The Sugar Quill
Author: Penpusher (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry's Dilemma  Chapter: Chapter Two: Of Duels and Divination
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Chapter Two – Of Duels and Divination

Harry was totally and utterly fed up. Here they were, a mere half way through the winter term, and already he had lost ten points for Gryffindor, all of which were due to Ginny’s ceaseless harassment, and now he had a detention for a crime of which he was totally innocent, a mere spectator. To add insult to injury, he would probably be lectured into mind-numbing boredom for several hours tonight – Madame Pince’s detentions could be unbelievably soporific, and those who succumbed were invariably given a further punishment the following evening – alongside the very person responsible for most of his current misery. What on earth had possessed McGonagall to pair him up with Ginny, of all people? Or Ron with Hermione even. Although detentions were not designed to be pleasant, Harry figured a very real threat to the foundations of Hogwarts itself could have been avoided had those two been given separate detentions (in his opinion, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were the most combustible pair in the school). As a fringe benefit, he himself would have been prevented from strangling Ginny – a not unlikely outcome of this evening’s jollities, Harry reckoned.

The sheer unfairness of it all threatened to overwhelm him. He could not concentrate at all during Charms, History of Magic was a complete blur, and Divination – well, he might just as well have been staring into a milk bottle for all the … Wait a moment. Harry tensed suddenly and huddled over his crystal in astonishment. Professor Trelawney raised her head at the sudden movement.

“My dear, do you see something?” She moved away from Seamus Finnigan, who was trying to persuade her that he could see a dinosaur in his crystal, and approached Harry’s table. Harry was shaking his head slowly – no, that was ridiculous. Professor Trelawney looked at him encouragingly.

“What is it that you see?” but Harry had wrenched his eyes away from the beguiling depths of the stone and was pretending to search for something among his papers.

“No, it was nothing.” he muttered. “I’m sorry, Professor, I must have been mistaken.” Trelawney glanced at him with an unusual spark in her eyes, and he felt himself redden.

“Divination is not an exact science. “ she began in her irritating sing-song voice. “What is seen by those with a gift for divination is rarely explicit. However, if other minds can interpret the images, much useful information can be gathered.” Harry nodded.

“Yes, Professor, but I really didn’t see anything I can readily put into words.”

This was entirely true. Harry would rather have died than admit, even to himself, the image now etched into his retina from the depths of the bright scrying stone. He hid the memory carefully at the back of his mind where, he hoped, it would become buried in his subconscious, never to emerge into the light of day. He shook his head: this divination was scarey stuff, he’d treat it with a little more respect in future!

“Hey, what was the problem with Trelawney?” asked Ron, lightly as they trooped down to supper. Harry looked at his friend and shivered. Ron was the last person to whom he could confide this little piece of mystery. He managed to shrug carelessly.

“She thought I’d seen something in the stone.”

“Hadn’t you? It certainly seemed as though you had from where I was sitting.” Harry shook his head rather too firmly.

“I saw nothing at all – why this sudden interest in my divination skills? I’ve never shown the slightest aptitude before, so what would make me change now?” Ron held his hands up in surrender.

“Okay, okay.” he replied, puzzled. “No hassle. No need to tear out your hair or pull out your nails – unless you’re using them for one of Snape’s brews. Which reminds me – double potions first thing tomorrow. Eek!” Ron drew the edge of his hand expressively over his throat with an appropriate sound effect. Harry smiled. Recently, he had been getting quite good at the meticulous mixing and combining needed for really successful potions. Snape was still as disagreeable and his dungeon still as damp and cold as ever, but the man was an impressive teacher and really knew his craft. Harry was grateful for the lessons, but not nearly as grateful as he was to the present Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, a most eminent witch by the name of Rosamund de Rochard.

With such a seductive-sounding name, Ron had been convinced that the new professor would be young, blond, long-legged and beautiful and, most importantly, available to her students. On the morning of their first class, he had combed his hair four times, changed his clothes twice, and even borrowed Seamus’s cologne in preparation. Harry chuckled quietly at the recollection: Ron’s reaction on being confronted with Madame de Rochard herself – small, wiry and in her late fifties, with a leathery, wrinkled face full of laughter lines – was a sight to behold. Harry, however, had been delighted with the plain-speaking, unflappable, highly skilled manner of his new teacher, and had learned more from her in this scant half-term than from any other member of staff. Which was just as well, really, as Harry could not afford any complacence with regard to Voldemort’s regular assaults. Oddly enough, Ginny Weasley was also proving to be a formidable student of DADA; in fact, Harry vaguely recalled Ron telling him that she might well prove the most able of his whole family – including his parents.

Harry added a final stroke to his commentary on Charms for the Curing of Warts: Arguments for and Against, looked at his watch and sighed. He carefully cleaned his quill, rolled the parchment containing his essay and began to close and pack up his books in preparation for detention. Ron looked up, glanced up at the clock on the wall and grimaced sympathetically.

“See you later.” he said. Save for a wry smile, Harry did not respond at all but quietly left the Common Room for the Library. One of the reasons Harry had made no comment to Ron regarding his detention was that it was virtually impossible for him to do so honestly and still remain friends. To be sure, there were far worse detentions than with Madame Pince in the Library - Fred and George would probably attest to that the following morning – but this evening Harry would have sooner followed Snape into the Forbidden Forest to hunt for werewolves.

“What is it with Ginny these days?” he muttered between his teeth as he made his reluctant way through the seemingly endless corridors. “She was so sweet when she was little – I used to really enjoy playing and reading with her during the holidays when I stayed with the Weasleys. Now – well, everyone agrees that her practical joking has got seriously out of hand and something has got to be done. The trouble is, I’m the only one who believes that she’s doing it not out of mischief but out of real dislike.” He stopped suddenly and put his hands to his forhead.

“Oh Ginny!” he murmured, “What have I done to make you hate me so much?”

“Got a headache, Potter? Hope it’s a bad one.” The nasal drawl oozed down the corridor after Harry as a grinning Malfoy appeared.

“Evening Malfoy.” responded Harry coldly. Malfoy’s grin grew wider.

“On our way to detention with the delightful Miss Weasley, are we?” he continued. “Better hang a few counter-curses on the way – you might need them.” Harry sighed and faced his enemy with a resigned expression.

“I’m sorry, Malfoy, I’m afraid I just don’t have time for you at the moment. Come back at breakfast time and I’ll play the game, but right now I’ve just got too much on my mind. Excuse me.” Turning his back on a gaping Malfoy, Harry continued to make his weary way to the library. It was only when he had nearly reached the carved oak doors that Harry realised exactly what he had done. His face creased into a small smile as he entered the library and squared his shoulders for the ordeal ahead – at least he’d silenced his enemy without the need for any of the usual abusive words or Curses. Left him standing speechless, no less!

Ginny was already there being lectured by Madame Pince. On hearing his footsteps, she turned her head and her cold blue gaze swept indifferently over him before she turned her attention back to the librarian. Harry felt crushed, but continued into the room, having no other choice.

“Ah, Mr. Potter, so good of you to come.” Harry was never sure whether Madame Pince was being sarcastic or not when she greeted him in this manner, particularly for a detention.

“As I was just explaining to Miss Weasley, there are twelve trolleys of books which need replacing on the shelves. Some of them are from the restricted section. These you may not replace: you will stack them together neatly on one of the empty trolleys when you have finished filing the non-restricted volumes. Afterwards,” Madame Pince gave a ghost of a smile on seeing a panic-stricken look cross Harry’s face, “You may go to your beds. However,” and here she fixed them with a beady-eyed look, “I trust that the recent, ah, disagreements between the two of you will not spill over into this evening’s work; in fact, I suggest you use this opportunity to try to resolve your differences. Good evening to you both.”

With that parting shot, she swept out of the library, leaving Harry open-mouthed. He shook his head helplessly and ran his fingers through his unruly hair; he should have guessed that Ginny’s pranks would not go unnoticed by the teaching staff. Presently, he turned to her to suggest that they make a start, but to his annoyance she had already turned on her heel towards the great trolleys packed with books and was starting to drag one slowly into the centre of the room where both access and light would be better. Harry leaped towards her.

“Let me help.” He offered. She scowled, refusing to meet his eyes.

“I can manage. Get your own trolley.” Having no other choice, Harry did as he was bid.

Their detention time passed in silence, occasionally broken by Harry’s increasingly desperate attempts to initiate conversation, which always met with the same crushing sarcasm. As the trolleys grew steadily emptier, and the books were carefully replaced, Harry’s determination to make some sort of communication with Ginny became stronger. Finally, having replaced several books on a very high shelf at the top of a library ladder, Harry decided to grab the bull by the horns. He slid down the ladder, marched over to Ginny’s trolley and stepped around it.

“Ginny,” he began in a rush then stopped abruptly. She was deeply involved in a chapter of one of the books. Her head snapped up guiltily, and she quickly closed the volume, but not before Harry had seen the crucial “Restricted” inscription.

“Hey, you’re not supposed to be reading that!” he exclaimed, and reached for the book. Ginny backed away, holding the volume high in the air.

“And who are you to tell me what to do?” Her eyes were bright with fury, both at his discovery and his protest. Harry made another grab for the book, but she eluded him. In the lamplight, he could just see the title “Countercurses: Resistance against the Major Attacks and the Art of Reversal”.

“Ginny,” he repeated, “you’ll be in serious trouble if anyone discovers you’ve been reading restricted material.” She made a face at him.

“Going to stop me then, are you?” she sneered. “The great Harry Potter, so much stronger and more talented than any of the rest of us poor squibs.” Harry felt anger rising.

“If you don’t put that book back on the trolley, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” He reached out a hand – and suddenly found he couldn’t move it any further forward. Ginny grinned delightedly and pulled her wand out of her pocket.

“Any more of that and it’ll be a full body bind.” she announced gleefully.

Abruptly, Harry’s fury at her and all the grief she had caused him over the last few months overflowed. He didn’t even stop to think how adept she had to be to have cast that curse without using her wand. Hardly even feeling it, he broke her enchantment as easily as if it had been gossamer and physically started towards her. Ginny’s grin faded and was replaced by an uneasy frown as she realised just how angry he had to be to break through her magic like that. Still clutching the book, she turned and ran swiftly from the library, her shoes clattering down the corridor.

“Ginny, the book …” Harry stood in total indecision. On the one hand, he could let her go, keep the book and take the ton of trouble which would descend very quickly upon her head once her actions became known. It was likely that her punishment would be enough to ensure that he did not suffer many more of her pranks this term. She might even be expelled – there his mind baulked. How could he explain to Ron that he had witnessed his sister in a potentially explosive situation, and done nothing to help her? Besides, his own feelings … he cut short that particular line of enquiry, and took off quickly in pursuit.

Once outside the library, Harry paused. He had no idea even of the direction Ginny had taken – she seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Perhaps she had, but Harry doubted it. There was no way Ginny could have mastered the advanced magic of a dematerialisation spell, even from a restricted book, at her young age, and besides, no one could Disapparate or Apparate in Hogwarts Castle – strong magic protected it from that sort of intrusion. Suddenly, his eyes fell upon an object on the floor of the corridor. He sprinted towards it and picked it up: it was a handkerchief, and it was lying outside the room known amongst Hogwarts students as the gym.

The Hogwarts gym was similar to rooms given the same name in muggle schools in that it was big and empty-seeming, and with a springy wooden floor. There, however, the resemblance ended. The ceiling was extremely high: so high, in fact, that had the floor area been larger, an entire Quidditch match could possibly have been played solely within the confines of the room. In fact Quidditch was never played nor even practised in the Hogwarts gym, but broomstick practice for awkward manoeuvres, obstacle flying and broomstick aerobatics did take place here, and consequently the room was designed appropriately.

There was absolutely nothing in the room at present: during broomstick practice hoops, rings and ropes, fire, water, earth and air obstacles were conjured out of the walls, floor and ceiling to confuse the participants. Mists, fogs and rain could descend upon the hapless students, hail and lightening could frighten the unwary into an unplanned manoeuvre, or even unseat them at a critical moment. However, these impediments were always provided through the skill of the teacher, and were never solid physical bodies for long. When not in use, the room was as vast and empty as a cathedral.

Harry drew an unsteady breath, advanced firmly on the huge wooden doors and stepped into the cavernous darkness.

“Ginny.” he whispered. “Ginny, are you there?” His only answer was a faint mocking laugh. Suddenly the gym was flooded with light. Shielding his eyes against the glare, he could just make out a small, flame-haired figure standing in the centre of the huge room. She held only her wand: there was no sign of the restricted book. Harry advanced on her angrily.

“Ginny, stop messing about.” He commanded, “We’re in enough trouble as it is. What have you done with that book?” She smirked knowingly.

“It’s in my pocket, Harry.” Her eyes dared him to challenge her. Harry paused. Shrinking objects was no big deal – Harry had mastered most of that art in his first year at Hogwarts – but a restricted book of that quality always had protective charms woven around it (one reason why Harry was so worried about Ginny removing it from the library), and interference with its size and shape would be very difficult indeed. Ginny would have to have grown considerably in stature as a sorceress since Harry had last spoken properly with her to achieve that level of expertise. But if she had not enchanted it, what had she done with it? He began walking towards her, but she twitched her wand slightly in his direction and he stopped. She shook her head, still smiling.

“No further, Harry Potter.” Harry stopped.

“Ginny, look,” he began, “We need to get back to the library to get finished before …” She was shaking her head.

“Not yet.” she said quietly. “First, we see if you can make me return the book.” Harry stared in astonishment, then swallowed on a suddenly dry throat.

“Are you talking about a duel? Ginny, we’re neither of us licensed wizards. That’s strictly against the law – we wouldn’t just be expelled if anyone found out, it’d be much worse!”

“But they won’t, will they? – not unless you tell them.” Harry fell silent debating his best course of action. Ginny’s grin widened.

“Not scared of little old me, are you – Harry Potter, wizard extraordinaire, the great white hope of Hogwarts and the magical world, the only one who can defeat Voldemort.”

Harry gave a gasp. Years ago, Albus Dumbledore had advised him to call a spade a spade when it came to naming the unnameable, but to his knowledge, no-one else had ever followed suit. It shocked him to hear Ginny following the same path. Wait a minute. Ginny had once been possessed by a shadow of Voldemort inside a book – was she thus possessed again? Was this the reason …

“No, Harry, I’m not working for Voldemort, not this time. This time I’m just working for me.” He stared.

“How did you…?” She laughed.

“Perhaps I can read minds.” She said flatly, “Or perhaps your thoughts were just as plain as daylight on your face. You choose.” She raised her wand, “I’m getting impatient.”

Harry came to a decision. Ginny was in the year below him, had not yet started the extra subjects which were making such a difference to his own abilities, and was, after all, not – well, not special in the same way as he was. It was likely that he could take her on and win in reasonably short order, and then no-one need be any the wiser as to the enormity of their transgression. Removal of a restricted book from the library was an extremely serious offence, one of the lesser penalties for which was expulsion. Surely he would merely be protecting her from the consequences of her hasty action - after all, it wasn’t as though he was likely to lose – was he? If he could get this settled quickly, replace the book in the library and retire gratefully to his bed, then no one would ever be any the wiser - and he wouldn’t have to explain anything to Ron either.

Harry pulled his wand out of his pocket. He held it vertically before him, both hands around its base, and touched his forehead to the tip in the classic wizard’s acceptance of challenge. Looking up, he saw that Ginny had mirrored his action and was standing, waiting passively for him to make first strike, as was his right. Taking a short time to organise his thoughts, Harry opted for a simple confusion spell to begin with. Ginny cottoned on to that one almost immediately and brushed it aside with contempt. Her response was a devastating wave of illusion that totally destroyed his sense of perspective. Distracted, he abandoned all pretence at gentlemanly conduct and unleashed a sneaky side attack using a little-known fire curse that affected only the soles of the feet. Ginny, puzzled at first, screamed partly in pain, partly in surprise. Taking advantage of her distraction, Harry immediately volleyed in with a disabling spell, but she was too quick for him. Ignoring the pain in her feet, she drew a swift circle in front of her body and muttered quickly. The circle became a shining disc that acted like a magic trampoline: Harry ducked just in time to avoid being hit by his own curse. Ginny’s retaliatory thrust came directly on its heels – a nasty little lightening strike spell that caught Harry on the hop, partly immobilizing his right arm.

It was at this point that Harry’s irritation with Ginny sharpened into real resentment, and he started working towards winning the duel for itself, rather than simply trying to curtail her maverick behaviour. His right arm quickly recovered – the spell had not been a powerful one, and most of it had been deflected by reflex action – and he suddenly unleashed a barrage of different fire attacks, each following closely on the previous one. To his everlasting astonishment, when the smoke cleared she was still standing. Beads of sweat stood out on her forehead and her breath was coming in slow gasps, but she was still very much a going concern – as Harry quickly found out when an arctic lake upended itself on top of him. The next few minutes were very busy indeed. Harry had a good idea that if he were to pause, even for a moment, he would drown – Ginny seemed to be determined on dousing any possibility of a renewal of his fire attacks. Harry concentrated on defence, a small part of his mind involved in strategy even as he fought for survival. Eventually Ginny had to make a small pause in her salvo to regroup, and it was then that Harry struck, hard and swiftly, ruthlessly clawing back lost ground. Lightening attacks followed by howling tornadoes, arrows of wind and helicopter gunships – all of these she managed to deflect, repel or neutralize before they did her any serious damage. Suddenly, to his wonder and amazement, she not only bounced his final and most deadly air attack, a kind of electric tornado, right back at him, full speed, but also began another onslaught of quite different curses and spells.

“Good Merlin!” he found himself thinking as he battled furiously for the upper hand. “My owl, but she’s good! No wonder Ron thinks she’s going to be the best in his family: I have never had a workout like this before!”

Quickly ceasing that line of thought, he directed all his energies into a sudden and very imaginative attack – he threw a surge of raw power directly at Ginny, together with a small camouflage charm which made it look like a muggle express train. If he expected to phase her, he was wrong. One startled glance was enough: she held up her wand, once again drawing her magic circle.

Reversus!” Her voice rang out sharply, there was a sudden roaring in Harry’s ears, and the next moment he was crashing against the rear wall of the gym, fully ten feet distant. Harry blacked out briefly and came to with a whistling in his ears and stars revolving round his head. He lay, his eyes shut, unable to move, registering nothing – not even the humiliation of defeat. There was a deafening silence, then –

“Harry?” A small voice pierced his stupor.

“Harry?” The voice repeated, louder this time when he didn’t reply. Then he heard running footsteps getting closer, and a cool hand rested on his head.

“Harry, are you alright?” The voice was breathless and worried. “Oh, what have I done? I didn’t mean to …” Ginny never finished her sentence. Harry, no longer unconscious and beginning to feel the faint stirrings of his previous anger, hooked his right leg around her ankles and pulled hard. Crying out sharply in surprise, Ginny lost her balance and fell heavily on to Harry. With an effort that set his ears whistling again, Harry flipped her over, the weight of his body pinning her to the floor, flung her wand arm above her head with his left hand and with his right forced the tip of his own wand under her chin.

Expelliarmus!” he rasped, between clenched teeth. Ginny’s wand flew out of her hand to land with a clatter on the floor ten feet distant. For a moment there was silence broken only by Harry’s ragged gasps for breath. He began to speak, mouth almost touching her ear, his breath hot on her neck.

“Never relax your guard,” he began in a low voice, pausing every few words to catch his breath, “until your opponent - has conceded - your victory. The Art of Sorcerous Duelling from the Fourteenth - Century to the Present Day by Rosamund Rochard. I recommend it.” Ginny couldn’t look at him.

Capitulatus.” She whispered almost inaudibly, without relaxing her expression of bitter chagrin.

Harry did not move away from her immediately. He felt extremely tired, disappointed and, in some peculiar way, guilty as if he himself had been at fault. She had, after all, issued the challenge and had all but obliged him to pick up the gauntlet despite the obvious law-breaking, but, looking now at her pretty face, miserable in defeat and humiliation, Harry could not but feel that he had won under false pretences. With an effort, he levered himself away from her and climbed wearily to his feet. She sat up, but paused before rising further. He extended a hand to help her; she shook her head, and got to her feet under her own steam.

“Where is it, Ginny?” she looked at him uncomprehendingly for a moment then gave a small, mirthless laugh.

“It never left the library, Harry.” She told him, “I sent it back to the trolley before I even passed through the doors.” Harry stared at her, incredulous.

“Then – then what was all this about?” he gestured to the now silent and empty gym. “Why this terrible risk, this ridiculous challenge?” She shook her head, then squared her shoulders and raised her eyes to his. Irrelevantly, Harry noticed that she was only an inch or so shorter than he was.

“I wanted to see how good I was – and you’re the best, Harry Potter. Oh, I know Hermione gets better grades, and Parvati has the edge in Divination, etc. etc. But in the things that really matter – the things one needs to defend oneself, to preserve ones life in the face of danger – well, no-one can touch you, everybody knows that.” She gave him a small smile.

“And I nearly beat you, I really did.” The smile faded, she dropped her eyes and turned on her heel. “Come on, Harry. Let’s finish those books before sunrise, otherwise we’ll be in even deeper trouble.” Glancing at his watch, Harry was appalled to realise that it was 4.00am. He followed her back to the library where they finished replacing the books, tidied up and finally, wearily, went in search of their beds without exchanging another word.

//
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