Around the office, they called her The Inferno. Initially, the adage had been a reverent one, a reflection on the fierce and determined tenacity she’d displayed throughout Auror training and even more so when awarded her first post. It’d been a significant while since the Ministry had had a true “wunderkind” to ooh and ahh over, and she was the perfect candidate to fill this void, rising up the ranks faster than she could clean out her desk. As of late, though, the nickname had become more of a reflection on her considerable temper – and her propensity to enter into screaming matches with new recruits and even, on occasion, her superiors. Yes, more often than not, “The Inferno” was articulated through the hushed and often giggling voice of a new intern, unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of the Auror Department’s proverbial flame.
But on the day in question, Rose Weasley looked more akin to the fading, orange embers of a dying fire than her volcanic nickname as she slunk towards the Auror office, her pale lips drawn into a grim line. A pair of uncharacteristically tremulous hands paged through that morning’s still-warm daily prophet, one calloused index finger tracing the miniscule print. It halted suddenly when she found what she’d been looking for – buried three pages in, wedged between an advertisement for the Chudley Cannons and a review of the new Weird Sisters: Greatest Hits album. Of course it hadn’t made the front page; it was no longer news of that caliber as the Ministry (most fortunately, for Rose) had managed to keep the incident under wraps for nearly a week. Nevertheless, it was still there – a harried-looking picture of herself (sporting a head of wild, red curls that had climbed to record-breaking heights) accompanied by the bold headline: Weasley’s Blunder Worries Ministry.
“Damn it,” Rose cursed, folding the paper shut as some of the color flooded back into her freckled cheeks. “Damn it, damn it, damn it, damn it!” The young intern walking a few paces behind her looked mildly horrified as Rose wrenched open the office door, sending a mountain of paperwork flying in all directions (and striking one particularly unlucky onlooker in the eye). Immune to the chaos around her, Rose plowed through the gathering crowd and cut a straight path to her corner desk. Grinding her teeth, she tossed the Prophet onto her desk, disturbing a remarkable cloud of dust in the process. Even through this sunlit haze, Rose was able to ascertain a pair of unfamiliar feet (jammed into a pair of presumably spit-shined wingtips) leaning precariously against the stack of teetering manila folders that leaned against her desk lamp. Frowning, she followed the feet to two unremarkable ankles, an expensive looking pair of trousers, and robes fashioned after a Sherlock Holmes-esque trench coat. The stranger himself wore a smattering of five o’clock shadow and a languid smirk perhaps conducive to reducing lesser woman to puddles of admiring lust. Rose, however, was not so easily swayed.
“Who the hell are you?” she demanded, not bothering with the pretense of strained cordiality she usually managed around the office.
“You must be Rose,” he decided with infuriating calm, tenting his fingers together. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
“What in Merlin’s name do you think you’re – ”
Rose’s interrogation tapered off mid-sentence as a bedraggled looking Teddy Lupin burst onto the scene, one swath of his violet hair drooping lankly across his forehead. “Rose,” he panted, placing an arm on her shoulder for support, “I’ve been looking for you all morning.” Each word was punctuated by a melodramatic wheeze.
She shimmied out of his grasp, crossing her arms defiantly. “Would you kindly tell me who that man with his big-arse feet on my desk is?”
“That depends, can you stop being so sodding petulant?” He countered, vibrant eyebrows raised.
“Touché,” Rose conceded, raking a freckled hand through her hair “now speak.”
“Well,” Teddy began, looking suddenly nervous, “you know, obviously, that there’s been a bit of, well, trouble with your case lately…and it’s been deemed necessary to place you under probationary evaluation. The chief, and some of the other higher-ups around here will be reviewing your files. While your position at the ministry is put under review, Jerome Mason here – ”
“Er, Jerry, if you don’t mind,” the man corrected politely.
“Right, of course, well Jerry has been assigned your – ”
“Glorified babysitter?” Rose interrupted indignantly.
“Partner and case supervisor." Teddy finished, plodding valiantly on desbite her ourtburst. "He'll be filing weekly reports on the status of the case and writing up any demerits should you choose to further break Ministry protocol. After a number of weeks yet to be determined, he’ll make an official recommendation in regards to your employment.”
“Enough, with the formality, Teddy! This is my case, and you know I’ve earned it. I work alone,” Rose hissed, cerulean eyes narrowed in stony opposition.
“This isn’t my call, Rosie,” Teddy told her honestly. “This decision went up all the way to the minister himself.”
The news seemed to have shocked some reality into her, and she leaned exhaustedly against the filing cabinet, steeling herself against the crushing disappointment. “There’s no way out of this, is there?” she murmured, chewing worriedly on her bottom lip.
“’Fraid not, Rosie,” he replied gently. Scanning his watch, he announced, “I have to go – why don’t you two acquaint yourselves a little better?”
Rose watched his retreating figure sullenly, not sure whether to laugh or cry at the recent turn of events. Unfortunately for him, Jerry Mason shattered her contemplative silence with the rather brash question, “So what kind of mess did you have to get yourself in to wind up with a – what was it? Oh, right, ‘glorified baby-sitter’ as you so delicately put it.”
“Well, Mr. Sensitivity, you really haven’t heard?” she implored, assuming her standard hands-on-hips position.
He shrugged, ignoring her not-so-subtle jibe. “Enlighten me.”
“Glad to, as soon as you vacate that chair you’ve usurped from me.”
“Of course,” he relented, “the lady must assume her rightful throne.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Rose informed him stiffly, “and neither will sarcasm, so why don’t you just sit quietly for a while, okay?”
Jerry nodded his assent. “All right then,” she began, “well I’m sure you’ve heard about the Iron Man case, am I correct?” – she paused for a moment, waiting for his dutiful nod – “well that case was assigned to me, ‘round a month and a half ago. At first, I thought it was going to be a cinch, just another egomaniacal wizard playing mostly-harmless pranks on neighborhood muggles. Your garden-variety hooligan, if you will. I started interviewing wizards and muggles alike from the surrounding areas, trying to pinpoint a way to catch this guy, who’d taken to calling himself the ‘Iron Man.’ He’s proved more slippery than I could have ever imagined, though. And then…”
“And then what?” Jerry prompted, momentarily forgetting his temporary vow of silence.
“And then his crimes escalated. Pranks evolved into full-fledged attacks on muggles, starting with mostly non-violent muggings but eventually turning towards animalistic brutality. About two weeks ago, local podiatrist Geoffrey Harris was found dead in his flat and I realized I had a potential escalating serial killer on my hands.”
“That still doesn’t explain my presence,” Jerry informed her dryly.
“Cool your jets, Mason, I’m getting there. What happened is that about a week and a half ago, I received a tip that Iron Man and a couple of his followers were meeting at the old meat-processing factory. Randall Yeardley – that’s Teddy’s boss, and the supervisor of this entire unit – he gave me express orders to wait outside for the perpetrators to leave the building, and not to enter it myself. But I didn’t think that was a wise move, without a proper invisibility cloak they were bound to spot me and circumvent the entire setup by sneaking out back, so I went up to the place, and I opened the door,” Rose continued, picking uncomfortably at her index fingernail.
“And after that?” Jerry inquired, propping one arm under his chin.
“It was a trap. The entire place went up in flames – alerting Iron Man to our presence and the whole investigation, not to mention nearly blowing my extremities off in the process,” she finished, flashing him the slow-healing burns on her right forearm for good measure.
Jerry let out a low whistle in response, shaking his head slowly back and forth. “That is one hell of a mess.”
“Really? I hadn’t the slightest notion,” Rose deadpanned, leaning back in her chair and hooking her arms behind her head. “So, how does one become a mandatory ‘partner and case supervisor’ anyhow?” she said conversationally, though there was acid in her voice.
Jerry laughed. “Well, Weasley, one finds themselves faced with a mountain of bills and now way to pay them. In all seriousness, though, I’ve been working as private investigator for a number of years now, but lately business has been shit, not to mention the fact I’d off myself if I had to shadow another serial cheater. So when the chance to see how the other half did it, I jumped at the opportunity.”
“Interesting,” Rose mused, propping her elbows onto the mahogany desk before her, “so you’re really not qualified at all for this position.”
Jerry’s grin faltered. “I think I’m more than competent to note when someone’s recklessly crossing a professional line for their own personal gain,” he retorted coolly, as the faint flicker of camaraderie between them fizzled into bitterness. Rose opened her moth in a last-ditch attempt to get the last word, but she was spared the trouble when an off-kilter paper airplane swooped around the corner, hitting her squarely between two well-maintained eyebrows.
“Bloody hell,” she muttered crossly as she unfolded the memo, but that hard glint of malevolence in her eyes slowly melted into something decidedly mischievous.
“What?” Jerry demanded, peering over her shoulder, “what’s it say?”
“It says I – well, we, I s’pose – are on surveillance duty tonight at the muggle parking garage three blocks over from the Leaky Cauldron.”
“So?” he asked, clearly perplexed at whatever had brought that devilish smirk to her face.
“So,” she echoed, removing from the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet a pair of track pants fit for a troll and a fraying basketball jersey, “you’re going to be needing these.”
Not fifteen minutes later, Jerry Mason found himself standing on a busy street corner with goose-flesh covered arms crossed across his chest in a desperate attempt to shield himself against the biting November wind – but it seemed to be of no avail, as he was constantly jostled by giggling passersby and exposed even further to the inclement conditions. He could only muster the strength to set his chattering teeth firmly when a sleek, black vehicle pulled up to the curb beside him, a sickeningly smug redhead sitting behind the wheel.
“Need a ride?” Rose asked sweetly, feigning innocence as Jerry slid into the passenger seat.
“Took you long enough,” he barked gruffly, buckling his seat belt with so much gusto he almost tore the apparatus from the side of the car. He waited for a snarky reply – the few minutes he’d spent with his new coworker were enough to alert him that Rose’s tongue was as quick as it was sharp – but was greeted only with the sound of muffled giggling. Curious, Jerry turned to face her, only to find that her demure laughter had escalated into unchecked guffawing, and within moments she was leaning against the steering wheel, tears of mirth sparkling like dew on her cheeks.
“You – you look r-r-ridiculous,” Rose finally managed, gasping for breath like a caught fish in its last throes of life. “I mean really – all you need is an oversized medallion to complete the look.”
Jerry was considerably less amused. “And why, exactly, do you get to wear that?” he demanded, gesturing towards her faded Beatles tee-shirt and only slightly wrinkled jeans.
“Ah ah ah,” she warned, wagging a finger as she pulled away from the sidewalk, “beggars can’t be choosers.”
“That’s rich – I don’t exactly remember asking for this.”
Rose narrowed her eyes, all semblance of her previous jollity gone. “And I don’t remember asking for a leash, but I got stuck with you, didn’t I?”
Reality seemed to momentarily freeze as the two glared at each other, eyes locked in a nonverbal battle of sorts, but they were both rudely reminded of their surroundings when Rose narrowly missed colliding into a fire hydrant.
“Whoops,” she mumbled, adjusting the rearview mirror.
“You sure you know how to drive this thing?” Jerry asked nervously, white knuckles gripping his seatbelt.
“I do have a license, oh doubtful one,” she retorted, “and besides – my dad taught me everything you need to know about driving.”
She smirked – a maniacal expression that Jerry was soon learning foreshadowed events not precisely in his favor. “How to Confund the driving instructor.”
“Comforting,” he told her sourly, before both of them lapsed into an uncomfortable silence that stretched on for the entire trip.
After pulling into a vacant spot next to a beat up station wagon with a bumper sticker boasting sanctimoniously of their honor student, Rose swiveled in her seat to find her that her new “case supervisor” was sound asleep and slumped against the window, a line of spittle trailing from the corner of his mouth to the base of the glass pane.
“Oi – OI! Naptime’s over, Sleeping Beauty!” She bellowed, leaning close enough to his hear that her breath raised the hairs on the back of his neck.
Jerry jerked awake – quite literally – with enough force to send his forehead hurtling against the window. He recoiled in a string of muttered curses, and Rose was almost surprised to find that the glass hadn’t splintered under the impact. “You know, for my superior, you’re not doing a bang-up job of monitoring my behavior. Especially when you’re, y'know, not conscious.”
“It was either sleep or vomit all over this nice, leather interior. You know, Weasley, your driving is hardly clearing up any misconceptions towards female incompetence in that area,” He informed her coolly, absentmindedly patting his considerably mussed hair.
“Misogynistic and egomaniacal! My, what a refreshing combination in a male,” Rose snapped, the corner of her lip curling into a scowl.
Jerry yawned, deciding that if he was ever going to gain her respect, he had to stop jumping at all the bait Rose was dangling before him. “So we’re here; now what, Weasley?”
“Now, we wait.”
“Wait for what?”
She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Most likely nothing. The Powers That Be have been sending me on fool’s errands like this since I’ve been deemed unfit to run this case on my own.”
“Well, if we’re going to be here a while…” Jerry trailed off, producing a pen and notebook from his pocket, the latter of which he rifled through until he found a fresh page.
“What are you doing?” Rose demanded, eyebrows climbing nearly into her hairline as she attempted to peer at what he was writing.
“Taking notes, of course,” he practically sang. Regarding the confused skew of her facial features, he added, “What? You didn’t think I’d show up to my first day of work before studying up on the Ministry’s standard guidelines for surveillance, did you?”
Rose continued gaping at him. “You’re serious?”
“As a heart attack,” Jerry informed her, quirking one eyebrow condescendingly.
“I don’t understand why you’re so adamant about this case review bollocks. It’s not like anyone’s here holding a wand to your head!” she pointed out, though her calm and cool demeanor was beginning to fringe on hysterical.
“I suppose the terms ‘integrity’ and ‘moral compass’ are foreign to you, then?” He replied, turning to another fresh page in his notebook.
“Oh, that’s rich, it is – you’ve turned informer, in a system you’re inexperienced in and on a person you sure as hell don’t know, for a pat on the head and sack full of galleons, and you’re preaching to me about integrity!”
Jerry struggled in vain to bite back his own retort, but found that he was saved the trouble when Rose silenced him by pressing a calloused index finger to his lips. “Shhhhh,” she hissed, though the warning was rather unnecessary. Curiously, he craned his neck to mirror hers, frozen into place by the scene that was unfolding just outside the car’s rear window.
Two men, half-hidden by the shadows, had materialized quite suddenly on their level of the parking garage, and seemed to be conferring in clandestine conversation as they were in the habit of peering around furtively every few moments. Swathed in identical black robes – ones Rose suspected you’d be hard-pressed to find in the muggle community – they painted an eerie image against the derelict backdrop. With a few final, muttered words that neither Rose nor Jerry could discern from their entrenchment, a parcel was exchanged between the figures and they each set off expeditiously in opposite directions.
Glancing expectantly at her new partner, Rose waited until the stranger upon whom the mysterious package was bestowed had melted into the darkness before wrenching the sedan’s door open and taking after him at a jog. She was stilled, however, when Jerry let out in a hoarse whisper, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
“What does it look like I’m doing? We can’t let an opportunity like this pass us by, Mason. You saw just as well as I did – those two were not muggles!”
“Our orders are for surveillance, Weasley, we haven’t been cleared for anything else.”
“Our orders are null and void in a situation like this – now I’m going after him, and it hardly matters to me whether or not you follow,” Rose told him with a note of finality in her voice.
“Fine,” he relented, climbing out of the car himself. “I’d hardly be ‘supervising’ you if I stayed behind.”
“Glad to see we finally agree on something, Mason,” she muttered sarcastically, before turning around to face him. “You going to write this in your little report?” Her flashing blue eyes met his brown ones – a challenge, more than a question.
He met her searing glare, fists clenched in anticipation. “No.”