Sense of Belonging

Chapter 21

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter (that magic belongs to J.K. Rowling).

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At eight o'clock that evening, Izzy followed what seemed to be the majority of the school back down to the Great Hall for the inaugural Duelling Club meeting. Everyone was chatting away, excited to see what they would be learning and who would be teaching them. The House tables had disappeared, leaving the hall feeling open and huge. Thousands of floating candles lit the room, their light protruding the velvety black ceiling. A golden stage had been constructed against one of the walls, between two of the massive pine trees decorating the hall for the Christmas season.

Isabelle slid away from the other Slytherins to stand next to Hermione and Jett as the crowd pushed their way towards the stage. She slipped her wand out excitedly, ready to finally learn some new spells.

"I wonder who'll be teaching us," Hermione offered in greeting, looking just as enthusiastic as Iz felt. "Someone told me Flitwick was a dueling champion when he was young, maybe it'll be him."

In unison, Jett and Izzy replied, "As long as it's not – " but neither finished. Two figures had taken the stage and a small series of groans echoed throughout the Great Hall. Gilderoy Lockhart took to the center, his deep plum robes shimmering in the candlelight. He was followed by Severus Snape, who wore his typical frown and looked questionably at all of the students assembled before him.

"Gather round, gather round!" The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor waved his arm to indicate that the students should quiet down. "Can everyone see me?" He offered one of his most dazzling smiles, as if he were back at Borgin&Burkes about to sign copies of his autobiography.

"Can everyone hear me? Excellent!" Swishing his robes behind him for dramatic effect, he leaned toward the crowd. "Now, Professor Dumbledore has granted me permission to start this little Duelling Club, to train you all up in case you ever need to defend yourselves – " /Like we are supposed to be learning in your class but aren't/, Izzy thought to herself. " – as I myself have done on countless occasions. For full details, see my published works." Lockhart made another sweep of his robes before moving towards the Potions Master, who stood there still frowning.

"Let me introduce my assistant, Professor Snape. He tells me he knows a little bit about dueling himself and has sportingly agreed to help me with a short demonstration before we begin. Now I don't want any of you youngsters to worry – you'll still have your Potions professor when I'm through with him, never fear!" Lockhart continued to smile wide, as if putting on an entertaining show rather than teaching a magical defense class. Snape's upper lip had begun to curl at his colleague's descriptions and Iz was sure that, when given the chance, the Slytherin House Head would be sure to get Lockhart back for his comments.

Moving closer to get a better vantage point, Iz looked on as the show began. Turning to face one another, Snape and Lockhart bowed – sort of. The DADA professor did some theatrical twirling of his hands whereas the Potions Master merely nodded his head irritably. Then both professors moved to opposite ends of the stage. As they reached their desired spot, they turned to face one another again, now taking two different combative poses. Lockhart held his wand in front of him like a sword but hid his other hand behind his back, giving an easy smile. Snape, on the other hand, held his wand at the ready above his head, using his left hand to steady himself in front.

"As you can see, we are each holding our wands in accepted combative positions. On the count of three, we will cast our first spells. Neither of us will be aiming to kill, of course." The plum-dressed professor offered a small chuckle at the silent crowd of students.

"I wouldn't bet on that," Potter muttered to Weasley in front of Isabelle, distracting the Slytherin for a moment. She looked back up just as the professors readied their spells.

"One – two – three – !"

Izzy heard Professor Snape yell, "Expelliarmus!" and turned to see what Lockhart would do. She had learned about the Disarming Charm in one of her textbooks. To her knowledge, its use usually caused the target to simply lose their wand. This flash of scarlet light, however, appeared to be more powerful – Professor Lockhart went flying backwards, blasted off his feet, and hit the wall hard. He slid down to sprawl on the floor as a few concerned students rushed over to him. Most of the Slytherins, gathered on the opposite side of the room, cheered for their victorious House leader.

"Did he just kill Lockhart?!" The red-haired Weasley turned to his friend, his eyes wide.

"Of course not!" Hermione leaned forward to reply at once, but then, up on her tiptoes, tried to see over the crowd. "Do you think he's alright?"

"Who cares?" Jett offered, grinning. She was definitely ready to try that spell.

Just then, Lockhart climbed back onto the stage. His hair was standing straight up at parts and he seemed a little discombobulated. Attempting to regain his poise, he thanked one of the students as they returned his wand to him and stood up, now smiling.

"Well, there you have it!" Stumbling forward once more, Professor Lockhart appeared to catch himself just in time and stood taller. "That was a Disarming Charm – as you saw, I lost my wand – and a thank you to Ms. Brown for returning it to me. Yes, an excellent idea to show them that, Professor Snape, but if you don't mind my saying so, it was very obvious what you were about to do. If I had wanted to stop you it would have been only too easy. However, I felt it would be instructive to let them see…"

"Let us see him fall flat on his face?" Jett muttered to Izzy, who tried not to laugh. Even if she did not like Lockhart and thought him a complete phony, he was still their professor.

"Enough demonstrating, however! I'm going to come amongst you now and put you all into pairs. Professor Snape, if you'd like to help me…" Lockhart seemed to have noticed the Potions Master's murderous looks and quickly hopped off the stage. They moved through the crowd of students, matching up partners.

Iz watched as Snape made his way closer, hoping to be paired with Hermione. (She had always wondered which of them was truly better at spells.) She saw Pansy glancing her way and knew her suitemate was looking for a way to show off. Thankfully, Lockhart paired the spiky-haired Slytherin with Tracey.

"Time to split up the dream team, I think," a voice sneered near Isabelle and she turned to see Professor Snape speaking to Potter and Weasley. Both boys looked sufficiently unhappy. "Weasley, you can partner with Finnigan. Potter – "

Iz watched as Harry Potter moved in Hermione's direction, obviously hoping to be paired with the bushy-haired girl. About to ask Snape if she could work with Hermione instead, she found that she did not need to make a move.

"I don't think so," the Potions professor smiled coldly at the boy-who-lived. "Mr. Malfoy, come over here. Let's see what you make of the famous Potter." Starting slightly at the last name and momentarily panicking that she had been paired with Harry, she watched her brother strut over with a large smirk.

Izzy took her chance and moved now towards Hermione, hoping to indicate to one of the professors that she wished to be paired with her. Before she could even begin to ask, however, Jett looped her arm through her Slytherin friend's and began to pull her in the opposite direction.

"I want to work with Isabelle!" the Gryffindor said to Lockhart as he passed, who nodded in approval.

"But Jett," Iz began to say but realized how it might come out wrong if she said that she wanted to duel with Hermione and not Jett. She sighed and glanced back over to where they had been standing before, noticing Millicent walking over to Hermione. /Poor Milly/, Isabelle thought, knowing that in any sort of magical fight her bushy-haired friend would win against the large, square-jawed Slytherin.

"What? Afraid I'll beat you, Izzy," Jett taunted her slightly but seemed overly pleased that they were partners.

"Not a chance." Iz offered in response, smiling but trying to concentrate. What spell could she use?

"Face your partners!" Lockhart called, now back on the platform. "And now bow to each other." There was a flurry of motion, but most students seemed to simply nod at one another, unsure what to do.

"Wands at the ready! When I count to three, cast your charms to disarm your opponent - /only/ to disarm them – we don't want any accidents." /Wait,/ Izzy thought, /only to disarm? What was the spell again?/ As she struggled to remember the exact words that Professor Snape had uttered before, the DADA professor continued. "One…two…three…"

"Expelliarmus!" Isabelle heard Jett call and felt her wand fly out of her hand. In a bit of shock, she went after it so that it would not be broken. Finally grabbing it, Iz quickly moved out of the way as two older students fell to the ground wrestling. She was not fast enough, though, as another tussling pair knocked her backwards and the young Malfoy fell right into her dueling partner.

"Oh, sorry, Jett!" Izzy offered before attempting to stand up. As she did so, she felt a small pinch of pain on the back of her head as a few strands of her long hair were pulled out. "Ow!"

"Sorry, my fingernail got caught," Jett explained with an apologetic smile. Isabelle became distracted by the commotion of the rest of the room to notice her friend store the hair away.

"I said disarm only!" Lockhart's voice called but to no avail.

It seemed the room had broken into chaos. Draco, apparently doubled over in pain, was somehow also laughing while his partner's legs were jerking out of control. (Potter's face looked absolutely bewildered, and Izzy remembered showing her brother that spell just the other day.)

"Finite Incantatem!" Iz heard Professor Snape's voice over the various sounds echoing in the Great Hall and watched as a greenish smoke hovered above the crowd of students. Draco had stopped laughing, Potter's legs had stopped dancing. Neville Longbottom and Justin Finch-Fletchley were both on the floor, panting. Pansy was helping Tracey stand up, both looking a little dazed.

One scuffle in the center of the crowd gained Isabelle's attention. Hermione and Millicent were still moving. Both girls' wands lay on the floor and the Slytherin girl held the smaller Gryffindor in a tight headlock. She watched as Harry Potter leapt forward to pull Hermione free, who whimpered slightly in pain, her eyes wide. (She had been prepared for a magical fight – not a physical one.)

Lockhart roamed through the crowd as students calmed down. "Up you get, Macmillan…careful there, Miss Fawcett…pinch it hard, it'll stop bleeding in a second, Boot…" He reached the stage up front once more and, after standing there a second as if thinking, he sighed and shook his head dramatically.

"I think I'd better teach you how to /block/ unfriendly spells first." Glancing at Snape, who still looked ready to murder his colleague, Lockhart quickly turned to the crowd of students. "Let's have a volunteer pair – Weasley, Finnigan, how about you?" He motioned to the two boys who stood close to the stage.

"A bad idea, Professor Lockhart. Weasley's broken wand causes devastation with the simplest of spells. And Finnigan is well-known for his…pyrotechnics. We'll be sending one or both to the hospital wing within minutes." Snape smiled malevolently down at the pair before turning back to face the crowd. "Might I suggest Malfoy and Potter?"

"Excellent idea! Come up here, boys, come on," the plum-robed professor motioned to the pair. Draco climbed up on one side, matching Snape's smile. Potter climbed up on the other side, looking a little nervous.

"Now, Harry, when Draco points his wand at you, you do /this/." Lockhart tried to instruct and all watched as his wand gave a small sort of wiggle and then dropped. With an embarrassed smile, he apologized, "Whoops – my wand is a little over-excited."

Glancing back to her brother, Izzy watched as Professor Snape whispered something in Draco's ear. He nodded in response and walked up to face his Gryffindor opponent in the middle of the stage.

"On the count of three. Ready? Three, two, one – go!" Lockhart described. All eyes were on the two second-years.

Draco had raised his wand quickly and, with no hesitation, shouted the spell, "Serpensortia!" The end of his wand exploded and a long black snake shot out of it. The crowd of students ran backwards swiftly as the serpent raised its head and hissed, as if preparing to strike. Even Jett and Hermione backed away in surprise, leaving Isabelle and a majority of Slytherins closest to the stage.

"Don't move, Potter," Professor Snape said in a sort of careless, lazy fashion. He was obviously enjoying the famous boy's motionless stance fixed on the poisonous creature. "I'll get rid of it…"

"Allow me!" Lockhart called and strode forward before anyone else could do anything. Raising his wand, he muttered a few words and flicked his wand at the snake. There was a loud noise and, instead of disappearing, the poor serpent was thrown ten feet into the air. It now hissed furiously and, in its haze of being tossed about, slithered straight for a Hufflepuff boy. The snake poised itself to strike, its fangs exposed, and Iz saw Snape move quickly forward.

Everything seemed to freeze, however, as a second hissing noise sounded. Confused, Isabelle glanced to the ground to be sure there had not been more snakes somehow conjured near her feet. Then, looking back up at the stage, she noticed Potter walking towards the snake and – talking with it? Hissing at it? Within seconds, the serpent had turned to face Harry before slumping to the floor submissively.

All stared at the scene in bewilderment. The second-year Gryffindor looked up with a grin but his face quickly turned to confusion.

"What do you think you're playing at?" the Hufflepuff boy, whose name was Justin Finch-Fletchley, Iz had just remembered, shouted before storming out of the Great Hall. The crowd watching after him and a few of his friends, they turned back to witness Snape turn the snake into black smoke. By then, Ronald Weasley was pulling at Potter's robes and the two boys fled the hall as well.

"Well, I, uh, think that that is enough for tonight. You may all return to your dormitories now. We will, um, repeat these skills at the next club meeting. Good night!" Professor Lockhart finished, still seemingly also in shock.

"Did you know he was a Parselmouth?" Izzy turned to Jett and Hermione, realizing what had just occurred.

"A what?" Jett asked with a look of confusion.

"That he could talk to snakes!" Iz clarified but followed them as they were shooed from the Great Hall.

"No, I didn't," Jett shook her head, which Hermione mimicked before grabbing the short girl's arm.

"We've gotta go, sorry Izzy, see you tomorrow!" The bushy-haired Gryffindor explained quickly before running off, dragging Jett behind her. Watching after them for a moment, now also confused, she began to follow the other Slytherins down under the castle.

"Did you see, Izzy? I tried the spell you found on Potter! The first time, I mean, you know," Draco said as she caught up to them. He wore a proud smile on his face.

"I did see, he looked positively ridiculous. But what happened with that snake – ?" His sister replied, one eyebrow raised.

"Snape suggested it. Just to scare Potter. I had no idea he could /talk/ to it though!"

"Maybe he wasn't talking to it. Maybe Potter's just so stupid that he tried hissing at it." Blaise offered as an explanation.

"No, he was definitely talking to it." Daphne countered, then thought aloud, "What if /Potter's/ the heir of Slytherin? And that's how he survived the Dark Lord!"

Harry Potter as the heir of Slytherin? Isabelle doubted it the moment she heard it. What she knew of the famous boy and all she heard about him from her Gryffindor friends told her that there was no way he could be some powerful heir. But that did not mean other students would not run off with the idea – and soon the whole school was now afraid of the Boy-Who-Lived who could talk to snakes.