Thank you so much to my betas rozeable1 and thusspakekate for helping me with this fic. I was having a ridiculous timet getting it started thanks to an extended bout of writer's block, and their comments helped me get through it and figure out what I was doing.
I wrote this for HD Career Fair 2012 over at hd_fan_fair on livejournal. I highly recommend clicking over to the fest because there are some great stories and artwork there.
Sing Me a Lullaby
I hope we're all rested from our weekends of debauchery. Surely those of you who spent some time at the Leaky Cauldron this weekend slept a little better than normal thanks to a lovely, drunken serenade from our favourite hero of the Wizarding World. Maybe if his job at
The Quibbler fails as badly as his other professional endeavours, The Dancing Doxies might take him on as a lounge singer? He'll have to learn to do it without falling off the table and crashing on the crowd though. Fortunately for Mr. Potter, he found a new unnamed man to lick his wounds - and then some. Never fear, dear readers, when I have a name for this companion, I'll be sure to have a full report on the rest of the night. I haven't let you down yet.
The force of the paper hitting the desk made the pages scatter, separating words and photos of socialites as they waved desperate imitations of nonchalance. Harry stared at the mess of paper, wondering why he had bothered to read this week's column. The answer, of course, was that the whole process had become routine. Every Monday, he opened up his copy of the Daily Prophetand scanned through the headlines until the only section left was the gossip section. And every Monday, he told himself to just trash the unread section, toss it over his shoulder and move on with his day. But of course he never did. He always turned to the damn page to see Malfoy, presiding over the page with a smirk he should have outgrown.
Malfoy didn't always write about Harry. Those weeks were a relief, not having to storm down to Malfoy's office or compose another Howler. But those weeks were also rare. Most weeks, Harry read glorified accounts of his weekend festivities: tales of men and women picked up in bars; epic sagas that gleefully described the twisted path Harry retched his way through as he led his latest paramour to his flat. The most disconcerting aspect of these stories was that Draco knew more about Harry's weekend than Harry could ever remember through the haze of his hangover-induced exhaustion. Well, at least today's column explained the bruise on his hip.
But Draco was never content to just stop there. No, his columns usually included a full review of Harry's bedroom talents, courtesy of the eager young things who willingly fell into his lap. Malfoy had taken to categorizing these interviews under the title, "The Boy Who Shagged." What was this week's man named? Derek? Or perhaps Andrew? Or maybe Andrew had been two weeks ago? Whoever it was, they would not be the first to provide a comprehensive assessment of everyone's favourite hero.
Harry stood up and, in one big gesture, swept the papers off his desk and onto the ground. There. That was better. Sure, he could have used his wand to dispose of the paper in a cleaner manner, but where was the physical satisfaction in that? He would take care of it later. Or, more likely, Hermione would probably take care of it the next time she visited his office.
But despite the grand demonstration of dismissive anger, Draco's face still grinned up at Harry from the top of the scattered heap. Without thinking, Harry lifted his foot and stamped repeatedly on the photo, slamming his shoe down so that the layers of dirt that filled the tracks of his shoe formed a faint print across Draco's impeccable suit. But Draco just continued to sneer back, his eyebrow arched as if to say, "Are you quite finished now?" Harry jerked open a drawer, grabbing a red envelope and quill. He'd stocked up on Howlers after the time Malfoy had written about Harry's predilection for back-alley blowjobs. The once-large pack had quickly dwindled to what was now just a few envelopes, stuffed in the back of the drawer under a crush of parchment and quills. With little desire to engage in flowery language, Harry quickly scrawled out, "MALFOY! I DIDN'T SAVE YOUR LIFE FOR THIS SHIT! GET A REAL FUCKING JOB!" and sent it out using one of the office owls.
Twenty minutes later, an elegant silver envelope was dropped on Harry's desk, landing in his tea. He dragged out the parchment, the now familiar cursive script reading simply, "You first."
Harry tossed the letter over his shoulder. Months before, he would have stormed down to the Daily Prophetand gently asked Draco to stop being such a piece of shit. "Gently," of course, was a relative term. But he'd stopped going down there when the sight of Malfoy's face did nothing reminded him of a night that made his cheeks burn.
"Harry?" There was the faint sound of jingling behind him, which snapped him out of a thought process that involved several creative ways to murder Malfoy. Luna stared at the pile of paper that engulfed the floor, her old Butterbeer cork necklace tinkled against a newer collection of assorted keys as she turned her head.
"Er, sorry," he offered hastily. With his wand, he tried to shuffle the papers into a more respectable pile, but all he managed to do was get some of the pages to half-heartedly chase each other under the desk.
"Harry, have you written the article about the Wrackspurt infestation in the Ministry?" asked Luna. "You've had two weeks to work on it, and we really need to send it out for print soon."
He felt a tinge of anxiety as he realize that of all the things he had meant to do over the weekend, this article had been the one thing he had immediately forgotten about after leaving work on Friday. "Sorry, Luna. I really am." He gave an apologetic smile, and then tried for something that might inspire more confidence. "I have all the notes and everything though. I can finish it by this afternoon."
He was surprised to see that Luna looked vaguely sorry too, and underneath that sorrow was a far less surprising sense of disappointment. It was worse than if she had scolded him. This job at The Quibblerwas really more a favour on her part, a last ditch effort by a good friend to help Harry figure out his life while everyone else settled down. She had offered him the position after Harry had quit his fifth job in the span of a year. It was rare for Luna to display frustration with him though. Hermione had made a routine out of scolding him for his weekend philandering, and Ron still questioned his decision to stop working as an Auror. He couldn't blame them for their concern, but it had always been a welcome relief to talk to Luna, who criticized Harry more for his lack of belief in the Crumple-Horned Snorkack than for his tendency to show up to work hung-over from the previous night.
"Harry," Luna began carefully, "if this is too much, we can find something else for you to do. I know you don't really like writing about Wrackspurts, but it's very important that people know what's happening. People have been walking around the Ministry like they've been Confunded for weeks."
"Nah, that's just how they always are," Harry replied, and then sighed when he remembered that he owed Luna more than just a joke of an article. "I can do it, don't worry. The Wrackspurts are...er...really thrilling. I swear that I'm really excited to write this article." He rummaged through his desk and brought out a parchment that was sparse with notes, brandishing it as if they were proof of his commitment to the Wrackspurt-awareness cause.
Luna gave him her usual dreamy smile, one that reassured him that growing up didn't have to change everything about a person; that adulthood was a temporary state that periodically disrupted people's natural behaviour and not just a permanent change in who they were. "Just have it on my desk by tomorrow morning."
After she left, Harry sat back down and stared at the notes he had written out. Taking out a clean parchment, he grabbed his quill and placed it against the sheet. Unfortunately, words did not magically flow out. When he looked down, there was only an ever-increasing radius of ink where the tip met parchment.
"The," he told himself. "'The' is always a good way to start out."
But "the" what?
Yes, yes. But what about the Wrackspurts?
"The Wrackspurts are coming."
Harry leaned back in his chair and read the sentence over several times. He promptly the parchment on fire.
Malfoy probably didn't have this problem, Harry thought bitterly. Malfoy probably just set his pen to parchment and watched the words flow out. Wonderful sentences full of dragon shit that made him one the Daily Prophet's most popular writers while Harry Potter, saviour of the Wizarding World, had to scrounge around his brain for words that could be strung together to explain Wrackspurts.
He spent the rest of the day alternating between resting his head on his desk and adding one painstaking sentence the other. By the end of the day, he had finally produced a manageable passage, but his sense of accomplishment was dulled by exhaustion. It was a relief when he walked into The Leaky Cauldron and saw that Ron was already there, working his way happily through a plate filled with the remains of what must have been a substantial dinner.
"Hermione still has you on a diet?" Harry asked as he sat down.
"Worse," Ron replied while scraping the last remains of gravy. "She's gotten my mum to join in...says that nothing can go wrong with this wedding, not after the last one."
"You mean the one where Death Eaters took over and tried to kill us?"
"Yeah. Except now that there aren't Death Eaters to worry about, mum's a bit more concerned about how my dress robes fit than anything else. But how is getting rid of mashed potatoes going to make a difference if I've only got two weeks until the wedding?"
"Sorry," Harry offered wryly. "I should have waited until after your wedding to destroy the last Horcrux."
Ron grinned. "Exactly."
Harry went to the bar to order a drink, bringing back two glasses of Firewhiskey for Ron and him.
"So how's The Quibblergoing?" Ron asked he came back.
Harry sighed and drank his Firewhiskey in one long, burning gulp.
He shrugged as the last remnants of whiskey coated his throat. "I thought being a journalist would be more...exciting. But I'm just writing about things I don't really care about."
"Can't you ask to write about something else?" Ron spoke, louder now, trying to make himself heard over the growing dinner crowd.
"Luna says that if I have my own ideas I can write about them," Harry explained. "I just don't have any ideas."
"This sort of thing was easier when everything was trying to kill me."
"You don't think the Wrackspurts are trying to kill you? They sound pretty serious." Ron recoiled in faux-apology when he saw the look Harry shot him. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding." He was silent for a few seconds, looking Harry over with a pitying look that would be annoying from anyone else. Ron seemed to be debating with himself, his lips tight as if to physically ensure that he didn't talk before he knew what to say. "Look," he finally said, "if you want something to look into, I might have something."
"Something?" Harry asked hesitantly.
Ron toyed with his knife, idly scratching circles into the last remains of gravy. "I don't know if it's anything, but it could be."
Harry leaned back, unsure if he really wanted to have this conversation. Being offered advice and opportunities was becoming far too common an occurrence. But on the other hand, he wasn't in a position to turn aid away. "Tell me."
"I was working on this case recently that had to do with a toaster that was exploding every time a Muggle touched it. I wanted to compare it to this cursed fork that I found on an old raid. It was a pretty nasty fork - made all your food turn into Doxie droppings once it got into your mouth." Ron stared at his own empty plate, as if considering what it would be like to have that happen to him. Harry's stomach turned at the thought, and he had to set down his sandwich for a second to let the queasiness pass. "So I went to evidence storage to take a look. But when I got down there, it was gone."
"I assume that by, 'gone,' you mean that it was missing?"
Ron leaned forward and lowered his tone. "That's the thing, it wasn't just missing. I looked through the records, and there was no mention of the fork. None at all. It was like it never existed."
"And there's no possibility that it was just moved?"
"I thought about that, but I asked the woman who works in Confiscations and she insisted that something like that would be recorded in her book. Seemed a bit offended really that I would think that she might not have kept the record."
"Is the fork the only thing that's missing?"
"I don't know exactly how much stuff is missing. I just looked for the things I could remember - a pair of feet-chewing boots, these glasses that make your eyes burn. Some really nasty things. Most of them were still there, but there at least seven Dark objects missing, their records completely gone. Even the write-ups for those raids don't talk about those objects, and I know I included them in my reports." Shuddering, he added, "There's no way I didn't write up a pair of boots that could do that to a foot."
"Has anyone else noticed this happening?"
"I asked around. But you know how it is - most of us try to leave the Dark Objects section of evidence storage well enough alone. Too many things that want to break out of their binds and hurt you. Plus, it makes it a bit difficult to trust any of your own things when you see some of the stuff people hex. Remember Roger Thomas?"
Harry reached vaguely into his memory to recall the people he had once worked with. "You mean the guy who always wore a polka-dot bow tie and would invade our office to talk about the weather?"
"That's the one. He had to spend a weekend working down there once. The next week, he kept telling us that his pants were conspiring to kill him."
"So I assume there's a reason why you need me to look into this?"
"I told Mitchell, but he told me that this was a low priority case." Ron scrunched up his face. "He thinks it's just some misplaced paperwork."
"Missing Dark objects and this is low priority? Merlin, Mitchell is such a bloody fool. I don't understand how he got to be head of the department."
"Well, he's pushy as hell. And it probably didn't help that you quit." As soon as the words came out, Ron looked like he wished he could take them back.
"Ron," Harry grumbled back. "Not this again. I get enough nagging from Hermione."
"She's just worried that you have no idea what you want to do with your life."
"And she's right. But that doesn't mean I'm going to work for the Ministry again.
"Oh, come on, Harry," Ron said. "It's not that bad. I know that all the dumb rules were getting to you, but it's not so bad now."
"It's not that they just didn't make sense, Ron. They actually hurt us. Remember? That time we got in trouble because the spells that saved our life weren't 'Ministry-approved'? Or how about the time we lost track of the counterfeit Bezoar ring because the Floo network people filed their paperwork too late?"
"Look, Harry, you don't have to explain all of this to me. I know how frustrating it is to work there; I do it every day. What I don't understand is why you don't like working for Luna. The closest thing you have to a rule there is that you have to write the occasional batty article. The rest is totally up to you."
"I told you, I don't know what to write about."
"Then why don't you ask around and see if you hear anything about these things?" Ron took a small list from his robes and passed it across the table. "Maybe there's something more up your alley in here."
Harry scanned the list, reading off items that would make Borgin and Burkes squeal with malicious excitement. Still, it was difficult to shake off the feeling that this was yet another example of his friends desperately trying to motivate Harry into something that resembled his previous glory. He hated being a repeat charity case that failed to meet expectations, and he didn't want to go down this road just to have it dead end again. "Look, Ron," he said, passing the note back. "Thanks for the conspiracy, but I don't know about this."
Ron just looked at him with frustrating understanding. "Harry, I'm not trying to do you a favour if that's what you're worried about. I've got mystery drugs being dealt in Hogsmeade that make people think they've been turned into unicorns, and a dead Portkey department member, and three more raids to round out the month - all while getting ready for this wedding. I just don't have the time to look into unofficial cases right now."
"But I do?" Harry shot back, almost regretting the bite in his tone.
"Yes! Well, not like you're just being lazy," Ron corrected hastily. "But you want things to write about, and I want someone to look into this. This isn't like when Hermione tried to set you up with that Flobberworm breeder."
"It better not be. That was one of the worst dates I've ever been on," Harry groaned, his eyes widening in pain as he remembered that evening. "I don't ever want to hear about the mating cycle of Flobberworms again."
"Isn't that one of the only dates you've ever been on?" The words came from behind Harry, and he didn't have to turn to know who it was. The grimace on Ron's face was enough to confirm Draco Malfoy's presence.
As soon as he turned to look, Harry regretted it. He always hoped to see Malfoy worn out, his hair mussed with dirt and holes destroying his clothes. But that was never the case. No, Malfoy was always in pristine condition. "Malfoy," he hissed. "For once in your life, can you not be a prick and just leave? I don't feel like talking to you right now."
"I can tell. All these Howlers dampen the joy of your outrage. It's been a while since I've enjoyed the company of your damaged vocal cords."
"Sod off," Ron said as his hand edged towards his wand. Harry tried to send him a warning look. The last thing he needed was to give Malfoy an insider's perspective into a Harry Potter-sponsored bar fight.
"Why would I do that?" Draco asked with terrifying pleasantness. "A good journalist sticks around and interviews his subjects, whether they want him there or not. Isn't that right, Potter?"
"You're not an journalist," Harry retorted. "You're a fucking gossip columnist."
"Ah, right. You, of course, would know better than me. I quite enjoyed your exposŽ on the Blibbering Humdinger. What next? A stunning piece on invisible creatures invading people's minds?"
"At least it isn't dumb gossip," Harry retorted.
The comment had little impact on Malfoy's demeanour. "My dumb gossip has helped the Daily Prophet double its subscriber count," he said calmly. "If people subscribe to The Quibblernow, it's just so they can watch you crash and burn."
"Right, because I need to worry about the opinion of someone who spends his days obsessing over my personal life and publishing everything he can about it."
"Oh, surely you joke, Potter. You and I both know that I haven't written everything I know about your personal life." Harry felt his face flush at the words, knowing that Malfoy could only mean one thing.
"You know," Ron interjected heatedly, "if it weren't for Harry, you and your parents would be rotting in Azkaban right now."
"Why does everyone get so hung up on that detail? Potter hasn't asked me kneel before him and beg for ways to express my gratitude," he smiled coldly at Harry, "yet." The word was loaded with meaning that Harry could only hope Ron didn't pick up on. It was lucky that Hermione wasn't around. "Until that time," Malfoy continued, "I have work to do. I need to thank someone who will help me soon enough."
Malfoy passed by them and headed to the bar, settling on an empty barstool next to a handsome brunet man. Harry instantly recognized the man as the one whose company he'd enjoyed the past weekend. He wasn't surprised to see Draco hand a sack of coins to the man. It would have angered Harry to know that his private life could be measured in Galleons, but he had long suspected that this was Malfoy's preferred method of obtaining gossip.
Ron turned his head to see what Harry was staring at. "Who is that?"
"I don't remember his name," Harry confessed. "I met him this past weekend at a bar.'
"This past weekend? At a bar? Oh, is he the one - " Ron stopped himself. His face turned a brilliant red to match his hair.
"Oh, no." Harry sighed in comprehension. "You're not reading his column too, are you?"
"I don't read it on purpose!"
"How do you accidentally read a gossip column?"
"We just haven't heard from you in a while," Ron said apologetically. "We want to make sure you're okay."
"'We'? I should have known Hermione was involved."
"She gets worried, that's all. You know how she is - it's not a day if she hasn't meddled in something." Ron looked supremely uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. "So, are you going to look into the artefacts?" he asked hastily, clearly trying to change the subject.
"Only if you do one thing for me."
"Stop reading Malfoy's column!"