The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by The Unoriginal
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and associated characters belong to the respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended.
Acknowledgements: To all the people who stopped by and faved, followed, or reviewed.
Chapter six – Done When 'Tis Done
"With harmful intent I butchered your face
Waiting to see disgrace
Get away from me
Never seem to get me anywhere
But right here
Praying makes no sense
Now I'm to deal with me"
An identical copy of the Prophet was lying on the coffee table in the drawing room at Grimmauld Place. The anxiety over Harry's hearing had postponed the conversation until then, but now it was good for killing time as they waited for the outcome.
"What a night... Make mine a mug, tha-thanks," Tonks yawned, dropping onto an armchair. "One sugar, no milk."
Sirius complied and handed the mug to her. "So what tipped you off in the end?"
"The shopkeeper was hollowing out those doorstoppers of Lockhart's books to use as cases for the forbidden stuff. Neat idea, since the average Auror doesn't know much of Muggle ways to hide stuff. Half-bloods on the other way..." She didn't finish the sentence, only grinned. "Then, being a right skinflint, he scrubbed the cut-out parchment and sold that as well."
"That's catching two Snidgets with one glove," Sirius conceded.
"Yeah. Only he didn't make a proper job of it. I, um, recognized a bit of dialogue from Wandering with Werewolves on the parchment I had bought. And it all sorta clicked."
"And I thought those books were useless." Remus quipped, sitting down with his teacup and saucer. "So, did Dawlish pay up at least? We could do with new dusters, a snuffbox chewed on mine yesterday..." Clearly he was putting forth his best effort into the housecleaning operations: he was wearing a well worn pin-striped apron over his equally threadbare robes, his eyes were red and watery, and there were cobwebs in his hair. Even Sirius, by comparison, looked well cared for.
"Don't get me started on Dawlish," Tonks growled into her mug. "That idiot tipped off the Prophet."
Remus frowned. "Are you sure?"
"I'm certain," she rebuked, waving her wand threateningly at nothing in particular. "I don't care that his idea of 'career' is tattling to Fudge whenever one so much as mentions Dumbledore, but leaking details of an ongoing investigation to the press is another thing. I'm going to Transfigurate his..."
Sirius cut her off. "How great are the chances that this werewolf story is actually true?"
"Williamson Priore'd the parchment Phelan was using, and there is an exchange about lycanthropy books that does look suspicious, but there's precious little else to go by, and Cody claims not to have any idea who the recipient might be."
"And that is probably what will keep him from being rent to bits once he's released," Remus said, in a serious tone that clashed with his odd attire. "To claim that one out of a thousand people is a werewolf is one thing, to give out their name and surname is something different. There is such a thing as pack loyalty that some of our kind hold in high esteem. It would be best for the boy to leave the country... and let's just hope that the werewolf is not actually one of the students."
Sirius' expression went dreamy. "With any luck, it will bite Snivellus," he said.
Lupin jolted, as if he was about to lash out at his friend, then he seemed to think better of it.
"Sirius, we all know Snape gets on your nerves, but you really must leave your little feud behind. It's getting old."
"Whatever," Sirius growled, and made a show of sipping his tea. "Are you sure you unjinxed this set properly, Moony? The stuff tastes vile." He stood up and went to the kitchen, where he made a show of emptying his cup into the sink.
Remus just sighed.
...werewolves can escape from containment. In fact, they do. The reason we're having this conversation is that fifteen years ago, a registered werewolf in the care of the Werewolves Capture Unit managed to operate the tumbler locking its pen, and I was in its way.
That's some rotten luck, Draco thought, turning the page on Interview with the Werewolf with his nose nearly touching the print. This particular account had him fascinated, and that was saying something, even though he was known as a bit of a bookworm among the Slytherins.
But the Ministry always pushes for registration and monthly containment as the only 100% safe way of handling the condition. Wouldn't we know if something like this had happened?
I think you answered your own question yourself in there, lad. The Ministry line isn't going to change. Just do what I did fifteen years ago and move on.
All right. So, shapeshifting. How does it feel?
Well, first of all, there's the change, which is awful. Imagine breaking and mending every single bone in your body at the same time. It seems like it because it's what happens.
So, nothing like the Animagus transfiguration.
No, not at all. Those who became Animagi turn into their totem animal – there's an affinity below it, with your magic driving and guiding your bodily change: when you shapeshift, the wolf form is imposed on you, whether you have an affinity or not – and most wizards don't – and your own magic fights it all the way. The good news is that if you survive your first transformation, the next ones are a bit easier.
So, having transformed, you find yourself on the other side. What happens next depends on what terms you are with the wolf. Most people are what we'd call full-body-bound, they retain their consciousness, but they aren't calling the moves, the wolf is. Some fellows shut down completely: they wake up in the morning not knowing where they are or how they arrived there. The lucky ones meld with the wolf, and the experience is shared between the two. It depends on the wizard, whether they are able to overcome the prejudice and attempt to reach out, and the wolf, whether they are willing to release control.
It's hard to describe it, because you don't really think in words at the time. The consciousness goes back and forth, and you're filled with a sense of urgency, of purpose. The world becomes a simpler place, everything is straightforward; action follows impulse, it has to... at one night per lunar month, there's not enough time for loitering around.
Let's not forget what this 'urgency' is all about, though.
Of course. Everything revolves around the feature that makes werewolves such endearing folks – being hellbent on hunting and biting people. It boils down to this – the only way for the wolf to reproduce is through infection since contrarily to popular beliefs, werewolves don't have cursed children.
You see where this is headed? Do you like to reproduce, lad?
Reproduce. Breed. Go forth and multiply. Do you like it? I don't mean the net result, I mean the act.
I fail to see how that's relevant to…
Oh, quit babbling. Of course you do. We all do, otherwise we wouldn't be here as a species. And so do werewolves, even though the mechanics of their reproduction are not to the wizards' liking.
That's why the poor fellows at the Ministry facilities are such a scarred bunch. If you lock up werewolves in a place that smells of wizards, they'll be biting themselves bloody, but that's not "aggressive disposition": to put it bluntly, it's jacking off from the frustration...
That was a notion Draco could have done without. "Ewww," he moaned under his breath, and skipped some twenty lines.
...werewolves spending the full moon night in a pack are less likely to go on a spree. In a pack, one of the driving forces of the werewolf – loneliness – is taken out, and there are a lot of distractions, like get to know each other, establish a pecking order or challenge the existing one. Because a pack needs a hierarchy to function, the hunt cannot begin until all wolves know where they stand. And if the pack is large enough, dawn may surprise our werewolves before they're done with the introductions...
The breakfast bell rang, and Draco marked the page, closed the book and hid it. The tomes had made a dent in his monthly allowance, but they were worth every Knut. Even with the Lightweight Charms placed on them, the books clocked in at a dozen pounds. Kratos had come back with pine needles in his belly feathers, a clear sign that he had had to negotiate the treetops on his return flight...
Merlin's bollocks, Draco thought, and was completely awake as if a Blast-Ended Skrewt had been dropped on his bed. Kratos!
The bookseller had sold him out, and it didn't matter even if they had never met in person: the beautiful eagle owl was a trace that would lead the Aurors directly to his doorstep. People who could afford an expensive familiar such as Kratos could be counted on the fingers of a single hand.
The Auror who was handling the case was Draco's first cousin, a regrettable occurrence, although bound to happen sometimes in the tightly knit world of British wizardkind.
Even more regrettably, Tonks – yegads, even her name sounded plebeian – was also cul et chemise with Dumbledore, who took three meals a day in the same room as Draco and enjoyed a full view of all the owls flying in the Great Hall from his table.
The fact that Potter had been cleared of all charges, and would be attending Hogwarts after all, was the final straw. Not only Potter had a knack for sticking his nose in everyone else's business, he also had a thing for Draco bordering on obsession. Self-absorbed, fixated, and confident in the goodness of his intuition as he was, he was bound to decide that Draco was the one hiding something, and then pursue that line of reasoning to the most extreme consequences.
He could not bring Kratos to Hogwarts, and he could not leave him at home either... his parents would wonder why. He was left with a single option: getting rid of him. Fast.
Draco dug up another stone from his pockets, panting, cursing up a storm under his breath.
He had been chasing Kratos around the park and the stables, pelting him with rocks, for the best part of the evening and now he felt like he had played a Quidditch match on foot, but the sweat running down his neck and back had nothing to do with physical exertion.
The stone hit the collar beam Kratos was sitting on, with a loud thack.
The owl flapped his wings to keep balance, but refused to leave his perch: he just squawked his displeasure with the stupid game his master was so keen on playing.
Draco had taken another stone out, but he dropped it on the ground. It was useless.
He was doomed.
All day, Draco had done his worst to get rid of Kratos. He had left him caged in the sun at noon, without water; pulled his tailfeathers and singed his whiskers. He had thrown sticks at him and he had thrown his worst tantrum ever, yelling himself hoarse, saying horrible things to his beloved, beautiful owl.
Kratos had taken it all in stride. He had never flown farther than a hundred yards away from his master, and several times he had tried to come and perch on his arm like he used to do when he was little more than a fledgling, trying to make amends with his master for anything that troubled him. Now he was having another go at it.
Draco turned at the last second like a jousting dummy, dropping his shoulder, depriving Kratos of its perch and forcing him to perform a go-around at full power. The mighty wings flapped in an eerie silence around his head, and he struck blindly with his good hand; it was like hitting a pillow.
"GET AWAY FROM ME!"
Kratos turned madly and came to land on a low branch, less than ten feet away. He shook his magnificent head, made a bit asymmetrical now because of the singed feathers, with an air of disbelief; and made a low cooing sound, looking for reconciliation. That was as far as his resentment would go.
It was useless. There was no scaring a post owl intent on a delivery, much less chasing away one's own hooter; the bond that formed between wizards and their familiars was for life.
One way or another.
With his insides churning, Draco whistled for him to come near. Right from the beginning he had feared it would come to this. It was not his fault; he just had no choice. Surely it would matter, in the great balance of things, that he was only doing this to survive? That he had tried the other options first, and they just wouldn't work?
"Dinner time, featherbrain!" he shouted, holding out his good arm. Kratos chirped happily and fluttered onto his forearm; boy and owl nuzzled their heads as if nothing had happened.
Then Draco let him onto the trestle with the trough at one end at the water cup at the other. The trough was already filled with walnut-sized, greenish meatballs. Kratos closed in onto the odd, unappetizing fodder, then looked at Draco. Again, there was an air of disbelief in his yellow round eyes: somehow the stupid game was still going on.
"It's what's on the menu, Kratos. Eat up," Draco said, pushing the owl's head towards the through full of Garden Gnome bait. He stroke the lustrous plumage with the back of his hand. Kratos clicked his beak a couple times, then resigned: he resumed eating, although slowly, and didn't rise his head from the trough until he was finished. Then he clicked his beak to announce that he had polished his plate.
"Good boy, Kratos," Draco whispered, not trusting his own voice.
Then out came the letter. It was a routine exchange lamenting the outcome of Potter's trial, but Draco wasn't expecting the letter to be ever delivered, much less read. What mattered was that the recipient lived far enough that even a powerful flyer such as Kratos wouldn't make the return trip overnight. A single meatball had enough poison in it to kill an adult Gnome, and the large, hungry, exerted owl had eaten a dozen in a single sitting.
"This one's for Pansy. You know the route by now, don't you?"
Kratos' yellow eyes widened and he opened his beak wide in anticipation, happy beyond belief that he had passed whatever test master had in his mind, and would be trusted again with a letter already. He let himself be caressed on the head and chest, then – perhaps thinking it best to leave before master changed his mind again – he snatched the letter out of Draco's hand, spread his wings and took off into the darkening sky, without a sound.
Draco watched the familiar shape soar, become a spot against the blue, then vanish altogether; then the enormity, the iniquity of it all rose inside him like the froth above a simmering potion, begging for a violent relief. His face suddenly felt hot and his sight blurred. He felt an urge to break something, to wound, and for lack of a suitable target he punched the wall nearby, putting all the strength of his arm and shoulder into the blow.
It hurt like nothing else had ever hurt before; breathless, he shook his hand and it felt like a bag of marbles attached to his arm. Shattered marbles at that. And yet a part of him felt oddly satisfied, as if pain had been exactly what he needed, what he deserved. He just stood there looking at his broken hand throbbing, wondering whether he was losing his mind.
"DRACO!" came Father's voice, harsh and commanding, from behind. Draco spun so fast, his wand in his hand, he nearly gored him as he approached. Father came to a hasty halt, his eyebrows raised, his expression inscrutable.
"You scared me," Draco explained.
"You too," Father said. He took him by the good hand, a mild expression in his eyes for once. "It's not fair, I know that. But you don't have to make it worse than it is."
The garden started to spin around Draco, like after too many rounds on a helter skelter.
You will not faint, he told himself. You will not faint. Don't. Faint.
Oh, and say something uncompromising but appropriate while you're at it.
"You... say so?"
"Yes," Father replied, now taking Draco's injured hand and examining it up close. "To tell you the truth, I had been dreading this outcome from the start."
Draco was starting to find it hard to follow the dialogue over the thumping sound of his crazed heart. He blinked, or nodded, or both. "...Did you?"
"Of course. It was a wonder to no-one that Dumbledore would pull all strings and call in all favours to get Potter out of trouble. To be frank, I'm surprised the old fool didn't act sooner, but he always had a taste for keeping his cards close to his chest."
Oh. That's what he... never mind. Say something. Say anything! Quick!
"Y-yes. Never the less... it still sucks," Draco commented as his blood pressure finally descended from a four-digit figure.
"Language," Father warned. "Pygmendo."
The last words were accompanied by a curt wave of Father's elm stick. The bag of shattered marbles became a fully functional hand again.
Father wouldn't let him finish.
"You're welcome, son. Only next time, don't take it out on yourself. There are plenty of targets for your anger out there." His eyes narrowed and he smiled coldly. "I have been informed just today that there are plans underway, plans that require Potter to go round the bend, and even though your involvement is not strictly requested, it would not go amiss if you could put some extra pressure on him."
Draco had regained enough of his wits by that time, and he was able to grin as if the prospect still sounded great.
"Not that he'll need much help to go spare, he's halfway there already," he said, hoping that Father wouldn't realize how much his enthusiasm sounded hollow.
Dawnlight was bleeding through the drawn curtains when Mother came in, dressed in a nightgown, her hair uncombed.
"Draco," she called, "your owl is back. He's… very ill."
Feeling like he had been doused in icy water, Draco bolted from the bed. Mother led him down the corridor to the master bedroom, where Father was standing next to a shapeless bundle lying on the floor.
Draco knelt next to the owl, but Father planted a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't touch him," he warned. "Not until we're sure what ails him."
Kratos was not 'very ill': he was dying. Lying limp on a swollen belly, with one wing bent under his body, his beak open and his eyes half-closed and runny, he looked like a punctured Quaffle. Although the ruffled feathers hid the internal damage from view, a bloody, rancid sludge had trickled out from under his tail and pooled underneath him. Draco wondered why he had flown into his parents' bedroom, but then he realized – he had not thought of leaving a window open because he didn't expect him to return. But return he had, with his letter to Pansy still clamped in his beak – Draco recognized his own handwriting on the folded parchment. Kratos must have felt the first symptoms while en route, and realizing he would never make it so far as Manchester, he had returned in the hope of healing, of shelter… or at least to make sure that the letter he was carrying would return safely to its sender.
"Is there anyone we can turn to?" Mother said. "Would Eeylops take a firecall?"
Father shook his head. "It's too..." He didn't finish; there was no need to. The usual affectation had vanished from his voice.
Draco couldn't name what he was feeling, except it was huge and cold and painful and lodged sideways in his throat. He wished he had never had an owl in his life, he wished he had never thought of that bloody bookshop, he wished above all else that he had done this properly instead of sentencing Kratos to die a slow, agonizing death in a darkening sky. What had he done? What had he been thinking?
The part of his brain that was keener on survival, the same one that reminded him of putting on long-sleeved pyjamas every night, offered that it would be appropriate to seem surprised, so he said:
"Kratos, chick… what happened?"
Kratos opened his eyes wide at the sound of his master's voice and opened his beak, letting go of the letter, but no sound came out. His once powerful talons flexed, as if trying to find purchase onto a gloved hand.
Oh God – Draco finally understood.
It was not about the pain, it was not about the letter; Kratos had returned to prove his worth. He had caught on: it was another turn in his master's stupid game, but he had acted as was expected of him, he had passed the test again; he was a good owl, loyal no matter what.
And look where it had landed him.
Something inside Draco snapped and he leaned forward.
"Don't – " Father started, but he shot him a hard glance and picked up the soiled body that stank of blood and shit, held it to his chest and stroke his head like he had done so many times.
"You're a good owl, Kratos," Draco murmured. "You're a good owl, I'm proud of you, I lo…"
There was another cooing sound, so dim that Draco wasn't aware it ended - then the body gave a shiver and went limp against his shoulder. Kratos had gone.
"Put it down, Draco." The gentle squeeze on his shoulder reminded him that he was not alone in the room.
"I – I can't – " Draco looked down at the body in his arms. Kratos' eyes were half-closed, an odd membrane covering them halfway; his beak was open and his head dangled against his stained chest.
"He's not in pain anymore. Go clean yourself. I'll take care of the rest."
"Right," was all that Draco could say. He looked up: Mother was sitting on the edge of the bed with a hand covering her eyes. He turned and left the room.
He walked down the corridor and to the bathroom, fully conscious and yet oddly detached, moving like he was pulling the strings of a life-sized puppet.
Then he saw his own reflection in the mirror – grey, rather than pale; with greyer shadows under bloodshot eyes and liquefied owl entrails down the front of his clothes – and his stomach voiced all its feelings of disgust.
There was no trying to fight it; he just knelt forward with his head into the bathtub and revisited his last two meals.
Twenty minutes later, his clothes lay in a stinking heap onto the floor, and he was huddled on the bottom of the shower, hot water pouring over him and mingling with his own burning tears. Adding insult to injury, a dozen of nonlethal alternative plans had bloomed in his head, now that it was too late to put them into practice; if only his panic-stricken brain had been able to function properly the previous day...
There was no reason to cry yet again, the survivalist in him told, disdainful. His plan had worked, the evidence against him had disappeared, another post owl could be bought. There was no reason for Draco to be snorting tears and snot or to feel like his chest had been filled with gravel.
Draco disagreed. It had taken him too long to finally realize the depths of affection, of commitment, a simple bird could be capable of. The pain he was feeling might as well be his heart swelling with pride for having been the subject of such undeserved loyalty; for the first time in his life, he was feeling sorry, but not for himself.
"He did it, didn't he?" Lucius murmured. "But why?"
An acrid smell of burnt feathers lingered in the air – the owl had been given a Viking funeral. Narcissa opened the windows to let in the morning air. "Are you sure there is not something going on that we don't know about?"
Even though no mention was made of it, her countenance left no doubt as to where 'something' would be going on: the ranks of the Dark Lord's followers.
Lucius shook his head. "You don't know how it is... there's always something going on that we don't know about. But Severus is still loyal to me, he would tell me. Provided, of course, that he knows."
There was a long pause. Then Narcissa broke the silence.
"I'm afraid it's my fault," she said. The perplexed look on her husband's face was an invitation to continue.
"There was an... all right. Bear with me."
Lucius nodded and sat down on the edge of the bed. A shirt and cufflinks flew out of the wardrobe and he started to dress, with absent movements.
"In my family children weren't allowed pets until they were of Hogwarts age, but there were several elves in the old house. We would dress them, like dolls, and play. Young Tilly here was our favourite. Accio," she said flicking her wand, and a heavy leather-bound photo album flew from a library shelf and straight into Lucius' arms.
It turned open showing a picture of three little girls, a fair and two dark-haired ones, playing tea party together with a female House-Elf with outlandish droopy ears, like a lop rabbit: the girls were wearing out-of-fashion dress robes three times their size, and the elf, which didn't seem much older than them, had a very large doily draped like a shawl over the usual pillowcase. Lucius looked at the picture and smiled in spite of himself, then he put his mind to it. He did not remember having ever met Tilly at the Black house in the years he had been courting Narcissa, and yet House-elves were long lived. Bellatrix was not yet married and then the elf couldn't have been given as part of the dowry... then it dawned on him.
"Let me guess. Poured tea first?"
Narcissa shook her head. "Not quite. The three of us were still attending Hogwarts. We had gone home for the holidays, and on New Year's Day Tilly was found on the first landing, killed with a knife through the heart."
Lucius shivered. It was an ill bird that fouled its own nest, and this bird had put a signature on it. There was little doubt as to which of the three Black girls would use a blade to kill. But one of their House-Elves? In her own house? Narcissa went on.
"She wanted us to know – that much was obvious – but we never knew why. With the Dark Lord on the rise, and much talk, at school, and at home, of how joining his ranks was the only worthy choice, and the only choice for the worthy... I guess that she wanted to find out, to prove to herself that she was able to."
"Strange that she didn't kill your sister then," Lucius objected. "The one that ran away. I had to put an end to their catfights endless times when I was still a Prefect."
"You don't understand – that would have been easier. Anger, righteousness, sibling rivalry... they are powerful reasons to kill. Tilly had never done anything to displease her, that's why she chose it. My sister Bella always exhibited some of the Black family characteristics in a most… prominent manner, and she never cared much for subtlety. Carefully covering one's own tracks, that's more of a Malfoy thing."
Lucius shivered again, feeling the hair rise on his forearms in spite of the hot weather.
"Now I don't knew whether to be proud or afraid of him."
"Afraid for him, rather," Narcissa said. "Deep down we were all proud and afraid of Bella. And look where it got her."
It was the very last day of the summer holidays when the Hogwarts letter arrived.
Had the envelope not given the sender away, with its green ink and wax seal, the self-important attitude of the owl would have: start of the term was the busiest time of the year for Hogwarts couriers. It landed on the post outside the kitchen window just for the time strictly necessary to let Mother untie the letter from its leg and then it was off again, flapping its wings without a sound. Draco's eyes followed the tawny owl with longing as he sipped his tea.
Mother handed the letter to him: it was oddly lumpy – weighed by something hard and heavy inside. Draco knew what it was at once and breathed a sigh of relief. He tore the parchment open with an eagerness he had not felt since his first toy broomstick, and the lump of pewter fell face down onto the palm of his hand. He turned it and studied the details of the metal snake, intertwined with an elaborate capital P, on a field of green enamel.
"It's the badge..." he announced. "I'm a Prefect, Mother."
"Oh, Draco," she said. "Well done. Wait until Father hears it, he'll be proud of you."
And then, as he was standing there reading the booklist, she put her arms around him.
Enjoying the moment of warmth in Mother's arms, Draco drew a sigh.
He had always taken for granted that Snape's choice would fall on him: not just because of his lineage and connections, but because everyone else in his year was patently unfit. Nott was a cynical loner averse to working with his peers, and Zabini, although technically a Pureblood, was the out-of-wedlock son of a social climber with all the moral restraint of a hungry Manticore. No, he alone deserved the badge.
Still, he had never paid much thought to how much he needed it, in view of his condition. As a Prefect, he had absolute freedom to wander Hogwarts at any time of the day and night, the ability to declare certain zones off-limits and to confine students to their dormitories... Anyone questioning his authority or his motives would suffer the consequences and if that meant taking points from Slytherin, then so be it. They would learn soon enough not to cross Prefect Malfoy.
The perspective shone in front of him like bright sunlight. He could do this after all; he was safe. He would graduate, then buy an unpopulated rock off the Shetlands, claim he had taken up birdwatching Bonxies or somesuch, and visit his remote property once a month...
"We'll go and get your books after lunch," Mother declared. "Perhaps, since you made Prefect..."
Draco smiled, knowing where this was headed. Just thinking of Kratos made he go weak at the knees. Indeed there was a huge owl-shaped void in his life that called for being filled, but at the same time he could not afford another familiar – he had to do with the least commitments, the least liabilities.
"No, mother. I appreciate the thought, but... it's too early."
She frowned. "Draco, your mourning is commendable, but think of the practical aspects. What if we need to communicate in private? Surely you are not going to trust your messages to the school couriers."
"I can always borrow Vincent's owl if it comes to that. I don't even know what he bought it for, he hardly ever writes."
That seemed to quiet her for now, so he left. Once in the privacy of his bedroom, he kissed the green enamelled badge, selected a jewellery chest to go with it and carefully reposed it in his half-packed trunk.