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Pride & Pestilence by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 6 : The Field of Dishonour
 
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Chapter Six
The Field of Dishonour


The morning dawned in shades of green and gold with no cloud to mar the sky’s fair complexion. Hampstead Heath was vacant but for the animals who sprang for their holes as soon as the duelling party came into sight, their boots tramping noisily on the gravel path. They approached the famous field where the greatest duellists of England had fought, the soil long stained with the blood of heroes and cowards alike. The Ministry did the best it could to disguise the strange burn marks that appeared from time to time lest they draw the curiosity of those scientific Muggles who roamed the Heath to penetrate the secrets of the natural world.

“Walk carefully now,” Roxanne said to her cousin Louis, clutching his arm in a death-grip.“The Muggles have been digging again. I wonder for what.”

Louis’s voice emerged in a petulant grumble. He had not been seen in London for some time, preferring to live with this nose firmly pressed between the pages of crumbling books in the depths of Bodleian. “Fossils. Old bones, you know.”

He received an elbow in the side and winced.

“Don’t even try to speak, cousin,” Roxanne muttered. “You sound like a dying whale.”

Louis’s answering grunt only confirmed this hypothesis.

Ahead of them, Albus Potter was in his own world, presiding over a realm of well-dressed peoples who never smelled of anything worse than gardenias and never ventured to give insult to anyone of personal merit. He sent enough piercing glares in Mr. Malfoy’s direction to rend a hole through his thick skull, if only the eyes were capable of such a thing.

Mr. Malfoy and his chosen accompaniment were all in black, their robes cut to a swooning perfection, but only Mr. Malfoy’s unrelieved black was set off by the pale strands of his hair glistening in the rays of the early sun. His companions topped their dark heads with silk top hats as though they were returning home from a midnight ball or a deathday party that had only ended at the break of dawn. They could not have appeared more incongruous with the natural world that burst into bloom with the new day’s sun.

When Albus at last came to a halt, they had passed through a silent wood to emerge in a clearing surrounded by standing stones. Once a meeting place for the druid orders, it now held meetings of a different variety, some of which this author cannot describe within the bounds of modest speech. The high grass had been flattened in choice locations.

As the only official Ministry representative present, Roxanne made a circuit of the clearing to ensure that it met the regulations of a Wizard’s Duel, her regulation skirts rustling through the knee-high grass. The others waited, looking at everything but one another, but it is any-body’s supposition whether this was a symptom of fear or discomfort. Only Louis expressed any particular curiosity in their surroundings, head glancing back and forth, up and down, as he surveyed the clearing and its standing stones, but no one paid him any heed until the duellists began to take their positions.

“Was your second not meant to be Mr. Frederick Weasley?” Mr. Malfoy raised his pale eyebrows, seemingly taking notice of Louis for the first time. “Which one of you is this?”

Albus glanced behind him, eyes narrowing as they met those of Louis.

“This is Mr. Louis Weasley.”

There was a malicious twist to Mr. Malfoy’s lips. “I pray that his duelling skills are an improvement over the cut of his robes.”

The hand that Louis held at his side curled hard into a fist, but he offered no response. Every muscle in his face was taunt, and his eyes shot Unforgiveable curses through Mr. Malfoy’s fragile bones, but Mr. Malfoy had already turned away to convey orders to his companions and the tension fell away. When Roxanne reappeared at Louis’s side, pinching his arm through the sleeve of his ill-fitting robes, the players fell into place upon the chess board, and all eyes were upon the duellists.

“And that is exactly the reason why we’re here.” Roxanne leaned toward her cousin, her lips hardly appearing to move at all. “He seems to take great enjoyment from torturing you, even when he cannot possibly know who you are.”

Louis’s answer, scathing as it must have been, was drowned out by an explosion of magic against the standing stone behind Mr. Malfoy. Fragments of rock spilled into the grass, forcing Mr. Malfoy to stumble forward before he could cast his first spell. Albus’s wand still glowed with the exertion, and Mr. Malfoy’s hair was no longer sitting gracefully in place. An odd expression crossed his face, but he regained composure in the tiniest moment, flicking his wand at his opponent as though he cared not for its result.

It was a silent duel but for the sounds that the spells made as they struck their marks or the standing stones beyond. Neither duellist required speech, which was a curious thing, an unexpected talent that neither of these dandies ought to have possessed. But they thought only of the next spell and their audience only of the great spectacle of the thing. There was no opportunity for any speculation beyond the duel’s outcome, and every person in attendance was divided, not only in their loyalties, but in their interpretations of the duel’s proceedings.

Here was a curse, its cruel glow flashing through the summer air.

There a shield charm, glittering against the beads of perspiration that had gathered on Albus’s brow.

Then a disarming spell, avoided with the grace of a lady at the gavotte.

Finally came a jynx, swift and silent. It caught Mr. Malfoy by the robes, twisting them about his flailing limbs, his face flashing red as his brows lowered into a glower. There was extraordinary force in his next spell, fire spewing forth to spread a trail of black ash through the grass, ending only at Albus’s feet. Although he leapt aside, the flames licked at his fine silk coat, curling the hem and melting the braided trim. The impolite explicative which burst from his lips only brought laughter to those of Mr. Malfoy, who pushed the matted hair from his forehead, the flush that crossed his pale cheeks and the light in his eyes at last revealing the life contained within his emaciated form.

Louis’s eyes took in every detail of Mr. Malfoy’s changed appearance. It seemed so much in opposition to the figure who strolled the promenades and frequented the salons of London’s highest society. Surely this could not be the same proud, young wizard whose lips dripped with distain? But there was nothing to admire about the exhilaration that lit his features. Louis shivered in spite of himself.

Albus’s movements were slowing, his lips held tight in a grimace. The fire had caused greater damage than he dared to reveal. Louis glanced toward Roxanne, but her eyes were trained upon Albus, fists clasped tight at her side. For the first time, Louis was uncertain that Roxanne would keep her word that should Albus require the use of his second, Louis would be the one to step forward. Louis must be the one to complete to duel. As such an event turned from a perhaps to a possibility, Louis prepared himself, drying his perspiring palms against his trousers, but the wool felt rough and he shifted his weight, unable to keep still.

A flash of light filled the clearing, blinding all. Only once it had faded did Louis release a cry. Roxanne was the first to rush forward to where Albus had crumpled to the ground, unconscious. There was no visible wound upon his person, and when Roxanne placed her hand on the back of his head, there was no sign of blood.

Mr. Malfoy strode across the duelling field, already playing the role of victor.

“Am I to assume that he’s incapable of completing the duel?”

The expression in Roxanne’s eyes was more potent than the strongest of poisons. They alone could have finished the duel in a moment.

“Yes.” The word emerged through gritted teeth.

“Which spell did you use to put him in this state?” Louis’s voice seemed to startle Mr. Malfoy, who, upon turning, revealed a searching gaze.

“Nothing that the Ministry would find fault with.” His voice was firm, but there was unease upon his brow. “As you can see, he is not seriously injured.”

“I would venture that it was nothing more than stupefy.” Roxanne returned to her examination of Albus’s condition. “Though I would be very interested to know how you caused such a spectacle with it. Such fireworks were hardly necessary. My cousin was already weakened by your incendio.”

Mr. Malfoy stiffened. “It is not necessary to analyse my use of spells, Captain Weasley.”

There was the slightest tightening of her muscles, and perhaps any witch or wizard of lesser mettle would have cast aside all decorum to continue the duel, but her hand did not stray toward her wand. She was unwilling to waste her time and energy on such a wizard as he, a mere cockerel in contrast to the wolves that howled at England’s door.

“You will make the effort to listen to whatever instruction I see fit to offer, Mr. Malfoy.”

With a toss of his head, he began to turn away.

“Do not think that this is yet over, Mr. Malfoy. You have not yet won.”

Much credit must be given to Mr. Malfoy for maintaining his composure at this crucial moment, though it has been sworn by some that the mask slipped from his face to reveal a glimpse of true fury. But such things are conjecture, for surely no polite wizard could know such depth of feeling, particularly not a Malfoy, whose heart is as faithless as it is cold.

“There is a Second.”

A smile flashed across his lips. “Oh, yes. How could I forget?”

He did not even glance in Louis’s direction, and the young Mr. Weasley took in a shaky breath, careful to avoid his cousin’s silent look of warning. There was no need. Louis already knew that he doomed, but try he must, for too much was at stake. Nations had been torn to pieces by their own citizens for less.

Without a word, he took his place where Albus had stood not long before, wiping his palms against his trousers when Mr. Malfoy’s back was turned. They bowed at one another like civilized wizards, even if they were, in their hearts, anything but.

The first spell crossed the field in a ball of red flame. Louis deflected it and cast one of his own, only to miss. So things continued. It seemed that Louis was not in the practice of duelling, his limbs flailing in an awkward manner, yet it was doubtless that he possessed a wider knowledge of spells. Perhaps he was not so much awkward as eccentric in his mannerisms. When a flock of particularly malicious wrens targeted Mr. Malfoy’s face, he only just leapt out of their way in time. Before he could rise, another spell split the seams at the back of his elegant robes with a rip that would bring tears to the eyes of its tailor.

It was not the obvious choice of spell for a duel. Others would have disarmed or otherwise have immobilised their opponent, but Louis did not do as others did. There was method to what many would have called his madness.

Mr. Malfoy drew to his feet, teeth clenched as he picked a blade of dead grass from his robes, red spots burning on his cheeks. In less than a second a spell shot toward Louis. The witnesses held their breaths, but the young Weasley cast a shield charm of glittering blue, and Mr. Malfoy’s fury rebounded. The field was lost in another flash of light, which cleared to reveal Louis standing over Mr. Malfoy, wand pointed as his throat.

Roxanne was about to let out a cheer, but the sound died within her throat.

At some point in the proceedings, Louis’s skull cap – another perceived sign of his eccentricity – had fallen from his head. It must have been charmed, for the amount of hair upon his head was nothing if not copious. Indeed it was not the head of a “him” at all.

“Do you yield, Mr. Malfoy?”

The voice had returned to its accustomed pitch, though its speaker could not help but impart her sense of triumph.

There was a noise in his throat, nothing more.

With a twist of her wand, she undid the body-bind just enough so that he could reply. His face did not mould into a mask of shame nor that of hate, as may have been expected from such a deception as she had played upon him. He seemed devoid of all probable reactions, and victory turned sour in her mouth. It was impossible that he should have guessed, even less that he had known of her plan. Had he cursed her name, had he called fowl, she would have understood. This, she did not.

His lips moved, but she could hardly hear his words above the pounding of her heart.

“Yes, Miss Weasley.”

Rose lowered her wand and stepped aside, unwilling to appear hesitant. Another twist of her wand and he was freed from her spell.

His companions came forward, glaring unforgivables at the witch who should not have won. Mr. Malfoy waved them aside and rose on his own accord, disguising the weakness in his limbs by brushing detritus from his ruined robes.

Assuming that all was over, Rose moved to join her cousins. Albus had been revived, but only to a point. It was, however, enough so that, as Rose neared, he raised an arm, his mouth open in what would have been a cry had he possessed the strength to utter more than a squeak.

Rose whirled, but her wand caught in the unfamiliar robes and she nearly tumbled to the ground at Mr. Malfoy’s feet.

He held out his hand.

“May I offer my congratulations, Miss Weasley? I am afraid that I forgot myself moments ago.”

Rose stared at him, open-mouthed.

“It is traditional that both opponents shake hands once the duel is completed.”

She thought that there was a hint of passion in the trembling notes of his voice, but his face had resumed its bloodless mask, as though he possessed no capacity for feeling. Perhaps he could only express the baser emotions, the bloodlust of his kind, yet he stood before her, offering his hand. He did not deny her this victory, though it was well within his right.

With a nod, she thrust her hand toward his. He caught it.

“I could not have duelled a worthier opponent. Nor, I venture, shall I again.”

Once he had turned away, Rose remembered to breathe, her legs taking her back to where Roxanne was preparing Albus for the journey to St. Mungo’s. She did not dare meet her cousins’ questioning gazes, preferring to examine the burnt grass at Albus’s feet. Albus mumbled a series of words, but Roxanne shook her head, leaving Rose to her thoughts.

She listened as Mr. Malfoy and his companions exited the duelling grounds, their footsteps soon growing dim. At last she trusted herself to survey the clearing, its grass trampled, its peace disturbed by the blind passion of those who fought for nothing more than honour. How had she said it, the previous night? That they fought the same battles, again and again, never seeming to learn, never seeming to change. But there was change now, was there not? The die had landed; the score had been settled.

A new story had begun.


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