Harry lay still, dazed by so much pain that he wondered at first if he had shattered his back. Then he rolled over and saw that it was a broken leg.
Or perhaps he should say that he felt it, because he was no longer dragging a whole limb but a wailing ball of agonizing pain.
Harry suppressed the cry that would have led his enemies to him and concentrated hard, trying to use the techniques that the Aurors had taught him for coping with pain. It didn't work, and after a moment he understood why and grimaced in resignation. Those techniques depended on magical strength. He had used too much today, with the wandless power if not with resisting Hurston's Dementors, and couldn't manage to call up what he needed to.
It hurt, yes. But he would survive, and when he trailed his wand above his leg and murmured a diagnostic charm, he found that it was a clean break. He needed to get out of these mountains.
I probably should have tried to break through the anti-Apparition wards in the first place, no matter how much it hurt, Harry thought, and locked his hands beneath him. Can I drag myself on?
A sharp jab of pain from his leg the instant he tried to stand put an end to that notion. Harry lowered his head and panted. The pain went on radiating in waves, and he grimaced. He would have to do something else, something he hated to do, because it would use more of the magic that was becoming increasingly rare in his muscles and spirit.
He hated the notion that he might not survive much more, though. There was that.
He cast a Feather-Light Charm on most of his body, then immobilized his leg with another charm. By then he was gasping, and it felt as though a hand of cold was reaching inwards to crush his heart. Too late, Harry remembered the training that said pain increased with magical exhaustion. Breaking his leg at this point was one of the worst things that could have happened to him.
But it was still something that had to be borne. He imagined smoke again, and the sounds of screams cut short. He imagined the heat that he knew would rise around him if he could be transported back to that moment in time, and the crushing relief it would have been if he could have done something different once so transported.
He lashed himself with the whip of his conscience, and underneath it, he managed to cast the next charm, the one that would create a slight, constant wind behind him so that he would float upright. The wind increased until it billowed his robes, and then until it lifted him. As tired as he was, Harry grinned in triumph.
"Be careful, Lisa. He's dangerous."
Harry looked up sharply. Two figures were closing in on him, one from either side. The nearer one was the woman, Lisa Baines, whom he had met when he first came to the valley. The second one was a slender, dark man who moved with quiet confidence that marked him as another trained fighter.
"How many of you does Malfoy have in his stable?" Harry asked tiredly, and then shivered as another jolt of pain shot through his wounded leg.
"Many," the man said, his voice soft with something Harry identified, after a moment's disbelieving struggle against the notion, as respect. "But no one like you. No one who's resisted him so long."
Harry licked his lips. There was no way that he could defeat two seasoned physical fighters if they got the chance to move against him.
So don't give them the chance to move against you, the voice of one of his instructors snapped in his backbrain. Harry let his wand shiver against his palm, apparently coming close to dropping it, but actually settling it in a different, more offensive position.
"Don't you want to be free?" he asked. "If I resisted, couldn't you?"
"If we had known about the danger beforehand, of course we could have." That was Baines, with an impatient jerk of her head that looked as if it should have hurt her neck. "But there's a difference between knowing about enslavement and managing to avoid it, and knowing only after you're enslaved that it would have been a good thing to have foreseen."
Harry shook his head. "You could simply let me go," he said. "Tell him that you couldn't find me."
"We can't lie to him while we wear his Mark, either," the man said. He had come closer while Harry was watching Baines. That's the problem with two opponents, Harry thought, old Auror lessons as vivid in his head as if his trainers stood before him now. They never hold still and attack you one at a time the way they're supposed to. "And he knows that you're here. By now, he's on his way. And I don't think you'll resist him once he's trying to Mark you rather than trying to fight you."
"I still don't intend to surrender," Harry said.
"Good for you," Baines said. She actually sounded approving, which Harry didn't understand. "But you must know that two trained fighters can keep you busy when you have a broken leg and almost no magic left."
"Lisa," the man hissed.
"Relax, Victor," Baines said, without taking her eyes from Harry's face. "He knew from the beginning what we were. I saw it in the way his eyes widened. He knew it from the time he looked at me when I met him as escort into the valley. That wasn't the brightest of Lord Malfoy's ideas, to arouse Potter's suspicions that way. And you know that Potter will be the latest of us in a few minutes. I'd rather not have him prejudiced against me when he becomes one."
"I'd rather kill myself than let that happen," Harry said. "And if I mouth the right incantation before then, imagine what kind of explosion of magic my death could cause."
Baines shook her head, smiling. "No, I don't think you'll do that. Not as long as your survival might mean one of Lord Malfoy's slaves or victims gets free. And your dying like that, while it would certainly consume us, would also mean that the innocents would die along with us. I think I understand enough of your character by now to confidently predict that you'll do no such thing."
Harry swallowed, the muscles in his throat clicking. Baines knew him too well. He wished now that he had learned how to act a little more ruthless during his time as an Auror, and also how to lie more convincingly.
And I wish that someone had taught me how to fight with a broken leg, he thought, bracing himself as Baines shifted in, followed by Victor.
Baines launched a kick at his head. Harry managed to duck that one, but only by varying the wind that held him up, so it tilted him back a bit and brought him towards the ground. That gave Victor a perfect chance to kick him in his good knee.
Harry pulled his head back and gave voice to several wheezing noises in spite of his pride as something seemed to shatter in his knee. Then he felt the wind flicker. His magic was running out, even to continue such simple charms as these.
He let it fade. It meant he fell painfully to the ground, but that was nothing next to the pain from his legs, and anyway, the Immobilization Charm remained in place. Victor and Baines came closer, watching him cautiously.
Harry clenched his fingers around his wand, moving them rather than the wand itself in the necessary gesture, and mouthed the incantation.
Baines jumped back out of the way. Victor didn't, not in time, and the stronger wind carried him easily into the side of the cliff. He went down, bleeding from a lump on the side of his head, now safely unconscious, if not dead.
Harry turned back, panting with the effort of simply moving his head, to see Baines bowing to him. She straightened up, shaking her head, and prowled a few steps closer again, watching both his mouth and wand with rapid movements of her eyes that Harry didn't think were natural.
"I have to commend you," she said. "He sent five of us against you, and you've managed to defeat four. I think you could have done the same with me if you hadn't already fought our Lord and been wounded and tired."
"Look," Harry said, hating the way his words slurred because of his fatigue, "you must resent him for enslaving you."
Baines smiled again. "I assure you, Lord Malfoy is fully aware of that. He can sense most of our powerful emotions through the Mark."
Harry shuddered. "Why does he want to enslave me? Surely you can answer me that, at least."
"Consider the obvious," Baines said. "He has someone magically powerful under his control, and someone who has the kind of fame that will attract people to him and make them believe what he says. It's perfect. He probably would have ventured after you first, but he likes to take people with lots of preparation. He probably didn't intend this at all when you came, and only made the decision because you noticed the draining lenses."
"I won't help him," Harry said. "I really will die first, if he tries to take me prisoner."
Baines spread her hands. "I believe that you can stand up to pain better than we can. The problem is that he has other ways to convince you."
"What other ways?" Harry demanded. "If he tries to convince me with someone held as hostage for my good behavior, I'll find a way around it somehow. I promise I will."
"And again, I believe you," Baines said. "But here our Lord is now, and I'm sure he'd like to tell you some of his secrets himself."
Draco reveled in the way that Potter's eyes, full of hatred, turned towards him. Backed up against a cliff, with a broken leg and two of his enemies, counting Lisa, in front of him entirely unwounded, he still looked as if he was in control of the situation.
It would be Draco's pleasure to find some way to train Potter not to fight him, and to see his limitations, while encouraging him to retain that raging strength.
"I'll never work for you, Malfoy," Potter breathed. He looked as if he would have shouted, but his chest was heaving with familiar exhaustion, sucking in ambient magic from the air itself to sustain him. Draco himself had reached that state of fatigue more than once before he began to store magic in his bracelets and thus became more powerful than any ordinary wizard. "If I have to wait a dozen years to punch you in the face, I'll still do that, and avenge all the wrongs you've made me and others suffer in the meantime."
"Such loyalty, Potter," Draco said, and lowered his voice to the purr that had made some of his more insane offers sound reasonable to all sorts of people. Lisa wisely backed up. Draco wanted an unobstructed line between him and Potter, and he wanted someone to check on Victor and make sure that he was all right. Though he hadn't specifically ordered Lisa to do that, she was sensitive enough to pick up on the desires swimming in the back of his brain. Draco saw her crouch down beside Victor before he faced Potter. "And to what? Don't you ever feel the lack of a larger driving purpose to sustain you beyond that faceless mass of innocents out there?"
"I'm an Auror," Potter said. The gasps for air and magic and life interrupted his words now. "I serve the Ministry."
"Oh, dear." Draco paused and put his best expression of worry on his face. "The Ministry that sent you here to die?"
That rocked Potter—and everything that could rock Potter and prevent him from pulling off some blast of suicidal wandless magic was a plus right now. He stared at Draco. "What do you mean?" he demanded.
"The Ministry official who sent you here," Draco said softly, "is also the one who sent me your file. But he didn't tell me about how powerful and determined you were, and he didn't tell you anything about the true nature of my operation. I think he was hoping that we would destroy each other, or perhaps that you'd kill me and go back to the Ministry no wiser, where he could try something else to get rid of you."
Potter's eyes glowed with a frightening rage—frightening because Draco could practically see the idiot getting ready to expend all his energy in a last fireball. "Who was it?" he whispered.
"Ah, ah, Potter." Draco moved forwards once more, this time drawing his wand. "You're in no shape to go after him. I won't tell you the name until you've had some rest and you're properly under control."
Potter gave his head one more defiant tilt, but he was nearly done for. Draco could see in Potter's eyes that the man knew that as well as he did. It was stupid to resist, but Potter usually confused stupidity with honor.
"I'll never be under your control," he said. "I'll destroy you. I'll fight against you. I'll drag you down."
"I'm looking forward to it," Draco said. Let Potter wear himself out in a useless fight. Draco had designed the Mark to be impenetrable to magic. In the meantime, that was energy that he wouldn't be putting into the kind of treachery that Draco's Ministry contact had managed.
Not that I intend to ever let him get far enough from me to make such treachery possible, Draco thought, smiling at Potter. And he doesn't have the cunning or subtlety to pull it off under my nose.
Potter had shut his mouth by now, and was grimly eyeing him. Draco stood still, watching him for a moment. He could have gone ahead and taken what he wanted, but he was interested to find out what Potter would say next.
Harry knew he was close to the end, though whether that end would be unconsciousness or death he wasn't sure yet. But his heart throbbed and his body shook with the throbbing, and he wanted to collapse. Fighting when he was in this state would be the stupidest thing he could do.
And he knew he'd been weakened by the Ministry reference Malfoy had made. He'd never been any good at hiding his emotions. For the most part, among the Aurors, he hadn't had to.
At the same time, surrendering himself to Malfoy would also be the stupidest thing he could do. Harry knew how powerful he was. He knew what Malfoy could make him do to other people. Just the thought of that was enough to make him resist with all his might.
He saw no way out of this situation except dying—which would be the most futile thing of all. Had he survived Voldemort only to die at the hands of someone who'd once been the weakest of Voldemort's minions?
"I could help you get your revenge on the Ministry," Harry decided to offer at last. "As long as you don't bind me."
Malfoy sighed. He had grown into a strange man, Harry decided, his face delicate and pretty and yet masculine, without the sharp angles that had marked it when he was a boy. "I'm almost tempted to take that offer. Unfortunately, I've known you for a long time, Harry." I hate the way he says my name, Harry thought. "I know that you'd turn on me the moment you had what you wanted and feel compelled to drag me into justice. I can't trust you unless I've Marked you."
"I'm not a traitor," Harry said. He was startled at how strong and dangerous his voice could still sound when he was backed into a corner, possibly without the ability to retaliate any longer.
"But you wouldn't think of this as treachery, since it would be against something you see as evil," Malfoy said simply. "I told you, I know you, and I understand the way your mind works." He lifted his wand. "Now, there's an incident in your recent past that I'm curious about. I know the way the Ministry file described it, but I'd like to see the truth of it. Legilimens."
The assault hurt so much that Harry nearly gave up. But that would be letting Malfoy win, and more thoroughly than he had ever feared. He clung to his Occlumency shields, as pitiful as they were, and his hatred of Malfoy; one of his teachers had told him that sometimes an intense focus on something else could work to block thoughts.
Malfoy made a thoughtful noise. Harry straightened, panting, as the pain pressing on his mind went away.
"I hadn't thought you strong enough to block me," Malfoy said.
There was a strange, savage expression on his face. Staring at it, Harry was revolted to realize it was hunger. It was as if Harry were a fresh fish that Malfoy couldn't wait to gut and clean and carve up.
"Well, I was," Harry said. "Arsehole."
Malfoy laughed, which wasn't the reaction Harry had hoped to provoke but which at least made the sharp expression on his face go away. "It's that last word which tells me it's coming from your mouth," he said. "Now. As I was about to say, your strength was a surprise. But from how pale you are just now, I wouldn't be surprised if you no longer have enough of it to do anything else."
Harry said nothing. He had his eyes on Malfoy's feet, the way he stood. There might be something he could do. There might be something there.
"Do pay attention," Malfoy said. "I'll be your Lord soon, and you can think about the various ways that you…please me." He moved to the left, but Harry didn't care, didn't look up. It didn't matter where Malfoy was standing, for the trick he was going to play.
If I have the strength left to play it.
"Struggle isn't pleasant," Malfoy went on. "But surrender could be. Very. Just ask Lisa." He turned his head, presumably trying to catch Baines's eye and humiliate her in some way. Harry wondered how a woman who seemed so proud could stand that, even if she had learned the futility of fighting Malfoy's Mark.
If she's given in, you mean.
Harry thought he wouldn't have a better chance than Malfoy's fleeting moment of distraction. He cast the spell on his foot, nonverbally, and then stamped down.
Malfoy turned back at once, but raised an eyebrow when he saw Harry still standing there, apparently without doing anything. "Have you given in, then?" he asked. "I was sure that you would be intelligent enough to realize there's no point in fighting when someone has closed the iron collar on your neck—"
The spell Harry had cast took effect then, radiating out from his foot and causing much the same damage there would have been if he'd stamped hard on a floor of delicate mosaic.
The earth rippled and bulged up and shattered in different places, and Harry was thrown from his feet. He went with it, not trying to save himself at the moment, though his broken leg ached terribly when he fell. He kept his head raised, though, striving to see what had happened to Malfoy.
Malfoy was caught entirely by surprise. He fell, and Harry heard something he carried on him, or maybe a bone, break. Malfoy blanked his face so as not to show any emotion and raised one hand.
Baines sprinted away from the unconscious Victor and ended up next to her Lord, cradling him in her arms. She looked accusingly at Harry, who sneered at her.
Then the magical exhaustion made itself known to him, hitting so hard that Harry was unable to do anything but drop his head and surrender to it.
Maybe I'll die, and that's a waste.
But he'd done what he could. He hadn't served Malfoy's purpose. If he died, he died knowing that Malfoy hadn't been able to use him to hurt the Ministry or any of the people he kept prisoner here.
And he hadn't given in.
Draco had broken one of the bracelets when he fell. He knew it was a fragile one—made out of a thin layer of wood over an even thinner layer of ivory—and he had expected it to break someday.
But it would have been acceptable if he had knocked it off the desk in his office or trodden on it. It shouldn't have broken because Potter had called a fucking earthquake and knocked him down.
He summoned Lisa to him, and she came, bolting over the shifting, treacherous ground. Draco himself didn't look away from Potter, and the way that his head was lolling on his neck, his eyes staring helplessly at the sky.
If he had hurt himself, Draco was going to kill him.
"Fetch him up," Draco said. "And make sure that he's absolutely immobile." He drew another of the bracelets with stored magic off his wrist. It was silver, and studded with pearls. "Feed the magic inside to him. He'll need it when he wakes up, if he's not going to die of magical exhaustion."
Lisa stared at him in silence, mouth open to reveal a pool of saliva inside. Draco didn't really enjoy the sight, and stared at her until she snapped her jaw shut and nodded.
"Of course, Lord," she murmured, and then picked her way over the latest tremor, until she was crouched down at Potter's side.
She clasped the bracelet around his wrist, and Draco stood up and moved forwards, walking so silently that Lisa started when she found him next to her. Draco offered her an implacable glance—she should be more prepared than that—and then crouched down next to Potter and held his wand in front of his face.
Potter's color and breathing began to improve. His eyes fluttered. He sighed. Then he opened his eyes and squinted at Draco as if trying to remember what had happened.
Draco took no chances this time. Before Potter could focus his gaze, he aimed his wand and said, "Legilimens."
The memory didn't swim far from the surface of Potter's mind. Draco hadn't thought it would, given that he blamed himself more than was reasonable. Guilt would season the memory, keep it alive.
The house was burning. Flames raged through the stone itself, in a way that told Draco the fire was magical and the building a loss. The windows were long gone, the glass panes melted, the frames barely clinging to existence as tattered pieces of wood or stone. Draco thought that one could only call it a house by courtesy.
Potter stood in the middle of the blaze, his cloak swinging as he drew it around himself. He never ceased a steady chant of incantations that Draco grasped in instants must be responsible for the house's survival. He was holding it up so that others could get out. Draco, looking around, couldn't see any survivors in this inferno, but perhaps Potter could.
Draco's gaze went back to Potter, and he wondered how he would survive the assault of the flames. Of course, someone who could do what he had done to Draco's Marked ones might have the magical strength to do so.
A cry sounded from a corner. Potter swung his head about like a hunting hound. Draco turned with him, and saw the woman and child picking their way forwards from a corner, their faces pitiful with terror, their hacking coughs reporting the presence of smoke in their lungs.
Draco curled his lip. He had always despised weakness, and more than ever since the war, when he saw what it had wrought in the lives of his family. He would have left these pitiful remnants of people to their fate.
Not Potter, of course. He held up his wand and bellowed, "Adduco tectum ad solo!"
Draco stared. What was the idiot doing? He would—
And then Draco understood, even as the ceiling began to fall in towards the floor, smothering all three of them in the devouring flames. Potter had made a mistake in the preposition. He had probably meant to lift the ceiling away from the floor and provide a path that they could use to climb away from the flames, perhaps with a rope; instead, he had summoned the ceiling towards the floor.
Potter's Auror instincts kicked in, and he Apparated. The memory ended when he did, but Draco had no doubt what had happened to the people he left behind.
Draco leaned back and blinked, carefully settling himself in his own mind once more, making sure that he had the command of his muscles and didn't think he was Potter. That was prone to happen with especially deep or absorbing Legilimency; Draco had heard of more than one Dark wizard whose talent for reading minds had spared the Ministry the labor of punishing him.
He could understand what had happened. A mistake, a double mistake, but no more than that. Potter had not done what he had done with any malicious intent. The wrong Latin word and then following his training…countless people could have done the same. And in a situation that agonizing, many people would have long since fled the scene, rather than stayed to help, as Draco thought Potter had, on the off-chance that there would be someone remaining in the house.
But Potter wasn't an ordinary person—even Draco could acknowledge that—and the Ministry and the public didn't think of him that way, either. Harry Potter, the Savior of the Wizarding World, the best Auror they had, didn't make mistakes. He should have rescued those people or died trying. Not lived because of too much speed, too much eagerness.
From the tormented way Potter's eyes fixed on Draco, he thought the same thing.
Draco bent back towards him and sent a thought to Lisa to make her step away. He had something to say to Potter, and he didn't want anyone else to overhear.
"It wasn't your fault," he said. "I saw everything that happened, and if I'm not an impartial judge, who is? You know I'd never speak this way merely to spare your ego, Potter. That wasn't what you meant to do. It can be forgiven. It can be excused. They still shouldn't have sent you here to die."
Potter didn't say anything. His breath was noisy and loud. He was staring into Draco's eyes as if hypnotized, and Draco was glad, because that meant he wouldn't think of using the restored magic and collapsing in agony because of the traps hidden in the bracelet.
"Understand me," Draco said, as calmly as he could when he could practically feel Potter's soul hovering in his hand like a butterfly. "I will give you something to live for, and bring you back from the brink of the abyss. I'll ensure that you forgive yourself."
But Potter's face creased with rage, and Draco barely got out of the way when he spat. He didn't try to use the bracelet, though. He was intelligent enough to realize when a free gift wasn't free, Draco thought in approbation. Really, he was a prize. The Ministry had been foolish to give him up.
"I know what you want out of me," Potter said, his eyes hollow and contemptuous. "You want me to serve you. Forgiving myself would mean giving up my conscience, and that would just make me more vulnerable to you." He sneered. "Thanks, but no thanks."
Draco sighed. He had hoped he could persuade Potter, but when there was no other choice…
"Lisa," he said.
Potter turned his head to face her, his hand rising as if he imagined he could fend her off, but Draco had intended the word merely as a distraction. The real attack was his: a blast of magic from the silver bracelet on his wrist that slipped past Potter's defenses and rendered him unconscious without hurting him. He dropped to the ground with a muffled groan.
Draco bent over him and checked his pulse, to make sure that his apparent recovery was not a fluke; the bracelets often didn't work that well for anyone but him, since he was the one who had mastered the process of storing the magic. He nodded in satisfaction when he found it steady, then nodded again, to Lisa. "Conjure a stretcher for him," he said. "I'll take him back to the office and start the Marking."
Lisa bowed, a hint of hatred flashing in her eyes like a jewel before she turned away. Draco smiled. For the first time, he wondered what Potter had meant to her as a symbol of defiance. Perhaps she had wanted to be like that, too, before the Mark had taken the chance away from her.
I will need to change him, Draco thought, as he watched Lisa lift Potter into the stretcher. His soul will never survive if he serves me as he currently is. I want to make sure that he will become pliable enough to live, but keep enough of his will to be interesting. That will necessitate, I think, a good deal of work.
I cannot wait to begin.
Harry opened his eyes slowly. He wanted to rest, but it seemed that was a luxury he would be denied. Or had he had enough rest already? His mind was filled with soft, hazy images that drifted towards him and then backed away like warm icebergs.
He felt no pain at least, now, and though he remembered his leg being broken, he could move it without trouble. He sat up on the low bed he appeared to be lying on and blinked down at his moving toes.
"Welcome back to the land of the living."
Harry whirled around, though that made him fall back to the bed again. Malfoy leaned against the wall next to a door Harry hadn't heard open—he was choosing to believe that it had opened recently because the thought of Malfoy being in the room with him the entire time was unnerving--and regarded him with amusement.
"We used some rather good healing spells on your leg," Malfoy continued. "And I made sure that you got the rest you didn't manage to find before you started running away from me." He paused. "It's odd, but it felt as though your magic was more depleted than it should have been, even for such efforts as you made. Had someone drained you during one of your recent cases?"
Harry sat up again. He had a plan in his head, so sharp that it felt as if it could strip the flesh off his bones.
He didn't pause to consider it long. He knew it was one of those plans that would work, knew it instinctively. He simply measured the distance from him to Malfoy and sprang.
He crashed to the floor in mid-flight, because pain was eating him alive from the inside out. It felt like someone was twisting his bones into a puzzle. Harry coiled around his stomach, where the agony seemed to be coming from, but then it moved around and focused on his arm. When he reached to touch that, it was suddenly the worst headache he'd ever experienced, even after Legilimency sessions with Snape.
"Ah, yes," Malfoy's voice said, somewhere on the other side of the pain, back in the normal world that Harry could dimly remember. "I should have warned you about that, though I had thought you would feel the difference in the flesh of your arm. You're Marked, now." There was no mistaking the satisfaction in his voice when he said that word. "That means you're mine. And I can hurt you if you try to attack me, or if you do something I don't like."
Harry couldn't answer. How could he? The pain was in his gut again, and it felt as though someone was struggling to be born from his flesh.
Then the pain was gone. Harry fell limply on the floor and breathed.
"Of course," Malfoy said, "life in my service is not all slavery. I wouldn't blame someone who received no return from it for rebelling and finding a way to kill me despite the pain. A dog that's trained only to be vicious will bite its handler as well. And I want willing service—or service that I've trained to be willing. Thus, this."
Harry gasped. He was drifting suddenly in the middle of bliss. It was like the sensation that had filled his head when he wakened, the warm icebergs, but a thousand times more intense. Like the pain, it had no obvious source. Harry thought he could have dealt with a sensation of fingers touching him, or warm water being poured over his skin, but this was different. More diffuse, and more solid, by turns. The only time he had ever felt a shadow of it was when he had imagined what having parents would be like.
It ended. Harry shut his eyes, and thought of the despair in Baines's face when he demanded to know why she didn't rebel against Malfoy.
I understand that, now.
"I'm sure the Aurors teach you the basics of psychology," Malfoy said calmly above him. "Pleasure and pain work together. Long enough under both, and you start avoiding the actions that bring pain and doing the things that give pleasure. And it makes you kindly inclined to the person who rules over you. That's the way the human mind works."
Harry turned his head, and Malfoy straightened up suddenly, his eyes narrowed, his expression suddenly losing all traces of amusement.
"Not my mind," Harry said quietly. He was partially aiming to sound impressive, but he meant every word he spoke as pure, unadorned truth. "If you want to keep your life, Malfoy, you'll have to kill me, because I won't break, and I won't bend, no matter how much you alternate the pleasure and the pain, and someday I'll destroy you."
Draco thought it was a good thing that Potter's eyes were fastened firmly on his face, because he would probably have been puzzled why Draco was sporting such a large erection.
God. None of his Marked ones, not even Lisa, who had been the most furious when she was first taken prisoner, had ever said anything like that to him, much less assumed they could pull it off. Draco mostly enslaved survivors. They would curse and rage, and then give in and go along with it, assuming that things would change someday and let them be free. Some, like Oliver, were even grateful for the protection that the Mark had offered; it meant he could stay in one place and not be driven away when people found out about his closeness to the Dementors.
Draco wanted to fuck him so badly that it was torture to keep standing still. But if he went to him now, Potter might have some idea of the power he wielded over Draco simply by looking at him with that steady, bright gaze. And that would not do at all. Draco needed Potter to become powerful and devoted to him before he tried anything like that. He didn't intend to be enslaved himself, even if he gave more freedom to Potter than to any of his other subordinates.
"Aren't you the least bit interested in recovering yourself?" Draco asked softly. "I told you, I viewed that memory, and I have reason to be critical of you if anyone does. It wasn't your fault. If someone in the Ministry tried to make you feel it was, they were at fault, not you."
Potter shook his head. He hadn't bothered altering the position of his body at all, as if it didn't matter to him that he was slumped on the floor in an undignified puddle at Draco's feet. "You would try to convince me of that, Malfoy," he said. "So you can use the salve for my conscience to make me dependent on you, to make me all the more eager to bow down and kiss your feet. Well, I know what you're up to, now, and I don't intend to listen. I won't let you comfort me. It would all be false comfort anyway."
Draco sighed and grinned at the same moment. That was such a Potter thing to think, or at least the confession of it was, and yet it was accurate.
He will not be easy to tame. And I need the challenge.
"Think about this, then," Draco said. "I received information about you from the Ministry. They didn't tell me that you were such a fighter. On the other hand, they told you nothing about me, either, or about what you would be facing, here in Fox Valley. And they do know. The only sane conclusion is that they meant you to destroy me, or die trying."
Potter stubbornly shook his head, teeth chewing into the inside of his cheek. "I don't believe you. That's just the sort of thing you would say to try and turn me against my employers."
Draco turned and reached for the file on the desk next to him, holding it out to Potter. Potter leaned warily in, keeping one eye on Draco at all times—which charmed Draco with its absurdity; after all, he didn't need to use his wand or make a move in order to have Potter squirming in pain or pleasure—and looked at the handwriting.
His face turned the color of old milk, but his voice was steady. "That doesn't mean anything. You could have charmed the paper."
Draco shut the folder and turned it over. "You must have seen this file before. Do they ever leave the Ministry? In this exact folder? Someone had to get it through the wards. And I would hardly be welcome to walk into the Ministry, even assuming that no one knew about my crimes. Do you deny that I must have had an agent inside?"
Potter's breath had quickened. Still, though, he gave Draco a glance in which the hatred burned like the beam of a lantern. "You don't necessarily have someone who wants me dead," he said. "One of your Marked ones could have walked in. They wouldn't know who they were."
"And taken the file?" Draco asked. He was enjoying this, chipping away at Potter's hope little by little. It made a beautiful sound when it crumbled. "Could anyone who belonged to me and not the Ministry, no matter how skilled, get past all the wards and spells they use to guard their archives?" He snorted and shut the file. "Do be serious, Potter."
Potter shut his eyes and shook his head. "So, who is your supposed agent?" he asked, voice as sharp as broken iron. "It would be interesting to know that, and since you seem intent on bragging to me anyway…"
"He calls himself Arthur," Draco replied, deciding to overlook the use of the word "bragging." This time. "But that's a play on his first name, not his actual one. His name is Gawain Robards."
Cracks appeared in Harry's faith, and he felt it breaking like rotten ice.
Robards. He chose this resort. He was the one who suggested the holiday. He was the one who told me about the bad press the Ministry was receiving because of me, and never passed up any chance to make me feel guilty for not saving those two.
But that was the kind of thing he was supposed to do, as Head Auror. He watched over the health, both mental and physical, of his Aurors. He let them know when they'd made mistakes, and did what he could to help them recover from those mistakes. He—
He didn't need to choose holiday destinations, did he? And whenever Harry had asked to be let out of the holiday, or tried to counter the suggestion that he come here, Robards had some reason why he shouldn't drop it or why no other place would be as good for him to recover in. It had come to the point where Harry had almost wondered whether Robards had an interest of some kind in the resort, maybe an investment that allowed him to receive Galleons if he sent visitors there.
He shook his head and reminded himself that he still only had the information from Malfoy, and that Malfoy was cleverer with spells than he had thought. This Mark on his arm, for example—the stylized running fox—was like nothing that Harry had ever seen. And if he could compel people with pain, maybe he had decided to compel Robards.
"There's a spell I can perform on the file to tell if Robards was the one who sent it to you," he said.
Malfoy considered him, eyebrows rising higher and higher. Harry had no idea what his face looked like right now. He didn't think he cared. He simply kept his eyes on Malfoy, and said nothing. For a moment, even his hatred for the man was nothing next to the compulsion to know whether Robards was really behind this or not.
Malfoy finally said, "That would mean letting you have your wand back."
"Yes, it would," Harry said. He probably could have done the spell wandlessly, but fuck if he was going to reveal that to Malfoy. He would give up no advantage until he had to.
Malfoy shook his head. "I can't risk it."
Harry pulled his lips back until he bared all his teeth. "Then I'll continue to retain the privilege of not believing you."
Malfoy smiled. "You look like a wolf," he said. "Cornered, eyes flaring with green fire, but not yet dead. I think I'll call you that. My wolf."
Harry didn't growl, because it would have confirmed Malfoy's juvenile suggestion. He simply remained still, and let his stare bore into Malfoy, and waited for the conclusion of this ridiculous game.
Malfoy dropped gracefully and swiftly to his knees, so gracefully and so swiftly that Harry barely realized he'd moved at first. Then he said, "There is another solution." He drew his wand and held it out towards Harry. "Cast the spell with my hand on yours, controlling the motions, so that I'm sure you can't use it against me."
Harry stared at him. Malfoy looked at him from a distance of several feet away, close enough that Harry could see the delicate tremble of his eyelashes and the way his eyes flared under the lids. His face wore an expression of playful seriousness, if there was such a thing—and if there wasn't, Harry was sure that he would find a way to invent it.
He didn't withdraw his offer, and Harry knew that he was probably not going to get a better one. He drew a deep, bitter breath, reminded himself that he was a slave for the present and he had to think that way, and reached out a hand.
Malfoy came crawling towards him, moving his arse and his long, slender legs far more than he needed to. Then he slipped around behind Harry and knelt at his back, arms fitting around his shoulders, his hands covering Harry's as he held the wand out to him.
Harry tensed to surge to his feet, but a warning tingle of pain in his arm told him not to. He gritted his teeth, wishing he could do something other than surrender, and accepted Malfoy's guidance.
But a plan had already sprung into his mind, inspired, perhaps, by Malfoy's comment on his wolf-like qualities and the memory of the werewolves he had killed earlier that day.
If I can't free myself from him right away, then the best thing I can do is change him. Transform him into someone I can put up with.
Draco had to close his eyes in bliss. Oh, yes, this had been an inspired suggestion.
His cheek rested against the back of Potter's neck, his arms against Potter's shoulders, his knee against Potter's back. He could feel his muscles shifting, smell his scent, and feel the way he tensed and bent and unfolded and was. This close, too, Potter's power was a mist rising around him, fit to fill the world with fog, or to become a sun that would burn the fog away.
Draco stroked his fingers idly along the length of the wand, a hair away from Potter's fingers. Potter barely paid attention as he chanted the spell, a lengthy one that Draco didn't bother listening to. He could always use Priori Incantatem to recover it from his wand later, and besides, he probably already knew it.
No, his thoughts were filled instead with the perfection of Potter, and how he was going to make use of him. Change him into someone Draco could trust to bound tamely at his side.
He'd read about taming wolves once, when he had been a little boy and begged so hard for a tame one that his father had handed him a book that would explain why that was impossible. Wolves were always a little bit wild, the book claimed. They could stand happily on a chain and act like dogs for years and years, and then they would turn around and bury their teeth in your throat when they decided to challenge you one day.
But Draco was happy to meet that challenge, since he had more than a little bit of wildness within himself.
Sometimes I think about freeing people when I'm done with them, he murmured soundlessly into Potter's ear, and watched the absent way Potter shuddered. In no more than a few months, that motion would not be absent. But you. I will never let you go.
Harry tried to ignore the way that Malfoy was drooling in his ear and focused on the results of the spell. The magic raced through the hawthorn wand in an odd way, and he hated the way Malfoy gripped his hands, but those didn't matter, either. The only thing that mattered was what the spell could tell him.
The conclusion was undeniable. The names of the people who had touched that file and another object—in this case, Harry had chosen an owl, since he thought the file had probably been brought that way—appeared in the air. The only two were Malfoy's name and Gawain Robards.
Harry shut his eyes. He had no reason to feel so personally betrayed, he thought. After all, he was only one Auror among many. Why should Robards feel a compulsion to shelter him particularly?
But for once, his attempts to make his suffering less than it was, and remind himself that he really deserved nothing, backfired. His harsh breaths through his clenched teeth turned to rage. He bore down hard enough that he thought he might have snapped Malfoy's wand, if Malfoy hadn't stroked his wrists and made him think about something else.
"Very well, I believe you," Harry said harshly. He kept his eyes shut. He would do something undignified like weep if he looked up now, and he didn't want to. I gave all my strength, all my heart and my hope, to the Ministry. He had no right to treat me like shite. "It was Robards."
"You'll have your vengeance, my wolf." Malfoy's breath was warm and wet, and Harry shuddered. Why is he doing this? I don't think I'll ever understand him, which could be a problem if I intend on changing him into a different person. "We'll bring him down, and we'll make sure that the entire Ministry knows the way he betrayed you. He'll suffer before he dies."
Harry's eyes popped open. Maybe it was because he was so consumed with his outrage over Robards, but he hadn't even thought about killing him.
"No," he said. "I don't want him dead."
"No?" Malfoy licked his ear. Harry stirred in revulsion. What the fuck is he thinking? "But I do. And I think you'll find, Harry, that it pays for you to do what pleases me."
Harry made himself sit still with an effort of will so great that he thought he could feel his bones creaking. Malfoy released the wand and pulled it away, and Harry heaved a sigh of relief, thinking that meant he was getting up.
But Malfoy didn't rise. Instead, he shifted his arms so that he was embracing Harry from behind, along the ribs and waist instead of the shoulders, and said, almost reverently, "Do you know how rare a prize you are? And the Ministry treated you as if you weren't worth anything at all." His touch was light, fingertips skating up Harry's shirt, and Harry shivered, hating himself for the gooseflesh that broke out beneath the shirt. "So powerful. You will only become more powerful once I show you how to drain magic and how to hold the bracelets."
Harry flung himself to his feet, and judged from Malfoy's grunt that he'd kicked something vital on the way. Good. He whirled around, and Malfoy gazed up at him, face sullen and shining.
"I'm not going to drain magic from other people and use it," Harry said. "Punish me all you like. As long as I'm writhing in pain, at least I'm not helping you."
Malfoy shook his head. The sullenness had faded, and now he simply looked amused. "You do not truly understand pain. What I have done with the Mark is based on the Cruciatus Curse, but stronger. And it will not make you go mad. In the end, you have no choice. No human being can stand up against that much agony."
Harry sneered at him. He didn't mind that he was giving up one of his advantages—well, he almost didn't mind—because what he said was something Malfoy could have figured out on his own. "Like I said, while I'm writhing in pain, I can't help you. And the minute I stop, then I'm going to refuse again. I can't be tamed by the fear of pain, the way that you've tamed those other poor bastards you've enslaved."
Malfoy climbed to his feet, never taking his eyes from Harry. "That pain can tame anyone."
Harry heard the wavering doubt in the back of his voice and pressed impatiently forwards. "Are you sure? Have you ever known me to be afraid of anything? And what you want from me sounds like it's more complicated and more intense than anything that you've demanded from them."
He paused. Malfoy said nothing, but the skin between his eyes was puckered.
"What do you want?" Harry asked. "Some cooperation on those things that I will help you with, like bringing down Robards, or a constant battle, where you'll destroy me before you get anywhere? I think someone could spend weeks recovering from the pain that you inflict through the Mark. That's what'll happen to me." He lowered his voice. "Or you could get some compliance out of me, which I know you hunger for, by giving in on one simple point."
He spread his arms in a mocking gesture, but never took his eyes from Malfoy. "It's up to you. Choose."
Rage and hunger and admiration surged through Draco, and he nearly wondered how he could remember the names of the separate emotions, so thick were they, so intermingled.
He is trying to force me. No one can do that.
But he could see why Potter thought that no one could force him, either. Draco could try, but in salving his pride and his temper he would lose a tool and a companion. None of his Marked ones were true companions. They obeyed him, they often no longer seemed to resent him, and they used their talents in the ways he commanded them to. But that wasn't the same as being made of the same material as himself.
I could have that. If only I am patient.
Draco sat still until he was sure that he could command his rage. What he said was not always what he intended to say.
Potter's been with me five minutes and he already makes me aware of my weaknesses, he thought as he climbed to his feet. He did not (completely) mind. That would be a useful talent to have, so that he could avoid the pitfalls that might open under his feet before they opened. The only thing he must avoid was showing gratitude to Potter, who might otherwise get overconfident.
Besides, the Mark would always tilt the balance of power between them in a way that would leave Draco comfortably in control.
"I accept your offer, Potter," he said. "You help me bring down Robards, who is a traitor to both of us. Then you and I will negotiate what else you might help me do."
Potter nodded once, his eyes so bright that Draco knew he was envisioning a future in which he helped Draco do nothing else, but broke free and attacked his tormentor.
Draco gave Potter a slow smile. Although he would have to be careful of the way in which he used the pain and pleasure of the Mark, he could still, subtly, condition Potter to see the world through his eyes. He would change the man, give him rewards and attention and enough bickering that he wouldn't notice the first two things, until he came to Draco's side, slinking along like a great cat.
Great cats were dangerous, Draco knew. He had only to look at Thalia in her Animagus form to be reminded of that. And the man who had defeated her was more so. But they could be tamed.
I shall change his soul, and in the end he shall be of use to me because he desires to be.
Harry clenched his hands into fists at his sides. It hurt to bow his neck to Malfoy, but it was what he had to do for now.
The Mark couldn't be evaded by distance, as Robards proved. He couldn't kill Malfoy, and he believed that.
That left one option: to slowly steer Malfoy around to his side without making the steering obvious.
I shall change his soul, and in the end he'll be the kind of person who lets me go of his own free will.
Harry didn't acknowledge the thought that whispered after that one.
Or else the kind of master I can live with.
"Where do we begin, to destroy Robards?" he asked. "Do you have information on him?"
Malfoy turned his head in a supercilious manner and picked up a file from a large pile on his desk. "Yes. Come here…"
Harry put up with the hint of command because it wasn't pressing, and stepped up to Malfoy's side to read the file over his shoulder.
He wasn't happy, over anything that had happened, and he couldn't see that his next task, battling Malfoy while trying to keep his own soul from being tarnished, was going to be any easier than forgiving himself for what he'd done on his last case.
But there was one kind of hard comfort to be found in it.
I have to do it. So I might as well get to work.
The End. There will be a sequel, "Wolf in the Making."