Chapter 2 : Mostly Independent and Totally Broke
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The Knappers lived in East London, in a neighborhood not known for its poshness or physical safety. My wand was safely stowed in my sleeve, and my hand itched for it as I walked quickly down the street. Everyone looked like a mugger around here. Muggle muggers. Try saying that five times fast.
I banged on the door when I found the correct address, and stepped back to wait for someone to answer. After a few minutes, the door opened a fraction of an inch. I could see an eye peeking out between about ten different chains.
“What do you want?” the eye demanded testily.
“I'm Rose Weasley, I work for Angelo Agnelli-”
“You're looking for Butrus, aren't you?” The door snapped shut, and I heaved a sigh. Nobody likes me anymore since I started working for Angelo. I can't even count the number of doors I've had slammed in my face.
But this one opened right back up again, this time without the chains. Mrs. Knapper was skinny, in an unhealthy kind of way, with short brown hair and wide, bruised eyes. She didn't look like she'd slept much lately, and she smelled like stale whiskey. She had her wand in her hand.
“You may as well come in,” she said.
The house was absolutely filthy. She must not have cleaned it in years. I'm no clean freak, but I really didn't want to sit down, and the idea of Scourgifying my own ass when I left also held no appeal, though I was pretty sure it wouldn't hurt me, since I'd once seen Teddy Lupin perform that spell on his son's butt while changing a diaper. With my luck, I'd remove the seat of my pants instead of the dirt. I'd have to Apparate home and change clothes. Yuck.
I sat down gingerly on the brown sofa – had it always been brown or was it the dirt? Oh God, don't think about it – and smiled my friendliest, most trustworthy, please-rat-on-your-husband smile.
“Call me Lomatia,” she said, picking up a glass of firewhiskey as she sat down on an equally filthy armchair, dropping her wand on the table where the whiskey had been. It was ten in the morning, but apparently that wasn't stopping her.
I did my best not to change my expression. Wow.
“Lomatia,” I said, testing the name out. Holy crap. I think Butrus was actually the better half of this couple, name-wise anyway. “Your husband missed his court date, and I need him to come in with me to the Ministry and get it rescheduled.”
“You mean you want to put the bastard back in jail,” Lomatia Knapper said.
“Well, Angelo would probably bond him back out, so he wouldn't have to stay in a holding cell until his next court date.” Probably. Though if Knapper had Dark objects on him and had skipped once, the chances that he would be offered bail again seemed slim to none. Still, best to be optimistic, right? Hope was a wonderful thing. “You don't want him to stay missing, you could lose your home.”
“We don't own this dump,” she said, waving a hand to indicate the rowhouse. “I don't own nothin' that's worth anything.”
Uh-oh. I had an uneasy feeling about this. Angelo didn't do anybody any favors, and he sure as hell didn't sign unsecured bonds, especially to people caught with Dark objects. Most people put their house down as their collateral for larger bonds, but if they didn't own their house... “Then what was your collateral for the bond?”
“Me,” she said, tossing back her drink.
And hope crapped on me again. Lomatia Knapper was custodian for her husband. It was an old law, one that the Muggles had repealed ages ago, but it was still on the books of magical law. A person could be named as collateral for a bond, and if the felon takes a walk and can't be found, the custodian took his place before the Wizengamot, and could be imprisoned – even executed – in place of the felon. My mum thought it was utterly barbaric when she heard about it, especially since wives were so often custodians for their criminal husbands, and was working on having the law repealed, but right now it was still legal.
I wasn't real happy that Angelo had put Mrs. Knapper down as custodian, though. Being legal didn't make it morally correct. Jerk. I'd deal with Angelo later, though. This ought to make her want to help me, right? Surely she didn't want to go to Azkaban in her husband's place?
She was watching me with glittering eyes. “I don't know where he is,” she said baldly. “If he comes home, he's going to find the locks have been changed. That bastard couldn't be buggered what happened to me when he skipped. I hope you catch him.”
“Do you have any idea where he might have gone? A friend's house? Does he owe anyone money? Where are his usual haunts?”
Lomatia didn't answer for a moment. “If I tell you, can you get Mr. Agnelli to let me out of this bond?”
I felt really bad for her. I wished there was a better answer. “It's a binding magical contract. Either we find Butrus, or you go to Azkaban in his place.”
Lomatia picked up her glass and her wand, and the glass refilled itself. Nice. I'd never been able to get that charm to work on alcohol before. She tossed back the second drink, and then said, “He was involved in something. Something big. Wouldn't tell me a thing, but then, he never did. Just yelled at me. He didn't have any friends. Got a half-brother living out in Borrowdale, but they hated each other. I don't think he'd go there.”
“Any friends he'd go to? How was his wandwork?” I didn't really want to go after this guy if he was a celebrated duellist or something. I might do anyway, though. Someone had to pay the rent.
She shrugged. “He had some friends that I never spoke to. I never saw him do any particularly difficult spells. He left Hogwarts after fifth year, barely scraped an O.W.L.”
I got the info on the brother, thanked poor Lomatia Knapper, and fled the scene. I swear I could feel something crawling on me where I'd sat on the filthy sofa. Ew, ew, ew. I Apparated home as soon as I found a sufficiently empty alley, and ran into the bathroom to shower.
If I were Butrus Knapper, I'd have skipped out just to get out of that rowhouse.
I started thinking about the brother in Borrowdale while toweling off. If they didn't get along, it seemed unlikely that Knapper would go to him, but people did strange things when they were on the run. At the very least, it wouldn't hurt to go talk to the guy. Borrowdale was in the Lake District, chock full of tourists. Better put on Muggle clothes.
I opened the closet door and saw Scorpius sitting on the floor, his knees curled to his chest. He didn't appear to be doing anything, just sitting there.
“Why are you in here?” I asked blankly.
“Mrs. Kochel was here.”
Mrs. Kochel was our landlady, who undoubtedly wanted the back rent we owed her. I ducked into the closet next to Scorpius. “Do you think she's coming back? Does she know Homenum Revelio?”
“I doubt it. She doesn't seem too keen on difficult spells.”
We sat in silence for a while, then I said, “We're going to have to borrow the money from our parents, aren't we?”
“Unless you find Knapper by tomorrow.”
“That seems unlikely. Knapper's gone. His wife has no idea where he might be.”
I put my head on his shoulder. “Half from my parents, half from yours?”
Scorpius's face was drawn. I knew he hated asking his dad for money. Scorpius had this weirdly independent streak. I had it too, which is why we had always understood each other so well, and also why we were broke.
“Think we can hold out another week? Maybe we can get a painting sold, or find a failure-to-appear.”
“We can try,” I said uncertainly. It seemed unlikely that either of those events would happen.
“Okay then,” he said, reading my lack of enthusiasm for this plan. “If we haven't gotten a windfall of gold by tomorrow afternoon, we'll ask our parents for the money.”
Handy, since we were going to my parents' house for dinner tomorrow. Come to think of it, I don't remember mentioning that to Scorpius. Whoops.
“My parents want us to come to dinner tomorrow.”
“Handy,” Scorpius said. “We can ask them for money with our dessert.”
I decided I had enough time left this afternoon to go to Borrowdale. Scorpius was sitting on the bed, tapping his canvas brush roll against his knee and watching me get into my Muggle clothes: t-shirt that did not have a Quidditch team logo on it, trainers, and pair of jeans with hole on the shin. Muggles liked jeans with holes in them, for some reason.
I twirled a bit, hoping Scorpius was impressed. “Do I look like a Muggle?”
He shrugged. “I guess so.”
I turned back to the mirror and fluffed out my hair. Not everyone can pull off red curls, but fortunately, I was a Weasley. “Okay, I'm off to see if I can run down Butrus Knapper. Maybe I can flush him out.”
“Are you sure this guy isn't dangerous?” Scorpius asked suspiciously.
“Would I lie to you?”
He had a point there. “Mrs. Knapper says the guy can hardly stand a cauldron the right way up, how dangerous could he be?” This wasn't strictly true, but it sounded good.
Scorpius didn't look convinced. I set off for the Lake District.
Cumberland Borrowdale was very pretty at this time of year. There were crowds of Muggles wandering about the place: young Muggles with large knapsacks strapped to their backs, families of Muggles with whining children, a few people who were dressed just wrong enough that I thought they were probably wizards trying to blend in. Or Americans.
The house that Butrus Knapper's brother lived in was on the south end of Derwent Water, on the outskirts of the Muggle village. It managed to seem very isolated despite not being far from the beaten track. The house was overgrown with ivy, the plaster walls crumbling, a large marble toad sat in the center of a weedy pond in the front garden, and the thatched roof had a small tree growing in it. He might as well have had a sign up that said “Tie me to a stake and burn me, I'm magic!” I wondered why no one from the Ministry had given this man a warning to fit in more with the Muggles. Sheesh. Some people have no class.
I rapped on the door a few times, and eventually heard footsteps coming. I took a step back and tried my best smile. You catch more fairies with honey than with vinegar, as my aunt Fleur always says.
The man who opened the door was far better-looking than I'd expected, after the picture of Butrus Knapper. If this was his half-brother, the common genes they shared were not apparent. He looked at me blankly, as if he had no idea who I was.
“You're a Weasley,” he said then. Guess he did know who I was.
“Yeah, I am,” I said, putting out my hand to shake his. He just looked down at my hand for a moment, so I let it fall back to my side. Oooookay. Lomatia Knapper seemed to be the best out of this bunch, and that wasn't saying much. “Are you Balthazar Pulford?”
He had the door open only wide enough to stand in, so his body obscured any view of the interior of the run-down little house. I tried not to be obvious about wanting a look behind him, but I was really curious. This guy was weird. “I'm looking for your brother, Butrus Knapper-”
“Haven't seen him,” he interrupted.
“He hasn't contacted you since his arrest?”
“Haven't seen him,” repeated Pulford. He was eyeing me as if measuring my height. It was really creeping me out.
Well, wasn't this pleasant. I pressed on. “He's in violation of his bond agreement. I need to bring him in to reschedule his court date.”
Pulford was still watching me with that strange look on his face. “You're a bounty hunter?”
“Bond enforcement agent, yeah.” Most people had difficult processing this. Guess I don't look like a bounty hunter. Maybe I need some tattoos or something. Or a t-shirt that doesn't have a pink unicorn on it.
Pulford gave me a slow head-to-toe once-over. Gross. I decided it was time to go. “If you see Butrus, will you contact Angelo's Magical Bonds and let us know?”
He didn't say anything, so I gave him a wave and left. I could feel his eyes on me as I turned around the bend out of sight. No one was around, so I Apparated back to London, wanting to get away as quickly as possible.
I came home to the strains of 'Oh What a Beautiful Mornin' performed to the sounds of washing-up, Scorpius's baritone voice echoing in the hallway. I smiled as I came into the kitchen. Scorpius was busily scrubbing a pot with dish gloves on, his blonde hair tied up with a pink elastic into a ponytail, the dishes in the sink next to him washing themselves. I'm pretty sure that was my hair elastic.
He'd been notorious in school for his love of old Muggle musicals. Listening to his rendition of that yodeling song about the goatherd was quite the treat, let me tell you. My cousin Albus had been convinced Scorpius was gay because of this, and had – helpfully – mentioned it to my father. It had not helped his opinion of Scorpius, though my granddad got a real kick out of it. I sometimes suspected Scorpius's artistic temperament was what made his father inclined to not disown him for living in sin with a Weasley. Mr. Malfoy was probably just so pleased his son was interested in girls that the whole Weasley thing seemed comparatively unimportant.
Scorpius smiled at me when he saw me, and kept singing. He had quite a nice voice. I couldn't sing to save my life. I wished I could, we could do lovely duets and be famous on the Wizarding Wireless Network. Maybe earn some money. Hmm. Maybe Scorpius could pick up a few Galleons busking around London. Mental note: Suggest that to him when he's in a receptive sort of mood.
“Hey babe,” I said when he'd finished the last note and set the pot in the dish drainer.
“Come help me dry the dishes.”
I hate doing the washing-up. I didn't move in with a domestic kind of guy so I could do my own dishes. But he was awfully cute when he smiled at me like that, so I went over and pulled my wand out, muttering the charm that created warm air, and started drying the dishes next to him.
“I don't suppose you found Knapper?” he asked.
“Nope.” I didn't want to tell him about Knapper's creepy half-brother. It seemed unlikely to comfort him about the safety of this case.
“Mrs. Kochel came back.”
I sighed, setting a plate into the open cabinet next to the sink. “Did you talk to her?”
“Nope. I was out. She left us a nasty note on the door.” He nodded his head to a scrap of parchment pinned to the refrigerator with a Temporary Sticking Charm. It threatened us with eviction, disembowelment, and calling our parents if we didn't pay last month's and this month's rent by Monday. Very friendly.
“Tomorrow we'll go to my parents' house, then we can stop by your parents' house on the way home and ask for money.”
“I really don't want to do this,” Scorpius said, not looking up.
“I don't like it much either, but I think I would dislike living in a cardboard box even more.”
This made Scorpius smile ruefully, and he said, changing the subject, “Your dad's in the paper again.”
I set the last mug in the cupboard and turned to where the paper was spread out on our small table. My dad was on the front cover, looking gruff and shaking his head. You could see his grizzled hair even in the black and white photo. Mum's hair was still suspiciously brunette, but Dad had been going grey for the past five years. The article under Dad's photo was about Venatici, again. The reporter had written that although Dad's team of Aurors were nearing an arrest, the public should continue to be vigilant, as Venatici was still at large and still very dangerous.
The Venatici case had been in the Prophet almost every day lately. It had started out when he'd been arrested on a Dark object trafficking charge. When searching his house, the Aurors had found some really horrible things. My dad had been in charge of the search, and he still looked a little sick when it was brought up. Venatici had been killing Muggles and making Dark objects out of their body parts. He'd sold a Hand of Glory to an undercover Auror, and it had turned out to have come from a Muggle mother of three, not a smuggler as it's supposed to. Disgusting. Venatici had escaped custody and now no one could find him.
Sometimes at home we'd discussed Dad's cases, but my mum had put a moratorium on discussing the Venatici case. She looked like she was going to throw up whenever she saw mention of it in the Daily Prophet, and it usually made her a little more touchy-feely with my dad. I think she was worried about him. I couldn't imagine any wizard getting the best of my dad, though, even one who chopped up Muggles and enchanted their hands and heads. Dad, though totally oblivious when it came to women, was pretty sharp where criminals were concerned.
I looked over at Scorpius. He was reading the article over my shoulder with a small frown, and when he caught me looking, he kissed my temple.
“I'm glad you don't go after the kind of wizards your dad hunts, Rosie,” he said.
I was too. I looked down at the hazy photo that was the only image of Venatici that had been published. He looked kindly enough to me. Just goes to show, I guess, serial killers look just like everyone else.
A/N: “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'” is from Oklahoma! and was written by the incomparable Rodgers and Hammerstein, who also wrote The Sound of Music (and thus the yodeling song about the goatherd).
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