Well, I haven't updated this story in over a year, so it might be a bit odd to do so now. It wasn't my plan to abandon this story, despite what the many people who felt the need to complain might think. And thanks, by the way, I've learned a lot of new colorful ways to curse people thanks to those anonymous reviews. Never knew people do that with an elk, though...
But I'm getting off-topic. Why had there been no update? Simple answer, I was fed up at that time. I save all my stories on an external hard drive and guess what, I lost mine early 2017. The Duelist happened to be one of only three stories I had no other copies for, which angered me, so I didn't bother to rewrite the chapters I had lost. Or I thought I had. I moved to another city recently and while I was getting rid of a lot of old stuff I found the hard drive in a dark corner of my basement... don't ask how it got there, I don't know. Thing is, I got it back and this chapter was the only one I had not published back in 2016. So I thought I just add it to the story and see what happens...
It was a calm and peaceful morning, as Albus Dumbledore sat in the room he had been given in the main building of Beauxbatons. He sipped from tea every now and then, while he read the copy of the Daily Prophet, which an owl had just delivered to him. It was one of those tranquil moments that the old headmaster savored the most, when the duties and worries of his many offices were far away from his mind, if only for a few short minutes.
Thankfully the newspaper did nothing to deter his good mood, as the latest news showed only little of the true problems that lurk in the shadows of their world. But even the Daily Prophet, a newspaper that shied away from reporting the inconvenient and worrisome news these days, was still a useful tool to see the state of Britain's magical society.
At the moment the major headlines were solely focused on the ongoing Triwizard Tournament. At least until the next Quidditch season begins, the inter-school competition would likely dominate the front page, and depending on how the tournament progresses, maybe it would continue to do this even long after.
Albus chuckled, as he saw a picture of Henri and Cassandra on the front page. The moment the news of their relationship had gone public, there had been a great interest in this most unusual love story. The headline was once again outrageous. From Rivals to Lovers, Can the Triwizard Tournament continue? It was a farce, but a question that some of the more competitive people liked to ask again and again. How can Henri and Cassandra compete against each other? Some even went as far as speculating that the only reason why both teens had dominated the tasks so far was that they are working together. Others wondered whether this was all a scheme of a conniving Grindelwald girl to win the competition. There was still a lot of resentment for the Grindelwald name, at least in Britain, where old grudges die far too slow. But anyone who had even the slightest knowledge of these two would know just how competitive Flamels and Grindelwalds can be.
A knock on the door shook him from his musings and brought his attention back to the present. Especially when a man entered without waiting for permission.
"Nicholas, what a wonderful surprise," Albus said genially, as he saw Henri's father enter.
The old alchemist looked almost impassive, as he approached the headmaster. Something was clearly amiss or else Nicholas Flamel would not have come here to see him.
"Albus," Nicholas said simply in greeting before he settled down in the chair opposite of the headmaster's own. "Still reading this waste of ink and paper I see."
"It amuses me, that is all," Albus assured him, "But what brings you to me on this fine day, my friend?"
"Do you really have to ask?"
"Please, indulge me this once."
Nicholas sighed, "Albus, I trust you and believe me, there aren't many people who can boast that, especially when said trust involves the safety and happiness of my son. But some of the rumors I've heard are… unsettling."
"If this is about Henri training young Erica, I can assure you that..."
"As if it matters to me whether or not he reconnects with his sister. Henri is old enough to make his own decisions regarding the girl and Perenelle and I know very well that no matter what happens, Henri is our son, not the Potter's. They have lost all claim to him long ago."
"Yes, Henri himself had said just about the same," Albus replied with a doleful look, "James does little that would endear him to the boy, so I have my doubts that Henri would ever tell the man who he really is. Erica does know, but she is simply happy to have her brother back, if only for a few short hours a week."
"Yes, yes. But that is not why I am here," Nicholas replied quickly. It was obvious that he was not interested in discussing the Potters at this moment and Albus was fine with that. "I am here because of the third task."
Albus heaved a deep sigh as he heard this. This was no easy topic to broach. Not by a long stretch. "So you have found out. I am sorry, Nicholas."
"Headmistress Maxime said the same. I have half a mind to file a complaint with the ministry about this and take my son back home. At least he isn't compelled to participate by some bogus ancient magic. But the others..." Nicholas shook his head, a worried look on his face. "Such reckless disregard for the champions' lives. I can't believe that you are actually opening up the entrance to the abyss once more. Henri was down there once and he nearly died in that crumbling ruin. Dammit, Albus, the last time I had been in there it was already suicide to explore that place and that was when there had still been people living in the spire."
Albus remained silent during Nicholas' rant. He was sympathetic to the man's worries and his anger. He had visited the place only a few days before and understood why so many people deemed this place unsafe.
"Our hosts from the French ministry are very insistent on giving the people some more excitement. There had been quite a lot of criticism that four of the six tasks pose no real threat to the champions, so they agreed that at the least the third and the sixth task have to be more thrilling than the rest," Albus explained. "Olympe and I had been against this, but the ministry officials and Igor were very thrilled when they heard about the spire."
"Of course they would," Nicholas sighed. "But they play with the lives of these children. We both know what lurks underneath the spire. The old magic can't protect anyone from nature's destructive wrath."
"Yes. I am especially worried about young Erica. She lacks the experience that the others might have..."
"Henri and Fleur know this place. Not very good but at the very least they know what to expect. I doubt that Henri would let Cassandra go in unprepared either. And for the matter, he wouldn't allow for his sister to come to harm, just to gain an advantage."
"No, he wouldn't," Albus agreed. He was very proud of Henri, especially when it comes to the boy's chivalrous side. He wasn't a Gryffindor by any means, but he showed certain traits that would have been admired in that house, had he attended Hogwarts.
"You know, there is something else you could do for me, Albus," Nicholas said, that cunning smirk on his lips that Albus had learned to admire and fear long ago when he had still been a student of the old Alchemist. Whatever Nicholas was planning now, it would not be easy…
"So, you and Fleur," Achille said, "The winning team is reunited once again."
Henri wasn't sure what to make of this. He knew Achille didn't mean ill and was just bad at choosing his words, but it still rubbed him the wrong way. The wrong person could think that he and Fleur had ever been more than friends. Well, they were likely more than that, seeing as they were close as siblings. Had been that way for years. But still there was no romantic entanglement and ill-chosen words could lead to very bad things with so many reporters around.
"You have no idea how many boys cursed your name when they heard that you would get to escort Fleur even to this very last ball she would attend at Beauxbatons. That makes sixteen out of sixteen. You lucky bastard," Achille continued.
"I don't mind going there with Fleur. We always had fun, but still..."
"You would have rather attended with your girlfriend."
Henri sighed, "It can't be helped. I will have to wait for my first dance with her tonight. It isn't that bad, but I will keep a very close eye on Krum."
"You think he will try to make a move on your girl tonight?"
"Idiots always have wandering hands. Only Krum doesn't know that his hand might wander to the other side of the room, without him still attached to it. Cassandra doesn't appreciate obtrusive men," Henri said.
"Man, I hate bow ties," Achille suddenly cursed.
As Henri turned around, he saw his friend trying and failing in his battle against his dress robes. He chuckled lightly before he lent Achille a hand.
"So, which unfortunate girl are you escorting tonight?" Henri asked as he smirked at his friend.
But now it was also Achille's turn to smirk. "Oh, you wouldn't believe me."
"Céleste Benoit, our resident school idol," Achille said with a smug tone.
Henri could only raise an eyebrow in doubt. Achille wasn't exactly… not her type. The few boys he could remember ever seeing with Céleste had all been more athletic and had important names to give them power. Achille… was a decent student, a joker, a loyal friend, but not what Céleste was usually looking for.
"Are you drunk, Achille?"
"No!" the boy replied in indignation, "I am serious."
"Wait a moment," Henri said, as he walked towards a cabinet in his room. "I have a potion that will sober you up before the ball. I just brewed a new batch the day before yesterday."
"Henri, I am not drunk!"
"So you are seriously going with Céleste? Never saw that one coming," Henri replied with a sigh. Something was odd here, but he wouldn't just accuse the girl of some wrongdoings. "You didn't use any illegal potions or spells, did you?"
"Seriously?" Achille exclaimed in obvious exasperation.
"You wouldn't be the first one to try," Henri replied, as he shrugged.
"I'm so offended right now…," Achille grumbled, "Come, we should hurry or else our dates might reconsider," Achille muttered, as he shoved Henri towards the door of the room.
They found Fleur and Céleste just outside of the dorms, glaring at each other in a silent battle of wills. They would always clash. But seeing them now, dressed up for the ball, their differences were even more profound. Like light and darkness. Fleur was dressed in a magnificent silver gown that fit her well. With her silvery blond hair, she was the exact opposite of the dark-haired Céleste, who was dressed in midnight blue silk.
"Okay, we are here, so let's get to the party before the other students try to get there," Achille announced loudly. Céleste truly allowed him to lead her away, as he offered her his arm. But it was surely an odd sight. Even more so, when she looked over her shoulder once more and winked at Henri.
He decides to ignore the odd couple for the moment and instead focused on his own date for the evening. Her eyes still followed Céleste and an angry frown adorned her face. "You look stunning, Fleur," Henri told his friend, as he tried to placate her. "You will make it hard for all the others girls to stand out."
Fleur smiled warmly at him, "But we both know that there is one girl even I can't beat, at least not when it comes to your attention." Her voice did seem a tad bit strained, though he wasn't sure whether he had just imagined it.
Henri chuckled, "Can't argue with that. But for now we will open the dance together, so let's give them a show to remember. We can't allow our last ball to be anything less than perfect."
"As if the other fifteen had been any different," she remarked with a wistful smile, "Always my shining knight, protecting me from those lustful beasts at every ball since our first year."
"Now you are mocking me," he lamented.
"No, perish the thought," she said, but the laugh that followed betrayed her words. "Come now, one last ball. Time to make some more unforgettable memories."
And it would truly be a night to remember. For all of them. The great Yule Ball of the Triwizard Tournament, it would be an event for the history books. And with both Fleur and Cassandra there, he would enjoy the evening to his fullest.
Erica was amazed when she saw the ballroom for the Yule Ball for the first time. It wasn't just the giant room, which big enough to put the Great Hall at Hogwarts too shame, but also the fact that it was open on one side, allowing the dance floor to reach out into the gardens of the school, where the students could dance under the light of the moon and the countless stars above them.
But before she could truly appreciate the whole beauty of the room and all it had to offer, she was ushered out again. The champions had to wait outside, so they could enter the ballroom with their dates in a grand fashion. All the pomp and pretense that her father had always disliked. Erica couldn't help herself but smirk at that. She had always enjoyed the few events that her father couldn't skip. Even now she had seen him sulk in a corner, though she wasn't sure whether it was because of his dislike of pompous balls or the fact that her mother had not been invited to come.
Erica had been a bit saddened herself when she heard that her mother wouldn't be here for the entire tournament. It was unfortunate, but it couldn't be helped. Her mother had been hired as an assistant teacher at Hogwarts for the year, to fill the gap left behind by the professors who had followed the headmaster to France, so she couldn't just leave whenever she feels like it. Even during the holidays, some of the staff had to stay behind and her mother had been one of the unlucky few who had to babysit the school.
Her gaze wandered through the hall outside of the ballroom. Many other couples walked past her and entered the ballroom, all dressed to impress and with happy expressions. Cedric stood not far from her, though he didn't pay her that much attention. He was quietly talking to his girlfriend, a fifth year by the name of Cho Chang, who had come to France as part of the Quidditch team. Erica did feel bad for breaking them up for the evening, but it wasn't as if she had had a say in this.
Yet truth be told, she was also glad for the rule that forced the champions to attend together. The mere idea that some boy would come up to her and ask her for a date had her mortified for days after she had first heard about the ball. So far she hadn't really entertained the idea of finding herself a boyfriend, especially not at school, when her father would sit at the high table during every meal to throw withering glares at any boy who dared to sit too close to her…
She sighed and looked around once more. Soon enough her eyes found the other champions. The two students from Durmstrang were already here, though by the looks of it at the least the girl would rather be somewhere else. The boy, the famous Quidditch player Victor Krum, tried and failed to start a conversation with his date. But much to his visibly growing frustration she wouldn't even look at him for longer than necessary. Erica watched the scene with no small sense of glee, knowing that the girl is her brother's girlfriend and all. It was good to see that she wouldn't be swayed by Krum's fame and arguably fetching looks… in a gruff sort of way. Not that the boy could rival her brother in this regard.
That notion was only reinforced when she finally saw her brother. Harry… no Henri, she corrected herself mentally for the umpteenth time. He descended the nearby stares with his date. Her brother alone was good looking, but next to the girl… together they looked like royalty straight out of a fairy tale. Grace and dignity, combined with his dashing good looks and the girl's radiant beauty. It was odd to know that Henri and Fleur had never been a couple. Many of those she had talked to about them had bemoaned how strange their relationship was. There had been more than one student betting on whether or not they would end up together, but to this day they were more like siblings than lovers. At least both of them claimed this, though Erica wasn't entirely convinced that this notion was truly mutual. And seeing them now, standing next to each other they looked so utterly right that Erica herself felt it was a shame to know that they were merely friends. And by the looks Henri's girlfriend sent them, Erica wasn't the only one who had come to that conclusion.
Her brother smiled benignly at everyone, as he greeted his fellow champions. Even Krum, though the greeting sounded more like a challenge combined with a threat to keep his hands to himself. He kissed Cassandra for a long moment before he finally moved on to her.
"Are you alright, Erica?" he asked her.
"I'm a bit nervous… more like terrified right now," she admitted quietly, "I have been dancing before but never in front of so many people… and the press."
Yes, that terrified her the most. She was used to being in the spotlight, but tonight there would be reporters from all magical communities in the world, not just Britain. One mistake tonight, one false move or one embarrassment and everyone would know it. And compared to the other champions around her, she did feel somewhat lacking. They had all the dignity and maturity for an event like this that she lacked due to her age. She felt like the odd one out, the little girl playing with the grown-ups.
"I do have a feeling that you won't be the focus of the press tonight," Henri told her with a laugh, "Just try to avoid thinking about who can see you and have fun."
"I will try," she promised.
He nodded, satisfied by her answer, before he returned to his date's side, just in time for the beginning of the main event of the evening. The grand entrance of the champions. Henri and Fleur would be the first to enter, seeing as they were the resident Beauxbatons champions. Krum and Cassandra would follow before she and Cedric would enter last.
"Ready?" Henri asked Fleur, just as they had been given the permission to enter the ballroom.
"Just remember, we are not here to be outshone," Fleur replied.
It was sort of a running gag among them. It had been during their third… no, it was the fourth ball they had attended together when he had sulked that no one had paid them any attention. Ever since Fleur had made sure that they would stand out. And it had worked like a charm. Every event they had attended together, people were looking at them and only them. It was a bit vain, but fun none the less.
"Okay, smile and shine," Henri muttered before he leads Fleur in.
The entire room was packed with people. Not just the students from all three schools that had reached their fourth year of education, but also a plethora of guests from many different places. Politicians, reporters, guests of honor and the odd few people of questionable importance. The French ministry had gone all out here, making the Jule Ball the biggest event of the year. It was a far cry from the usual yearly school events, but Henri wouldn't complain.
Yet the ballroom itself was what would make this day memorable for most guests. The organizers had gone all out with the decoration, making the room look like a mystical frozen palace, complete with ice statues and crystal plants.
As the champions enjoyed their moment of honor, all the guests stood and clapped, until all six had reached the largest and most lavish table, where the champions would sit with the headmasters and other guests of honor.
Between Karkaroff's near-constant scowl, Albus' Dumbledore's garishly colored robes and the strange feathered dress headmistress Maxime was wearing, Henri couldn't quite determine which would be the one most discussed in the days to come. All three had the eccentricities, but at social events like these, they stood out the most.
As they reached the table, Henri did as he had been taught by his mother, as he had done many times before. He pulled out Fleur's chair for here, acting all gentlemanly as was expected of him. Fleur's expression was somewhat amused, as she took her place, ever under the watchful gaze of headmistress Maxime.
After he had sat down, Henri looked towards Cassandra, who sat several seats away from him. If the dark look she shot Krum was any indication, his attempts at trying to be a gentleman were not well received.
"Henri," Fleur suddenly nudged him in an attempt to get his attention.
He looked at her expectantly, not entirely sure if he had suddenly forgotten about something.
She leaned over to him, one hand on his shoulder as she whispered into his ear, "Relax, Henri, just ignore Krum until the dancing starts."
"Cassandra can take care of herself," Henri replied, "For the time being I'm all yours, Fleur."
She laughed when she heard this. Whether it was his rogueish smirk or his words that amused her, it didn't matter all that much.
"Just try not to smile too much when you look in my direction," Fleur admonished him playfully, "With all those press idiots around there might be some misunderstandings."
"What kind of perverts are they, to watch us students at a school ball and tell all the world about what we do… and with whom?" Henri mused.
"Perverts indeed," Fleur agreed before they both shared another laugh.
Speeches followed, praising the schools, the champions, the tournament itself. A dreadful and boring way to start. But it did nothing to diminish the enjoyment of the many students. The sense of excitement was way to contagious for anyone to be bothered by the prattling of self-important politicians.
Fleur had watched Henri every now and then, keeping him dozing off. She couldn't contain the smile. It was always the same with him. Sixteen balls in not even six full years, somehow she rued that this would be the last they would attend together. In the near future, he would prefer Cassandra's company over hers…
"Come on, Fleur. Time to dazzle them some more," Henri said, as he stood up from the table. The time for the first dance had arrived. Only the champions at first, under the watchful gaze of all the other guests. And it would be a show for the history books...