The Awakening Power by Sib Chapter 22: Pride and Ego
A/N: Harry's sixth year, after OotP. H/G, R/Hr, PG-13 rating.
* * *
Harry awoke with a huge yawn. He climbed out of bed with an odd feeling. He vaguely recalled Ron talking to him the previous night, but it may have been a dream... he wasn't certain. Ah well, he thought, as he dressed and noticed that Ron had already headed down to breakfast.
He looked at his night table and saw a Valentine's Day card that Parvati had given to him the previous day. Fortunately, it hadn't made any dramatic confessions, but had only said she enjoyed spending time with him and hoped to do more soon. While he would have preferred to not receive the card, he felt that it could have been much worse.
He had half-thought about giving Ginny something, maybe something relatively innocent, a friendship item. He wondered if maybe giving her something would give him some clue about her feelings about him, to give him more information, but... ultimately the day had passed without any action on his part. His thoughts of her had been extremely confused lately.
He walked down the common room steps and saw that Ron and Hermione were talking together quietly, looking in an unusually good mood. He slowed, sensing something – odd. He peered closely at them, trying to spot exactly what was giving him pause. Shrugging his shoulders, he continued down the stairs.
They gave Harry greetings at the same time, their voices overlapping, then looked at each other and giggled in a silly way. Harry blinked at them.
They went down to breakfast. Ron was actually humming a tune, and Hermione was smiling far more than usual. Harry wondered if they had accidentally taken some sort of cheering potion.
"Bloody he– I mean, drat," Ron said, glancing at Hermione. "Where's the bacon?"
"I'll get you some, Ron!" Hermione said brightly. She picked up his plate and walked down the table until she found some and filled up his plate generously.
All through breakfast, they glanced at each other and smiled. Harry was starting to seriously wonder if he should suggest they visit the infirmary.
Later on that morning, they headed down to Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Harry had continued to watch them, and there could be no doubt that they were far too cheerful. He reviewed all the lessons they'd had recently, but he couldn't think of any that might have gone wrong to cause the symptoms he was seeing.
"That's my chair! I sit there all the time!" said a Hufflepuff boy, as Harry entered into Snape's class with Ron and Hermione.
"Too bad! I got here first," replied a Ravenclaw. "Next time get here earlier if you want it."
"You better move..." said the Hufflepuff threateningly. They seemed to be fighting over a chair in the back of the class.
They both abruptly stopped as they saw Harry walking into the class. They looked at each other, and then the Hufflepuff sighed and reluctantly moved toward a chair closer to the front.
Harry felt irritated as he traveled over to his chair. He couldn't help but notice that a lot of students had been trying to keep to the back. Recent classes between himself and Snape had been growing more tense every time.
"So, Potter, I guess we'll finally find out what a true fraud you are," Malfoy said with a smirk.
Harry gritted his teeth. He really wasn't in the mood for Malfoy, who was standing by Harry's usual seat with crossed arms, apparently waiting for them.
"What are you babbling on about, Malfoy?" Ron said, looking annoyed.
"Of course, how silly of me. You lot are always the last to know anything, aren't you? You'll find out soon enough," Malfoy said, obviously enjoying himself.
Harry just sat in his seat, deciding to ignore his taunting. Ever since the door incident, Malfoy had doubled his efforts in trying to annoy Harry, as if he was trying to get him to lose control once and for all. Probably trying to get me expelled, he thought.
Snape glided into the room, the traditional silence following in his wake. After calling the role, he fixed the room with a cold stare.
"I have an announcement," he said in his silky, soft voice. "I've decided that we're going to have a little... fun." He curled his lip, as if the word was one that he pulled out of an unpleasant corner of his mind.
Harry felt a chill come over him. Anything that Snape thought was fun couldn't possibly be enjoyable for anyone else.
"Since our class focus has been on skills useful for combat, I believe it would be prudent to gain practical experience in pressure situations," he said, pausing to let the thought sink in.
"Erm, pressure situations?" said a Hufflepuff girl, her voice quavering a bit.
Snape narrowed her eyes at her. "Yes, Miss Landry. Now if you will allow me to finish without interruption, I will explain."
The girl cowered back into her seat, looking afraid.
"As I was saying," he continued. "I want you to experience dueling when something depends on it. Namely, your marks in this class. We will be holding an in-class dueling tournament. The further you go in the tournament, and the better you do in each round, the better your mark will be. The format will be single elimination, with four draws, each draw seeded based on how well you've done so far in this class."
A murmur went up in the room. Many students appeared excited about the idea, although other students looked very nervous.
"I will post the draws at the end of class," Snape said. "There will be no homework. I suggest that many of you practice between now and the beginning of the next class when the tournament will begin."
"Are there prizes if we win?" Seamus said excitedly.
Snape glared at him. "Have we all forgotten how to raise our hands?" he said. Seamus slumped in his seat, abashed.
Snape steepled his fingers as he continued. "To answer your question, Mr. Finnigan, there is one prize. The winner shall have the opportunity to earn extra credit in this class. The extra credit shall be earned by dueling... me."
* * *
Harry came down the common room stairs, ready to join Ron and Hermione for lunch. He'd made no more progress on figuring out exactly what was wrong with them. He slowed as he came down the stairs, spotting them in the common room, as he had this morning. He decided to get another surreptitious look to see if he could spot any other symptoms.
They were standing rather close to each other, whispering in each other's ear... Ron had a goofy smile on his face... Hermione was giggling in a very un-Hermione-like way... and then suddenly it hit him. Harry ran back up the stairs in shock, needing a few seconds to recover.
Good lord, they finally did it, he thought, grinning to himself. He wasn't the most perceptive bloke about these things, but there couldn't be any question about what he'd been seeing that day. Now that he'd figured it out, it was like a neon sign over their heads. In fact, he remembered last night... Ron had wanted to borrow the invisibility cloak. Harry chortled; they must have had a late night Valentine rendezvous.
Pasting a nonchalant expression on his face, he started down the stairs again. He suppressed a chuckle as noted that Ron and Hermione immediately took a step back from each other as soon as he came in the room.
"Ready for lunch?" Harry said.
"Yeah, I'm starving," Ron said, a bit too cheery.
As they went down to the Great Hall, Harry wondered about when they were planning to tell him. It finally dawned on him that they might be worried about his reaction, and he wondered if they really thought he didn't see it coming.
They sat down at the table, Ron and Hermione sneaking glances at each other, but sitting carefully far apart. Harry, sitting across from them, spied Ginny down the table.
"Be right back," Harry said. He noticed that Ron and Hermione were so wrapped up in each other that they hardly noticed him speaking.
He moved down to Ginny, who looked up curiously. "Hi Harry. What's up?" she said.
Harry leaned down and whispered to her. "Look at Ron and Hermione."
Ginny peered over. Ron was whispering in Hermione's ear, and she was responding with a giggle. An expression of shock came to Ginny's face.
"You don't think..." she said, a grin slowly creeping across her face.
Harry nodded with a grin of his own. "They've been like that all morning."
"Oh, this is just too good. Come on," Ginny said, picking up her plate.
They went back and sat down across from Ron and Hermione, who immediately backed away from each other.
"Hi Ron, Hermione," she said brightly, looking at them carefully.
"Hey sis," Ron said, eating his lunch, but appearing rather nervous.
"Hello, Ginny," said Hermione, looking equally nervous.
Ginny glanced at Harry and took a bite of her food casually. "You know, you two look a bit different today," she said conversationally.
Ron and Hermione glanced at each other before gazing down at their food. "Er, different?" Hermione said with a weak smile.
"Yeah... can't quite put my finger on it," she said, rubbing her chin.
"Dunno what it would be," Ron said, his eyes darting around and avoiding Ginny's gaze.
"Still... Hermione, did you get a new book in the mail or something? You look excited about something, you know, like you have something new," Ginny said.
"Um... no, no books," Hermione said, a blush rising to her face.
"And Ron... did you get a good mark on an exam? You look really... relaxed," Ginny said innocently.
"Relaxed... erm, slept well! Right! Last night," Ron said, nodding vigorously. "Yeah, nothing like a good night's sleep to relax a bloke. Er... right?"
"Exactly," Hermione said. "I slept really well, too... last night. Slept especially well. That must be it."
Harry and Ginny looked at each other, suppressing a grin.
"You both... slept well last night?" Harry said, raising his eyebrows. "Interesting."
"Well, of course, it's only a coincidence that we slept well together..." Hermione stammered. "I mean! I mean, we didn't sleep together, of course, not that you would assume otherwise, but we slept well at the same time, last night, in our own beds, not that there would be any other way we would have slept..."
"Yeah..." Ron said, blinking at her, a blush rising to his own face at Hermione's speech.
"So what you're saying is that you slept really well," Ginny said.
"Yes!" said Ron and Hermione together.
Harry and Ginny looked at each other again, and finally couldn't help but start laughing.
"What's so funny?" Ron asked, peeved.
"There isn't anything you two want to tell me, is there?" Harry asked, with a grin.
Ron and Hermione glanced at each other and sighed. "Were we that obvious?" Hermione asked, embarrassed.
Harry nodded at them, amused. "Sorry, but... yes."
Hermione looked at him with a concerned expression. "Are you all right with this, Harry? All right with Ron and I... er, going out?" She said it as if she still didn't quite have a handle on the whole idea. "I mean, I know it must come as quite a shock to you..."
Harry snorted. "I don't know if 'shock' is quite the right word. More like 'relief.'"
Ron blinked at him, shocked. "What? You knew... er, that we might, er..."
"I think it's safe to say that pretty much everyone saw it coming this year," Ginny said, rolling her eyes.
Ron and Hermione both looked deeply embarrassed, but then laughed, as they all went back to eating their lunch and chatting.
Later on, Harry noticed that Ron was oddly eating with his left hand, although he was certain Ron was right handed. Ron and Hermione's arms were suspiciously close to each other, disappearing under the table. He couldn't help smiling as he suspected they were holding hands under the table.
* * *
Harry walked into Snape's class, feeling a bit nervous about the tournament. He was feeling fairly confident about his Defense abilities, but even so, he didn't trust Snape to make the tournament fair.
He had to admit that Snape had been true to his word about one thing. The seedings in the draws were honestly given based on marks in the class. There were thirty-two students in the class, which divided well into the four draws. Harry was seeded first in one draw, Hermione was seeded first in the second draw, along with Ron, who had a third seeding in the same draw. Neville, surprisingly, had the second seeding in the fourth draw.
There was an excited murmur running through the class when Snape entered the classroom and moved to his podium to start the class. The murmur lasted longer than usual before dying out under Snape's glare.
"So. It is time for the tournament. I hope that you have properly prepared yourself," Snape said, gazing at the class with distaste, as if his expectations for the class were very low. "Let me repeat that your performance will count as an exam. Each match will be three minutes or until one opponent is disarmed or stunned. If you are injured, you may forfeit the match at your discretion. If neither opponent scores a clear victory, I will judge the winner. The longer you last, depending on how strong your opponent is, the higher your mark will be. Any questions?"
Hermione raised her hand. Snape peered around the room, appearing as if he wanted to ignore her, but finally gave her a cold look.
"Yes, Miss Granger," Snape said in an impatient and annoyed voice.
"Professor, what spells are allowed in the tournament?" she asked.
"There are no restrictions. I doubt that any of you can produce any truly damaging hexes, but I would suggest not trying anything... fatal," Snape said smoothly. Harry noticed that a few of the lower-seeded students appeared very anxious at this.
"First up. The number one seed versus the eighth seed in the first draw," Snape said crisply. "Potter versus Landry."
Harry moved to the dueling area. Beatrice Landry was a Hufflepuff girl whom he knew was barely surviving in the class. She reluctantly got up from her seat, looking around at the other students as she joined him. Harry had talked to her a few times; she was always nice, and he felt a bit sorry for her.
"Oh God, why did I have to get you in the first round? I'm barely hanging on as it is in this class," she said, whispering to him nervously.
Harry smiled encouragingly at her. "Don't worry, just do your best," he said.
She gave him a shy smile as she went over to one end of the dueling arena. Harry went to the other end.
Snape walked in-between the two. "Potter, Landry, please bow to each other," he said.
Harry and Beatrice bowed as Snape stepped back out of the arena.
"Assume a dueling stance," Snape said. "On my word, you may begin."
Beatrice looked extremely frightened as she pointed her wand out in front of her. Her hand was shaking slightly, and her eyes were wide.
"Begin," snapped Snape.
Harry, feeling rather bad for her, waited for her to cast the first spell.
"Stupefy!" she shouted. The spell wasn't particularly strong, but it was competent. Harry easily blocked it. He waited for her to recover and get back in stance.
She still appeared extremely nervous, so Harry slightly misaimed his return stunning spell. She looked panicked as she hurriedly tried to do a Protego spell, but then was relieved when Harry's spell missed her.
She sent a bludgeoning spell toward him. Harry blocked it, but made a show of staggering backward, hoping that Snape would give her some credit for it. He sent back another stunning spell, but did it very slowly, and she was able to effectively block it.
They traded another couple of spells, and finally Harry stunned her.
Snape walked over and revived her. Beatrice got up and hurried back to her seat, looking very relieved that it was over. The students gave some polite applause.
"Potter wins the match," he said, appearing unsurprised but displeased nonetheless. As Harry exited the dueling arena, Snape stopped him and spoke in a low voice.
"Potter, you are not to do that again, or I will disqualify you," Snape said threateningly.
"Do what, sir?" Harry said defiantly.
"You are to dispatch your opponent as soon as possible. Do not toy with them or try to make them look better than they are," Snape said coldly.
"She did very well. I'm sorry that I disappointed you," Harry said in clipped tones. "I'll try and do better next time."
Snape glared at him angrily. "Do you think it's just about this class, Potter?" he hissed. "Even weak opponents can get lucky occasionally. Do not pity those who are less skilled than you. Treat everyone as a deadly enemy, and dispatch them as soon as possible! Are you so arrogant that you think you can choose the moment of defeat? The longer a duel goes, the more likely your opponent will find a way to beat you."
Snape turned away and walked back to his podium to announce the next pairing. Harry went back to his seat, seething at Snape. Ron and Hermione, noticing his mood, said nothing as he sat down.
As he sat in his seat watching the next match, he slowly realized why he was so angry. He tried to avoid the thought, but there was no avoiding an inescapable fact: Snape was right. He had no business messing about in a duel. Isn't that how Sirius had died? Toying with Bellatrix? Not finishing her off as quickly as possible? Certainly this was just a tournament, but why was he here, except to practice for real battles?
Toward the end of class, Harry felt much calmer and less irritated with the whole thing. He sighed as he promised himself he would take the rest of the rounds much more seriously. Hermione and Ron easily won their matches; there weren't too many upsets in the first round, although a couple of high-seeded Ravenclaws got bounced out, to their annoyance. They had superior knowledge, but went up against students who compensated by being faster duelers. Harry noted with pride that his DA members did very well.
"That ends the first round," Snape said, with an expression of distaste. "Sixteen matches, sixteen winners. I hope that we will see more... competence in future rounds. In the next class we shall play the next two rounds. Although I know it's probably pointless, I hope that many of you will attempt to practice between now and then. Dismissed," he ended curtly.
As Harry filed out the door, he saw Beatrice waiting for him, looking extremely shy. "Um, Harry?" she said, shuffling her feet.
Ron and Hermione waited for him as he walked over to her. "Hi," Harry said, wondering what was up.
"I... I just wanted to t-thank you... you know, for giving me a bit of a chance," she said nervously. She continued quickly, words seeming to pour out of her uncontrollably. "I mean, I know you didn't have to... and Merlin knows you could have won blindfolded... I mean, you're Harry Potter, well, of course you know who you are, but... I don't even know why you did it... you hardly even know who I am... not that you have any reason to know who I am, I mean, I just..."
She turned red in embarrassment. "Oh God, I'm just running off at the mouth. Just... thank you for not making me look completely foolish. You're just... so nice!" she finally finished emphatically. She impulsively leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, and then ran away down the corridor, looking mortified.
Harry blinked, trying to catch up with what had just happened. He turned around and noticed Ron and Hermione grinning at him.
"You're quite the chivalrous bloke, Harry," said Ron with a smirk.
"All right, all right," Harry said, embarrassed, as they all began walking down the corridor. Although he still felt Snape was right in the end, and planned to take the rest of the rounds much more seriously, he decided that showing a little kindness wasn't a bad thing, either.
* * *
The Dueling Tournament was the talk of Hogwarts for several days; apparently Snape was holding one in each of his classes. The next class, Harry took the second round match much more seriously, quickly stunning a Hufflepuff, who didn't appear terribly surprised to lose. Ron also won his second round, scoring a minor upset over the second seed.
As the matches continued; Ron began looking extremely nervous. If Hermione won her next match, he would face her in the next round. Finally it was Hermione's turn to duel, and as Ron watched, he leaned over and whispered to Harry.
"I should have just lost before this round," he said forlornly.
"You've been doing pretty well," Harry whispered back. "You have a chance."
Ron looked at Harry like he'd lost his mind. "Is that a joke? Hermione knew more spells in her first year than I'll ever know in my life. Besides, how can I hex my... my... girlfriend." He said the final word in an even lower voice, as if the whole idea was difficult to say out loud.
Harry laughed quietly. "Look, you have to play to your strengths. Hermione knows more spells than any of us put together, but her weakness is her speed. Dodge her spells rather than try to block them. Try and spell her quickly. And just treat her like any other opponent. You know that's what she'd want."
Ron nodded, still unhappy. Hermione quickly dispatched her opponent, using a very odd curse that caused the student to grow scales all over his body. The scales grew over his eyes, causing him to be unable to see. He panicked, dropping his wand and begging Snape to undo the curse. Ron made a little moaning noise watching the process.
When it was time for Ron and Hermione's match, Ron looked like a wreck as he got up from his chair.
"Good luck, mate," Harry whispered to him, snickering.
He seemed to pull himself together at the last second, however, as he managed to dodge several of Hermione's spells, to her obvious annoyance. Finally she launched an unusual curse that caused Ron's hand to grow hot and he dropped his wand, waving his hand around.
"Ow! That one hurt!" Ron said, appearing a bit put out as he walked back to his chair with Hermione.
"Well, Ron, we're supposed to win!" Hermione said officiously.
"Hmph," said Ron.
Hermione's expression softened as she smiled at him and whispered something in his ear, causing Ron to blush. He looked a lot happier about losing after that, causing Harry to think that the whole "going out" thing was going to take some getting used to.
Harry easily won his second match as well. Neville had been impressive in his first match, even causing Snape to raise his eyebrows a bit, but he ended up losing his second match when he accidentally tripped on his robe, allowing his opponent to stun him. Finally the final four students were chosen: Harry, Hermione, a Ravenclaw student, and surprisingly, Malfoy.
Malfoy had scored a couple of upset victories and was insufferably strutting about, bragging to anyone who would listen that he was going to win the tournament. Harry noticed that although Malfoy was putting on a good show, he kept glancing at Hermione, whom he was to take on in the semifinals. Harry chuckled as he noticed Hermione looking very irritated while she tapped her wand against her hand.
The last day of the tournament finally arrived as Harry, Ron and Hermione entered the classroom. Harry's match was first; the Ravenclaw student tried to put up a good fight, launching spells very quickly, but Harry took Snape's advice to heart and launched a very powerful stunning spell that penetrated his shield and knocked him out quickly. It took Snape several tries to revive the student, but he finally woke up and staggered to his chair as the students applauded.
Snape then called Hermione and Malfoy up to the arena. Malfoy had a smirk on his face, which lasted until he noticed Hermione, who looked positively predatory. Harry and Ron glanced at each other.
"You ever think that Hermione's a little... scary, sometimes?" Ron whispered to Harry.
Harry slowly nodded. He knew he would face her if she won, but somehow that fact was making him a lot more nervous all of a sudden.
"Bow to each other," said Snape, curling his lip at Hermione, who appeared not to notice as she kept her eyes locked on Malfoy.
"Assume your stance," continued Snape.
"Begin!" snapped Snape, starting the round, but Malfoy had cast a Stupefy spell just before Snape announced the start. Fortunately, Hermione had been watching carefully and blocked it anyway. Snape pretended not to notice that Malfoy had cheated.
Hermione then cast a long spell, which arced above Malfoy and came down directly on top of him, causing a bubble to appear over his head. Muffled grunting came from the bubble as Malfoy glanced over at Snape.
"I hope you can hold your breath for the three minutes of the round, Malfoy," Hermione said, appearing even more frightening. "Unless you'd care to concede."
Malfoy looked at her with an expression of pure hatred. He glanced over at Snape again, who appeared a combination of annoyed and derisive. Malfoy tapped the bubble with his wand, trying various spells. He began to panic as nothing he did made the bubble go away. Finally, his face turning a bit blue, he launched a couple of spells at Hermione, but missed her entirely.
"Whenever you're ready, Malfoy," Hermione said, completely pitiless, as he staggered around. Finally he threw his wand away and gestured at the bubble frantically. Hermione slowly sauntered over, looking like she was taking a Sunday afternoon stroll. She casually invoked a spell and tapped the bubble, making it vanish as Malfoy collapsed on the mat, gasping for breath.
The class applauded loudly, although most everyone was giving Hermione very uncertain looks. Even Snape appeared a bit unnerved at the manner in which she had taken out Malfoy. Hermione moved back to her chair, appearing exceedingly satisfied. Harry and Ron glanced at each other again, sharing the same thought they'd had before.
Snape cleared his throat as he went back to his podium. "Well, this should be... entertaining," he said, smirking. "Potter versus Granger. The final round."
Harry had built a lot of confidence in his abilities over the past school year, but suddenly he felt a knot of fear in his stomach. Hermione knew what he knew better than anyone, and there was no one more familiar with his abilities. Undoubtedly Hermione had done a lot of research for just this moment over the last few days, and had some sort of spell in mind to beat him.
Hermione looked extremely determined as she took up her position. Harry pulled himself together... he needed to concentrate... be ready for anything...
"Bow to each other," Snape said, actually appearing slightly interested for once.
"Assume your stance... Begin!"
Harry immediately launched a powerful stunning spell, intending to take Hermione out as quickly as possible. Hermione, expecting something, actually threw herself to the side, dodging the spell, and then tapped herself with her wand. She suddenly seemed to leap four feet to the left, moving incredibly fast. Harry blinked at her. Did she cast some sort of fast movement spell?
He launched a binding spell at her, ropes flinging out of his wand, but they missed her harmlessly. Abruptly a spell appeared to come out of nowhere aimed at him. Harry was caught completely off-guard as he threw himself to floor and quickly rolled back up. He looked wide eyed at Hermione, who appeared as if she was launching another spell...
Another spell appeared to come from another direction. He barely blocked it; it wasn't a clean block, but fortunately his shields were strong enough that he didn't always need perfect blocks. He launched another stunning spell, but it seemed to miss... but it didn't miss... he cast a freezing spell, a petrifying spell, nothing seemed to affect her, she wasn't even bothering to block them...
Spells were coming out of the air at him as Harry barely blocked them. He felt panicked... he didn't how she was doing it... it was almost as if she was able to launch her spells from somewhere other than herself...
Suddenly all the clues slipped into place. He aimed four feet to the right of where she appeared to be standing.
"Stupefy!" he shouted. "Stupefy! Stupefy! Stupefy!" He launched a shower of spells into seemingly a blank space in the air. Hermione fell to the floor. Her body shimmered, then appeared where he had been aiming the stunning spells.
Harry blew out a slow breath, breathing heavily. She had nearly done it. Leave it to Hermione to be clever and use an illusion charm like that, which had made her seem to be standing somewhere she wasn't.
Snape walked over and revived Hermione, who appeared extremely disappointed. As she got up, however, the class gave her enthusiastic applause (with the exception of the Slytherins), finally making Hermione smile.
"Sorry, Hermione," Harry said, as they sat down. He was happy that he'd won, but he felt bad for her. She had really tried something clever.
"You were brilliant," Ron said to her admiringly. Hermione gave them both a wan smile.
"Congratulations, Harry. You deserved to win," she said.
"Well, let's face it... it could have gone either way. That was a nice trick; you almost had me," Harry said.
Snape had returned to his podium and sneered at Hermione. "Miss Granger failed to defeat Mr. Potter, therefore, Mr. Potter must be declared... the winner," he said, looking as if the pronouncement was costing him a great effort.
"Now then. As I stated at the start of the tournament, as the winner, Mr. Potter and I shall give an exhibition to the class," Snape said smoothly. "He will have an opportunity to earn extra class credit. Potter, the longer you last, the more credit you shall earn."
"Arrogant git," Ron said under his breath. He then spoke much louder. "What if Harry wins?"
"Your hand, Mr. Weasley. Ten points from Gryffindor for your cheek. However, I don't think we need to worry about the exceedingly unlikely chance of Potter... defeating... me," Snape said, one side of his mouth lifting into a smirk.
Harry felt irritation rising. So Snape thinks he's unbeatable, does he? he thought grimly. Harry resolved to himself that he was going to use everything in his arsenal to make sure he didn't lose.
"Of course, Potter, you are under no obligation to continue with the duel. It's extra credit. You may certainly... opt out... if you wish. After all, we wouldn't want you to risk your... reputation," Snape said, sneering at him.
As hatred rose in Harry, Hermione looked over at him worriedly, and whispered. "Harry, please stay calm... don't let him bait you..."
Harry ignored her as he rose to his feet and walked over to the dueling arena. He noticed that half the class appeared excited, and half the class appeared very apprehensive. Snape strolled slowly into the arena, his robe billowing through the air. They bowed to each other, both keeping their eyes up during the bow.
"Are you ready, Potter?" Snape said tensely.
"Yes," Harry said equally tensely, taking a dueling stance.
"Begin!" Snape said.
They began trading spells, each blocking the other successfully, getting a feel for the duel. Harry began being more aggressive; he hit Snape with quick bludgeoning spells several times, but Snape was unable to get through Harry's defenses. Since his training with Hermione's golems, his reflexes had been growing too fast for Snape to penetrate. As the duel wore on, it was obvious that Snape's frustration was growing.
Snape abruptly stood up out of his stance, lowered his wand and looked toward the door, as if someone came in. Thinking that Snape had stopped the exercise, Harry let down his guard and looked toward the door to see what had distracted Snape. While his attention was away, Snape launched a spell, and Harry felt his cheek grow wet. He reached up and felt a considerable amount of blood coming down, which had also splashed his robes. Harry was reminded immediately of the incident in the Pensieve, where Snape had cut his father's cheek.
Snape had a huge smirk on his face as the Slytherins were howling with laughter. Glancing over, Harry saw Ron was half on his feet with outrage and Hermione looked shocked.
"Well, Potter, that will teach you to keep your eyes on your opponent," Snape said smoothly.
"You cheated!" Harry said, almost shaking with rage.
"Did I, Potter? And do you think your opponents will always play fair?" Snape said with a sneer.
"I know what to expect from them. I guess I should have known what to expect from you." Harry said. "You seem to like cutting curses, don't you?"
Snape froze. The look he gave to Harry was as cold as ice. "Yes... the irony is unmistakable, isn't it, Potter?" he said, barely audible.
The Slytherins were no longer laughing. The tension in the room had grown to dangerous bounds. Something in Harry snapped as Snape's face almost seemed mocking.
"Yes, very ironic," Harry said, equally coldly. "with one difference this time. At least my back wasn't turned like last time."
Snape's face grew hard as granite. "Are you calling me a coward, Potter?" he said, low and dangerous.
Some part of Harry was telling him to stop, but he just didn't care anymore. "Well, let's review, shall we? You could only win against my father when his back was turned. And you could only win against me when you tricked me into thinking the exercise was done. What do you think?"
Snape appeared as if he was fighting to keep control. Harry kept his eyes locked on him, not trusting him at all. Snape seemed to ignore Harry's words. There was dead silence in the room as everyone looked at the pair of them with their jaws dropped.
"Shall we begin again, Potter?" Snape said, his voice as smooth as velvet.
"Yes," Harry said grimly.
Snape started launching spells, as if he was in a duel to the death. The spells he was launch were very powerful, but Harry blocked them effectively. Harry felt a cold anger running through him, wanting to humiliate Snape as much as possible. He didn't even launch a return spell, just blocking everything Snape was sending, toying with him.
Snape grew enraged as he sent much more powerful spells. Harry could hear a nervous muttering among the students as they sensed things were getting way out of hand.
"Maybe someone should get Dumbledore..." he heard someone say fearfully.
"So, Potter? Not going to fight back?" Snape said tauntingly, while he continued to launch spells. Snape's control seemed to be coming apart. "Is that what you'll do while we all work to protect you? You break rules with impunity. You got your own Godfather killed through your actions."
Hatred well up in Harry like he had never known for Snape. "What did you say?" Harry said, his own control rapidly falling away.
"And who else will you get killed, Potter, through your arrogance? Your little Weasley family? Granger? Maybe even Granger's family?" Snape said cruelly.
Everything seemed to go red around Harry. Somewhere far away he heard people shouting and calling for Dumbledore, but he didn't care. Snape had finally crossed over the line, and Harry's fury burst out of him. He started launching spells at Snape, hardly caring where he was aiming.
He seemed to need to repay five years of abuse as he hammered Snape with spells. Snape was barely blocking them, his eyes wide. Harry vaguely noticed that he had destroyed Snape's desk and broke part of the wall.
Harry had been avoiding using restricted magic in public, but he started using the single syllable bludgeoning spells. Snape couldn't block them nearly fast enough, and they began pummeling his body. A voice in his head was telling him to just stun Snape and end it, but that wasn't enough...
Harry heard a loud snap as a spell hit the side of Snape's ribs, then another crack as a spell hit him in the jaw. Snape twisted under the barrage helplessly, unable to defend himself. He collapsed to the ground, apparently unconscious... A part of Harry wanted to continue, to hurt him further...
"Mr. Potter! Halt, please!" a voice commanded.
Harry shook himself, remembering where he was. The classroom came back into focus, and he looked over at the voice. He saw Dumbledore standing in the door with Madam Pomfrey, who ran over to attend to Snape.
A mix of emotions filled Harry. Some part of himself was wondering what the ramifications would be, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to care. The class was staring at the scene in shock. Ron and Hermione got up from their chairs and came over to stand with him. Hermione put her hand on his arm comfortingly. Harry barely noticed as she gave a healing spell on his face and handed him a handkerchief, which he used to wipe the blood off.
As he looked at Snape, he still felt a cold anger. Snape's words rang through his head, and he couldn't help but feel that Snape had deserved what he got.
"Mr. Potter," said Dumbledore grimly. "Perhaps you'd best wait back in Gryffindor Tower until I call for you. Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger, please wait here. I would like to speak to everyone who witnessed the proceedings."
Harry nodded and moved over to his chair to retrieve his books. He could feel every eye on him as a nervous murmur ran through the room. Malfoy and the Slytherins appeared particularly angry. He noticed that Parvati, who was sitting behind his chair as usual, was giving him a loyal and supportive smile. He smiled back weakly, appreciating support from wherever he could get it at that moment.
He left the room, walking alone toward Gryffindor Tower, feeling light headed from the proceedings. He entered into the common room through the portrait hole. He felt grateful that the room was relatively empty; most students were still in classes, and the ones that were there hadn't heard yet. He took a spot next to the fireplace, feeling emotionally exhausted.
Some time later, the portrait hole opened up. "Harry! Are you all right?" Ginny said, entering the common room. "I heard about what happened..." she said, trailing off.
He looked up from his chair and shrugged, not really feeling like discussing anything. Ginny, sensing his mood, walked over slowly and sat down with him.
They sat quietly together for several minutes; Harry just brooding silently. He glanced over at her. She was just sitting, staring into the fire calmly. Harry was grateful that she didn't appear nervous or worried; her calm face helped to settle him a little.
Harry finally sighed. "Did anyone tell you what he said?" he asked, still gazing into the fire.
"Yes," she said simply.
"I don't feel sorry it happened," Harry said bluntly.
Ginny nodded. "If it makes you feel better, I don't think very many people blame you. At least from what I hear, people are more shocked at what Snape said than what you did."
Harry grunted, feeling slightly better about that.
"Actually, if you want to know the truth, I think you fulfilled a lot of people's fantasies," she said, chuckling a little.
A ghost of a smile came to Harry's face, before fading out again with another sigh.
They sat in another long silence, both just watching the fire, until Harry heard the portrait open again. Ron and Hermione walked in, both looking subdued.
"All right, mate?" asked Ron.
"Yeah," Harry said, continuing to watch the fire.
"Everyone told Professor Dumbledore what happened, Harry," said Hermione sympathetically. Her face then dissolved into a scowl. "Well, except some of the Slytherins. Malfoy tried to make up some rubbish that you'd gone mad and attacked Snape for no reason, but I don't think the Professor believed that."
"The greasy git deserved it," Ron said defiantly.
Hermione pursed her lips disapprovingly, but only said, "Madam Pomfrey said that Snape was going to be all right."
Harry nodded, finding it difficult to feel concerned.
Professor McGonagall entered the room, appearing subdued. "Potter? The Headmaster would like to see you down in the infirmary." Harry couldn't tell whether she was angry or not; her face was oddly expressionless.
"All right, Professor," Harry said with a sigh. Ron, Hermione and Ginny looked at him supportively.
Harry headed down to the infirmary, still feeling angry and defiant. He sullenly marched down the corridors, not knowing what Dumbledore had in store for him, and finding it very difficult to care. The news had apparently spread fast; students were giving him wide-eyed expressions as he passed. He kept his attention locked forward, trying not catch anyone's eye.
He paused at the door and took a deep breath. He pasted a blank look on his face as he opened the door and entered the wing.
"Hello, Mr. Potter," said Madam Pomfrey at her desk, with a businesslike expression. "Professor Dumbledore would like to see you in room two."
Harry nodded and walked down the corridor toward the private rooms. The door was closed, so he knocked politely.
"Enter," said Dumbledore softly.
Harry opened the door and went into the room. Snape was lying on the bed, staring straight ahead. He appeared angrier than Harry had ever seen him, and his pale skin looked even more sallow than usual. Harry had suspected that he'd broken Snape's jaw, and sure enough, his lower face was surrounded with an odd glow; apparently that was being used for the healing process.
"Professor Snape has just regained consciousness, Harry," said Dumbledore. "I thought we would save some time by discussing this, ah, incident among the three of us."
"What is there to discuss?" Snape said smoothly. "Attacking a teacher is clear grounds for expulsion. Perhaps charges could even be filed." Snape looked hopeful at the prospect.
Harry felt anger rising. He opened his mouth to respond, but Dumbledore held up a hand to him. "Please, Mr. Potter, allow me to finish," he said calmly. Harry pushed down his response and turned away sullenly, crossing his arms.
"Yes, Severus. I agree that attacking a teacher is most definitely grounds for expulsion," he said. Harry felt a chill. "But there's a bit of a... snag."
"Snag, Headmaster?" said Snape, his eyes narrowing. "I see no snag."
"In interviewing the other students, I noticed that your, er, methods were a bit unusual, Severus," Dumbledore said kindly. "While I'm certain your intent was to motivate Mr. Potter, I'm afraid that it's possible that the words you used fall under the dueling statutes as 'fighting words.' As you know, under Wizarding Law, a wizard may defend his honor under certain circumstances, and also has the right to file a complaint with the Ministry if a wizard incites a duel."
Dumbledore paused, letting the thought sink in. Snape's mouth was open in shock, just looking at the Professor as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Harry would be well within his rights to bring charges. Now, it may be that the charges wouldn't stick, but it would certainly trigger an investigation. I'm certain that many questions would be asked... interviews with students..." Dumbledore said. "They would certainly need to review the... history... between the two of you."
He continued in an apologetic voice. "And I'm afraid the Governors of Hogwarts would insist on their own, separate investigation. The situation could turn into quite the sticky wicket."
Harry just blinked. If he was understanding Dumbledore correctly, he could file a complaint with the Ministry over Snape inciting him into a duel?
"Of course, it's your decision, Severus," Dumbledore said gently. "I would suggest, however, that if you were willing to, ah, 'forgive and forget' as it were, I'm certain Mr. Potter would be in a similar frame of mind?" He looked at Harry questioningly.
Harry just nodded. Having the whole incident just go away sounded very good to him.
Snape appeared absolutely livid. He glared at Harry, as if performing a murder might be worth the trip to Azkaban. He seemed to fight an internal struggle, then finally turned away.
"Excellent!" said Dumbledore brightly. "Then everything is settled. I think a handshake is in order to seal the agreement."
Harry and Snape glanced at each other, neither moving to make the gesture. Harry just stood frozen, unable to bring himself to move closer to the bed.
Dumbledore looked at Harry expectantly. Finally Harry shuffled over to the bed and lifted his hand. Snape reluctantly brought his up as well. They barely touched their hands together before quickly pulling them back. Dumbledore smiled at them approvingly, his blue eyes twinkling.
"Potter. Get–out–of–my–sight," Snape said, emphasizing each word through gritted teeth.
Harry thought that sounded like an excellent idea as he ran out of the infirmary, and didn't stop until he was back in Gryffindor Tower.
* * *
A/N: More thanks once again to my beta readers Allie Kiwi and DM. Blessed are the reviewers, for they shall inherit the fandom.