Hermione was sitting in the corner of the Gym. The Seventeens had just been excused from a lesson on the History of the Order. Hermione had been intrigued on the hierarchy structure of the organization and was trying to look at her notes for a second time to commit the information that she had just learned to her long-term memory bank.
When Hermione arrived, she noticed that the Gym was filled with the Eighteens and the Nineteens. The two age group of Cadets were sharing a session that was running long. The activity was being led by Kingsley. Hermione was jotting notes down in her book. Under the hierarchy of the Order, she had scribbled the likes of Kingsley, McGonagall, Flitwick, Lupin and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Their names all stood next to the word Seraphim. These were the highest members of the Order - for a number of reasons that Hermione had just learned from her lesson taught by Mrs. Weasley.
"Not bad. Not bad," Kingsley was saying as he helped one of the Nineteen boys up to his feet, "who else is willing to give it a try?"
Hermione had just finished looking her notes over and went to join the large crowd that was surrounding one of the Arenas. A handsome boy that Hermione had known at Hogwarts was standing in the center of the Arena. All eyes were fixed on him. She was somewhat surprised to see that Cormac McLaggen was standing, breathing heavily and sweating in the middle of the space. He held his wand at his side, and had clearly just dispatched the other wizard that Kingsley was helping up to his feet.
Hermione had found Cormac's presence absolutely abhorrent in her Sixth Year at Hogwarts. She had compared Cormac to Hagrid's half-brother - full giant - Grawp. She had said that Cormac made Grawp seem like a gentleman, and Grawp had been guilty of lifting Hermione up in the air almost twenty feet as if she were a rag doll.
"Anyone else want to have a go at McLaggen?" Kingsley said as he pushed the previous opponent back to the crowd. Hermione looked around the group assembled around the Arena, just like Kingsley was. No one seemed eager to step up to the challenge. It looked like everyone had either already been defeated in a duel with the only wizard standing in the Arena, or they were too intimidated to accept the offer. Hermione's eyes drew over to Cormac. He was still breathing heavily and the faintest glimmer of a smirk was edged across his face. It was a face he had saved for her in Professor Slughorn's office once the year before. It was cocky and arrogant.
"No one?" Kingsley sounded both disappointed and amused. He scanned the room. "Then I'll volunteer you," he pointed at what Hermione would've imagined was a formidable opponent based on size. The boy that Kingsley had pointed out was probably an inch or two taller than Cormac, and definitely a year or two older.
The new opponent stepped into the Arena. He picked his wand up and stood in an offensive stance.
"Not just yet," Kingsley said, "Vardy," Kingsley was speaking to the boy who had just joined Cormac, "Where is your sister?"
Vardy pointed back to the spot that he was just standing in. The girl that Kingsley was referring to couldn't have looked more like her brother. They both had the same unique look. He was pretty for a boy, and his sister was handsome for a girl.
"Get in there," Kingsley said motioning for the sister to join her brother.
She hesitated long enough that she almost needed to be told twice, but she jogged up to the Arena and stood next to her brother.
"Stun or disarm your opponents only," Kingsley instructed all three of the combatants. That was standard protocol at the Academy. With a snap of Kingsley's wand hand, the terrain that the three were standing on transformed. Where there used to be the stone floors of the Academy, there was now soft, granular red sand. At intervals only a foot or two apart from each other, rocks that looked more like African termite mounds, rose from nothingness.
"Begin!" Kingsley shouted.
Immediately, the Vardys shot red sparks out of their wands right at Cormac. Hermione rolled her eyes. If Cormac had been defeating everyone in duels all afternoon, at least a couple people had failed to hit him with a Stunning Spell right at the off. From the edge of the group of spectators that Hermione was standing on, Cormac had dived to take cover behind one of the giant stone rocks. He leaned his back against the slab and waited. Hermione watched him. He held his wand up and appeared to be assessing everything around him. He took a free hand and brushed it through his wiry dark blonde hair and made his first move.
As the Vardys worked to keep Cormac pinned down behind his hiding place, they attempted to circle him and then overpower the unofficial champion.
Hermione watched Cormac take a peek around the corner of his temporary sanctuary. He quickly retracted his head as one of the Vardy's spells grazed the edge of one of the stone mounds. Flecks of the rock shot towards Cormac's eyes. He had to wipe away at one so that he could regain visibility.
The brother was about to approach the side of Cormac and take the former Gryffindor over, but Cormac reacted. Hermione was standing just at the edge of the Arena and if Cormac stepped out of the area he would be disqualified. It didn't look like he had any space to run. The brother was coming around from one side, and the sister was continuing pressure from the other side. Cormac would've been foolish to try to go right and receive the Vardy sister's assault. He was stuck between the boundary and the stone pillar that was nine feet tall.
Cormac caught a glimpse of his assailant over his left shoulder and cried, "Saltus!"
Instead of pointing his wand at his attacker, Cormac aimed his spell at his own legs. With his non-wand hand, Cormac grabbed onto the stone structure behind him. In a combination of the pulling from his strong arm and from the jump in his legs, Cormac cleared the nine-foot-tall obstacle. He landed on the other side. The red dirt cushioned his landing as it displaced around his landing feet.
Up until that point, Hermione had been unimpressed by Cormac's ability to take shelter and hide, but now that he was no longer trapped like a rat, Hermione witnessed why Cormac appeared to be such an intimidating opponent to everyone else. Hermione knew that there were countless different spells in the magical world. No one could possibly learn everything in one lifetime. And different parts of the world valued different uses of magic, but Cormac had a level of knowledge about some spells that he hadn't acquired just from his time at Hogwarts. Some spells Hermione recognized, while others were completely new to her.
Hermione watched as Cormac turned the tables on the other two Cadets. Immediately, Cormac went on the offensive, while the Vardys did everything they could to still remain relevant in the Arena.
"Bombarda!" Cormac shouted. From the angle that Hermione was standing at, Cormac had missed his attempt at blasting the brother back, but later Hermione would understand that Cormac hadn't missed at all.
The stone mound, that Cormac had taken solace behind earlier, shattered into thousands of missized pieces. Immediately, after the rock had been blown to various sized shards from dust to the size of a finger, Cormac waved his hand again. The pieces appeared to hesitate in the air briefly. Then Cormac separated his arms with what appeared to be a lot of effort. The dust and fractures shot in all different directions. Hermione had to shield her eyes and she barely had enough time to protect herself. Hermione couldn't see it happen, because she was still covering her eyes and Cormac moved too quickly.
She heard a Stunning Spell, the sound of red, sand shift and the sound of a thud as the Vardy brother was shot out of the Arena and among the spectators.
Hermione opened her eyes to try to see the action, but she couldn't find Cormac. He had changed his position in the space. He was doing his best to run through the tight spaces between the other stone pillars. The Vardy sister was rubbing at her eyes trying to get some dust out of them. She hadn't gotten hit by the fractures as badly as her brother, but she still hadn't regained the ability to see completely.
Cormac was just rounding on her as fast as his legs would take him across the red sand, when his opponent had freed her eyes from the foreign objects. Her first reaction, as Cormac turned around another pillar, was to produce a shield charm between him and her. Cormac ran into the invisible barrier. He was able to prepare himself, but he still bounced off the magically produced wall. Cormac fell onto his back. This gave the sister enough time to prepare a plan.
"Stupify," she shouted.
Cormac rolled backward over his head. He pressed his hands against the ground and was quickly back on his feet. The spell that he was dodging landed in the dirt right where he had been laid out half a second earlier. A flurry of more spells came out of her wand. Reds and oranges were flying for Cormac. In response, Cormac used a combination of evasive and defensive maneuvers. Hermione watched in awe along with the rest of the room as the two dueled. At every moment when it looked like Cormac wouldn't have the ability to react in enough time, he was either able to shift his weight so a spell would miss him by a hair, he would duck behind a pillar narrowly avoiding disaster or he would block the attack with his own shield charm.
The sister was getting frustrated of coming so close on several occasions that she attempted to get more sporadic. She sent another stunning spell in Cormac's direction. A red burst of light was going right for Cormac's center. The teenager twisted to the left to avoid it. That was exactly what Cormac's opponent was thinking he would do.
"Incendio!" She shouted as a blast of fire shot out of her wand tip. The flame was roughly the size of Hermione's waist. Hermione's eyes grew. There was no way that Cormac could avoid this.
Shock came over Cormac's face for a fraction of a second. Cormac's lead foot drove into the dirt and he pointed his wand to the ground just in front of him. He lifted both his hands as the flame was one body length away from him. A wall of sand and dirt lifted to protect him.
In Hermione's opinion, it was unorthodox, but it was both clever and beautiful. The Vardy sister held her wand pointed on the same spot.
"Stun and disarm only!" Kingsley called in to referee the match.
The sister pulled her hand back and the flame ceased.
The momentary hesitation that the sister took was enough for Cormac. He extended his hand and the wall of imperfect glass and hot sand shattered in front of him. Like he had with the stone pillar, he temporarily froze the shards of glass in air. Then he threw his attack of ragged glass.
This time, it was the sister's turn to appear surprised. She barely had enough time to throw up her shield charm. Pieces of glass bounced off her shield and were flying toward the spectators. Others had to draw their wands to protect themselves from the flying glass. Miraculously, no one was hurt.
"I won't say it again!" Boomed Kingsley, "Stun. And. Disarm. ONLY!"
Cormac didn't hear anything. He had used the glass as a distraction. He was barreling at the sister as quickly as his feet would take him over the sand. He was a few feet away from her.
"Expelliarmus," she screamed once she saw how close Cormac was. The spell was well placed.
Cormac knew that the Vardy sister's aim was true. He did his best to squeeze his wand tightly in his hand, but the spell was too effective. His improved grip was no use. His wand twirled out of his hand and was flying to the direction of the user of the Disarming Spell.
Everyone watched on in surprise as Cormac's wand flew toward her. If she claimed Cormac's wand, she would do what no one had done all day. Hermione was the only person - other than Cormac - that wasn't watching the wand fling in the air.
Just as the piece of wood was within her grasp, Cormac was upon the Vardy sister. Hermione couldn't believe her eyes. Cormac put both his hands on the girl's hips and started pushing her. Trying to remain balanced, the girl shuffled her feet backward with him. She was completely taken by surprise. She finally reacted and tried to turn her wand at Cormac since he was so close, but before anyone knew what was happening, she was flying through the air, just like Cormac's wand had been.
With a throw from a martial art, Cormac tossed the Vardy sister out beyond the boundary of the Arena. Cormac hadn't thrown her like a superhero. The Vardy sister didn't hit the far wall and then slide to the floor. Cormac had just thrown her into the first row of spectators. Everyone around the Arena was stunned. Every set of eyes was split between looking at the Vardy sister that had just been tossed into the crowd, or fixed on Cormac. Hermione's eyes lingered on the teenager still in the Arena.
Back at Hogwarts, Hermione had once - and only once - spoken of Cormac McLaggen in a positive light. She had been talking to Parvati Patil about Cormac loud enough for Ron to hear and get jealous. She hadn't exactly meant everything that she said, but now as she looked at him a whole year later, she was very impressed.
All the Cadets wore the same grey outfits. They were comfortable enough to wear, that someone could sit through a whole course of Wizarding Military History and not be miserable in something like wizards' robes, but they were also made of a material that was close fitting for such moments like sparring. Cormac's uniform stretched onto his form majestically. The grey color of his top and bottom almost made him appear like he was made out of marble and a great sculptor took the time to chisel him out of stone for generations to admire.
Cormac bent down and picked his wand up out of the sand and dirt that was still present. Kingsley hadn't wiped the terrain of the Arena away yet. As he stood up to his full height, Hermione took in all his looks.
From the top down, she admired him in the briefest of seconds. His hair was dampened down against his forehead, until he brushed it to the side with his non-dueling hand. His hair fell perfectly to an artistic side. His haircut complimented the shape of his masculine face well. The style that he wore his hair in, accented his strong square jaw. It was the kind of jaw that looked rugged, yet any model would be proud to sport. Cormac's neck was guilty of having a few beads of sweat dropping down it, but it was another massively manly aspect of him. It was thick and strong. Something that Hermione had never noticed about boys roughly her age. It made Cormac look older than the eighteen that he was. As the collar of his uniform reached Harry's neck, it was loose. It was so loose, that it was possible to fit two of Harry's necks inside the shirt. Hermione wondered if Cormac could even fit a couple of fingers inside the fabric to reach an itch. Cormac's shoulders looked sculpted against the grey fabric. She had been witness to how strong they were when she was at Slughorn's party the year before, but when she was that close to him she was completely disgusted by what was attached to those shoulders. Now - she didn't know why - she was curious about them. Cormac's arms looked strong from his biceps to his forearms. As she would later notice when she looked around the room, there were other Cadets with larger arms, but they were unappealingly large. Cormac was almost proportionately perfect. Cormac's chest pressed against his shirt and Hermione - along with anyone else in the vicinity - could admire how muscular he was. Hermione's eyes were about to continue trailing farther down his torso, but her few seconds of admiration were up.
"If you take a picture, it'll last longer," Cormac had caught Hermione staring at him.
Hermione was flustered. She could feel her face start to turn red. She needed to think of something witty to say back quickly.
"Well… So…" Sadly, nothing came to her.
Cormac smirked a flirty looking smirk, that made Hermione feel even worse.
Hermione was grateful that she was the only one that heard Cormac's words. She could feel her face flushing and didn't know if it was due to anger at Cormac's bold words, or embarrassment that she was caught almost ogling him.
"I know that the Seventeens are supposed to have this time set aside in the Gym, but I'm just having too much fun," Kingsley's voice boomed, "Anyone want one last go at McLaggen?"
Hermione was horrified when she saw Kingsley's eyes fixated on her, "Hermione," the young Gryffindor was one of the very few members of the Academy that Kingsley referred to by first name. The others were Harry and the Weasley children.
"Yes, sir?" Hermione gulped.
"I've seen you in action first hand," a lot of people started whispering about the rumors that they had heard about the Battle of the Seven Potters - they were whispering about Hermione's ability - and inability - to duel.
"Yes?" Hermione hoped this conversation was going in a different direction than she was expecting. She was disappointed.
"Go give McLaggen a run for his money," Kingsley had said what Hermione had feared.
Hermione was able to boast that she had more combative experience than almost any of the other Seventeens. One Cadet by the name of Harry Potter was the only student that had more relevant field experience than she. Even though she had a reputation as somewhat of an accomplished duelist among the Seventeens, older Cadets had more experience against the Dark forces.
The Order of the Phoenix was about fifty members strong by this point in the beginning of November - thanks to the heavy emphasis on recruitment. Even though these numbers were almost doubled from the first time that the Order fought against Voldemort, the numbers were nowhere near where Kingsley or the other higher members of the Order would've wanted. Due to the lack of members, this left a need for a lot of spare resources. Real world responsibilities were divided to some members of the Academy by a combination of age and rank. So there were Academy students with more relevant experience than Hermione. Cormac McLaggen was one of those Cadets.
The second thing that worried Hermione was her sparring record. In her time at the Academy, she was successful about seventy-five percent of the time. So, clearly she won more matches than she lost, but she had proven to herself that she was wildly inconsistent. There were always those Cadets that she was more talented than - Neville Longbottom came to mind - and she would never lose to them, but in the same day that she would lose to a few people that she had beaten before, she would disarm the great Harry Potter.
Hermione knew that she had a wealth of magical knowledge stored in her brain, but sometimes tapping into all those stored files hindered her ability to duel well on a consistent basis. Now that she was going to be duking it out with the undefeated champion of the day, Hermione felt a pit in her stomach. Hermione hated nothing more than proving inadequate in front of other witches and wizards.
Hermione looked at Kingsley hoping that he would excuse her from fighting, but he gave her an encouraging nod and a smile. Hermione did her best to return the kind gesture.
"Give him hell," Kingsley whispered out of the corner of his mouth as Hermione stepped into the boundary of the Arena.
Hermione faced Cormac. She held her wand up in her attacking position. Professor Flitwick who had made several guest appearances at the Academy, when his Hogwarts schedule allowed him, offered several lessons on dueling. He himself had been a master duelist winning international awards and acclaim over the years. During one lesson, one of the Cadets asked what the best stance to take was.
"Well, each wizard is different," the small professor squeaked, "So each stance is different. In all the years that I've been dueling, a stance is a definitive tell of a witch or wizard's fighting style and character." Then in the blink of an eye the part-goblin assumed his dueling stance. He extended his right foot and lifted his wand hand so that it was pointing directly at the sky. The tip rested an inch or two away from his ear. His wrist looked like it could spring out to attack or defend with the simplest ease.
After that lesson, everyone had tried to perfect their stance. Hermione had caught many Cadets practicing their stance in the mirrors around the Academy. Hermione's stance wasn't anything fancy. She staggered her feet and pointed her wand in Cormac's direction. She waited.
Cormac was standing with his feet shoulder width apart. He had his hands by his side as if he was waiting for the bus. Was he seriously standing there like Hermione didn't pose an actual threat?
Hermione was truthfully offended. She eyed him and his stupid little smirk etched at the corner of his mouth. He wiped his brow from sweat and exhaled. Hermione gritted her teeth and wanted Kingsley to establish the terrain so she could hex that dumb grin off his face.
"Stun or disarm your opponent only," Kingsley called out. As he finished speaking, he quickly made an effort to find the Vardy sister. Kingsley brought his attention forward again. He extended his wand hand, snapped it down and the terrain shifted in front of everyone's eyes.
The floor sank down immediately, Hermione couldn't see how far, because she was now in the middle of a sparring match, but it must've fallen ten feet. For every bit that the ground dropped, water flooded in. Both Cormac and Hermione sank to their shoulders in water. Neither of them had ever seen the Arena fade into a pool before.
"Begin!" Kingsley refereed.
At the end of his command, several stone "steps" appeared on top of the water. Both Hermione and Cormac did their best to reach the step nearest them. Cormac's upper body was stronger and was able to pull himself out of the water faster, but Hermione was closer to the nearest step. They were both out of the water at the same time.
The terrain was almost all water, except for the series of stone steps that were spaced out at intervals of about two feet that could be reached by small steps or some were a whole body length away that would require a giant leap. Hermione turned on the spot and tried to shoot a spell at Cormac, who was able to dodge the attack by a flurry of quick steps on the stone platforms.
Hermione's brain processed like a supercomputer. She reasoned that if she fell into the water, the battle would be lost. By the same logic, the trick would be to knock Cormac into the pool so that she could have her best chance at stunning him. She threw a couple combinations of spells at Cormac, but he had no difficulty avoiding them. The fact that Cormac was dodging her attacks was fine for her. Hermione was using that as a chance to survey the terrain of the Arena. In a flash, Hermione understood every possible direction that she could step to avoid falling into the water. On top of that, she was able to know the next two or three steps she could retreat to in each subsequent step after that. Hermione's fighting style required precise calculated movements. Her superior thinking power and logical skills worked best that way.
To the amazement of the Eighteens and Nineteens, Hermione seemed to have Cormac on the defensive. Cormac didn't appear to have any option at the moment other than blocking and dodging Hermione's first flurry of spells. Over this terrain, he had nowhere to hide and regain his composure. It looked like he was doing everything he could, to just stay on his feet. That flipped on its head.
"Stupefy," Hermione called out. A red beam of light escaped from the tip of her wand. The spell was only the size of Hermione's finger, but everyone in the room knew the power of a Stunning Spell. From where Hermione was standing, she was almost certain that the spell would catch Cormac right in the shoulder. It may not stun him to the point of unconsciousness, but at the very least, it should unbalance him enough to toss him into the water.
Cormac's eyes looked uncertain for a second. Normally, he was able to dodge with ease, but maybe he had too many duels for one day and was starting to tire. Rather than dodge, he tried another piece of unorthodox magic. Hermione would've been left in awe if she hadn't been in the middle of a duel.
Hermione watched as Cormac dove with every bit of strength that his legs could muster. To Hermione's delight, at first glance there was nowhere for Cormac to run to. The only thing in front of him now was the water. Her eyes lit up as she prepared to wait for the splash. Cormac would submerge in the water, and be hers to finish. The crowd sensed this for a moment as well and there was a palpable tension in the air. Hermione's brain made up her mind and knew exactly which spell she was going to use to finish him off. She pulled her wand back at the moment she was expecting the sound of a body coming in contact with water, but her stomach sank.
Cormac had jumped as far as he could and was parallel to the still water. He extended his wand and a powder blue color shot out of the tip, the sound of ice expanding in the pool echoed off the Gym walls. Hermione was surprised to see such an ingenious use of magic, she almost forgot to continue her assault. She shot spells after him, but Cormac was successfully sliding on his side in the same fashion as a seal. He couldn't protect himself and had to rely on the fact that he was moving so quickly across the perfectly flat sheet of ice to avoid Hermione's attacks. For as long as he wanted to continue gliding, he had to keep his wand pointed in front of himself converting water to ice.
Hermione recalculated her aim and went to stun Cormac's head. She guessed how far ahead she would have to lead him and shot a spell at him. In that exact moment, Cormac pressed back up to his feet. He had reached a section of the Arena where he could jump from the ice and land back down onto a stone step. Hermione's spell had shattered the ice right where Cormac had been a moment earlier. She advanced forward a few paces on the stone steps that she was comfortable with and fired another Stunning Spell at him. Again, Hermione believed that her aim would be true. She was aware of what the wand movement for a shield charm was, and Cormac appeared to be doing just the opposite. Without explaining too much, Cormac would've needed to bring his hand backward, execute some movements in his wrist and then bring his wand forward. He had skipped the first two steps and was just bringing his wand arm forward.
A Stunning Spell travelled at the speed of a moving car. It was very fast. With an almost impossible amount of coordination, Cormac reached out with his wand tip and met the red jet of light Hermione had sent at him. As if his wand had attached the spell to0o the end of it, Cormac redirected the spell away from his body and to the side. Even though Hermione was amazed at this redirection of magic, Cormac was still not done. Hermione had believed that Cormac's wand that had more or less hooked Hermione's spell onto its tip, would send her Stunning Spell off to the side. She thought that it would fly off and hit one of the walls behind Cormac. That wasn't what happened.
Cormac pulled his wand to the side to make sure that his defensive Hook Charm had avoided his body, but then - like a tennis backhand - he returned the spell back in Hermione's direction. The spell came at her even faster than when she had shot it out of her wand.
"Protego!" Hermione shouted just in the nick of time. The Stunning Spell rebounded off of her shield charm and ricocheted against the ceiling of the Gym. Hermione's shield was only facing Cormac's direction. When some rubble from above started falling toward Hermione, she had to jump to the side to avoid getting struck. Her brain could only work so quickly and her two options were to be crushed by some of the debris or jump for the water.
Hermione held her breath and dove in head first. She didn't know what she was expecting, but the water was icy cold. Cormac's spell that froze over some of the Arena terrain had turned the rest of the water frigid. She almost lost all of her breath when she came in contact with the pool. The water was perfectly clear and Hermione had no problem opening her eyes under the surface. While they were opened, she saw flashes of light fire after her. Hermione had seen movies before, and when the good guy would dive into a river to avoid being shot by the bad guys, bullets and arrows were slowed down by the resistance of the liquid, this wasn't the case with magic. Even though the spells came out at the normal speed, the refraction of light came to Hermione's aid by distorting Cormac's aim.
Still freezing, Hermione created a Bubble Head Charm. Viktor Krum had shown her this spell in her Fourth Year. She rested on the bottom of the Arena floor while she thought. She could see Cormac's shadow leaning over her firing spells after her. Other shadows surrounded the edge of the Arena as the crowd did their best to gain a look at what was happening. Hermione believed that she had a plan, but had to move quickly. Cormac's aim was getting adjusted to the refraction of the pool.
"Ascendio," Hermione cried inside the bubble that was providing her oxygen. She raised up and out of the water. She should've used that spell when she first entered this terrain, but she hadn't had the time to come to that conclusion. As her feet breached the surface of the water, Hermione fired a spell in Cormac's direction.
The handsome teenager didn't even flinch. Hermione's efforts missed him by a foot. The dark blue light fell into the water in front of him. That's what Hermione had meant to do.
The spell that Hermione had issued forced the water out of the pool and up to Cormac's knees. It was as if a little fountain had been put there to keep watering Cormac.
"What the hell is this?" Cormac joked amusingly, "I can do my own laundry just fine, Granger."
The spectators around laughed.
"Good," Hermione said. Now it was Hermione's turn to emit a powder blue light from her wand. The water that was reaching Cormac around his knees to his feet immediately froze. It wasn't like the frost in the morning that one needs to scrape off their car after a cold night. Cormac's lower legs were beginning to be encased in large blocks of ice.
Hermione had thought if Cormac lost his superior mobility, she could out-duel him on a magical playing field. Cormac was now stuck.
Hermione pulled her wand back and sent more Stunning Spells at Cormac. He was struggling to free his legs. He almost didn't see Hermione's silent spells coming for him. At the last possible moment, Cormac pointed his wand forward and deployed a shield. Hermione fired spell after spell. Each of them bounced off harmlessly. As long as she continued to attack from this forward direction, Cormac could attempt to free himself with his non-dueling hand while holding his shield. Cormac held his wand steady. His shield was proving to be strong enough to repel Hermione's Stunning Spells. As he kept his concentration on Hermione, he kept trying to break the blocks of ice with the strength in his legs, but the ice was too thick.
Hermione abandoned the frontal assault. She pointed her wand in the direction of the shield. She placed her non-wand hand forward and lifted them both. Cormac didn't see the sense in whatever she was doing. His shield had proven to be strong enough, but then he heard it behind him. Hermione was raising an intimidating tidal wave behind him. The wall of water lifted ten feet into the air. It would easily overtake the stuck teenager.
Cormac did everything he could to flail and free his legs, but he was still rooted in the ice. He held his shield for as long as he could, and then released his focus, and aimed at the wall of water behind him. It didn't work in time. The tip of the wall of water had already come down. Cormac's attempt had been to turn the wave into ice again and halt it in its tracks, but what appeared to be happening was that Cormac had trapped himself in the wall of expanding ice.
Everyone had a shocked look about themselves. Hermione was most taken aback of all. Nothing happened for a few seconds. Everyone heard the ice continuing to strengthen as the entire curtain of water that had engulfed Cormac froze even harder.
Someone screamed, "Get him out!"
A couple of Cadets were running into the Arena. Their wands were drawn to attempt to help. Whatever that meant. If Cormac was encased in ice, fire could free him, but it could also burn him past recognition. They couldn't wait too long or he would be crushed by the rapidly freezing ice, or maybe he would suffocate.
"Wait," Kingsley said calmly. Nervous eyes looked back at him. Cormac was clever in a duel, but no one had seen something like this before. All the bodies that were prepared to enter the Arena stepped back. Everyone waited with anticipation. Hermione included.
She could see her breath. What had started as a battle over water, had more or less become a frozen challenge. Hermione pulled her wand back. She couldn't wait to see what happened any longer. She was going to melt all the ice that she could. Cormac could die in there. She was going to blast the ice apart if she had to. She would deal with whatever the negative outcomes like scratches and cuts on Cormac later.
"Bombar-" she began.
A light emitted from inside the frosted ice of Cormac's tomb.
"Bombarda!" Cormac shouted. The ice shattered like a broken mirror. Cormac jumped up into the air, and lifted his wand. He suspended the pieces of ice for a moment, and with a powerful movement, he shot the ice in every direction. Cormac's plan of surprise had worked. There was no possible way for Hermione to put a shield charm up in time.
Hermione didn't even know how she called the spell. She had never used it before, and had only seen Cormac do it in the previous fight. But she lifted the water in front of her up in a protective wall. She planted her lead foot firmly and aimed both her hands in the direction of the water in front of her. She raised both hands with force. The shards of ice hit the wall of water, and some even powered through Hermione's defense, but they either mostly melted through the liquid, or were slowed by the resistance to nothing more than light flecks on her skin.
Cormac landed on another stone step. He had a wry grin on his face when he saw the look of wonder on everyone's face. He peeked to his left first and then to his right. He felt like an absolute celebrity. When he turned around to face Hermione, he had to react.
Hermione had turned her defensive wall of water into a slab of ice. Where Cormac was a proponent of shattering objects, suspending them in the air and then sending them out like little daggers, Hermione just pushed the entire block of ice - that had been her wall of water that was as large as she was, at Cormac. Cormac dove to his right to avoid being crushed by the attack. This time he wasn't quick enough to transform the water into ice - and he was sick of all the ice.
Hermione thought that she had him now, but before Cormac submerged in the water he used his counter to remain out of it.
"Levicorpus!" Cormac shouted. This was usually a spell used on opponents and Hermione prepared herself, but rather than attacking her, Cormac used the spell on himself.
As if lifted into the air by an invisible hook, Cormac's ankle was raised into the air. Only the tip of his hair brushed against the surface of the water.
Hermione tried to take her aim, but before Cormac reached the height of his ascension, he pointed his wand at his ankle again, "Liberacorpus!" The invisible hook released him. He did a complete somersault in the air and landed on one of the stone steps.
Hermione thought she was going to regret the look on Cormac's face. She could only imagine how smug he would look from that slick use of magic. When she caught his expression though, she was surprised. He looked absolutely amazed. Not amazed in his own ability, but amazed that that had worked.
"Lucky moves," Hermione accused him in front of everyone.
"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," Cormac said turning to face Hermione. He assumed his same 'stance' as before. He stood with his feet shoulder width apart and his wand by his side.
Hermione smiled to herself. Cormac caught her grin and smirked back at her. Hermione wiped the smile from her face and took to her own stance. Cormac was the first to move. He took off at a sprint to his right. Hermione couldn't imagine how quickly he was running over this terrain.
She alternated between Stunning Spells and Disarming Spells. Red and white lights appeared to chase Cormac. He was doing his best finding the most efficient route toward Hermione. He wasn't bothering with his wand, just dodging and avoiding Hermione's attacks. Cormac looked to his right and made sure that he was going to avoid Hermione's spell. When he turned back to watch where his feet were supposed to go, he ran out of stone steps.
Rather than come to a stop, Cormac ran even faster until he reached the last step. He jumped. He pointed his wand to the water below him and an ice block raised up two feet to meet him. He jumped again and a block rose four feet in the air. Cormac continued having ice steps meet him, while he kept running toward Hermione. Hermione was trying to back away from the advancing Cormac. She was no longer on the stone steps either. She was on the first patch of ice that Cormac had created when he slid like a seal.
Cormac made his final attack. He jumped off his latest ice block. He pointed his wand down at Hermione. Hermione backed up a step further and aimed at Cormac's chest.
"Expelliarmus!" They both shouted. Everyone looked on in awe. Kingsley couldn't recall the last time that two Cadets had battled like this. The flashes of white light missed the other by the width of a hair as the spells flew past each other. Cormac's spell hit Hermione right in the wand hand, just like Hermione's had hit Cormac. Both the pieces of wood forced their way out of their owners' hands. Both were unarmed.
Cormac landed hard on the ice, but uninjured. He heard both the wands fall into the pool of water. Cormac exploded up from the crouched position he had landed in, and ran at Hermione. Hermione realized that she was wandless, but even though she didn't have her greatest weapon, she wasn't defenseless. Cormac was still running at her. She staggered her stance, held her hands up and prepared for him.
She pulled her right hand back and brought it forward to strike Cormac. Hermione had only thrown a few punches in her life. On occasion, she would hit Ron or Harry when she expected better out of them, and there was the one time she gave Malfoy a bloody nose, but by no means would Hermione consider herself a prolific boxer. But by some miracle, she threw a punch that landed right on Cormac's jaw. Cormac's head received the full force of the blow, but Hermione came off a lot worse. She felt something in her wrist go wrong. Cormac was stunned by the fact that Hermione had struck him in the face, but he continued with the duel. He dropped his shoulder and hit Hermione right in the thighs. Even though he was sparring, he was aware of who he was fighting. If he was fighting the Vardy brother, Cormac would've had no problem dropping his shoulder square into the brother's gut and taking the wind out of him. Cormac worried if he did that, he would break one of Hermione's ribs.
As Cormac drove into Hermione's thighs with his shoulder, she folded over the top of him. Cormac stood up and lifted her off the ground. Hermione was ready to be flung through the air like the Vardy sister, but that never happened.
An alarm sounded. A light on the wall of the Gym flashed. This was not new to all of the Cadets, but it was definitely out of the ordinary.
Kingsley was the first to react appropriately. He wiped the Arena terrain back to the stone floor of the Academy. Everyone was chatting frantically. It was an excited chatter rather than frightened.
"Act professional," Kingsley called out. Everyone quieted down. Kingsley looked around in disbelief, "What do we do when that alarm goes off? This is not a drill."
It was a rhetorical question. The Cadets dispersed and gathered their things. People headed to the barracks.
"Get prepared and meet in the Meeting Hall in ten minutes," Kingsley shouted above the noise.
"Put me down," Hermione slapped Cormac on his shoulder. She was still suspended in the air.
Cormac bent down and deposited Hermione on her feet. As she was resting up on his shoulder, he was holding her with one of his hands on her lower back. As he placed her back down, that hand slid up her back. He rested it on her shoulder as he stood toe to toe with her. Hermione's eyes ran up to Cormac's full height. She noticed just how much taller he was than she. He was six inches away from her. His arm was bent at the elbow as he held her shoulder.
They looked at each other for a second. Hermione was completely unaware of everything going on around them.
"Nice right hook, Granger," Cormac said. He brought his hand from her shoulder to Hermione's cheek. The touch was somewhere between a pat and a caress. Hermione noticed that he appeared to be looking at her as if it were the first time he had seen her.
Hermione didn't know if she was disgusted by his touch or liked it.
"Hermione. McLaggen. Let's go!" Kingsley shouted at them. They were among the last people in the gym and they still hadn't moved.
"Yes, sir!" Hermione said breaking eye contact with Cormac. She retrieved her notebook that she had left on the side, grabbed her wand and headed for her barracks. As she climbed the stairs, she became aware that her face was turning red again.
Cormac crossed over to a different corner and gathered his things. She is exactly what I need, he thought to himself. His mind started wandering on Hermione Granger for a moment, before he remembered that the alarm was going off. He altered his walk to a jog for the stairs.
A/N: There is a taste to what the action in this story will feel like. Did you like it? Was it hard to follow? It's easy for me to understand what's going on in my head - because it's going on in my head, but as a reader is it believable/comprehensive?