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 One - Pretty Puppet on a String
There was pain.
Burning, scalding, raging pain.
Writhing and twisting within the cold, iron clutches of madness.
Sometimes it was hard to remember why he fought it.
Why fight when it's so easy to give in.
So easy to submit.
Sometimes it was hard to remember who he was.
Who he was.
Why he was.
Sometimes there was only the sound of that voice.
It would be so simple if he could simply listen.
It wouldn't hurt at all.
Not at all.
Let the master guide the toy.
The master knows all the answers.
He was just a puppet on a string.
Nights were always a bit different. Easier somehow when the light wasn't shining through the window to sting his burning eyes. At night the voice quieted somewhat, as if the master had other affairs to attend to and so he hung his puppet on a shelf. Pretty toy would be there when he returned.
Lying on a floor. Carpet scratchy and rough against his cheek. He could see blood on the floor and the reek of old death filled his nostrils.
What had he done?
Why was he...
Who was he...
Questions. Only questions and no answers.
Pretty puppet lifting himself from the floor, testing unsteady legs, and stumbling. Stumbling into a bathroom.
Streaked with liberal streaks of red.
A glance in the mirror.
Blond hair, sweat-soaked and ragged. Pale, pointed face.
Pretty, pretty puppet.
I will give out divers schedules of my beauty: it shall be inventoried, and every particle and utensil labeled to my will: as, item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin...
He giggled and the sound echoed through the silent room, bouncing against smooth tiled walls and surrounding him. It sounded like madness. It sounded like hope. He crawled onto the marble countertop, leaning his cheek against the cool glass of the mirror. He watched as his reflection imitated his movements. It seemed as if he'd done this many times before.
Perhaps he had.
The leather of his pants creaked and groaned as he stretched his legs across the countertop, folding one to his bare chest as he continued to stare at the blond-haired, grey-eyed boy in the mirror.
There was something almost familiar about him.
Something he could almost remember.
"I am... Draco?" He asked of the boy in the mirror.
"Yes," the boy seemed to answer, his voice a confidential whisper. "You must hurry. He'll be back at any moment."
"The voice. The voice who owns you. Owns us. Go into the bedroom. Find the phone. Call. Help. Quickly."
"Call. Help." He repeated, slithering backwards off the counter, almost falling. His legs were weak. They betrayed him and he was on the floor. Weak. So weak. He crawled back into the bedroom on his hands and knees, slow sluggish movements. The phone lay on the floor. A... cell phone? Perhaps. It was pink. Like cotton candy and his mother's evening gowns. A pale color. The buttons seemed to small for his fingers.
57... no... 58... no... 9... no.
He closed his eyes letting his fingers remember what his mind could not.
Then the phone was ringing. Ringing and ringing as he laid it against his ear.
Voice. So familiar.
As if he'd heard a thousand times.
It was a small comfort.
But a comfort nonetheless when the name came to his lips unbidden.
The name had a nice taste on the tip of his tongue. Like the bittersweet of honey.
"Malfoy. You sound like shit."
"N-no kidding, P-Potter. No time. Can't. Thoughts won't work so well. Fighting, but can't," he whispered brokenly, fingers clutching the phone tight. "Need help."
"Not a subtle point you're making here, Malfoy. What's going on? Where are you?"
Concerned. Harry Potter was concerned for him. That was nice.
"Here. I'm here," he murmured finally, dragging his thoughts back to the situation at hand. So hard to focus. He was so tired.
"Okay. Tell me where you are so I can come get you."
"Room. There's a window. The sun hurts my eyes. I can hear... someone's crying," he whispered and realized that the soft sobs were his own. "I'm so tired, Potter."
"What's wrong with you?"
"Voice. In my head. Telling me... telling. Have to go. Find me. Help me... Harry."
Harry Potter had been many things in his short life.
He was the son of Lily and James Potter, and the boy who lived.
He was once the youngest seeker in a century, and a prefect at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
He was now, four years after his graduation for Hogwarts, the poor bastard in change of pulling idiot operatives' asses out of the fire. In more technical terms, he was the head of the Retrievers. The Retrievers had been formed as a joint venture between the Departments of Mysteries and Magical Law Enforcement when they had come to the realization that they were losing good operatives left and right because they simply hadn't the resources to rescue these operatives when things went south. He had been an Auror until the Retrievers had been formed and he'd been assigned to head it up. It wasn't a bad job all in all. It was dangerous work, but the pay was good and saving people beat the hell out of killing them in his book.
He bit his lip as he stared at the buzzing receiver he held in his hand. There were times when he really wished he hadn't accepted the job at all.
Strange that he should still recognize that voice. After all, it had been almost three years since he'd last seen or spoke to Malfoy. Draco Malfoy, in what had come as something of a shock to anyone who had ever met him, had become an Auror shortly after graduation. During his time as an Auror, the two had been forced to work together once or twice until it became obvious that their school day animosity couldn't be killed by a few months apart. A year later Harry had been promoted to head of the Retrievers and Malfoy had been transferred to the Department of Mysteries and become an Unmentionable (which in plain English, Harry had eventually learned, meant that he investigated things no other department would touch with a ten foot pole).
Harry contemplated the buzzing receiver a moment longer before carefully replacing it on its hook and pressing the buzzer on his intercom. "Ginny? Where is everyone right now?"
Ginny's voice came back over the intercom a moment later, "Seamus and Dean are in Egypt digging that idiot Fletcher out of another sand trap. Colin's in Ireland trying to find out what happened to that twit Lavender. Pansy and Cho are in Brazil boxing Malcolm's ears for making too big a scene... again. And I'm right here in the office next to yours, painting my nails. What's going on?"
"I just got a call from Draco Malfoy. Sounds fairly nasty. Meeting in my office in one hour. In the meantime, see what you can find me on Draco Malfoy's last known whereabouts and... Well, fuck, just bring me everything that has Draco Malfoy's name on it."
"Sounds lovely. Works for the Department of Mysteries, doesn't he?"
"Last I heard."
"Hm. I'll call Hermione and see what I can get out of her, but I'll tell you now that I should really make you call her instead. After all, she's your best friend and she doesn't give you the run around. I swear she really likes all that cloak and dagger bullshit they pull over there."
"Thank you, Ginny."
"Don't mention it, Harry."
And this was how Harry found himself sitting in the middle of his office surrounded by stacks of parchment twenty minutes later. Ginny was perched on his desk, taking notes as he plodded through the files looking for some indication of where he might find Draco Malfoy.
"Okay, let's go through what we've got so far," Ginny began tapping her quill against the roll of parchment in her hands. "After becoming an Unmentionable, Draco Malfoy basically disappeared from the sight of everyone in the Ministry with the exception of his own Department. Typical. Reports from the Department of Mysteries indicate that he demonstrated an impeccable success rate, though he does not play well with others. His boss being one of the others. It was his habit when on a case to disappear for months on end, sending in only occasional progress reports, but always emerging successful. Something of a work horse, he never goes long between missions. Usually only one or two days at the most."
"Sounds right," Harry grumbled, wishing not for the first time that wizards would simply use computers to store data rather than resorting to endless scraps of parchment and scrolls. "He came back from his last mission three weeks ago and was sent back out almost immediately to investigate rumors of a strange cult operating in nightclubs here in London. His last mission report was sent a week ago and..." Harry frowned down at the scroll in his hands. "It says he may have discovered the key to finding Voldemort's base of operations. He was going to look into the matter further and report his findings back when possible."
"Voldemort. Great. Vigilante bastard probably tried to go in himself and ended up getting knocked around a bit."
"I don't think so. Malfoy's never been the self-sacrificing type. He gets the job done, but makes sure to keep himself out of harm's way. That's why he's stayed alive so long."
"You still haven't told me what he said, Harry."
"I'm waiting until everyone is here."
"Tsk, fine. I'm going to go grab some coffee then. You want?"
Harry gazed at the towering stack of mission reports he still had to go through before the meeting began. "Coffee would be good."
Exactly an hour after he'd spoken with Ginny over the intercom, all the members of the Retrievers were scattered about Harry's office. They didn't stand much on circumstance, never had really. It was really difficult to stand on circumstance when you'd all known each other since practically the dawn of time.
Pansy, in her smart suit jacket and skirt, leaned against the wall nearest the door, her arms folded across her ample chest. Her blond hair was pulled back from her face by a fancy silver clip, perfect as it always was even after having just come back from a difficult mission. The picture of elegance and refinement. She looked like the poster girl for Purebloods. Until she opened her mouth that is. "So, Harry, could you possibly tell me why the fuck am I here in your office instead of at home having a shower?"
Cho had only grown more beautiful with age, and the smudges of dirt on her face and the mud caked beneath her fingernails did little to diminish that fact. It hadn't been until after her assignment to the Retrievers that Harry had finally come to actually know the girl he'd thought he was in love with so long ago. They actually made surprisingly good friends now that there was no romantic inclinations on either side.
Cho grinned at Harry and gave her partner a playful shove. "Oh, shut up, Pansy. You look fresh as a daisy and you know it."
Pansy glared at her the girl at her side, "That's not the point, Cho. The point is I want to be at home under a spray of hot water and then curled up in bed with a good book. I'm tired. Plus, I have to call and apologize to Fred for breaking our date."
"I'm tired too, honeybunch, but you don't hear me bitchin' and moanin' about it, do you?" Cho inquired, raising an eyebrow at her erstwhile partner.
"Oh, fine. You've made your point," Pansy grumbled, settling back against the wall and waiting semi-patiently for Harry to speak.
Harry glanced at the rest of his team. Ginny was still perched on his desk, swinging her booted feet back and forth as she drew doodles on the notes in her hand. She and Colin were the newest additions to the team. Ginny had joined up about six months ago and Colin...
Harry's gaze moved to the enthusiastic blond, who was looking amazingly fresh for three o'clock in the morning. In fact, he looked as if he'd ingested a bag of sweets and a pot of black coffee before coming to the meeting. When Harry glanced at him, Colin immediately caught his eyes, speaking in a hurried rush. "All right, Harry, so what's going on? What's the deal? Do we have another mission? Huh? Do we? Huh?"
Harry glanced away to keep from rolling his eyes at the boy and found Dean smiling at him tiredly from his seat in the corner. "It won't last forever. He's only been here three months. He'll wear out eventually."
"Yeah," Seamus added from his official position of 'curled up against Dean's chest'. The two had been lovers since their final year at Hogwarts and both had put in for transfers to Harry's squad so that they could work together.
"Hope I'm there to see it." Harry replied, smiling. "Now, I'll tell you why you're all here, but first, I want your mission reports."
"You want my report? My report is that Malcolm is a prat. I vote we let the Deatheaters' fry his ass next time," Pansy replied irritably.
"Motion seconded," Cho commented, tugging at her ponytail. "We spend more time rescuing that idiot then we do anything else."
"Here, here," Ginny echoed, grinning wickedly. She'd dated Malcolm for a few weeks and had come away with a less than sterling opinion of him. Of course, then again, anyone who had met Malcolm had come away with a less than sterling opinion of him.
Harry smiled, glancing towards the men. "Anyone else care to share their opinions on the Malcolm Braddock issue?"
Dean shot a glance down at his lover who was now fast asleep against his chest, "Seamus and I both agree, I think."
"But aren't we supposed to help everyone?" Colin inquired, earning himself a firm whack from Ginny for his efforts to be the force of goodness and light.
"Fuck that," Pansy growled, glaring at Colin. "That prat can't be helped. If we have to rescue anyone from troubles of their own making more than fifteen times, they deserve to have to clean up their own mess for once."
"Sorry, Colin. You're outvoted," Harry interjected, turning his gaze to Dean. "Report?"
"No problems. Mission completed, but we need some serious downtime. Haven't slept in about three days. As you can tell from sleeping beauty's lack of attention," Dean pressed a fond kiss to his lover's hair. Seamus mumbled something and shifted against his chest, snuggling in for the long haul.
Harry nodded, "All right. You'll be out of the next mission then. Colin?"
Colin shrugged, "No problem. Literally, no problem. She found a new boyfriend and got distracted."
"No wonder you look so peppy," Ginny grumbled, shaking her head. "I will never understand how that girl became an Auror."
"They were desperate," Pansy remarked, studying her nails. "So, what's the big mission, boss?"
Pansy's glanced up sharply, "What?"
"Malfoy. I got a call from him about an hour ago. His last mission was investigating underground clubs in London and apparently he's gotten in over his head."
"Shit. All right, this wins precedence over my shower. How much trouble is he in?" Pansy inquired, her attitude disappearing in the face of her childhood sweetheart's possible peril.
"We don't know yet. His last report indicated that he might have found a lead on Voldemort's lair. He isn't the type to play vigilante is he?"
"No," Pansy answered, seemly unaware of the comforting hand Cho had settled on her shoulder. "He's a bastard, but he's not stupid. No way he went in after Voldemort on his own. He always believed that Voldemort's demise could only be brought about by you."
"Me?" Harry murmured, his gaze widening in surprise.
"Yes, you. Don't be modest, Harry, it doesn't suit you. You may have been at each other's throats since our school days, but he did respect you. I think you were one of the few people who ever earned his respect." Pansy shook her head sadly, "Must have killed him to have to call you for help. Is he real bad off?"
Harry paused, unsure suddenly how much of the phone call he should relate to them. He had never before worried about an operative's pride, but then... he never had to rescue Draco Malfoy before. He wouldn't, couldn't tell them that Malfoy had been crying. "When he called he sounded... confused. Disoriented. He complained of a voice in his head. I'm guessing someone put him under the Imperius Curse and he managed to break it, at least temporarily. I don't know what condition he'll be in when we find him."
"If we find him," Ginny commented dully, frowning. "We've gotten a list of the clubs he was investigating from Hermione and judging for his usual mission patterns he would have taken residence in an flat which allowed him easy access to all of them. That's still a rather large area to search and we're assuming that he's still in the same place he was when he put in the call. He could well be anywhere by now and that's assuming that whoever had control of him hasn't done away with him. Hermione told me that they've had an outbreak of Imperius Curse victims in their department lately and many of them..." She trailed off darting a sympathetic glance towards Pansy.
"We all know the dangers our positions hold, Ginny. We're all going to die eventually, I know that." Pansy whispered, gripping Cho's hand as she brought her gaze to meet Ginny's. "Just say it."
Ginny nodded, her black-painted fingernails digging into her stocking-clad knees. "Many of them committed suicide before they or anyone else could break the curse's hold. There are currently no living victims that we are aware of."
"Fuck that," Harry muttered, breaking the tense atmosphere with his voice and earning a sharp glance from all three girls. "We're here to make sure our operatives come home safely. We're going to find him before anything happens to him. Pansy? Cho? Ginny? Colin? Are you all in?"
All four nodded silently, their eyes trained on their leader.
"Count us in as well, Harry," Seamus interjected, his blue eyes suddenly alive and snapping with fire as he stood, pulling Dean up behind him. "We're never too tired for Malfoy hunting."
Harry nodded, exchanging a smile with his former roommate. "Thanks, Seamus. Ginny?"
"Right," the red-haired girl hopped off the desk and unrolled a large map over the cluttered desktop. "This is a map of the housing sector. I've divided it into four sections. Colin and I will take the green section. Pansy and Cho will take the yellow section. Seamus and Dean will take the purple section. Harry will take the red section."
Cho raised an eyebrow at Harry, giving him a measured look. "You're going it alone, boss? Is that really safe?"
"I'll be fine, Cho." Harry replied, carefully schooling his features into blankness. "I always work alone. Besides, we will be in constant contact. I don't want anyone making a move on their own. If you sight him, then you call in for back-up. Period. We have to be prepared for the worst. The worst being that he will be under the complete control of the Imperius Curse. Even under normal circumstances, Draco Malfoy is a dangerous man. I don't want anyone putting themselves in unnecessary danger."
"What do you define as unnecessary danger, Harry?" Pansy grumbled, glaring at him irritably.
"Being at the end of Draco Malfoy's wand, Pansy. That is my new definition of unnecessary danger. Find him. But if you so much as look twice in his direction before the rest of us get there, I will send your ass packing out of this squad so fast your head will spin. Am I clear?"
"Yes, boss." Pansy hissed, her voice low with unspoken threat.
"Good. Let's get going."
Everyone filed out of the office with the exception of Cho, who sent her partner ahead of her with a few quiet words. Once they were alone, Cho turned to face Harry. "If you find him, will you be calling for back-up, Harry?"
"I said everyone, Cho. Everyone includes me."
"You're holding back, Harry. What else did he say to you?"
"He's tired, Cho. He's been fighting, but I don't think he's strong enough to hold out much longer. He's scared and that scares me. I think we're going to have to kill him."
"Hermione said the others had killed themselves."
"Hermione also said that she's never seen the curse used on a top-ranking operative before. They won't be so willing to part with Draco Malfoy. Not until they've gotten some real use out of him. Do you think Pansy can handle it? Killing him? Do you think any of them can? And if they could, do you think they would be able to get the job done?"
Cho paused, thinking this over. Ginny and Colin had never had to kill anyone before. Seamus and Dean disliked Draco enough and had killed before, but they were exhausted and that would make them slow. Pansy was a pitbull, but she would probably hesitate when it came to her childhood sweetheart. "No. No, I don't. Could you, Harry?"
So definitive an answer. So hesitation, no second thought. He would curse Draco Malfoy into oblivion before any of them had a chance to stop him. "Do you hate him so much?"
"No. We aren't friends. We never will be, but I know him, Cho. I know him probably better than I know anyone probably because we aren't friends. He didn't call me in just to save him, Cho. He called me in case we had to kill him."
Harry strode purposely through the corridor, heading towards the last door. He'd smelled the reek of blood the moment he'd stepped into the flat and known that this was the place he was looking for. Draco Malfoy was here. He knew it as surely as he knew anything. His scar had begun to ache as he climbed the stairs to his corridor. It still ached in dull way which was more annoying than painful. He reached the door finally and set his hand against the wood. The fingers of his free hand curled tight around his wand and he whispered the spell that would summon the others to his location. It would take them a bit to get here since they couldn't simply apparate to an unfamiliar location. It would have to be enough time.
He dropped his hand, grasping the handle, turning it, and shoving the door open all in one fluid movement.
The door swung wide on creaking hinges, revealing the room slowly. The further open it swung, the more Harry wanted to grab it and slam it shut again. There was blood everywhere it seemed, painting the ivory walls in bold streaks. Staining the light-colored carpet. And in the middle of all this horror, Draco Malfoy was lounging against a pile of bloodstained robes.
Lounging and wearing black leather pants so tight that they protested each move he made. He wore no shirt, just the silver medallion that hung around his neck. He was bleeding from ragged slashes on his upper arms. His wand arm was propped up atop one bent knee. Blood dripped from the fingertips that held his wand pointed steadily at where Harry stood in the doorway.
Harry stood uncertainly in the doorway for a long moment before stepping inside and closing the door behind him, never once taking his eyes from Draco's blood-dripping fingertips. "Good morning, Malfoy."
"Good morning, Potter. So good of you to come running to my rescue. Wherever is the rest of that little team of yours?"
"They're not here. It's just me," Harry replied, taking a step closer.
"Oh? How... quaint."
Harry's scar suddenly went from mildly annoying to scalding pain and he winced, swallowing hard. He finally chanced a look at Draco's face, and his breath caught in his throat. "Malfoy?"
A smirk crept across pale, cracked lips, never reaching empty, grey eyes. "I've been waiting for you."
~ to be continued ~
This all came off a comment Aja made about the Imperius Curse while betaing TLS 11p2 which got my wheels spinning and this is what came out of it so far. It is also mildly inspired a particularly nasty case of insomnia and watching nice paranoid horror movies in the wee hours of the morning. Like it, hate it. It is what is and I'm actually pretty happy with how it's turning out so far. (And now you may all feel free to commence throwing rocks at my busy author butt because I've started yet another multi-part fic. -_-)
Quote is a part of a line from "Twelfth
O, sir, I will not be so hard-hearted; I will give out divers schedules of my beauty: it shall be inventoried, and every particle and utensil labeled to my will: as, item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth. Were you sent hither to praise me?
(It just blows my mind on a daily basis that I even have a policies section. -_-)
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