Chapter 9 : Wands at the ready
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Wands at the Ready
"I'm afraid that we can't cancel this, now that it is launched," said Professor Dumbledore.
Both Harry and Professor McGonagall looked thunderstruck. Snape had a slight smile of triumph.
"But this is madness," said Harry. "If we begin to allow duels…"
"If I may, Professor," interrupted Snape. "I won't tolerate any attack on the students of my House. The Slytherin students have a deep sensitivity when it comes to their honour."
"Their honour?" Harry replied, his eyes widened in disbelief. "You weren't even there! Donahue provoked this! The Honour at stake is Kenneth's. Your solidarity for Slytherin goes too far, Snape!"
"Mr Lionheart was insulted first?" asked Professor McGonagall.
"Donahue accused him of being a coward, and asked if his mother was one, too. I don't think I will need to remind you of who Sarah Lionheart was. Kenneth was wise enough not to pull his wand at once, and to be honest, I was this close to smack Donahue myself. But he couldn't stand this. I watched him. He spent the beginning of this year swallowing his pride, not to be involved in a mess like this. And that is not being a coward, I'm sure of this. I've seen him stand up to bullies. He just refuses to use his wand. This whole thing isn't a question of honour. At least, not Donahue's."
"Lionheart is weak," said Snape. "He has the powers to be a great wizard, but he doesn't use even the third. He doesn't want to face the price of his actions, that's all. This duel can't be cancelled, or Donahue will go after Lionheart on his own accord."
"What are you telling us, Snape?" spat Harry. "Have you lost the control over your students again?"
"Enough," said Dumbledore. "Harry, let's not bring this issue out of its context, shall we?"
"Sorry, Sir," said Harry, sitting back, but still glaring at Snape.
"This is too late to stop anything," said Dumbledore. "This duel will have to take place. You and Professor Snape will be the judges. And once everything is done, each of the duellists is to be sent here. That will be all. Severus, since you accepted that duel, you will set up all the details. But please, in the future, don't accept any other challenge. We mustn't get used to this."
This signalled the end of the meeting and left Harry cringing at this whole situation.
The rumour spread like dust in the wind. It was the main subject for most of the students' talk. The ones who didn't talk about it didn't because they were tired of it, or because they hadn't started yet. This was the biggest event of the year, forget about the Quidditch Cup, the Ball and even the Silver Quill. For the first time, a true duel of Magic would take place among students in broad day light. It was completely unexpected and, to say things accurately, unhoped-for.
This was some kind of entertainment everyone was eager to see. Sides were taken in the corridors. Supporters of Kenneth or supporters of Donahue. And of course, bets were placed. The highest odds were in favour of Donahue. It was widely known that he had been involved in clandestine duels, and that he had never been defeated. So few people believed in Kenneth's chances, but still, there was a discreet support from Gryffindor and Ravenclaw boys. The girls were more tied between House loyalty and sympathy for Donahue. Most of the Hufflepuffs didn't take sides.
As the one being de facto entrusted to lead the betting pool, Ian could tell that it was the most anticipated moment of this term, so far, even more than the Quidditch game opposing Ravenclaw to Gryffindor which was yet to come. Ian had heard of the duel his usual way, by spying on the office of Alexander, as Potter had been telling him the details. Ian was uneasy about offering students to bet on the duel, since he thought of Kenneth as a friend of his, and it seemed serious business. But so many students had come to him, out of habit, to set their bets, that he had been forced to make it happen.
Ian was sure that most of the students were having a lot of fun over this situation. Most of them except, of course, two. But Ian wasn't so sure that Donahue wasn't enjoying the situation.
"So," said Professor Snape, facing the two fifth years, with a silky smile, that seemed completely fake. "We have here two gentlemen that believe that the rules are nothing, and decide to sort out a dispute by a duel. Since we've been witnesses to this challenge, we decided to accept it, so you won't get involved into some clandestine duel. But be warned that this will be the only exception to a very serious rule. So this duel will take place on Saturday Morning, at ten, which is tomorrow. The place will be the Third Hall. You will present there and face the judgment of the Wands, who will decide who is the righteous in the dispute."
"I'm not getting into a duel," said Kenneth, simply.
Harry, having witnessed his rage, the day before, was surprised by his calm and restraint. He was standing behind the students, during the interview in Snape's Office. Snape glared at Kenneth.
"You should be quiet, Mr Lionheart," said Snape. "You attacked Mr. Donahue."
"And that's because the dispute didn't need a duel that I used my fists," replied Kenneth. "Pulling my wand for something like that is ridiculous. Besides, duels are forbidden for underage wizards."
"And fighting is forbidden by the school rules," said Snape. "Still you got over this rule, so why do you hesitate breaking another?"
"Because a duel is serious matter," said Kenneth.
"Really?" said Donahue, sarcastically. "And you think you can't handle serious matter? You're pathetic."
"Be quiet, Mr Donahue," said Harry, Donahue's attitude beginning to annoy him. "You'd be kind not to embitter the situation."
"You'd be kind not to interfere, Professor," said Snape sharply. "These students need to understand the cost of their actions."
Harry glared at him, but Snape went on, unfazed.
"There is no discussion," he said. "Since Mr. Donahue doesn't want to withdraw his challenge, you can't step back."
"Even if I apologize, I guess," said Kenneth, suddenly narrowing his eyes. "You want this fight, don't you, Professor?" he added, in a surprising display of clarity. "What are you getting out of this?"
"Beware of what you say, Mr Lionheart," said Snape, narrowing his eyes.
But Kenneth didn't lower his eyes. There was clearly some nerve in those eyes and Harry was now convinced that he was very different from the weak cowardly boy Snape was painting him as. Once more, Harry noticed the ponytail in the boy's hair and thought of Sarah… and Lancelot, Kenneth's father. Maybe it was that.
Kenneth was still holding Snape's gaze, which was, in itself, quite a feat.
"So, since it's been decided for me, I guess that there is nothing more to say," he said, very fiercely.
He stood up. Snape clenched his teeth.
"Sit down, Mr Lionheart," he said. "I'll have to explain the rules of the duel. And that will lose five points to Gryffindor."
"There's nothing to explain," said Kenneth. "I know the rules of a duel. Maybe this one will need your enlightenment. I don't."
"Professor," intervened Harry. "I think that I will speak with Mr Lionheart, now. Out," he said to Kenneth. "You can explain all to Mr. Donahue."
"How dare…" began Snape.
"I've been designated as one of the judges," said Harry. "Mr. Lionheart will be there on tomorrow, at ten. Good day, Professor."
He followed Kenneth outside, without caring for Snape's fierce look.
Kenneth waited for Professor Potter, silently. He was still furious that Donahue had him in that corner!
Professor Potter looked at him thoughtfully.
"Let's take a walk," he said.
They went outside the Castle, to take a long walk around the lake. The weather was bleak, but it didn't rain. The fog over the lake hid most of the Forest from their eyes as they walked. Potter turned to him.
"What is the problem, Kenneth?" he asked. "Why do you refuse this duel?"
"I'm not sure you can understand, Sir," said Kenneth.
"Oh, you would be surprised by what I can understand," replied the teacher. "My guess is that you dread something," said Pr. Potter.
"I'm not afraid of him, Sir," said Kenneth, immediately.
"Oh, I know that," said Potter, smiling. "I've seen in your eyes that you don't fear him. But there's something that restrains you, isn't there? There is something that also prevents you from giving your full performance in this school. I know you're gifted. I've seen how you can master really delicate spells very easily. You have a gift. I know it. You shouldn't be afraid to use it."
"You don't get it!" protested Kenneth. "It's wrong! It's dangerous! I can't be involved in a duel, here! Not at school. A duel is a serious matter!"
Potter nodded at this.
"I agree," he said. "What do you fear, then? That there could be an accident?"
Kenneth sighed deeply, and nodded. This was part of the truth.
"Teachers will be here to control things, Kenneth," Potter insisted. "Neither you or your opponent will have to face serious damage. We can't allow this. The one who will lose this duel will be nothing more than a little embarrassed in front of his classmates."
"And if we lose control?" said Kenneth.
"The very fact that you ask this question shows that it's very unlikely to happen," said Potter. "You don't seem to be the kind of wizard that loses his temper. Well, most of times," he corrected with a smile.
Kenneth gave him back his smile, a little sarcastically, though. Potter pushed his advantage.
"The fact you don't want to endanger Mr. Donahue's life is praiseworthy, Kenneth. Still, I don't think you have a choice. You will have to face this duel. Now, I'll try a shot in the dark, here, but does your refusal have something to do with your so particular hair-style?"
Kenneth looked intensely at Professor Potter. What did he know? Potter only smiled.
"I know who your father is, Kenneth," said Harry. "He and your mother stood to help me, in the Order of the Phoenix, during the war. I had the honour of fighting beside your mother, when I was sixteen. If I hadn't been a teacher, I would have jinxed Donahue myself after what he had said of Sarah, to be quite honest. I don't think this duel is going to be the one either Mr. Donahue or Professor Snape expects. Am I wrong?"
Kenneth lowered his eyes, and then shook his head.
"This is the problem," he said. "It's dangerous."
"I don't think you have the right attitude regarding, this," said Potter. "It's a matter of pride, not dread."
"It's not, Sir," countered Kenneth. "It's a matter of honour. Of duty. I've inherited something. And this isn't a toy. And it has nothing to do with a school duel set up so Donahue and Professor Snape can score some points against Gryffindor."
Potter smiled lightly.
"I guess you see much, Kenneth," he said. "I think you're right. Professor Snape is in favour of this duel because he sees you as someone weak. Either he wants, in his own way, to toughen you up or he wants to favour his protégé. I'm not sure of his reasons, but still, this duel couldn't have taken place without his support. So, the least you can do is to prove him that he's wrong. I'm sure you have strength in you that he doesn't suspect. And I know you have the will to master it. You're in a dead end, Kenneth. This decision wasn't yours. But there is no reason you'd have to be the one to always suffer from it. Try to thing about that."
He turned to the Castle and let Kenneth alone to think about what he had said.
Harry walked back into the Castle to be caught up by Hedwig. She perched on his shoulder and delivered him a quick note from Oliver Wood. Frowning, Harry unfolded it.
Cho had an accident during the last game. She's in St Mungo's. The accident was serious enough for his broom to be ruined but not enough to endanger her life, fortunately. Given the events she's going through these days, I think she should have her friends around her.
Come to visit her as soon as you can.
Thanks a lot.
Short, directive, that was Oliver for you. Harry had a smirk that disappeared as soon as he thought of Cho. Oliver was right. In the midst of her divorce, now wasn't the time to face an accident and the loss of her broom on her own.
Harry folded back the note. His lessons were over, so he was going to see her immediately. But at first, he had to warn Ginny, that he may be late for dinner. He wrote a quick note on the back of Wood's message. And he tied it to Hedwig's claws.
"Go give this to Ginny, okay?" he said, stroke her feathers.
Hedwig hooted sweetly and took flight from his shoulder. He walked again out of the Castle, and headed for Hogsmeade. From there he could apparate safely to London.
"Honestly, I've never seen something so pathetic," Donahue was saying. "He was pulling all the rules out of his sleeves to avoid the duel. I've never seen such a coward."
He walked out of sight. But many Slytherin students were still in Ian's earshot. They were gloating about this like vultures around a dead corpse. This was disgusting. Ian was feeling his temper rising quickly. His mood was already quite disastrous, as he was walking out of Potions, where he had to test his own Protective Potion on himself. He had hated the look on Snape's face, as he was drinking, along with his friends. And now, Slytherins were making fun of something very serious.
But it wasn't surprising. In the whole mess, Slytherin was the House to try and use the duel to get some fame and prominence.
They had even put up a banner across the wall, behind their table in the Great Hall, which had been inaugurated at breakfast, showing how fast they had worked on it. It showed two enlarged photographs, splashed across the fabric, with flashing letters and scorching flames, just like a Muggle prize fight announcement. The two shots weren't really showed in the same light, however. While Donahue was striking a series of poses that were both confident and elegant, Kenneth's picture had caught him unaware he was being shot. So he was acting a little oblivious, and even surprised to be looked at. At some point, he just glared at everyone, before to step out of the frame, which didn't help either, since it only implied the duel would be completely one-sided, and even suggested that he wouldn't show up.
Gryffindor students showed a surprising lack of reaction. A small, but dedicated group was campaigning to show their support to Kenneth. They were younger years, First and Second, mostly. Ian could guess why they were rooting for the fifth year, since he had often stepped up to stop bullying directed at them. But the rest of his House was more reluctant, actually, like they weren't sure Kenneth deserved them rooting for him. Ian was more than a little puzzled about the whole thing, and it was Alexander who had shed some light on the matter.
"The thing with teenagers is that they don't like the quiet type," he had explained to his apprentice, when Ian had brought up the issue, the very next evening.
After all, Alexander was a Gryffindor. He could understand the way they thought.
"Kenneth doesn't speak up," he went on. "He doesn't show off. He doesn't put himself forward, like Donahue does. It's like he doesn't want the support. Besides, Donahue is popular beyond the walls of the dungeons."
"You mean Donahue is popular enough to sway the House pride?" asked Ian.
"That can play a part, especially with the ladies," said Alexander with a smile. "And more importantly, Donahue knows how to play the school. He has this gift with people and he plays along with the general feeling: this duel is an occasion to shine. It's an event. It has nearly eclipsed the Silver Quill challenge, right now. It's everything the students are talking about. For most of them, it's entertainment. Not for Kenneth. He takes this very seriously, which is why he wants to call off the whole thing. He's being reasonable, and that's not a way to get the support of a school full of teenagers."
"That's stupid," said Ian.
"As I said, they're teenagers," said Alexander, with a cunning smile.
"How were you, when you were that age?" asked Ian.
"I was probably more like Rob Drakefang than like Kenneth, I'll admit," said his teacher. "But then again, I was busy with my special lessons, so I wasn't that involved in the student's business."
Ian could see the truth of what Alexander had said right before their eyes. These jerks were all acting like they were about to see some good sports.
He couldn't take any more. He made a step forward and faced the Slytherins, fourth years for most of them.
"Stop that immediately! Kenneth isn't a coward!" he shouted.
"Look at that! Of course, look who comes to the rescue of the coward! The freak! Same bunch of losers the both of them," said one tall sixth year, which made a lot of his younger friends laugh nastily.
Ian felt anger sweep any other feeling inside of him. He shot a withering look to the group of students.
"I said SHUT UP!" he roared.
And with his shout, the walls trembled. The laughter faded immediately. They were all looking at Ian with clear terror in their eyes. The sixth year, clearly the leader, gave the signal to the others and they all flee like spooked animals. But none of them was more frightened than Ian himself. He was fighting to recover his calm. With long deep breaths, he was feeling his mind returning to a more peaceful mood.
Joel whistled appreciatively.
"Remind me never to cross you, Ian," he said with a smile. "Still I like your style."
"Trouble is," said Ian, "that I didn't control that."
Joel looked at him in total disbelief.
"Wow," he whispered. "You should speak with Alexander."
"Yeah," said Ian. "I guess so."
All these news incidents were beginning to worry him. Never before, his only mood had an effect on the surroundings. And now, he just had to get angry to make the Castle shake, and shattered the windows of a whole floor? What would it be next?
Donahue was still parading in the Hall when Kenneth walked back into the Castle. Night was starting to fall, outside. To see him playing the hero for Slytherins and even two Gryffindor girls, made him furious. But he chose to let it pass.
"Ah! Here he is!" said Anton, Donahue's best friend. "The hero of the day. The one who will bring our House some fun as well as some respect, by meeting his fate under Robert's wand."
Kenneth just looked at them, focusing on Robert.
"What respect do you think you will win?" he finally asked. "Just because you play adult games won't make you one."
"How very philosophical of you, Heart of a lion," said Donahue. "But still I'm not the one who tries to flee my duty."
"But this duel is none of your duty, Donahue," hissed Kenneth. "It's nothing more than showing off. Maybe you'll need a lesson, after all."
"And who would give it to me, Heart of a lion? You?" said Donahue, sneering. "Apparently, you don't seem to have the guts to defend your pride and honour, since you try to avoid that duel so badly. You think I have to fear some lousy coward like you?"
Kenneth suddenly stiffened, and his face went ice cold. And Potter's words came to ring in his mind. It was true. There was no reason, Kenneth was to be the one to suffer from this. And maybe it was time to shut them all up.
Everyone in the corridor seemed to notice the change, even Donahue, as if the temperature had dropped several degrees in a minute. Some even made a step back. Kenneth walked straight at Donahue and gripped his collar, pulling him close to his face. His eyes were now like two slits, and cold like polar ice.
"Alright, since you seem to want it that bad, so you can parade in front of the whole school, you've got yourself a duel, Donahue. I'll see you tomorrow," he said, his voice as cutting as a knife. "But don't say you didn't ask for it, when I'm through with you."
He wasn't trying to be impressive. He was warning him. Donahue seemed to be affected by Kenneth's look. Kenneth let go of him, and strode away, without looking back. But he wasn't running away anymore.
Donahue seemed to recover his senses, after that.
"Well, finally, he's showing some nerve," he said, smirking. "I was afraid I would have to fight a carpet. But still I'll wipe him out."
He was getting all confident again. His supporters were cheering, as Kenneth was walking away.
Alright, thought Kenneth. See you tomorrow. We'll see what you can handle …
He walked suddenly into Julie, as he was heading for the Gryffindor Tower. She seemed pretty upset with something. Hopefully, it had nothing to do with him. He tried not to look too angry. But when Julie noticed him, she frowned.
"Kenneth," she called at him.
He stopped to wait for her to join him.
"I heard you were refusing the duel," she said, reproachfully. "I wouldn't have thought you to be the kind of guy who steps back from his responsibility."
"But I can't step back, and so I'll have to meet my fate and face humiliation and blah-blah," said Kenneth bitterly, impersonating Anton's tone. "Does everyone in this damned school have to talk to me about this masquerade?" he spat angrily.
"Don't get so upset with me, Lionheart!" protested Julie. "It's not my fault if you're in this situation. At least you could try to honour your House, by facing the consequences of what you have done. You attacked Robert first."
"Yes, I DID! Happy now?" shouted Kenneth. "He insulted my family and I punched him, because I didn't want to pull my wand against him. And because I'm not an irresponsible git, I'm a coward!"
Julie seemed to be unsettled by his sudden outburst. Kenneth gave her no chance to reply.
"You know what?" he said. "I usually don't care what people think. But I swear that tomorrow, I'll show them all! Donahue thinks he's all grown up with his challenges and his clandestine lousy little fights. He doesn't know anything. You don't know anything. You all wanted to see a duel, then I'LL SHOW YOU A DUEL!"
He turned away, not even caring for what she wanted to say anymore. He stormed into the Common room, and his look seemed to discourage anyone to talk to him. Kalindra was willing to glare at him, since she was still reproaching him his attitude. She had been hurt that he had blown at them, in the common room. And she was still annoyed that he had gotten in so much trouble over nothing. Kenneth knew that Will and Rob hadn't talked about what they knew about his mother.
"It's not our beans to spill," Will had said. "If you didn't want to tell us, we won't repeat it."
He was grateful to them, in a sense, even if that meant that the girls of his year still saw him as a maniac. He didn't care, right now. His anger was back. He was going to go there in the morning, and teach Donahue some manners, after all.
Tomorrow, he would show them all. And until then, he didn't have anything to say to anyone. If they wanted to support a Slytherin, that was their problem, not his.
He walked to an armchair, sat in front of the fire, without a word. His face must be so cold and closed that soon, all the nearest chairs emptied, as it was clear that he wanted to be alone. He pulled out his wand, and began to turn it between his fingers, without any other move, his eyes fixed on the flames in the fireplace. He was now focusing only on tomorrow.
Kenneth didn't show up at dinner. When the fifth years walked back in the common room, Kenneth was still sitting in front of the fire, his wand turning between his fingers. His eyes were reflecting the flames. He looked like he was elsewhere. Will tried to speak to him, along with Rob, but they seemed not to be able to get more than three words out of him in a row. They finally gave up and joined the girls in one corner of the room.
"What is with him?" asked Kalindra.
"He's never been more furious in his life," said Will, hotly, but keeping his voice down. "What do you think?"
"Oh, come on," said Kalindra. "He put himself in this situation."
"Oh yeah?" said Will, between his teeth. "You don't know the half of it."
"What?" said Mandy impatiently. "What do you know that you won't tell us?"
"Something we shouldn't even know," said Rob. "If he hadn't been so furious, he wouldn't have let it slip out. We will never break his trust. He has to tell you. But he had the best reasons in the world to punch this worthless git! And now, everyone turns against him because he didn't want to turn it into a duel. Even people from his own House," he said, looking intensely at Jennifer, Julie and Kalindra. "Just because Donahue has some good looks, you turn from your friend. You don't even wonder why he got so mad! You just don't' want to hear him. You just turn your back on him, because he damaged your precious little prince charming!"
"Why doesn't he speak, then?" asked Julie, under her breath, to make sure not to be heard by Kenneth. "And I still think it's stupid to get that upset just for a few insults about his family…"
"Well, he would have spoken, if everyone hadn't started with reproaches when speaking to him these days," said Will. "I can't blame him. He can't be involved in a duel. His father did forbid it to him. This isn't cowardice. He's been raised like this. Why, I don't know. But he's so pissed, right now, that even his father's rule are not enough."
Julie felt uneasy, and the other girls seemed to be a little affected by what he was saying. But Kalindra's face suddenly went very pale.
"Wait a second," she said. "His family? Oh, no," she whispered. "It's not… oh, please, just tell me…"
She suddenly got up, and Julie couldn't understand what had come over her. She saw her go to Kenneth.
For her part, Julie could now understand Kenneth's reaction when she talked to him earlier in the afternoon. He was already furious, and the first thing she had told him was that he was a disgrace for Gryffindor.
No wonder he got mad. Way to go, Julie. You're an idiot.
Julie saw Kalindra kneel beside Kenneth and whisper something desperately. Kenneth turned an empty look to her. Kalindra whispered some more, and Kenneth nodded. Kalindra gasped and caught both his hands. She went on talking to him, though all the words were lost to Julie. Kenneth whispered back a few words and Kalindra then reached him for a quick hug.
Then she stood up, and joined Julie and Mandy to climb up the stairs. They all prepared for bed and quickly crawled under the blankets. Kalindra resolutely refused to mention anything she could have discussed with Kenneth. But something had happened and Julie could tell that Kalindra was fuming, now.
Two hours later, Julie was awakened by some light under the dormitory's door. She got up silently and walked to it. She pulled it open and saw that the fire was still roaring in the fireplace, in the common room. Closing discretely the door, she walked down the stairs and dared a peak in the large room.
He was there, of course, again rehearsing his moves of the tip of his wand. But this time, the moves were quicker, furious ones. She couldn't help but admire the way he was moving. It was like some curious dance. He hadn't noticed her yet.
"Kenneth?" she asked, walking in the Common Room.
Kenneth didn't answer. He was still focusing on his moves, making three short waves.
"Kenneth, are you alright?"
"You'll see that tomorrow," he said, with a very low voice. "You all wanted to see," he muttered then, more for himself than for her.
"I… I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been so mean…"
Kenneth didn't say anything. This silence was worse than the shouts, for Julie. She sighed deeply, and headed back to the stairs. She walked back to her dorm, and got back in bed. She hugged her pillow, completely distressed. She had the oppressing feeling that she had maybe done something awful by taking sides with Donahue against Kenneth in any circumstances. It was like she had hurt Kenneth. And this thought was terrible for her.
She fought with all her might against the tears, and finally, drifted into another troubled sleep.
She was breathing with difficulty now. She was forced to slow down her pace. And suddenly, dark hands were seizing her, and pulling her to a strange Altar, made of stone. And before the altar, a tall dark figure was standing, a strange knife in its hand. Julie suddenly saw two eyes open in the darkness of the cloak's hood.
The madness in those eyes was the most frightening thing she had ever seen in her life.
The dream came to haunt her again, over and over in her mind, until the morning came to free her from it.
Harry remembered this place. This was the Hall Gilderoy Lockhart once used for the Duelling club he tried to create, which ended up a fiasco. And the stand was the same, with moons and stars marking the spots were wizards were supposed to step on during a traditional duel. Harry was standing on one of the end of the stand, waiting for the two duellists. Facing him, his face closed, Snape wasn't blinking. Harry was even wondering if this duel wasn't some kind of occasion for Snape to confront him in some weird way.
You're getting paranoid, Harry, he told himself.
Around the stand, loads of students were gathering around the teachers. The duel was the event of the season. Other Professors were here too, except that they were here to prevent things to go astray. It was Saturday morning, and the Duel was about to begin. Most of the school was here, but, of course Professor Dumbledore wasn't, Since he had announced that this case was special he wouldn't however give it his support by being a spectator of the duel.
As Harry and Snape had been designated by Dumbledore to be the Judges, it was their task to make sure all was done following the rules.
Robert Donahue entered the Hall, acclaimed by the Slytherins students, some from other Houses and under the dead fish eyes of many girls. Harry rolled his eyes when he saw the way Donahue walked into the room, his short cloak floating around him, clearly showing through his demeanour that he owned the place. He wasn't wearing the colours of Slytherin anymore, except for the badge on his heart. He was dressed in Blue and Silver, with some green sewed over his shoulders, the colours of Clan Donahue. He climbed up the steps leading on the stand, passing by Harry. He looked so self-satisfied, that Harry threw him a dark look.
"You may have gotten the right to call for this duel, but it won't exempt you from detention, Mr. Donahue," he said. "So don't push me."
Donahue seemed to lose some of his assurance. As popular as he was, he couldn't even think of defying a teacher. Harry gestured for him to take his place, on Snape's end of the stand.
The hall then turned to wait for Kenneth's entrance. But as the wait seemed to last, whispers began to be heard in the Hall. Donahue was making moves to his friends, while taking off his cape. Moves saying: "A coward, after all." Some Gryffindors students began to get nervous.
But as the tension was rising, the door opened again, to leave passage to Kenneth. Something had changed in him. His face was closed. And he walked quickly through the crowd, without paying any attention to the absence of cheers from any student. Harry had heard the rumours that Donahue had spread in the school, on Kenneth's cowardice. Thus, many students didn't know what to do. Was it worth supporting someone who wasn't brave enough to face a duel? Harry wondered if he was that stupid, back in school.
You probably were, he thought.
Harry noticed Kenneth's serious expression, and the way he was dressed. He was wearing black robes, with the lion of his clan on the heart, red on gold. They were very sober robes, but quite elegant, with a black cape. Some girls seem to notice the elegancy of his look, and they began to whisper. Harry suppressed a smile.
Better late than never, he told himself.
Without any word, Kenneth walked to the stand. Harry saw Julie Carteret's look, and it was worried. She was following both of the duellists with concern. She clearly had a bad sleep and the tension of the duel wasn't to improve her shape.
Kenneth climbed the steps and faced him.
"Are you ready?" asked Harry.
"Let's get through with this," said Kenneth, with a dark look to Donahue.
Harry nodded. He then noticed one detail of Kenneth dressing. He was wearing a long glove on his right hand that let the fingers free. The glove was going down his forearm to his elbow. And lashed to it, there was a strange sheath, containing his wand.
A sudden thought shot through Harry's mind. He had his answer on Kenneth's knowledge of his family's legacy. Now he was sure the Duel was going to be more interesting than expected. He gave himself the luxury to smile to Snape.
Julie and her friends were standing close to the stand. There had been a shift in the group though. Since her conversation with Kenneth, Kalindra was now standing next to Rob and Will and she had been supportive of Kenneth as soon as he had made his appearance. An appearance she had never doubted, as well. Julie realised that somehow, Kalindra had understood Kenneth's reason for his punching of Robert, and she was backing her friend. That felt weird. When Kalindra had been disapproving of Kenneth's attitude, since she was his closest friend, Julie had been more secure about her own support of Robert. Now that Kalindra had turned her back on the Slytherin prefect, she wasn't so certain her stance was the good one.
Julie couldn't get over the impression that she was tied between the two duellists. Donahue was smiling to her, still pretty sure of himself. Kenneth wasn't moving, standing very stiff near Professor Potter. He still wore the same expression than the day before, in the Common room. And he had proved the Slytherins to be liars as he was here. Julie saw the arm-sheath for his wand, around his forearm. She suddenly felt as if she had been stunned. It was looking so close to the one she had seen on her Great Uncle once. During another...
"What is it, Julie?" asked Jennifer, worrying for her friend when she saw her look and heard her gasp.
"He's been trained…" said Julie, with a smile. "Kenneth's been trained to duel before."
"What does that change?" asked Mandy, who looked very concerned about Kenneth, now. "Donahue always talks about his victories in all these duels. He must have been trained too."
"Not like this," said Julie, who was beginning to suspect something even bigger than just Kenneth being braver that everyone thought.
Ian saw the two duellists walk to the middle of the stand to face each other. Donahue pulled out his wand with an elegant move of the wrist. He made some wave, and some sparkles got out of the tip of his wand. He then held up his wand before his face, to salute his opponent. He was greeted by some cheers and some girls sighed admiringly.
"You're already beaten, Lionheart," he said.
Kenneth made one quick move of his hand, and when he held it up to his face, everyone saw that his wand was ready. Silence fell on the Hall. It wasn't what they expected. Even Snape raised one eyebrow. Kenneth wasn't supposed to be so accurate in his moves, so… impressive. He was supposed to be the weak one. But at no time he seemed to be afraid. He saluted.
"We'll see," he said, between his teeth.
He then slashed his wand through the air, and it traced a letter in the air, in fire. A capital "L". He then turned his back to Donahue, who was still under the surprise, and joined Professor Potter at his end of the stand. He took his position, and waited for Donahue to join Snape. The judges then made three steps behind, and stepped down of the stand. Donahue seemed to have gained back his confidence.
"On your guard, wizards," said Snape coolly.
Donahue took his guard with an elaborate move that Ian found very impressive. Kenneth just balanced his arm, made three waves and extended it, his wand straight in his hand. In some strange way, Ian was even more impressed by this guard. He began to think that something strange was going on.
"At least you don't pretend to know your guards," sneered Donahue.
Ian repressed yet another wave of annoyance at the prefect.
"Let's see what the coward can do, shall we?" said Donahue, with another smile, saluted by a few whistles and whoops by his cronies.
"Oh, shut up, you idiot," muttered Kieran with a smile. "You have no idea what's going to hit you."
Ian turned to her, with a surprised look.
"I've done a little research," said Kieran.
"No way!" said Terry, grinning.
"Sod off, Longwand," said Kieran, without looking any of her composure. "And I found something very interesting about Kenneth. I think this is going to be fun."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Ian.
"Watch and enjoy, Ian," said Kieran.
"Wands at the ready," said Harry, raising his hand, seeing Snape mirror his move, as it was customary.
The two fighters seemed to draw the same breath.
"Begin," said Snape, lowering his hand swiftly.
Kenneth and Donahue started to duel, each shouting spells and jinxes at the other, either in silence or with a loud voice. Sparks were flying everywhere. Harry had to admit, no matter how revolting the whole set up was, this was exciting to see a duel that wouldn't end in death and in which he could focus truly on the technique of the participants.
It pained Harry to admit this as well, but Donahue was a very competent duellist, with flair, style and efficiency in his moves. His incantations were spot on and each spell was a very sharp weapon send at his opponent.
But as strong as Donahue actually was, what amazed Harry was the way Kenneth moved. He was using magic with quick, very slick moves, his words calm and precise. While Donahue was making the best of the situation by showing off for the benefit of the crowd, Kenneth was simply focused on the fight. And so far, they were balanced perfectly. It seemed that the duel was facing a dead end.
There was a first break in the confrontation, as it was customary. The spells ended and the two duellists lowered their wands. Donahue was still jumping slightly on the spot, keeping his body on the move, a smile on his face.
"I'll give you that, Lionheart, you're better than I thought," he said. "That won't be enough, though. Sorry for what's about to happen to you."
"Oh, shut up, Donahue," said Kenneth. "You think you're here to play for the audience?"
"I don't know, you haven't given me anything to worry about, until now, have you?" retorted Donahue, with a smile that made a few girls sigh in admiration.
Harry rolled his eyes, but Donahue had a point. So far, he had been acting as if warming up while Kenneth had been completely into the fight. He was starting to wonder if he hadn't misjudged the Lionheart boy.
Kenneth's eyes suddenly narrowed. His mouth suddenly twisted into a grin that made a few eyebrows in the crowd shoot up.
"Ok," he said. "But then again, you asked for it."
And he stretched his neck a little, before to drop his cape on the side of the stand. His whole demeanour seemed to shift in a second. His posture was different. He wasn't a fifteen year old boy caught in a duel against his will anymore. His grip on his wand changed as well, as he now held it like a sword.
Harry had a sudden inspiration and he knew that he had been right all along. Playtime was over. His smile widened, which seemed to annoy Snape.
Kenneth's mind had turned ice cold. Now, it wasn't about defeating Donahue, anymore. That was actually a given. The question was how bad Donahue would be defeated. They had wanted to see what he was made of? Then it was time to drop the pretence. Donahue had just picked the absolute wrong guy to mess with, and Kenneth was about to educate the jerk.
Stretching his neck once more, Kenneth made a half step on the right, shifted his weight on his feet.
Slowly, he made his wand trace a line, and it left a burning trace scorching the air. His eyes fell on Donahue, who lost somehow his assurance at this moment. Pointing his wand at the Slytherin Prefect, Kenneth smiled again.
"Let's dance, you and I," said Kenneth.
Donahue resumed his guard. Kenneth exchanged a long look with Professor Potter and he nodded. He turned back to Donahue.
Alright, you jerk, let's see you handle this, he thought.
"Wands at the ready," announced Potter once more.
When he lowered his hand, Kenneth moved immediately and then everything went crazy. Robert tried to resume the duel like before, but his first disarming spell exploded in the air before Kenneth's extended wand.
Julie was astonished. Kenneth wasn't casting spells. He just moved like she had seen him in the deserted common room, with this curious grace that had mesmerized her. But he was anything but slow, now. His arms were like in a blur.
"Stupefy!" shouted Robert, trying to block his opponent.
Kenneth didn't counter by the shielding charm. Instead, his wand traced a line of fire in the air and he seemed to stab at the incoming spell, making it explode. He retaliated by a few moves that looked like stabs at an invisible opponent and suddenly Robert was thrown high into the air, with a grunt of pain, before he landed roughly at the feet of Professor Snape. He struggled to his feet and tried another attack.
Kenneth only slashed his wand and seemed to cut through the knocking spell, making three steps in Donahue's direction. He darted his wand toward the ceiling and it looked like Donahue had been caught by some very powerful uppercut, his feet leaving the floor again and pushing him back. Kenneth only resumed his guard and made three little jump back, his wand ready as Donahue was trying to regain his balance.
Julie wasn't only astonished. She was a little scared, now, because she had finally understood what Kenneth had been hiding.
"Oh, Merlin!" she gasped. "Un mage-guerre (*)!"
"What?" said Jennifer, beside her.
"Robert doesn't stand a chance," said Julie, her voice failing her.
"What are you talking about?" said Jennifer.
"Kenneth hasn't been trained to duel!" exclaimed Julie. "He's born for this!"
"Uh?" said Will. "What does that mean?"
"Who cares?" said Rob, grinning wildly. "He's wiping the floor with Donahue, now, that's all that matters."
"Come on, Kenneth, finish the jerk," said Kalindra, looking curiously fierce.
"You don't understand!" said Julie. "We got it all wrong! Kenneth doesn't refuse the fight because he's afraid to lose. He refuses the fight because he could very well kill Robert, right now."
"What?" said Jennifer, her eyes popping out of her head.
"Tarantallegra!" shouted Donahue, only to see his spell being countered once more.
This time he lost his self control.
"Somebody's helping him!" he roared, pointing at Kenneth.
Silence fell over the hall, as Kenneth only replied with the same threatening smile. Harry stepped up.
"Nobody has been helping Mr Lionheart," he said, very seriously. "You've been told to stay silent out of the breaks in the duel."
Donahue clenched his teeth and raised his wand for another spell. This time, he went for a quick binding spell, a clever move. But it was ruined when Kenneth just seemed to deflect it by a punch with his wand hand. The spell went out of the stand and was about to hit another student, when Kenneth made three waves and the energy gathered again, at the tip of his wand. He sent another piercing look at Donahue and with a turn of his wrist, sent beck the spell straight at the Slytherin. Donahue had barely the time to summon a shield to dissipate the spell.
Harry had to admit he had never seen anything like this in a Hogwarts student, and not even during the war. The only person he had ever seen fighting like this had been Sarah. To think of the raven haired Auror whom Harry had known during the war once more infuriated him. It wasn't unbiased of him, but to think that Donahue had insulted Sarah Lionheart's memory and accused her cowardice… that was too much for him.
Do me a favour, Kenneth and give the scum some for me, while you're at it, he allowed himself to think.
He exchanged a look with Snape and he saw that the head of Slytherin was slightly shocked. It seemed he was intensely thinking, as if readjusting his way of looking at Kenneth. Harry allowed himself another little smile. So much for this "Gryffindor weak boy" theory.
Kenneth deflected three new attacks the same way he had parried the binding curse. His last block was linked with a sudden move that looked like fencing lunge. He then swirled his wand with a wrist move that created a familiar light of sparks. He had just disarmed Donahue. The Prefect's wand flew to Kenneth's free hand and he snatched it from the air. He regained his posture from earlier, holding out both wands, Donahue's tip aimed at the stands.
This was a classical situation in a duel. When one opponent was disarmed, the armed wizard had the right to finish the disarmed, to spare him, or he could choose to give back the wand to resume the duel, but having scored a clear advantage. A disarming also called a break in a duel, so Kenneth and Donahue were again allowed to speak.
"But… how… how can he do this?" protested Donahue. "His moves are gibberish! He must be cheating!"
"Please, Mr Donahue, don't make a fool of yourself," said Snape, icily.
Donahue clearly didn't expect such a reprimand from his Head of House. Harry smiled again.
"To answer your question, Mr Donahue," he said. "Not only Mr Lionheart isn't cheating, but if you can't figure out how he performs his magic, then it just shows one thing. You don't have the wits to pick up your fights. One does not challenge a Lionheart lightly in a duel. That's common knowledge among those who claim to be practiced in wizard duelling. I would have expected you to study your opponent a little more before to claim early victory. Now, Mr Lionheart, do you wish to end the duel?"
Kenneth turned to him and Harry could see the faintest flash of childish satisfaction in his eyes, which was quickly repressed. Harry could only imagine what humiliation a son of the Clan Lionheart had had to swallow, in order to preserve the legendary patience and self-control of his family. There was a small part of Kenneth that still relished in his performance of today.
Kenneth shook his head. He tossed his wand back to Donahue.
"Now," he said, mimicking Donahue's tone before the duel. "Let's see what the coward can do, shall we? You're ready?"
Donahue, in a show of nerve even Harry had to acknowledge, raised his guard once more and nodded.
Kenneth moved, this time running toward Donahue, blasting the Slytherin's jinxes out of his way. He nearly plunged at Donahue's feet, but stopped his momentum in a second, wand with a curious wave of his wand, pointed it upward. Donahue was suddenly stopped in his movement, a trace of fear evident in his eyes. And then everything exploded in light. Donahue was sent up toward the ceiling like a green an blue rocket. Kenneth stood back up and with his wand traced a curious figure in the air. The figure lingered, in light and then expanded to ascend in the hall, meeting Donahue on his way down. Another flash of light and everyone had to cover their eyes.
Ian blinked to chase the tears from the blinding light. What he saw made him gasp in shock.
Donahue was stranded in the air, head down, as he was caught in something that looked a lot like a net made of light. He was searching desperately for his wand, but Ian saw that it was back in Kenneth's hand. The Gryffindor boy walked calmly to his opponent and looked him up and down.
"Well," he said. "I guess I win, then. Don't you agree?"
Donahue threw a withering look at him. Kenneth darted his wand at the ceiling and Donahue suddenly sped up to the roof, almost going through the magical sky that was there. He fell back at break neck speed, to pause right in front of Kenneth. But Donahue's scream of terror didn't pause just then.
"I said don't you agree?" shouted Kenneth.
"Yes!" exclaimed Donahue, under clear panic, now.
"Good," said Kenneth. "Now, next time you want to defile my mother's name, just remember the coward who made you squeal like a girl. Professor Potter said one does not challenge a Lionheart lightly. I'll make it clearer for you: one does NOT challenge a Lionheart AT ALL. Next time you try, I could get angry… and you don't want that."
He turned Donahue's wand in his hand pointing both tips like his arms were part of a cross.
"You lose, end of the lesson," he said.
With a cutting move that looked like a conductor ending the music from an orchestra, Kenneth slashed the air with both wands and a loud crack echoed under the ceiling as Donahue was thrown on the floor. When the commotion ceased, he was lying there, stunned, his nose apparently broken.
The hall exploded in cheers but it died out as soon as Kenneth turned deadly eyes to the crowd. Clearly he didn't want to be cheered on. He dropped Donahue's wand on the stunned Slytherin and walked to his end of the stand, facing Professor Potter. Potter exchanged a few words with him, and Kenneth nodded. Potter smiled widely and shook hands with the victor, before to step aside and clear his way off the stands. A small crowd had started to gather at the bottom of it but it parted when it saw the look in Kenneth's eyes. The pony-tailed boy strode out of the Hall, his cloak over his shoulder, re-sheathing his wand in the holster on his wrist. As soon as he was out of view, the Gryffindors who had supported Kenneth resumed their cheering. Ian caught a few dark looks in his direction, as many had bet on Donahue, and they now owed him money.
Snape walked to Donahue and his eyes showed a trace of shock.
"Eight different spells in one move, that's impossible," said the Potions Master.
"Not for a Lionheart," said Potter, as he moved to help the Head of Slytherin to unfreeze Donahue.
The crowd slowly made their way out of the Hall. Ian had to give up trying to hear what the two teachers were saying. It was lost in the cacophony of the students' chatting. There were a few people coming to him, handing him begrudgingly the coins they owed him after their bet had turned out to be lost. The odds had been against Kenneth and so Ian was quite sure he would make a rather impressive profit out of it. He wasn't the only one to have a triumph. And it reminded Ian about something.
"Aha! I knew it!" exclaimed Kieran. "That was brilliant. And everyone was there, believing that the duel was won for Donahue. If they had studied a little, they would have known better. What?"
Ian was staring at her, shock and a slight annoyance clear in his eyes.
"You had information on the duel's outcome and you didn't share," he said, scandalized. "K, I had money on this. I was leading the betting pool! You could have warned me you had info on this."
"Well, first, it's not a good idea to bet on that sort of thing," said Kieran. "You had money on it… Who did you bet on?" asked Kieran.
"Kenneth," said Ian.
"Then you'll get your money back," said Kieran, confused. "What are you complaining about?"
She must have seen the look on his face, for she frowned a little more.
"What?" she exclaimed.
"The odds!" said Ian. "If you knew for sure that Kenneth was going to win, you should have told me! I could have raised the odds!"
"I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear that one," said Kieran, rolling her eyes.
Ian had a toothy grin.
"Anyway, how did he do this?" asked Joel, still astonished by Kenneth's performance.
"In fact, Kenneth's family is very secretive about this, but to those who know where to look, they can be seen as living legends," said Kieran.
"What do you mean?" asked Ian.
"Clan Lionheart is a legendary bloodline of Wandmasters," said Kieran.
Ian was shocked by that.
"Wandmasters? But I could have made insane odds on that one!" he said, feigning despair.
He dodged a slap on the back of his head from Kieran, laughing.
"Vulture," scoffed the young girl.
(*)Mage-guerre is the French term for Wandmaster, made up by me, of course...
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