Failure To Thrive

Saturday Duels - Part I

Lucius and Narcissa were waiting in the foyer when Harry stepped through the fireplace.
"Sorry I didn't get here sooner," Harry said. "I ran into some unexpected holdups." The rush of flames from the others arriving sounded behind him as he came forward in the vast entryway to the manor.
"You're fine, darling," Narcissa assured him as she kissed his cheek.
Lucius was contemplating him. "Sir?" Harry asked, not liking the frown on the man's face.
"Come here, Harry," Lucius gestured. Harry stepped over to stand before him and waited with a touch of trepidation. Lucius took his shoulders and pulled him forward into his chest, craning his neck to try to get his chin to rest on Harry's head. "You've grown, lad."
"I know!" Harry said happily. "That's why I was late - I couldn't find any clean trousers that were long enough."
Lucius sighed. "Well… I'm both elated and heartbroken." He gave Harry a warm hug and lay his cheek against the boy's temple. "This will have to do. Well done, Harry."
"What'd he do now?" Draco asked as he approached from the back stairwell.
"He grew," Lucius said proudly, still hugging Harry for a moment longer.
Draco snorted, which made Harry feel self conscious and try to pull away, but Lucius held him fast, which induced an embarrassed groan from the dark haired teen.
"Lucius," Severus greeted formally, leading the rest of the guests over to them.
"Severus," Lucius acknowledged. He finally released Harry as the others came to a stop around Severus. "Welcome," he said as he made eye contact with each of the younger guests. "Miss Granger, a pleasure," he took her hand and gave it a firm squeeze as he bowed over it. She smiled tightly at him, which he found regrettable, but unsurprising. "Miss Lovegood," he moved on to each of the others. "Mr. Longbottom, Mr. Weasley."
"Hello, sir," they each greeted in return, and then moved on to polite handshakes with Draco and Narcissa.
"Welcome to the new Malfoy Manor," Narcissa said with a tone that told them all that she knew the Malfoys had a lot to prove before the day was over. She approached Hermione and Luna. "Ladies, if you're ready, I'd like to walk you through the house personally. I realize it took a lot for you to join us today."
Hermione cast a glance at Luna, who was watching Narcissa with a slight tilt to her head. "I was always curious about your decor, Mrs. Malfoy," she said in her frilly, singsong voice that was so loaded with insight, yet so deceptively weightless. "You've lived with dark implements and artifacts that really do not reflect who you are."
Narcissa's eyebrows shot up in surprise, "Merlin knows I played my part in coming off as a worshipper of the dark. I'm impressed and relieved to hear that you could see beyond that, when I myself had lost sight of it."
"Well anyway, it wasn't as if you would have been free to redecorate, was it? Not until Harry took care of your unwanted guest, that is." Luna asked brightly.
Hermione smiled to herself. "Lead on, Madam Malfoy," she said firmly. She was ready to do this.
"Please, let's dispense with formalities? Call me Narcissa," the lady of the manor said as she looped an arm through each of theirs and glided towards the vast interior with them, ahead of the men.
Severus caught Hermione's eye as she shot a last minute unsettled glance back to her Golden Trio counterparts. The boys were still working through the pleasantries with Lucius, establishing the first name basis with him as well. Severus gave her a nod of reassurance, which she seemed to use to muster the courage she needed to continue, and was out of sight a moment later.

When they had emerged onto the grounds behind the manor, the group had divided into two. Ron and Hermione had been distracted by the intricacy of the decorative transfiguration charms Narcissa had described during the tour and the three of them were currently having an animated discussion upstairs. Lucius led the others to the open area in front of the pond.
"I thought it might be advisable to demonstrate some variations on warding for each of you," he began, addressing Neville and Luna. "Warding can be very generic, or intensely personal. The strength of the ward can be enhanced by complexity, but the strength of the wizard or witch who generates it also plays a role." He withdrew his wand from his sleeve. "We were all taught in our sixth years at Hogwarts a rudimentary form of warding over our possessions, and that is the foundational basis to build upon. Protego totalum." His magic was visible as it formed a transparent arc over them that hovered about three feet overhead. "I have come to think of warding as laying a blanket over the zone I want to protect. Now, with that in mind, I cast my additional spells with careful control so that I can literally weave them in with the protego."
He cast a salvio hexia, a repello muggletum, a repello tempestas, and repello aggressio. Those gathered watched the way he gently swept his wand to guide the glaze-like protective charms upward, where he skillfully integrated them in with the original protego totalum. When the weaving was complete, he again used his wand to stretch the wards into a larger 'blanket' that reached far out and around the area in which they stood.
"Now, whomever has contributed to the warding has left a personal magical signature in the protection, that he or she can always sense, when coming in close contact with the magic," Lucius explained. "Warding can become more personal and more intricate, to the extent that your senses will tell you when it's been tampered with. When you combine the magic of several trusted wizards and witches, the strength increases exponentially. Many of you were present when additional warding was created for Hogwarts before the battle last year. The only reason that the additional magic failed to hold was that it hadn't yet completely enveloped the grounds, and the gaps were what was breached." He looked around at them. "Questions?"
"Is it typical that one's wards can be sensed by someone who did not cast them?" Luna asked.
Lucius shot a look at Severus before answering with a genuine smile of appreciation. "It is indeed a sign of tremendous magical talent, Miss Lovegood. Have you sensed the magic here on the grounds?"
"Oh yes," Luna said, "but I'd hardly call it a talent. I'm just sensitive that way."
"You're always a mile ahead of the rest of us, aren't you, Lovegood?" Draco said with a crooked smile. "And here I was, impressed with myself for feeling my own magic."
"Well, it's not that unusual, is it? I've certainly heard Headmistress McGonagall speak of her sensing the magic around the school," Luna chimed back with a light smile for Draco.
"Yes, but she's extremely powerful, Luna," Neville said with an indulgent laugh. "And obviously so are you." He grinned at the airy blonde for a long moment before turning his attention back to Lucius. "I'm confident I can recreate what you've just done sir, after some practice, of course. But what I'd like to know how to do is something I heard Harry say he'd done at his place. I'd like to set a ward that repels anyone who is not trustworthy, and to alert me when certain types of visitors arrive on the grounds."
"Excellent," Lucius praised. "If you each would to take a moment to summarize the protections you'd like to invoke in your wards, I'm certain that between the lot of us, we can compose an appropriate recipe of security for both of your residences."
"Hermione just brought up an interesting thought," Narcissa said as she approached them with Ron and Hermione in tow. "Should one consider the details of magically enhanced interiors when applying ones wards?"
"Well, we did alright with warding around the tent we had," Harry remarked. "I guess we just warded the entire patch of land, which encompassed the expanded interior of tent, the trees, some dirt…"
Draco snickered at him.
"But we were thinking about how to ward our homes if we magically expand some rooms. Like what Ron and George are doing in their flat over the shop," Hermione said. "Apparently, standard practice works fine, as they've had no problems. But, could the wards be even more secure if that was factored in?"
"I'm quite certain that they could," Lucius said thoughtfully.
"Weasley," Draco said to Ron, a tiny nervous edge beneath his drawl, "if you haven't yet applied the expansion charm, I'd really like to see how it's done."
Ron's eyebrows shot up. "Uh, sure, Malfoy. I'm actually going to be learning it as well. The Headmistress promised to come to the shop Monday evening to show George and me how it's done. I'll owl you with the time, shall I?"
"Yeah, thanks," Draco said with a genuine smile.
"As for warding," Lucius drew their attention back to the previous discussion, "Luna, and Neville, if you would like to set a time to return here in the next few days, we could practice the spell combinations you'd like. It will then be up to you to decide who to employ to help you cast them. Would that be acceptable?"
"Oh, yes," Luna said with her soft smile. She looked around the grounds. "Is this where the dueling is going to be played out?"
"Indeed it is, my dear," Lucius told her with a small bow. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said as he pointed to the two low wooden platforms placed on opposite ends of the field that lay between them and the pond, "You will see before you the starting places upon which each contestant will be standing when the confrontation begins. The match will be concluded when one of the opponents succeeds in earning ten points - a point for each spell that makes contact. An instant win will also be awarded to the wizard or witch who successfully throws his opponent off his, or her, feet. We will use gentle force to achieve such an end, of course. And now, let the games begin! I designate Severus as our standing champion until one of you can prove me wrong."
"Who will be first to challenge me?" Severus asked. He looked at Harry, who crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head. "Longbottom? Care to have a go?"
"This will likely be quick," Neville announced brightly as he walked out to his starting spot.
Two hilarious minutes later, Neville walked grumpily away from the match with a losing score and a wardrobe of transfigured clothing that included chaps, dusty brown jeans, cowboy boots with spurs, checkered shirt, and a cowboy hat. "Thanks for the new look, Severus," he called out sarcastically over everyone's laughter.

The magic was flying back and forth, both Severus and Harry furiously casting and blocking until Harry's spell got past Severus' shield. The blur of spells and wands came to a sudden halt at the sight of the fluffy mask of shaving foam over Severus' face and the large cone of it crowning his head.
"You did not just do that, Potter," Severus barked, spraying foam away from his face just before the roar of raucous laughter broke out from the sideline. It took all of the self control he could muster not to join in the laughter. Harry was nearly doubled over with his own giggles and leaving himself wide open for retaliation. A quick flick of his wand and Severus had Harry's shirt pulled up over his head, trapping his arms in a twist, while he sent tickling jinxes at his torso until the boy collapsed to the ground in hysterical laughter and curled into a protective ball.
"Sev-er-us!" Lucius warned, but he was smiling too. He strode over to Harry and pulled the breathless boy to his feet as Severus cancelled the spell binding his arms. Harry's face was flushed with hilarity as he straightened out his shirt. Lucius turned the teen towards the rest of his friends and gave him a light swat on the backside, sending him back toward the others. "The match goes to Severus again, I'm afraid. You let down your guard, Harry. Mr. Weasley! I believe you're next!"
Harry trotted over to the others, flashing a grin at Severus. The older wizard scowled at him as he performed a scourgify on himself and cancelled the charm that had turned his corduroys into pink satin leggings.
"That was excellent, Harry," Ron muttered as they passed.
"I heard that, Weasley," Severus growled.
"Bugger," Ron muttered again.
"And that." Severus was amused to hear Hermione's laughter clearly above the others as he watched Ronald Weasley work his way over to the platform. He distractedly wondered how he'd fare in a duel against the young witch. He now knew, in all certainty, that the Golden Trio had prevailed over Voldemort as much on their skill as on their sheer dumb luck. Harry was a formidable opponent due to his fantastic reflexes and survival instinct. Severus could only get the upper hand when the boy fell into fits of laughter, which fortunately was more often than not. He warned himself not to assume that Weasley would be any less capable.
"Gentlemen," Lucius directed. "Bow to your opponent and raise your wands."
Severus and Ronald took their positions, and at the spark from Lucius' wand, their duel began. Ronald fired off a body binding hex first thing, which Severus easily countered. Next Ronald sent a jelly legs, followed by a knee bender, followed by a hex of his own creation that looked and sounded like an angry swarm of bees was circling its target's head. Severus deflected, deflected, deflected, all with a lazy flick of his wand. He nearly opened his mouth to taunt the younger man for his lack of strategy but quickly shut it when Ronald suddenly changed tactics. The younger wizard stepped off the platform and strolled slowly in an arc, as if he was making a circle around Severus. The former defense professor watched him warily, but with abject curiosity. Just to keep the younger wizard alert, he sent a series of jinxes to switch Ron's shoes to the wrong feet and magic his trousers and shirt backwards, but the ginger-haired wizard threw up concise shields, successfully blocking both spells. Severus inclined his head in acknowledgement and Ronald's face split into a grin, which grew wider as he deflected three more of the same jinxes Severus sent his way in the hopes that he would have been distracted by the silent praise.
"He's on to you, Severus," Narcissa called to him.
"Or so he thinks," Severus said. He fired off a dozen well aimed pinching and poking hexes and managed to get one past Ronald's shield.
"Ahhh!" Ronald complained, rubbing his cheek. "What do you call that hex? The Auntie Mildred?"
Severus laughed along with their audience, but kept his concentration. As the redhead began to fire off another series of jinxes at him, Severus, deflected and cast as quickly as he could. He scored eight direct contacts that were worth a point each before Weasley sent a spell that caused the platform to soften beneath Severus and slide to the left, nearly succeeding in knocking him off his feet. Nearly. He hopped quickly to the right and got onto solid ground, letting his jaw drop comically. "You little-"
"Uh oh!" Ronald yelped, side-stepping several more paces in the circle he was walking. He had the old nervous look on his face, the one he'd worn before his first match on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. He danced through the onslaught of snowballs, water splashes and tripping hexes that Severus sent, deflecting them all until Severus sent his own ground-altering hex that pulled the strip of grass from beneath the young wizard's feet, toppling him onto his backside with a grunt of defeat.
"Booooooo!" Harry complained from the sidelines, smirking at Severus' scowl.
Severus jogged over to Ronald to give him a hand up and clap him on the shoulder. "Well done, Weasley. I was beginning to fret that I might lose this round."
"Thanks, sir."
By then Harry and Neville had joined them. "You'll win soon enough, Ron," Harry said with full confidence. He shot an apologetic look at Severus. "Sorry, sir, but it's inevitable. And Neville's not far behind."
"Hmmmm."
"Well, they are the future, Severus," Lucius said as he approached. "Well done, Ronald. You're a strategist, I can see. We must duel together soon." At the sight of Ron's rapidly paling complexion, Lucius hastily added, "At your discretion, of course. In the meantime, Harry, you've avoided this long enough, young man. We will have our match, right now." Now Harry was paling. Lucius sighed dramatically. "I just watched you nearly get the best of Severus. I am not entirely confident that I can win with any of you. But I do indeed wish to try."
"You can't win on charm, Lucius," Narcissa chided from where she still stood on the sideline.
Lucius smiled at her. "What about you, love? Care for a go? That is, if the reigning champion will step aside for a round?" He eyed Severus, who bowed and stretched arm in invitation for Lucius to take his place.
"Not today, darling," Narcissa called to him. "I know when I'm at a disadvantage."
"I'll duel with you, Lucius," Hermione announced from the crowd.
Lucius looked exceedingly pleased until a thought occurred to him. "You're not the vindictive type, are you, Miss Granger?" he asked with more uncertainty than he'd intended to reveal.
Hermione smiled sweetly. "Actually I am, but not in the way you think. And you agreed to call me 'Hermione.'" She headed out to the platform Severus had stood upon. By the time she'd reached it, the others had cleared back to the spectator area.
Lucius cast a glance at them all, wondering if he should be expecting to feel pain, or possibly to lose blood in this duel. Severus was watching Hermione with an appreciation that Lucius knew was indicative of a deeper level of interest. She was exactly his type, after all. Harry had a satisfied smirk on his face, as if he knew exactly what was about to occur. Ronald also had a smirk. Luna and Neville simply looked impressed with their friend. Draco was unreadable. He cleared his throat and bowed low to his young opponent.
Hermione bowed as well and raised her wand.

Harry had never seen Lucius in action in this context. Severus had said he was tactical rather than playful, and that had made Harry resist a battle of wands with him thus far. But Hermione had her own brand of courage and much of it was driven by her thirst for knowledge. She wanted to learn from Lucius Malfoy because he was a notoriously powerful wizard. Period. Harry knew her well enough to know she wanted to win this duel, but would be happy if she came away with some knew information. He watched his best friend confidently cast the first spell.
Hermione began by sending her flock of yellow canaries at Lucius, studying his responding shield carefully. Lucius' magic arched protectively over his head like a dome and was briefly visible to the naked eye. Next, she wove her wand in a rapid, intricate pattern that produced a rain cloud which she sent his way, again watching as he flicked his wand, causing a rush of wind to blow it back and away from them both. The cloud began to rain heavily over the pond. Harry was briefly distracted by the sight until his pseudo guardian waved his left hand over his head while thrusting his wand toward Hermione. The result was a gale force wind that swept around her, beginning to swirl until she appeared to be engulfed in a small tornado. Lucius raised his wand, tugging the cylinder of dusty wind, and Hermione within it, toward him.
Hermione was not visible to her audience, but she could see her surroundings through the funnel that she was caught within. She was limited in what she could do, so she aimed her wand at the rain cloud and drew it closer until it hovered over Lucius. She swished the wand again in circular motion that caused a loud clap of thunder right over Lucius' head, startling him and nearly breaking his concentration. She next turned the rain to hail and succeeded in distracting him enough to escape the funnel, only just in time to watch him blast the cloud with a gentle poof into rose petals, which he swirled into another funnel, already sending it back her way. Hermione conjured a giant net and caught the petals within it. She banished the net and they faced each other once more. She studied the blond wizard and realized that she was enjoying herself.
Lucius wondered what was going on in her head. He had no desire to lose this first duel to her, so he took the opportunity to cast the most distracting charm that came to mind, the one that caused the blades of grass around Hermione's feet to grow rapidly in height until they were several feet high, then wave themselves around her as if attempting to block any spell she may cast.
Hermione frowned at the weaving green blades for a moment, but quickly saw that they would not truly impede her next spell. A garden gnome caught her eye and in the flash of an instant, she'd summoned it with a silent accio until it was in front of her and facing Lucius. She quickly applied a very strong engorgio, forcing it to grow until it was nearly as tall as she, then sent a mudsplashing hex at it that completely covered it with mud. The rest of the scene sort of played itself out without her help.
By then, Lucius had shorn the blades of his dancing grasses from their bases and woven them into a large broom that proceeded to dance around Hermione, in vast, whisking circles.
Hermione sensed he'd gotten the upper hand by now, but the expression on his face was priceless as the gnome approached him, tottering with arms outstretched like it was after a hug, making odd groaning and grunting sounds as it dripped massive globs of mud in its wake. Hermione began to laugh, her focus weakening as she succumbed to hysterical giggles, watching as Lucius tried to avoid the affectionate advances of the muddy gnome, but of course he never lost focus on his spellwork. Within a matter of seconds, the massive broom succeeded in literally sweeping Hermione off her feet.
In spite of the gnome, Lucius didn't let her fall hard, directing the broom to cushion her weight as she went ever so softly down. He darted around the garden creature with a grimace, rushed over to her and pulled her up by both hands.
"Bravo, Hermione," Lucius praised with genuine approval. He squeezed her hands for a moment before releasing them. "You and your younger set certainly are wondrously creative with your magic. It was a pleasure to engage with you." He darted a look over his shoulder at the bumbling gnome. "And perhaps you could cancel your spells?" He asked with comical angst.
"Thank you," She responded, still laughing as she flicked her wand, shrinking the gnome back down to normal size. "I quite enjoyed that. Although you do yourself a disservice by crediting our generation with creativity, as if you have none of your own."
Lucius bowed at her praise. But he was distracted by the small creature that had turned to run towards the pond.
"I'll handle that for you sir," Ron said, jogging over to grab the gnome and fling it way, way out of sight. He jogged back to the gathering crowd.
"I told you it was fun," Harry said, bumping his hip into Hermione's and grinning.
"Yes. I was a tad apprehensive," she admitted. "I hadn't thought I could compete with your madcapped spell casting."
"The hexes and jinxes we throw around are indeed silly, but it is still a challenge to deflect them," Severus pointed out.
"Oh, I know, Severus," Hermione told him with a self-deprecating smirk. "I'm just not as good-natured about having my clothes transformed or my hair mussed as the rest of you have been."
"Lucius had you in a tornado!" Ron exclaimed. "Nothing's more likely to wreck your hair than that." But then he stopped and narrowed his eyes. "You fixed it while you were out of sight, didn't you?"
"Of course," Hermione said loftily. "I've had all of the bad hair days I ever intend to have."
Harry grinned at her, then turned to Severus. "Let's see who's the better between you and Lucius then," he suggested.
Severus inclined his head, eyebrows raised in inquiry to Lucius, who returned the gesture.
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