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Chapter 13: Firefight
Scorpius planted his feet firmly in the ground, poised to kick off on his broom. 'Let's get the hell out of here.'
He looked wildly at Albus, who was staring, grim-faced, at the approaching dozens of swarming Redcaps. 'What? No way what? I don't want to become paint for hats!'
'So you did pay attention in Defence classes.' Albus forced a lopsided grin, then jerked a thumb at the two large crates, bigger than he was tall, sat on the path near them. 'They might prefer us, but if we fly away they'll steal the supplies.'
'Bugger the -'
'No. Not bugger them.' Albus set his jaw. 'Lockett needs these for developing the cure. We can't risk her research being set back. Lives are at stake.'
'Yeah!' Scorpius agreed. 'Ours!'
'Then go.' Albus kicked his broom several feet off the ground, high enough that the little Redcaps, when they crossed the field that still separated them, wouldn't be able to reach him. 'Get back to the castle and bring reinforcements.'
Scorpius looked at the crates. Their legs had collapsed and fallen, and even if they transfigured them new ones, they would still only plod along at a pace barely faster than his walk. It wouldn't be enough to outrun a rampant horde of Redcaps. And Albus was still sat upon his broom, wand in hand, clearly not about to move.
The only option was to fight.
He sighed, and kicked off the ground - but only a few feet, only high enough to join Albus in the air. 'And bring, what?' Scorpius said. 'A drunk potioneer, a strung-out nerd, a sleep-deprived Weasley, and Selena Rourke?'
Albus looked him up and down as it was clear Scorpius wasn't leaving, and a broad grin crossed his face. 'All right,' he said, and extended his clenched hand for a fist-bump. 'Let's do this.'
'And try to not die.'
'That's a good plan. The rest is simple. We stay out of their reach, and keep them away from the crates. Use Stuns and anything that'll knock them back. If we spread out and cause enough carnage quickly, they should realise we're not easy pickings and run. Keep out of reach.'
Scorpius nodded, kicking his broom to bring him to flank the other end of the two crates. 'You needed to tell me that, otherwise I might have wanted to get dragged off my broom by my ankles and get bludgeoned to death by Redcaps.'
'I like to keep you on your toes. Literally,' said Albus with a smirk, and flicked his wand. 'Protego.'
Then they waited. They didn't have long; the Redcaps had been far away enough to give them the chance to plan and consider, but only because they couldn't have possibly got the two large crates away in time. Now, their strategizing ended, the swarm was nearly on top of them.
Scorpius hadn't studied Redcaps since their second year, but even then the Hogwarts curriculum hadn't prepared him for being attacked by over a score of them. He knew they were vicious and dangerous, and hunted humans specifically to colour the hats that named them. Misinformation suggested that if the colour faded, they died; this was untrue, as the low fatality count of humans lost to Redcaps and the comparatively high number of Redcaps alive and well in Scotland implied. But it was certainly a matter of status for a Redcap's hat to be fresh and gleaming.
Scorpius considered it a simple matter of nature if a small, wrinkle-faced, hunched over, hopping-mad humanoid figure needed his blood to survive. That it wanted his blood to look good made him take the entire murderous rage personally. But even he knew that a swarm of Redcaps out of the Forbidden Forest and at them like this was unprecedented.
Albus made the first move, whipping his wand out. The words of the spell were lost to Scorpius in the wind, but the huge buffeting of energy that erupted from the tip and smashed into the first wave of Redcaps spoke for itself. The three went back flying with tiny shouts and squawks of indignation and pain, staggered and stunned.
Then came the rest.
Scorpius didn't trust himself to be able to throw out an attack as devastating as Albus' - but then, Albus had topped their year in Defence Against the Dark Arts OWLs. It was only to be expected. So Scorpius focused his wand on the nearest Redcap, concentrated, and muttered, 'Stupefy.'
It hit the Redcap in the shoulder, and it staggered, sluggish - but kept coming.
Of course. Inherently magical creatures like them enjoyed a certain innate magic that wizards could never aspire to or duplicate. They could perform amazing feats with no wands and, more importantly, had a limited natural protection against spells.
Stuns alone weren't going to do the trick.
First the Redcaps swarmed under him, bringing up their pikestaffs at his dangling ankles, and Scorpius had to yank his broom up higher as he realised he'd underestimated their reach. He threw a second Stun, hoping to finish off the first one he'd struck - but they were a swarming mass under him now, and it just hit an indistinct shape which kept moving.
Stupefy. Petrificus Totalus. Locomotor Mortis. Stop. Bloody. Coming. You. Stupid. Things.
They were getting angry now, at least, as one or two of their numbers submitted to the onslaught of spells from the wizard they couldn't reach, however slow going it was. Scorpius weaved in the air as one hurled a rock, no bigger than his fist, and it struck him in the shoulder - not enough to really hurt, it was still enough to briefly knock him off-balance, and the Redcaps hooted in victory as their cunning little minds clearly set to work, and they scrambled for more rocks.
A glance in Albus' direction suggested he was doing a little better with his pack. Waves of air were coming shooting from his wand, knocking the Redcaps off their feet two at a time, and although it wasn't finishing them off it was certainly leaving them frustrated and, overall, a better-contained threat than Scorpius' were.
Time to get inventive.
Scorpius flicked his wand up to deflect the next rock which came his way, and yanked his broom away, putting the Redcaps between himself and the crate. He hesitated only a moment to watch the next swish of Albus' wand, studied the wrist-flick, before focusing on his own enemies and going to duplicate the effect.
As intended, three of the Redcaps at the front of the pack were sent flying, tumbling over the heads of their comrades - but Scorpius had positioned himself well, and unlike Albus' buffeted Redcaps, who were left sore and battered but with pride and temper bruised more than their bodies as they landed on the ground, these ones had something to hit sooner at a higher speed: the crate. The impacts were solid and crunchy and the three slid to the ground, only one stirring afterwards.
'Not so tough now, are you, you little buggers?' Scorpius crowed as his little pack, now with less than ten remaining, stared at their suddenly-fallen comrades and the crate that they lay next to.
Then they surged for the crate, pikestaffs flashing in the sunlight as they began to batter the blades against the nails and boards protecting the precious cargo inside.
'Hey, wait -!' Scorpius swore loudly as he realised he'd just given them a new target, a target that couldn't defend itself, and his heart sank as he saw Albus' mob getting the same idea. They were supposed to keep the Redcaps away from the crates, and instead he'd just driven them towards them.
They quickly organised, ignoring the blows from Scorpius' spells which made little progress in cutting through their numbers one at a time. One Redcap hopped onto another's shoulders to be higher up on the crate, working away at the nails they could see, trying to physically dismantle the crate rather than waste time bashing against solid planks. Spell after spell only slowed them down, but it didn't stop them, and soon one of the planks had been almost pried off, the little hands of the Redcaps reaching through the gap to grasp inside, fortunately not taking anything - yet.
'Get the hell back!' That was Albus' thunderous voice as he was faced with the same situation, his spells slowing but not stopping them. Down he came like a thunderbolt, wading physically into the midst of the half-dozen or so Redcaps who remained. Still on his broom, he came low enough to grab one stood on its comrades' shoulder by the collar, yanking it back and hurling it to the ground. It landed hard and didn't stir.
The shouts of the Redcaps turned from indignant to furious. One hurled itself up, leaping as high as it could - and its grasping fingers settled around the brush of Albus' broom. The broom veered at the sudden, unexpected weight - then a Redcap was on another's shoulders, hoisted up to grab the broom's handle, and pikestaffs were jabbing at him as the broom was pulled down. Even as Albus threw spell after spell at the mob swarming him, a tiny, powerful hand latched around his ankle and pulled.
'Al!' The cry torn from Scorpius' throat was tinged with terror as Albus was dragged off his broom and immediately disappeared from sight as he hit the ground and was rushed by the Redcaps. The ones on Scorpius' crate abandoned their pursuit, and the ten or so remaining creatures swarmed over Albus.
'Get - the - hell - away - from - him!'Down Scorpius swept, wand flashing as he waded into the midst of the swarm. The first Redcap was smashed in the head by the handle of his broom; the second, he made sure to land on. The third was cracked in the face, and one Stun proved enough to finish it off so long as it was a Stun at close range, right in the head.
He reached out with his free hand as soon as his feet touched solid ground, yanking away Redcap after Redcap even as grasping talons and flashing pikestaffs were waved at him, but he was too close for the polearms to be effective, and he'd moved quickly. A kick sent another Redcap flying, and then his hand settled around something big and warm that definitely wasn't one of the little creatures, and with a strength that could only come from adrenaline he pulled Albus to his feet.
Blood was streaming from Albus' nose and one eye was already in danger of swelling up, but he was alive. Knuckles white as he gripped his wand, blinking muggily against the sunlight, Albus planted his feet firmly beside Scorpius, just in time for them to both realise that they were now on the ground and completely surrounded.
A Redcap lunged up to land on Scorpius' shoulder, and Albus' wand flashed to Stun it, knocking it off as Scorpius yelped. The next thing he knew, Albus had grabbed him and pulled him around, pushing them back to back, and then the air was thick with spells, kicks, and punches thrown at the remaining Redcaps who surrounded and rushed at them.
Scorpius kicked one so hard it went flying, only for a pikestaff to stab at his left forearm with surprising pain, and he yelped, turning his wand on the offending Redcap. The Stun wasn't enough to finish it off, but it did stagger and drop the weapon, and Scorpius brought his wand around for the next -
Who didn't come. There were still Redcaps on their feet but they backed off with their pikestaffs extended, faces twisted into angry snarls.
'Come on, then,' Scorpius taunted, wand pointed at the nearest. 'Is that all you got?'
'Scorp,' panted Albus. 'Don't... encourage them.'
'I'm not. I'm gloating. They're backing off, Al, they've had enough.'
And they were, even the ones who were recovering beginning to scrabble away, and by the time the Redcaps had formed into a line, there were less than ten left, backing away from the two young wizards. They snarled and spat but didn't come closer, and slowly Scorpius and Albus began to relax, turning to face the lot of them.
'You okay, Al?' Scorpius asked, not taking his eyes off the Redcaps.
Air hissed through Albus' teeth as he inhaled deeply. 'One of them cut my leg. I'm okay, it's not deep, but it stings like hell. Head's throbbing. Nose might be broken. Other than that, I'm okay.'
'Other than that.' Scorpius snorted. 'So, fine and dandy, huh? Think you can make a ride back to the Infirmary once these pesky critters have gone and buggered off?' He flashed a grin at the Redcaps. 'Yeah, you'd better run -'
Then the Redcaps stopped. And, from over the rise, popped another red-hatted head. And another. And another.
Albus swore under his breath as, creeping from out behind trees and rocks and hills, came the Redcaps' reinforcements. He reached down for his broom. 'Scorp,' he said, his voice low and serious, 'maybe you were right after all. We should go.'
'But the ingredients -'
'You saw them, Scorp, we can't stop them from getting to the crates fast enough and the only thing they like more than the crates are us. And they will kill us.' Albus met his gaze, green eyes firm and unwavering.
'Which will set back Lockett's research,' said Scorpius. 'Some of the stuff in this ingredients shipment is rare - you were right, Al, we can't just leave all of this.' He looked around wildly, then his gaze swept from Albus' broom to the crate. 'Can you get back on that, fly out of reach, and Transfigure legs on those crates to get them up to the castle?'
'Sure, but the crates won't move fast enough to -'
'Do it. I'm going to buy us some time.' Scorpius squared his shoulders and took a deep breath.
Albus frowned. 'What -'
But then Scorpius was gone, breaking into a run away from the crates and towards the Redcaps, broom in one hand, wand in the other. He shot a Stun in their direction, sending one spinning to the ground, and came to a halt once he was in broad, open ground, waving his hands in the air. 'Hey! Hey! Nice, pretty blood here! Malfoy blood! The best blood to colour your hats! Right here!'
The Redcaps stopped, suspicious, red, beady eyes swivelling away from Albus and towards him.
'Scorp, what the hell do you think you're -'
'Al, trust me, and get those crates up to Lockett.' Scorpius gritted his teeth, then matched the Redcaps' stare and raised his voice. 'Come on! You'll be the pride of the Redcaps with Malfoy blood on your hat. Tell your friends! Bring them along! But first - catch me!'
Then, throwing one last Stun at them for good measure, he broke into a sprint back in the direction the crates had come - down the path towards the Hogwarts gates, away from Albus, and away from the school, the direction he'd be taking those crates. Hooting, hollering, and likely swearing in their harsh, native tongue, the Redcaps took off after him, hopping with rage and excitement at the prospect of a chase - and completely ignoring the crates.
Like he intended.
Scorpius was not the best student at Hogwarts. He wasn't the smartest, and he wasn't the most powerful. His streak of malevolent cunning only took him so far against people who invested more hard work and natural talent into their efforts. Academically he was average, and magically he was nothing special. If there was one place he particularly excelled, it was on the Quidditch pitch - the second-highest scorer in the school the previous year, set to be the highest, he'd hoped, with the infamous James Potter gone.
That had taken work. Training. In everything - on the broom, with the Quaffle, of his reflexes. In general fitness. And one of the easiest ways to keep that up was running practice. It had fallen out of everyday habit over the summer and completely by the wayside with the crisis, but if there was one talent of his he fancied he could bring to bear against Redcaps it wasn't in his spell-flinging, it was in his running.
So he made good ground, led them on a good chase across the greenery, dodging hurled rocks and pikestaffs and occasionally throwing a Stun over his shoulder to keep them good and angry and agitated, and his breath was just beginning to burn in his lungs before he remembered something else he'd read in his Second Year Defence classes.
'Nobody has ever been recorded as successfully outrunning a Redcap.'
They were probably just toying with him. Enjoying the chase, only to close the gap at their leisure and then he'd be pinned down, alone, and entirely at their mercy.
Scorpius put his head down and drew on another burst of speed as he sprinted as fast as he could across the Hogwarts grounds. That's fine, he thought. I still have a broom. If they get too close, if I get too tired, I'll just fly off. I only need to lure them away long enough and far enough for Al to -
Then something hit him in the shoulder; another rock, but he was running so fast and burning so low on energy that it knocked him off balance, and he stumbled. The next thing he knew, tiny hands were wrapping around his lower leg, yanking his feet out from under him, and he hit the ground face-first. His broom went spinning from his grip, and he rolled onto his back desperately, feeling the weight of a Redcap on his foot.
'Stupefy!' he bellowed, yanking the wand down to try to knock away the irritating little creature, which looked about to sink its teeth into his shin, but it saw the wave of his wand and let go, bounding away first.
Which meant that instead of shooting a Redcap, Scorpius shot himself in the foot.
He'd been Stunned before. Defence classes valued their practical courses, and he'd always paired up with Albus. Even though Scorpius could claim to be the second or third-best duellist Slytherin House his year had to offer, there were still leagues between them in aptitude, and he'd got used to losing nine times out of ten.
Typically, he'd never been blasted at such short range, and the sensation wasn't just enough to make his head spin, but numb his limbs. He felt every muscle go slack, his head lolling back, his hand dropping by his side for his wand to roll from his strengthless grip, and shadows began to fall on him as the Recaps approached and blocked out the sun.
If Redcaps kill me because I shot myself, this is going to be so embarrassing.
They seemed as bewildered as him, the half-dozen who came scampering up and filled his blurry vision. Their chittering came garbled to his ears, like he was hearing them through water, even as they leered and peered at him. One poked him in the side with a pikestaff, as if wondering if he was already dead; gentle or not, he couldn't feel more than a pinprick, and he certainly couldn't move.
That's something, at least, he thought dreamily. If I can't feel properly while Stunned, I won't be able to feel them bludgeoning my brains out -
Then sparks were flying through the air, the sparks of spells and light as the sun flashed off their whirling pikestaffs, and with noises of shock and indignation the Redcaps pounced away. He saw one hit by the red sparks of a Stun and fall instantly under its power, saw the rest begin to spit and curse and draw back, and saw motion from the corner of his eyes of a tall figure, from his perspective on the ground - so all that meant was that they were taller than a Redcap - advancing on the small mob and driving them off.
He knew that voice. It wasn't coming from whoever was fighting the Redcaps - they were moving away as they drove the determined creatures, embittered at being denied their prize, away from him. Though with his blurry vision fixed on the peerless blue sky above him, still unable to move his head or look around, the details were swimming from his peripheral vision.
'Malfoy? Malfoy! Scorpius?'
Rose's voice sounded as afraid as he'd ever heard her as her face suddenly swam before him, blocking out the sun. One warm hand came to his neck, the other held the wand he felt gently pressed against his chest. Her eyes were wide, her face pale.
Despite the majority of the effects of the Stun still on him, Scorpius couldn't resist fighting through the numbness to open his mouth and give some sort of witty, infuriating retort.
'Ole oo ah um aak,' was what he actually managed to say as his jaw and lips refused to properly cooperate, his control over his limbs and senses returning only slowly.
But the relief on Rose's face as he moved was almost palpable, and he saw her shoulders sag. 'Oh, God, Malfoy, I thought you were dead when I saw you lying like -' Then she seemed to remember herself, and looked over to her left. 'He's alive, Professor!'
'Superb!' came the less-than enthused voice of Lockett from somewhere in the near-distance, and the sound of flashing spells and cursing Redcaps finally died out. 'What happened?'
Scorpius' tongue felt like it was too big for his mouth, and he tried, and failed, to raise his hands. 'Hit... self...'
'Hit?' Rose wrinkled her nose as Lockett trooped up to her side. 'You - wait, you did this to yourself?'
'They're gone,' said Lockett to Rose, though she didn't let her wand drop, still kept her eyes on their perimeter with keen awareness. Scorpius wouldn't have guessed she'd be quite as effective at driving off Redcaps, but he wouldn't have complained even if he could. 'Cut and run once they realised they'd have a proper fight on their hands.'
Scorpius squinted up at them. 'Mbus?'
Rose frowned. 'What?'
'Albus. Potter's fine, Malfoy, don't worry; Jones is with him right now recovering the rest of the crates, he shot sparks up for reinforcements once he was in sight of the castle.'
'And luckily the Professor and I were talking on the steps -'
'You mean arguing about how you need sleep instead of staying up to wait for the ingredients - and get what ever he's done to himself off him, Weasley, it's just cruel to leave him to shake it off,' sighed Lockett, watching the grounds around them for signs of Redcaps returning even if she'd proclaimed them gone.
'Oh, yes.' Rose lifted her wand, and scrunched up her forehead. 'I can't believe you did this to yourself, Malfoy, and lured off Redcaps like that - what were you thinking, it was completely idiotic and -'
'Fine, fine!' She sighed at his protest and pointed her wand at his chest. 'Finite Incantatum.'
It wasn’t the most efficient way to remove a Stun – but he hadn’t been able to explain exactly what he’d done to himself, so likely Rose was just being thorough. Still, it worked; the feeling of the dispel working its way into his limbs was magical in more ways than one. It was like he could fly, all of a sudden, as his muscles answered his command, and not only could he move properly but he could breathe properly, talk properly, think properly - and that was when Rose's spell, in the blink of an eye, finished worming its way through his body and worked its way to his brain.
And searing pain ran through his skull as it found something else there to dispell.