I could not decide if this whole "training" concept was the stupidest or the smartest thing they could think of- so I decided on both. Dumb because it seems to me like a waste of time to teach us skills when we're just going to be killed anyway; smart because at least some of us are getting a better shot at life.
Like me. All I really know how to do is wield a wand. Grandfather had begun teaching me some sword skills before he died, saying that it was part of the "pureblood legacy" that all pureblood sons and some daughters learn how to use one, and that it was "the oldest of traditions". Grandfather had also told me that my father had been no good at it, so I guess that's why my lessons ceased when he passed on. I've mostly been using this time to brush up. Zabini has been pushing me to do otherwise.
"It's not the smartest idea, is all." he tells me after our third day of training. He and I are assigned suites-- yes, suites; two bedrooms and a lounge all filled with soft pillows and comfortable cushions and a warmth we haven't known since the days when Albus Dumbledore ruled the castle-- together. It's like they're trying to bribe us, or make us feel appreciated or something. They want us to enjoy our last days alive by giving us these lush accommodations: thick mattresses on actual beds, real, comfortable clothes, and stuffing us full every night. I'm not complaining. When I'm given a bribe, I appreciate it to the fullest and enjoy myself.
"Do tell me, Zabini," I argue passively, "Why the bloody hell not? The point is to practice skills that will help us win." I am attempting to take a shower before dinner, but he wants to do this instead.
"But you also have everyone else checking you out as well," he explains. I will- reluctantly- admit that he's right. It makes sense. that. I just won't let Zabini know it. "The Wayne twins are already strategizing. They're always bent over together and one of them is always watching everyone else."
"So are you watching them now?"
"Of course," Zabini tells me without hesitation. "I need what information I can get if I'm going to win. I want to be smart about this, Malfoy." I regard Blaise Zabini for a moment. He seems pretty even-headed, thinking ahead and all, but I know him. He's scared shitless. He's acting like he is so tough, but it’s clear from the way he's tapping his fingers across his thigh that he is as terrified as the rest of us. I mean, Merlin. In the next week we are going to be fighting for our lives against twenty-two other kids. Right now the Wayne twins, two fourteen-year-old girls, are plotting against their classmates. Zabini is plotting against his classmates. The bloke is terrified, but I can see in his eyes at this second that he is serious as hell about whatever plan he's been concocting.
"What would you have me do then?" I ask cockily. "Practice my cooking skills?" I don't like where this discussion is going, and would rather be in the shower than having it. I figure that aloofness will get me out of it sooner than truly considering his words.
"Can you?" he shoots back in all seriousness. "Cook, I mean. Can you do that?"
"Hell no, that's what house-elves are for."
"Then how do you plan to survive in the arena?" Zabini questions me. I open my mouth to reply, but he pushes on, "They won't be sending house-elves in there with us, Malfoy. We will all be on our own-- food, shelter, and defence. Remember the first games? Nearly all of them depended on the food the Dark Ones put in there, and they killed one another for it, because they didn't know how to cook. Last year, half of the kids died of starvation because they gave them no prepared food. You might be good with that blade, Malfoy, but it won't mean a damn thing if you don't survive to wield it."
The look Zabini pins me with is one so intense that I have to look away from it. Zabini has always been the only person to put up with me, aside from Nott. He's the one who stands up to me when I'm an ass, calms me when I'm furious, and if all else fails, sticks on my side through to the end. Even so, I've never heard him talk like this before. He's told me how stupid I can be, but Blaise Zabini has never scolded me like this. Never. I can't stand the fear inside my chest and I don't understand it either. His eyes hold an impenetrable hardness and a steeliness that even I can recognise as an unmoving resolve. Zabini already has a plan.
I always knew he was smarter than he lets on.
Then something he said finally hits me, strikes right dead centre in my forehead between my eyes. We will all be on our own. I wonder if that means that, once we walk into the arena, the pair of us will no longer be mates. I glance back to meet Zabini's eyes and know that it's true. He may be helping to extend my life, but he won't hesitate to end it if given the chance. I am no longer sure if I can trust him anymore. Still. It's sound advice he's given me.
"Alright then, mate," I tell him with a curt nod. Then I leave straight for the shower.
If Zabini already has a plan of attack- or defence- then there is no telling who else does as well. Susan Bones? Millicent Bulstrode? Bloody Loony Lovegood? No doubt Bookworm Granger has things figured out already. She's been the brainy half of Potter's little gang since first year, so I wouldn’t be surprised. Then there are the Wayne twins, Desiree and Dakota. Manipulative little monsters, the pair of them, and the only ones I had truly been worried about. The Wayne twins seem to thrive on this sort of chaos.
So the question now is, if everyone has a plan, what will be mine? I consider it as I stand beneath the hot water. Normally the time I spend here is spent remembering the old days when I got a fresh twenty-minute shower everyday and not just a lukewarm six minutes every other night; when I was pampered and didn't want for a damn thing. I took that life for granted. Now, my life is shit- if I can even call it that. I'm sure prisoners in Azkaban are treated better than us prisoners of Hogwarts.
When I cross the lounge back to my bedroom, Zabini is nowhere in sight.
--- x ---
For the next three days, Zabini and I don't talk. Not that I see much of him in the first place. I can't be sure if it's him avoiding me however, or me avoiding him. Either way, I've started to take his advice. The day after our confrontation, I abandon the swords master for the lady with the cooking station where I take the time to learn the very basics of feeding myself. I did not know that even if something's totally black on the outside, it can still be raw and uncooked on the inside. I learned how to skin and clean a rabbit which, the lady pointed out, should suffice enough for me to do the same with any larger game, not that it was likely I'd find some.
That took me from breakfast (which I just barely managed to hold on to) to lunch, basically the entirety of the first training session of the day. Eating a warm bowl of noodles in broth (since I was not sure I wouldn't lose anything else), I realised that now I knew how to cook, but not how to build a fire.
So I spent the afternoon with someone who called himself a former "boy scout." He taught me to build a fire and contain it, as well as a few other little useful tips such as recognising edible plants. I hardly paid enough attention in Herbology to really be any good with it in the first place, so the refresher really helped. The bloke even slipped me a set of note cards which I hid in the waistband of my sweat pants at the small of my back until the end of the training day. He too, took up the rest of my afternoon.
After my mandatory shower full of more planning for self-preservation, I remained in my room, mentally reviewing what the cooking lady taught me, and looking through the boy scout's flashcards.
On the second day, I returned to the boy scout, desperate to memorize those plants. In the afternoon, I decided to join the small number that took to the second floor catwalk lining the walls and test my endurance. It's been so many years since I played on the school Quidditch team - since there has even been a school Quidditch team. I'll admit that I'm not as fit as I used to be.
From up there I can watch my fellow "competitors" -- (because really, we all know that the proper word is "sacrifice") - without seeming to. There's Loony Lovegood, decorating herself with mud and flowers in what I suppose is should be some sort of camouflage. There is the first-year knotting rope and from the look on that mentor's face, they're pretty good. I haven't seen the Durmstrang pair wield a weapon yet, but judging from the ease at which they both complete a series of push-, sit-, and pull-ups, I suppose that they're both pretty strong. The Wayne twins are insane as they fight against one another hand-to-hand. Lavender Brown's blonde head catches my attention as she struggles to pull the string of a basic wooden bow.
I also realise exactly how correct Zabini was when he told me not to spend all my time in one place. There were as many wandering eyes here as an insect. Millicent Bulstrode didn't even pretend to be interested in anything, but stood against a wall and just studied everyone. Same with that Muggle-born, Finch-Fletchley only he knelt against the low railings up on the catwalk as he did so.
The plan hit me sometime in the middle of that night. Unfortunately, Zabini sleeps like a vampire in the daytime, and gets up earlier than I do, so I have to wait until after dinner to talk to him.
So I go through the third day, spending my morning at the strength training station (where I swear I pulled muscle or something, being an ass competing with sixth-year Ravenclaw James Dirkwell) and the afternoon, once again, jogging along the catwalk. I had been right behind Zabini as well, until he realised it and left for one of the weapons stations.
Bloody hell, he really is plotting to kill me!
Still, I jog the circuit, returning my eyes to the floor below me. I notice Granger, her springy curls pulled back into a ponytail, tamed for once. Something about her demeanour makes it obvious that she is nervous, worried about something in the Games, probably. Hmph. I watch as she walks around the room slowly, and when I get into a position so I can see the front of her, I notice that Granger is fidgeting with her hands. Recalling what I've seen of her, I know that she has some pretty decent endurance, but little to no strength. She's clumsy, but I'm assuming knows how to survive in the woods for all that I haven't seen her near the cook or the boy scout. She's a bit of an easy target unless she makes it - by some brilliant celestial design - to the Final Six. Then, she's right scary.
Plus her right hook is something wicked.
"She'd never go for it," I mutter to myself.
-- x --
I corner Zabini after the afternoon training session, before dinner.
"I need to talk to you,” I start, coming in through his bedroom door unannounced. Zabini jumps as if I had just hit him with a Reductor Curse. This is normally my shower time, so I'm assuming that I caught him off-guard for once this week. I continue without giving him time to recover. "What you said to me, the other day, made perfect sense, Z. Too much bloody damn sense, if you ask me. Don't let that go to your head, mate, because this will likely be the only time you ever hear me say those words. I'm supposed to be the conniving one, not you, but that's beside the point." I'm rambling, I know, but it's one of those moments where things make good sense in my head, but refuse to come out properly in words.
"No, just wait." I insist. I'm pacing now, getting my ideas together. I should have spent at least some of my time today thinking about how to get my plan out in the open. Right now I'm appearing half-baked and nervous, and if anything that will ruin my credibility. He's already written me off, even has plans to kill me, so why should Zabini even bother with me? Well, aside from the fact that I've invaded his bedroom, anyway. "Alright. What you said - were you really serious about killing me?" That is not what has me riled up, but it's the first step, I realise. If I know where Zabini stands with me, I will know how best to present my plan. I stop pacing and look at his face, since he's avoiding my eyes.
"I... yeah. I don't want to, but Malfoy, if it comes down to a me-or-you situation, I'll do it." I nod in accordance.
"Same, but, what if we had a way to make sure one of us won?" I ask uncertainly.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean like the Wayne twins. They're covering one another through the contest,"-- Zabini snorts at my choice of words- "so why can't we? At least to the Final Six, then we can just... I dunno. Hope we don't cross one another again." I think I have a pretty sound plan until I actually say it aloud. Now it just sounds silly. Zabini frowns however, as if in concentration.
Oh, sweet Merlin's mercy, he's really thinking about it.
"Who else have you included, Malfoy?"
"No one. I've been waiting to tell you all day."
"You have your strengths... You can wield a sword. You can fight. Strong, plus you were on the Quidditch team, so I know you're fast and you can last. There isn't much of a downside." Even though a part of me is stung that my best friend just analysed me as if he were picking a new racing broom, another part appreciated his well-of-course-I'll-agree tone for what it was. We are a team. He just needed me to get real and get serious.
Slightly Irrelevant Blah Blah Blah 2: I totally forgot to add one of these in the last chapter. I think I was too busy editing it and just really wanted it posted and was kind of frustrated because I'd gotten a rejection notice... again. I swear, I've gotten more RNs for this than I've gotten for any other story on HPFF. I'll have to be really careful in the future, I tried to post a really good thriller, but it got kind of too graphic at the end and I haven't quite gotten around to getting that fixed to something more appropriate XD ANYWAY. Sometime this weekend I hope to get back to writing PA. I'm kind of stuck on one of Draco's chapters, and it's all Blaise's fault, to be quite honest. If he hadn't gone off to -- well. No spoilers. I just wanted to give a quick update on the status of future chapters and to thank everyone who's read and give cookies to those who have reviewed. You lot make me happy ^_^
It's been pointed out to me that I might have confused people about the "Dark Ones" versus "Death Eaters." Eh, I just like the sound of "the Dark Ones" better than "the Death Eaters." In my head I have the actual Death Eaters more of Voldemort's inner circle and the "Dark Ones" more along the lines of flunkies or minions. Who just happen to run the games. Because the important people are doing other things. Like watching. Or running the government. Yeah.