Chapter 31

When someone thinks about a Dueling Tournament, they usually picture the same general image. They think of massive crowds cheering in stands, two armed competitors trying to outperform each other in spectacular fashion, maybe even a few veela cheerleaders on the sidelines.

Anyone going to watch the tournament completely thinking that would find themselves rather disappointed as that only happened during the final stretch of the tournament, usually starting with the semifinals. Before that, the tournament could be described as a slog of endless repetition. The audience was mostly composed of fellow competitors along with their closest supporters, usually families and their friends.

Even the competition area was as drab and lifeless as one could imagine. There was no center stage but areas assigned for specific matches. No fanfare to speak of, no bright lights, no colorful costumes. A lot of grey walls, grunts, sweat, and tears.

Well, at least there were a few veela, though mostly because the French competitor, Adalene Durand, was one. She was pretty much a veteran in this game as she kept watch on potential competition, and used her group to see if she could cut them out before they advanced too far. Caused quite a bit of havoc as the veela's natural Allure was very powerful and worked surprisingly well even against kids. The reactions were different compared to what happened to the older teens, but the results were pretty much the same: spaced out looks and a sudden urge to do something impressively stupid.

Stupid enough to get them eliminated or disqualified.

Of course, the veela weren't warned or told to keep away. Nothing like home territory advantage, after all, especially when it wasn't completely exposed to the Wireless public.

Thankfully, as neither my match opponents nor I were famous, they stayed well away from me and my bouts. While I would most likely come out on top even with their presence, veela had an odd mentality. If they realized you were resistant because of occlumency, willpower, or just had a rare natural protection, you were screwed. They would amp their gifts up to ridiculous levels, just to see if they could break you.

I was not ready to test myself against their full effort, especially since I was still unsure how I would react. Physically, I was still a twelve-year old. My memories, though, were far older. I didn't dare find out how the combination of the two would make me act against a concentrated blast of Allure.

Of course, that also meant that I had to dumb everything down. As far as my opponents were concerned, I was just a normal twelve-year old throwing school jinxes and dodging spells with an exaggerated manner. It made me look like a complete fool with luck on his side.

Though after what I just did, tripping while accidentally shooting out a powerful tickling jinx at my opponent, I was ready to be done with the whole charade.

"Competitor Moreau is unable to continue," our arbiter announced rather lifelessly. "Winner, Competitor Weasley."

I shook the kid's hand, who looked at me with a pout. Sorry, mate. Life ain't fair. Sometimes, you get to fight a time traveler with skills or power far exceeding your own.

I would know.

Walking back to Darius, I looked at his expression. It was the same one he'd worn since my first match. While he hadn't said anything yet, I was pretty sure he was getting curious why I was acting like a total wuss. His tightly-pressed lips were a decent giveaway.

"Are you okay, Ron?" he asked when I came close enough. "Are you sick or anything?"

I closed the distance and sat down beside him, shaking my head slightly. "Don't want to give myself away. Not yet." I smiled. "One more fight before the semifinals, and no one is even watching me. I'm not that important, apparently."

He raised an eyebrow. "Smart," he commented. "Though I don't think you fooled everyone. That American, Kowalski? I noticed he has been watching you for quite a while."

"Well," I replied with a shrug, "you already know that he made me when we met at that ice cream parlor."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Darius said easily.

"Of course not. Anyway, he knows I'm hiding my abilities."

"How about you? Have you learned anything watching his duels?" he asked.

"A little," I replied. "Very methodical and favors countering spells rather than just casting as fast as possible. I'm more curious why he didn't tell anyone else about me, though. He could have made my elimination matches harder if he told, let's say, Durand and her group that I was playing possum."

"If you want, you can ask him," he replied, motioning towards my left.

I blinked and turned, just in time to see Kowalski making his way gingerly to me. He had that small smile that meant he either knew something, or was about to meet his girlfriend. I shook my head slightly, and copied the smile.

"Weasley," he greeted, offering his hand. Standing, I reached out and shook it. "I'm glad you made it this far." He turned to Darius. "Good afternoon, sir. I didn't quite catch your name."

"Darius Greengrass," he replied, also standing up and offering his hand. "I'm Mr. Weasley's sponsor for this competition. I've heard many things about you, Mr. Kowalski."

"All good, I hope," Kowalski said, shaking Darius' hand. He turned back to me. "It seems you're climbing up the ranks, Weasley. One more and you're in the semifinals."

"You did well yourself," I replied easily. "Will we be facing off during that or the finals?"

"Well, we all know who's going to the finals," Kowalski replied, motioning towards the arena where Durand was fighting off her opponent. Well, I say fighting, but she was pretty much blasting the poor kid with her Allure. I wondered if she was just humiliating him.

"Surely you wouldn't accuse the French of rigging the tournament, would you?" Darius asked with a bit of mirth.

"Of course not. It's just coincidence that all her opponents were far more susceptible to her gifts."

I chuckled. "I'm surprised she hasn't tried to put you down early, especially with her friends watching so closely."

"Well, a Natural Legilimens is the perfect protection against their Allure. Veela avoid me because of that."

"How so?" Darius asked curiously. "Legilimency is offensive by nature."

Kowalski frowned for a moment, looking at me. I shrugged. "I'm not a veela, if that's what you're wondering."

He laughed, shaking his head. "Fine. Allure works on basically fogging an opponent's mind. My gift cuts through that as even if my own mind was fogged, theirs aren't. I can use that to keep focus. It's a little hard to get distracted when you can read their thoughts."

"What usually goes on in their heads when they blast their Allure?" I asked.

"Answering that would shatter their image," he replied, shaking his head again. "I'm not ready to risk making an enemy out of them."

"Understandable," Darius said with a nod.

Kowalski gave him a grin before turning back to me. "Good job not catching any attention, but that's about to change. Your next opponent is not going to underestimate you because you were playground-duelling."

I frowned. "The German competitor? Alina Beyer?"

"She's been vying to reach Durand after she got humiliated in her duel against her last year," Kowalski explained. "I actually fought at the same tournament. She beat me pretty good."

"How?" I asked. "Did she know occlumency?"

"Some, but I could still read her." He shrugged. "There are some people you can't win against just by knowing what they were about to cast. She's wickedly fast with her wand movements and will most likely try and overwhelm you. That's her style. You're not going to get away with tripping on air this time."

I closed my eyes and sighed. "You saw that."

"Yup. Thanks for that, Weasley. I need a few laughs every now and then."

I raised an eyebrow at him. "You're not going to be laughing when we face off."

"Maybe, maybe not," he said, shrugging. "It'll be a fun duel, though."

When he walked away, I wasn't quite sure who came out on top of that conversation. I looked at Darius, who was looking at me with a curious expression.

"Well, I wouldn't want to disappoint Instructor Pierce, right?" I asked as we both sat down.

"Or Daphne," Darius added. Was there a note of teasing in his voice? "She's been adamant that you are going to win this."

"Odd," I said. "It was just a couple of months ago when she said otherwise."

"Ron, girls can change their minds easily."

"As you say, sir." I looked around. "Speaking of which, where is she? Or Lady Mariana and Astoria?"

Darius frowned, looking a bit uncomfortable. "They'll be here for the semifinals later tonight."

I stared at him for a moment before shrugging. "I guess that's fine. Astoria would be bored with the elimination matches."

He smiled. "Yes, she probably would have been."

I wondered if there was more to that story, but honestly, I still had a busy day ahead of me and let it go. I tried to relax, work through my breathing a bit as I waited until I was called for my next and final match of the afternoon.

I suspected that Kowalski was right; I couldn't hold back anymore. My previous opponents were young, probably even first timers. While some were skilled, the lack of experience and raw power limited them.

Alina Beyer was a completely different story. She was two years older than me, which meant she was significantly stronger and better than those I just faced. The mention of her humiliating loss was also something to contend with as well, as it meant she had a drive to win.

Sometimes, that was all someone needed.

My name was called, and I looked at Darius. He gave me a tight grin and I gave him a small nod as we both stood up. We walked to my assigned arena, and that was when I finally saw Beyer in person.

Cool as a cucumber, as muggles would say. She was currently staring at Durand with a neutral expression, while the French darling beside her was chatting away with a cruel smile, punctuating it with a laugh every now and then. It looked like she was trying to get into Beyer's head, but the girl just tied her brown hair up, saying nothing back.

After a while, Durand finally backed off, looking disappointed. When Beyer faced me, I stared at her cool grey eyes. I couldn't get anything from her.

"Competitor Weasley versus Competitor Beyer," our arbiter announced. "Winner shall move on to the semifinals. Are you both ready?"

Both of us nodded at the same time. On the arbiter's signal, a protective spell enclosed the area around us, protecting any watchers from stray spells. I relaxed my wrists, ready for the opening salvo. When our arbiter sliced the air with the downward stroke of his hand, I began to wave my wand.

Beyer was faster. She opened up with overwhelming salvo, launching spell after spell, linked together and aimed at different angles. I inwardly cursed as multiple bright red bolts began to converge at my direction, and dodged them with as little movement as possible before launching a Stunner.

She parried it, looking at me with narrowed eyes. Well, shit. I had hoped to end this before she caught on that I wasn't the lucky fool she thought she was facing. She began to rain down more spells, much faster than earlier, forcing me to maneuver around.

The way she brought forth spell after spell in quick succession reminded me a bit of my battle against Violet at the Malfoy Manor. Of course, she wasn't exactly like the Wicked Witch. Beyer preferred shields over movement, which I thought I could use against her with flanking maneuvers. However, she wasn't stupid. When I got to a good position for a counter-offensive, she took a few quick steps away from my attacking angle, forcing me to move as she launched more spells.

Putting up my own assault to clash with hers wasn't a good idea as she overwhelmed me with power and would last longer in a straight fight. I wasn't ready to bring out my Eques spell either as I didn't want to risk bringing Violet's attention. At this point, I had two options.

I could wait her out. At some point, she was going to tire out from keeping the pressure. However, the longer the battle lasted, the more I would give myself away. I already noted Durand and the other competitors staring at me. They were probably realizing there was more to me than my earlier, uninteresting bouts.

The other option was harder to pull off, but if I timed it right, it would be quicker and would give me away less to my future opponents. I studied the pattern of Beyer's spells, trying to figure out what she started her spell-link with, the middle, and the ending. I launched a few counterspells, also wondering what she would respond with.

I noted that she used a lot of red-colored spells, random ones at that. After a minute, I realized she wasn't really favoring them for their effects, but rather because they gave a rather bright glow, which garnered attention to them the most. The middle sequence concentrated on disabling spells, leaving me open to her last string of spells that would put me down.

After a quick plan, I launched my own offensive, shooting towards her feet. She quickly stepped to the side, parrying those she couldn't avoid before she countered. I dodged those bright-colored spells first, then began to parry the middle sequence, waiting patiently.

When I saw the familiar pattern of her wand movement towards the end of the linking, I smiled.

"Expelliarmus!" My spell flew right before she launched her Stunner. Beyer had only enough time to widen her eyes before our spells collided, and she got stunned her by her own spell.

As she fell to a heap, I saw our arbiter standing eerily still for a moment before moving towards Beyer. He checked her a bit, before crossing his arms in the air. "Winner, Competitor Weasley," he announced, not quite hiding the surprise in his tone.

I looked around and saw Darius and Kowalski standing beside each other. Both were smiling, though probably for different reasons. I also noted Duran and her group staring at me. I shivered, looking away as I heaved a sigh of relief. With no more matches for the afternoon, I could escape their calculating glares and whatever plan they might have concocted to eliminate me early.

As the magical barriers were brought down, Darius walked towards me, still smiling widely. "You did it, Ron!" he exclaimed happily.

"Yeah," I replied. "But I think we should leave quickly. I think my last fight caught some unwanted attention."

Darius chuckled, glancing at the veela group. "Kowalski mentioned that you might have ruined the French's plan. You should expect that."

"The arbiter gave that away easily enough." I sighed. "I'm going to quickly freshen up."

"Do you need me to accompany you?" he asked.

I thought about that for a moment before shaking my head. "No, I think I'll be fine. Meet you at the exit?"

"Will do, Ron."

As I made my way to the dressing rooms, I noted that Durand and her group were still staring at me. Well, that was fine as long as they didn't make a move. Still, I hastened my steps and reached the dressing room in a hurry.

I took a quick shower and changed in peace, keeping an ear out for any loud noises or female chatter. I didn't expect Durand or her friends to barge in here so brazenly, but then again, Fleur and Gabby had told me some interesting stories of veelas taking things a little too far. I hoped that my competitor and her friends weren't going to recreate that particular scenario.

So I was very surprised that when I opened my door, instead of a group of beautiful girls on the other side, it was Kowalski.

"Weasley," he greeted, smiling.

I blinked. "Hey. Going to change as well?" I asked.

"Nah. Just scaring off a bunch of birds."

I raised my eyebrow. "Durand and her friends?"

"Yup." His grin turned more smug. "Made a beeline towards here, actually."

"They followed me?" I asked, shivering inwardly. Bloody veela.

"Yeah. You should be more careful. Must be quite a shock to the whole committee. Durand was given a list of opponents she was surely going to face, and then you came in and knocked Beyer off that list. You're a wild card now." He chuckled. "I am guessing they were about to give you the welcoming treatment."

"Well, I'm glad you were able to put a stop to that," I replied.

"You should have seen how eager they were to run away when they saw me. Even faster than when they were chasing you." He gave me a mock grimace. "That kinda hurt."

I stared at him for a moment. "Not that I'm not grateful, but why?"

"Well, you and I will be facing in the semifinals," he replied. "They didn't announce it officially yet, but I heard the French wanted to give their candidate a bit of a challenge to start tonight's event. Their youngest contender, facing off against an older, more powerful opponent."

I pondered over that for a moment. "Let me guess… she didn't want to fight you yet, and pitting me against her would kinda ruin their little narrative they have about their candidate facing off against strong odds to win."

"That and because they don't have anything on you," he replied. "Like I said, they expected Beyer but instead, they got you."

"I am guessing our fight will give them enough time to put a strategy to use against me."

"Both of us," he replied, "but yeah, mostly just you. Plus, they also wanted to weaken my standing a bit. Even if I did win against you, I'd be known as that upstart Yankee that only got to the finals because he beat a twelve-year old."

"Wonderful." I narrowed my eyes. "You still didn't answer my question."

"Would it be hard to believe I want to fight you fairly?" he asked.

"No, but I'm pretty sure that's not all of it," I simply replied.

He smiled. "Advanced occlumency and a good tactical mind. I watched your fight against Beyer. That stunt you pulled at the end was a thing of beauty." His expression hardened. "I wanted to fight her again, to see how well I stacked up against her after a year."

"Instead, I beat her. Are you mad about that?"

"Not really," he replied with a shrug. "I want to fight the best. She beat me, so I trained hard to try to beat her back. Now, you've proven to be better."

"So, I'm the new measuring stick," I ventured.

"Something like that," he replied with a grin. "I don't want Durand to affect your performance later tonight. I want us to battle at our best. Is that a good enough explanation?"

I raised an eyebrow before nodding. "Yeah, it is. I can understand wanting to prove you're good at something. Especially to yourself." I smiled. "Well, thanks for keeping them away."

"For now," he interjected. "I'm pretty sure Durand is going to try again later."

"I'll try to steer clear from them," I assured.

He smiled. "See you later tonight then, Weasley."

I frowned as I watched him leave. He gave a bit of himself away and I added that into my strategy to beat him. I had a solid plan, but it was always nice to have more information.

As I waded through the dispersing crowd, I kept an eye out for anyone following me. There were a lot of the tournament officials watching me. I just hoped I hadn't stirred a dragon's nest yet. Still, there was no sign of Durand or her mob approaching to lynch me, so I had that going for me.

Exiting the stadium, I looked for Darius, frowning when I didn't see him. I noted someone was approaching me, so I readied my occlumency just in case someone blasted me with the Allure, but paused when I recognized the figure.

"Ron!" Daphne greeted me with a big smile, taking quick steps to me.

"Daphne," I greeted back softly, blankly. I looked around. "Where's—?"

She took my arm and began to lead me away. "Father, Mother, and Astoria went ahead. I suggested a nice place to celebrate your victory and they'll meet us there."

"I didn't win yet, you know," I said, smiling slightly. Inwardly, I was wondering if this was another plan of Daphne's to be alone with me. I still didn't know why Darius or Mariana were even agreeing to this. Were they in the crowd, watching? "I've got two more opponents to beat."

"You will," she said a bit earnestly.

"Glad you have more faith in me than last year." That earned me a pinch. "Ow, hey!"

She rolled her eyes. "Come on, Ron. You only have a little time before the tournament starts again. Let's not waste it."

"Fine, fine," I said, shaking my head. "It's not that ice cream place again, is it?"

"No, but it is a place that serves this wonderful bouillabaisse that—"

I jerked slightly when I felt a familiar warmth encasing my mind, driving almost every thought out of my head. I began to build up my shield, cursing myself for being caught unawares. I saw Daphne blinking at me, confused, not noticing Durand approaching from behind her.

Bloody hell.

"Excusez-moi," she greeted, giving me a very languid smile that made my stomach feel somewhat empty. My mind began to focus on her soft features, the curves of her shoulders, chest, and waist, bringing unwelcoming emotions. I cleared those thoughts and emotions away fast, but I kept my blank, glassy-eyed expression.

Daphne frowned before turning to Durand as well.

"Monsieur Weasley, noh?" my fellow competitor asked.

"Y-yes?" I stuttered, hoping it came out natural. "Can I h-help you?"

"Oui," she replied, smile widening. "I saw your match just earlier, and I wanted to—"

"Excuse me," Daphne interjected, grabbing my arm a little too strongly, to the point where it was beginning to hurt. "We're in a hurry."

Durand rolled her eyes before looking at Daphne. Then, surprisingly, I felt the Allure weaken. I frowned inwardly, watching as Durand's relaxed expression harden, her eyes narrowing as she stared at Daphne with some sort of intensity that I didn't think was necessary.

"Séductrice," the veela growled out. "Qu'est-ce qu'un animal comme toi fais ici!?"

I blinked, wondering what was going on as Daphne and Durand began speaking in French. Judging by the way there was lots of growling and some rather snide-sounding comments, it wasn't a friendly exchange. Daphne's grip took a more painful turn as well.

In the end, Durand raised her hand at Daphne, looking at me. "Monsieur Weasley," she began, her other hand reaching and caressing the side of my face. Her Allure began to flash in my mind again. "Why don't you come with me? I'll be a much safer and more enjoyable company than this pute."

I was pretty sure the last word was something nasty, considering how she practically spat it out. Also, the whole cheek touching and more blasting of Allure was going pretty far. I was going to tell her off when Daphne beat me to the punch.

Literally.

I could only watch with horrid fascination as Daphne's small fist socked Durand's chin. I was pretty sure there was a cracking sound. The French competitor was taken completely by surprise, especially when Daphne followed up with a rather out-of-character action of ramming into her, bringing both of them down.

"Whoa!" I began, scrambling to take a hold of my friend as both began to hit each other, spouting out more French in a guttural and violent fashion; I didn't think that was possible with such a flowery language. There was movement on the crowd and I spotted Darius coming through, leaving the shocked Astoria and Mariana behind.

Between the two of us, we were able to separate the two, with Durand beginning to show some avian features. Not good. "Come on," I urged Daphne as we moved away from the morphing veela. Darius could handle her.

"How dare she!?" Daphne growled, before trying to push me away so she could turn back. I was not having it and did the only thing I thought that would work: I embraced her.

"Please, Daphne," I begged. "Stop, okay? Come on, we need to leave."

She turned, glaring at me for the moment before her eyes widened in shock. I felt her shaking slightly as the fight slowly drained out of her, and she bowed her head down in the end. I felt a soft hand touching my shoulder, and saw Mariana peering down on me with a sad smile.

"Ron, can you watch over Daphne and Astoria? My Lord and I will have to take care of a few things."

I blankly nodded and saw Astoria looking at her downtrodden sister. I freed one of my arms and put it around the little girl. I looked back and saw French Aurors popping into the scene, as well as the tournament officials. Darius and Mariana were talking to both of the groups, while Durand seemed to have rejoined her friends, and probably her parents.

"Are they going to arrest Mother and Father?" Astoria asked, her eyes widening. Daphne began to shake a bit harder.

"It's not going to get that far," I assured, patting them both on the shoulders.

I stared towards Durand and her friends. They were glaring harshly at Mariana, which made me wonder if this was about their family gift. My French was almost nonexistent, but the word Durand used to call Daphne was pretty similar to English.

So… what would make a veela call Daphne a seductress?