[Harry said] "You're a lot braver now that you're back on the ground and you've got your little friends with you," said Harry coolly. There was of course nothing at all little about Crabbe and Goyle, but as the High Table was full of teachers, neither of them could do more than crack their knuckles and scowl.
"I'd take you on anytime on my own," said Malfoy. "Tonight, if you want. Wizard's duel. Wands only - no contact. What's the matter? Never heard of a wizard's duel before, I suppose?"
"Of course he has," said Ron, wheeling around. "I'm his second, who's yours?"
Malfoy looked at Crabbe and Goyle, sizing them up.
"Crabbe," he said. "Midnight all right? We'll meet you in the trophy room; that's always unlocked."
When Malfoy had gone, Ron and Harry looked at each other.
"What is a wizard's duel?" said Harry. "And what do you mean, you're my second?"
"Well, a second's there to take over if you die," said Ron casually, getting started at last on his cold pie. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

What do the highlighted parts respectively mean?

  • 1
    I'm not sure exactly what you don't understand? "The second is there to take over [the duel] if [Harry] dies." What are you confused about, so we can explain?
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 4:02
  • @WendiKidd I’m confusing if the second is observing the duel and when a person dies he would take this corpse out, or he takes the person's place and fights with the winner. Then how would this be a duel, the first match ended.
    – Listenever
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 4:11
  • Consider the match as one team against another. Not having read Harry Potter I imagine that Malfoy and Crabbe are the "baddies" whereas Harry and Ron are the "goodies".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 8:08
  • 2
    I don't consider this question to be really about the English language usage or grammar rules as such. If Listenever's English is good enough to read Harry Potter novels (all credit to the person) then Listenever can also do the research.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 8:25
  • 2
    There's a subtle difference between the IDIOMS "take out," (e.g. a corpse from a duel) and "take over" (the corpse's PLACE in the duel) that is not obvious to non-native speakers. And "seconds" in a duel performed different roles at different times. Sounds like a reasonable query to me.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 20:32

2 Answers 2


Quote from Wikipedia: Duel

By about 1770 however, the duel had undergone a number of important changes. Firstly, unlike their counterparts in many continental nations, English duellists had enthusiastically adopted the pistol and few duels were now being fought with the sword. Secondly, the office of 'second' had developed into 'seconds' or 'friends' being chosen by the aggrieved parties to conduct their honour dispute. These friends would attempt to resolve a dispute upon terms acceptable to both parties and, should this fail, they would arrange and oversee the mechanics of the encounter. By this time the values of the duel had spread into the broader and emerging society of gentlemen.

So a combat between two gentlemen could continue until round two, so to speak.

  • "In some duels, the seconds would take the place of the primary dueller if the primary was not able to finish the duel." -> I didn't imagine this scene. Thank you very much.
    – Listenever
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 8:52

Take over means "assuming control of something"; in the specific case, it means the second is going to take over the duel, and continue the duel, if the other person dies.

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