ought to do that.”
Salazar’s eyes darkened. He was on the verge of slapping someone. Over the past few weeks, he’d grown exasperated with Vincent’s normality and apparent inferiority, more than once wondering how the boy had managed to get into his House. Didn’t they value ‘cunning’ anymore in Slytherin House? It was probably Godric’s stupid, mangy hat, admitting any kind of riffraff. Yes, that must be it. If Vincent had been around when Salazar still ran the school, he would’ve tossed him back into the streets like a Muggle.
“You’re not going to do that because it will make you look weak in case you ever decide to enter the races again,” Salazar responded, working very hard to keep his voice patient. “Just stay out of everyone’s way and pretend like you don’t know what’s going on. No matter how tempting or easy it might be, save Creevey for last if you can help it. I’ve seen him with a wand. He’s useless.”
If Dumbledore heard what Salazar had said about his young friend Colin, he made no sign of it. He went on speaking to Colin as if they were the only patrons in the dingy room.
“And you were afraid?” Colin hedged, watching his old Headmaster with wide, curious eyes.
“Terrified,” Dumbledore admitted freely, keeping one ear open to Salazar’s whisperings. He was concerned about the web Slytherin was spinning around poor, dim-witted Crabbe. Influence could go a very long way, as Albus well knew, as he was currently trying to instill his experience and wisdom in Colin just as Salazar was doing with Vincent. “But do you know what I learned through it all?”
“I learned to embrace fate.”
“You mean that you were okay with dying?” Colin questioned, becoming preoccupied with his fingernails. “Are you telling me I should be okay with that, too?”
Albus smiled at him, peering closely over his half-moon spectacles. “I have it on reliable authority that acceptance of the unknown makes the present far easier to handle. It lends a clear perspective on life and what you’ve done with it so far.”
Colin’s head drooped between his shoulders, crestfallen. “You don’t think I have a chance.”
Albus reached out and patted the boy’s hand. “On the contrary, Colin, I think you will do magnificently. This is not a game designed for the merciless or malicious; it is a chessboard for those, like you, who think with their hearts and not their heads. While the others make their moves in efforts to knock out pawns, you make each move with your eyes on the Queen. Don’t let them distract you.”
“I’m not sure about that,” Colin tentatively disagreed. “Mrs. Potter doesn’t seem to have much mercy, and she’s won loads of times.” He stole a peek in Vincent’s direction. “And there’s definitely a couple of malicious contenders.”
“Yes, but the reward isn’t designed to suit them,” Albus explained, still smiling. “They wouldn’t know what to do with it. Not even Lily, who’s won a grand number of times. Only those who are pure in conscience could take such a prize into their possession and not let it annihilate them. I do not think Lily Potter realizes what the many wins she’s accumulated have done to her over time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Winning has prevented her from healing. Her old wounds are ripped open nearly once a year, making her perpetually unfulfilled, unsatisfied.” Albus examined Colin shrewdly, and the latter couldn’t help but study his plate of untouched Yorkshire pudding and roast beef, tingling with the feeling that his professor could filter through his every thought. “Do you think you could be satisfied with one short visit?”
Colin imagined his brother Dennis, and his parents. It was a silly thought, but he’d discovered himself unconsciously plotting which belongings he might be able to gather from his room on earth and put into his pockets. It wouldn’t be doing much harm, would it? After all, they were his things. He should be free to take them back. Perhaps he could learn how to shrink objects, like his photo albums, for easier storage. He hoped that the depot attendant didn’t check pockets when winners came back to Cliodna’s Clock.
“Yes,” he answered, thinking of Dennis’s impending death date. “Just one visit is all I need.”
“You aren’t thinking of interacting with anyone on earth, by chance?” Albus added, his tone colored with warning.
Colin squirmed. “No.”
“Hmm.” Albus pressed his hands together, fingers lacing, and held them to his chin. “When someone lies, the act of lying at all has an uncanny knack for involuntarily exposing the truth. I will venture to assume that you are entertaining thoughts of a reunion with your brother.”
Colin felt his neck grow hot. “Well…”
“Love,” Albus continued, gazing pleasantly across the busy pub. “The power that it has over us is amazing, is it not? And just a little bit dangerous, too.”
Colin glanced up at him, both interested and afraid.
“Earlier in our meal, before I diverted you with tales of your friend Harry, you asked me why I am not participating in the Devil’s Duel. Do you still wish for me to tell you why?”
Colin nodded, although he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know. It might make him more anxious about being in the Devil’s Duel himself.
“I have a confession I must make, Colin. When I was alive, I spent many shameful years looking for ways to conquer death. I desired to be the master of it. I craved the resistance to it. What that tells me now, more than anything, is how scared I was to die and face my sister and parents, and to see what was in store for me here. I do believe that I have learned my lesson on that front, as attempting to interfere with something as inevitable and friendly as death is unnecessary. Our fears are not always the very bad things we expect them to be.” He gestured to the room at large. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
Colin cleared his throat. “Yes, but there isn’t an afterlife waiting for the loser of the duel. It’s just…nothing. The loser doesn’t exist anymore.”
Albus dotted his mouth with a cloth napkin. “And who told you this, may I ask?”
“Lo – lots of people,” Colin stammered. “Miss Ravenclaw and Cedric and Mr. Slytherin, and a few others. It’s what everyone says.”
The old wizard’s lips twitched, hiding a smile. “And how do you suppose they’ve come to learn this secret information?”
“If they’ve never passed on from here, how can they be so sure that there is no ‘other side’ for the other side?” Dumbledore went on amiably, pointing to Colin’s buttered bread. “Are you going to eat that? Forgive me, but I can’t bear for such excellent bread to go to waste.” Colin didn’t reply, so Dumbledore continued, “Those stories may be true. I do recall hearing many times on earth, however, that there was no such thing as an afterlife, and after our deaths our essences would become dirt and grass and trees in the natural cycle of life. While there is certainly a part of me that has remained on earth, deceased, here I am sitting with you.” He bit into a hunk of bread, chewing thoughtfully. “The only thing that we can know for sure is truly immortal, is the past.”
Colin shoved his snow peas around the plate with a spoon, not quite catching his meaning.
“Since Miss Ravenclaw and Mr. Diggory and everyone else have shared an open secret with you, I will share one from my own stock: The past has survived through plagues and droughts and floods, the stories somehow surviving even when people do not. Through the ordinary magic of memories, my dear boy, one can never truly die.”
Colin was momentarily sidetracked after this due to the hovering presence of the Cassandras (Cassandra Vablatsky and Cassandra Trelawney, both esteemed Seers). Until recently, the two women had been ruminating over a crystal ball suspended in midair between them at a nearby table, their cold cream tea pushed aside. Vablatsky was a crotchety old witch who usually refused to share her Divination knowledge with anyone else, but Trelawney was much more sociable and sometimes condescended to dropping out of the clouds every now and then to provide pearls of insight.
“Interesting, interesting,” Trelawney mused in a misty voice, examining the dregs in Colin’s mug of tea. “Oh, dear. It’s the Duel. I can see you in the Duel…”
“What – what am I doing?” Colin piped up nervously.
Trelawney squinted, turning her head to the side. “You appear to be…above someone. Quite high above them. They have black hair. They are not your friend, but they are not your enemy, either.”
“Me!” Vincent shouted rudely, waving his teacup. “Come and look in mine!”
Trelawney straightened up, affronted, but granted his wishes. She grasped his teacup, and finding that Vincent hadn’t left any dregs behind, turned over his palm instead. She flattened it on the table, scrutinizing the lines while Salazar watched with an unmistakable lack of enthusiasm.
“Someone in your family has a very short lifeline,” Trelawney relayed. “But I can’t make out who…” She pored over this for a few minutes longer before calling out, “Cassandra!”
“What?” Vablatsky screwed up her face in a sour expression. She had gone back to her table, evidently finding the two tables with legends and students sitting at them to be below her notice.
“I need your assistance,” Trelawney said mildly.
Vablatsky didn’t move; she narrowed her eyes at Vincent for two seconds and barked, “His father. Six months. Man named Rosier will do it.”
“Six months until what?” Vincent cried, panicking. “What is Rosier going to do to my father?”
Trelawney clucked her tongue. “Your palm says many things. Your past is dark but your future is darker.”
“Tell me what it says!”
“With that attitude, I wouldn’t tell you the temperature.”
Salazar laughed, highly amused with Vincent’s aggravation; Trelawney circled around to have a look in his teacup as well, shaking her head ruefully at whatever she’d found. Salazar’s laughter died. He leaned forward, nostrils flaring, to scowl into his cup. “What? What does it say?”
“Probably that you could use a refill on your tea,” Dumbledore supplied cheerfully.
Salazar glowered at him. He very much abhorred Albus Dumbledore – not because of the old tosspot’s beliefs, but because of his pretension that glazed over a life full of errors. Salazar might not have been the prince of morality, but at least he was honest about it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t even deign to make a show of his distaste for Dumbledore because he had to work extra hard to maintain a holy image after being stamped with a bad reputation – something about hating those bottom feeder Muggles or another insignificant something from Salazar’s history that he would rather forget. The name ‘Slytherin’ meant something else entirely these days, especially with dreadful little blots like Voldemort being Sorted into his namesake.
Salazar often felt like he had to publicly denounce Voldemort because of the regrettable link between them in both House and heritage, when truthfully the former was exceptionally embarrassed of that link. Because of that Riddle idiot who’d gone and started two different wars, Salazar couldn’t even conjure snakes and send them around to do his bidding without being frowned upon.
“You could use a sharp reprimanding for trying to give swords to children,” Salazar spat back before he could stop himself. “We all know about your will.”
Albus beamed at him. “Still smarting because Godric’s sword destroyed your locket?”
Salazar fixed him a very ugly look.
“You’re not the only one who had something twisted with Dark magic and then ruined,” Helga Hufflepuff said, elbowing her way over to greet Trelawney. “Word has it that your basilisk had it out for my cup – or at least one of his fangs did. Imagine, a snake’s skeleton killing a cup.”
“My basilisk?” Salazar repeated, his spirits lifting. “Really? Oh, I do miss that old thing…”
“Chamber of Secrets,” Helga muttered. “Ought to get your name booted off the Founder’s Board for pulling a horrid stunt like that.”
“That basilisk once Petrified me,” Colin chipped in importantly.
Salazar almost smiled. The afternoon was finally starting to look up!
“If you’ll excuse me,” Dumbledore said politely, sliding out of his booth. He tapped the table to garner Colin’s attention. “I’m quite glad I was able to speak with you before tomorrow. I want you to know that I wish you the best of luck. I’m sure you won’t be depending on something as fickle as luck, but it’s all in the sentiment…” He bestowed him with a kind wink, nodding his head towards a discarded napkin next to his plate littered with crumbs. “Have a peek under that before you go.”
After Albus was gone, Colin lifted the napkin, which he found to be covering something lumpy, and unearthed a brand-new camera.
“Really, is that all you’ve got?” Remus swiped a bit of ash from his shoulder and cocked an eyebrow at his wife. “Pitiful. Come on, let’s try it again. This time, try to act like you actually care about whether or not you live or die.”
Tonks rolled her eyes. So far in Remus’s mission to whip his wife’s dueling skills into shape, he’d assumed the personas of ‘loving supporter’, ‘passive-aggressive coach’, ‘vicious fiend’, and ‘heartless suit of armor’. The last one had reaped the most results, so currently Remus was doing his best to call Tonks names like ‘uncoordinated weakling’ (which Tonks was beginning to suspect he was enjoying more than he let on) while glaring at her like a younger version of Mad-Eye Moody. This didn’t help much, as the real Mad-Eye was also glaring at her, and her father Ted was sitting cross-legged on the ground, trying to fit some encouraging words in edgewise but mostly not being of much help.
“Flagrate?” Moody barked. “Are you an Auror or a unicorn, because I really can’t tell the difference!”
“Oh, shut it,” Tonks growled, but made sure her tone was too low to be heard.
“I’ll tell you who won’t be shutting it,” Moody shot back. Clearly, Tonks had underestimated his strikingly acute hearing. “Cedric Diggory. The boy looks a bit thick between the ears, but he’s a natural-born manipulator. It’ll take you only a minute to start feeling sorry for him, and you can be sure he’ll use that time to hex your legs off.” He glanced at Ted, perhaps expecting back-up, but Ted just jerked his head like he’d gotten some water in his ears and turned away. In truth, Ted found Moody unnerving to look at. Death had granted Alastor his missing eye, but it did not match the deep brown hue of his normal one. This new eye – while completely normal in size and structure – had an electric-blue iris. It was so obviously designed with his lost magical eye in mind that it made those around him rather uncomfortable, even though they couldn’t describe exactly why they felt that way. After all, it should have been a sight more welcome than the enormous whizzing contraption he used to don.
“Are you going to be in this tournament or am I?” Tonks couldn’t help remarking. “If you’re so keen on it, maybe you ought to have signed up yourself.”
“Is your brain up a tree?” Alastor exclaimed. “I trust Cliodna about as much as I do Pettigrew. The whole thing’s rigged, if you ask me. They’ve already decided the winners and the losers far in advance, you mark my words.”
“They can’t have,” Ted replied sensibly. “Some of them didn’t sign up until the last minute. That’s not much time for Cliodna and the committee to scheme.”
“Now that’s where you’re wrong.” Moody wagged a finger at him, eyes zooming up and down the snowy path. They zeroed in on an abandoned warehouse settled deep within a grove of trees. Remus had decided (with a bit of unpopularity) that Winter Walk would be the best place to train Tonks for Round Two. Presently the warehouse was still and soundless, the cracked glass coated with grime. Grayish, diluted sunlight streamed through a circular smudge on one window, where someone’s elbow had once rubbed against it. “Didn’t any of you see that book they had over there?” Alastor continued, jutting a thumb towards the depot. “Looks just like the one they’ve got for Hogwarts, the one that keeps track of magical births.”
“You’ve see the Hogwarts attendance book?” Tonks asked curiously, distracted from her spar with Remus.
Moody nodded. “It was one of the ways to find out whether or not missing Death Eaters were still alive. Some of ‘em kept having kids, see. Like Cromwell and Glass. Both had pretended to be dead, but the quill they use that detects magical births doesn’t lie, and neither does the archive book.”
“So they knew we were coming,” Tonks said, frowning. “That much was obvious when we arrived. So what?”
“So who knows how long they’ve known? Our names very well could have been documented in the Cliodna’s Clock records ever since we were born – and not just our births, but our death dates as well. We never had a fighting chance – it was all laid out for us already. Who’s to say that the results of the Devil’s Duel isn’t set in stone, too?”
“You’re reaching,” Remus replied tersely.
“They wouldn’t have planned on Lily winning so many times,” Tonks added. “It’s just not reasonable.”
“’Course they would.” Moody peered all around the snowy wood again, but couldn’t hear anything except for feather-light flakes of snow drifting down from the sky, layering smoothly over tufts of white that never climbed above eight inches – the exact length of Cliodna’s wand. Remus felt himself shudder while thinking about it, wondering not for the first time how Cliodna had come to acquire such prestige. How had she managed to detach from whatever afterlife she’d emerged in? How had she broken away to form this place?
“Don’t be a fool, Tonks. The people here love it that they’ve got someone else to do all their dirty work for them. Why should Cliodna get her hands soiled when Lily Potter’s willing to crush everyone else like bugs for her? Question is – why’s it necessary?”
Ted’s spine erupted in a torrent of shivers that had nothing to do with the cold. “What are you trying to say, mate?”
“I’m saying that we’ve ended up in the crosshairs of life and death – real death, the kind where your soul’s gone and there’s nothing left, nothing beyond. What gives one person the right to decide where to put the cap on population? If it’s true that we’re in a place where anything at all can happen, where the only restrictions on magic are all self-imposed, then why not just expand to accommodate? If it’s possible to provide twenty-four hours on earth, then why not more? Why not offer it to everyone?”
“Stop,” Remus interrupted sharply, holding a hand up. He was gazing around, eyes alert, and seemed to pause with his attention snagged on the warehouse. “I heard a twig snap. Someone’s moving around in the woods.”
“No surprise there,” Tonks grumbled. “We’re all living on top of each other here. There’s no such thing as privacy. And we’re wasting daylight, Remus. If you’re going to kick my arse, you should hurry it up. I’ve got a date with a mug of hot chocolate tonight and I am not going to be late.”
Remus had seen Igor prowling around this area before. He also knew that rats could be quite stealthy when they wanted to be. While admittedly he had begun to question the existence and necessity of the Devil’s Duel, deducing that the twenty-four hour prize on earth was tailored for those suffering from grief (and was therefore little more than a murder plot preying on the unstable and vulnerable), he felt it a fairly dangerous topic to discuss openly.
He needed more time to knead the matter in his mind before he could properly form an assessment. It was unlucky that while doing so, he also had no choice but to support his wife while she willingly played right into the design. Immortality had been promised to the living, but owed no such guarantee to the dead. Here, in the afterlife, there was nothing to stop the powers that be from reneging on their unwritten promises. A soul had been taken each year for as long as everyone could remember. But what had happened before Cliodna’s own death? What had the standard procedure been before the inception of the Devil’s Duel?
“On the count of three,” Remus warned, bracing himself for more dueling. “One, two –”
She’d cheated by half a second, but Remus was ready for her. “Protego!” A shield charm blasted out of the ground, rippling between them.
“Protego horribilis!” Tonks shouted, aiming her wand at the shield. She cast a larger force field that trumped Remus’s modest one, sending shattered bits of light at her husband. He tried to dart away from them, but the searing heat of it singed the hem and sleeves of his robes.
“Confringo!” Remus countered, smashing the shield charm. The bright light blinded Tonks, and he utilized her distraction by following it with Stupefy, which Tonks just barely dodged.
“Stop going easy on her!” Moody yelled from the sidelines. “You won’t be doing her any favors.”
Tonks feigned an attack on Remus’s left, which he defected; she’d predicted this and was therefore able to hex him from his unprotected side with Obscuro. Instantly, a long length of fabric twisted around Remus’s eyes, nose, and mouth, mummifying him.
“Waddiwasi,” he muttered, and the white-hot bandages shot back to Tonks, winding around her ankles in a jumbled heap. They melted right through the snow, causing trails of steam to float away from a pool of ice-blue water. He then shot Reducto at Tonks without announcing it. Tonks, who wasn’t expecting nonverbal curses, was forcefully shoved backwards by the spell’s potency, landing with her nose in the stinging snow. While she was already down, Remus shot another silent incantation. This time, a wild ring of fire sprang out of the ground, encircling Tonks.
She yelped and scrambled to her feet, peering through the smoke to discern a pair of cautious eyes. Remus was pacing between two trees, keeping his gaze fixated on her, not stopping to rest in one position for too long.
“Now that’s more like it!” Moody chipped in. “Just what she needs.”
Tonks frowned, slashing her wand to change the properties of the fire with a Flame-Freezing charm. Now that she could no longer be burned by it, Tonks stepped right through the orange blaze and hurled a jet of spiraling purple light at Remus’s heart. He deflected it effortlessly while casting another Reducto.
‘Levicorpus!’ Tonks inwardly shouted. Sparks issued from the tip of her wand, but nothing substantial happened. This had always been the case with Tonks – some spells she was very, very good at, and others needed to be physically bellowed in order for them to work. She opened her mouth to shout, “Levi-”
Another streak of light hit Tonks full in the face. This time, it wasn’t from Remus. It was from Moody.
Tonks turned to yell at him but found that she couldn’t speak. Her tongue was stuck to her top molars, glued in place.
“Langlock,” Moody explained, obviously satisfied with himself. “You need to stop giving your opponents an edge! If you don’t talk, they won’t get a heads-up on what you’re going to do to them. It's more useful than Silencio because the countercurse isn't as well-known.” Tonks looked like she wanted to conjure a chair and smash it over his head. “Use it against Diggory. He was just a boy when he died, and probably doesn’t have a proper handle on nonverbal incantations. If you perform Langlock on him, he might have trouble jinxing you.”
“He’s right,” Remus agreed. “I don’t know about Peter's abilities these days, but Fred’s proven to be very good with nonverbal spells. We need to make sure that you are, too.”
I’m an Auror! Tonks wanted to scream. I’m more qualified than all of them. But she saw Remus raise his wand again, ready to fire, and she mentally hissed, ‘Engorgio!’
Transforming him into a giant, she soon realized, was a disastrous mistake. Remus began to swell three times in size, contorting into grotesque shapes as various appendages burst through his clothing, shedding like snakeskin. Tonks stumbled over her own feet to get away from him, horrified. Reducio! Reducio!
Remus withered downward to his usual stature, wasting a few seconds to gather his breath. “This isn’t working,” he announced, shaking his head. “Why won’t you perform serious curses? Engorgio won’t do anything but backfire on you.”
“If I hexed you with my worst, you’d be dead,” Tonks snapped. “And besides, I can’t look at you like you’re an enemy. You’re not an enemy, you’re my husband.”
“Let me try,” Moody cut in. “I won’t give you any choice but to throw everything you’ve got at me.”
Remus ignored him. “What about Peter, Cedric, and Fred? Do you think they’re going to be this compassionate? Turn the tables, Dora. They’re going to flay you alive.”
“I just – I can’t,” Tonks cried, frustrated. “I know I’m supposed to. I know this is what everyone’s supposed to do. And with Peter, who knows. I might be able to view him differently. But Cedric is just a boy, and Fred…I know Fred. I know his family. I don’t want to change my perception of them so much that I begin to lose sight of who they really are.”
Remus wiped the sweat from his brow. “It’s too late for that. You can’t back out now, so you’ll just have to fight through it. You’ve got to.”
Tonks’s expression hardened. “I’m not going to change who I am just because of some tournament. Lily did and look at what happened to her. Most of her friends are dead and she’s not even sorry about it.”
“It made Lily a champion,” Moody remarked, voice rising above hers.
“Do you think Teddy would be proud of me for casting the Cruciatus Curse on an innocent person, all for my own selfish gain? Do you think he would consider hurting someone worth the prize? I don’t know about you, but I certainly hope not. I would hope that the very idea of it would repulse him.”
Everyone was quiet for a while. “Okay,” Ted finally caved, “she won’t go for the jugular, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to get the job done. We’ll just have to adapt. The three of us will take turns cursing her with dangerous spells and we can try to teach her how to block them with spells she approves of. Spells that won’t harm…much.”
“Impossible,” Moody roared, throwing his hip flask at a nearby tree stump to show his displeasure.
“No, it’s not,” Remus argued. “She’s a professional. She can do this any way she pleases and still be a threat.”
“It’s a waste of time. She won’t win."
Remus glanced at his wife, features grim, then back to Moody. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you? There are more important things in life than winning.”