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A Nasty Piece of Work [+podfic]

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Fenton Gray was a nasty piece of work. He delighted in terrorising anyone smaller and weaker than himself, and he was a big, brawny boy, so that included almost everyone. When twelve-year-old Marcellus Lyon's friends brought him into the hospital wing with a badly broken arm, none of them would say how it had happened (Fenton had been curious to know what sound it would make when it snapped), but Madam Zeller, the Hogwarts matron, had her suspicions. She saw a steady stream of patients -- usually two or three per week -- suffering from hexes and physical injuries, and all too frightened to say who had caused them. Everyone knew that if they blabbed, Fenton would find out, and make it even worse for them the next time.

As he grew older, he found new ways of terrorising people -- boys, girls; it made no difference to him -- that they were too ashamed even to go to the matron about. He told them that it was their own fault. "He looked at me." "She was wearing a short skirt." "What were you doing out alone after dark?" But really, Fenton did not need an excuse for the ways he treated people. He liked it, making them do what he wanted, and then making them apologise to him afterwards for what was only the bad luck of catching his attention.

Even his fellow Slytherins were afraid of him. The only person at Hogwarts who seemed to appreciate Fenton's penchant for violence was Conrad Crabbe, the Captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team, on which Fenton held the position of Beater, but even Crabbe was frustrated by the number of matches in which Fenton was sidelined as punishment for badly fouling other players.

People whispered that Fenton had inherited his savage nature from his grandfather. Ezra Gray had been a werewolf, they said. Of course, no one said it too loudly, or anywhere that Fenton might hear them. His family kept it hushed up, because of the shame, but it was hard to keep a scandal as big as that a secret in a community the size of Wizarding Britain.

They were wrong, though; they need not have whispered. Fenton was not ashamed of having a werewolf in his family. He was proud.

Fenton could barely remember his grandfather. He had been only six when Ezra died. But he remembered how his grandfather had told him stories of fabulous adventures and doted on him and promised him adventures of his own when he grew up. How his grandfather had made him feel special.

And he remembered how other people had looked at his grandfather. Or not looked at him. How they had crossed the road when they saw him coming. Sometimes they shouted things. One girl had thrown a rock. It had missed Ezra, hitting Fenton on the cheek. His grandfather had wiped the blood from his face with a thumb and said with a smile, "Don't you pay them any mind, Fen. They're just jealous because we're better than them." Fenton still had the scar. He was very proud of it. That, and the belief in being better were all he had left of his grandfather.

Fenton was passionately curious about werewolves. He wanted to meet one. Talk to him. See him change, if possible. It was the only subject he cared much about. It frustrated him that no one at Hogwarts was willing to teach anything about them. They did not think it important, since lycanthropy had been all but eradicated in Britain over the past century. Fenton's grandfather had been one of the last werewolves on the island. Professor Drummond, the Defence mistress, only touched on the subject in passing a few times, and Professor Kettleburn, who taught Care of Magical Creatures, never mentioned them at all.

Fenton had heard they were not so tight-lipped at the Durmstrang Institute on the continent, but his parents had not wanted to send him there. They had seen the wildness in him, and hoped that Hogwarts would civilise him. Durmstrang had a reputation for encouraging people like Fenton.

In his fifth year at Hogwarts, when he should have been studying for his OWLs, Fenton spent his afternoons and weekends devouring everything the school library had to offer on the subject of werewolves. When the school librarian flatly refused to let him borrow anything from the Restricted Section, he bullied students with more innocent faces into checking the books out for him. The rarer volumes, he kept for his private collection, reading them over and over again.

When the moon was full, Fenton found it impossible to sleep. He swore he could feel the moonlight singing in his blood, the tingle of it where it touched his skin. He spent those nights staring out the high window of his dungeon dormitory, or up in the Astronomy tower, or prowling the school grounds.

Spring came and Fenton sat his OWLs. His marks were lacklustre, but he did not care. Hogwarts had taught him all it could. He knew more about lycanthropy than probably anyone else in Britain. Everything from the werewolf's shortened lifespan to its insatiable libido as the moon waxed full to the places that they were known to congregate in the forests of Eastern Europe. He was ready for a different sort of education.

Professor Slughorn, the head of Slytherin House, could not hide his relief when Fenton informed him that he would not be returning to study towards his NEWTs. Even Professor Dumbledore, the Transfiguration master, who usually saw the best in everyone, seemed pleased that he was going. No one would miss him, but that did not matter. He spent his last few weeks at Hogwarts making certain that he would be remembered. ("You won't forget me, will you?" he asked the third year whose name he had already forgotten. "No, Fen," the boy sniffled as he tried to pull his trousers up with trembling hands. He liked it when they called him "Fen".)

He decided on Albania for his expedition, as he liked to think of it. Like Britain, most of Europe frowned on werewolves gathering together in groups, preferring instead to keep them isolated and under watch, so that they would not get any ideas about running free in packs. However, large swaths of Eastern Europe consisted of underpopulated, mountainous wilderness, difficult to regulate, which made it attractive to werewolves seeking a less restrictive lifestyle, and led to even more cases of lycanthropy springing up in those areas. Fenton's mother's family had come from Albania, and Fenton knew some of the language, so it seemed like a good place to start.

Disembarking the train at King's Cross station, he spent a few days making plans and buying supplies, including a guidebook from Flourish and Blotts, and a few useful items from Knockturn Alley.

On the night of the June full moon -- an auspicious date on which to officially begin his journey, Fenton decided -- he boarded a ship from Dover to Calais, carrying only a small pack. From Calais, a series of trains took him east and south through France, West Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, and finally down into Albania, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The rail journey took the better part of a week. There were no direct routes, and one or two nights were spent wrapped in his travelling cloak on the platform of a deserted rail station, awaiting a connecting train that would not come until the morning.

At last, he arrived in Shkodra, perched between the mountains and a large lake, the only city of any size in northern Albania. That was not saying much. It was bigger than Hogsmeade, certainly, but Fenton thought it a stretch to call it a city. Still, the town was reputed to be home to one of the oldest Wizarding communities in that part of Europe.

The pub the guidebook directed him to resembled the Leaky Cauldron. It was smaller, but just as dingy, and smelled of beer and hot food. Fenton was glad to sit down and take a meal. While the bartender fetched his food, he decided to try his luck asking the middle-aged witch sitting down the bar from him. The word had not been in his guidebook, nor was it among the ones his mother had taught him as a child. He said it carefully, to be sure he was getting it right, "... luqerbulla?"

The witch's eyes widened, and she turned away, sliding further down the bar. She had smiled when he began to speak to her in slow, broken Albanian. Now she cast him quick, suspicious glances and whispered to her neighbour on the other side, who did the same. He scowled at her, and went back to drinking his beer. We're better than them, he thought moodily as the bartender set his meal in front of him. Two more patrons reacted exactly like the first woman, before the bartender overheard what he was asking, and told him to pay for his meal and his beer and get out.

Fenton threw the money on the bar and sneered at the man. "I'll be back," he told him. "Next time I won't be so polite. You'll wish you'd answered my questions then."

It was obvious that Where can I find werewolves? was the wrong question to ask. He would have to try a different tactic.

The only other establishment in town that the guidebook recommended was a mostly-Muggle pub run by a wizard and his Muggle wife. There, Fenton ordered a beer and sat quietly at the bar for a while, listening to the conversation of the patrons. He could understand some of it, and some words were easy to figure out from context, especially the sounds of oft-repeated vulgarities, sometimes accompanied by hand gestures, for emphasis. Fenton grinned. If he spent his time there roaming Albanian pubs, he was likely to pick up quite a colourful vocabulary.

After a time, a man with a bald head and a heavy jaw invited him into conversation with his companions. He slapped Fenton on the shoulder, laughing, and bought him a drink, asking where he was from, what he had seen so far on his travels, and why he had come to Albania.

Fenton laughed along with the men. "My mother told me stories about werewolves," he said, smiling as if he thought it were a great joke. "I came to see if it was true."

A few grins faded as he spoke, but the bald man threw his head back and guffawed. "They do like to tell stories," he said, and began to tell one. It sounded like a tall tale to Fenton, but he listened as patiently as he could manage, in case there was any hint that would lead him further on his quest.

When the bald man finished, a man with a wool coat and a red face told a story about wolves that he had heard as a child. Disappointingly, his wolves were the mundane sort, and not the sort that only came out by the light of the moon. Though Fenton tried asking a few leading questions, he could not make the conversation go the way he wanted, and finally gave up, giving the men gruff thanks for the beer they had bought him, and bidding them good night.

On the edge of town, he left the road for the shelter of the trees. Curling up in his traveling cloak, head pillowed on his pack, he listened to the night wind. All he heard was the rush of the leaves overhead, and somewhere nearby, the sound of running water. No one would be howling at the moon tonight; it was only just at third quarter, caught halfway between full and new.

He hoped he would have better luck tomorrow. Shkodra had been his best bet. Beyond the town, tiny villages littered the countryside, and the guidebook had few helpful suggestions. He would just have to be lucky.