Title: In Which Harry Potter Discovers a River In Egypt (2/3)
Harry stared at his pot of tea a long time, thinking. It was quiet this morning, without Lila. She’d been a helpful distraction. But Ron would keep her safe, and Harry could adapt his schedule as necessary. Apparently, he’d lucked out in his choice of whom to interrogate; it couldn’t be just a coincidence that Hit Wizards had invaded their bedroom.
His mind wandered, as it had been for the last hour. “Interrogation.” He couldn’t remember a single question he’d asked the rentboy, other than his name and if they could go to his place. Oh yes, and “what am I supposed to do?” Robards was right – he wasn’t cut out to be an Auror. If Darwin had turned out to be an enemy, he’d have picked the perfect ploy.
His skin felt different. Perhaps that was an effect of the potion as well. Every millimetre of it prickled with awareness. When he touched the skin of his hand, it was as though someone else were touching it – a lover, not simply a friend. He pulled a lock of his longish hair and it was as though someone he wanted to kiss were pulling him closer. All over his body – torso and the most intimate bits – there was an odd doubled awareness, as if his body were smugly remembering the touch of a stranger’s hand, and at the same time longing for it again. The khakis and oxford shirt he was wearing to look like a reasonably well-dressed Muggle when he went back for more investigating today were comfortable but made him uncomfortably aware of his skin. Only his wand up his sleeve was familiar.
Harry heard Darwin moving about in the room, presumably dressing, and noted, as if he were separate from his body but intensely aware of it, how his cock hardened at the thought. He had to get over this. Quickly, before Darwin came in.
He slugged down his third cup of tea – sugar, no cream, a habit he’d gotten into on stakeouts where calories and caffeine alone could keep him going, but there’d be no dairy products around if they were limiting their magic. Okay, there were two possibilities. One, Darwin had taken a potion which affected Harry’s desire. In that case, wanting another male was chemically induced. Wanting Darwin in particular was also chemically induced. He’d have to find an antidote; counterspells weren’t very useful on potions.
Two, Harry was gay. In which case, he’d been very, very unprofessional, and if anyone found out, his arse would be out the door, closely followed by the rest of him.
It occurred to him that there was a third probability – one and two could both be correct. In that case, he supposed he could emphasize the takeover by potion, and de-emphasize his own sexuality. If he had any. Until last night, he’d thought he just had a low libido. Now, he knew girls didn’t do it for him. Okay, regardless of one, two was definitely true. What did he do now? Obviously, if there weren’t a potion involved, he could and should be absolutely professional. Just because he had liked shagging Darwin didn’t mean he’d make it a habit or anything.
Darwin slouched into the kitchen, clad in Harry’s jeans and transfigured pants, which hit his natural waistline while the trousers were pulled down a bit on his hips. Harry could see the little silk bow just below Darwin’s navel – since he wore no shirt, the effect was stunning. Harry stared at Darwin’s middle, and lost track of his careful reasoning. Two nights wouldn’t be a habit, surely. Especially since it would be daytime today. Part of the same 24 hours, really. Just a one-day deviation . . .
Darwin yawned widely, then sat at the table, clearly expecting to be served. Harry got him a cup and put a teabag in it. “Cream?”
“I’m pants at coffee.”
Darwin sighed. “Two teabags, please.”
He drank it black, Harry noticed. A full-fledged caffeine delivery system. After Darwin drained his cup, he glared at Harry, then stared at the cup. Harry turned on the kettle again. Having a Muggle around was odd; he even had to heat tea the way they did at the Dursleys. Good thing Lila wasn’t staying here today, or she would doubtless comment on it. He wondered what Mill with all her Muggle friends, did to keep Lila from pointing out non-magical behaviour.
After the second cup of tea, and two slightly stale scones from the last time Harry’d been to the bakery, Darwin looked a bit more alert, and friendlier. “Good morning,” he said.
Harry smiled, hoping he looked friendly and helpful, like the Good Auror in interrogation practice. “Did you sleep well?”
“It wasn’t as easy to fall asleep the second time.” For some reason, the way Darwin looked at Harry made him blush. He didn’t know how to respond, or even bring up the subject of last night, so he utilised a newly-acquired skill from Auror training and didn’t say anything.
“I suppose I should be leaving,” Darwin said, stretching. Harry tried not to notice how liquid his movements were, or how the light from the kitchen window fell just perfectly to emphasize his chest with shadows in its hollows.
“Must you?” Harry guiltily remembered the lack of interrogation he’d done. Between the aphrodisiac potion and the brush with death last night, Darwin definitely should not be leaving.
“I’ve got a living to earn, don’t I?” His lids lowered as he looked at Harry meaningfully. Harry only remembered that minute that the activity with Darwin had been a paid transaction.
“Ummmm, I have some money if . . . I mean, I’ll pay you to stay awhile longer,” he stammered, and then blushed thoroughly.
“You do know how much the going rate is by the hour, don’t you, p-p-pretty?”
Harry thought perhaps his skin would explode with the degree of flushing from embarrassment. Which would at least make things easier. “Ummm . . . well, actually, no. I haven’t ever . . . er . . . hired . . . um . . . negotiated the services of . . .“ he trailed off, considering the noun for this horrendously awkward sentence. “A sex worker,” he finally said, hoping it was the neutral term Mill had seemed to think it was.
Darwin looked amused again. He seemed to find Harry quite funny. I know what you look like naked, Harry thought vengefully, just to keep himself anchored. But that led to other thoughts and memories, and he veered away from them.
“Going rate is at least a hundred quid an hour,” Darwin said. “For overnights – there’s a discount, since we weren’t actually doing anything some of the time. And then there’s the virgin surcharge, and it’s usual to tip as well.”
Harry considered this. It was a lot more money than he’d expected.
“Yeah. Let me get the money.” He stood up, to find his Muggle money lockbox, and was surprised to feel Darwin’s hand wrap around his knee.
“What?” Maybe he should try Darwin’s caffeine delivery system. Maybe it was sugar slowing his thought processes down. Or maybe it was the blood rushing to a lower extremity which shouldn’t be participating in his . . . interrogation.
“Just sit down, Potter.”
Harry sat down. Considered another cup of tea – and then the penny dropped. He stared at the blond Muggle, whose face he knew he’d never seen before in his life.
Someone was setting him up.
“Who’s paying you?” he asked, and his wand was out and against Darwin’s neck as he spoke. His boss might call him arrogant, or foolish, or rebellious, or whatever, but no one could say Harry Potter wasn’t quick on the draw or couldn’t do a hex on the flyby. Those who thought they could say it were all dead.
“Paying me? For what? Put that stick away, Potter, you might put someone’s eye out with that thing.”
Harry remembered that a Muggle wouldn’t feel a threat from a wand. But it was highly unlikely Darwin was, after all, a Muggle. Between his attackers last night and the fact he hadn’t moved since Harry drew his wand, the odds were good he was a wizard.
“Let’s see what the stick will do, shall we? Incarcer—“
“Protego!” Darwin interrupted reflexively. No shield appeared, but since Darwin was clearly wandless that wasn’t surprising. Harry smirked.
“It appears you know a bit much for a Muggle. A protection spell, and my name. Again – who’s paying you?”
“No one,” Darwin snarled. He glared at Harry for nearly a minute, but Harry had been in stare-downs with the best and didn’t flinch. Finally, Darwin heaved a sigh. “Try Finite Incantatem, Potter, if you think you can handle that.”
Harry tried one, but all that happened was that Darwin’s hair got longer.
“Shit.” Darwin thought about it. “Okay, you may have trouble with this one. “Zavershit’ zaklinanie.”
Harry chewed that one over a couple of times, then tried silent magic, not trusting his mouth to pronounce it anywhere near what Darwin had said. “Zavershit’ Zaklinanie.”
Darwin’s face and body began changing – not as oddly as when Polyjuice wore off, but more as if a layer of a photo were being erased. Underneath, he was actually better looking, Harry couldn’t help noticing. His chest was just a trifle deeper, his legs were a little longer yet . . . it was as though a notice-me-not potion had been added to the mix, because this body you had to notice. There were more scars, all of them old ones, but they did not particularly detract. But it was the face that changed the most; the blue, round eyes faded to a light grey, and became more oval, and less innocent; the round features sharpened, and the lips thinned just a bit. Darwin looked a few years older now, Harry’s own age.
Had a stranger been watching, even he would have known that here was a man infinitely more dangerous than he had seemed 10 minutes ago. Since it was Harry, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck go up. He hadn’t seen that face for years now, but he knew it well. He knew where the scars on this man’s chest had been made, and when, because he had made them himself.
“You better have a good explanation, Malfoy,” he said grimly. “Because my first temptation is to Obliviate you and then kill you.” He realised his hand was shaking when he saw the wand wavering. “Keep your hands where I can see them.”
“That’s not what you said last night.” The attempt at humour trailed off as Draco saw Harry react.
“I told you, Obliviate, then kill. Did you think I didn’t mean it? Aurors have ways to disappear people, you know.”
Draco put both his hands up, never taking his eyes from Harry’s face. It occurred to Harry that never, since his 11th birthday, had he seen Draco surrender. Hermione had told Harry he looked a lot scarier since Dumbledore’s death. Maybe it was true.
He should have been pleased to have finally – finally! – intimidated Draco Malfoy. But for some reason, he felt a kind of discomfort instead of the expected pleasure. Malfoy had always been a fighter – could always be counted on to snark at him, and to retaliate at anything Harry threw at him. These days, except for Mill and Lila, everyone seemed a little scared of him. He didn’t feel different – but apparently he was, if even Draco Malfoy were afraid of him.
Harry lowered his wand. “I only meant that you should put your hands on the table, Malfoy. So, tell me – why the glamour charm, and why, for Merlin’s sake, last night?”
Malfoy put his hands on the table and stared at them. “It’s not a glamour, Potter. It’s just theatrical magic. That’s what I was studying in Russia.”
“Answer the question.”
“I suppose it never occurred to you that my family’s assets were all frozen, and I might just have needed the galleons?”
Harry considered this. “We assumed the Malfoys had cash stashed in banks around the world, and freezing their British assets would do very little to your wealth.” He frowned. “Not to mention that with your talent and training in theatrical magic, finding a job shouldn’t be a hard task.”
“Nobody hires an ex Death Eater.”
“You received amnesty.”
“Legal amnesty isn’t the same.” Malfoy began to look testy. “So the government won’t kill you. Maybe after years of bureaucracy, they’ll even unfreeze your assets. In the meantime, how much amnesty do you think the wizarding world will give someone like me? Not only associated with Voldemort, but my father was one of his inner circle. Can you see Florian Fortescue hiring me to scoop ice cream? Or what a scandal it would be for any wizarding theatre to employ me? No, survival meant family funds or illegal income.”
He shrugged. “You approached me.”
“Yeah, but you must have recognised me.”
“An incoherent stranger with messy hair, geeky glasses, and the worst fashion sense in the Commonwealth? Hard not to.”
“So you were just afflicted with an overwhelming sexual need for a former schoolmate?”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Potter. I knew you could pay. Speaking of which . . . “
“You haven’t yet.”
Harry flushed to, he suspected, his toes. He’d forgotten that this was a transaction. “Don’t worry, you’ll get it before you leave here.”
“The longer I stay, the more it’ll cost you.”
Harry wondered if he’d wandered into a looking glass universe. “So you’re by the hour?”
“How much if there’s no sex involved?”
“Why would you want to keep me around if there’s no sex involved?” The snark was missing – Malfoy seemed genuinely puzzled.
“I’m an Auror now, Malfoy.”
“I’m investigating the possibility of Dark potions being disseminated among...sex workers. Like yourself.” It felt awful to say that, and Harry wondered why. Darwin had seemed totally right as a rent boy – ordinary, friendly, snappish only when in pain, not completely jaded yet by sex. But for Malfoy, it was all wrong. Malfoy was silk boxers and designer robes and expensive jewellery – not girls’ knickers. Though admittedly the knickers...but Harry’s body reminded him he had best not dwell on the knickers.
“So I’m under investigation?”
“Not exactly. I was thinking more that you could, err...assist me in my investigations.”
“Is that a euphemism for I’m under suspicion, but not officially?”
“Look, Malfoy.” Harry was unsurprised to hear his voice turning cold and tough. The advantage of being angry was that it made him less self unconscious, and he could speak better. “The only suspicions I have of you is that you’re a git, and that you may be using an illegal potion in order to facilitate transactions with your . . . customers. I have no suspicion of you beyond that, so I’d advise you not to try to annoy me.”
Malfoy glared back. “You’d think there definitely was something suspicious if I DIDN’T annoy you, Potter. As to illegal potions – I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“Do you think I habitually get involved with my informants?”
“I have no idea what you habitually do, other than jump to conclusions. But you can’t blame last night on a potion, you bastard.”
Harry let it drop. He had his doubts, but Malfoy could be useful.
“So you need money, huh?”
“Yeah, and if you keep skipping from subject to subject, I’m going to need a script.”
“Stuff it. I can pay you to help investigate. You were always reasonably bright.”
“I’m overwhelmed by the encomium.”
“Well, will you do it? It would probably be a benefit to your . . . career, you know – there are dark potions being distributed, and pros . . . sex workers are disappearing.”
Malfoy looked thoughtful. “I’ve heard a bit about disappearances.”
“Well, your job would be to informally ask around and talk to find out who knows something.”
“You sound like Snape.” They both were silent then, for a moment, remembering the death of their potions professor. Harry shrugged the memory off more quickly – but then, he’d gotten used to putting deaths away in a tidy storage compartment of his mind labelled “to grieve – open after retirement.”
“Well, I can’t be precise because the investigation is just beginning. It might be easier if we did it together for a couple of days.” Harry replayed that sentence. “I mean . . . practiced investigating.”
There it was again, the smirk that had looked so mysterious on “Darwin’s” features, so natural where it was. “I knew what you meant, Potter.”
Well, you may not be getting these missives, but for some reason it helps to keep producing them and sending them off into the beyond with Guenever. Potter and I are now officially investigating the mysterious disappearances you were so upset about. You’ll be glad to know that your crusading rants actually helped me understand what Potter was talking about. Maybe you’re more of an Auror than I thought. He seems as inept as ever.
He’s offered me a job. I was right – he got incredibly embarrassed by the fact that I’m renting by the hour (as if he could afford me, if I really were!) so I helped him out by specifying a lump sum I would accept every week instead, sex not included, and the original night waived since, after all, he did save my life. I couldn’t really see myself charging him for the sex.
No, I don’t know why I made it easy on him. My father would have wanted me to stick it to Potter, any way I could, but my mother, much the more intelligent of my parents (they bred for brains in the Blacks, and beauty in the Malfoys) used to say that if you allow someone to pay you, no matter what the reason, you have become a servant to him. Of course, my mother also used to call the Dark Lord “just a trifle déclassé, my dear. “I shudder to think what she would have called Potter’s and my encounter last night. If she were dead, she’d be turning over in her grave – but instead, she’s presumably turning over in her bed and greeting whatever young lovely is inhabiting it today.
So off we go this afternoon to talk to real, actual sex workers. Potter suggested that I might like to start with my friends, but the only one I know in this city who might know anything is that vampire you were dating – and frankly, she creeps me out. The red eyes remind me of you-know-who. The staring at my neck all the time she talked to me kind of creeped me out too.
Okay, Mill, write back with the lecture on open-mindedness. Or anything you want. Just write back. In case you’re wondering, Lila is temporarily living with The Weasel. For some reason, she seems to like him – no, I know the reason. He spends his day watching telly, consumes popcorn and beer for tea, and occasionally does something apparently brilliant (go figure!) to fulfil his contracts with the MOM Analytical Team, providing him with enough money to take Lila out and spoil her appetite for anything but more popcorn and beer. It’s not an Unspeakable job – just not worth speaking of, since it’s Weasley. Lila is enjoying herself, however. I actually hope he draws the line at giving her beer. (This is all Potter information, so you decide if he’s being truthful. I had a very difficult time getting the information out of him without his asking why I wanted to know.)
Okay, I hear movements in the kitchen, so I think we’re off to talk to people about some dark potion thing. Potter, for some reason, is convinced it’s a love potion illicitly being sold to Muggles. Potter, of course, is crackers.
Harry squirmed on the cold seat of the folding chair. Draco, his long blond hair tied tightly back and an old T-shirt of Harry’s hiding both his navel and his underwear, sprawled casually on the leather couch. Harry thought he looked like the pictures of famous Muggle computer designers in Petunia’s old Star magazines.
They both watched the six-foot receptionist, who wore a pink leather miniskirt and a black silk top, tied loosely under her breasts and making it abundantly clear that they were otherwise uncontained. She wore three inch stiletto heels, and Harry wondered how she could manage to walk firmly around the room, slamming the stilettos into the tile floors. There was a constant click click click, like a percussion solo if the drummer had dropped a drumstick. He would have thought she was trying to hypnotise them, or possibly drive them insane, but there was no taste of magic. He couldn’t see why she had to walk so much – she’d walk past Harry, shove something into a file, and then move on back to her desk. Can’t she just be more organised? Harry thought irritably. She could carry all the files over after she’s sorted them, and save a lot of time and energy. Robards had sent him to enough time management courses, trying to increase his efficiency, that he at least knew the theory.
She passed close to Harry each time; close enough that her heavy perfume made his nose twitch, and her silky sleeve brushed his hair. He was beginning to get annoyed.
He pushed his chair a little farther back against the wall, to leave her more space which she apparently needed, and prudently tucked his trainers under the seat. He was not good enough at healing to be sure he could mend a 3-inch spike through his foot. The move meant he looked up, and his eyes fell on Draco. Harry realised Draco was smirking. At Harry.
It had been a long day. They had started interrogations at 9 a.m. Draco had seemed to pick people who might be involved almost at random from the streets. When Harry grumbled, he’d replied, “How the fuck many people do you think are out here at 9 in the morning looking for johns, Potter?” Fortunately there were a few. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to know much of anything, even under a Veritas spell and the little Legilimency Harry could manage even now.
It was a good beginning to training Draco, however. Harry wanted to leave it all up to Draco, so that in a day or two he could start doing some serious searching for Mill. He had decided to be a journalist for the Times of London, a paper he had seen once or twice although it had never entered the Dursley’s door unless there was a visitor they wished to impress. Draco smirked at him, but then, what else was new? “You come up with your own cover, then,” Harry had snapped.
The first boy they met looked promising. He was nowhere near as attractive as Draco had appeared yesterday – he wore ripped jeans and several layers of shirt, and eyeliner. The eyeliner had run a bit in the London rain, and he was coatless and shivering. He told them his name was Anthony.
Draco made the transaction. “My friend’s a journalist, doing background,” he said. “My name’s Draco Malfoy. I’m an associate professor at an obscure American university, doing research on sabbatical. I’m interested in telling the stories of London, and so far, have been talking to far too many dull, respectable people.”
Harry was rather impressed. Apparently people doing illegal things were occasionally glad to talk to anyone who wanted to listen, so long as it wouldn’t get to the wrong ears. They kept asking Draco, “Are you sure your friend won’t tell our names?”
Draco would answer mysteriously, “Oh no, it’s on deep background.”
Between interviews, Harry pulled Draco against an alley wall and said quietly, “What the fuck’s deep background?”
“It means you won’t tell,” Draco said, looking down at Harry through half shut eyelids.
“How do you know that stuff?”
“Haven’t you ever watched old Muggle movies? All the reporters say it.”
They’d met, as far as Harry was concerned, far too many young, glassy-eyed kids, 14 or 15, who were willing to do the most amazing things for very little money. At Draco’s suggestion, he gave them a couple of quid each, and they were quite happy to sit over a free lunch or tea – Harry drew the line at giving kids that young and so obviously already drugged any additional chemicals, even just lager – and chat about life on the London streets . . . leading inexorably to the kinds of things a street kid did to get by – for recreation and income.
Malfoy took notes. Harry couldn’t believe it. Malfoy’s notes were small and precise, just as they had been at Hogwarts.
“Can’t you just remember the important things?” he asked impatiently.
Malfoy varied his smirk with a sneer – another familiar expression, though a bit strange on a grown man. Finally Harry realised Malfoy looked frighteningly like Lucius, now fortunately gone where very bad people went when they died. “Potter, what city was Anthony born in?”
“Why would that be an important thing?”
“Where did Jason take a holiday this year?”
“Some beach resort.”
“Why did Quentin start using heroin?”
“Which one was Quentin, now?”
“Potter,” Malfoy said, “don’t take this the wrong way. As an Auror, you stink.”
Harry thought about this. Not the content, which under the circumstances might be fair comment, but the fact that Malfoy sounded much like Mill, including a rather amused objectivity.
“Why do you say that?”
He’d never seen that precise look on Malfoy’s face – a sort of astonishment, and a relaxing of some barrier Harry hadn’t realised was there. “I beg your pardon, Potter, but did you just ask me why I’d said something?”
Harry did not feel this was an amusing conversation to take place in London drizzle. “I’m all grown up, Malfoy. My hormones have adjusted since I was a teenager. I don’t have as many buttons to push as I used to. So do you want to answer the question?”
Malfoy shrugged. “Investigation of any kind – any research – has to be systematic. If you don’t go linearly down and build your information, you’re not going to have a case. You can’t just convince the Ministry to trust your hunches.”
Harry, who had always strongly resented that they didn’t, and had said so often during the War, grunted. “I managed to find out what I needed to beat Voldemort.”
“No doubt. But you were an amateur then. The rules for employed people – especially people employed by the Ministry – are rather stricter. You have to follow procedures.”
He watched Harry’s face, then, and must have seen something Harry was definitely not intending to share, because Malfoy grabbed his elbow and dragged him across the street to a pub. “Coffee,” he said to the barmaid, and when it came, dumped a handful of sugar in and handed it to Harry. “Drink.”
“I don’t – “
“I don’t care if you don’t usually drink it sweet. There’s milk if you want, but drink it. You look like hell, Potter.”
Harry sat down and wrapped his hands around the mug. “You’ve changed too, Malfoy.”
“Well, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all have stayed nasty little 15 year olds, but it doesn’t work that way.” Malfoy suddenly smiled – a genuine smile. It looked faintly familiar, but Harry couldn’t think of anyone else who smiled like that. It made him think about . . . bad things, like last night. And . . . oh shite, there was a little grey silk ribbon dangling over Malfoy’s (well, Harry’s) jeans. The one on top of the knickers must have come undone. And why the fuck was he having an urge to grab Malfoy and tie his ribbon back into a nice little bow, just below his navel? And then linger on the bow, slowly smoothing it to make sure it lay flat, listening to Malfoy’s breath hitch and pretending he was just . . . putting him back together, was all. Blast Malfoy and his underwear fetish.
Harry forced himself back to the topic at hand. “Thanks for the coffee. I guess I needed it.” The sugar and caffeine were blasting him awake, aware, and warmer. Lovely. Malfoy had never been stupid, but none of the things he’d thought about had been at all nurturing, so far as Harry knew.
“So Potter, why did you look like someone had just hexed you when I said you have to follow procedures?”
Harry shook his head. Why give Malfoy the leverage?
Malfoy scooted his chair a little closer. “You know you’ll feel better once you tell someone,” he said, and Harry began to understand why the Order had overruled his emphatic arguments and accepted Malfoy as an interrogator halfway through the war. No one in the Order had been stupid enough to think Malfoy and Harry should ever be assigned to anything together, so he’d never seen Malfoy as any kind of listener before.
“Where have you been the last few years, Malfoy?” he asked abruptly. “You just disappeared the day Voldemort died.”
“To you, it was the day the Dark Lord died,” Malfoy said, and his eyes were hard. “To me, it was the day my father died.”
Harry was silent, processing this. He thought about all the treats and packages Malfoy’s parents had sent him so often at Hogwarts. Harry was no longer innocent enough to believe that people who did bad things did only evil. In fact, he suspected most of the people he could consider evil were kind to their families, considerate of their neighbours, spoiled their pets, and were thoughtful about little things like making sure their son and his friends had treats to remind them of home.
“So you left town.”
“Yes. Went to Russia and studied theatre-related things – totally, completely, absolutely not connected to the war. Disguise, magic tech theatre – lights, sound, stage effects, the works – and occasionally acting, though that requires real work and wasn’t as much fun.”
“I hadn’t exactly pegged you as the tech type.”
“You probably remember sixth year? I repaired a complicated magical cabinet by myself. It just took research and tinkering. It wasn’t the best use of those talents, but hey – did none of your friends use their brains for things on the thither side of legal or ethical?”
Harry acknowledged the hit. “So you think of it the same way as, say, a Muggle might view a teenage career of racing cars down busy streets or shoplifting cigarettes from convenience stores?”
He was interested to see that Malfoy understood his references. “With the one small difference that, if I didn’t shoplift, my parents would be killed. It was more like being a member of a very scary gang that you could only leave horizontally.” Then Malfoy grinned. “You’re not bad with some Auror procedures, I notice. You’ve successfully changed the subject. So why the misery? You’re living in a place you like, apparently, doing a job you were hoping to do since fifth year, lots of hero points if you want to cash them in . . . the wizarding world belongs to you, Potter!”
“Yeah, Malfoy, that’s why I’m one more failure away from being fired, the Prophet is having a field day inventing my private life for public consumption, I keep fucking up at work, Lila’s mom has been missing for a week now, I’m given stupid make-work jobs like what we’re doing, my nearest thing I ever had to a family is acting like I’m an embarrassing guest, my old school friends flinch if I so much as look at them crosswise, and worst of all, the only people in the entire world I’ve told I feel like this are Ron, and Hermione, and you, whom I barely know.”
“I find it hard to believe they’d fire their Golden Boy, Potter.”
“Then you’re naïve. Political jobs are like that – people will throw anyone to the wolves, rather than have to go themselves. I’m not golden anymore, Malfoy. I’m like a child star who just didn’t get quite tall enough or charismatic enough to play romantic roles.”
Malfoy grabbed their mugs by the handles and took them across to the bar. “Well, come on, then, Elijah, back to interviewing pretty boys.”
“They’re not exactly pretty.”
“No, addicts lose their looks quickly. Mill used to blather on about that – said they destroyed looks she would have killed for.”
Harry stared at him. “When did she do that? I didn’t know you’d seen her recently.”
“Potter, she was a Slytherin, and in my year. We were friends by propinquity, and then we got to be real friends. And she’s been crusading for different causes – well, the same ones really, it’s only varied as to figure and ground – since her third year. You should have heard her lectures on the Fat Acceptance Movement. But they were nothing to the Sexual Traffic in Women seminars.”
“Hermione was like that too, but she’d take one cause at a time and beat it into the ground.”
“Maybe it’s a Muggle chromosome or something.”
Harry blinked. “Mill . . . is a Muggle?”
“She had a Muggle mother. Occasionally present wizard father, though not a talented one, except for the Animagus skills. I presume you know she’s an Animagus?” Harry nodded. “Haven’t you noticed her housekeeping is more Muggle than wizard? Bad role models, I always told her.”
“I never heard you insult Mill once for being a half-blood.”
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Of course not, Potter, she was my friend. Granger was your friend. I had a sacred duty to insult Granger in public, preferably in front of you. I only insult my friends in private.”
“I didn’t know they allowed any Muggle-borns or half-bloods in Slytherin.”
Malfoy sneered. “Tom Riddle?”
“Ummm, point taken – but surely other Slytherins didn’t know that. How did they get in?”
“He kept it secret. Not all of them did. Why? The Sorting Hat knew. Salazar might have wanted only pure bloods, but frankly, there weren’t enough of us each year to fill a house. Slytherins are distinguishable by their ambition, Potter, and not all of us have an ambition to become the evil ruler of the Earth. Half the ministry’s from Slytherin. The competent half.” Malfoy waved his hand hastily as Harry opened his mouth. “It was a joke, Potter. I take it you are still humourless.”
Harry nodded. “Mill says that too. Lila likes my jokes.”
“Well, there you have it. Permanently stuck in the humour of an age group between peekaboo and vulgar sex and faeces jokes.”
Harry had a sudden sense that he was enjoying talking to Malfoy far too much. Fucking him was bad enough, but liking him – that way lay madness.
“Well, it’s been pretty much a wash of a day. Shall we get takeout and head home? I want to firecall Ron and Lila and make sure she’s doing okay.”
Malfoy nodded, and they sauntered toward the apartment. “You’re protective of her, aren’t you?”
“Of course.” Harry felt himself flushing. “First of all, Mill’s like my older sister, so Lila’s like family. But . . . I don’t know . . . I just am protective of people, I guess.”
“After we eat, let’s sit down and you can teach me how an Auror would analyze what we learned today.”
Harry winced at the mockery. But talking business was certainly preferable to the awkwardness that might appear. He’d convinced Malfoy easily to stay in his flat, since it was unplottable and well-warded just in case the unplotting failed. If they weren’t talking about missing people, his eyes might just stray to that little untied bow again.
Malfoy’s idea of having Harry “show him” how an Auror thought consisted of transfiguring the living room wall into a bare, flat surface from its pleasant old-fashioned flocked wallpaper (Mill had odd little girlie streaks in her living preferences). He used his wand to make a list of categories – locations, connections, substances, quirks, points of note. Harry recognised this orderly categorisation.
“Hermione used to do that in school.”
“Call me surprised. Had you wanted outstanding marks, Potter, this is the way you would have had to do it.”
Harry bit down on his comment that Hermione studied too much. Obviously, Draco had too, since his marks were almost as good as hers.
They went through and covered the six interviews they’d done. “Malfoy, I could just put you in charge of this investigation and go do something else.”
“Understand me, Potter. I have never – ever, I assure you – wanted to work for the Ministry. Malfoys buy bureaucrats when we need them.”
“You shock me,” Harry said comfortably, lounging on the shabby couch.
“At any rate, I suspect you are perfectly capable of doing this too. You’re just too lazy, and no one ever taught you to think.”
“Whose fault is that?”
“I suppose it would be appropriate to blame McGonagall for Gryffindor shortcomings, but I think we can hold you personally responsible, since the occasional Gryff has shown the ability for systematic thought over the years.”
“Get to it, Malfoy, we don’t have all night.”
Draco arched one delicate eyebrow. “No? What else do we have to do?” The meaning he put into that question caused Harry to blush again, and Draco smirked. “I don’t plan to have sex with you again, Potter. Ever. So you can let go of the discomfort.”
“Good. I’m glad that’s out of the way.” But Harry remembered feeling the heavy, warm weight of someone else’s cock in his hand, sticky on one end, surrounded by fluffy, soft hair at the other, and his whole body wanted to feel it again. He would like to see Malfoy’s real face when Harry made him come – that kind of surrender was what Harry’d been looking for his whole life. He’d seen all awareness of Self and Other leave Malfoy’s face as it twisted in the release of desire. He wanted that again. He wanted Malfoy to want him, and trust him, and need him. He had no idea why.
He sighed, and began listing the geographical characteristics mentioned, dredged up from his memory, until Malfoy forced him to focus on each person and reproduce the information that one provided. He grudgingly admitted that notes would have helped.
“So, every one brought up Soho Square in some context,” Malfoy concluded, many cups of caffeine later. “Every one knew someone who lived near there. Every one of them has heard of the street drug “Karma,” but it’s the only one among all the substances each boy listed they haven’t tried. And several of them have run into a bloke named “Desire” – stupid name – but their descriptions are ridiculously different – blond, black, English, South African, tall, medium height, flash dresser, nothing special. Either there’s one person disguising himself in some way, well enough to not trigger suspicions, which points to a possible wizard, or there are a group of them just using the same name, which is downright weird.”
“Well, I don’t think the Soho Square connection indicates anything. Malfoy, Mill, Lila and I live two streets from there. Soho’s the center for the sex trade, and Compton Street’s the biggest gay centre in London.”
“It’s also just a street or so from Knockturn Alley.”
“Well, maybe, but let’s look for something more likely.”
“Fine, Potter, what’s your best guess for clues?” Malfoy leaned back watched Harry from under his lashes, legs forward enough that Harry could see the untied silk bow. He suspected Malfoy was doing it on purpose. Fortunately, the earlier attraction had only been a fluke. And the fact that for some reason the untied bow made him feel desperate to tidy Malfoy up. He moved his hand forward, just to tie the bow, and Malfoy slapped Harry’s hand without opening his eyes.
“Well, every one of the Desires is someone they met after midnight,” Harry said, trying to think of any further pattern, “didn’t like much, who offered them Karma in trade for sex.”
“And each one of them refused, for various reasons,” Draco pointed out.
“That’s a weird coincidence. Surely some of them would have accepted.”
Draco shook his head. “It wouldn’t be coincidence at all if the ones we met were the only ones who didn’t disappear.”
“Yeah, but wouldn’t it be a coincidence that most of them had encountered someone named Desire?”
They were silent for a minute, processing this. “Either Desire is an extremely busy boy or they’ve got some other characteristic in common.”
“Stop smirking, Potter. I said you had to be more intelligent than you look, so you just proved me right. How about this – the characteristic they had in common was they would all talk to us.”
“Chatty, friendly, trusting of strangers . . . “
“Right. Remember we got turned down by a few we tried to talk to.”
“So if you just hang out seeming friendly and chatty, you might get to talk to . . . ”
Malfoy’s glare stopped Harry’s sentence halfway. “Do you take me for a Gryffindor, Potter? Or a professional Auror? I have no intention of acting as bait.”
“I said I would help interrogate. I didn’t say I would ‘make myself vulnerable for a mysterious but probably deadly stalker to find me and take me somewhere.’”
Harry threw up his hands. “Malfoy, I need you for this – that’s why I’m paying you.”
“Paying me to do your job, while you . . . what are you planning to do instead, Potter? Skive off to Paris for a week or so?”
Harry thought that sounded rather fun, but shook his head. “I may have mentioned that my roommate is missing, Malfoy. I’m worried about her. She’s a fellow Auror, and no one else in the department seems to be arsed to look for her at all. I need some time to at least try to track her life. I know her better than most people, but there just aren’t that many pieces of her life which are suspicious. The Chief Auror is more suspicious of her being an unregistered Animagus than anything rational. I mean, who cares if she could and did occasionally turn into a cat? McGonagall did too, and it didn’t exactly contribute to her being a dangerous witch.”
“So you want to look for Mill. And what happens to her daughter while you’re searching? Just leave her at Weasley’s?”
“Ron’ll take care of her. He’s a good guy.”
“Except for giving her beer for tea.”
“It’s just a sip! She really likes it! Anyway, Malfoy, will you help me out here?”
Malfoy pursed his lips and considered. “Tell you what, Potter,” he said finally. “I’m going to help you out more than you expect. I’m going to take you to meet Mill’s current girlfriend. Her office is not far from here.”
“Great. We can get up early and –“
“Nah, if we’re going to catch her in, we better go now. She only works at night.”
Harry finally moved across the room and flopped onto the couch next to Draco. “That receptionist is driving me crazy,” he whispered.
“She’s coming on to you, idiot.”
Draco snorted. “I really can’t imagine, Potter. Possibly she wants your blood.”
Harry stood straight up without noticing. “My blood?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, she’s a vampire. So’s her boss.”
Harry blenched. “Mill’s girlfriend is . . . a vampire?”
“Yeah. I thought Mill was . . . shall we say, unwise? She thought I was prejudiced, though.”
Harry’s brows went together. “Now I know she just started going out with her new girlfriend about a month ago. You’ve been in Russia. How do you know about her?”
“Well, I could lie and say through owls. Will that do?”
Harry could feel his teeth grinding. He’d forgotten that interacting with Malfoy had always led to jaw pain later. “Thanks, Malfoy, but I’d prefer the truth. Seeing as I am now in an office with a vampire and a former Death Eater in training, and am beginning to think that I have been reverting to the idiocy of childhood.”
Malfoy sighed. “All right, Mill is a friend of mine. When I got back to London I looked her up. I met her and her girlfriend – whose name is Sasha, by the way – and a few other friends from school, mostly, at a truly dreary wizarding club called Poison. We were catching up, and suddenly the lights went out and then things started blowing up around me. I took off, and haven’t seen or heard from Mill since.”
“So why didn’t you talk to her girlfriend before this?”
“I firecalled her the next day. She didn’t know anything. She said it was the Dark Lord’s Avengers, though – DLA. She knew a couple of them.”
Harry froze. “DLA? So you’re involved with them?”
“Pay attention, Potter. Only peripherally. But I suspect Mill is.”
“She’s got no sympathy for Death Eaters, old or new. And she wouldn’t risk Lila.”
“I never said she did – or would. But if you go crusading, occasionally you wind up entangled with the sort of people who stick their feet out and trip you up.”
Harry suspected Draco’s metaphor came from memories of their Hogwarts days. It was too pat. But the hair was rising on the back of his neck, hearing the DLA term. They were trouble, big trouble – enthusiastically pro-Death Eater and anti-Muggle, too young to be careful, and more interested in their romanticised view of the pre-War times than actually creating a strategy which might let them win. More terrorists than army, the Aurors had difficulty predicting which way they would jump. And he was stuck questioning prostitutes about a possible illegal love potion.
“I’ve got to find out more.”
“No doubt, Potter. But surely you’ve learned to get information before doing something about it?”
Harry made a face. Malfoy was patronising him, but he was also right.
Fortunately for Harry’s frustration level, the door to the office suite opened, and a quite lovely woman walked in.
She, like Mill, seemed perfectly comfortable in Muggle clothes, but hers were both more upscale and more feminine. She was wearing a silk dress the precise colour of fresh blood, which set off shoulder length, asymmetrical black hair and pale, pale skin – the only hint that she was a vampire, since she wasn’t smiling. Her mouth was set in an unhappy line, and she actually looked a little drugged. She wore nylon stockings and, unexpectedly, trainers.
Her assistant came up to her and whispered something, glancing over at Malfoy and Harry. The newcomer nodded, took what looked like a shoebox from the assistant’s desk, and walked over to them.
“My name is Sasha,” she said abruptly. “Of course I have met you, Draco, and I have heard much about you, Harry. Please come in.”
Her office was large, beautifully furnished, and windowless. There was a leather couch on one side, two chairs in the corner facing it, and a small table between. On the other side was an enormous desk of rubbed wood, completely bare except for a polished walnut in/out box and a small china canister shaped like an owl, presumably to reward the carriers.
Sasha opened the box and took out a pair of dress shoes. The heels were only an inch or so high, unlike those of her assistant. She waved them to the couch and sat down in one of the chairs.
“How can I help you?” She had the slightest trace of some Eastern European accent. She toed off her trainers and slid into the dress shoes and became recognisably an extremely professional woman.
“We’re trying to find Mill,” Harry said.
Her face softened. Harry, whose internal monologue, as it addressed the meta issues at all, would mostly have been translated along the lines of, “What the HELL were you thinking, Mill?” switched to “Awwww.” Clearly, Sasha cared a lot about Mill. Harry knew about love; he’d been in love once, his friends fell in love quite often. Love made you stupid. It explained everything.
“We’re worried about her,” he added quickly, to make it clear whose side he was on.
Sasha did not seem surprised about that. “I have heard nothing since that night at the club,” she told Malfoy.
Malfoy leaned back, relaxing a little. Harry hadn’t noticed how tense he’d been till then. “Do you have any suspicions?” he asked casually.
Sasha’s bushy black eyebrows met over her forehead. “If I did, and if I were correct, those I suspected would not be living now.” She looked every inch a vampire as she said that.
Harry braced himself not to flinch. Love makes you stupid, he reminded himself. Besides, Mill was a Slytherin. They’re used to dangerous friends.
Malfoy began to ask something else, but Sasha waved him to silence imperiously. She stood up and began to pace the room. “Until today, I had no suspicions,” she said. “But now, I think perhaps there is… a lead you might choose to follow.”
“I am the executive director of an agency that helps recovering addicts and provides education to wizarding agencies on addictions. You know that, or you would not have found me.”
“Yeah, we just looked in the Fire Starter pages,” Harry grunted. “Under potions colon addictions. Your job led you somewhere?”
She glared at him. “Is there something about Aurors that they are trained to be rude, and interrupt, and jump to conclusions?” she asked. “Mill does this too, sometimes, when she is tired. Are you tired?”
“I’m sorry. Go on.”
“As I hope you know, there is an organisation called Ethical Vampires Crusade. EVC. I am the vice chair.”
It was Malfoy’s turn to shift restlessly. Harry looked at him, and saw that he was completely confused. “EVC’s one of the main organisations to improve vampire/human relations,” he said quickly. “They’ve got a list of agreements which vampires make to join, and in return, they get Ministry support.”
Sasha made a little moue. “It is true. The most important agreement is that we will only take blood from consenting adults. So we have an ongoing sign up list for wizards and witches who are willing to do this for us. In return, of course, we give them a few Galleons. The EVC gathers donations for this.”
Harry began to wonder if for some reason this vampire was keeping them around till daybreak on purpose.
Sasha must have seen his impatience. “I am sorry,” she said, and her smile somehow made Harry forgive her. “This is very important to me, my job, and I am used to giving lectures on it. At any rate, because of the small stipend, some of our donors are … without many resources. One of these is a young man who also sells his body, unfortunately. He was born to wizard parents – quite an old family, he tells me – but himself has little magic.”
A Squib, Harry thought.
“I was in a hurry this evening, because I had forgotten to feed last night – there are grant proposals due – and tonight was going to be as busy. So I called Evelyn on his cell phone and asked if he would meet me right after dark. He said he was meeting someone, and should be done long before dark, so we agreed to meet in a little pub in Knockturn Alley. He was a little disjointed – you know how those phones are, but the young love such toys – and said something I couldn’t catch, about desire. I assumed he was explaining why this was important enough to be late for.”
Draco and Harry held very still when they heard that last sentence. Maybe this was going somewhere helpful.
“Evelyn did not appear. After 40 minutes, I concluded that he had been waylaid, perhaps, and decided to leave the Castrated Rooster, which I do not like at all, and dine at the Leaky Cauldron, where one of the barmaids is very considerate in urgent situations. I left Knockturn to walk along Muggle streets, which I prefer because vampires are not approved of among wizards. As I got to the entrance, I found Evelyn lying unconscious on the sidewalk.”
Sasha’s story, which she would not speed up, boiled down to the fact that she brought her donor into the Leaky Cauldron, fed him, then fed from him, in some desperation, since the barmaid turned out to have taken the day off. As a result of the feeding, she got a horrible headache and became somewhat disoriented herself.
“I asked Evelyn what had happened, and he said a man named Desire had engaged him for … his services. When they met, Desire gave him a potion he said would increase his pleasure. Instead, he seemed to have an allergic reaction, and blacked out. He woke up in a deserted building, which used to house Borgin and Burkes before it was closed down during the war. He was quite distressed, because he was surrounded by dead bodies and two vampires who definitely had not embraced the EVC Acceptable Practices Agreement, who appeared to be systematically turning these victims into Inferi.
“Evelyn lay there, pretending to be dead and listening to the discussion. When the Dark practitioners went to get a potion they needed for their work, he staggered to his feet and ran off. He made it a certain distance before he fainted. Fortunately, that part of town is not noted for caring too much about strangers who seem the worse for drink, and he was still there when I came by.”
“Why do you think this has anything to do with Mill?” Malfoy asked, though Harry noticed his fingers were drumming quietly against the couch seat. Since Harry lived close to Knockturn Alley himself, he rather thought Sasha should skip the geographical explanations and get to the point.
Instead, Sasha took out a compact and powdered her face, then added lipstick while staring into the top of the compact. Harry was rather surprised at this, from what he’d heard about vampires and mirrors, and Sasha, glancing up, noticed him staring.
“This is a product we make to raise funds for the organization,” she said, smiling at him and handing him the compact. Instead of a mirror, there was a small replica of Sasha’s face, which turned from side to side as Harry looked at it, then fluttered its eyelashes at him and blew him a kiss. Harry blushed.
“He told me what little he could hear. Someone was being interrogated – a witch, he thinks, because she kept saying, “I thought you were after Muggles, not wizards. I was in your year in Slytherin! And don’t even think of Obliviating me, Ted, or I’ll get loose and twist your cock off.”
Harry flinched. Malfoy laughed. “Could have been Ted Nott.”
“In which case, given the Slytherin and your year, it wouldn’t exactly be a stretch for it to be Mill,” Harry agreed.
“Nah, Potter, exactly how many of the witches at Hogwarts talked like that?”
“Mill says that only to people she wants to arrest or kill,” Sasha agreed quietly. “But I have heard her say it, more than once.”
“I haven’t, but I don’t work with her,” Harry said. “She hasn’t said it to me.”
“Be grateful, Potter. Sasha, I think we need to get to Knockturn Alley.”
Sasha nodded, and walked them to the outer door. She kissed Draco on the cheek and shook Harry’s hand. “A pleasure, gentlemen. I am sorry I am not myself.”
“Would you like me to call St. Mungo’s?” Harry asked. “They could send a healer.”
“No, thank you. After all, the potion cannot possibly kill a vampire, and we are used to filtering blood that has been tainted in various ways. “
“We’ll want to interrogate your friend later.”
“He is not in condition to be approached just now, but we will see.”
Out on the sidewalk, they paused to assess.
“Well, what’s the fastest route?” Malfoy asked, sounding just a bit on edge. He had paled at the first mention of Inferi.
“You’re not coming, Malfoy.”
“What? That’s absurd – I’m the one who brought you to Sasha.”
“Yes, and that was a very good informant behaviour, and if there’s a reward, I’ll see you get it,” Harry said kindly. “However, I seem to remember you saying you were not going to do dangerous things.“
“Don’t patronise me, Potter! My ancestors were developing new curses when yours were trying to figure out how to light a fire with rocks!”
Harry’s kind feelings toward Malfoy abruptly left him. “I…” he said coldly, “am an Auror. You… are a rentboy. I am trained to go into dangerous situations and fight. You are trained…well, I have no idea if sex workers get training, but that’s how you’re trained.”
“I was trained by my father, who was –“
“One of the most evil wizards living in this generation, yes,” Harry said. He surreptitiously shook his wand down his sleeve. He remembered what used to happen once they started bringing in their fathers.
Malfoy smirked, and caught him off guard. “Exactly.”
Harry felt 13 years old again, and in danger of losing the argument. He reminded himself that he had learned just a little about fighting Dark Lords and annoying brats since then. He felt his face take on the You Are In Danger, Sir look which Hermione and Ron agreed was what made him scariest.
“Let me be clear about this, Malfoy. I am going to check out Knockturn Alley. If you want to help, you will go to the Ministry of Magic and report this to whatever Aurors are on duty. If, after you have performed that task, you still wish to help, you may locate Evelyn, take him to St. Mungo’s, and find out what potion they gave him.”
Malfoy’s eyebrows hitched together, but he didn’t argue. He merely looked sullen. Harry began to feel that there were advantages to looking scary.
“How do I find Evelyn?”
“Use your imagination.” With that, Harry Apparated to Knockturn Alley.