Author's Notes: This story contains slash elements (Harry Potter) and is rated 'R' for a reason (i.e. sexual situations, violence, strong language, and the author's tendency to wax poetic about bloody well everything). If you have difficulties tolerating relationships between two consenting adults who happen to be men, I would suggest you smack that back button at the top of your screen like there's no tomorrow and head on out of here before permanent damage is done to your fragile little mind. Also, this story has a fat lot of nothing to do with my other HP stories, The Losing Side and To Rule in Hell, and as such the events contained within either story have no bearing on each other whatsoever. That said, and assuming anyone stuck around past the first few sentences, thanks so much for coming and enjoy the show.
Chapter Two - The Times Between
(Twenty Minutes Prior to Harry's Arrival at the Scene)
The mirror shattered with a single blow. Shards of tinted glass rained down around him, glittering as they crashed against the dirty counter, splintering and spilling over onto the floor. Blood began to seep from wounds on his feet and hands as the last shards settled into place, glittering in the weak, flickering florescent lights overhead. He stared down at those broken bloody shards and would have sworn he could see dull, shining images of his life reflected there.
And he could remember...
He could remember being summoned to Dumbledore's office that dreadful morning before
"Good afternoon, Mister Malfoy. Would you care for a lemon drop?" Professor Dumbledore inquired, gesturing towards the near-empty dish on his desk. "They're one of my favorites."
"Actually, I'd just like to know why I'm here."
"Certainly, please have a
Remember receiving the news that changed his life, shattered
"Your father is dead."
Remember leaving the office in silence and collapsing once he reached the silent corridor. So cold... numb...
Remember the cheap condolences and pitying gazes from those who thought they knew him so well. Treating him as if he were some fragile thing that might break at any time.
"Draco, I'm so sorry..."
"If there's anything I can..."
"Do you need to talk?"
"I'll be here for you."
Remembered those how sickening, those displays of feigned kindness had been. Remembered how he'd screamed at them, tried to pick fights, anything to be treated with the normal cool disdain or simply ignored. Anything would have been better than their sympathetic glances and kind words. Even those who hated him... hypocrites.
"Did your family have to sell that sorry shack you call a house in order to afford those new robes, Weasley?"
"... Malfoy... I'm, uh, sorry about... well..."
"Shut up, Granger. I hardly need the sympathies of a filthy Mudblood to ease my pain."
"Leave it, Ron. Just leave it."
"No. We're going to be late to class. Let's just go."
"Running away, Potter?"
The fist took him off-guard, slamming into his cheek and sending him stumbling backwards and then Harry Potter was standing over him, glaring down at him. "If you want to fight, I'll fight. If you want sympathy, go somewhere else," Harry hissed.
"I want to fight," Draco murmured, punching Harry in the jaw.
It all got very confusing from there. Punches and kicks and biting and Granger yelling at them to knock it off and Weasley cheering Harry on. Then Filch was there, pulling them apart, and they were glaring at each and, of course, they were going to detention and having points taken from both their houses, but it had been worth it.
To have someone look at him with something other than pity. To have someone who understood...
Understood the hate and the rage and the pain and the terrible need to take it out on someone, anyone.
Even though they hated each other.
Would always hate each other.
Potter understood him better than anyone.
Draco shook away the last vestiges of memory and lifted a large piece of broken mirror from the sea which surrounded him. Without another thought he began the slow, laborious process of carving a new wound into his already bleeding arm.
He didn't have much time.
Ron Weasley stared blearily at his alarm clock, which was mooing and flashing '2:45am' as if he should wish to know exactly what time it was that he was waking up from his latest nightmare. Silently he cursed Harry for ever having bought him the damn clock in the first place. Running a hand back through his hair, Ron yawned and picked the clock up with his free hand, examining it closely.
It was a ridiculous Muggle thing that he didn't really completely understand and it looked a bit like a cow. A deformed, grinning, ghastly cow that just happened to have a digiwhosawhat clock imbedded in its stomach. His father had loved it and had wanted rather desperately for Harry to buy him one as well, or for his son to allow him the chance to take it apart and see how it worked. In the four years that he'd had it, Ron had been tempted a thousand times to give the bloody annoying thing to his father or to smash it into a thousand pieces. He wasn't really certain why'd he'd kept this one thing. This one thing which reminded him of his school days and of Harry and Hermione and everything he'd left behind.
"Weasley! If you don't get up you're going to be late!"
Ron shot a nasty glare at his closed bedroom door and the man who, no doubt, stood directly on the other side. "I am aware of that, Wormtail, and if you continue to tell me things that I'm aware of, I swear there will be bits of you scattered from here to the Americas."
Apparently his threat had the desired effect, for he heard quick footsteps retreating down the hall almost immediately.
Some days he rather hated his job, but at least this job had some perks...
"Malfoy..." Ron smiled, as he remembered the shocked expression on Malfoy's pale, pointed face when they'd seen each other in that club last week. It hadn't been funny at the time. In fact, he'd thought for sure he'd been caught. Everyone knew that Draco Malfoy was a dog of the Ministry, a servant of their will as surely as he was a servant of the Dark Lord's, and his presence at the club could only have spelled disaster.
Since the Dark Lord's return and the formation of the Ministry's Retrievers unit, it had become increasingly difficult to get the Muggles the Dark Lord needed. Almost every raid had been foiled almost the moment it had begun. Failure rates began to skyrocket. It was almost as if the Ministry knew their every move, anticipating each with an uncanny precision. The clubs had been devised as a cover, a place where Muggles could be led away from the rest of the herd with little difficulty or risk of arousing suspicion. A few simple memory charms and it was just another in a rash of disappearances and the Muggle police never even had a chance. It had worked beautifully for months and then...
Ron almost hadn't recognized him, in fact, any other wizard in the club might not have recognized the blond at all. He blended so well with the Muggle herd. Dressed all in black, with his blond hair mussed and sweaty from dancing. Leather pants hung low on his hips without the aid of a belt to keep them securely fastened around his waist and a black t-shirt and boots had completed the ensemble. To the untrained observer, he was just another Muggle teenager looking for fun. Everything from the way he held himself, to the cigarette dangling from his lips had been a perfect imitation of the sullen, teenage Muggles who surrounded him.
Everything, that is, except his eyes.
His eyes which were cold, analytic, intelligent. Eyes which did not match his careless appearance or the casual grace of his movements. Eyes which saw everything and widened in shock and recognition when they settled upon him. It seemed he'd spent his entire childhood glaring into those frost-bitten gray depths and it shocked him more than anything else could have short of running into Harry.
Ron had watched in shock as those eyes had narrowed and filled with grim understanding. For a moment he couldn't move, all he could do was stare as the corner's of his lips lifted into that trademark self-satisfied smirk he'd witnessed so often during their school days. Then he was gone, disappearing into the crowd from which he'd come.
And Ron had panicked, sounding the alarm immediately and gathering the Death Eaters stationed around the club to him. "Malfoy. Draco Malfoy was here and he's seen me. Find him and bring him back here immediately."
And the chase had begun as Ron ran to the office to contact the Dark Lord. The hideous head of his master had appeared in the fireplace almost as soon as he'd lit it up. "What is it?" The Dark Lord inquired, sounding far more calm then Ron really thought he should.
"Sir. An agent of the Ministry infiltrated the club and..."
"Malfoy... it's been awhile since I've heard that name. His father was extraordinary, I doubt the son is any less so. Perform a locater spell and find him immediately, but do not move on him until my arrival."
"...yes, my lord," Ron murmured, but the Dark Lord was already gone by then.
Thirteen Death Eaters had died at the hand of Draco Malfoy before he'd been subdued. But their lives hardly mattered. What mattered was that Malfoy had eventually been subdued. Ron laughed quietly to himself at the memory of Draco's screams. He'd managed to hold out for nearly a half hour under a constant Cruciatus before he'd begun screaming, a rather impressive and somewhat irritating feat. Still, the wait had been worth it, the anticipation of that half-hour had somehow made Malfoy's screams just that much sweeter. For years he had longed to hear those screams. To see a proud Malfoy brought to his knees. And then the casting of Imperius. Giggling as the Dark Lord made Malfoy kneel before him and kiss the hem of his robes.
But he'd been too hard to control. Too dangerous to have on hand, and so they'd been forced to leave him in the room in which they'd found him and the Dark Lord had begun the long process of breaking his spirit from afar. Of course, the Dark Lord could not devote all his time to Draco Malfoy, and so when he tired of these games, it became Ron's turn. Ron's turn to torment Draco Malfoy.
Oh, how he adored it.
Adored the absolute power over the man who'd once made his life so very difficult. Adored the pretty puppet at his command. He wondered if he'd be permitted to keep him once all was said and done. When he was simply a broken doll with no more information, no more worth to anyone at all. Just a pretty, broken doll. Another toy for the box. His box.
He couldn't wait.
Ron smiled to himself as he took hold of his wand and whispered the spell as it had been taught to him by the Dark Lord, "Nolens volens tui erus sum." He could feel the line pull taut within his mind and the presence of Draco Malfoy on the other end. He could feel Malfoy's hatred, his anger, his pain almost as if it were his own. He could almost hear Malfoy's screams of frustration as the fog of Imperius clouded his damaged mind and the strange peace and calm that made Imperius so effective went to battle with Malfoy's shattered conscious. He could almost feel the man breaking apart in his hands, his mind crumbling into so much dust to be caught in the wind and blown far away.
The job definitely had its perks.
Hermione Granger was not known for her unending patience. Especially in matters concerning breaches in security of such as extreme level. Draco Malfoy was one of the highest ranking operatives within the Department of Mysteries, not to mention one of the most powerful. The very idea of his being under the control of Voldemort or one of his cronies chilled her to the bone. It would have been one thing if they had simply killed him, that was, quite frankly, what she would have expected, but this.... She hadn't been expecting this. Nor had she been prepared for Draco's last missive, probably sent only moments before he'd been attacked.
Met an old friend at the club. A nice red-haired lad with a stone in his pocket. Would like to come home now.
A stone in his pocket...
It was Ministry code for dead.
Draco had seen a red-haired dead boy at one of the clubs.
She'd burned the missive the moment she'd read it over and realized the impact of its contents.
Ron had been seen by Draco.
Without help Draco would likely be killed.
And she did nothing.
It was her crime and her only resort. Draco Malfoy was not known for his discretion, never had been. Certainly, he could keep secrets with the best of them and no doubt that he was an excellent liar, but both were things he only did when it suited him. She somehow doubted keeping Ron's miraculous escape from death a secret would suit Draco Malfoy in the least. It wasn't just the school boy hatred they'd held for each other, it was far more personal then that. She'd read enough of Draco's black-listed personal files to know that if he had the chance, Draco Malfoy would broadcast the fact that Ron Weasley was alive and serving the Dark Lord on the 6 o'clock news. He wouldn't care a wit what kind of damage it caused and who he hurt. All he cared about was his precious vengeance.
So, she'd done nothing to help him. She'd kept the knowledge of his situation to herself, because it was better this way. Better that the knowledge of Ron's surviving the explosion in Egypt and his relationship with the Dark Lord die with Draco Malfoy.
Better that than to watch Harry's heart break all over again.
Better that than to see the look on Percy's face when he discovered his brother was a red-letter member of the group that had killed his parents.
Better that than to have to explain why she'd kept Ron's secret for two long years. Through Harry's hospitalization and all the rest.
Anything was better than that.
Years ago, before she'd begun working for the Ministry, before she'd been appointed as the Head of the Department of Mysteries, before she'd begun the long and quite painful process of bastardizing her ethics in the name of what was good and right. Back then, she would have never even contemplated such a thing. Draco Malfoy, despite being an absolute prat, was still a human being. Even if she hated him, even if it was for the greater good, she never would have simply allowed him to die, but...
Unfortunately, she hadn't anticipated how clever and resourceful Draco could be. Or, more to the point, she had not anticipated that the Dark Lord would keep him alive long enough that he would have a chance to exercise his cleverness. She'd never thought he'd have a chance to call on Harry.
Good, true, courageous, wonderful, stupid Harry.
He wouldn't understand. Wouldn't understand why she'd never told him that Ron was alive. Why she hadn't called in Draco's request for aid.
He could never understand the lengths she had gone to protect them all, or the sacrifices that had to be made in the name of the greater good. He was too... noble. Too innocent even after all the death and the violence that he had both caused and witnessed. It was why he couldn't stay an Auror. He placed so high a value on life.
She spared a glance for the gold-framed picture on her desk. At the children they had been, waving and grinning at her from behind their glass-faced prison.
Long ago they had been the best of friends.
And now they were nothing but strangers.
His mind was screaming.
Screaming pain and fury.
He didn't want this. Didn't want... didn't...
But he did.
That was the terrible part.
The forgotten desires that kept him in this small, dirty room.
Bound up in chains.
Prisoner of his own traitorous mind.
An ancient schoolboy fantasy.
A single brief conversation, almost forgotten.
An old rivalry which had led him to the life he had built for himself in the years following his graduation and his father's death.
Master's touch within his mind, bending old memories and desires to suit his will. Every request so natural it felt like his own. As if he'd made the choice. As if it had been his to make.
As if there was no Master.
As if he were not a puppet.
Pretty, pretty puppet.
Not so pretty anymore.
A soft chuckle.
He'd taken care of that. He'd broken the traitorous mirror that had inspired him to call on the boy his master wanted dead as a fucking doornail.
Crash and glass falling around him. Hand bleeding where the glass cut him when he'd thrust his fist through the mirror. Blood dripping on the white, white countertop.
He'd found one shard, long and sharp, and drawn it across his skin.
It had been so easy to focus on that pain. So easy to ignore his master's voice when he focused on the pain.
Time had passed.
Passed him by with a wave and a sigh.
Things seemed blurry after that... and then...
Creaking door on rusty hinges.
Opening so slowly to reveal the man without and the horror within.
He had come.
His eyes seemed so wide behind those thick, black-rimmed glasses. So green.
The green of envy... jealousy... and the Killing Curse.
He hated this man.
Had always hated him.
Close the door.
"I've been waiting for you."
And he had.
It seemed he'd been waiting for him all his life.
"Where. Is. My. Coffee?!" Hermione bellowed, earning several startled, uneasy glances from the underlings scrambling about the room outside her office. "And where the hell is Longbottom?!"
"I'm right here, Hermione. Keep your hair on," Neville grumbled as he stumbled into the office, his arms laden with files and rolls of parchment. A few rolls tumbled from his arms and rolled beneath Hermione's desk. Neville gave a sigh as he dropped his armful of files onto Hermione's desk and dropped to his hands and knees to collect those he'd dropped. "It's not as if I don't have my own department to run, Hermione. I mean, I can't keep coming down here every time you have an agent in trouble. It takes - excuse me, could you lift your foot? Thanks. - a lot of time to do my own research, and if I keep having to - the other foot now, please? - run down here then I'll never get anything done. I mean, you have your own department to run, shouldn't you understand that? You wouldn't like it if I were calling you every other day demanding that you come up to the labs, would you?" Neville stood up, lost parchments in hand, and set them down on Hermione's desk. "Now, what's so all-fired important that I had to gather all this up and come down here right this very minute?"
Neville blinked, "Malfoy? I haven't heard that name in a long while. Is he still an Auror?"
"No, he works here. He works for me and he's one of the best field agents I have."
"So, what's the problem?"
"I'm going to have to have him locked up. That is, if he doesn't kill Harry's group or himself first."
"Another Imperius incident? And Harry's gone after him? Is that wise? I mean, isn't this a problem for your department to handle? I thought you didn't want the Retrievers involved with this?"
"I don't. Unfortunately, Mister Malfoy had enough wits left to him to call Harry himself. He never did like the idea of being trapped."
"Well, that's hardly surprising, is it?" Neville replied bitterly, "Who would, after all."
"It's not as if there are other options available to us, Neville. You've proven it yourself. The Imperius Curse weakens the defenses of their minds, especially when it is sustained for long periods of time. Even if they manage to break the curse's hold they remain especially sensitive to it for at least the first week, perhaps longer. Not everyone has Harry's natural immunity to it. I can't very well allow those who could become a danger run free, can I? Especially if they're as powerful as Draco Malfoy. He knew the risks of this assignment when he took it. Besides, we must keep him from killing himself, at least until we can discover all that he knows."
"I'm just being practical, Neville. If Harry manages to bring him back in one piece, Malfoy will have to be taken to St. Mungo's and extra wards will have to be set. And, knowing Harry, he will manage, so I would suggest you get over there with a team and start on the wards as soon as possible. Also, make certain someone has a vial of Veritaserum on hand. I'll wish to question him as soon as possible."
"And all these files?"
"Well, my team is going to get to work figuring out what it is that You-Know-Who is trying to accomplish. It seems strange to me that he would go to all the trouble of putting so many of our agents under Imperius without a specific purpose in mind."
"Right," Neville sighed, rubbing his head as he thought of all the work awaiting him back up in the labs that would now be delayed because of Hermione's demands. She'd been so much easier to deal with before Ron had died in that explosion a couple years back. Tragic, that. Of course, none of them had seen much of Ron after Hogwarts. While they'd gone into the Ministry and training after Hogwarts, Ron had departed for Egypt to work with dragons or some other such thing. There had been an accident, about which Neville knew very little, except that it had resulted in an explosion in which Ron and his older brother along with several others had been killed. Hermione and Harry had both taken the death hard.
"Well, hurry up, Neville. We haven't got all night. The Retrievers will probably be calling in any moment now to say that they've recovered Draco," Hermione snapped, glaring a Neville for a brief moment before turning her attention to a timid man who'd emerged from the bustling office beyond this small room with a steamed mug in one hand and thin stack of papers clutched in the other. "Well, it's about time. Any word from the Retrievers?"
"Nothing, ma'am," the man murmured, his eyes focused obsessively on the floor as he set Hermione's coffee down on her desk and retreated quickly from the room. Neville couldn't really say that he blamed the man, as he himself would like nothing better than to follow that anonymous flunky's example.
"Well, I'll just be going then." Neville commented, offering Hermione's bent head a weak smile.
"Fine, fine. Be sure to call when things are ready at St. Mungo's."
"Sure, whatever you say." Neville murmured, as he edged uneasily to the door and out of the room.
Harry wasn't quite certain how it was that he managed to keep his legs beneath him. He was even less certain of how he managed to restrain the curse which was trembling on his lips. His fingers flexed, tightening reflexively around his wand as he glared into Draco Malfoy's familiar grey eyes and found no trace of his old rival within them.
"Seems I've been waiting for you forever, Potter. Just waiting and waiting. Did it take you so very long to find me? Was it really so... difficult?" A stranger murmured in Draco Malfoy's smug voice.
"Sorry, I must have missed the bright neon sign proclaiming your location," Harry commented dryly, feeling rather proud of himself for managing to sound semi-normal. He was no Unmentionable, who were reputedly the most excellent of actors, but he could hide his true feelings with the best of them. His scar still hurt like mad.
"I expected better of you. Oh, is that naughty scar bothering you? Poor baby."
"Malfoy, I came to take you home," Harry managed, gritting his teeth and determinedly ignoring both the pain in his forehead and the little voice in the back of his head that was screaming 'run away, run away'.
"Hmph. Shows what you know. As if you could take me home even if you wanted to. I have no home, Potter. My father is dead. My mother has fled. And if you're not very careful you're going to end up dead."
"Cute. Why is it that all crazy people seem to take up rhyming?"
"Why not?" Draco shrugged, pushing himself unsteadily to his feet. Bare feet smeared with fresh blood. His movements were jerky, as if his body didn't quite agree with the orders of his mind. Which might well be true, Harry thought distractedly as Draco took his first unsteady step forward, his wand arm hanging loosely at his side. The wand was still clutched in his blood-smeared fingers, but at least it was pointed in a slightly safer direction. Namely the floor. "Sometimes senseless rhymes are easier than sensible sentences. And I'm hardly crazy."
"What would you call it then? I mean, really, you could have fooled me. And, do you realize that you're bleeding like a stuck pig?"
Draco blinked, his gaze darting minutely to the ragged gashes on his arms. "Hmm... that. Yes, I knew that. I had an... accident..."
"An accident? What did you do? Did you accidentally fall into a pit of razor blades?"
"Hm, no. I... I wasn't being as careful as... as I thought... thought..." He trailed off, his grey gaze seeming to lose its focus for a moment. Harry used the opportunity to inch a bit closer, another step and he'd be within arm's reach of the wavering man. "I had to focus... focus... and the pain... it helped. I found a knife... no... that's not... I broke..." The fog dispelled and the eyes were clear and sharp and empty once more. "Don't ask such stupid questions, Potter."
"I'm just trying to help," Harry offered, softly.
"You want to help me? That's rich. Then stop me, Potter. Kill me. Please try, it'll be funny."
"This isn't like you, Malfoy."
"Of course not! Don't be dim, Potter. This was a trap, a death trap. Can't you see that? Imperius preys on your most secret desires and fears, makes it so simple to follow a master's bidding, because that bidding seems so much like your own."
"Are you just planning on talking me to death, Malfoy? Because if you are then I'll be happy to just kill myself and save us both the pain of having to listen to your ramblings."
"So funny. I'd almost forgotten how funny you could be."
"Yeah, I'm a regular riot."
"Right. I think that's about enough of this. The clever banter portion of this little interlude has now come to a close. Well then, what say it we get to it, hm? Would you like to take the first shot?"
"That's very sporting of you."
"After all our years together, I feel I owe you at least a chance. I'll even let you in on a little secret: My first spell will be the Killing Curse."
"Why would you tell me that?"
"Because I want you to understand that one of us will be leaving this room alive and I've always figured it would be you. I want to see if I'm right about you. If you really do have what it takes to beat him."
"No. No more talking. No more silly questions. Take your shot, Potter. Or I'll take it for you..."
Harry took a tentative step closer and Draco's eyes narrowed.
"Avada K-" Draco's words are cut off abruptly as Harry's fist caught him under the chin, sending him sprawling. His wand flew from his fingertips and Harry caught it in mid-air, his seeker reflexes not yet dulled from all their years of disuse. Draco snarled, his face contorting in rage, as he shoved himself off the floor and leapt at Harry with an almost inhuman swiftness. Harry fell hard, tossing their wands away in favor of grabbing Draco about the waist as his head contacted the floor.
Or at least he thought his head contacted the floor.
He wasn't sure, because he couldn't seem to feel anything except Draco's bare skin beneath his equally bare palms and he couldn't seem to see anything but mist. The entire world was nothing steeped in a dense, all-consuming fog. He thought he cried out, but he couldn't be sure. All he was sure of was that Draco Malfoy was screaming.
Harry opened his eyes to find himself the guest of honor at a tea party.
This did not bode well, Harry thought, as he surveyed the screaming landscape, which contrasted so sharply with the pristine set-up before him. Ron, poor dead Ron, was sitting across from him, pouring him a cup of tea, seemingly unperturbed by the shadowy demons flitting about just outside their little circle of sanity. Draco was seated between them, his hand resting on Harry's thigh beneath the table. He was leaned forward just enough that it caught Harry's attention, drawing his gaze away from poor, dead Ron and his tea.
"Harry? Are you alright, love?"
"Love?" Harry questioned, blinking at Draco's blood-stained face and chest. He was still dressed in that same bare-chested, leather pants ensemble that he'd been wearing in that room. The silver medallion lying against his pale chest winked and glittered in the hellish red light. His expression was calm, but his eyes were wild. "Malfoy?"
"Call me Draco, please. You've come here to kill me. We should be on a first name basis for that, don't you think? It's really quite an intimate thing, killing someone," Draco replied softly, his hand smoothing up Harry's leg to rest on his thigh. And his eyes were trying to tell Harry something that he couldn't quite understand.
"I didn't come here to kill you," Harry murmured, resting a hand on Draco's to keep that hand from roaming anywhere else.
"You should have. You should have killed me when you had the chance. It would have been so much easier that way," Draco commented, his voice still oddly cheerful. "We could have avoided all this trouble if you'd just done what you were supposed to do."
Harry chanced a glance at Ron across the table. Ron was smiling. Brightly, cheerfully, but his eyes were dead. As dead as anything Harry had ever seen. "Hi, Ron."
"Hello, Harry," Ron replied, still smiling. "It's been a while."
"Yes, I suppose it has. I'm sorry you died," Harry managed and he felt Draco's hand twitch beneath his own, and suddenly they were holding hands, gripping tightly.
"No worries, Harry. I'm so much happier now. You will be, too. I promise you that."
"I won't be dying any time soon, Ron. I still have things to do."
Ron shrugged, "Sorry to hear that. Unfinished business is such a... burden. Good night, Harry."
"Fuck you," Draco hissed.
Ron blinked, casting his gaze towards Draco, obviously startled by this sudden development. "Pardon?"
"You fucking heard me," Draco replied, his teeth bared in a vicious grin. "Sod off, Weasel."
The smile was gone from Ron's face and Harry found himself stumbling to his feet, stumbling back away from the table. "You," Ron hissed, his face contorted in rage as he took a threatening step forward. "I have about had it with you."
"Same here. Don't be a poor loser, Weasel. I'll be around to kill you soon enough."
"We'll see, Malfoy. We'll see. Goodbye, Harry. It was so nice to see you again," Ron waved, as the nightmarish world seemed to fold in on them, and Harry found himself lost in the darkness.
Harry opened his eyes to find Draco Malfoy staring down at him, "Well, this is a singularly horrifying sight to wake up to."
"Same here," Draco replied, smiling weakly. "I thought you were dead for a second there, Potter. Lucky that you're tougher than you look."
"So... are you... you again?"
"Guess so. Happy to see me?"
"Glad to hear it," Draco murmured, letting his head fall back against Harry's chest. "I was... worried that you wouldn't come."
"You didn't think I'd really leave you here to die, did you?"
"No... not you, Potter. I can always trust on your courageous stupidity to override your limited common sense."
"Malfoy, I just saved your life. Please quit with the insults until I have the strength to hit you again."
"Tsk, fine, have it your way. So, you saved my life...."
"What about it?"
"I owe you one."
"Yes, you damn well do."
Draco laughed roughly and then groaned, "God, don't make me laugh, Potter. That hurts like hell."
"I'll bet. You smell awful, I'll have you know."
"I'm aware. Can we get out of here already?"
"Can you walk?" Harry asked tiredly, only vaguely aware that his arms were still locked firmly around Draco's waist.
"You've lost a lot of blood."
"What else do you remember?"
"Death, blood, and pain. All in all, much more than I'd like. Can I ask you a favor, Potter?"
"Keep me safe."
"Please. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to ask for your help, Potter? Do you?"
"You've helped me once, Potter. Help me now. Granger left me to die here."
"You heard me. I sent an owl... oh... I... I don't feel so good," Draco mumbled, shivering a bit and burying his face in the crook of Harry's neck. "I'm cold..."
Harry made a face, wondering exactly what Draco's slurred comment about sending an owl was supposed to mean. "It's okay. The others will be here soon."
"Thanks for coming for me, Potter."
Harry blinked, crawling back into consciousness to find Cho leaning over him, her dark hair falling around his face. She was smiling. "Hi, Harry."
"Hi, Cho. Did you have trouble finding the place?"
"A little. What happened?"
"We got in a bit of a fight."
"I can see that. Are you hurt?"
"No. Just... tired. Really, really tired."
"Then you're bloody lucky," Pansy spat as Cho drew back. "You dumb son of a bitch, you could have been killed! Do you have any idea how worried we were when we couldn't contact you?!"
"Sorry," Harry murmured, wincing as he pushed himself up onto his elbows.
"Sorry isn't good enough, Harry! If you ever, ever scare me like that again, I swear on all that is holy that I will beat you to a bloody pulp with my bare fists!"
"Stop mothering Harry and help me with Draco, Pansy," Cho interjected, earning a glare from Pansy, even as the dark-haired girl knelt down beside where Draco lay unconscious beside Harry.
"Is he okay?" Harry inquired, staring down at Draco's pale features.
"He'll be fine, I think, but these cuts are pretty deep. Self-inflicted?"
"I think so."
"Okay. Pansy, you take care of bandaging these up and I'll check..."
"Harry!" Ginny and Colin skidded into the room, stopping dead in their tracks as their eyes and noses were assaulted by the pile of corpses in the center of the room. "Oh god..." Colin managed before darting back out of the room to find a corner somewhere in which to be sick. Ginny simply leaned back against the wall, looking pale as chalk, unable to tear her gaze from those lifeless bodies.
"Hey, Colin's getting sick..." Dean began as he entered the room, pausing as he took in the cause of Colin's sickness. "Oh. Lovely. I take it the little blond devil did that?"
"Damn, it reeks back here," Seamus grumbled, holding his nose as he pushed past Dean into the room. "Oh, that's not right. Tell me we don't have to ID those..."
"I'm afraid so," Harry sighed, allowing Cho to fuss over his wounds while he examined his remaining team-mates. "Just categorize them. We'll send a team back later to do a positive ID. I just want to know their affiliation."
"Fantastic," Seamus muttered, pulling a pair of gloves from the pocket of his coat. He offered Dean a grim smile. "So do you wanna get Chinese take-out when we're done here?"
"Ick. You're not going to get much of anything when we're done here if you say another word," Dean replied, giving Seamus a quick kiss before shooing him off in the direction of the dead.
"As you command. I will say nothing of noodles or..."
Ginny shoved past Dean and vanished from the room. Dean shook his head, a small smile tugging at his lips. "You just couldn't resist, could you?"
"Well, I didn't want her in here for this. Her tough act is cute most of the time, but she'd probably have nightmares for weeks if she'd had to watch me identify them," Seamus commented before turning his attention to the pile of dead bodies and pulling out his wand. "Mobilicorpus!" He repeated the spell fourteen times, lining the bodies up in a neat row against the back wall and running his hands over the arms of each corpse in turn. "Fucking bizarre," he grumbled finally, stepping back and allowing the last body to fall to the floor before discarding his gloves.
"What is it?" Harry asked, wincing as Cho poked at a particularly sensitive spot on his wrist.
Seamus shrugged and shook his head, "They're all Death Eaters. All of 'em. Like they just sent one in after the other. You'd think they'd have gotten the picture after the first four or five, but they just kept coming. It's weird. I think we should get the hell out of here as soon as possible. I have a bad feeling about this place."
"Right," Harry replied. He'd been at this long enough to know that Seamus' instincts were usually right on target. "How are you doing on Draco?"
"He's good to go," Pansy murmured, whispering one last spell before slipping her wand into her pocket and standing up. "Did Hermione happen to tell you where we should take him?"
Harry hesitated, his mind mulling over Draco's quiet plea. "No. We'll take him back to my flat for the time being."
"Your flat?" Pansy made a face, as if she'd caught a nasty scent. "Seamus, Dean. Go get Colin and Ginny. There's a fireplace in the next room. We'll floo out from there."
"What about sleeping beauty there?"
"I'll take him," Harry murmured. "You know how much I hate to floo and I already told the Knight Bus that I'd probably need a lift home."
"You're taking Draco Malfoy on the Knight Bus?" Pansy replied, doubtfully.
"He'll never know the difference," Harry shrugged. "Unless you have a better idea."
"No, I suppose not, but... ick..." Pansy shivered. "Why not just call Hermione and have her deal with it and then just apparate after us?"
Well, now was as good a time as any to tell them, Harry decided silently. "Because I'm not turning him over to Hermione."
"What?" Dean asked sharply, obviously shocked.
Cho's gaze narrowed suspiciously, "Why? What's going on?"
"I don't know yet. Draco said a lot of things and I think it's worth keeping him around at least until we check into them."
"Harry, I adore Draco, but our job is to retrieve operatives, not to keep them as our own personal excuse to stir the pot at the Ministry." Pansy commented, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other as she spoke.
"I know that, I do, but... something just doesn't feel right here. Draco's smart. If he was in over his head... don't you think he would have sent for help?"
"He called you didn't he?"
"How long have those bodies been here, Seamus?"
Seamus shrugged, "A week, maybe two. I can't be absolutely sure unless I run some spells, but that should be about right judging from the rate of decay. Don't tell me..."
"I think he's been here all that time. I think he sent an owl to the Ministry for help. Probably to his Department Head."
"But that would be..." Cho began, her fists curling in the hem of her shirt.
"Hermione, I know. I didn't say I was sure, but I think it's worth investigating, don't you?"
"Fuck, yes." Dean replied from the doorway where he was standing between the pale-faced duo of Colin and Ginny. "But if it's true..."
"Hermione's going to want him back right away, I know. I've been thinking about that..."
"And?" Pansy coaxed, her eyes bright with fury.
"If anyone doesn't want to be involved in this, this would be the time to say so." Harry commented, glancing around at his assembled team. They'd all lost at least one person that they cared about because of a betrayal of trust of one kind or another, usually within the Ministry, and it made them cling tighter to those who were left. It also made a betrayal of one of their own, no matter the reason, unforgivable.
"We're all in. Just tell us the plan already," Ginny grinned viciously, summing up the thoughts of them all.
"Well, actually, it's mainly a job for Colin..."
"Me?!" Colin squeaked, his eyes widening hugely.
"Him?!" Ginny cried at the same time, looking slightly incredulous.
"That's exactly right. You're going to the Ministry, Colin."
"They WHAT?!" Hermione slammed her mug down on the desk, sloshing still warm coffee over the rim as she glared at Colin Creevey.
Colin flinched beneath the power of Hermione's gaze, "The retrieval was successful, though Harry was injured in the process and we've moved Malfoy to a safe place according to his orders. That's all I'm at liberty to say at the moment."
"Draco Malfoy is a member of my department, Colin. The Retrievers are obligated to contact the department head of each operative when the operative is recovered. Especially if the operative was injured!"
"Well, actually, that's why I was sent here to talk to you."
"Before the operative is moved, you dimwit!"
"Sorry, it was an emergency situation and in emergency situations the course of action is decided by the leader of the Retrievers. If he is disabled it is decided by his second in command."
"Fine. I will contact her myself. Where are they?"
"I can't really say."
"Can't or won't? I warn you, Colin, I am the head of the Department of Mysteries and I'll have your job if you withhold information from me."
"Both. I don't know where Harry and Malfoy have been taken and even if I did, I wouldn't tell you. The Retrievers do not answer to you and you can't 'have my job'. I work for Harry, not for you."
"Do you understand the danger that Harry has placed himself in? Draco Malfoy is one of our best..."
"That's really his choice," Colin interrupted. "I really have to be going now. If you could just sign the status report..."
Hermione snatched the form from Colin's hand and scribbled her name at the bottom before practically throwing it back at him.
Colin smiled, "Thank you, Hermione. If you have any further questions, please contact Harry or Cho."
"I'll do that," she hissed, glaring at Colin's back as the young operative retreated from the room.
"Ernie! Get in here right this instant!" Hermione hollered, pushing back from her desk and grabbing her cloak from the rack beside her desk.
"I'm right here, Hermione. What's going on?" Ernie inquired as he poked his head into the office, looking slightly bewildered.
"Apparently, Harry's lost his bloody mind. I want you to call Neville and make sure things are ready at St. Mungo's. As soon as they are we're going to Harry's flat to have a little chat with him and to take back our operative."
"Who else? If that little ferret thinks he can appeal to Harry's better nature to save him from a stay in St. Mungo's, he has another think coming. How could he be so stupid? To endanger Harry in such a way to save his own skin... I'll kill him myself."
"Do you need anything else, Harry?" Pansy inquired, kneeling beside the couch and resting a hand against Draco's pale forehead. "Do you think..."
"I'll call you when he wakes up, Pansy. You should go home and try to get some rest. Ginny will be here, so it's best that you and the others get some rest while you can. I have a feeling things are going to get exciting soon."
"Do you really think the Dark Lord will find him here?"
"No. I'm more worried about how Hermione's going to react when she figures out I've hijacked her operative."
"Why... why are you doing this, Harry? You've always hated him, haven't you?"
"Yes, but... I can't really explain it except that I became a Retriever to help people, and he needed my help. It's my job, even if I would like to see him chained up at the bottom of the ocean somewhere. I can deal with that later."
"You won't kill him if I leave you two alone, will you?"
"Probably not, as long as he sleeps the entire time."
"All right, Ginny's sleeping in the next room. Be sure to call me if you need anything."
Left alone, Harry wasn't quite sure why he hadn't at least asked someone to bring him a bottle of butterbeer or a nice glass of scotch or something that would make sitting on the couch with Draco Malfoy's head in his lap just a bit more comfortable. He grabbed the remote from the table beside him and flicked the television on, settling back against the cushions and settling in as best he could without disturbing Draco.
There was a horror movie on, something with a lot of blood and screaming and some hot girl running about the screen. Pretty standard as Muggle horror movies went, Harry decided, pressing the channel button and getting no response. He glared down at the remote and banged it against the arm of the couch. Still no response and the girl was still running and screaming with some masked fellow walking along behind her and doing amazingly well at keeping up. Harry sighed and tossed the remote back onto the table, resigned to his destiny of sitting on the couch with Draco Malfoy's head in his lap, nothing to drink, while a half-naked girl ran quickly towards her destiny of getting slashed to tiny pieces.
"Hey, you sleeping up there?"
Harry opened his eyes, not quite sure when it was that he'd closed them or how much time had passed since he had, and found himself staring down into Malfoy's tired grey eyes. "You're awake."
"You always were quick, Potter." Draco muttered, "God, my head hurts. Where am I? And why is my aching head in your lap?"
"Because Cho decided you should be moved as little as possible and that I should stay close to you since she figures I'll be able to feel it if someone tries to cast Imperius on you again."
"Lovely. Does that mean you're going to be touching me all the time?"
"At least for a while."
"Great, and here I was thinking that my day couldn't possibly get any worse."
"So, you want to tell me what happened?"
"Malfoy, I'm going to have to fight with Hermione in order to keep you here, and I don't fancy doing so if I don't have a damn good reason. As such, you'd better damn well tell me what's going on before I ship you off to St. Mungo's myself."
"Fine, but can I please at least take a bath first? I don't think I've had one in a while and I feel... dirty." Draco shivered, glancing towards the television and wincing as yet another pretty girl fell beneath the knife of the masked man on the screen.
"Yeah, I guess so. This should be interesting."
The facet was old and it dripped water in a slow, dismal stream even after it was turned off. It done so since Harry had moved into the flat three years ago. He'd tried fixing it, but it always broke again shortly thereafter. Ginny had told him more than once that she was sure it was cursed. Harry was beginning to think she was right, though if his biggest worry in life was a faucet that was cursed to drip continuously things would be a damn sight nicer then they were. As it was, the sound was almost soothing. Something normal in a world gone quite mad.
Harry's bathroom was small, with the tub taking up most of the available space. It was an strange, claw-footed affair that had been left by a previous renter, probably because it had been too heavy and awkward. He'd been the one to put the curtain up around it, constructing the rigging which was now attached to the ceiling himself. He was still rather proud of that fact, since it was really the only thing he'd ever made with his own hands that had been at all functional. Even if it was a bit crooked, and a hung a bit low on one side, it served its purpose well enough and that was really all he cared about. The floor was tiled in black, something which had always struck him as rather strange since it didn't match any other floor in the flat.
This was his third study of the bathroom and he was getting rather tired of looking at it. And being in it. Especially when he wasn't the only in the bath. Instead, he was the one sitting next to the tub soaking in the warm, smoky haze produced by the steaming bath water in which Draco sat. He'd taken his shirt off and chucked it across the room to make the heat a bit easier to deal with. Unfortunately, it wasn't really all that helpful since he was still sweating like mad and he'd already rejected the idea of taking off his jeans as well.
Harry sighed, and leaned his bare back against the edge of the tub and wished to hell that Draco Malfoy would hurry the fuck up. "Are you done yet?"
The only answer was the continuous sound of dripping water and vigorous scrubbing.
"Malfoy?" Harry inquired, turning around to glare at the shower curtain.
Just the drip-drip of the faucet and the underlying sound of a rough sponge against wet skin.
"I'm opening the curtain, Malfoy."
The scrubbing ceased and water sloshed against the sides of the tub as Harry pulled the curtain back just enough to see Malfoy sitting there, looking a bit like a drowned rat, with his knees pulled up against his chest. "Yes?" he inquired tiredly, leaning his cheek against his knees and glaring at Harry weakly.
"Are you okay?"
"No, Potter, I am not okay. I have had somebody else in my head for a week. How many dead people were in that room, Potter?"
Harry winced. "Fourteen."
"Fourteen, huh? I stopped counting around five or so."
"They were all confirmed Death Eaters. Seamus ran a check before we brought you back here."
"Smart of you. Wouldn't do to have a mass murderer in your flat. It might be catching."
"Something like that," Harry replied. "So you want to tell me what happened to you now?"
Draco shrugged weakly. "Why not? I was working undercover. Investigating some underground clubs which were rumored to be cattle pits."
"That's what the Death Eaters call them. They set up places and use subtle suggestion charms to get a bunch of Muggles to go there. They're mostly just underground dance clubs in London. In rural areas, they're religious revival meetings or something of the like. Just excuses to get lots of Muggles in one place at one time. Then they pick out the healthiest of the bunch and take them off, using memory charms to make sure no one ever remembers that they were there in the first place. I don't know what they're doing with so many Muggles, but there have been over six hundred disappearances in the last two months, which all have two things in common. Those who disappeared were young, usually no later than their early twenties, and their family or friends all said that they were supposed to be going to some sort of club the night they disappeared. Though none of them seemed to be able to remember what club or with whom."
"All right, so what went wrong?"
Draco stilled. "Someone recognized me."
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Draco sighed, gripping the sides of the tub and pushing himself to his feet. Apparently, he didn't give a damn that he was giving Harry a good show as he snatched a towel from the rack and wrapped it around his waist before stepping out of the tub as Harry stood up.
For a moment they both froze, staring at each other, inches apart. It was the measuring sort of stare reserved for only the most worthy of opponents. Harry broke the silence first, his eyes narrowing to a glare as he spoke. "Try me."
Draco was still staring at him in silence when a loud series of bells chimed somewhere else in the house. Harry winced and darted a glance towards the bathroom door. "Someone's coming."
"Yeah, that's the proximity alarm. If someone who isn't keyed into the wards comes up my stairs that alarm sounds."
"Lovely. Better take care of that then."
"I'd rather finish this discussion."
"And I'd rather not. Go answer your damn door, Potter."
"Fine," Harry muttered finally, turning and stomping to the bathroom door. He snatched a robe from its hook on the back of the door and tossed it at Draco. "Put it on. You're coming with me."
"Oh, give me a..."
"I'll carry you out there in the towel if I have to, Malfoy. I'm not leaving you alone."
"Oh, fine. Bossy prat," Draco grumbled, shrugging into the robe and knotting the belt before stepping up beside Harry as a knock sounded on the door. "You do realize, it looks like we just took a shower together, don't you?"
"I don't give a damn what it looks like," Harry hissed, suddenly extremely aware of his bedraggled appearance despite his words to the contrary. He snatched hold of Draco's wrist and half-dragged the man from the bathroom.
"Hey! I don't think I want you holding my hand!"
"Oh, shut up, Malfoy. We don't know who is on the other side of that door. I don't think it could be Voldemort, but until I know for sure..."
"Right, of course, why didn't I think of that? After all, Voldemort is always polite enough to knock."
"Shut up," Harry grumbled, tightening his grip on Draco's hand as they reached the door. Harry peered through the peephole and groaned, "Damn it."
"It's Hermione and she's got two apes and a kiss-ass with her."
"Goyle, Crabbe, and Ernie."
"Oh. Them. Figures," Draco mumbled, fidgeting with the belt on his robe with his free hand. "Goyle and Crabbe work at St. Mungo's."
"Are you kidding?"
"Do I look like I'm kidding, Potter? They've come here for me."
"Well, let's get to it then," Harry muttered, using his wand to unlock the door's many locks before opening the door wide. "Hermione, what a pleasant surprise."
"Wish I could say the same, Harry." Hermione replied, her gaze moving immediately to where Draco stood beside him. "Time to go, Draco."
"Hardly," Draco spat through gritted teeth. "I'm not going anywhere with you."
"The hell you aren't. Goyle, if you would."
Goyle nodded and took a step forward, "C'mon, Malfoy. You have to come with us now."
"The hell he is," Harry replied, stepping between Goyle and Draco. "He's a Retriever."
"What?!" Hermione and Draco exclaimed simultaneously, neither noticing that they'd done so.
"When you get back to the office, I'm sure you'll be pleased to discover that all the proper paperwork has been signed and filed. Draco Malfoy is now property of the Retrievers. Which means I decide where he goes and when."
"I haven't signed a transfer, Harry. I'm certain you're aware that you can't simply transfer one of my operatives out from under me without my approval."
"That's awful funny. I sent Colin with the forms to your office a bit earlier. Didn't he come by?" Harry replied with feigned surprise.
"Yes, but..." Hermione stiffened as she remembered the report she'd signed off. She hadn't even thought to read it. She'd never have suspected Colin, of all people, of being that sneaky. Of course, she hadn't thought Harry would pull something like this. Especially for the sake of Draco Malfoy, of all people. Unless... "Harry, be sensible," she murmured, trying to keep her voice calm.
"I've never been sensible, Hermione. Something is going on here and until I find out what it is, I'm not letting him out of my sight."
"Fine," Hermione hissed, her knuckles gripped white on her wand. The fact that Draco had obviously not told him about Ron was a little comforting, but if the burning hatred in Draco's grey gaze was indication, she doubted that would last long. "Understand that I'll be taking this issue up with the Minister."
"You do that," Draco growled. "Best take it up with him in person. Owls are so untrustworthy these days."
"I'll remember that," Hermione replied, glaring at Draco over Harry's shoulder before turning her attention to Harry once more. "You'd better be careful that your kindness isn't repaid with death, Harry. This world could ill afford to lose you."
"It was nice to see you again, Hermione." Harry murmured, his voice holding a wistful note as he slammed the door in her face.
Many thanks to Maya, Aja, and Connelly. The most wonderful betas a girl could ask for. ^_^
Ron's curse- nolens volens tui
erus sum (Very Roughly- Whether willing or unwilling, I am your
master. My Latin grammar skills suck. A lot.)
And, for the record, I actually quite like Hermione despite the fact that two of my major stories do not show her in the most flattering of lights. :)
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