One of Us
It was only after dinner that Maitri returned to her room, only to find a pile of presents on her bed. Duma was nosing through the entire heap, playfully purring at her.
Since Alex had already given her her present (the dragon leather boots), Maitri didn’t expect anything else from him. Lily had sent double-colored scarf that could only be a special edition at Madam Malkins – it alternated between silvery green and reddish gold everytime it was moved. Severus and Regulus, once again, had gotten her a present together, and this time, it was a charmed lock that she could fit anywhere that she wanted. Narcissa had sent her a pretty serpent brooch that turned color to match any dress that she wore it on.
There were two more gifts in the pile, and few letters underneath. One letter and gift was from her parents, who had sent her a brightly patterned bhandhini skirt and a matching blouse. There was a letter from Gideon – and Fabian (according to the signature), wishing her for a her birthday. There was a letter from Peter Pettigrew, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black (all three together), who had enclosed a coupon for a special Honeydukes purchase. The Weasleys had sent another letter, with a photograph of the Weasleys and Tonkses that seemed to have been taken in the garden of the Burrow.
The tiniest present was unmarked by the sender, which Maitri took as a challenge. She knew it could be dangerous, and from an enemy – but she knew that all the presents were monitored and approved by house-elves before they reached her.
Unwrapping the simple, yet artistic leaf-wrap around the present, Maitri found a curious-looking wooden box not much bigger than her palm. The box itself was unlatched, and when Maitri opened it, there were no sparks or curses that shot out at her.
Relieved, she looked in and saw a very familiar ring enter her sight. Too surprised for words, she rummaged her bedside table and robe-cupboard before she realized that it was her own ring – the serpent-shaped one that Hagrid had given her years ago at St. Mungo’s. She must have dropped it somewhere in the grounds, she figured out, since the last time she wore it had been the Halloween ball. The fiasco that had happened then had completely rid her mind off it.
Picking up the ring gingerly, Maitri found a neatly folded bit of a dry, starched leaf underneath. She checked the ring for any curses or charms before slipping it on her finger. The emerald eye of the serpent glowed in the flickering green light of her room. She watched it for a moment before turning to the folded leaf – which had clearly been used to write something on.
When she unfolded it, Maitri found that she had been right – the leaf had been written upon, but not in English, but in Runes, which looked too illegible in the dim light, against such a dark background. Quickly, she snatched up a spare bit of parchment and copied out the runes before sitting out and translating them, using the Runes Guide she’d borrowed off Hadir a few nights ago.
Once done, Maitri read and re-read the translated passage several times, her confusion increasing each line. It did not make much sense, but the gist of it was enough to send a shiver up her spine.
O, Friendly friend of the forest beasts,
Bound to the gaze of the kraken’s feasts;
Hail to thee, whose spirit is the wand of victory –
Hail to thee, who lost your slithering family!
A snake you dropped in the Thestral lair,
A ring I now return, square and fair;
For you and I are of the blood none can know –
And I befriend you as the One you never Knew.
It was eerily accurate until the “blood” part. With shaking hands, Maitri returned her gaze to her ring and pretended that it was a real snake, which would give her answers. The emerald eye did nothing but glow brighter.
She folded the leaf and the parchment together and stuffed them in one of the lining pockets of her trunk. Unwrapping the charmed lock properly, Maitri fitted it against the lid of her trunk and followed all of Regulus’ neat instructions until her wand was the lock’s only key.
Still shivering, not out of cold, but from the eerie message, Maitri fell into an uneasy sleep full of a raging Alice Messiers and a strange green humanoid that seemed to be screaming out runes at her.
“‘Whose spirit is the wand of victory’?” an incredulous voice read out. “Are you kidding me? Did you even translate the runes properly?”
“Some faith you have in me, Al,” Maitri scoffed, handing out the leaf to her friend. Alex squinted at the dry leaf and at the re-written portion on the parchment, and read the translation again.
“I think it’s a reference to my wand,” Maitri said, pulling her dark purple wand out of her cloak pocket. She shook her head when Alex started to protest. “No, really; my wand is made of Spiritwood.”
“Looks more like shell than wood,” he commented, running his hand over the wand. Maitri intentionally jabbed it, causing a few red sparks to fly out and hit Alex’s arm, who yelped in shock.
They were sitting in the library, two days after the dueling matches, trying to decipher the sender of the mysterious message. Maitri hadn’t shown the letter (or the ring) to Dumbledore, neither had she visited the Founders. However, she had borrowed an Ancient Runes reference guide from the concerned professor, who had gotten very excited aout the runes on the oak leaf – just as wizards had written spells centuries ago before parchment was invented.
“Of course, it’s not wood!” Maitri rolled her eyes at her friend as she explained. “Spiritwood’s an infusion of faerie bones and magical plant cores!” She bit her lip and looked back at the last line of the runic poem. “A friend I never knew…”
“Exactly!” Alex cried, slapping the table wit his palm. “Why would someone you never know not introduce himself by his name?”
Maitri looked at Alex, frowning. “Why is it assumed that it is a ‘he’?”
Alex flashed a grin at her. “Coz witches can’t stop themselves from telling others who they are,” he reasoned, earning another jab from Maitri’s irate wand.
Stop it, you stupid spirit wood!” Alex hissed at her wand, which was acting according to Maitri’s wandless instructions. The Slytherin girl bit back a grin and snatched her wand back from her friend’s hands.
“Alright, alright!” Alex conceded, scowling at his friend. “I think it’s a bloke because it is written too much like a war-cry.”
“Aren’t war-cries, you know, brutal and filled with bloodshed words?”
“Not if it is to an ally.”
The word ally struck a deep chord in Maitri. She remembered Bellatrix saying the exact same thing to Narcissa, when they first became friends. Ally, ally. Slytherin ally.
Maitri scowled and buried her head in her hands. Something of the poem had seemed to pull at a memory, but only, she couldn’t bring to the front of her mind.
Alex looked over at his best friend, worried. A slight scuffle made him turn to the next table, where Remus Lupin picked up a fallen book and handed it to Dorcas Meadowes with a bright smile. Dorcas blushed deeply when their fingers accidentally brushed each other.
The knuckles of Alex Messiers’ hand that held the Rune Dictionary turned white, and an unfathomable expression took over his eyes.
The spine of the dictionary cracked audibly under the pressure of his fingers.
“Sirius,” Emily whispered to her boyfriend. “Sirius, isn’t that your brother?”
Sirius had been looking at their entwined fingers, but glanced up at the question. He glowered at Regulus, who was walking with Severus Snape at his side. Regulus returned his hostile stare with an expression of loathing.
“Shouldn’t you say atleast a ‘hi’?” Emily prodded Sirius.
“Not necessary, Ro,” he told her. “It’s not like he exactly wants to talk to me. He would’ve greeted me first if he really wanted to talk to me.”
“Don’t be such a prat,” Emily MacArthur shoved at her boyfriend fondly. “Elder brothers always look after the younger ones; like my big brother Eddie!"
“You’re an angel!” Sirius said, grinning. “I can’t imagine anyone glaring at you, save not look after you; I mean, look at
“Go, Sirius,” Emily pushed him off the boulder they were both sharing as a seat. “The angel commands!” She finished with a waspish smile.
Sirius placed a chaste kiss on her lips before walking in the direction of his younger brother. Even though there was some trepidation in his heart, a corner jumped in joy. None of his friends had ever expected Sirius to talk to Regulus in public audience, especially since after the Slytherin had hexed a muggleborn so badly in his second year that the poor girl had to spend three weeks in the Hospital Wing to get better.
Nevertheless, he was still Sirius’ younger brother.
“Reggie!” he called out as he reached his brother.
Regulus froze, but did not turn around to face Sirius. Snape, however, narrowed his eyes on the Gryffindor when he caught up with them. Sirius sneered at Snape briefly before turning to Regulus, who looked at him stonily.
“Regulus!” Sirius greeted, almost too cordially. “I saw your last duel – I knew you had it in you! Always the better fighter than those Ravenclaw weaklings!”
Snape made a noise somewhere between a choke and a splutter. He had lost his duel to a Ravenclaw. Regulus, however, made no reaction.
“Sirius,” he said quietly, in a tone that hinted suppressed anger. “What are you trying for?”
"Why! A quality moment with my brother, Reg!” Sirius even smiled for the effect.
Regulus’ stare intensified, and Sirius was once again reminded of his mother’s shrewd eyes. The older boy did not flinch, though he was close to doing it almost subconsciously.
“You had long ago ceased to act as a brother, Sirius,” Regulus pointed out. “You prefer fraternizing with Potter and that Half-blood Lupin than with your own family. Am I supposed to fake out a brotherly act just so that your Mudblood can be pleased?”
Sirius turned red.
“Don’t call her that, Regulus,” Sirius warned, gritting his teeth. Beside them, Snape smirked, knowing that Regulus had touched a sensitive nerve. The Gryffindor restrained himself from hitting either of them, with great difficulty. “She has a name, Emily Rose.”
“A name can’t change a mudblood into our kind,” Regulus snapped. “She is what she is, and you are no longer worthy enough to be a Black, tainted as you are by that creature’s touch.”
All of Sirius’ resolve to be amicable to his brother went out in a flash at the jab towards the love of his life. Sirius lunged at his brother, trying to very physically hit the boy, but Snape intervened and jinxed him.
Sirius froze, rage in expression, and keeled over on his back, as still as a statue. Regulus looked shocked at he looked down at his brother, and slowly turned to Snape with a strange expression, which bordered somewhere around gratitude and bewilderment.
“Sirius!” Emily screamed from a few yards behind. A moment later, he felt her cool shadow fall over him. Her face came into view a second later.
” she countered in a low voice and jumped up to face Regulus and Snape. Sirius got onto his feet rather shakily, but managed to shield her from the two glowering boys.
“You cowards!” she yelled from behind Sirius’ shoulder. “You narrow-minded, prejudiced little bigots! He only came to fraternize, you know!”
Snape sneered as Sirius shushed Emily.
“It is not good to fraternize with the enemy, dear mudblood,” he said in his slightly nasal voice, sneer still stuck to the corners of his mouth like a twisted mask. “Tell your crup
here not to pull anymore such antics, for I may not merely resort to binding spells.”
A small crowd had now gathered around the four of them. Emily and Sirius pulled their wands out, clearly ready to pitch into a duel. To their dismay, four larger Slytherins moved in to stand behind Snape and Regulus. But fear wasn’t in lack in the hearts of Sirius Black and Emily MacArthur; only manpower.
The couple immediately moved closer to each other. The cursing began a moment later, unwarned, and the onlookers could see only a superficial blur as the opponents lashed out brightly colored spells.
No one noticed as a young first year detached out of the audience and ran as fast as he could towards the office of Professor Minerva McGonagall.
Maitri and Alex heard the shouts from the Great Hall. Maitri recognized Regulus’ voice as he screamed, which made her scramble out of the Ravenclaw table (where she was lunching presently) and out of the Great Hall within seconds, Alex at her heel, panting.
The moment Alex Messiers saw the dueling he immediately joined the disadvantaged team and starting throwing curses at random members of the opposite crew. A burly Slytherin Seventh Year detached himself from helping his friends curse Emily and instead hurtled towards Alex.
Regulus lay unconscious, just beyond the reach of the fighting students. Maitri tried shouting at her friends and housemates to stop, to no avail, before she knelt down and scrutinized Regulus, who seemed to be knocked out by a Stunner.
Pulling her young friend clear off the vicinity of the duelers, she set him up propped against a tree trunk and crossed over to the others to get them to give up the fight.
However, the eight duelers were too much in the thick of fighting to even hear her words. Maitri’s attempts to put in an invisible shield went awry, since there was no definite path for her to create one. Instead, she tried to push duelers from each other by inserting a force field in their midst, so that their spells got sucked into the field and, therefore, destroy the whole concept of a duel.
Unfortunately, she was able to stop only Sirius and Severus, the latter who glared at her to ends and tried valiantly to escape the force field. Another scream highlighted the atmosphere as Emily got hit by a curse, and fell down, grazing her knees and elbows on the lakeside pebbles.
Sirius jumped as though he was the one who’d been hit, disengaged himself from his duel and leapt to her side in a flash. Which was well, considering that the oaf who hexed her down didn’t seem to want to discontinue even after she was incapacitated.
Maitri took the momentary distraction as an advantage and quickly cast a shield, pushing Emily’s attackers backward. One of them sneered at her, no doubt recognizing her clearly.
“Mudblood for mudblood, is it, now?” he spat, trying to break the shield. Severus was outside the range of the shield, but did not move from his spot, frozen by some unknown reason that occupied his gaze from beyond all the students, on the castle.
Maitri ignored the jibe and held the shield. Moments later, someone joined her – Lily, who was breathing hard as though she’d run a long distance in a short time. The Gryffindor girl spelled out a shield, blocking the duelers from another direction.
The older wizards scowled at both of them and tried to retreat out of the shields, when two more students stepped in and blocked off the other two sides, forming invisible shield walls that kept the perpetrators in til the prefects or any teacher came along.
Right on cue, as if by miraculous intuition, Professor McGonagall appeared from behind the throng of onlooking students. Maitri almost believed that the professor had made it on her own before she saw a terrified first year Hufflepuff peeking out from behind the professor’s robes.
Minerva McGonagall looked down at Sirius and Emily, at Severus, at the trapped students, and, finally, at a recently-enervated-and-dazed Regulus, and sighed. Even a fool could have put two and two together and figure what the kids were getting at.
“Why is that I always find you putting up shields in random duels, Ms. Harys?” the professor asked wryly, glancing at the young Slytherin, who looked back rather sheepishly.
The four older students who’d been caught up in the shield-hold had been assigned detentions and sent back to the castle to meet up with Filch right away. Sirius, Emily (who was leaning on Sirius for support), Alex, Severus and Regulus stood in two, extremely quiet lines, covered in slight cut and bruises that had come from attacking each other with unfriendly hexes.
Lily, however, was quick to answer, as always as though it were only another classroom question.
“Professor, it so seems that Sirius here tried to talk to his brother, but ended up in a brawl,” she said quickly, no doubt having gotten information out of one of the onlookers present. “Severus Snape tried to shield Regulus, which was when MacArthur stepped in, and the four of them inevitably began dueling to protect each other’s friends. I believe the others involved just wanted to pitch in for their friends as well.”
“Thank you, Ms. Evans,” Professor McGonagall said, nodding to the young redhead. “But despite what you believe, be it friendship or bloodlust, unauthorized, unsupervised dueling is not allowed in Hogwarts.” She paused for a long minute and let her words sink in deeply. Regulus and Sirius had both turned three shades redder at her words, looking almost identical in their mortified states of humiliation.
“Which means,” the professor continued strictly. “I shall be assigning all the five of you detentions. Mr. Black (Sirius, that is) and Mr. Snape - despite my earlier warning, both of you seem to end dueling each other yet again. With reasons or not, this is unacceptable behavior – for which you both would be assigned weeklong detentions. All the five of you are to come to my office tonight at 7 to arrange the nature of your detentions.”
Sirius flashed Severus an annoyed glare, while the latter merely grimaced in response.
“Ms. MacArthur,” Professor McGonagall addressed the injured, bleeding Hufflepuff. “I suggest you head right up to the Hospital Wing now. The cuts are quite deep. Were you qualified for the next round of the dueling tournament, dear?”
Emily shook her head sadly.
“Good enough,” the professor sighed. “If not, I might have had to remove you from the tournament. Emotions are not always the best weapons in a fight, dear.”
Emily shot a look at the Deputy Headmistress, her eyes filled with anguished tears. However, only Sirius could see them. He reached up softly and brushed them away.
“You know,” Regulus whispered as the three of them – himself, Severus and Maitri – made their way back to the dungeons. “It’s lucky she forgot about the Quidditch finals we have in two weeks. I would’ve probably beaten to a pulp had she banned me from that.
Maitri threw him a dirty look, as though she would have cared lesser. Severus just scowled throughout, still put off by the impending weeklong detentions.
“What are you giving me that look for?” the younger boy demanded. “Well, ok, fine, thanks for stopping those oafs before anyone procured a serious and longlasting injury, alright?”
“Emily told me all Sirius attempted to do was to be friendly,” she said. “And that you were the one that went all oafish on your brother – and you, Sev, you let him carry on like a crackpot!”
“Hey!” cried Regulus indignantly. “Sirius didn’t come to be all brotherly by himself! I heard that mud- muggleborn
tell him to be nice to me!” He was almost shrieking; his voice bounced off the cold dungeon walls. “I don’t want a brother who’s nice to me because his sappy sponge of a girlfriend told him to!”
“Well,” Maitri replied, understanding his point, but noticing that Reggie didn’t look so much harder than his brother either. “If you hadn’t hexed his friends senseless, maybe he wouldn’t have been forced to choose between you or them!”
“Friends or family, Maitri?” Severus cut in sharply. “Whom would you choose in?”
Maitri stiffened. “I would choose what I believe in, Severus,” she answered quietly.
“And what do you believe in?”
Maitri struggled to keep a straight face when she replied.
“World peace, equality and environment conservation.”
It took almost half a minute for the answer to get registered in her friends’ minds, and when it did, Regulus let out a howl of laughter, Severus cracked a lopsided grin, and Maitri allowed herself to smile, knowing that she had successfully evaded one of the most important questions about her future.
“Don’t we all, Maitri, don’t we all
?” Severus whispered softly, as Maitri and Regulus put an arm on each other’s shoulders and walked in front of him.
How are you? How is Ted? Nymphadora? (Really, what a name!). Be a good girl, and give my love to them.
Well, ma souer par le sang, as wondrous as it may be to be aware of what ma Cherie, sweet Dora is doing now, I also feel compelled to make you known about what was your beloved school a year ago – especially because of those long novels you send me under the term “letter”.
This British world is so suffocating! So many customs, and ridiculous beliefs! Life in France – even Argentina – was far more rewarding. At least, no one induced me into fighting there; I had lived a peaceful life!
I know you are keen about the dueling tournament – therefore, it is my duty to let you know that your tutelage has not gone to waste! M. Harys and I are through to the Pre-Quarter Finals, which will be held a week from today.
You should have seen us fight! Last week I did down Severus Snape (that slimy snake!), but as a true fighter, I did not let it get to my ego. However, pathetic little Melissa Carter fell within minutes, and no one could understand what distracted her in the first place… I’m betting on my charme.
Poor M. was against Wilfred Klaus – that sycophant – who had had more practice than she did, I’m sure! It was fascinating to watch Klaus simpering, being beaten by a girl four years younger than he, especially when he had an advantage of knowing more curses.
I think M. is getting very inventive with her spells. Or the slimy git, Snape had helped her do it. For all that I know, she flipped Klaus upside down in mid-air, and what should I see, but Snape grinning in pride! Something definitely fishy with those Slytherins, I tell you.
Now for the Marauder Mettre a jour!
Sirius Black got himself into another brawl few days back – and I had to jump in and defend him and his girlfriend. Who from? Regulus Black, Snivellus Snape and four huge brutes with arms as thick as tree trunks. M. managed to separate Snape and Sirius, but the Huffie got injured. And something weird is going on with Dorkie and that Remus Lupin. Peter Pettigrew seems happy and releaved, now that he’s out of the tournament, but James Potter seems all the more happy because he’s in it.
It is strange, Andy, the air here at Hogwarts. I read the Sunday Prophet today. I know those Sullivans in the third page, I do! They lived near the Smithses, in London! Little Joanie got her Hogwarts letter only last Christmas, and she was so thrilled to find out she was magical! Why does this happen, Andy? I know we are safe under old Dumby’s care, but the outer world isn’t exactly safe, is it? Why does that wreck of a fool kill all these innocents?
I know M. feels the same as me when I say this: a war is coming. Heck, maybe Dumby would agree with me, too!
Alexander Kilian Joaquin Messiers
Maitri found it a little short of a miracle that the last two weeks went in a blur, and she and Regulus had made it through the last two rounds and were actually into the quarterfinals.
Alex was highly put out when he lost to the Seventh Year Gryffindor, Joe Bryant at the pre-Quarters. The older wizard had literally strained in order to overcome Alex’s vicious lashes (which closely resembled his sister’s methods, Maitri noticed), and had disarmed him in a moment of spontaneous luck. Alex had been shell-shocked, and nearly inconsolable for the next few hours, after which he decided to gnash his teeth together and help Maitri prepare better.
Maitri had been up against a Sixth Year Hufflepuff Prefect, named Ashlyn Cooper, and had found it a very mild match. Neither of them wanted to hurt the other one badly, which made the duel rather tame and docile. At the end of five minutes, however, Maitri’s Stunner by-passed the girl’s shield and cleanly incapacitated her.
Regulus was lucky enough to be across a kid from his own year, Jack Scott. Their duel was declared the most interesting for the day, especially because both opponents hated each other deeply to the point of loathing. The older students, too, watched the duel closely, marveling in the fact that both the boys used simple spells to the height of the potential, not knowing more than the Third Year syllabus. Maitri knew that Regulus knew more curses than most Fifth Year students did, but in a fit of nobility, he stuck to what he surmised his opponent would know.
“That was stupid!” Hugh Montague had hissed at his friend after the duel. Regulus had looked him straight in the eye as he answered without hesitation.
“That was the fun of beating someone with their own weapons.”
Marlene McKinnon was a fearsome dueler, for a Fourth Year. There was no doubt that she could be beaten by a Seventh Year, but it would not be easy. As fiersomely intelligent as she was, Ms. McKinnon was also a terrifying dueling force. Almost infallible, her offense was one of the best planned in the entire set of Hogwarts students. Having Aurors for parents, Alex had surmised, Marlene would have a head-on knowledge about actual duels.
Which was why he took the job of tutoring Maitri Harys extremely serious. Alex was not the type of person who offered help - more like forced his help – to anyone so easily. Maitri knew it, and though she hated to admit it, she suffered with him as her dueling mentor.
“Heartless, merciless, lazy…” she muttered under her breath as she threw curses at the wooden mannequin she was supposed to practice on. Alex never dueled with her actually, though there was a constant stream of nagging advice from the corner of the classroom where he’d made himself comfortable while scrutinizing her techniques.
“What was that?” he drawled. “Didn’t quite catch it.”
“Nothing, Drama Queen!”
“Oye, watch it, M!” he warned, chuckling. “I’m only helping you out.”
“Yeah, right,” she huffed, blowing out the strands of hair that had escaped her plait and now stuck to her sweaty forehead. “The help I most definitely did not
Alex only chuckled again, and resumed reading Ptolemy’s discourse on metallic transfiguration.
Maitri did not like practicising too much. It curbed her time off her studies (both muggle and magical), off her experiments involving Advanced Charms, off her quality time with Herbert and Kent at the lake, off all the reading she could do at the library, where peace, quiet and non-violence reigned supremely.
“I like that word,” Alex commented idly, looking up from his book, grinning. “Supremely. Like Super-manly, Super-magi…”
Maitri shot a hex at him, annoyed.
“Stop reading my thoughts!”
The match was over in a matter of minutes.
Everyone was stunned -including the duelers themselves. One of the opponents, a gobsmacked girl with long brown hair, looked down at her wand arm and then, at her wand, which blissfully lay a few feet away to her right.
“That’s it, then,” Professor Flitwick said with a heavy sigh. Afterall, he was the Head of Ravenclaw, and it wasn’t his house that won the match. “Harys qualifies to the Semi-Finals.”
When Marlene McKinnon remained rooted to her spot, even after the announcement/call for the next pair of duelers, Maitri summoned the girl’s wand, and gently nudged her out of the dueling ring. The Slytherin offered the wand back to the witch with an embarrassed smile, hinting truce.
Marlene looked down at her Thornwood wand and took it gingerly, as though she were afraid it was brittle. The Ravenclaw girl was several inches taller than Maitri, but it took a long time for her to meet the Slytherin girl’s eyes.
“You really are a good dueler,” she admitted softly.
Maitri smiled. “I think you are an awesome dueler,” she confessed. “That was one of the most difficult matches I’ve ever been in.”
Marlene laughed, but not in an unkind way. “For me, too! I don’t know how I got lost during that last minute! I know it will sound ridiculous – but I felt Confunded!”
Maitri’s eyes widened, but Marlene dissolved into easy laughter.
Marlene McKinnon bit down on her lower lip. She was one of the Ravenclaw chasers. She was the Vice President of the Hogwarts Chess Club. She was also a president of the Aim For Aurorship Committee. She dearly wanted to finish up all her homework before bedtime everyday, a feat rarely accomplished. Marlene also wanted to desperately jump on the Knight Bus, go to London and viciously kill that vile man, who called himself Lord Voldemort, who didn’t look even a scrap like the girl in front her, innocent and confused.
“Yeah, must be,” she agreed slowly.
“Say, Marl, how
was it being defeated by my disciple?”
Alex sauntered over, beaming, and put an arm around Maitri’s shoulders, pinning her to his side. Both the girls rolled their eyes, and grinned at each other.
“Better than losing to you, anyday, pansy-face,” Marlene said coolly, sticking her tongue out at Alex. She then waved to Maitri and left off, her recent loss not in any way evident in her stride.
Alex seemed to be chewing the inside of his mouth for a while as Marlene walked off. He then turned to Maitri with a serious expression in place.
“I’m pretty sure what she meant was ‘pretty-face’,” he said in a solemn voice. Maitri had to bite her tongue from laughing or rolling her eyes. With enormous effort (due to having to reach up to her friend’s height and outmanouvre his arm, which was still wrapped around her shoulder), Maitri put her arm around Alex’s shoulders and rested her head on his shoulder blade as he supported her out of the Great Hall.
“Sure, she did, Al.”
The Quidditch Finals shifted a week forward due to an unexpected bad news: an attack on Inglesson, a village not 30 miles from Hogsmeade. An explosion in the village square and mysterious killings of at least 5 of the village elders had the muggles baffled. The residents wizards of Inglesson just fled to Hogsmeade; or at least, those who survived, did.
The professors, in strict fear for the rampant students, forbade anyone from even going out to the grounds for an entire week. Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures classes were cancelled. Even Hagrid, with a disgruntled Fang, had been confined to one of the unused guest rooms of the castle. Professor Sprout, for the first time in years, bustled about the castle without any soil residue under her fingers or on her robes and hat.
Argus Filch prowled the outer edge of the castle like a restless wildcat, eyes darting everywhere in a state of extreme nervousness. He caught the Marauders, twice, when they dropped stink pellets and itch drops on him, and assigned them detentions to clean the dungeons, the Trophy Room and the Great Hall despite the fact that they tried to convince it was all, absolutely, the fault of Peeves, whom they were supposedly aiming for.
Maitri barely saw the Marauders and Severus outside of their classes, since they were always off, finishing their quota of detentions. Regulus, she saw for a bit, after he slumped into the Common Room, swearing at Filch in some obscure language that probably didn’t even exist in the Muggle World.
Now that Maitri was into the Semi-Finals, which got post-poned to a week later (due to the Quidditch Finals’ shift), Alex made her practice even harder. In his defense, he said he only wanted her to give the best fight among the Fourth Years, but Maitri knew he was being extremely paranoid and thought he was preparing her for war. After all, he was one of the very few who knew she was present at both the attacks in the summers of the last two years, and how they had affected her.
Maitri found it slightly annoying that Alex didn’t believe she was capable enough to deal with such attacks on her own, especially after all the practice she’d had as one of the Peacemakers. In fact, he persuaded her to not attend the Quidditch Finals – Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw – so much that she figured she could at least stop him from nagging her about it if she didn’t go.
On the day of the Quidditch Final match, Maitri and Alex had been shooed out of the castle by a very irate Pomona Sprout, who believed that children belonged to the sun and not the shade. Maitri had had a brief spurt of relief when she realized it was a break from practice, but Alex thought otherwise and had argued with Professor Sprout whether he could drag the wooden mannequin outside the classroom or not, in the case that she was forcing them to practice in the open.
In the end, Maitri had to scuff him lightly on the head and pull him out before he turned anymore red and started to develop beaky protrusions, like the part-Veela he was. Although, she did have to promise to practice in the grounds to get him out of the castle before Filch descended on them like a hawk and assign a detention randomly, because of his foul mood.
The screams from the Quidditch Pitch sounded ridiculously magnified near the lake, since the wind blew the noise southward. It took a lot of self-control for Alex to stay near his friend and not run towards the Pitch, screaming like an infant, and cheer for Ravenclaw. Of course, that didn’t mean that the idea never crossed his mind – it was especially tempting when Maitri began to chisel a mannequin out of one of the boulders, using a modified Reductor curse she had formed a while ago.
“We could’ve just dragged out Eames, you know,” he commented, squatting beside Maitri on the ground. Eames
was the name he’d bestowed on the battered old mannequin they’d practiced with. “Sprout was beginning to lean in when you pulled me off!”
“Eames is McGonagall’s,” Maitri reasoned. “Moreover, Stoneman is better at deflecting curses.”
Stoneman was getting better to look at with every slash of Maitri’s wand; despite being a stone mannequin, Alex couldn’t help but think that it was a glaring lookalike of someone he’d seen before.
“Er, Stoneman looks very real to me,” he commented. Maitri slashed at the stone sharply, almost viciously.
“He gets his looks from a person I don’t really like,” she clarified.
Alex almost did a double take and narrowed his eyes on the stone bust.
“He looks like Regulus Black to me,” he said. “I thought little Reggie was your friend?”
Maitri spluttered, lowering her wand. Sure, there was a resemblance.
“No, not Regulus,” she confirmed and resumed chiseling the bust. Alex quietened once he sensed the dark undertone in his friend’s voice, and knew better not to prod. One nosy instance ages ago had resulted in a bump on his jaw that had been very difficult to disguise.
Stoneman got finished a while later. Maitri looked at her handiwork. She knew that any teacher would recognize the person the mannequin was based on.
“Just so you don’t burst out of curiosity,” she said calmly, glancing at a green-faced Alex, who’d been holding in question for so long that it could have turn out unhealthy for him just a minute longer. “Stoneman is based on Tom Riddle.”
“Who’s that? Another Sixth Year Slytherin scum?”
“No,” Maitri shook her head. “You might know him by his other name.” She paused and looked away in the direction of the castle. “Lord Voldemort.”
Sirius Black couldn’t hold it in – the excitement of getting into the semi-finals. Snape had lost few rounds back, which was a shame, since Sirius had really hoped to meet the slimy git head-on and give a few pointers that would have lasted him a lifetime or two. No, Sirius was not going to forget the fact that his own brother was growing close to Snivellus than himself.
But, then again, there were three Slytherins in the pre-final rounds – Alistair Marlowe (whom he had no qualms cursing), Maitri Harys and Regulus Black (probably the only two Slytherins he could never bring himself to hate). He did hate the minx-ish Mi Chang, a Ravenclaw Sixth Year with slanting slits for eyes, and detested Evan Walker, a Seven-Year Gryffindor with all the inappropriate manners of a lumbering owl-bear that had been given a wand and not a scrap of fear to go with it.
Sirius sat with James, Remus and Peter as he waited for the matches to be put up by Professor Byrne. Breakfast had ended a while ago with Lily Evans (yet again), throwing her plateful of waffles and cream on James and screaming out to the entire hall that she wouldn’t consider him the best-looking person in the world even if it meant she would have to be locked away in a tower, blind and blundering, like someone named Rapunzel. Sirius had had a hearty laugh when Emily explained to him what the word meant; silly, silly muggle fairy-tales!
Emily caught his eye from the Hufflepuff table. She held up her fists with two thumbs and gave him a dazzling smile. Sirius’ hopes jumped up as he grinned back, a warm glow already spreading in the region where his heart was. Sirius Black reckoned that there were few forces that would keep him unstoppable from doing anything for her. Like bashing up a few mini-Death Eaters, bigots and a few nasty morons on the way, for example.
Professor Dumbledore stood up from the staff table – it was the first time he’d come to watch the tournament in all the months it had been happening. A hush of silence fell over in the Great Hall; many students stopped whispering and looked up at the great, bearded man in electric blue robes in rapt attention. Sirius sneaked a glance around. The Hall was packed with spectators who’d come to watch the precious 8 student-duelists tear apart each other in the dueling ring.
“My dear Hogwartsians!” Dumbledore boomed out enthusiastically. “Professor Byrne tells me I have enough potential within all of you to create an army!” he declared, chuckling at his own joke. Professor Sprout looked at him, horrified, while a snicker or two filled the Hall from the student tables.
“Now, now, getting back to the tournament,” Dumbledore continued, his chuckles lessening to only the twinkle in his eyes. “Professors McGonagall and Byrne tell me we have 8 students who qualified to the semi-final levels. The original plan today was to set one of you against another-” he broke off and looked at McGonagall beside him, who gave a terse nod.
“But, I have a better plan!” he intoned, earning a groan from the staff table, and a heavy round of whispers from the students’ tables. McGonagall began to stand up, but Dumbledore firmly pushed her down to her seat by her shoulder and shook his head. “My plan is that… all the eight of you fight against each other, pair by pair.”
Sirius and James looked at each other, and their expressions went from gob-smacked to ear-splitting grins in less than the time span of a split second. Lily Evans glared at them suspiciously from the other end of the table, probably because her friend Laura Wilkins was staring at them to a sickening degree of intensity where people could practically see the drool beginning to show on her chin.
Sirius looked away hastily. The Wilkins girl had been nauseating enough on few precious occasions. In doing so, he caught sight of Regulus and Maitri Harys sitting side by side at the Slytherin table, being very, very still, and not looking at each other, or at anyone (including Dumbledore) for the matter. Both of them seemed quite intent to look at their plates, despite the fact that Alex Messiers, who was sitting on the other side of Harys, was nearly jumping up and down in some weird form of excitement.
Somehow, Dumbledore’s new modification to the tournament reminded Maitri of the time when all the children at Regulus’ birthday party had lined up to play Silver Sleuthing. Pair by pair: that was how they had gone about. In the end, only one had mattered.
"What are you two so glum about?” Alex hissed. “You get to fight as a pair – and by Jove – both of you can neatly demolish the entire school with your power, potential and my brains!”
Regulus threw him a grimace that clearly meant ‘shut-up-or-it’ll-be-you-i-neatly-demolish’. Alex gracefully ignored it, and began to plan out an attack strategy under the name the Black-Harys Game of Subtle and Stinging Offense.
Though, however, he couldn’t ignore the next few words that echoed all around the Great Hall.
“I just can’t resist this, Minerva,” Dumbledore said in a stage whisper. “But can I just pair them off myself?”
Alex almost groaned loudly, his disappoinment over not being able to pair his friends off evident in his scowl. A few tables across, two Marauders sported the same scowl.
Before McGonagall could agree, Dumbledore swept his long arms around the Hall and called for all the eight selected students to stand before the staff table. Maitri knew that Dumbledore knew the names of all the eight without having to refer to any parchment, because she had spelt them all out over to him in at least 3 consecutive breakfast sessions earlier that week:
Regulus Black, Third Year,
Maitri Harys, Sirius Black & James Potter, Fourth Year,
Emma Rodgers, Fifth Year,
Alistair Marlowe & Mi Chang, Sixth Year, and
Evan Walker, Seventh Year.
It was strange, having to stand between the two Black brothers, who had become very rigid the moment they took their places in the line. Maitri wondered if it were some sort of a regimen, as she glanced at both of them standing in identical positions, hands clenched into fists at their sides, and legs clamped close and straight-as-a-rod backbone. James Potter didn’t seemed to notice, though he winked at Professor McGonagall and shared a knowing look with Professor Dumbledore, and, almost lazily, ran his hands through his messy hair as he glanced over to the part of the Gryffindor Table where Lily was sitting.
“Alright, let’s see – Mr. Regulus Black with Mr. Evan Walker (sets the table right, youngest and oldest!), Ms. Maitri Harys with, ah, Ms. Mi Chang (Asian powers, just seems right!), Mr. Sirius Black with… let’s see, Mr. Alistair Marlowe. This leaves Mr. James Potter with Ms. Emma Rodgers, right?” Dumbledore said, clapping his hand together. “Right, the first and last pairs against each other, and the middle teams against each other!”
Maitri’s spirits sank lower than the depth of Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest point, somewhere down the ocean bed of the Pacific Ocean. Mi Chang was a fine partner for a duel, but against Alistair Marlowe – she knew she wouldn’t come out unscathed. Maitri glanced at the opponent pair – Sirius Black and Marlowe (the oddest pair in the entire set) – and could literally detect the fumes of hatred coming off the older Slytherin. Mi Chang looked at her, concernedly, through her slanting eyes, but Maitri shook her head and smiled brightly, suggesting that they go over some defence tactics for the next one hour before the duels began.
Severus sat with Regulus on the Front Steps, talking quietly – probably advising the boy to control his spells against Potter, while the Seventh Year, Evan Walker, was chatting with a girl, grinning happily. Marlowe and Sirius stood at opposite ends of the Front Doors, glaring at each other. James Potter and the Fifth Year,, Rodgers, were discussing softly about their own game plan. Maitri and Chang were pacing across the outside of the Great Hall, going over the list of official attack strategies that they had been following in the tournament all along. All the students had left the Great Hall and many had assured the participants they’d be back in an hour to watch them duel.
The huge clock struck 10, and the doors to the Great Hall opened. Professor Byrne stood at the threshold looking around solemnly. He nodded once and disappeared inside.
As the 8 of them filed inside, Maitri noted the massive changes in the Hall. The Staff table remained where it was, but all the house tables had disappeared. The long, low benches that were used as seats were pushed to the far side on the wall opposite to the staff table, as some sort of indoor stands for the spectators. The immediately noticeable thing was the huge ring in the middle of the Great Hall, bound by what looked like tangible air (Maitri couldn’t describe it otherwise – it was like a wall of thick air you could almost touch, but shimmered whenever a gust of wind blew against it).
The first match (picked out of slots by Professor Flitwick) was Regulus’ and Walker’s against Potter and Rodgers. It was terrible.
Walker was an absolute hypocrite in the ring, barely avoiding to flaunt the rules as he hit the girl, Emma Rodgers, with a barrade of curses and hexes. It was true that he was fast, but his ethics were completely out of the window, and Rodgers struggled with his unethical blows for several minutes before she managed to land a curse on the boy. On the other half of the ring, Regulus and Potter faced each other, glaring daggers in to each other’s eyes. Their spells were lashy, fired neatly and almost evenly matched.
Maitri knew that Regulus was a far better fighter than herself, with all the information he’d gleaned from wizarding martial arts books, but Potter was of a different mettle. He had the build of a chaser, light and quick, while Regulus, as a seeker, was small and seedy. The two of them were as ethical as the other two were not; in the end, Potter scraped a point over Regulus by a surprise feint, which ended with an immobilizing charm and Regulus toppling over, face thunderous.
Professor Sprout, almost disgusted by Walker’s attitude in Disarming Ms. Rodgers, announced in a controlled voice that James Potter and Evan Walker were a team finalist for the tournament.
Maitri caught Regulus’ eyes a few minutes after McGonagall “unfreezed” him. He’d been looking straight at her ever since, but she had been too caught with the unfair practices of Mr. Walker to get to the finals, that, when she finally turned to her friend, she felt kind of guilty. Regulus reacted in no other way than stoic, and nodded once, slowly and deliberately. Maitri lowered her eyes and repeated the gesture.
Alex was curious about the silent conversation between them, and couldn’t figure out for the life of him what had just happened. But Maitri remained silent until the ring was cleared and her name was called. She knew what Regulus had meant by the nod, even without having to hear what his thoughts said.
One of us is getting through this,
he had tried to say before the duel. After the duel, Regulus had had very little words to add to it. Since it isn’t me anymore, let it be you.
Maitri had nodded back. I will try my best.
“Ms. Harys and Ms. Chang!” Professor Byrne called out. “Please greet your opponents, Mr. Black and Mr. Marlowe!”
Maitri bid goodbye to Alex as she and Mi Chang entered the dueling ring together. They could see Sirius and Marlowe entering from the other end a t the same time; Marlowe was literally skinning Maitri with the look of pure hunger on his face. The younger girl winced and almost instinctively took a step back, letting the Ravenclaw lead.
Sirius did not note her discomfort, but he could feel the waves of anger rolling off the older boy, who was standing only a few feet beside him. The moment the four were finished with their bows and started the ritualistic circling of the ring, he realized that Marlowe was aiming for Maitri, who was directly across him, and looking very, very threatened. Sirius tried to swing an attack on Maitri, but getting around Mi Chang was a tricky thing.
At the end of the second minute, Marlowe could not hold out any longer. He began to lash out an attack.
It was also exactly the moment Maitri and Mi swapped places, in a blur so fast that no one realized the swap until a moment later. Maitri now faced Sirius with a grin, which he tried to repress within himself as he threw hexes at her. It was a very clever move, he had to admit.
There was a near-war raging beside Maitri and Sirius, as Mi Chang and a furious Marlowe fought to rip each other’s throats. When still, Chang was an unassuming, sweet-faced girl, but as a dueler, she was able to manage bringing Marlowe to the end of his wits trying to get around her to hit Maitri.
On the other hand, Maitri and Sirius enjoyed their little duel. The girl knew how both the Black brothers fought, thanks to Alex, who had her prepared for all fighting styles the moment she qualified for the Semi-Finals. After all the tedious practice, she had to admit that Alex was possibly right, and that it was incredibly nice being able to predict Sirius’ moves, with almost a lazy smirk now. Sirius, too, was grinning. He was getting a nice fight, a clever one, and since Maitri had taken to predicting his style, she had almost conformed to it, making it simpler for him to guess her offenses.
It was just like both of them were dancing some weird tribal dance, Alex mused, looking at his best friend block and attack Sirius. The Hufflepuff girl, Emily, walked and stood with Alex. They surveyed the duel with a light eye, knowing that Maitri and Sirius could be safely called evenly matched.
“They even have the same, weird sequence of footwork!” Emily said, gasping and pointing. Alex chuckled, realizing that she shared his thoughts about the dancing duel.
"It’s a traditional method of dueling,” he informed her. “Like sword-fight, dueling also had a rigid set of moves. See the shields both of them are holding up? Same thing, really. But I have a feeling the M is really trying to mirror Black.”
It was true. Maitri tried to fend off Sirius’ spells by reciprocating his earlier moves and falling in sequence with his steps. All the while, trying to block the barrage of spells hurtling down her way.
“Lapides!” Maitri yelled, shooting small stones out of her wand. “Oppugno!”
Sirius yelped as one of the pebbles hit him across the face. The rest were neatly diverted by his shield.
Their yells were barely audible over the shrieking tones of Chang and Marlowe.
Maitri and Sirius ducked as Marlowe’s wand shot out flames, which missed Chang by a matter of inches. The older boy grit his teeth as he jumped onto more curses.
“Repredus! Conjuro catomidius!”
A huge whip materialized out of Marlowe’s wand and leered frighteningly over Chang, who vanished it without a second glance, and instead conjured small, shiny knives and aimed at the boy. Marlowe ducked the knives, which sank into the outer wall and disappeared. Angry beyond words, he sent hex after hex towards the very competent Mi Chang. There were flashy things appearing – brightly colored spells, some knives, a flock of angry macaws (from Chang’s rowan-wood wand), a lethal looking string of wire, a wall of wobbly bricks, a gust of boiling water…
Maitri had almost gained an upper hand in the duel against Sirius. It was already taking too long – more than 15 minutes – and the professors had shifted their focus to Marlowe and Chang almost entirely. Sirius tripped on the Stinging Hex of Maitri’s which had slipped past his shield, and knew that in two spells he was going to be overpowered. Breathing heavily, he raised his wand again and focused on his opponent for a moment too long before he realized what was actually happening.
Marlowe had finally found the break in Chang’s shield, which meant that his last, powerful Stunner had hit her left knee, causing the girl to fall down unconscious. This, of course, meant a direct access to curse Maitri from the back. Marlowe smirked happily, as he bellowed the next curse, aiming for the younger girl’s back.
Sirius took an almighty leap before him and pushed his friend to the ground, toppling over her and hurting his elbows in the process. The Slytherin boy’s electric blue spell, which Sirius could safely say that he had never come across, passed overhead and collided with the thick-air wall surrounding the ring. Students watching the duel gasped in surprise when the spell didn’t get absorbed into the wall, but instead got sucked into it, and started rebounding inside the wall, splitting itself into numerous rays everytime it hit the floor.
Maitri shuddered as she watched the spell move dangerously around the wall. Even the teachers looked horrified. But there was not much time to muse over it. She pushed Sirius off her and rolled onto her knees and took aim at Marlowe.
“Thudathey!” she yelled in Sanskrit. “Liyathu:h: kavacham!”
Marlowe’s shield evaporated into thin air as Maitri’s sharp hex caught his midriff. He bent over for a second and lifted his wand again, angrier than earlier.
Maitri braced her wandless shield, but the curse still managed to pierce through it and hit her with the intensity of a million knives. She screamed loudly, even though the spell was on her for only about a second or two. She had slipped and fallen, but someone else had already come to her rescue.
Sirius snarled in a beastly manner once he heard the curse slip out of the boy’s mouth and charged at him in the manner of a raging bull. Before Marlowe could react, he was stung, slowed down and hit with multiple hexes that made him unable to move, or hold up the Cruciatus curse any longer.
Maitri pushed herself off the ground and reached the boys in a matter of short strides. She pulled Sirius off Marlowe and immobilized him deftly.
The duel was over. Maitri looked at Sirius, tears in eyes.
Hey you wonderful readers out there... For those who checked up again and again - yes, the chapter's over! The next one will be put up ASAP (after this gets updated, that is), and so, please stick with Maitri and miserable old me, whose school starts in a week, and whose hands are itching to write away more.
I just realized; Maitri is still in her Fourth Year. Where does that leave the story?
Less than 50% completed!!!
OMG!!! I know! A big, big, BIG story. But you'll stick through and review, won't you???
With lotsa love and a new chapter in hand,