The Magic Quill #27: Single Combat

by Robbie Fischer, concepts contributed by: Ronald Weasley (PS/SS, Chapter 9)

“I would have gone on searching for Ilona straight through the Single event, but Ruff put a hex on me that made me come over unbearably itchy–with a burning rash–with every yard I put between myself and the dueling arena. And Crinkle forced a whole pint of Determination Draught down my throat, which got me through the quarter- and semi-final. I scarcely remember them. I only know that when I found out I would meet Shmedly again in the final, I looked forward to it with bitter joy.

“The Single final came on the last day of the Owlympics, literally after the closing ceremonies. Most countries’ delegations had planned to leave before then, but after the Freestyle Final everyone was interested to see what would happen next. The sun had already gone down, and many of the other arenas had been vanished or dismantled already; but as the hour came for the Single final, the crowd of spectators overflowed the arena.

“The first task was given us: We were each supposed to cut or untie a Gordian knot, leaving the rope whole. The bell rang, and both Shmedly and I considered our knots for some minutes. I could not think straight. The pain of losing Ilona, the outrage and injustice, the frustration at not being able to go look for her filled my mind with racing thoughts. Shmedly looked as if he would win when he conjured one of those pen-knives that can undo any knot. But I lost my head and bewitched my knot to butt Shmedly’s out of his reach, the ends of the rope alternately tripping his feet and banging against his arms and trunk. The officials were outraged, and Shmedly was finally so bruised and cowed that he curled up in a ball and let my knotted rope flail against him until the round was halted. After considerable debate, it was called a draw. So into the second round we went.

“Again, I was hardly able to think about what items I should choose from the chest of junk placed before us. I believe Shmedly picked a prickly pincushion, a cake tin, and an old sweater, and I picked a pig’s bladder, a magnifying glass with a missing lens, and a horse’s skull. Shmedly drew the first move, and the pincushion came to life, walking on its pins toward my pig’s bladder. But I caused the bladder to fill up with gluey gum, which splattered all over the pincushion when it was punctured, putting both items out of commission. Shmedly took his next turn to send the cake tin after the magnifying glass, but I didn’t bother to defend it. I conjured the rest of the horse’s skeleton, assembled the bones by magic, and send it galloping toward Shmedly. He dived out of its way, but it turned and came at him again. Soon it was chasing him round and round the arena, screaming a horse’s hideous death-scream, trying to trample him with its sharp bony feet. Shmedly called for help, but I had also erected a barrier of fire around the enchanted circle so that none of the officials could enter to save him, and waited for the horse skeleton to destroy my enemy.

“It was Dumbledore, bless him, who got through the barrier of protective spells and flame and terminated the horse skeleton enchantment just as it was about to run Shmedly down. He knocked me down with an Impediment curse, hauled me roughly to my feet again and shook me, gave me one of his famous quelling looks, and said some very firm words that I would rather not repeat. At that point, the duel should have been ended-I should have been disqualified. But when Shmedly’s ranting had subsided a bit, and Dumbledore had thoroughly humbled me, and our team coach had pointedly reminded the judges of what had happened in the Freestyle event. They grudgingly (and foolishly) decided to let the third round of Single go forward.

“The objects were removed from the circle. The enchantments were erected again. Shmedly and I faced each other, both of us trembling for one reason or another. I felt sick to my stomach. My brain buzzed in my skull. Guilt, grief, and impotent rage twisted inside me. The bell rang for the final round, and Shmedly found himself at an advantage over me–competitively and, perhaps for the first time, morally. For at this point he only wanted to win the duel, and take home just one Owlympic Galleon. As for me, I wanted to kill him. And I was too busy battling that desire within me to be much use battling him.

“So his first curse hit me unshielded, unprepared. My whole left arm went numb to the shoulder, and the wand dropped out of my hand. I managed to throw up a shield with my right wand before he could do anything else, but from then on it was all I could do to keep his steady stream of jinxes, hexes, and maledictions off me. By the fifteen-minute mark, I was worn down, backed against the edge of the enchanted circle, tiring of holding up my defenses. Shmedly advanced on me until his wand was less than a hand’s span from my face, so that I had less time and less power to block his spells. I didn’t have time to get anything out of my wand except some kind of curse-deflecting spell or another. I hardly knew which one I was using.

“Finally I felt something get by my defenses. Whatever it was, it set my skin on fire. Whether it was a result of the curse or not, I saw red. I shoved my wand-tip against Shmedly’s shoulder, pushing him off balance. The wand snapped and dropped out of my hand. I swatted his wand hand away clumsily with my still-numb left arm and swung at his face with my right fist. He leaned into the punch, so that it glanced off the side of his head and pushed me out of the circle. A second later we were rolling around on the stage, right up to the judges’ table and under it, among their legs. Witches and wizards shouted and hopped out of the way; some of them fell over us. Curses exploded around my head, and finally I felt myself restrained. Someone had hit me with a body-bind.

“The upshot of my unsportswizardlike behavior was that I was banned from competitive dueling for life, my record in the Freestyle event was expunged, I was stripped of my Owlympic titles–even the team ones–which were given to the runners-up instead and, when I returned to Blokebury-on- Rye late that night, I found that an owl had come informing me that I was suspended from the RMB pending a disciplinary hearing. The worst of it was how badly I had let down Crinkle and Ruff, who had to give up their Galleons too. Several of those Galleons went, after all, to Romania. What really got me was the realization that I had probably handed Shmedly exactly the thing he was aiming for.

“But soon I found that I didn’t care for any of that. Nor for the awful publicity my actions got, or the fact that some shops in Diagon Alley refused to serve me for awhile, or that people who saw me in the streets of Hogsmeade or in the Three Broomsticks refused to look at me or speak to me. What hurt the most was that I still could not find Ilona, though I used much of my forced holiday from the RMB searching for her.”

Spanky concluded his story with a deep sigh, a deeper drink of firewhisky, and an apologetic belch.

“That’s mortal sad,” Endora sniveled from behind her invisibility cloak.

Harvey reached across the table with one of his inexhaustible supply of handkerchiefs. It vanished out of his hand, and a moment later the blowing of an invisible nose was heard.

“It was,” Harvey commented, “a crying shame, I will give you that. But all’s well that ends well, what? You did, after all, find and marry Ilona after all, what? And now we come to the reason I insisted that you tell this long, painful tale, my lad. The financial, er, misunderstanding that followed the reversal of your Freestyle victory leads, by one way and another, to the bit of business we shall have to discuss before this night is out. And each of the people at this table has a part of the tale to tell…”

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