Chapter 20

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To Battle We Ride


Curses, thought Draco angrily. Of course they’re here. Draco didn’t usually look forward to Christmas as much as he had this year – indeed, it wasn’t actually Christmas that he had been looking forward to. What he had been excited about was the prospect of having some time alone, and being able to walk five feet without Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy, and a load of other Slytherin parasites attaching themselves to him like, well – parasites.

And now they were at the Malfoy Christmas party.

I should have asked to see the guest list beforehand, the blond-haired boy thought, berating himself. At least I would have had prior warning. He straightened his robes and braced himself as his fellow students approached him through the crowd of well-dressed adults, all milling about and pretending to be important.

“Miss Parkinson, Miss Greengrass,” he said aloud, giving a slight bow in the direction of the two girls. Not too low, of course – it was the bow of a powerful host allowing guests into his presence. “Welcome to Malfoy Manor. Crabbe, Goyle,” he nodded to the hulking boys. Really, there is absolutely no way eleven-year-olds can get that large and muscular without- oh. Well duh.

“Draco,” Pansy whined in her utterly aggravating voice, “you disappeared so fast-” Quickly, he corrected absentmindedly, barely listening to her, “-at the station that I didn’t get to say goodbye!”

Crabbe nodded, his expression void as a statue’s. “You indeed were hurrying quite quickly, as if in a hurry.” Gee, no kidding, Sharlock the Helmsman, no wonder you’re a world-class detective.

“I had something to take care of,” he replied simply, trying to think of a similar excuse to use for the present. Maybe Pansy would go away if he pretended he had suddenly developed an allergy to her terribly overused perfume. He turned to Goyle, who had somehow managed to get his hands on one of the pastry-wrapped entrees, despite the fact that they had yet to be served. The broad boy was munching wordlessly, disconcerting eyes on Draco.

I’m surrounded by creeps. This party had better be over soon.

“Crabbe, what time does this gathering end,” he asked his first-year bodyguard. Crabbe made it a point to always know what was going on around the object of his responsibility – namely, Draco. Whether that meant counting the number of accessible exits in a building or memorizing the schedule of everybody who interacted with Draco, Crabbe was aware of it all.

“Precisely five and one quarter hours from now, Boss,” Crabbe said crisply.

“Oh, don’t worry about not getting to see me enough,” Pansy giggle, causing Draco’s annoyance to shoot up exponentially.

Merlin’s beard, but her voice is grating. “What are you talking about, Pansy?”

She giggled again, and he had to convince himself that grabbing the pastry from Goyle’s hand and smashing into her revolting grimace of a smile was not a course of action that he would benefit from in the long run. “There’s always tomorrow’s party,” she explained haughtily, twirling the ends of her hair around a finger. “And the four after that.”

Draco’s malicious thoughts froze, grinding to a halt and sending up sparks. “Wait, what four other parties?” Father didn’t mention anything about more parties – he was going away tomorrow, wasn’t he?

“Of course,” Daphne Greengrass cut in gleefully. “Tomorrow’s is at my family’s estate, and then we rotate around to the other important peoples’ places. Aren’t parties awesome?”

What.

It was going to be a long holiday.


Draco barricaded himself in his room for the time being. He’d pay for it later, but at the moment he just couldn’t care. He couldn’t handle Pansy and the rest. Crabbe and Goyle weren’t so bad, honestly, but they mostly kept quiet – the leech Pansy was the real problem. The only times he could get away from her at Hogwarts was when he was in his private rooms – she even followed him when he went to watch the Slytherin quidditch team on the pitch!

And she just never shut up. Yes, he understood that those first-year Gryffindors were backstabbing slime to be trodden on and insulted; that didn’t mean he wanted to hear about it all day long, every day of the week. He’d long had suspicions that Pansy was making them out to be worse than they were, and he was pretty sure that one of the horrible pranks they’d supposedly pulled on him was actually her doing – but that didn’t matter. Even without the constant pranks and stories of their cowardly actions, even without anything else at all, he would hate them forever. He would hate Calvin.

Pranks and taunting could be forgiven, forgotten even. It was inconsequential, really. The one thing he would never forgive was betrayal. Betrayal of trust. Like a Cutting Charm straight to his heart. If only he’d never let down his guard, the strike wouldn’t have hit so hard.

Still, Pansy would have to be dealt with. She was getting bolder around him, and the blind hatred of the Gryffindors she constantly spouted was frankly disgusting – what did she have to hate them for? Of course she shouldn’t like them, but dislike shouldn’t lead to white-hot hatred, not without a distinct reason.

Just Crabbe and Goyle following me I can handle. Without Pansy fueling the sycophant train, the others should get a lot less clingy. Then it’ll be just us. Just me and two bodyguards. That’s what you want, Draco, right? Peace and quiet. No one to bother you. No one to annoy you. No one to talk to you…

He buried his face in his enormously fluffy pillow and grunted loudly. An hour or so later, a rapid tapping at his bedroom window caught his attention, and he stood to open it. The owl didn’t even hop in – it just shook its leg vigorously, sending the small roll of parchment sailing into the room, then waited patiently on the windowsill.

Curious, Draco picked the parchment up, returning to his bed while he examined the strange seal. The deep green wax was impressed with a picture of what look a single earmuff, and some plant growing out of it.

Dear Hogwarts student, the letter read. Or to whom it may concern. Or, to who may be concerned. It is our immeasurable honor to invite you to the event of a lifetime, as long as your lifetime is considerably shorter than the average. On the second day of Christmas, one day after the first day and two days after the day before the first day, there will be a jolly good competition of unimaginable enjoyability taking place at the Castle of Warthogs. The rules are currently unknown, but we are sure it will be at least as fun as we think it should be, if in fact it is.

Please come if you can’t, and wear your best clothes if you haven’t any. Admission is one and one-half Bertie Botts Every Flavored Beans of different flavors, to be presented for inspection upon arrival.

Stay tasty,
Gred and Forge of the Ballyhoo Brigade

PS
Don’t let the one with the beak near any power tools.

Draco glanced up at the owl, who hooted self-consciously.

Then he went through the letter again, because he had no idea what he’d just read. After the third read-through he understood that the only thing to be understood was that there was going to be a competition of some sort at Hogwarts, on the second day of Christmas. He wasn’t sure if the part about the Bertie Botts Every Flavored Beans was a joke or not.

He couldn’t go, of course, as it was being directed by the Weasley twins, two of the most Gryffindorish Gryffindors to ever be sorted into Gryffindor. No one associated with the Malfoys would ever risk showing up at such an event.

Draco ‘hmm’d to himself. No one…including Pansy Parkinson. It was purely wishful thinking, but if he did go back to Hogwarts tomorrow, there was no way she would be there. He dropped down onto his silk-sheeted bed and sighed, tossing the letter to the side. Up on the windowsill, the owl hooted softly. Why is it still here? Does it want the letter back?

He rolled over and stretched down to pick the letter off the floor, and saw that there was more writing on the back of it.

Please RSVP by sunrise or risk the wrath of Shagog the Demon Emperor

Right.

“I’m not going,” he said aloud to the owl, then threw the letter off his bed. The owl hooted again and cocked its head, black eyes staring unblinkingly at him. “Do whatever you want,” Draco said. “I need to go put in an appearance at my father’s private table before he sends someone looking for me.”

As he left his room and headed towards the main wing of Malfoy Manor, the sounds of the party began to reach his ears. Subdued conversation, polite laughter, clinking glasses and silverware.

“Evening, Boss,” a voice at his shoulder declared the moment he stepped into the feasting hall.

Draco looked around. “Where’s Goyle?”

“He is indisposed at the moment, Boss,” answered Crabbe solemnly.

Draco snorted. “Ate too much?”

“Ate too much,” Crabbe agreed with a nod.

They neared his father’s private table, hidden from eyes and ears by thick, black silk curtains falling from the ceiling like liquid obsidian.

A hand pressed on his shoulder.

“Crabbe?” Draco asked with a raised eyebrow. “You know you are not to touch my person.”

“Your father said you should be let in to see him once dessert is served,” the hulking eleven-year-old replied stonily.

“Preposterous,” Draco said. “I will see my father.” Crabbe shifted his feet, eyes cast downward. “Crabbe. Your hand.”

“Boss, you should… I…” Crabbe bit his bottom lip in what looked liked indecision, something he didn’t show very often. Not that he showed emotion very often at all.

“Whatever this is about, it shall have to wait. I need to see my father. Now remove your hand from my shoulder.”

Crabbe looked up and met his gaze. In his eyes – determination, and…

Is that…pity?

“Gregory and I will be right behind you, Boss.” What exactly was he talking about? Nobody came in with him when he saw his father. “The floo powder will be in your room.”

Then his hand slipped off Draco’s shoulder, and he turned away.

“Crabbe, what are you-”

“No time. Go in now if you want to end the lies. And Boss- Draco. For what it is worth…I am sorry.” He disappeared into the crowd without a backward glance.

Did Crabbe just get sentimental on me? Someone must have been hanging around the drinks station tonight.

Draco took a steady breath, casting aside all irrelevant thoughts. He let the breath out. He stepped into the glassy black curtains, and the voices behind him faded away. Two new voices could be heard ahead.


“…instead of spiky sprouts in the Clearness Concoction! Oh, except the next time it exploded over the whole room and Professor Snape had to stop class to clean it up.” This was followed by a nauseating giggle and a smirk you could hear a mile away. “The mudblood boy got detention for that.”

“Your family will be proud of you, Miss Parkinson,” the voice of Lucius Malfoy said, somehow both frigid and smooth as warm honey at the same time. “You have served the Malfoy’s better than I would have ever imagined. Yes, even Draco, young Pansy. I see you think him unhappy since you had his little midnight powwow interrupted, but time will show the good you have done him.”

A glass tink echoed in the air.

“Ah, it seems desert is being brought out presently. Do go indulge in the festivities, Miss Parkinson. Send my son in after you.”

“Merry Christmas, sir,” Pansy said cheerily, skipping out into the main dining area. She did not see Draco, wrapped as he was in the muffling black fabric.

“Merry Christmas,” whispered the grimly smiling voice of his traitorous father.

Draco stumbled out, almost knocking into one of the hovering trays of cream puffs that was bobbing and weaving through the room distributing desert.

He was surprised at how…little surprise he actually felt. He was shocked, yes, but he almost felt as if he’s already known the truth, and had only refused to acknowledge it.

I…I could never believe…

In a daze, Draco took off across the room, back into the hallway leading to the wing of the manor that housed his bedroom. Over plush carpets, past richly dressed wizards surrounded by picture frames.

He arrived at his room and slammed the door closed behind him, withdrawing his wand as he turned around.

“Collo- Co- Colloportus,” he said shakily. The spell didn’t take.

He collected himself, again casting aside all thoughts irrelevant to the current situation.

Colloportus.” The door was now magically locked.

He had to get out of here. His father was expecting him in his private dining room any moment now. What was it that Crabbe had said?

Gregory and I will be right behind you, Boss.’ That part didn’t make any sense.

The floo powder will be in your room.’ So that he could leave?

Draco flicked his eyes around the room, looking for- there, on the window sill, a pouch of floo powder. An owl must have dropped it off. He hurried over to it, stepping over the letter from earlier.

Wait, so Crabbe had known?

For what it is worth…I am sorry.’

Draco wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Crabbe and Goyle weren’t exactly his friends, but he’d thought he’d had their loyalty.

The small white pouch of floo powder felt heavy in his hand. Well, maybe he did at that. There was a problem with the whole ‘floo powder out of the manor’ plan though. The fireplace in his room wasn’t hooked up to the floo network.

“Draco.”

Draco jumped, almost dropping the pouch, and jerked his wand around the room.

“Draco, dear. Over here.”

His mother’s face peered at him from the fireplace, glowing green between the ashes.

“Mother.” He’d had all the surprise squeezed out of him by now.

“I’ve connected this fireplace through the greater floo network, Draco. You can get to the Great Hall in Hogwarts in just one jump.” She smiled sadly. “Stay safe, Draco. Find your friends, and stick with them. Trust them. More importantly – trust yourself. I love you.” The face-shaped lump of ashes collapsed suddenly, sending up a miniscule cloud of gray dust.

Draco hefted the pouch of floo powder and gulped. He wasn’t sure what exactly was happening, but it seemed his mother was on his side. As she always had been. That was enough.

He hastily lit a fire emptied some of the floo powder into his hand, tucking his wand in the appropriate pocket of his robes.

Here we go, Draco. You’re on your own, now.

“Great Ha-”

“Psst, Boss!” Two faces poked in through the still open window. “A little help, if you don’t mind?” whispered Goyle loudly.

Find your friends,’ his mother had said. Friendship, loyalty – what was the difference?

“I brought some cream puffs, Boss! For the road!”

“Hell if I know,” Draco muttered to himself, stepping out of the fireplace. Then, out loud, “Get your leg down, Goyle, you’re going to end up on your back in the snow.” Once the window space was clear, Draco tapped on the latches and the wall below sank into the floor, allowing the two easy access into the room. “Hurry up, father’s bound to have noticed my absence by now, even if he hasn’t already gotten word of my mother messing with the floo network connections going out of our house.”

“Cra- Vincent,” Draco greeted with a nod of appreciation.

Vincent returned the nod. “We’re with you, Draco.”

Draco turned on his heel and stepped into the ornate fireplace. “Stop saying things like that. They make me uncomfortable.” He threw his handful of floo powder onto the ashes below. “Great Hall, Hogwarts!” A wall of green flames rose about him, and his room disappeared.

He stepped out into snow, and chaos.

I thought I was going to the Great Hall, what-

A snowball creamed him up the back of his head.

“What in Merlin’s blood-”

Another one smacked him in his open mouth.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAHAHAHA!” laughed a Hufflepuff boy manically from atop a dazzling silver sleigh built of food platters. “TO BAAAAAAATTLE WE RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDE!”

Someone bumped into Draco’s back as he wiped snow out of his eyes. “Hey Boss, why are we outside and inside at the same time?”

Looking around, Draco realized that Goyle was right – despite the voluminous amounts of snow and snow-related activities ongoing around them, they did still appear to be in the Great Hall.

Another bump against his back, and a hand pressed down on his shoulder. “Duck.”

Draco did so, and a barrage of snowballs whistled overhead. “What is going on!?

“Looks like a snowball fight, Boss,” Goyle said amicably. “Like something Calvin would do, this here snow inside the castle. Can we join in?”

“It could be an assassination plot,” Vincent mused.

“FOR PONY!” screamed the sleigh-riding Hufflepuff.

I miss home already, thought Draco glumly.

A snowball splattered against the side of his neck, icy water dripping down his back.

First, he was going to find Calvin, and somehow find the words to apologize to him.

Another snowball pasted his leg with slush.

Then, he was going to kill him for ruining Christmas.

Next Chapter >


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