Legend had it that the dueling club had been started by Harry Potter himself, when he knocked Dolores Umbridge tail-over-teakettle into a clump of gorse bushes. Legend had it that the resulting duel had been mighty, but that Umbridge had been at last chased from the castle, shrieking insults all the way and vowing revenge. Legend had it that the students had gathered around Potter and become known as “Dumbledore’s Army”, which was the part Sparrow couldn’t figure out, because it should have been Potter’s Army.
Nevertheless, the school had a dueling club, where it had not possessed one before Potter came along. It was the kind of place where students could take a whack at each other without getting in trouble, so it tended to attract the more valiant and violent types, such as Jillian Patil, Percival Bulstrode, and, of course, Jocasta Carrow.
The club used to hold its exhibition matches in the great hall, having to reserve the space ahead of time, but as a particular disused courtyard had suddenly become nice and warm out of season, everyone had decamped there. It was the sort of place where students felt a little safer watching because it had collonades, which meant people could duck behind a sturdy pillar if need be.
And here was Jocasta, grinning as she faced off against Jill. Which seemed a trifle foolhardy, for Jill’s face showed a rage that Sparrow had not seen in all her years. Sparrow and Cormac had managed to intercept Jill before she stepped out of the collonade and tried to talk her out of aggravated murder. Jill had said she had no intention of doing such a thing. But with the expression she wore now, Sparrow had to wonder if Jill’s restraint would hold. And so did the audience, who were mostly hiding behind sturdy pieces of stonework. After Guillermo Guzmán had lost an ear last year while sitting close to the stage, it was a reasonable precaution.
Jocasta and Jill raised their wands, and bowed to each other.
The duel began with a fireball towards Jocasta’s face. Yet the girl sidestepped it just in time. Likewise a cone of wind she sidestepped like it was nothing. Through Jill’s furious assault, Jocasta weaved like a cat in a crowded hallway.
Sparrow had not paid attention to the dueling club in years, not since Jocasta had broken her shield. The last time Sparrow knew anything about Jocasta’s skill, it was at the level of being more clever than most – this was far beyond that level. Jocasta had as much finesse as Jill had power. Where Sparrow’s shield was absolute, Jocasta’s was placed deftly, never wasting energy on absorbing all of a spell’s effect but deflecting in a way that, if Jill was foolish enough to try a stunner, would bounce the spell back at her.
And that was, in fact, just what happened, though on most occasions Jill had the sense to dodge. But something was different this time. Her wand was moving erratically, always pulling left, and not only left. Towards Sparrow.
In fact – wherever Sparrow stood, Jill’s wand seemed to be pulling directly towards her. Even if she stood way over here –
Jill went down with one of her own stunning spells.
“Tsk tsk,” said Jocasta. She strode down the dueling platform, knelt at the slumbering form of Jill, and cast a reviving charm upon her. The girl opened her eyes.
“You need some more finesse,” said Jocasta. “Perhaps you will learn eventually, and our duels will be even more impressive.” She raised her head to the crowd, who felt safe enough to raise their heads. “Come on, then,” she said. “Bulstrode’s ill today and I already beat Greengrass. Does anyone want to give it a go or is the show over?”
Sparrow stepped out from behind a pillar, and said, “I’m up.”
She came down to where Jocasta and Jill stood. Jill, still recovering from being stunned, was supporting herself on Jocasta’s shoulder. Jocasta passed her off to Sparrow.
“I’m sorry,” said Jill. “All my rage and I still couldn’t avenge you.”
“I think I can avenge myself,” said Sparrow. “I’ve got some advice from Hagrid to test.”
“Are you sure you want to try it?” Jill brushed some dust from her robes. “You’re in for a challenge that you might not be able to handle.”
“I’m sure. And – I’m sorry I distracted your wand.”
“Is that what’s going on?”
“Seems like it. Why did you try the stunning spell anyway? You know those things ricochet.”
“I wanted to overwhelm Jocasta and you told me to hold back. So I had to split the difference.”
Jocasta looked confused. “Is the barrier witch trying to duel?”
Sparrow glared at Jocasta, and nodded.
“Surely that is not your domain, my dear. Our match would be terribly boring, would it not? In fact, I remember you saying yourself last year that it would be pointless. You said, as I recall, that hurling hexes at a stone wall is like playing ‘tennis’ alone. But now you wish to duel. Have you, at long last, learned to cast curses of your own? Have my efforts at last paid off?”
Sparrow stepped up to her end of the dueling platform and raised her wand. “Jocasta Carrow,” she said in a clear voice. “I have been informed by your accomplice that you arranged to frame me, and in so doing sent me into a detention where not only I but Hagrid were both nearly killed.”
Jocasta’s face paled. Such as it could.
“That aspect, at least, could not have been your fault. You had no way of knowing where Hagrid would take me, nor indeed could he have known just how powerful the beasts of the forest were.”
“What did he – ”
“That I am here is owing to Hagrid’s bravery and encouragement of my own abilities, as well as Jill’s encouragement and large repertoire, as well as your own advice regarding the casting of curses, for which I thank you. For the peril I faced, I lay the blame at the feet of everyone, especially everyone who is so concerned about the Statute of Secrecy that it would, by sheer social pressure, and the possibility of overwhelming legal pressure, convince Hagrid to set me a detention that was more drastic than anything I’ve heard of.”
“Where the hell did you go?”
“The far reaches of the Forbidden Forest,” said Sparrow.
The crowd gasped.
Sparrow heard whispers.
Out to the edge!
Where demonic monsters roam!
Maybe she can tell us what’s out there!
She survived the forbidden forest!
“Oh come off it,” said Sparrow to the crowd. “It wasn’t dangerous until the edge. Besides which, if anyone could survive that kind of place, it would be me, wouldn’t it? Anyway.” She turned to Jocasta. “Miss Carrow, you were the catalyst of this circumstance. You played the greatest prank upon me that you have ever played, perhaps will ever play. Well done.”
Jocasta gave a flourishing bow.
“As such, I cannot say that I hate you.”
Jocasta straightened, and said, “Can you at least cast a hex and get this duel going? I haven’t got all day.”
“No,” said Sparrow, “my wand will not cast a hex again.”
Jocasta looked exasperated. “Was my work all for nothing then? Why are you even here?”
“To express my great frustration with your behavior,” said Sparrow, “and – ”
As one the crowd roared, “Get on with it!”
“ – And to demonstrate that there is far more to an offense than hexes and curses.” She bowed to Jocasta, ducking a jet of red light, straightened up and shouted, “LUMINALOS MAXIMA!”
A blinding white light erupted from Sparrow’s wand. Sparrow had the forewarning to shut her eyes, but the crowd, and especially Jocasta, did not. Thus blinded, she had no chance to brace herself for Sparrow’s next spell. “Scutum Percutiens!”
This particular spell was, as ever, a shield – but tilted to an angle of thirty degrees and flying forward as swift as an arrow.
Pureblood wizards, being shut up in their wizarding world, hear of automobiles and do not often understand them. As such, when they hear of someone being run over by a car, they think that the car went over them, much as many muggles think. But this is not precisely the case. Cars typically run people under. The car’s general wedge shape, if it is going fast enough, combined with the sudden rise in angle of the windshield, serves to toss the unlucky pedestrian high in the air, whereupon they land hard and die, if the impact of the windshield had not already killed them, or die upon the impact of the next car coming along.
Jocasta’s circumstance was slightly different. The shield, despite being tilted at the basic angle of an automobile’s slope, had not the sudden rising angle that a windshield presents, but rather a smooth concave curve from one end to the other. Jocasta was effectively tumbled straight into the air, high enough to present a possible injury when she landed.
And this was what Sparrow counted on. She had noticed that, for all Jocasta had the ability to seemingly vanish by turning into a fly, she had not bothered to do it once during the battle with Jill, despite her opportunities. A fly could be practically invisible when it was moving, and it would have presented her with an immense advantage in terms of battlefield placement and dodging. Yet she had not bothered. Why? Was she intending to show how much better she was than Jill? Did the fly’s fragile form present too much vulnerability? Or did she simply not want to reveal her ability to an assembled crowd?
Here and now, Jocasta could choose between being injured in the fall, or revealing herself to the crowd, or flying out of the duel and effectively surrendering in disgrace. Which would she choose?
She chose injury. She came down hard on her right wrist, and cried aloud in pain.
And that was it. The duel was over.
No one said a word as Jocasta was led off to the hospital wing. They just looked at Sparrow in confusion and fear.
The fireplace was just as the three young Wizards had left it, save for the logs burning down. The seat cushion still had an impression where Cormac had sat. His ukulele was still on the table beside. But, even though he took up his instrument, he did not sit down.
“What is the matter?” said Sparrow.
“She could have landed on her head,” said Cormac.
“That…yes. That would have been a worse injury than a broken wrist.”
Cormac glared at Sparrow. “I’ve seen people die from lesser head injuries.”
“You…have seen? As in, right in front of you?”
“Right in front of me. Long story. Not for now. I don’t want to talk to you right now. I don’t know what you’ve become.”
“Cormac – ”
“Bad night all around.” Cormac turned and departed, stomping up the stairs.
Sparrow turned to Jill.
“I will admit,” said Jill, “even I didn’t think you’d go that far.”
“Would you have gone that far?”
Jill sat down in front of the chair. “Oh, I don’t know. If I didn’t know Jocasta so well, if I knew it was a duel to the death, if you’d been gravely injured out there in the forest – maybe. I’d like to think I could hold myself back. But I wonder.”
Sparrow stared into the fire, and said nothing.
Jill stood. “I would wish you good night,” she said. “But the most I can wish is a good rest of your night. Tell you what, have a good tomorrow.”
She turned and departed, making no sound as she ascended the stairs to the Girls Dormitory.