I woke at the crack of noon the next day. Scorpius was already up and gone when I stumbled into the kitchen. I couldn't see any of his art stuff around so I assumed he'd gone off painting in the park or by the shore again. I ate a piece of toast smeared with marmalade – pretty much the extent of my culinary ability – and took stock.
I had no idea where Knapper might be. I had no idea why he'd run. I had no leads. I also had no money and a vengeful landlady hanging over my head like the Sword of Damocles.
My stock was in the toilet.
I decided Pulford was my best (read: only) angle on this. I wondered if he really did know where his brother was. It couldn't hurt to go check him out again, even though he gave me the collywobbles.
I had no more clean Muggle shirts, so I put on a purple shirt with a cartoon of Portia the Plucky Pygmy Puff on it and figured no one would notice.
It was a lovely afternoon in the Lake District. The sun warmed my shoulders as I walked down the lane toward Balthazar Pulford's cottage. A plume of turquoise smoke rose from the crumbling chimney, and I rolled my eyes. Surely the Muggles would notice that. People were eyeing the smoke as they walked, but no one was pointing or stopping or seeming to think anything weird was going on. Sheesh.
Trying Pulford again seemed optimistic to the point of folly given his previous reaction, so I decided to snoop around a bit. I walked around to the back of his property, which was even more overgrown than the front and looked even less inviting. There was a gentle slope down to his back garden, and I use that term in the loosest sense of the word. It had decaying evidence of gnome tunnels, a dead Flutterby bush and a few plants that I knew from Herbology classes were pretty vicious. There wasn't any real cover to speak of, just a few scraggly trees and even scragglier small bushes.
I tried to be sneaky and hid behind a hawthorn tree, trying to peer out over the limbs to get a look through his back windows. I could see someone moving around in the house, silhouetted against a filmy yellow curtain. The yellow looked to be from age rather than an intentional colour.
The silhouette was odd. I tilted my head to the side, trying to make it out. I thought it might be a woman. Maybe Pulford had a girlfriend. Or there was a Mrs. Pulford I didn't know about. If I started seeing the silhouette do anything dirty, I was so out of there.
I didn't think anyone could see me, but just in case, I pulled out a Shield Hat from my shoulder bag and pulled it on, shoving my hair up into the floppy straw hat. I always felt a little safer with one of these. One of my uncle's better inventions, really, although the Daydream Charms were the only thing that got me through History of Magic. Those might rank higher than the Shield Hats for me.
The Shield Hat had the added advantage of hiding my face a bit, so my nose wouldn't get sunburned. It was only a few years ago that Weasley's Wizard Wheezes had started making Shield Hats in other styles than just the very popular black bowler hat. I liked those, but it was nice to have a little variety in one's hats. The straw sun-hat I was currently wearing was my favourite of the new designs. It felt very summery, and could block any 'amusing' hexes your little brother might try on you while you were sunbathing in addition to stylishly protecting you from potential psychopaths while on the job.
I could see two outlines in the window now, and my heart leaped. Was Knapper in there with his brother? I couldn't possibly have that kind of luck, could I? I watched for a minute to see if I could make out a face. They were moving something large, furniture maybe. I couldn't make out the people. It might be Pulford and Knapper, or Pulford and someone else, or a pair of ballerinas for all I knew.
If I had a good reason to believe Knapper was in there, I could legally go in and search for him. But I really didn't have good reason. Pulford had said Knapper hadn't contacted him since his arrest. He hadn't seemed to be lying, but it was hard to read him. Besides, Pulford gave me a bad feeling. I didn't want to go in his house if I wasn't sure Knapper was in there.
The two figures in the window suddenly disappeared. I moved a bit for a better look, and a rush of heat shot past me, right where my head had just been. I ducked and rolled, hiding behind some brush, my heart pounding loudly in my ears. What the hell was that? My ears still felt a little warm, and I realized the Shield Hat I'd been wearing was crumbling off my head.
I looked down at the remains of the hat. It was nothing but a pile of still-smouldering ash and a wisp of straw. I thanked God for Uncle George, and tried not to think about what would have happened if I hadn't been wearing the hat. That could have been my head down there smouldering.
“Gah,” I said inarticulately, and Apparated the hell out of there.
I went over to the Lupins' house. Sometimes I just feel better not being alone, especially when I'd just seen one of the best products from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes destroyed right off my head. Fortunately I have a sometime-partner who loved to come out with me, and had useful skills for surveillance. I rapped on the door and Teddy appeared. He smiled, though it was a little wary at the edges.
“Hi Teddy. Can Victoire come out to play?” I gave him my best winsome, trustworthy smile.
“I don't trust you when you smile like that,” said Teddy. “Why is there burnt straw in your hair?”
Teddy was shoved aside by his wife then, who opened the door wide and waved me in. Victoire Lupin, to the eternal chagrin of her mother, greatly resembled our Gran. She was short and round, with bright ginger curls, and never quite lost her baby weight between children. Weasley genes can overpower anything, apparently. She was wearing stained blue robes. I identified marmalade, baby spit-up, and bogeys. None of this seemed to bother her, and she smiled at me as I came in.
“Hi Rose. Do you need some help?”
Victoire was my frequent partner in crime – er, bond enforcement. She liked to get out of the house, and I liked bringing her along on surveillance because she could do a really amazing Disillusionment Charm. You were practically invisible when Victoire Disillusioned you. She told me once that sometimes she Disillusioned herself to hide from her kids, so she could use the bathroom alone. It worked out great for me, cause I've never been good at that charm, and my inability to perform it well makes my job difficult sometimes. So I usually brought Victoire along when I needed to do surveillance, and we could sit right outside the house we had to watch, so long as we didn't forget we were invisible and giggle too loudly.
“Want to come with me and watch a house?”
“Oh, yes,” she said immediately. “I just put the baby down for a nap, you've perfect timing. Teddy, you don't mind, do you?”
Teddy looked as if he did mind, but Victoire hadn't waited for an answer, and was already grabbing her wand from a tall rack up on the wall. The Lupins had long ago installed this wand rack as a baby-proofing measure. If the fact that it was six feet off the ground didn't deter the children, the repelling charms on it would. Only Victoire and Teddy could touch it. I'd tested this out once, and those charms really stung.
“I'll be home later,” Victoire said, kissing Teddy on the cheek.
“Do you want to change your robes first?” I asked, eyeballing the stains.
“What? Oh, this.” Victoire waved her wand over her robes and the stains disappeared. I have got to learn some household spells already.
Victoire was a few years older than me, but somehow as we both got older, that mattered less and less. She was at a totally different place in her life than I was, but ever since her hen night, we'd been close. Nothing brings two people together like hiding the evidence where a male stripper had hog-tied one with her own fishnet hose and ripped her top off the night before her wedding.
We set off for Borrowdale, with a quick stop off at a patisserie near Victoire's house to pick up a bag of pastries. After all, surveillance shouldn't interfere with one's afternoon tea. And Victoire loved to eat when we were out. She said when she was at home, she only ate things that the children had refused to eat or had left half-eaten on the floor. On a good night, she ate the meal she'd actually prepared – after it had gone cold. Like any good Weasley, I loved to eat, so I found this glimpse of motherhood rather horrifying.
Victoire Disillusioned us both, and we made our way cautiously to Pulford's property line and found a place with a good view of the back of his house. I could see inside the double bank of windows. The house was dimly lit, so I couldn't make much out, but I didn't see him standing at the windows ready to hex me again. Progress.
Victoire was rummaging in the paper bag from the patisserie. We'd gotten a half dozen éclairs and a couple of petit fours. Surveillance food. She handed me an éclair, pulled out another for herself, and we sat in silence for a moment, chewing happily and watching the darkened house. Nobody seemed to be home at the Pulford residence. I wasn't too upset about that, actually.
“So who is this guy?” Victoire asked eventually.
“He's the half-brother of my skip. He's weird and creepy but he's the only thing resembling a lead that I have in this case.”
“Oh.” She took another bite, watching the house thoughtfully. “You think he knows where his brother went?”
“He says he doesn't.”
“Everyone lies,” Victoire said wisely.
This was true in my experience as well, but I thought she might be talking about her kids and/or her husband, so I didn't say anything. Victoire polished off her éclair, and pulled a petit four out of the bag.
“We could break in,” she suggested, popping the small cake into her mouth. “Take a look around.”
I remembered the rush of heat going over my head as Pulford's spell narrowly missed me and shivered. I didn't want to chance running into this guy. And I didn't want to be responsible for bringing Victoire into contact with him. We were already closer than was probably safe. “Maybe later.”
We stayed there, chatting quietly, for another hour. It was getting on dinnertime, and I still needed to grab a shower and wash the charred remains of the hat from my hair. Victoire had given it a quick cleaning with some charm or other, but there were still bits stuck in that only soap and water would get out. Still, it was an improvement. Scorpius might not even notice the burnt bits now.
“Do you want to come over for dinner?” Victoire asked as we crept away from Pulford's house to the relative safety of the tree-lined lane.
“I have to get back,” I said. “We're having dinner at my parents' house tonight.”
“Have fun with that,” said Victoire.
She Apparated back to her house, and I went back to my flat. Scorpius was getting dressed when I came in, and I rushed into the shower before he could get a good look at my hair. Best to avoid the subject altogether if possible. It would only upset him, then he'd yell, and then we'd both be in a bad mood to go to my parents' house. No, thank you.
Scorpius was sitting cross-legged on the bed when I came out of the bathroom. I got dressed quickly and tried to corral my hair into a ponytail.
“Any luck finding Knapper today?” he asked.
“Nope. I sat and watched his brother's house for a while, but I didn't see either of them.”
Scorpius looked deep in thought. I sat down next to him, and gave him a nudge with my elbow. “All right there?”
“Yeah.” He checked his watch. “We'd better go, we're going to be late.”
My parents' house is in Ottery St. Catchpole, near my grandparents' house. It's not terribly large. My dad has always seemed rather uncomfortable in big houses. Probably this is because the Burrow, where he grew up, is small and usually overcrowded. I can't imagine what it must have been like with seven kids at home; it's a wonder Gran didn't go mad. Our house had plenty of room for the four of us when my brother and I had been living at home, and it seemed larger since we'd moved out. Hugo lived in a flat near St. Mungo's Hospital with two other Healer trainees, but we both come home every Sunday for dinner. Hugo was between girlfriends right now, so he'd be alone. He didn't mind Scorpius though and was always good about running interference between Scorpius and Dad.
“We're here!” I called out as we came inside and hung our jackets on the coat rack in the foyer.
Dad appeared in the hallway and grinned at me. “I hear you blew up Pyxis Parmenter's house.”
Scorpius chuckled, and I groaned. “It wasn't my fault, Dad.”
“You've been saying that since you were a little girl,” Dad said. “And I didn't believe you then, either.”
He gave me a kiss on the forehead, nodded at Scorpius, and we all went into the living room. Hugo waved to us from the couch, and I smiled at my little brother. He had curlier hair than I did, more like Mum's hair, but it was disguised partly by the short length he kept it at. It was a darker ginger than my own curls, but I always thought Hugo looked just as obviously Weasley as I did. He was a nice kid. We'd gotten closer as we both got older. That seems to happen. Victoire and Dominique got along much better now than they had ten years ago, especially now that Dominique's had a kid too.
I sat down in the middle of the sofa next to Hugo, with Scorpius on my other side. Dad plopped into the dark red armchair and hit the lever for the recliner, his feet popping up in the air as he leaned back.
“How's work, Dad?” I asked.
“Bloody bunch of crazies out there,” he said.
“Who, your bad guys?”
“No, the reporters who keep bothering me about this damned Venatici case. Completely mental, the lot of them. They make the bad guys look normal.”
I'd always called them Dad's bad guys, the wizards and witches that Dad tracked down and captured. When I was a kid, I'd thought my dad was the greatest wizard ever, a hero who defeated bad guys every day, and proudly told everyone that my dad was an Auror. I still thought of him as a hero, especially knowing what he'd done with Mum and Uncle Harry during the war, and I'd never quite gotten over the habit of calling the Dark wizards he brought in Dad's bad guys.
There was a loud bang from the kitchen, and Mum appeared in the doorway with a cloud of smoke, red-faced but with a fake smile plastered on her face. She trilled out, “Everything's under control!” before disappearing into the kitchen again.
Dad looked pained, but he didn't say anything. If Mum didn't know for sure that he loved her, the fact that he was still married to her even though she was a haphazard cook at best ought to have proved it to her. My dad loved to eat. He was even willing to choke down some of the gunk Mum turned up when she deviated from one of Gran's recipes. If she followed the recipe the way Gran had taught her, she was pretty decent. It was when she tried something new that she went astray. Unfortunately, she sometimes got this weird urge to impress us all with hitherto unknown culinary skills, and tonight was apparently one of those nights.
“I can order a pizza,” Hugo offered. “Or Chinese.”
Dad shook his head. “Give your mother a chance. Rose, why don't you just go, er, check on your mother?”
The unspoken addition - check that nothing was on fire - hung in the air. I left the men sitting in the den, secure in the knowledge that Hugo would prevent Dad from hexing Scorpius if he got too hungry. Dad's mean when he's hungry. Mum says he's hypoglycemic and can't help it. I think she's just covering for him.
Mum was standing at the stove with her nose buried in a cookbook. Her hair had gotten very bushy from the steam and smoke that was billowing from the two pots on the stove.
“I don't understand what went wrong,” she said when she saw me. “I followed the recipe exactly, I swear.”
She always said this. She really took it personally when she felt a book had failed her. “Want me to send Hugo out for Chinese?”
Mum was frowning at the cookbook. “Do you suppose the recipe is wrong? I should write to the publisher.”
“Yes, Mum, you can send them a sharply worded note tomorrow, but for now, Dad's getting hungry.”
“All right, send Hugo for Chinese.” She shut the cookbook in defeat, still glaring at it.
I opened the kitchen door long enough to nod at Hugo, who instantly got up and headed for the door. Scorpius quickly jumped to his feet and followed him. I heard my dad coming into the kitchen behind me as I went back to help Mum with the remains of whatever she'd been trying to cook. Mum gave Dad an apologetic look as she put out the smoking pot with water from her wand.
“I'm sorry, Ron, I followed the recipe exactly.”
He cracked a small smile and kissed her on the temple. “I'm sure you did.”
“How's work going, Rose?” Mum asked as I gave the other pot a half-hearted Scouring Charm and set it in the sink.
“All right. I'm having a bit of a time finding the latest skip, though.” I remembered Mrs. Knapper, and added, “His wife may need your help if I can't find him, Mum. She's custodian for him.”
Mum's eyes flashed. “Mr. Agnelli wrote another custodian bond? I told him I have a referendum up to have that law repealed!”
Angelo and Mum didn't get along. Angelo didn't really get along with anyone, but he particularly disliked Mum. I don't think he gave a crap if she told him not to write custodian bonds. “It's still legal until the referendum passes, Mum,” I said.
“Who is this custodian, now?” Dad asked. “Is this on that Knapper bloke you asked me about?”
Mum looked alarmed. “One of your father's cases?”
“He's not really a Dark wizard, Hermione,” Dad said soothingly. “He's just a middleman. He sells anything that will make him some money, and sometimes that means a Dark object or two. He's mostly harmless.”
“I wish you wouldn't put yourself in danger this way,” Mum said to me, apparently unconvinced by Dad's words.
“All I did today was some surveillance with Victoire. It was perfectly safe. One hundred percent. No danger at all.” I gave her the same smile I gave most people, the very sincere and trustworthy one. It didn't work on my mother any better than it had on Teddy Lupin.
“You know, they're hiring over at Scrivenshaft's,” she said. “Your cousin Lucy works there, she does well enough for herself.”
I really needed to practice my trustworthy smile more. “I already have a job, Mum.”
She didn't look convinced. “I'm sure I could find room for you in my office, or somewhere in the Ministry. I've got good connections.”
I really didn't want to work at the Ministry, not for my mum, or Uncle Harry, or my dad either. Or worse, Uncle Percy. Don't get me wrong, I love my family, but I'd sooner die. “Really, Mum, I'm not looking for a job. I would never fit in at the Ministry anyway.”
Mum sighed, but she refrained from giving me the 'why are you breaking your poor mother's heart' lecture again. It's tough being the oldest. Your parents have their expectations set so high. By the time the next kid comes along, the expectations are significantly lowered. I was such a disappointment, Hugo could just about start up nude Kneazle-herding and make my parents proud. At least he wasn't living in non-gainfully-employed sin with a Malfoy.
Scorpius and Hugo returned with a half dozen large cartons of Chinese food, and we all dug in. As my dad gathered up the detritus of dinner, I decided now was as good a time as any and opened my mouth to ask my parents if they could spare a couple hundred Galleons. I was interrupted before I could get a word out by a nudge from Scorpius. He shook his head at me, and I frowned.
“Later,” he said.
What the hell? I gave him a confused look and he shook his head again. I rolled my eyes. I guess we're not hitting up my parents for money after all. I was a bit relieved about that, actually.
The more we asked for money from my parents, the less I felt I could live my own life freely. If my mum and dad were paying my rent, I sort of felt they had a right to tell me I shouldn't be living with Malfoy, or eating food over the sink, or not scrubbing the bathroom properly. So I really didn't want to ask them for money unless it was absolutely necessary. Guess Scorpius hadn't hit the absolute part of that yet. Maybe he'd sold a painting while he was getting Chinese with Hugo. Hope springs eternal, though like many springs, it smells like rotten eggs.
“What was that about?” I asked him after we'd made good our escape from my parents' house.
“I think I have some income for us,” Scorpius said.
“Oh yeah? Going to start selling hot cauldrons?”
He ignored that. “Just give me some time.”
I pestered him until we went to bed, but he wouldn't tell me where he thought he was going to get the money. I fell asleep hoping if it was illegal, he wouldn't get caught. Scorpius knew all my tricks. I'm pretty sure if he skipped out on a bond, I'd never find him.
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