“When you strike you have either won decisively or planned poorly.” - LuciusMalfoy
Draco stalked the non-Forbidden Forest, feet shuffling along the ground. Thestarting gong had echoed off ten or fifteen minutes ago, so the enemy could benearby. Walking normally meant stepping on leaves and that meant noise,quietus or no quietus. Pushing leaves around made less noise and Dracodare not advertise his position, not when he was outnumbered by … however manyit was now.
The second year army assignments had gone much smoother than expected:everyone felt outraged, in roughly equal measure.
The Generals hadn’t aroused much complaint. Neville Longbottom took over asGeneral of Chaos Legion to nobody’s surprise.
Parvarti Patil had been named General, which annoyed Padma to no end. “Shewasn’t even a Lieutenant last year, much less a second in command! This isblatant favoritism by Professor Lockhart. He was annoyed that there were noGryffindors in command last year,” she told every Slytherin in first, secondand most of third year in the day after the announcement.
As it happens Padma was perfectly correct in her assertion. The Headmistresswould never dream of influencing anything so unimportant as Generals andhadn’t done anything of the sort, apart from a friendly chat with her newestcolleague-slash-employee, and may or may not have expressed interest in a fulltime position once this year’s non-Professor job expired. Not that it had beennecessary, the Head of House Gryffindor needed no encouragement. But everyoneknew that Padma had not one shred of evidence. It was simply the latest in anever-ending war between twins. Her classmates merely rolled their eyes andlistened quietly for the first day until she was pulled aside by none otherthan Pansy Parkinson and told to cool it.
Parvati took the name of Sunshine, which nobody can prove she did just toannoy Padma further.
That left General Zabin, who retired the name of Dragon Army in favor ofBasilisk Army, that being the most deadly serpent not already claimed by arival.
Draco took great pains to distance himself from the selection process. He’dpublicly recused himself and, due to Zabini’s elevation, most students felthe’d actually not been involved. But every former Captain, Colonel,Lieutenant, Squad Suggester or would be Brigadier of Sunshine, Chaos or (thenow defunct) Dragon army felt slighted - at least a little bit - even if theyhadn’t wanted the job, hadn’t expressed interest or demonstrated competence,and many expressed their unhappiness to Draco at some point in the last fewweeks.
(Unremarked throughout the entire previous year: not a single soldier of anyarmy among all seven years held the title of Private or Corporal, althoughGeneral Diggory’s troops nicknamed him Sergeant after his habit of barkingcommands in a very un-Diggory manner, but they meant it well. In fact, noarmies in recorded history sported such a lopsided officer-to-enlisted ratioas the wizarding armies during Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts. AsOffense Against the Dark Arts classes formalized over the years, the ratioslowly trudged towards an even balance of officers to NCOs, although neveranything like a Muggle army would recognize).
So, the naming of the Generals caused some controversy, but everyone forgotthat comparatively minor uproar after Professor Lockhart announced he’d assignsoldiers randomly.
“But I was in Sunshine last year,” wailed Daphne of Greengrass, along withmost of the female contingent of Sunshine Regiment. “Why would I want to be inChaos? Or Dragon oh you know what I mean Zabini, Basilisk whatever.”Squadmates from all three armies wondered if they’d have to fight their formerallies. Even Draco admitted that random assignments felt wrong. He almostlobbied for special treatment, but just proposed that Generals be allowed afew trades, assuming that all involved parties agreed.
Professor Lockhart just smiled and said “Oh, you’ll pick teams later, in theSpring,” without answering any followup questions.
Worse yet, the assignments weren’t made right away. Again Professor Lockhartsaid something about “not wanting them wasting their time practicing.” Soseveral weeks of anxious speculation passed, which Draco tried to useeffectively by ignoring the whole debate. Why waste time on events beyond hiscontrol, he thought. But he spent some hours listening to complaints,unavoidable politeness which shouldn’t have been required of his position, butaccepted as part of noblesse oblige. Eventually, most students calmed downalthough the evening prior to the drawing Madam Pince threw Padma out of therestricted section of the library.
When asked what she was researching, Padma had only hissed “ContingencyPlans.”
Draco spent some time considering how to react to each assignment. Basiliskwould be unpleasant, but at least then Zabini might ease up and just lord itover Draco for a few weeks and get it out of his system. Chaos and Sunshineeach had their downsides, not the least of which was being in “Potter’s” or“Granger’s” army. Being in Sunshine would force him to walk on eggshellsaround Padma. Still, Neville had acquired a cachet over last year. And whilethey hadn’t bonded, Draco and Neville had commiserated about family, so Dracofelt relieved when he pulled Chaos’s chit from the tumbler during selectionday.
Yesterday. The day before the battle.
After selecting armies Professor Lockhart had announced that the first battlewould take place Saturday.
“Tomorrow’s fight,” Professor Lockhart said to the shocked assembly, “will bea relatively simple affair. Well defined. Just a small battle to ease into thenew year. Last year’s battles suffered from a few flaws, primarily that youfought just to fight. Real wars, and real armies, have goals. Conquering acountry, stopping a Dark Wizard, claiming a castle, stealing an artifact.Armies rarely just fight ‘just because.’ And while wars have goals, battleshave smaller goals. Control of a key piece of terrain, kidnapping a hostage,and the like. We won’t practice taking over the world any time soon, but fortomorrow’s battle one army will defend a position in the forest against theother two armies. Will the Generals come forward?” Professor Lockhart motionedtowards the bronze urn sitting on the lectern.
From the urn, General Zabini drew a red ball.
General Longbottom drew a black ball.
General Patil drew a second red ball.
“Chaos defends the forest and the treasure it holds!” said Professor Lockhart,handing a scroll to each general. “We begin at dawn! Feel free to practiceanything, but standard curfew applies.”
Draco froze and knelt down behind a fallen log when he heard voices. Twovoices.
“Did you hear something?” That was Ernie MacMillan, now a Basilisk.
Ron Weasley said “I dunno, maybe from over there.” Draco tried to move to geta better position, but when he shifted his weight he heard a small crunchunder his foot. The voices stopped.
Damn. Damn Damn Damn. Draco heard a twig break crisply to his left. Allthree wizards froze. Draco saw a doe, frozen, staring off into the forest.Draco followed it’s gaze and spotted the Basilisks. The doe paused, flicked anear once, twice, then bounded away. Draco mentally kicked himself. I spenthours thinking and totally forgotten about that spell.
Draco pointed his wand at his own head and said, as quietly as he could,“Anteoculatia.”
Draco’s hair stood on end and tied itself into a small pair of horns,prickling his scalp. The weight made his head feel odd and Draco hoped thisworked; he’d look stupid dying like this. Draco crawled besides the log,stomping hands and knees into leaves, letting his antlers poke up, barelyvisible. After shuffling for a bit he heard the other two start moving again,and no spells were fired in his direction.
Thankfully everyone had some combat discipline; last year soldiers wouldshoot a deer - just because - even if it gave away their position.
Draco stopped, still mashing leaves with his left hand, and cast Ventriliquoon a tree near where the doe had been.
He said “I heard something” in a conspiratorial whisper and the movementstopped. Draco poked his head over the log quickly and saw MacMillan andWeasley both crouching besides a tree. Although from their point of view theywere behind the tree, when judged by where Draco’s voice sounded.
Stupefy Draco yelled. The sound still came from over to his left but the hexflew straight into Ernie’s side and the Hufflepuff keeled over into cracklingleaves. Draco cast again, but Weasley had seen the first hex hit and dovebehind - actually behind - a tree.
“Over here! Over here!” Ron shouted. Draco quickly finited his antlers thenpointed his wand skyward and sent up a solid stream of red flares. He couldhear the crackling as footsteps approached. Draco set up a Prismatis shieldand then bolted back into the forest, firing hexes blindly behind him for goodmeasure.
After the selection, each General commandeered a nearby classroom. Afterwarding the door to prevent eavesdropping, Draco joined the rest of the group.Neville, it turned out, had not prepared any inspiring speech or maybe justforgot it. In any case he simply opened up the scroll and read it aloud.
“_Your army is outnumbered. Defend your only hope, the Magical MacGuffin, fromboth other armies starting at 9am until reinforcements arrive, which areexpected at roughly noon. Your army is allowed into the forest at dawn. Theother armies possess compasses to track the MacGuffin. That is all.” _TheScion of Longbottom seemed nervous.
“What’s a MacGuffin?”asked Hannah Abbott.
“I think it’s a small statue,” said Seamus Finnigan and for some reasonAnthony Goldstein just shook his head and said “Doomed. We are all doomed.”
“No, we just have to figure something out,” said Neville. “We’re in the forestagain, so visibility will be low. What else do we know?”
“Can we move the MacGuffin?” asked Crabbe. Draco felt relieved that he had atleast one real friend in this army, but reminded himself this was anotheropportunity to make more allies. Vincent’s question had spawned a mini-debateon the exact nature of a MacGuffin, and could they use it. Draco leanedagainst the wall and considered the problem.
They had two opponents, but the opponents weren’t coordinated. Draco realizedhe’d just assumed that, and had no idea if they were coordinated or not. orwhat the other two scrolls said. This is the real test. We know the armies,but we don’t know what anyone’s goal is.
That brought options to mind. Could Chaos force the armies to fight over theMacGuffin? Was it useful, or just a flag to be captured? Could we move it?Draco didn’t know.
“Merlin says ‘Break into squads and come up with ideas,’” Neville suggested.Draco looked up, confused. “For those of you new to chaos, orders are justsuggestions, unless I say ‘Merlin says.’”
“You haven’t assigned squads,” Draco said. Neville just waved the room intofour groups.
At least Vincent stood beside me, Draco thought as he glanced betweenVincent, Anthony, Seamus, Hannah, and Padma.
Draco kept up a constant shout as he ran deeper into the forest, which wasdifficult, as he’d been running for nearly five minutes. A red hex flew threefeet over his shoulder, high enough to miss his shield entirely and smash intoa low hanging branch that Draco ducked under. He veered slightly to the right,still screaming, and jumped a small hill. He easily cleared Hannah, layingprone on the ground just behind the hill. Somewhere 20-30 feet to his rightVincent hid behind a tree.
Draco kept running until he heard Hannah scream Lagann!, then quickly turnedbehind a tree and bent over, heaving and out of breath, more from thescreaming than running. I need to start working out with Vincent. Quirrellsaid we should learn physical martial arts anyway._By the time Draco recoveredthe ambush was over. He walked back. “I can’t tell you how _insulted I amthat they never considered why I made so much noise,” he said, between gulpingbreathes. Anthony Goldstein patted his back.
“Well done,” Anthony said, as the first bolt came down from above. They divedas the three brooms flew overhead.
Draco let them all argue it out.
“Don’t you have any ideas?” Anthony asked him. He’d been taking Draco’smeasure the whole time.
“Sure, but I’m not the General anymore. I’m relaxing.” Draco had sprawled outin a chair, pushing the front two feet off the floor, leaning back. “How longwould it take you to go through the forest, assuming you just walked it end toend and weren’t worried about a battle? 30 minutes? An hour?”
They settled on forty five.
Draco continued, “OK, assume the MacGuffin is in the center, then that’stwenty minutes to get to it for each army. Call it double that, since they’llhave to move slowly. If we just sit and wait for them, no way do we last threehours.”
“We ambush them as early as possible,” said Hannah. “That will make themworry.”
“We don’t know what direction they’ll come from. We’ll have to scout out aposition and spread out. How will we ambush them? If we concentrate they mightmove past us,” Draco pointed out.
“Oh, I have some ideas on that,” said Anthony.
Everyone dove to the ground, a few hexes flew into the treetops but the broomswere already gone.
“Gregory,” said Vincent. “He waved as he went by.” Gregory had drawn aBasilisk. He’d discussed it with Draco, prior to selection Wednesday night oflast week. They both agreed not to go easy on each other. It would formresentment in the armies.
Gregory had added “And be less fun. Standard bet?”
Draco did not want to owe Gregory another Knut. They’d agreed to the standardbet, unless you personally dispatched the other, in which case it was a fullSickle. Draco wondered if Vincent and Gregory had a side bet as well.
Draco sent up some Red flares.
“I don’t think anyone in Chaos can see that,” said Seamus, who had beenlooking among the fallen to see if any of them had a compass, scroll, orsomething obviously useful and part of the game, before Ennervating RonWeasley to wake the rest and send them off the field.
“Well, the guys on brooms may not know that,” said Anthony, before Draco couldspeak up.
“Should I tell Neville?” Draco asked Vincent, who just nodded.
Draco took out his wand and got into the starting position.
Expecto Patronum! The rest of the squad, save Vincent, gawked. He ignoredthem and turn to his Patronus. “Find Neville. He’s back at the MacGuffin. Lethim know that we got five, no six, Basilisks but they’ve got at least threebrooms patrolling. We’re going back out.”
Draco’s silvery Blue Krait quickly slithered away, hovering a few inches abovethe ground. Draco turned back to the squad.
“What?” he said, in his most innocent voice.
“Does anyone know how to cast the Disillusionment Charm?” Draco asked thegroup, during their planning session. Nobody else knew. Malfoys started earlyon minor glamours to improve appearances, so this hadn’t been much of astretch to learn a few weeks ago, but Draco decided that he wouldn’t revealmost of what he could do, not without good reason.
I should reveal my Patronus in the battle, he thought. It would make sense,be natural, provide a tactical advantage, and impress the others in a way thatenhanced his prestige. Also, Draco’s research into the Slytherin conspiracyagainst him had stalled, and this revelation would make people take sidespublicly. Revealing his Patronus served several purposes. Revealing otherimportant spells he knew didn’t.
Draco considered what other charms he could use, out in the forest.
They were walking towards the eastern edge of the forest. “I don’t see whyeveryone’s so surprised. I was a General. Didn’t I personally dispatch you inour 3rd battle last year Anthony? And that was a hell of a shot, and not afirst year spell, either. So the one time _it takes me longer than otherpeople you just naturally assume I can’t cast a _Patronus.” Draco put on ahurt look. “I’m not angry, just disappointed.”
“You can quit with the act,” said Seamus, motioning to the canopy above. “Letme have a look.”
Draco nodded. Wingardium Leviosa. Draco lifted Seamus up besides a tree,keeping an eye out. The other four spread out, facing outwards.
“I see a few brooms, ah crap, they see – ” Draco lowered Seamus as several redand green bolts snipped through the canopy, sending leaves floating gentlydown. Draco sighed and carefully placed Seamus’ limp body to the ground. Hecould hear feet from the east. A lot of feet.
“Attack?” he asked.
“Sonorus!” said Vincent, wand pointing at his feet. (They’d learned youcould amplify sounds other than your voice, thanks to some pre-battleexperiments). He rushed forward, screaming, and the sounds of his feet echoed.Draco followed suit, charging slightly to the right. Maybe they’d makeBasilisk think they were fighting the entire Chaos Legion.
Padma, Hannah and Anthony followed quietly between them, looking for ambushpositions.
“Remember,” Anthony whispered, “Retreat in two minutes. Tops.” Draco spottedmovement ahead and fired a breaking drill hex wildly in that direction. Hespotted four, no five more shapes in his area. It was the whole Basilisk army.Draco figured he’d get two of them, maybe three. Assuming Gregory didn’t spothim first.
He’d have to attack hard, to really sell the ambush when he retreated.
Draco smiled. He hadn’t realized how much fun it was, having the odds againstyou, worrying only about the moment.
It removed the pressure. A bit. Draco saw Theodore Nott and aimed, mumbling“Got you.”
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