“Thanks for offering to help me train for the duel with Merula, Penny. You really don’t have to do this.” I said to her as I arrived on the Training Grounds.
She was standing there, waiting for me. To be fair, Penny was perhaps the most helpful person I met at Hogwarts. And not just that, she was also quite optimistic and cheerful most of the time. I’m really glad to have her as a friend. The moment she heard I’m going to duel Merula, she offered to help me train. It was really kind of her.
“It’s my pleasure, Dylan. I’ve always wanted to learn how to duel, and I want Merula to get what she deserves,” she replied with a soft voice and a lovely smile.
“Well, if you’re half as good at dueling as you are at potions, I’m in trouble. Go easy on me…” I smiled back at her.
We then raised our wands and started practicing. To be fair, we were at it for quite some time. She was a challenging opponent. I was surprised to see that she knows some pretty advanced spells, but I guess that’s expected. She is one of the most gifted students after all. After dueling for a while, both of us were nearly exhausted. But it was a good experience.
“Nice work, Penny. You put up a good fight, you’re already an excellent dueler,” I praised her.
“Thanks, Dylan. I feel like I learned a lot,” she said while smiling at me. “Do you have a plan for how you’ll beat Merula this time?”
“Not really. I’m just going to do my best not to die,” I replied. Truth be told, I didn’t really think much of a strategy I’d use. Too many other things were occupying my mind…
“Well, good luck, Dylan. We’ll all be behind you…” She said.
I thanked her before I left the Training Grounds. Soon, I’ll have to face Merula and duel her again. I don’t really want to do that, but I have to… Who knows what she might’ve done had I refused… I’ll try to talk her out of it once again, but I am fairly certain she won’t listen…
The night sky was especially beautiful tonight. Thousands of stars were decorating it and shining brightly upon a courtyard. That gave it quite a magical feel. It reminded me of the night when I was looking over Merula in the Hospital Wing. I still remember that moment as if it was yesterday. I still remember the smoothness of her hair, the gentleness of her hands, the sweetness of her smile… She was standing near the fountain, waiting for me to show up. The moment she saw me, she grinned confidently.
“We don’t have to do this, Merula,” I tried to reason with her one last time.
“Shut up and ready your wand, Edwards. The only thing I want to hear from you is screams of pain…” She replied and pulled out her wand.
She seems pretty serious… I guess it can’t be helped… Thankfully, I could predict her strategy almost instantaneously. She preferred blasting me with a Knockback Jinx. It is kind of her “signature” spell. I braced myself and prepared for her attack. And I was right. I could easily read her wand movements followed by the word – “Flipendo!” But I underestimated her power, to be fair. The impact I felt from her spell was much harder than I anticipated. It almost instantly knocked me off my feet and made me fall on my back. Thankfully, I still had a hold of my wand. She was grinning with excitement while slowly approaching me. If nothing, she is still as arrogant as ever. I turned my gaze on her right hand, the one holding the wand. Then I focused for a bit, and quickly raised my hand while uttering the word – “Expelliarmus!”
She noticed what I was doing and instantly tried to cast another Knockback Jinx on me. Her hand started making a movement, but it was too late. Midway through her cast, my spell was finished and her wand got blasted off. All she managed to say was “Flip…” when she lost hold of it. Funny enough, since her hand was stretched forward, the wand flew straight to her face and hit her in the forehead. It rebounded off her and flew right near me. I quickly grabbed it before she had a chance to recover.
“Give it back!” I heard her angry voice as she was rushing forward to take it from me.
I decided it’s time to hit her with her own medicine this time. Before she got close enough, I steadied my hand, made a swift movement and said the word – “Flipendo!”
This made Merula lose her footing while rushing forward, so she fell right on top of me while making a weird, surprised face. I caught her with my arms to prevent her from falling directly on the ground and hurting herself. It reminded me slightly of the situation back from the mysterious room. Her messy hair was all over my face. It felt… rather pleasant to be honest. That very moment, I didn’t really think of her as an enemy. Actually, I never considered her an enemy, but at that moment I forgot for a second that we were dueling. She then raised her head and gazed directly into my eyes. Her look was so… surprised. I am not sure if that’s the right word. She was literally stunned by the situation she found herself in. Her deep, violet eyes were looking so unlike her usual self. She looked so pure, so innocent like she was a completely different person. The moonlight was shining upon her gorgeous face, which made her especially beautiful. I could notice every star, reflected upon her cheeks, giving it a lovely glow. We remained like that for a moment before she quickly backed off and tumbled away from me. Both of us stood up shortly after.
I approached her and gave her back the wand she dropped. “Here you go.”
“It’s impossible. You can’t beat me again. You can’t be better than me…” She said with a voice full of disbelief.
“If it makes you feel any better, you’ve got a lot stronger since last year,” I admitted. I didn’t mean it as flattery, it simply was the truth. The impact of her Knockback Jinx felt like a truck. Had she not been arrogant enough to watch me while I was on the ground, she could’ve easily won. I could notice a slight blush on her cheeks as I was praising her. She seemed to like it, but she didn’t want to admit it.
“You have to tell me your secret…” She said. Apparently, she still couldn’t believe she lost.
“My friends help me train, they teach me new techniques, and they’re always supportive,” I answered honestly. “Is this nonsense between us finally over?”
“We’re finished dueling, Edwards, but it will never be over between us…” She replied with a big grin.
To be fair, I kind of agree with her. I also don’t want things to be over between us. And not just because of the message I received last year. I… I’ve grown to like her… Something was drawing me towards her. And despite the fact that she was mean to me most of the time, I still enjoyed every moment we spent together, as weird as that may sound.
I stood there for a while, observing the night sky after she left…
“We need to find out what happened to Ben, and if this corridor is hiding something that leads to a Cursed Vault,” I said. “Finding those vaults is my only chance of finding my brother.”
“Just be careful, Dylan. We have no idea what might appear when you cast this spell…” Rowan replied.
I took a deep breath and looked at the spot on a wall in the corridor. Then I raised my wand, focused on that section of the wall and said – “Revelio!” The wall vanished and on its place, a set of stairs appeared.
“Merlin’s beard, Dylan! You unvanished a secret staircase!” He said shockingly.
“It’s the same staircase from my vision…” I instantly recognized it. I was here before… at least in my mind, but I remember the place fairly well. This is definitely connected to the cursed vaults in some way.
“And most likely the same staircase from the message we found carved in the cursed ice. Where do you think it leads?” He asked.
“I have no idea…” I answered.
“What do you think we should do?” He looked at me.
“We should tell a professor. We have no idea what’s up there, or why this staircase was hidden,” I replied. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was the best idea, but who knows what might be up there…
“If we tell a professor, they’ll never let us come close to this corridor again. We just discovered an unexplored section of Hogwarts, Dylan. Do you understand how amazing that is?!” He explained.
“You’re right, Rowan.” I agreed with him and then I took out my wand to cast the Wand-Lighting Charm. The staircase was very dim and gloomy, so I had to illuminate it. “Let’s see what’s beyond these stairs…”
We slowly went up the staircase, watching everything along the way. Every time we came up one of the corners, I was scared that something dreadful might be on the other side. After a while, we came up to a large door, leading up to a corridor. The moment we stepped in, I felt the chilling breeze. It was much colder in here. Several large knight statues were decorating each side of the corridor and it was dimly lit by a couple of braziers standing a top of stone columns. Overall, the atmosphere was quite spooky, so to say.
“This place is absolutely amazing…” I said, still impressed by the architecture of this remote section of the castle.
“And c-c-c-cold… Unnaturally cold…” Rowan stated.
“This must lead to one of the Cursed Vaults. My brother could be close…” I said. This was definitely related to my visions, so it was logical to make that assumption.
“Let’s hurry, and see what we can find. And come back later with a warm coat…” He suggested.
We looked around for a while until we stumbled upon a set of footprints leading further into the corridor.
“Footprints. Someone else was here…” I notified Rowan.
“Who? How? When?” He turned to me, surprised.
“I don’t know. Let’s see where they lead…” I replied.
After following those for a bit, we came upon a large section of icy mist blocking our way.
“It’s some kind of mist…” I said.
“It’s freezing…” He replied. “I don’t know if we can walk through this, Dylan.”
“We don’t have to…” I pulled out my wand, focused on the center of the icy mist and started moving my hand while uttering the word – “Flipendo!”
The mist disappeared and it revealed the rest of the corridor. The entirety of it was encased in ice. On the end of it was a set of stairs that let up to the huge door which had a large icy barrier blocking it from opening.
“It’s incredible…” Rowan gasped at the magnificence of it.
“It must be a Cursed Vault…” I concluded.
“What should we do, Dylan?” He asked me with a concerned voice.
“I don’t care about any curses, I have to find my brother…” I replied while approaching the door. The moment I touched it, my mind went elsewhere. I found myself in a large, dark room, filled with books. It looked like a library, but different. Not the one I usually study in. Shortly after I was inside another room, but this one was kinda cluttered, with a door outlined in chalk. Inside the room was the Dark Lord, gazing at me. Moments later I was back in the corridor.
“Dylan! Are you okay?!” Rowan asked me.
“I had another vision when I touched the door…” I answered, still quite shocked by the things I’ve seen.
“What did you see?” He asked with a curious look.
I explained everything to him. The moment I mentioned the Dark Lord, he started shivering.
“We should go, Dylan. This strange coldness, this entire place, I think it’s having a bad effect on us both…” He suggested.
That moment, the icy mist started forming and swirling near the door.
“It must be enchanted!” He noticed. “Watch out, Dylan!”
The mist then became an icy projectile and flew in Rowan’s direction. The blast hit my friend and launched him a few meters away.
“Rowan!” I yelled.
He was laying down on the ground, almost completely motionless, barely moving at all… I rushed to him, picked him up and quickly started making my way to the Hospital Wing…