Title: The Auror Method
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairing: Harry/Draco (mostly pre-slash), mentions of past Draco/others
Warnings: Manipulation, slight angst, slight violence
Summary: Draco has constructed the perfect cover for his activities as a con-man specializing in thefts from a distance: Draco Malfoy, the redeemed Death Eater and Recluse of Malfoy Manor. But now there's evidence that some people are onto him, and as a consequence of the death threats issued to him, he gets an assigned Auror guard. Maybe Harry Potter, their leader, could be a problem when it comes to Draco's latest con. Although how could he, when he's getting all distracted by Draco's fluttering eyelashes?
Author's Notes: This is a mostly humorous story that will probably be between twelve and fifteen chapters.
The Auror Method
Chapter One—The Exploding Scroll
The owl poised in the middle of the large oak table that Draco had chosen as a decoration for this particular room of the Manor, its wings spreading further and further as if it wanted Draco to see the walls and windows of the Manor only through its feathers. It was a beautiful bird, Draco thought, probably the most beautiful he had ever seen. The only color other than black on it were in its gleaming golden eyes, which were so startling that Draco might have used the owl simply to surprise visitors to the Manor if he owned it. And then it lifted its foot, and the scroll that was bound around it showed scarlet, startling.
Draco nodded in approval as he reached out to retrieve the scroll. "Whoever owns you has a fitting sense of drama," he muttered. "That might almost prompt me to listen to him."
The owl gave him a single, steady gaze, then leaped off the table and flew over to the perch that Draco kept in a corner of the room. Its wings made the perch thrum and list. The owl balanced easily, and dipped its head to bathe its beak in the water bowl, never taking its eye off Draco as it did so.
The scroll contained the same message as all the others, with only one change in the last line. Draco scanned it, a small, pleased smile tugging at his lips.
You have been noticed. You are being warned. Do not try to break into Gringotts. You have ten days to change your mind.
Draco sighed and laid the scroll down. The messages had started coming a fortnight ago, so the count had shrunk from twenty-four to ten days.
What he couldn't understand was, if someone knew about the truth behind his disguise and his plan to break into Gringotts, why would they give him such a long period to change his mind? They could have waited until three days were up and then attacked, or gone to the Aurors at once. Along with all the drama of the scrolls and the countdown and the owl that this person sent, a new one every day, Draco was beginning to think that his courteous enemy had a hidden agenda.
He turned to the owl, who was still watching him with its wings folded behind it in a way that spoke of wordless disdain. "Or perhaps your master can't make up his mind about what he really wants. I usually despise people who do that, you know, but I might be willing to make an exception for people who send me—"
He had turned around completely in his chair to speak to the owl, and that saved his life. The sudden explosion from the middle of the table sent the shards of wood and metal over his head and to the side instead of straight into his face.
Draco dropped immediately to the floor. He had no former training like some people had got in the Aurors or as part of the Recidivus Guard, but he knew what to do with a sound like that when he heard one.
The flying shards were already settling. That explosion had been powerful but small, and was already contained. Draco lifted his head cautiously. The first thing he did was look at the perch. He wondered if the writer had taken the chance of sacrificing his owl along with Draco's life.
No. The owl was flying heavily towards the window it had come in by. It had left nothing more than a small swirl of dark feathers behind.
"Ah, I'm afraid I can't permit you to do that," said Draco, and drew his wand. At his command, a subtle mesh of white light sprang up across every window in the Manor, and across some of the doorways that didn't have doors, as well. It still permitted light and air to flow through, but it wouldn't allow any more solid body. The owl bounced off the mesh and let loose a baffled screech. "Private compunctions, you understand."
The owl circled back down, diving at his head. It could have caused a lot of damage if it had landed and buried its talons in the back of his neck, as it obviously intended to do, but Draco had a constitutional dislike of that, and his wand was ready. Again a mesh formed, this time into a net around the owl that bounced it back towards the ceiling and then held it in midair, looping furiously around and around.
"Now," said Draco, and gestured a little with his wand. The mesh net floated down towards him, while Draco carefully checked himself over to make sure that he hadn't taken a wound he hadn't noticed. But no, his arms and even his face, when he reached up and felt around with one hand, were unmarked. Draco nodded and focused his attention on the owl in front of him. "I wonder what you can tell me about your owner?"
The owl jerked its neck forwards and snapped its beak. Draco ignored that, instead sending a house-elf for a jewel that he had stolen last year as part of the seduction of an American witch who'd been briefly visiting England. It had taken him a while to work out what the jewel did, and he still wasn't entirely sure that that was the only thing it did. But it was interesting and powerful enough that he wouldn't hesitate to use it now.
When the elf brought the jewel, a large ruby with a hole pierced through the center, Draco held it up and looked at the owl through it. He could see spells that were meant to defend the owl from curses and speed its flight, traditional ones that were woven into the feathers of post-owls almost from their birth. He could see a few added charms that would get the owl through windows that should have been too small for it to pass through, and one or two that made him raise his eyebrows. They were protections against fire and water, something most owls wouldn't meet in any case.
But he didn't see the long, fragile golden thread that most owls also picked up, at least when they were owned by a single person instead of many—the one that led off like smoke into the distance and connected them to that owner. Draco would have been able to use the ruby to follow the smoke-trail, and another of his treasures to get a name from it. Without it, though, he really had no hope of tracing the owl back.
"Well." Draco lowered the ruby thoughtfully. He couldn't believe that someone who owned this magnificent bird would be content to share him with others, but on the other hand, he had never heard of a spell that could remove the thread of magic, either. This opponent of his was clever.
"I think I'll just keep you for a while," he told the owl comfortably, putting the ruby back into the velvet-lined box the house-elf had carried it in. "Until your owner comes looking for you, maybe?"
The owl snapped at him hard enough that Draco knew he would have lost a finger if it had been within the owl's reach, and let out a truly horrifying screech. Draco nodded slowly. "I wouldn't like losing my freedom, either," he told the owl as he floated the mesh net over to a cupboard in the side of the dining room. "But your owner should have sent a less valuable possession if he didn't mind losing it."
The owl screamed once more before it vanished from sight. Draco told the house-elves to bring a perch and a dish of food into the cupboard in about an hour, then stood.
The death-threats were becoming annoying. And skilled. When Draco examined the middle of his table, he couldn't tell what spell had blown open that particular explosion. He shook his head and clucked his tongue.
He had spent years building a reputation as someone permanently scarred by the war, someone who had retreated into his ancestral home and pleaded for peace. People who were on the underside of the black market knew better, of course, but the reputation had kept him safe.
Perhaps it was time to make it pay off in another way.
The Aurors arrived precisely three days later, when Draco was busy drinking some soup out of a cup of gold-chased unicorn horn and wondering if it had been a mistake to apply to them at all. They must have a lot of death threats to deal with, he thought as he stood up; he hadn't even received a reply to his owl.
But there were enough Aurors at his gates, waiting patiently for him to lift the interior gates of silvery enchantment that protected his home, that Draco was well-satisfied. It might take them a while to respond to threats, but they obviously came in force when they did come.
He sent another elf to take away the cup of unicorn horn and bring him his enchanted telescope as he watched the Aurors walk slowly up the drive. He had thought there was something familiar about the one in the lead—
With the telescope, it was easy to make out the wild black hair, the green eyes, even the scar on his forehead that he thought was hidden by his lamentably tangled fringe. Draco lowered his telescope and allowed himself half a minute of laughing until he couldn't breathe. It would take the Aurors longer than that to follow the guidance of the house-elf through to this room, anyway.
Harry Potter had a reputation as a dogged investigator, and a very good bodyguard. Of course they would send someone like him when a call for help came in from someone they couldn't trust. Draco wiped his tears away and shook his head. He had to be serious when he saw them. This wild rejoicing wouldn't fit in with his mask.
But it was perfect. The assignment of Harry Potter to the case would convince a bunch of people outside it, who might be inclined to doubt Draco, that this was a powerful series of threats. It would keep Draco safe even from an enemy who had the magical capabilities that his enemy had shown so far (which was the reason Draco had asked for Auror protection in the first place). It would also give Draco a slight hindrance, in that he would have to make sure Potter didn't find out his plot to break into Gringotts, but Potter, although stolid and prone to get results when he labored on a case for a long time, didn't have the reputation of sterling intelligence. Draco was sure that he could dance circles around such an Auror.
He could even have some fun while he was doing so. Draco sat back in his chair and put on the sober mask that they would expect from the Recluse of Malfoy Manor, while he planned for what he would actually do.
"We're here, Malfoy."
Draco turned his head, and blinked. Then he dragged himself to his feet out of his chair, leaning on a cane that he'd modeled after his father's. He knew from the flinches of the Aurors behind Potter that his glamour, of a pale face with heavy lines running from the corners of his mouth to the corners of his eyes, was doing its job.
Potter didn't flinch, of course, only looking at him with calm eyes. Draco schooled his disappointment after a second. He knew that Potter had seen far more alarming things, and it would be silly to expect him to run screaming, anyway.
"This is about the death threats?" Draco dropped his head and stared at the floor. "They just can't leave me alone."
He knew eyes were rolling above his head. That was good. His pretense had been designed to allow those eyes to roll. He looked up at last, and found Potter gazing at him thoughtfully, while the other Aurors muttered to each other.
"What was the last threat like?" Potter asked. "Your complaint mentioned an explosion and an owl, but that was all."
Draco sighed a bit and turned to the cupboard where he'd kept his enemy's owl imprisoned. "The scroll was delivered by this bird, and then exploded," he said in a quavering voice, waving his wand to open the door. The screech of the owl from inside actually made one of the other Aurors jump, which Draco had to admit was satisfying. "I managed to stop the owl before it escaped."
Two female Aurors moved forwards and ducked in to look at the owl, but Potter didn't. "You seem rather frail, physically and magically," he remarked, still watching Draco as if he was the interesting one in all of this. "How did you manage to entrap the owl?"
Draco smiled mistily at him. "Oh, the wards of my ancestors, the wards of my ancestors," he said, and waved his hand vaguely at the windows. "They do come in useful from time to time."
"I'm sure they do."
Well, maybe Potter would be harder to trick than Draco had thought. The way he frowned and considered seemed to mean that he was more intelligent than the rumors said. Draco concealed a sigh. That would be tiresome if it was true.
He couldn't start his plan to have fun with Potter until they were alone anyway, though. So he stood patiently smiling when the other Aurors brought the flailing and shrieking owl out, still inside its mesh, and began casting spells on it. Draco kept his head bowed and his hands clasped around the cane, watching the spellcasting from the corner of his eye. He would consider that memory in a Pensieve later and see what he could learn of the magic that the Aurors supposedly kept for themselves, away from ordinary wizards.
"You don't know why someone would threaten you?" Potter asked, drawing Draco's attention back.
Draco was too old a hand to be caught out by that trick. He widened his eyes. "But I told you that, in my complaint about the threats. Old hatreds. There's someone out there who hates me for what I did during the war."
"Many people might, but most of them wouldn't send you threats years later," said Potter. "I thought most of your money went to reparations after the war. You're sure you don't have any idea who this is?"
"An enemy," Draco said, and gave Potter a blinking look. "Someone who hates me. I already told you that."
Potter placed his fingers next to his lips, as if he was actually considering the answer this time. "What have the threats said?"
"There's been a countdown," Draco said, and lowered his voice and glanced from side to side. He knew the other Aurors were buying his cowardly act; one of them had actually said the word "coward," although it was too muffled for Draco to be sure which one of the three it was. "They said that I had twenty-four days at first to stop."
"Just stop?" Potter pressed instantly. "Not stop anything in particular?"
"What am I doing in particular," said Draco, and lowered his voice still further, "other than living?"
Potter nodded, although Draco didn't think he was entirely convinced by that. He wished he could have known if he was convinced. But he didn't want to drop the glamour or show anything different until they were alone. He waited patiently, and eventually Potter asked another question.
"How far did the countdown get?"
"Ten days as of the scroll that exploded the day I contacted you." Draco widened his eyes and rubbed his hands together. "Do you think that means I have seven days to live?"
"We'll try to think more positively than that," said Potter, with a faint smile. Draco could think positively, of course; he thought that smile was positively inane. "Well. It's not much to go on, but we'll find something."
"I'm sure you will," said Draco, and stood back and bowed when Potter looked down the corridor that led to the dining room. "Please feel free to search anywhere you'd like." Complicated glamours and spells hid Draco's treasures, his workroom, his potions lab, and everything else that he needed in order to conduct his cons. The Aurors wouldn't find anything. Draco had learned well from the regular checks he'd been subjected to after the war; the Aurors had a procedure, and Draco's spells would foil that procedure.
Potter gave him one more meaningless smile and stalked away on his rounds. Draco watched him go, smiling slightly.
This might be more of a challenge than he'd imagined. But he thought he'd like that.