Chapter Five: Wounds
Draco stared at the discolored skin as a scream bubbled at the back of his throat. His jaw clenched to keep it in, until his teeth hurt from it. He could not scream, because that would wake Atropos. He could not scream because that would bring his father and Snape.
And they would see. See what Draco could not tear his eyes away from, the picture-perfect, unquestionable fact.
Harry Potter was Atropos.
This was the explanation, the answer to the questions that every Death Eater had been asking themselves for two weeks. This was why the Dark Lord had been acting the way he had since the discovery of the broken body in their meeting hall, which had looked more a corpse than a living being and no one had gotten a very good look at before the Dark Lord had the thing thrown into the wine cellar. Thiswas why he had been so confident, so triumphant… so very much more than he'd ever been.
And the only one besides the Dark Lord himself who knew was Draco. It should have been exhilarating.
It was terrifying.
What if the Dark Lord realized that Draco knew? What price wouldn't he pay to ensure the secret remained only with the Dark Lord himself? The least gruesome scenario of what the Dark Lord would do to Draco, whom he'd already thrown away without the slightest thought, was enough to chill Draco down to his bones. This was a terrible, horrible secret, and he had to keep it. He could tell no one, not Snape, not his father. The only way to ensure that the Dark Lord never realized that Draco knew Atropos' real identity was to make sure that the terrible, horrible secret stayed with him.
And since Atropos was Harry Potter, the Dark Lord had acted with good reason. The Dark Lord had won.
This, Draco thought, should have invoked some reaction within him. Without Harry Potter, it was only a matter of time before the wizarding world belonged to the Dark Lord. His Lord. His father's Lord. Everything they had worked and strived for would come about. It was all over; they had won.
Yet, with the very victory of the Dark Lord wrapped around him in a tangle of limbs, Draco only felt numb.
Sleep did not overcome Draco until after the stars had begun to fade into early morning, and thus he was not surprised when he awoke to mid-day sunlight streaming in the window and Atropos curled up on his stomach as a snake, basking.
At Draco's movement, the snake shifted, rolling into his true form, the odd blend of all his creatures.
|You did not sleep well,| he observed, blinking huge, luminous, green, reptilian eyes.
|You were thinking quite loudly, though I was too asleep to hear most of it.| Atropos sounded disappointed by that, but Draco personally felt it was probably a very good thing that he hadn't heard what Draco had been thinking.
|I did hear one thing though, and you thought it quite often, but I am confused as to why. What does "Potter" mean?|
|Nothing,| Draco replied, perhaps a bit to quickly. |There is no real meaning to that word.|
Atropos' tongue flicked out of his mouth, lengthening and changing in the air, it's forked tip nearly touching Draco's nose, before it was pulled back, settling back into a more human tongue within the cavity of Atropos' mouth. His teeth clicked shut in a very lupine smile. |You lie.|
Breakfast around the Weasley table had long ceased to be a warm, carefree meal since two weeks before, when Ron and Hermione had stumbled into the house in the early hours before dawn, weighed down by defeat like a physical sickness.
And now a new pestilence permeated the sullen meal; the bold black letters of the Daily Prophet proclaimed that Azkaban was no longer safe. They didn't need to read the article, for they'd been there when Kingsley had arrived to report to the Order what had happened, but they read it anyway.
The Daily Prophet had no need to stretch the truth for this article; the real event was sensational enough.
Azkaban prison had been breached, and all of the Death Eaters imprisoned there were missing. Missing, because it seemed as if they had vanished. There had been no conflict, no real break out. It wasn't even known when exactly Azkaban had been breached. They had just disappeared.
But the article didn't mention the other Death Eaters that walked free of Azkaban the night before... those that had no right to. Those who had been dead. That story was reported in other articles, the facts distorted but—for once—the main story true.
There had been whispers growing about a Necromancer. But they had been ridiculous and fantastic, and not even Dark Lord's supporters had truly believed them. The Order had ignored them as wild rumors, meant to strike fear into those who would oppose the Dark Lord.
The Order had been more worried about the news Remus had brought; that Greybeck had been killed. Werewolf activity had increased dramatically, the pack scattered and without leadership until the next full moon. None but Greybeck himself, it seemed, had seen their new alpha, but those who had found Greybeck's corpse, thrown out to rot near the Dark Lord's meeting place, had feared the scent left upon it. The corpse had reeked of death and dark magic. Whatever had killed Greybeck had been a monster which even the werewolf leader had feared in the last moments of his life.
Similar rumors were now beginning to circulate, and all of them centered around this Necromancer, who might not be a Necromancer at all, but some monster forged by the darkest of dark arts. Some called him a werewolf; some a son of Medusa—a Gorgon; some hailed him as one of the dead who could control his own kind.
But all called him a nightmare. And with so little truth to go on, the Order was scrambling to discover just what—or who—this new ally of the Dark Lord's was, before his dark master gave him new orders.
|I apologize. Most humans lie about things they wish to avoid.|
Atropos' head cocked to one side. |Humans are strange. Can they not tell when another is lying?|
|Some can, some can't.| Draco allowed himself a smirk. |But none the way you do.|
|I do not think that this word is a nice one,| Atropos declared, apparently refusing to be sidetracked. |You did not like to think of it.|
|I have a lot of memories associated with it,| Draco agreed slowly. |Only very few of them are good ones.|
|And these bad memories cause you pain?|
Atropos pondered his own words, Draco wondered if he was thinking of a way to fight bad memories. For a moment, Draco imagined that Atropos might be able to physically attack them, the way he had other dark creatures.
|Memories fade in time; you need not worry.|
Cleaning spells only went so far, and Draco longed for a new set of robes to wear. Atropos watched his aetherius mutter to himself about it with amusement, the thoughts to accompany the vocal sounds loud and easy to understand. He lay, curled in his werewolf form, in a nest of blankets centered around the warm spot that his aetherius had left on the bed until his aetherius finally deemed himself presentable. His aetherius paused when he shifted into his true form, staring intently at the top of his head for a moment before leaving the room.
Draco wandered through Spinner's End with Atropos shadowing his steps. The creature had returned to his composite form, the odd bi-pedal mixture of all the creatures that were a part of him. Harry Potter's scar was absent from the creature's forehead, probably because Atropos' forehead was more scale than skin.
He found his father and Snape again in Snape's library with what looked like lunch. He had no idea where they'd gotten it, as he couldn't really picture either wizard cooking, but he wasn't going to complain as just the presence of food made his stomach growl, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since the day before.
Yet as he stepped into the room, a different growl seeped into the room, low and menacing. Like a nightmare so strong it could still exist in the day time, Atropos surged past Draco, low to the floor, part canine and part something else that was always shifting. In an instant, he was upon his prey, one huge clawed hand like a human's with jagged, black nails, too long and too hard to truly be fingernails, swiped at Snape the way Draco had once seen a playful puppy bat a ball.
But the dark gashes, the tearing of cloth, skin, and muscle, made this merely the opening move to a fight and hardly playful at all.
"Atropos!" Draco hardly recognized his own voice, caught between horror and command.
Atropos paused, wary of the wounded wizard in front of him, but still half-turning to give Draco his attention. Lucius watched as something passed between the gazes of the creature and his son, two wills clashing, like a debate without words.
The creature turned back to Snape and undulated forward, his jaws closing shut with an audible click only a hair's breadth away from Snape's nose. He then pulled back slowly, the Inferi body parts melding fully into lupine as the wolf trotted back to where Draco stood in the doorway and sat down on its haunches, tail wagging gleefully.
Only when Atropos was all the way across the room, did Snape rise to his feet.
"You had better get that looked at," Lucius remarked from where he remained next to the fireplace. He gestured to the growing stain of blood which could now be seen, even against the black of Snape's robes.
Snape shook his head, and headed feebly for the room's other door. Only when it closed behind him and his muffled steps could be heard on the stairwell, did Lucius turn to his son.
"It is high time we talked, Draco."
"Yes, Father. But…" Draco trailed off, looking meaningfully at the werewolf circling around his feet like an over-enthusiastic retriever looking for his master to throw the stick.
"I believe he does not understand human speech," his father replied, his tone querying why Draco was concerned.
"He doesn't, but he can comprehend projected thought," Draco admitted. "At least, mine."
His father gave him a long, level look, the kind where Draco could almost see the scheming taking place behind his father's eyes.
"Then you will have to refrain from thinking loudly."
Atropos did not understand the preoccupation that humans seemed to have with speaking, as he lazily watched his aetherius speak with the one who'd sired him from where he was basking in a patch of sunlight. His aetherius seemed quite comfortable doing so, or at least whatever they were discussing was not causing him any anxiety. But what could possibly be so complicated that it would require so many words?
If he was still curious after his nap, perhaps he would ask his aetherius later. Atropos certainly wasn't going to waste a perfectly good patch of sun on words.
When the knock came on Snape's bedroom door, he knew it was Lucius. Even the man's knock was arrogant and insufferable. Getting up to open the door wasn't a possibility, though it didn't matter, as the elder Malfoy didn't wait for acknowledgement before entering the room.
"I do not think that was to be his killing strike," Lucius commented, drawing one of the chairs in the room to the bed with a flick of his wand.
Snape shook his head. He had spelled the four gashes himself but, even with the wounds cleaned and scarred over, they looked ghastly. "That much was obvious. Yet they still could have been." Close up, the scars looked even worse, deep, horrid gashes that crossed from Snape's shoulder to just below his heart. "He does not know the frailties of humans yet," Snape continued. "He was fighting as if I were another animal which would claw and snap back."
"Was that not his prerogative?" Lucius asked. "He was no Necromancer at the time."
"But it is the Necromancer that his whole being is keyed upon. Without that pillar of support, those other animals would run amok in his mind. It is all that keeps him from becoming rabid. Are you sure you want to entrust Draco to that thing?"
"The only other option is to kill it. How can you kill something that wields death like a sword and shield?"
Snape had no answer for that, just as he had no answer for many of the questions surrounding Atropos. The strength of the Dark Lord's newest minion was in the uncertainty and fear surrounding him. Snape could not help wondering what horrible weaknesses of Atropos the answers to those questions held.
He had seen Atropos when he was still more boy than monster, covered in his own juices, looking like an animal to which the kindest action would be to kill it, in order to end its suffering. He could not shake that image. Underneath the nightmarish thing that he had become, Atropos still was just a boy. What damage would the dark creatures, warring for control, wreck on that mind, a mind that could not even attempt to defend itself, clouded by the Necromancer.
The summer day was warm and inviting, with that slight hint of fall on the breeze. It was the kind of day Draco had always liked best as a child, when the House Elves could barely keep him inside the house long enough for meals and he would spend the day flying or playing in the gardens, sneaking out to catch fireflies and fairies at dusk. Such memories seemed so carefree and childlike, and it was odd to think that only a year's time separated the then and the now.
Some things didn't change. He was still hard pressed to remain inside on such a day. But a year before he certainly wouldn't have thought to spend a day like this sitting on the front step and just thinking, and yet that was what he did. Leaning against the lintel, sprawled out on the cracked front step.
As always, his talk with his father left him feeling like he'd missed something—something obvious that he should have seen. His father always said much, much less out loud than he actually wanted Draco to learn from their conversations, and most of the time this was not enough for Draco to really learn anything. But his father had talked at great length about Necromancers and about Atropos.
Atropos, who'd quickly bored of the strange sounds that he could not understand, and slithered over to curl up in a patch of sunlight. His father had watched the progress of the snake with no particular expression, and Draco wondered what his father had really thought of the king of all snakes, Atropos' basilisk form, as the sunlight had made the black coils shine like forged gold.
Atropos, who was quite content as well to lounge around, like an overly friendly dog, in his werewolf form. He slept most of the day, and Draco wondered if Atropos really was exhausted, or if the constant ability to nap was born of the fact that half of the creatures that composed him were nocturnal.
He supposed he could ask Atropos himself, but he wondered if even Atropos would know the answer. Atropos was oddly ignorant in things regarding to himself. Atropos merely was and, unlike those around him, he did not question why or how. Atropos himself probably couldn't draw the line between where one dark creature ended and another began in his behavior. It was like a constantly shifting play where the main character was different in every scene.
Draco knew enough, he supposed, about each individual dark creature to guess at what actions were influenced by what, but when they were combined like spokes on a wheel with the Necromancer as the axel, he was lost. Perhaps that was what his father wanted of him, to offer so much information about Necromancers. Perhaps he wanted Draco to figure out how Atropos worked, how to tell which dark creature was at the fore and which were vying for that position.
But to what end, he couldn't even begin to guess.
The sun was low in the sky—past the brilliance of the sun-set, but not truly dusk—when Draco lightly poked Atropos. The wolf started and blinked.
|Get up.| Draco answered the silent question. |I'm hungry.|
Draco could feel Atropos' confusion as he followed Draco back into the house, again in his true, composite form. When Draco stopped at the sparse kitchen of Spinner's End, he voiced his confusion.
|There is food here?|
|There should be,| Draco replied, though he wouldn't truly be surprised if there wasn't, considering the state of the rest of the house.
Atropos curiously followed Draco around the kitchen as he systematically went through all the cupboards. |There's no meat.| Atropos pointed out, when the search provided half a loaf of what looked like freshly baked bread, vegetables, and even some cheese and milk in the cold cupboard.
|There's enough for… something.| Draco wasn't at all confident in his nearly non-existent cooking skills, but he'd come up with something, he was sure.
|But there's no meat.|
Draco looked over at Atropos as he reached for a glass. |It figures you'd only eat meat,| he observed.
Atropos replied something, which he missed completely, hissing in pain, the glass slipping from his fingers and shattering on the floor as he bent over his forearm. The Dark Mark flared upon the skin like a burn, and Atropos was at his side in an instant, prying his fingers off the black skull and serpent.
There was, of course, nothing the creature could do, even as the intensity of the call dwindled until all that was left was the tingling reminder in his nerves.
|I do not understand. What is this? And why does it cause you such pain?|
Draco was still beyond responding, taking big gulps of air and trying to steady himself. |It is a mark which binds all of the Dark Lord's followers to him. When he wishes to summon us, it does… that… and we go to him.|
|But why did he… mark-| Atropos stumbled over the word, |-his pack like this?|
Draco wasn't sure anymore whether he was leaning more on the counter or on the dark creature holding him upright, though he was also beyond caring. |Because we asked it of him.| Even in his mind the words seemed sour with dark humor. |As part of our initiation, we request to be branded with the Dark Mark.|
|Did you wish for this mark?|
Draco did laugh at that, in dark, twisted humor. |I did, even as I was terrified of it. It hurt more going on than it does when he summons us.|
|Do you wish to go to him now, then, aetherius?|
The question was innocent enough, but sounded odd in Draco's mind. But he did not know just how, and was in no mood to analyze it. |Not really. I'd rather eat dinner.| Well, dinner in the loosest sense, as Draco still wasn't sure what he could actually come up with.
|Then you shall not go.| Atropos sounded oddly smug at the proclamation. |After all, he gave you to me. You aren't his anymore.|
An icy chill ran down Draco's spine, the contrasting opposite to the nerves still tingling with heat on his forearm, and the awareness of exactly where he was, exactly whose arms held him upright, less yielding than steel, hiding so many gruesome capabilities. The Dark Lord had indeedthrown him away to his newest pet creature and now that creature decreed that Draco would not join the other Death Eaters. Though part of him still felt it far too dangerous not to answer the Dark Lord's summons, the rest of him knew that it was probably far more dangerous not to cater to Atropos.
Atropos, who still held his arm in one hand, and was looking at the mark intently, as if daring it to flare again and cause his possession pain. When it did not, he leaned over the limb and his tongue flicked out, licking down Draco's arm from the top of the skull to the tip of the snake.
"Yuck!" Draco muttered, pulling his arm away on reflex. Atropos merely grinned at him and let go of the limb.
Even as Atropos moved out of the way to let Draco have his way in the meager kitchen, there was a restlessness about him, like something was still nagging at him that was unfinished. Or like a restless beast that had been caged. Yet, he did not broach the subject of the Dark Mark again.
The agitation grew slowly until Draco could feel it like a constant pressure in the back of his own mind, like an echo from Atropos' psyche to his own.
He wasn't surprised when, during the night, he woke to an empty bed. But where the agitation had been there was now a satisfied hum that lulled him back to sleep.
to be continued...
status: beta'd by Ayeshah Harvey-Lomas