Title: Of Dubious Value
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this for fun and not profit.
Wordcount: ~15,700 altogether (this part, 8000)
Warnings: Profanity, slash sex, Harry being deeply oblivious, Draco being manipulative. No epilogue, but DH spoilers.
Summary: Harry has a best friend committed to getting him psychoanalyzed, another best friend obsessed with catching Draco Malfoy in crimes they can't find evidence of him committing, and an Auror job that daily gets more stressful. He doesn't need mysterious horoscopes offering him bizarre instructions, okay?
Author's Notes: Happy birthday, megyal! She asked for a fic with the prompt of "horoscope," and here we are. This is a completed story, but will be posted in two parts due to time constraints.
Of Dubious Value
"Where were you on the night of June eighteenth, Malfoy?"
Harry sighed under his breath and implored the ceiling for help, silently. The ceiling, fantastically painted with a number of celebrity faces and "important" political events, just stared back at hum. Then Harry located his own face, and jerked his eyes away hastily. He hated that wizarding portrait of himself, which was grinning like an idiot and gesticulating in the air in a way Harry never did in real life.
"I told you, Weasley, I was reporting on a banquet given by Celestina Warbeck to announce her new song," Malfoy said. He sat at a desk in the middle of the office—neat except for the piles of parchment stacked along the walls and the cabinets above the stacks—and regarded Ron with a quizzical expression. His folded arms and the slightly snappish tone to his words were the only signs of his irritation. Harry shook his head. Malfoy had certainly changed since school. He could remember the time that a much less prolonged round of questioning from Ron would have reduced Malfoy to angry gibbering.
He's changed in other ways, too.
Not going to think about that, Harry told himself firmly, and stepped in. "Ron, it's plain as daylight that he didn't assault Michael Corner," he said. He gave Malfoy a single apologetic glance as he took Ron's arm.
Malfoy looked back at him, his eyes half-lidded and shining, and Harry started. The gaze physically hurt for a moment, as though Malfoy carried darts in his eyes.
Telling himself not to be ridiculous, Harry turned back to Ron.
"But it all fits," Ron said triumphantly. "Someone was seen running away from Corner's body—"
"Of course someone was," Harry said, beginning to lose his own patience. Ron had been trying to arrest Malfoy for something practically since the moment that they both became full Aurors and Malfoy started his career as a celebrity reporter for the Daily Prophet, filling the role Rita Skeeter had abandoned because she could get much greater profits writing books about Dumbledore. "The person who assaulted him. But there's no connection with Malfoy at all." He rolled his eyes at Malfoy in sympathy and began dragging his partner to the door. "Sorry to have bothered you."
"But the figure was in a cloak!" Ron whispered heatedly to Harry. He didn't seem to have noticed the eavesdropping spells all over the office that would bring any sound to Malfoy's ears. "And Malfoy owns a cloak!" He pointed at a blue cloak that hung on a peg just inside the door.
"I can produce four witnesses who would swear that I was covering the banquet," Malfoy said pleasantly. "Including Warbeck herself."
Harry sighed. "Yeah, that's what I thought." He pushed Ron out the door, though Ron gripped the edges of the doorframe in an attempt to prevent that, and nodded to Malfoy. "Again, sorry for wasting your time. He wouldn't shut up until we came and talked to you, though. Nice seeing you."
"Oh, yes, it was," said Malfoy, with the slow smile that had almost convinced Harry to let Malfoy interview him and had witches falling at his feet, according to the people who reported on notorious ex-Death Eaters. "And I wouldn't say that it was a waste of time. Not with what I learned."
Harry sighed again and turned away. Probably, there would be an exposé next week on "Harry Potter and His Mad Partner He Tries and Fails to Keep Under Control."
"But the cloak had a ragged hood!" Ron protested as they walked through the Prophet's headquarters to their Apparition point. Harry had to steer him around several scuttling reporters, two boys staggering under an enormous load of parchment, and a weeping witch who wandered in a zigzag pattern down the corridor.
"So what?" Harry muttered. He smiled feebly at the witch, who had stopped crying when she saw his scar. When she started to fumble for a piece of paper, he shook his head and pushed Ron to go faster.
"So the hood must have caught on something," Ron said. "Like Corner's outstretched hand as he tried frantically to restrain his assailant."
Harry, familiar with his partner's tactics, made sure Ron left the building first, so that he didn't sneak back to Malfoy's office and try to arrest him.
Although that would give me an excuse to look at him again—
Harry cut the thought off. There were photographs aplenty in the papers of late if he really wanted to indulge that kind of thing. It seemed that Malfoy was building an addition to the Manor and refused to reveal what he wanted it for. Picture after picture showed him staring moodily into the distance, wind slightly stirring his hair, as he stood next to the large wall around the building project.
Harry would be the first to admit that he'd spent far too much time noting the exact way that hair blew down to frame a face that was no longer pointy, except he had no one that he could admit it to.
Keep your mind and your eyes on your work, Harry.
You will soon meet a man who dazzles you and sweeps you off your feet!
Harry blinked and stared at the horoscope in the Prophet's Leo section. Hermione told him that reading his horoscope was a bad habit. "Nothing about it makes any sense, Harry," she would say with that painful earnestness she brought to everything she did lately, clutching his arm. "It's just generalized statements that every reader twists into something that can apply to her. Like cold reading by psychics. Now, psychoanalysis—" But that was usually the point where Harry stopped listening, because he knew all Hermione's potted lectures about psychoanalysis by heart at this point.
He'd never managed to tell her that he knew the horoscopes were rubbish, and that was why he read them. Too much else in his life was either deadly serious, like murders and kidnappings and that threat of releasing a Muggle bomb on Hogwarts last week, or ridiculousness that he had to treat seriously, like Ron and Hermione's obsessions. The horoscopes gave him a moment of laughter.
But this one was weirdly specific.
After a moment, Harry shrugged, put the paper aside, and turned to face Ron, who'd just come in with their new load of cases and two cups of tea. "What do we have for today?" he asked, Levitating his cup out of Ron's hand. Ron was apt to read interesting files on the way to the office and drop things in consequence.
Ron blinked up at him, then brightened. "I found a connection between Malfoy and the latest murder case," he said.
"Really," Harry muttered. Ron never had forgiven Malfoy for briefly dating Ginny the year after Ginny left Hogwarts and "breaking her heart." The fact that Ginny was now a happy lesbian living with her partner Lavender Brown in Wales didn't seem to enter his head. Of course, if it tried, then Ron would declare that it was Malfoy's fault for turning Ginny off men. That she also seemed to have turned Malfoy off women was a fact banished to the utter darkness of Ron's ignorance. "In what capacity?"
"See?" Face bright with the flush of the vindicated, Ron dropped the files on Harry's desk. Or, rather, he tried to drop two files and had to juggle with six others that independently decided to go in different directions. Harry Summoned them carefully back into order and looked at the two files Ron was talking about.
"Ron," he said gently.
Ron, who was humming the victory song of the Chudley Cannons under his breath, turned around with a brilliant smile. "Yes?"
"One of these is notice of a murder that's been committed in Diagon Alley," Harry said, and laid the file gingerly aside. He hated cases like this, where there would undoubtedly be a lot of interviews with real witnesses and those who only claimed to have seen something. Long, tiring days, and always someone trying to stare at or touch his scar. "And one of them is a notice of Malfoy asking for protection because someone's been threatening him. Malfoy didn't commit the murder."
"But don't you see?" Ron hitched a leg up on Harry's desk and waved his hand. This caused a passionate spray of tea to cover half the files on the desk, which Harry hissed at and spelled off. "Someone is obviously threatening Malfoy because they figured out he committed the murder. It's perfect."
"What's perfect is the way that you can keep walking upright and breathing when every other thought in your head is of Malfoy," Harry muttered crossly.
"What?" Ron peered at him.
"Nothing." Harry patted Ron on the back as he stood up. Ron was a good friend; a fortnight ago he'd had to spend three days in St. Mungo's because he'd jumped in the path of a curse meant for Harry. Putting up with meanderings about Malfoy was a small price to pay. "But I'll have to take the Malfoy case file back to Robards. They must have made some mistake. No one would ask us to protect him."
Ron grimaced and nodded. "Right. Because the Ministry gets embarrassed when we arrest murderers after acting as their bodyguards. So we'll have to sneak in later and arrest him with good old-fashioned detective work!"
"Sure," Harry said kindly, and then walked off down the corridor, shaking his head.
If he'd just get over this idiotic fear that's holding him back and ask Hermione to marry him, then maybe he'd be less obsessed with someone who's never hurt him since they were both schoolboys.
Harry stared at Robards, so flabbergasted that he found it hard to talk for a moment. But he shook his head and murmured at last, "You know Ron's obsession with Malfoy, sir. I really don't think it would be a good idea to depend on him to guard Malfoy's life."
"Know that," Robards said, in that abrupt manner of talking he had. Harry had to admit it suited his rugged face—unnaturally rugged, since a Dark curse had chipped off corners of his jaw and nose—and constant ferocious scowl. "Only suggested you for the case, and not Weasley. Malfoy named you specifically."
Harry blinked. "But, sir, without a partner, Ron is—" Perhaps the Muggle metaphor of the "loose cannon" would have fit an unpartnered Ron best, except that Harry didn't think it conveyed an adequate sense of fire, smoke, and screams.
"Weasley's on desk duty for however long it takes you to resolve the Malfoy case." Robards leaned towards Harry and lowered his voice. "Tell you the truth, it's the only thing I can think of that'll bring him to his senses." And he winked significantly.
Harry stared again, but then smiled. It appeared that he wasn't the only one who had connected Ron and Hermione's obsessions to their shared sexual repression.
"I understand, sir," he said. "Do I break the news to him, or—"
"Malfoy wants you on duty as soon as possible," Robards said, putting his hands behind his head. "Break the news myself. Off you go."
Harry nodded and jogged out of the office, reading the file as he went. Malfoy's details on the threats were vague, coy to the point of being unhelpful. Harry sighed. Well, I reckon I can ask what's going on when I see him.
"Watch out, Potter! The floor—"
Harry heard the warning too late.
He'd been told to go to Malfoy Manor to meet Malfoy, and he'd been unable to find him in the entrance hall, the library, the bedrooms that the house-elves were willing to admit him to, or any of the rooms that looked as if they were made to receive visitors. So he'd wandered over to the new wing, and heard Malfoy shout absently for him to come in when he'd called his name.
The room, just inside the wall that surrounded the new wing, was enormous, and had a shining white ceiling, white floor, white walls, and a silver-edged opening in the roof that looked out onto a dazzling black nothingness. Harry stepped in and tilted his head back, gaping.
And then his feet went out from under him, because the floor was apparently Transfigured from ice. Harry braced himself to hit.
He hit nothing except a pair of strong arms, and then he was drooping over the arms like he was a woman in one of the extreme kinds of dances. Harry took a deep, huffing breath and peered up at his savior.
Malfoy looked back at him, his face not quite wearing an amused smile, his eyes not quite shining with merriment.
"Looks like I'm sweeping you off your feet, Potter," he chuckled.
The words of the horoscope from that morning came back into Harry's mind, and he could shake his head and laugh, too. He was glad he had the laughter to counter an overactive imagination when Malfoy set him back on his feet and then touched his shoulder to smooth out the wrinkles in his robes. His hand did not linger, almost stroking, for one moment, because the men Harry liked in a quiet sort of way never liked him back. And that wasn't what Harry was here for.
He cleared his throat and moved away from Malfoy, though he kept his eyes on him. It was easier than trying to look around the dazzling room. "What exactly is this going to be?" he asked.
"It's a blank at the moment." Malfoy looked modest when Harry peered at him in confusion. "A new style of wizarding architecture. The basic form of the room is laid out first, and then magic is brought in through an established gate to wizardspace to Transfigure it to one's specifications."
"Then that only makes my question more relevant," Harry said. "What is it going to be?"
Malfoy blinked at him so hard that Harry thought he'd said something wrong. Then he chuckled again. "Why, Potter, that was almost charming."
"I've learned something about relating to other people, after having been an Auror for five years," Harry said dryly, and then moved on. He'd found it didn't do to let people consider his charm, or lack of it, too long. Facile remarks and jokes weren't the same as true tact, the kind that Kingsley had. "So?"
"That depends," said Malfoy, his face thoughtful. "I still haven't decided on the ideal look for the wing, you see. What do you think, Potter? Would you rather enter a room to be with your friends first, or a private space where you could hang your cloak up on the wall and relax?" He turned and pinned Harry with an odd, intent look.
Harry blinked, wondered if he should give up the choice for fear of saying something that would offend Malfoy, and then decided that it wasn't an important enough question for his answer to matter. They were only making small talk, after all, until Harry could move on to the more important question of who was sending Malfoy the threats. "A public space first," he said. "I don't like people passing through my private spaces, and they'd have to if this one was right next to the front door."
Malfoy blinked as if he'd never heard anything so sensible. Then he murmured, "You don't allow anyone into those private spaces? Not even the lovers that I've written so many columns about?"
The sharpness in his voice on the last words made Harry give him a narrow glance. Malfoy's face was bland, but still… "You know as well as I do how many of those columns are only written to sell newspapers," he said. "And if you're worried about my bringing a lover over on the job, rest assured I would never—"
"No, I have no reason to doubt your professionalism," Malfoy said, with a little sigh in his voice that Harry didn't understand. He turned around, and Harry noticed only then he was wearing a set of mouse-grey robes that, for some reason, went nicely with both his hair and his eyes. "Well, come with me, and we can discuss your quarters and my schedule."
"And the threats you're getting," Harry pointed out helpfully as he trailed behind Malfoy.
There was only a slight check in the long stride, but then Malfoy glanced over his shoulder and nodded. His hair, bleached almost to the color of dandelion fluff by time out in the sun, brushed and rustled along his cheeks. "Of course."
Interesting. Is there something about the threats that he doesn't want to tell me? Harry decided to set himself to work to dig them out. He'd learned patience as well as tact in the last five years. It had taken enormous amounts of tact to get several of his instructors to accept that he was ready to get out of training.
You've long wanted something that you've resigned yourself to seeing only in incredible dreams. But this is the day dreams come true! Just be sure not to miss lunch, or that dream might take flight.
Harry rolled his eyes and snorted. "Well, the first part sounds normal again, but the mention of lunch is still odd," he muttered, and put the Prophet down.
"What was that?"
Malfoy somehow managed to look perfectly impeccable in the morning, which Harry was sure ought to be illegal. He wore a set of cream-colored robes today, with fugitive hints of blue, and he was studying his own paper with attention. Probably looking for misspelled words in his column, Harry thought; Malfoy had explained last night to him, with great emphasis and detail over the wine he'd insisted that Harry share, what misguided and abominable beasts most printers were.
"The horoscope," Harry said, and swallowed his last bite of toast as he considered his plans for the day. Malfoy hadn't given him that much detail about the threats yet, and seemed to assume he could continue his normal life—appearing at parties and interviews, writing, and corresponding by owl from his relatively undefended office—whilst Harry guarded him. "The Leo horoscopes have been weirdly specific the last few days."
Malfoy laughed. The sound seemed to reach into Harry's chest and find bits of happiness hiding there that he'd never seen. He lowered his head to his plate again, even though there was nothing left, hoping to hide some of his flush. "That's Bethany Helser. She does love to insert odd sentences from the novel she claims she's writing. She says it's the only way someone will ever read some of her 'true passion,' and she's very tragic about it." Malfoy shook his head and stood up. "Are you ready to leave?"
Harry scrambled awkwardly to his feet, wondering again why Malfoy had requested him. He was out of place in the magnificent dining room, which looked as if it were decorated with every kind of expensive wood, stone, and metal in existence.
But you're the best Auror at bodyguard work, and that's what matters, he told himself. "I think that you should reconsider leaving the house, Malfoy. Surely it won't make much difference if you write your columns at home for a few days, or do your interviews by firecall."
"It makes a difference to people like Celestina Warbeck," Malfoy said sharply, arranging a row of golden buttons on his robe, "who thinks it's an insult if someone doesn't beg fifty times for a guaranteed invitation."
"Warbeck?" Harry shook his head. "Didn't you just cover her a week ago?"
"New song coming out," Malfoy said, with a deadpan expression that made Harry smile. "You wouldn't believe how important." He fluttered his eyelashes, then abruptly became sober again. "But I refuse to let some crazy stalker control my life."
"A stalker?" Harry pounced on this information, which was more than Malfoy had given him last night. Harry knew he should have been more forceful and demanded the details, but firelight turned Malfoy golden and wine loosened his tongue, and it was a bit much for someone with a crush on him to resist. "How is he crazy? Or she? What are the letters they're sending you like?"
"Uninteresting, Potter." Malfoy shook his head in irritation. "They say all the usual things."
"Like what?" Harry asked, and frowned back when Malfoy frowned at him. "No matter what you may think, there is some variation in craziness, Malfoy. Threatening to kill you is different from saying that someone wants to spend the rest of his life with you and is perishing for a sideways glance from you."
Malfoy smiled, and Harry found out that a single expression could dissolve his belly. "Why, Harry," he said. "You sound especially fluent on those last words. Are those by any chance coming from experience?"
I've felt that, though I've never written a letter like that, Harry had the insane temptation to answer. But because it was insane and he was rational, most of the time—someone had to be, caught in the crossfire of Ron and Hermione's passion for each other—he managed to raise an eyebrow and say, "I'm not granting you anything that might reappear in your column. Now, which category are we dealing with?"
"The claims of eternal love and all that rot." Malfoy rolled his eyes. "I wouldn't have called the Aurors at all, but I was promised an interruption during an interview."
"Do you need protection, then?" Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had thought Malfoy had changed, at least enough not to call on Auror protection when he didn't require it. "If I could be helping someone else, someone who's in danger of more than losing a few readers—" He shook his head and stepped back.
Malfoy reached out to catch his arm, his eyes wide and oddly panicked. Even that look made him adorable. Harry hissed under his breath. My crush is getting out of control.
"I'll show you the letters after the Warbeck interview," Malfoy said, rushing through his words. "And I do think there's something off about them, mainly because of the way they're written. I make my living writing, remember? I can analyze words. I haven't wanted to show them to you before because I didn't want to think about it, but I need—I mean, I do want Auror protection." He swallowed and looked at the floor. "I didn't want to think about it," he repeated, low enough that Harry could hardly hear him.
Harry found it far too easy to forgive him. But then, he'd run into this before, too, people who actively went about in denial that their lives were in danger. At least Malfoy had called in help before it was too late.
"It's all right," he whispered, and found himself stroking Malfoy's shoulder without realizing when that had started to happen. "I believe you."
Malfoy looked up at him with an expression of gratitude that heated and turned his eyes a darker grey. Harry swallowed and stared, enchanted, before tearing his gaze away.
"Thank you," Malfoy whispered, and caught Harry's hand, his fingers rubbing down the palm. "That means the world to me."
Oddly enough, Harry had the impression that he was talking not about the protection, but about Harry's belief in him.
Which is strange.
But then, what about my life is normal these days?
"And of course Caroline has lunch ready for us. Caroline!"
Lunch. Thank God. Harry didn't think he could take one more minute of Malfoy interviewing Celestina Warbeck, no matter how good the Auror training had been that allowed him to keep a polite smile frozen on his face.
It wasn't just one thing that made it so intolerable. If it had only been Warbeck's giggle, or the way she fluttered her eyelashes at Malfoy, or the horrible pink spiked array of her hair, or the flirtatious glances she cast at Harry sometimes, or the blue-and-white china brightness of her house, or the thousand and one times she described herself as "modern" and "fresh" and "reinvented," then he could have borne it.
But all together? This was a new definition of hell, one that Harry thought even Umbridge wouldn't have dreamed up to inflict on her students.
Now, though, that part of the interview was over, and Caroline, Warbeck's human maid—"I won't use house-elves, so vulgar, and they can never keep themselves clean, don't you find that, Draco dear?"—was laying lunch across the table. Malfoy was still asking questions about the new song as he stood up, and so Harry was resigned to the interview continuing throughout the meal. But at least with food on the table, he would have something else to concentrate on.
And for twenty minutes or so, that worked fairly well. Harry closed his eyes in spite of himself as he ate his way through a crisp salad, and then he decided it wouldn't be too rude to take a second one of the delicious ham sandwiches that lay on the platter in front of him.
Yes, everything was going splendidly.
Until Malfoy's foot ran up his leg.
Harry choked on his sandwich, then coughed hard enough that he had to lay it down. Warbeck looked at him in mild irritation. "I'm sure that you can't choke on that sandwich," she said. "Caroline made it specially to be soft and easy to swallow."
Harry would have answered, except Malfoy—seated beside Warbeck, so that she couldn't see his face when she was looking at Harry—caught his eye then and mouthed the words, "easy to swallow," with a wicked twist of emphasis that made him want to fall apart. Harry cleared his throat and looked away, reaching blindly for the crystalline glass of water that sat next to his plate. His fingers struck it in the middle, and he had to work to keep it from falling.
"My, my," Warbeck said, in a loud whisper that Harry was obviously meant to hear. "So clumsy. Not what one would have expected of a war hero and Auror at all. Don't they need to be coordinated, to run after Dark wizards along rugged ground?"
"You're the real athlete, Celestina dear," Malfoy said, with every appearance of sincerity. "How many octaves did you cover in that song?"
Warbeck blushed and simpered, and Harry cast Malfoy a warning glance. Malfoy gave him a scintillating, shining look back, so deep that Harry tried hastily to hide his blush in his sandwich, which made him cough again, which made Warbeck scold him again and appeal to Malfoy about the lack of manners in young people. Harry made a private promise not to buy any more of her albums, not even as gifts for Ginny. Malfoy solemnly agreed that lack of training in manners was a great shame, and slid his left hand back and forth along Harry's thigh beneath the table.
At least he winced when Harry reached down and pinched the back of his hand. Harry was satisfied. Ron had taught him to pinch like that, after he'd used the tactic to escape a Death Eater who had him pinned.
But then Malfoy brought his foot into play again, and Harry couldn't do anything about it without upsetting the whole table.
Malfoy, it seemed, knew things about music that only trained performers did. He kept Warbeck laughing and chattering at that meal for far longer than was necessary, until Harry had also promised never to provide bodyguard duty to anyone with the name of Malfoy again, no matter how much he needed it.
And then Malfoy was saying, "It was a lovely interview, Celestina, thank you for inviting us," and holding out his hand, as if Harry needed his help in rising to his feet like some helpless toddler. Harry gave him a sharp glance, which Malfoy returned with a heated one, again. Harry deliberately cast a spell that caused his erection to subside and ignored the offered hand as he stood up.
"Of course, Draco." And Warbeck clucked her tongue and shook her head at Harry. "You might consider taking a few lessons in politeness and handling true celebrity gracefully before you're around it again, Harry dear."
Harry held in a deep breath and began repeating a single thought in a steady chant to himself. I will not turn Celestina Warbeck into a toad, I will not turn Celestina Warbeck into a toad…
The moment they were out in the street, he turned to Malfoy and said, "Don't ever do that again."
Malfoy's eyes were full of such amusement that he looked as if he might burst. And then he actually wriggled in place, like an excited puppy, and Harry told himself that was not cute just because he was attracted to the git. "I'm afraid I rather have to," he said, voice still too low, eyes still too bright. "It's rather my job, you see."
"Don't flirt with me in front of an interviewee, then." Harry turned away sharply. "And I notice there was no threat directed at you the entire time we were there."
"That's because I had a big, strong Auror with me," Malfoy said happily. "And really, would you have missed lunch for anything? That was like a dream come true. Such good food, such good company…"
Harry knew a smoldering glance would be waiting for him if he wanted to meet it. He didn't care. He gritted his teeth and focused his eyes straight ahead, and Malfoy hummed under his breath and then apparently decided to change the subject.
"What's your favorite color, Potter?"
Harry turned to scowl at him. "Was this something from the letters?" he demanded. "Remember that you were going to show me the letters."
Malfoy grinned like an idiot, which made him the intellectual equal of the people who ignored Harry's tone when he spoke like that. "Can't a bloke make ordinary conversation about semi-important subjects?"
Harry ran a hand through his hair. "Fine," he said in a hiss. "I don't have a single favorite color. I like various shades of green, various shades of red and gold—and don't start about loyalty to Gryffindor—and a few colors of blue, and sometimes white. In accents. And also bits of purple."
Malfoy stayed silent so long that Harry wondered if he had actually been kidnapped away from his side and Harry hadn't noticed. They were only a few strides from the Apparition point, and it wouldn't be a bad place for someone to strike if they were intent on kidnapping Malfoy instead of killing him. Harry turned around, body already starting to fall into a fighter's crouch.
Then Malfoy caught his eye and smiled.
And, just as had happened the day that Ron and Harry visited him in his office, the sensation of their gazes meeting sent a spark of sharp pain through Harry's brain. He flinched and backed away, shaking his head.
"What's wrong?" Malfoy sounded solicitous, and stepped towards him, his hand lifted as if he would touch Harry's temple.
"It's nothing." Harry knew his words sounded stilted, but really, he didn't want or need Malfoy's pity. "Let's get home so you can show me those letters."
"Why, Harry." Malfoy's voice dropped into truly disturbing registers. "I didn't recall inviting you to think of the Manor as home. Are you always this free with your assignments' living quarters?" He looked absolutely delighted, the flush high across his cheeks and his eyes shining to match Dumbledore's.
"I can see why someone would want to murder you," Harry said darkly.
Malfoy tossed his head back with a laugh. Something had put him in a good mood, but Harry had no idea what. Certainly he wouldn't call his own grammatical fumbles that amusing, let alone the distasteful interview with Warbeck. Harry waited patiently until he stopped laughing, and then cast a spell that would detect any Dark Arts about. Interestingly, they identified one of the glamours on Warbeck's house as illegal, but nothing else nearby. Harry shook his head.
"Yes," Malfoy said, and stopped laughing to give him a surprisingly soft smile. Harry rolled his eyes. The man probably knew of Harry's attraction to him and thought it funny to flirt and make silent promises that of course he would never act on. Maybe the smile was his way of apologizing, though. "Yes, let's go home."
And then he walked to the Apparition point and Apparated out as though nothing was wrong.
Harry muttered under his breath, imagined Malfoy's perfect little mask dissolving if he was there to hear just what Harry muttered, and then followed.
There'll be something special waiting for you in your bedroom tonight, if you're patient and stay awake until midnight.
For once, it satisfied Harry to know that the stupid horoscope in the paper that morning was wrong—had to be wrong, because at the moment he was sneaking along the corner of Malfoy Manor in pursuit of an elusive shadowy figure he'd seen from his window. Nothing else about the day had gone right.
Malfoy had "lost" the threatening letters that he'd acquired, but had said cheerfully that another one was sure to be delivered that day. Then he'd sat in his office writing all morning. From time to time, he would look up to give Harry another one of those deep glances and brilliant smiles. Harry appreciated them on a level he wished he could deny existed, but whenever he scowled back to let Malfoy know this was Serious Auror Business, Malfoy would chuckle and go back to polishing up his copy.
Then they'd spent the afternoon at yet another boring interview, this one with a wizard who was actually about forty but had been hit with an Aging Curse during the first war with Voldemort, which afflicted him with all the physical problems of a wizard of thirty years older—including a wandering memory. Malfoy wanted to write a "human interest" story about "a dying war veteran." In vain, Harry had tried to point out that the wizard was not really a seventy-year-old war hero. Malfoy had pointed out that no one who regularly read his column would care, and patiently listened to the same story six times.
Then had come dinner, at which Malfoy held out numerous portions of food to Harry on his fork, and said nothing at all. Harry had finally been rude, in a way that would cause Robards to pull him off the case if he knew. But each time, Malfoy leaned back in the chair and smirked as if he knew something Harry didn't.
Harry couldn't imagine what that would be. He knew that Malfoy knew about his little crush, and obviously he'd chosen to exploit it for the embarrassment factor. But that was hardly a secret by this point.
Harry was glad to get into his bedroom, cast some reinforcement spells, and work off his frustration with several dueling hexes. Then he'd looked out the window, seen the figure creeping along, and decided that today wasn't a total wash, after all.
And there was the fleeting movement ahead of him that he'd been looking for. Harry smiled viciously and cast Levicorpus under his breath. The stalker flew up into the air with a yelp, hanging by his ankle. Harry jogged up to him, already imagining Robards' commendation. It was rare that anyone doing bodyguard duty caught the problem witch or wizard so quickly and easily. Most of them were clever enough to stay out of sight—
And then the figure cursed in a very familiar voice, and Harry came to a stop, staring up at him in shock. "Ron?" he asked when he could speak.
"Harry," Ron said, and bobbed his head at him. "So I was right. That bastard Robards did assign you here. Ha!" He punched the air with his fist in triumph, but since he was hanging upside-down, this only caused his robe to billow oddly and then fall over his face. Harry put a hand over his own face, massaging with his fingertips between his eyes. Yes, even without the scar able to affect him like it had before, this was going to be a monstrous fucker of a headache.
"Ron, what are you doing here?" Harry asked, once he thought he had the calmness of mind back so that he wouldn't scream the Manor down.
"Sneaking around trying to find out Malfoy's crimes, of course." Ron lowered his voice, which was a bad thing, since his words were already so muffled by the robe that Harry now found it hard to understand him. "Did you know that I saw him putting on this slinky pale robe through his window a minute ago? Obviously he's about to go into the new wing he's building and corrupt an unwilling virgin. His wing must be the center of all his criminal activities. I don't know why I didn't think of that before." Ron shook his head in amazement.
"Ron," Harry said in a fragile voice, "Malfoy is not a criminal." Unless being infuriatingly attractive and willing to make fun of someone for being attracted to him is a crime, which it should be, his mind ended unhelpfully. But Ron would be utterly unable to comprehend that Harry liked Malfoy in any way, which was one of the reasons Harry had never mentioned it to him; he didn't want to deal with weeks of blank stares and endless outbursts, of "What?" "You're not going to find anything. Go home, and go to bed. Preferably a bed with Hermione in it," he added, fed up with coy references.
Ron made a gasping sound, not inconsistent with having opened his mouth and inhaled some of his robe. "What?" he asked, coughing. "Mate, did you say something about Hermione?"
"Yes, I did," Harry said. "Go fuck Hermione. Go ask her to marry you. Go ask her to be your live-in lover. I don't care. Just get the fuck out of here, Ron, and stop thinking about Malfoy. He's an unhealthy obsession of yours." Next to which my own unhealthy obsession looks like the small pile of shit it really is.
"Harry, I'm surprised at you." Ron sounded deeply shocked. "If I go away and you go back to guarding Malfoy, who's going to save the unwilling virgin?"
Harry, fed up beyond measure, made a highly illegal Portkey out of one of Malfoy's carnations and pinned it to Ron's robe. Ron vanished back to his house in mid-sentence, as he busily planned a raid on Malfoy's new wing. Harry rolled his eyes and turned back to his own bedroom.
Of course, it was possible that Ron had really seen Malfoy dressing in the kind of robe that he would receive a lover in. And if he had, so bloody what? It was none of Harry's business, unless Malfoy was idiot enough to leave the house and head to a rendezvous with someone who could turn out to be his stalker.
If the stalker existed. Harry was beginning to assume it, he, or she didn't.
When he got back to his bedroom, he was exhausted enough to tumble into bed immediately and close his eyes. The last thought running through his head before his consciousness dimmed was, See, horoscope? It's twelve-thirty now, and nothing unusual happened.
He did hear something, once, that sounded like knocking on a door, but that was part of a long and complicated dream where Malfoy meant the sweet nothingness he was whispering to Harry, so he didn't pay any attention.
Harry rolled his eyes and leaned against the door of Malfoy's home office, thoroughly bored. Malfoy was irritated with him for some reason. He kept snapping at Harry all through breakfast, calling him "late," and then refused to allow Harry in the same room as he was whilst he worked on the column about the wizard hit by the Aging Curse. Harry had compromised by casting every detection spell he could think of on the room, so it would alert him if anyone else or any Dark magic entered it, and then standing outside the door.
To distract himself, Harry decided to think about the horoscope in the paper that morning. Once again, it had been specific, though how well it would work as a line in an unpublished novel, Harry couldn't see. Perhaps the whole thing was written in second person. Your dreams still have a chance of passing you by. But when you fall sprawling, perhaps you'll see your most desired lover from a new angle and understand the true potential of acting more freely. After all, you've always been so uptight, haven't you?
Or maybe that was dialogue that one character said to another, Harry thought, stifling a yawn. Not very natural dialogue. He didn't think he'd be interested in reading Bethany Helser's book even if she did get it published.
Maybe the main character writes horoscopes for a living.
Suddenly, the detection spells went mad, causing red clouds of light to blaze in front of Harry's eyes and bells to wail in his head. He leaped to his feet and whirled towards the door, knocking furiously. "Malfoy!" he yelled. "Malfoy, are you all right?"
"Come quickly, Harry!"
Harry battered the door open with his shoulder, charged into the room—
And tripped over something invisible to fall sprawling on the floor. He looked up, blinking.
Only to realize one of the reasons Malfoy had wanted to be alone. He was wearing a transparent robe, and his legs were barely crossed, his cock hanging heavy and full and half-erect. Harry glanced away at once, and hoped that his flush wasn't bright enough to set the carpet on fire. Malfoy must have used the morning to write a letter to his lover, probably wanking on the way.
Then the detection spells yelled at him again, and Harry sprang to his feet. "What happened?" he asked, spinning in a circle and casting a net of shields as he went, so that Malfoy would have a defense against attacks from any corner of the room.
"An owl, with a new letter." Malfoy's voice was low. Harry prayed it wasn't with arousal. "It's over there on the windowsill."
Harry went to retrieve the envelope. The owl blinked up at him, and hopped tamely enough to his hand. Harry frowned at it. It was a small brown bird, a generic post owl. He would have thought a stalker would want to use a more threatening owl, maybe like the eagle-owl Malfoy had once had to deliver his parcels in Hogwarts. But then again, there were advantages to using a bird that no one could trace. "Does the same bird always bring it?" he asked, as he unhooked the envelope and searched in his robe pocket to find a stale treat he could offer.
"No." Malfoy's voice had returned to the high-pitched irritation he'd used to dismiss Harry to guard duty on the door that morning. "It's always a post owl, but sometimes they're larger, and sometimes they come decorated with ribbons and bells." He shifted back and forth, and uttered a very loud sigh. Harry ignored him so that he could cast more detection spells on the envelope.
Nothing, and nothing. To all appearances, it was an ordinary envelope that contained a single sheet of thin paper. Harry at last laid the letter on the windowsill and used a Slitting Spell to open it. The sheet of parchment he manipulated to float in front of him and unfold on its own, so that he could read it safely.
Dearest Draco, said the salutation, with a lot of spots, as though the writer had sat there with the ink dripping from the quill whilst they'd considered the next words.
I've often wondered what we would be like together. I've often pictured you in your nakedness, shining like the moon was trapped inside your skin, your limbs svelte and shining with sweat. Would you roll on top of me and lick along my neck? Would you taste of salt, and wonder, and musk, and honey?
Harry raised his eyebrows. He could see why an unsolicited comment like this might annoy Draco, but there was no trace of the craziness that Draco had told him was detectable through the letters.
On the other hand, maybe they started out normal and became mad later on. He plowed through the next paragraph.
Or would you taste like something else, some alien flower crowned with shining nectar? (Harry noted absently that the writer really liked the word "shining"; it was underlined each time it appeared). And then, when you embraced me, would the musk transfer to my skin, and replace my own natural scent? I rather hope so. I am content with embracing you, but I am not content with my natural scent. I want something more. I want to mix with you, to become molten into you.
A little more promising as far as madness went, but Harry still wouldn't have called this a letter from a stalker frightening enough to require protection. Perplexed, he glanced at Draco, and then saw that he'd risen and lifted a leg over the desk, so that his groin was more visible than ever. Harry swallowed and looked back at the letter, but there was nothing for the signature except a question mark. Harry rolled his eyes. It's as though someone wrote this from a generic template, with no idea of what a threatening letter is really supposed to sound like.
"Well, I can see why you aren't very worried about this writer, if this is typical of the letters you receive," he said dryly, and pushed the letter back into the envelope with a flick of his wand. He knew that Robards would want to take a look at it; from the sound of it, Malfoy hadn't sent any samples of the threatening letters to the Auror Office. "On the other hand, why did you call in protection, if you aren't worried?" He pushed his hair back from his scar and looked inquiringly at Malfoy, focusing on his nose instead of the, er, the other long and straight part of his body he wanted to focus on.
Malfoy shut his eyes and moaned softly. "So many attempts," he said. "And it's fruitless. Fruitless. I ask them to send me the best Auror in the Department. They send me the dumbest one."
"If you're prefer to send me away and have someone else come in—" Harry began, teeth clenched. He would not be rude to Malfoy, no matter the temptation. He'd already acted unprofessional enough on this case.
Malfoy snapped his eyes open and waved a hand at Harry. "No, I still want you around," he said. "I just happen to be hacked off at you right now. Go away, would you?"
Harry cast one more detection spell on the room, shook his head, and went out, taking the letter with him.
He'd occupy himself in writing to Robards and explaining the situation. And maybe then, Malfoy could have his wank in peace.
Too bad I won't get the chance, he thought, wistfully, and for the first time acknowledged why he'd like it, by pressing a hand into his crotch in the hope that he would calm down. Unexpected glimpses of Malfoy's—heirlooms—could apparently do that to him.