The Why of Things
32 : The Why of Things
The Forest seemed to open at his feet as he ran on and on. It had been so long since he could run, so very long. He was running in a part of the forest strange and new to him, using only his senses to locate Hogwarts. He had apparated to its farthest side, choosing to cross it as if it were the only way home. The solidarity and mystery would undoubtedly calm his nerves, though they also made his memories harder to fight. Even when he had told his father some of what Voldemort had done, he hadn't faced his demons… he knew he couldn't fight them forever. Especially after what he had done tonight… his father hadn't noticed, which only left him wondering whether he was acting so well or if, perhaps, he had lost the sense of what was real altogether. Horris could act submissive at he drop of the hat, to him it was a long-perfected art without which he would have become lost long before his Hogwarts letter came. Uncle Vernon had set out to break him many times, instilling in Horris a perfected 'when to roll over and play dead' gauge, with which the boy had often cheated his uncle out of a spanking or taunting session at his expense. Voldemort proved quite similar actually. Horris' mistake was trying to fight his instincts and keep his dignity in this respect. Horris, Harry at the time, had promised himself never to bow before or submit to that monster… a choice he wished he could have held on to. But perhaps the prolonged struggle had shown Voldemort how strong Horris was, without showing Horris' full power… if he had proved too weak Voldemort might have thought him unworthy of being Alpha… or worse, he'd know Horris faked it! The only thought that troubled the boy now was that perhaps his stay had an effect on him after all, that perhaps he was starting to truly fear that monster in a way he had never thought he would. He certainly didn't have to fake the fear when he was told to present his arm, it was more a matter of letting it actually show, but he still controlled it… at least he thought he did. Could he release it like water out of a faucet for long though? He had always feared Voldemort, in his own way, but now he was starting to fear the pain, the threats. He couldn't lose his dad, not now! The 'I've only known him for a few months… he took me away from mother…. How can I love him?' worked for a while, till Voldemort had called him bluff and won… As much as Horris knew Draco would try, he doubted all the Asps could keep that man at Hogwarts if a letter like that had reached him, he'd be there before Horris could say Dragon Dung!
As long as Horris could keep acting submissive without losing himself he'd be fine, mostly. One of the biggest problems he faced was mixed feelings about the lessons Voldemort gave him. His 'learn all you can if it can help defeat the idiot' attitude pushed him to swallow all the information and 'skills' Voldemort taught, thought he didn't show all of what he learned to Him. All the books were in his 'room', accessible at any time he wished. Anytime he was caught he'd said he'd been flipping through, finding something interesting but far too complex. Voldemort liked his 'interest in the arts', even if Horris claimed he lacked the knack for it. He really did draw the line at Necromancy, though he lied to his father… he could do it, quite easily from the spell or two he tried. Either way, Horris hated the thought of it, let alone casting it somehow. The dead ought to be free to rest in peace, not be enslaved by any idiot who can twirl a wand the right way…
Voldemort was most displeased, finding it 'the rose of the dark arts', but he did note it was rather difficult and 'not for all to explore'. That probably saved him loads of trouble, though it in no way made Voldemort forget the failure. The boy got shivers just thinking about it… that was the night Voldemort chose to find out just how long it would take for the mark to disappear on its own. Horris had lied about that to his father as well. It took three days for the mark to vanish from the skin, it took three days for Horris to stop screaming and turn silent, it took another five for him to figure out the combination of venoms it took to destroy the mirror charm. His father didn't need to know that, not now, not ever.
How many times had Horris taken this form where none could see him, invisible and hidden, to fix the broken bones? It was a saving grace he thought; who would have figured bones mended themselves in the course of the transformation? Too bad the other physical ailments and scars remained… wouldn't it be wonderful to just shift and heal totally? But by Merlin how it hurt! He ought to have broken some bones when he was depressed and looking for a way to feel pain without injuring himself too much… he might have stopped altogether! It wasn't as bad as the pain of the killing curse, but from old recollections it sure was close to the Cruciatus… especially with the array of breaks he had. At least the tortures gave him a double dose of 'pain management'… a program his uncle had started oh-so-long ago. He could now keep standing when Voldemort threw a killing curse at him, another week and he'd probably be able to look as if nothing was wrong… not that he regretted the earlier departure! He shook his noble head, trying to tune out the train of thought that was forming.
Run… concentrate on the forest, the hunt.
The Hunt was a sort of past time for him, sharpening the natural instincts and mannerisms of his form. Basically, he'd find some small forest prey and hunt it, never actually committing the kill. He'd bewitch logs or other lifeless forest rubbish when he practiced that art, never having been a fan of pointless deaths… even those of rabbits or foxes.She tried her best to see through the veil of the night, straining her sight to watch the edge of the forest. The meeting was dragging out and she didn't like it. The sounds of the forest were amplified by the surrounding silence, every stray hoot or rustling making her jump slightly. Even systematic or frequent noises began to put her on edge… never mind the ones she couldn't identify. She wrapped the cloak closer, finding a pacifying quality in its presence. The dark green fabric looked dead black tonight, the soft cloth providing almost unnatural warmth. It was big on her, especially around the shoulders, but she hardly noticed. It was also a bit long, but that didn't bother her either. Ginny and a few other Gryffindor girls nagged her to at least shrink the bloody thing if she was going to keep it, but she always refused. It was Horris' and she was not about to change a thing about it… it even smelled like him, as if he was right next to her. She was so glad when the professor hadn't taken it from her. He had come to take the clasp as soon as he saw it, practically ripping it off the fabric as she looked on. He didn't seem to mind her having the cloak though. She could understand him wanting the family crest back, even in her still-shocked state, especially with Horris still missing… Horris didn't mind either, only smiling when he first saw her in it. He was more relieved she was alright, saying he'd probably have burned the thing if he had lived through such an ordeal… as if he hadn't experience far worse!
And there she went again, tears welling in her eyes as her guilt trip commenced… had Voldemort gotten so mad because Horris had protected her? A Gryffindor, a Mudblood? Oh if she had only been on her guard and not have let Ron kidnap her… Some Gryffindor he was, coming in while she was asleep and petrifying her! When had he learn to apparate anyways? NO. Horris said Voldemort wasn't mad about him taking her… then again, who knew if he hadn't said so simply to calm her down… she had been on the verge of tears, after all. But Dean said so too, said Voldemort hadn't said anything about Horris' claim on her… would Dean lie? He hadn't in the past… but what if Horris told him to? No, she asked him before he came back from that hell, and she highly doubted Horris had time between the time she left and the other Asps did.
Finally, forms started to appear out of the forest, faintly illuminated by the lit tips of several wands. She could count seven…ten… thirteen… thirteen! That meant…
She tried to focus on the people in the back. Horris and Draco always walked slightly behind the others. Merlin! Did she really treat the Asps and their meetings with Voldemort so casually? She didn't even know herself anymore… True, the way Draco and Horris always spoke of them didn't make one hold them in much of a light but…
Two in the back, thank Merlin! She sighed in relief, alerting them of her presence… not that she had actually been hiding. One of the two in the back rejoined the main group, lights vanishing and wands rising in a split second. They're edgy… something's wrong.
"Horris? Draco?" She called out, hoping the former would respond.
"Lea?" Draco called back, keeping his voice just loud enough for her to hear, "Stand down, it's Lea!"
"Where's Horris?" She demanded, if Draco was ordering the Asps, Horris wasn't there. "Draco!"
"I'll say it again Lea, green suits you."
Great… his favorite compliment… it was official, something was wrong.
"Draco Salsus Malfoy… you are not squirming out of this! You promised you would come back with Horris or not at all! What happened?"
"Not here." Was the blonde's only response. The other Asps were watching her oddly… okay, so yelling at him might not have been the wisest thing to do while surrounded by Aspidis… she was mad, alright?
"Well?" She demanded as soon as the two were in the Slytherin dorms.
"Well?" She repeated, almost slamming the door.
"No. Horris is far from fine, even if he had come back. Why in Merlin's name did you leave him?"
"I couldn't disobey a direct order Lea!" He defended himself, "You think I didn't try to get him to come back? Even the professor couldn't do it!"
"Please tell me he is not back with You-Know-Who…" She practically begged, rubbing her head as a killer migraine set in.
"He isn't. He promised to be back by noon."
Just blowing off steam then… she nodded,
"If he isn't…"
"Every Slytherin and every Asp will be on his case and tail." Draco finished, "Told him as much myself."
"He's safe… Voldemort isn't about to-"
"By Merlin woman… how many times must I say it?"
"He'll be back by morning?"
"Noon at the latest."
"The meeting went alright?"
"A word, Mr. Malfoy." A silky voice called Draco from the common room, the relief flowing over him. As much as he didn't want to answer to Horris' father, it was far better than voicing his fears to the girl that was Horris' girl in all eyes but theirs.
"Are you daft boy? Tell me what happened. Why did Horris hand you the leadership?" The professor demanded once in his office, "And put up the damn wards!"
Wards… right Draco mentally shook himself, he never really thought of them. Horris always seemed to have them up. The task proved more difficult than it sounded as he tried to force the right spells without a wand. The individual ones were all easy, but weaving them into the protective web…
"Are you done yet?"
"No sir." He admitted uneasily, "Almost… there, all the wards are up sir."
"Then answer me for Merlin's sake!"
To say the professor was angry would, at this point, be a grave understatement. Not complying may have proven fatal… Merlin bless the Slytherin and Malfoy self-preservation instincts!
"He ordered it sir, it wasn't my idea, honest!"
"You do?" He asked in disbelief, having fully prepared himself for the accusations of having skillfully manipulated Horris into giving up his power (since everyone and their house elf knew Horris couldn't be forced into anything). Perhaps he could survive this after all!
"Did he give you a reason for his decision, Mr. Malfoy?"
"Draco or Dragon professor, please, if you could… 'Mr. Malfoy' makes me think I'm in trouble or something."
"Thus, I use it." The professor responded coolly, a shallow smirk melting onto his features. "Do answer me, Draco, unless you wish to hear 'Mr. Malfoy' till the end of your natural existence…"
Right Draco agreed mentally, knowing better than to call the professor's bluff… or any Snape's for that matter, they'd do it just to prove you wrong!
"Well sir, he said he was sorry that he had to do it, but he has good reasons, at least he said he did, he didn't tell me what they were, though. He just said he trusted me to do what needed to be done, that the Asps would be more willing to follow me after… after…"
"After his actions during the meeting?"
"Yes sir." Draco nodded, liking the professor's word choice far better than his own. Long live Snape eloquence and articulation! "It isn't permanent, at any rate, and I for one am bloody glad it isn't!" He winced at the 'watch your language' glare, reordering his next words. "He said he'd take the lead back as soon as… as soon as he felt… able. It was the only way I'd agree."
The relief on the professor's face was clear, even beneath his eternal mask of indifference. That was the truth, either way, Draco knew better than to lie to the professor on such matters, any matters really.
"Did he say why he was unable to lead them?"
"Not really sir, he didn't say much more than what I've told you. We didn't have a lot of time, as you saw."
"I see… do you know where he went?"
"Nope, and I doubt he'd like me knowing…"
The professor nodded again, his face turning grim.
"Professor," Draco prompted after a moment of silence, "Horris is my first real friend sir, I wouldn't betray him for anything- not now, not ever."
"See that you fulfill your promise, my son has lived through far too many betrayals… even by the closest of friends. See to it you do not add to his sorrows." The man spoke gravely, the onyx-like orbs clouding over in a way Draco had not seen before. He wanted to ask him, then and there, who had hurt his friend… how. He didn't, knowing it would only make the man depressed and angry, giving him no answers either way.
"I will sir."