Title: Leopardspaw

Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.

Pairing: Eventual Harry/Draco, past Lucius/Narcissa

Rating: R

Warnings: Violence, some angst

Summary: The Ministry is very sorry that its latest mistake—an artifact that was supposed to let Aurors detect lies—blew up on Harry, and now he can detect lies every time someone tells one. (Inquiries are continuing). The Ministry is also sorry that they can't tell Harry how long the effect would last. (Unspeakables are working around the clock). And the Ministry would probably be two times sorrier if they knew that Draco Malfoy has hired Harry to find his father, who's escaped from Azkaban. (The Chosen One should be able to have a full and normal life).

Author's Notes: Despite the angst warning, and the fact that this is a mystery, it also has a fair amount of humor. I'm not currently sure how long it will be. The title is a variation on the term "catspaw."


Chapter One—Remains of an Artifact

Harry buried his face in his hands, and groaned. The ability to detect lies was even more annoying when the lies were on paper .

Dear Harry,

I know you don't know me, but I've done work for years with Veritaserum and improving other potions that could arrange for a patient to tell the truth without doing the violence to the patient's psyche that Veritaserum does. I would love to arrange a meeting with you so that we can talk about the ways that your situation could help, and how you do and do not resemble a patient under Veritaserum…

Harry eyed the letter with the bleariness caused by a long night of drinking. The alcohol did nothing to stop the magic plaguing him, but Harry continued because, at least by the time he was unconscious, he wasn't awake to hear or read falsehoods, either. The first sentence was okay, but the "Dear" before the salutation and various words in the second sentence, especially "arrange," glowed bright red.

"You're a researcher, and you want to benefit from nasty magical accidents, and you don't care what the fuck happens to me," Harry said aloud, and let his head fall back on the pillow propped on the arm of his couch. "That's what that means."

He crumpled the letter up and threw it away, into the giant stack of parchment that leaned against the wall of his drawing room. He could have Incendioed it at any time, or raked it all into the fireplace and got rid of it that way, and he knew it, but he liked the look of it sitting there. Sometimes he thought he was getting too complacent about his place as the Boy-Who-Lived in the wizarding world, too used to recoiling from his cynicism and thinking, Oh, no, sure there aren't that many people out there who see me as a meal ticket.

The pile would remind him that, yes, his cynicism was wrong. By not being deep enough.

Harry tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling. Then he stared at his hands. They hadn't changed since that day when the Ministry's latest experimental artifact—

(And when had they started trusting the Unspeakables to invent things, instead of just studying mysteries invented by other people? If they wanted inventors, they had George and Ron for that).

-exploded on him. There was a deep black stain on his thumb and his palm, which he had flung up in front of him to try and get the artifact away when it had started bursting with sparks. Lesser dark marks, rather like ink, with shades of purple in them, covered the insides of his other fingers. And the same marks had repeated on the left hand, even though he hadn't been holding the damn silver ball in that one.

Harry had spent three days with Unspeakables clucking over him, analyzing the marks and asking him about the sensations he'd felt when the artifact burst apart and telling him long, earnest, boring stories of other people who had been afflicted by similar spells. And then he'd gone to Kingsley and announced that he was bloody taking a bloody leave of bloody absence, and he would hex anyone who tried to stop him. Kingsley had agreed, perhaps to stop objects from rotating around his office like satellites around the moon.

And then Harry had ended up here. At home. With nothing much to do except field the letters that came from people who had heard about his stupid truth-telling ability—because of course the Unspeakables couldn't keep that quiet, of course not—and wanted him to make their fortunes or change their lives.

Or marry them. The marriage proposals had never stopped since he defeated Voldemort, really, but this had increased them when they'd been quiet for a little while. Harry shook his head. He himself knew he was no catch. Oh, sure, there was the fame, and the scar and the eyes that some people were apparently crazy about, but who really wanted a spouse who would always know when they were lying?

And who would want one who flinched out of his sleep with weird dreams, and felt the stirrings of the Horcrux in him on the anniversary of the day he had destroyed it each year, and sometimes woke gasping from a nightmare that turned out to be the truth, predicting a particularly hideous future? Hermione had told him he was probably a natural Seer of some kind and had urged him to go get studied, but Harry had chosen the right, withering words for that idea, and she'd given it up.

That's another thing, Harry thought, rubbing his forehead and yawning. Who would want a husband with an absolutely horrible temper, either?

At first, the leave of absence had been nice. The Ministry tended to give him their hardest cases, because then the prestige when he solved them was greater and made the Ministry officials look so much wiser, and Harry had lived and overflowed with his work for the past two years. But now…

Now, he was bored.

There were only so many mornings he could sleep in, only so many meals he could cook for hours and then eat, only so much post to sort through.

Harry stood and wandered into his kitchen. There were pots everywhere, even though he'd scrubbed his counters after his latest disastrous encounter with that particular roasted chicken recipe that Molly had lent him, and so at least those were gleaming. (One day, Harry promised himself, he would get the stupid chicken right). Harry eyed all of them, and sighed. No, he was really and truly bored. Not even the thought of dumping a lot of ingredients into one pot and seeing how bad he could get them to smell cheered him up.

The fireplace blazed. Harry turned towards it and dragged the nearest chair over so he could sit comfortably.

"Mate." Ron grinned at him out of the flames. "Changed your mind and decided to come into the ranks of the truly happy?"

"You go to hell," Harry told him gently. "Yeah, I'm bored, but being a test subject for you and George is worse."

Ron just shook his head. Harry couldn't be sure, but he thought Ron's hair was purple at the moment, and he had a large, darkening bruise under his cheekbone. Harry snorted. Sure, he'd been wounded on cases and he had those bloody marks on his hands, but at least he didn't deliberately get injured on the job and call it fun.

"Actually," Ron said, stretching the words out, "there is something you could help us with that wouldn't lead to any physical danger."

Harry eyed him narrowly. Ron would have glowed red if he was lying. Harry had tested the effect during those first three days when it was still interesting, and it didn't matter if the person in question was surrounded by flames in a firecall, under an Invisibility Cloak, or in another room. The red glow would still reveal them. Harry reckoned it would be of great use if he was ever stalked by invisible assassins who were also in the habit of talking aloud to themselves, and not many other times. "What is it?" he asked.

"George's latest idea is this orange powder you eat, and it turns everything you say into a funny story," Ron said happily. "But sometimes it just makes you say embarrassing things instead. We want you there to make sure those things are lies—"

He stopped. He stuttered. He said, "Er, it was an idea, right? See you, mate." And the fire flared, and shut.

Harry shook his head. He still didn't know exactly what his face looked like when he got angry, but it worked.

And he wasn't as angry at Ron as he would have been at someone else assuming that what he really wanted was to use his ability to detect lies for their benefit. Ron was his best friend, and that stayed the same no matter where he worked, or what he wanted Harry to do. Or what expressions he could be intimidated with.

Harry stood up and crossed out of the kitchen, into the drawing room, and over to the small door set in the wall opposite the bedroom. If he was really this bored, he could always find something to do in the training room. Locked with several dozen kinds of wards, the door was, but it all melted away at his touch. It would be bloody inconvenient to be kept out of a place in his own house.

And the room had more kinds of wards on it still, to prevent the Ministry or any of his neighbors from detecting the experimental spells, hexes, and curses he performed in it. Maybe it was time to see if he could get the Slashing Hex right.

Harry sighed as he stepped out of the training room and brushed the straw and red powder clinging to his robes off. That was the remains of one sorry target. Harry liked to conjure ones that were made of straw but also had a red liquid flowing through the sacks that surrounded them, so he knew the blood patterns his spells would make.

(He couldn't do anything too violent, after all. The Ministry was as careful of his virgin reputation as a whole herd of unicorns).

A shower, Harry thought, as he strolled towards the bathroom. A long, hot one that would make his muscles feel like they were melting. Then he would sit on the couch and eat his dinner, and perhaps then there would be something interesting on the telly. He hadn't believed he would ever watch the one Hermione had got him—he'd essentially grown up without it, since Dudley wouldn't let him watch it anyway—but he'd grown fond of a couple of ridiculous programmes.

Then he saw the owl waiting on the perch for guest owls at the far side of the room.

Harry paused and scowled at it. It was a magnificent bird, silvery-grey, with black tips to the feathers, but that only made it more annoying, because its owner was probably someone who thought they were too important to be dismissed by anyone, even a tired Chosen One. Then he would have to deal with screaming Howlers.

But the owl didn't take the hint and leave, so Harry sighed and held out his arm. The sooner he dealt with this, the sooner he could be alone.

The owl took flight in absolute silence. Well, of course, all its kind did, but for some reason, Harry had the impression as it settled on his arm with heavy grace that it was more elegant silence, a different kind, a—

Another side-effect for the Unspeakables to note, then, Harry thought, as he ripped the envelope from the owl's hold. After a few days, I become delusional and start composing poetic rhapsodies to owls.

He opened the envelope, and scanned the letter inside. Then he scanned it again. Then he cast some charms that would detect not only Dark curses on the letter, but charms on his vision, because he couldn't possibly be seeing what he thought he was.

But whatever delusions he had, they included imagining fake signatures and obviously fake petitions for help from former Death Eaters along with elegant owls. Harry idly wondered if they would name this new disorder after him. He rather fancied the name Harryitis messing up some neat Healer's files somewhere.

Dear Potter,

I heard about your accident. I imagine that you've received a lot of pleas by now, and demands that you participate in experiments, and even marriage proposals. (I read once that you've had three thousand of them in the last five years. I wouldn't believe it, but I do, if only because there are people capable of writing one more than once).

The Ministry may have told you this already, but I doubt it, because my spies say they haven't spread the news beyond immediate family members. My father has escaped Azkaban. They know he didn't have an Animagus form, and so they came to me, assuming I must have helped. I did not. They are hunting him in other places, but the longer the hunt takes, the more likely that someone will die in the confrontation, either my father or someone he will kill to stay free.

I have some leads. However, they point in all directions, and the people whom I have talked to are ones that I do not know as well as my own allies; they are my father's, or people connected to the Dark Lord whom I never saw among the Death Eaters. I do not have the time to sort through their lies and exaggerations and find the truth.

I would like you to join me and give me the benefit of your abilities. I would pay you well.

Draco Malfoy.

Harry tapped the letter against his teeth for a minute, imagined the way that Malfoy would probably react to the sight of him doing that, and laughed. When he glanced up, he realized that the grey owl was still there, on the perch, staring at him, and scraping the perch with an impatient claw that probably resembled Malfoy's fingers.

"Of course he probably put a spell on you that would make other people think his owl flew more elegantly than other people's," Harry told it. "Of course he did."

The owl ruffled up its feathers and only stared back. Harry rolled his eyes and opened the letter to look at it again.

He really shouldn't be considering it. For one thing, Ron would never let him hear the end of it if he knew that Harry had accepted the git's offer but wouldn't help him and George with their orange powder test. For another, Harry wondered why in the world Malfoy wanted to capture his father instead of leave him free, and finding out would involve having to work his way through more tedious lies.

And for a third, leaving his flat while he still had this ability would involve him in overhearing lots of lies even if Malfoy never told any. He was so tired of red. He would at least have enjoyed it a little more if the lies manifested in a rainbow. White for white lies, perhaps, and indigo for lies of omission, and red only for those that were intended to be malicious…

When he came out of that trance, Harry looked down at the letter and cocked his head.

But there were two excellent reasons for him to accept this, really. They were reasons that might make no sense to anyone but him, but Harry was accountable to himself only right now.

He was so bored that Malfoy's letter provided a diversion. It also offered recompense, and none of the others had.

And it was the first letter he had received that didn't have at least one lie buried in it.

He sat down and began to scrawl the response the owl was so clearly waiting for. There was nothing that said he had to do this, but he wanted to at least meet with Malfoy and see what was happening. If Malfoy told him a lie in person or made it clear that the offer of payment was conditional on doing something Harry had no interest in, then he could drop it.

When the owl flew away with his envelope, Harry found he was smiling. He hadn't tested his ability on someone he knew he could annoy before, only people who annoyed him. Perhaps it would be extra fun to find out if Malfoy had changed in the years since they last saw each other, and whether he would give Harry that look that made it seem as though his breaking Harry's nose in sixth year was what he'd like to do all the time.

Now, about that shower.

Yes, it was the shower for him, and then an evening full of wedding and betrayals. So many of the people on the programme would lie that it would shroud the telly in a continuous red glow, but Harry found that almost soothing. At least they cared more about their own lives than what he could do for them.

Harry thought everyone should live like that.