Angelo's Magical Bonds is in Knockturn Alley, just at the front in a run-down little building, a fact that had made my dad turn bright red in the face and yell incoherently for twenty minutes when I first started working there. Now he just twitched slightly whenever I mentioned stopping by the office. I Apparated from my flat to the corner of Diagon and Knockturn Alleys and went into the shop. Lydia was at her desk, a cup of tea stirring itself in front of her while she ate biscotti.
“Good morning, Rose,” Lydia said cheerfully. “Any luck with Knapper yet?”
“Nope. Tell me you've got something new, a quick pick-up.”
She opened a filing drawer in her desk and pulled out a couple of folders. “I think I've got an easy one today.”
“Thanks, Lydia,” I said gratefully.
“No problem. Want to go out for lunch?”
“Sure. Meet you at the Leaky around one.”
Angelo stuck his head out of his office and gave me an impatient look. “Did you find Knapper yet?”
“What the hell good are you? Why am I always surrounded by idiots? All you people want is to take my money and not do any damn work for it.” He glanced at his niece when he said this.
Lydia looked as if she were considering stabbing her uncle in the leg. I wondered if that was work, or if she should do it on her own time. It would probably be considered a service to humanity by any reasonable judge.
“You better find him fast,” Angelo said. “I need that money back.”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “Lighten up, Uncle Angelo. Is your bookie threatening to break your fingers or something?”
“You're trying to kill me, both of you. I can feel my arteries hardening. It's coming – the fatal coronary,” Angelo said, putting a fist to his chest. “Get the hell out of my office and find Knapper.” He disappeared back into his office and slammed the door.
Jeez. I grabbed the file from Lydia and headed for the door, but walked smack into someone coming in.
Dino Agnelli steadied me as I wobbled from the impact. He was grinning.
“All right there, Rose?”
“Yeah. Sorry about that.” I noticed the body receipt in his hand. Dino was Angelo's cousin, in his early forties, with dark hair and eyes and a large Roman nose. I usually blamed Angelo for nepotism, but honestly, Dino was good at his job. He was a much better bond enforcement agent than I was. He went after the really dangerous skips, the ones I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. I was starting to think I should have left Knapper for Dino, but hell, I needed the money more than he did.
“I heard you're looking for Butrus Knapper,” he said.
“Yeah, I am. Haven't found him yet.”
“Good luck with that,” Dino said, heading in for Lydia's desk.
No help at all. Ah well. I flipped through the file Lydia had given me as I started down the street. Harmon Ladd, living in a town called Bayvil over in Pembrokeshire, arrested on a domestic disturbance. Great. Domestic disturbances are some of my least-favourite pickups. Either the bloke is a total jerk who won't cooperate because a female bounty hunter came for him, or the battered wife hexes me when my back is turned for taking her husband away.
I Apparated to the address given in the file, but no one was home. I waited around for half an hour, hoping Ladd or Mrs. Ladd would come home. After I'd done a colour-changing charm three times on my fingernails, I finally gave up. I'd come back later tonight to check on this guy. Maybe I could get some new leads on old Knapper before I met Lydia for lunch.
I canvassed Knockturn Alley, asking everyone who looked even slightly shady – which constituted pretty much everyone there – if they knew Butrus Knapper. One or two shied away from me before I could ask them, which I thought was suspicious, but the consensus was universal: no one knew anything about Knapper.
I went in to Borgin and Burkes to ask if anybody in there had seen Knapper, and saw a familiar face examining a display of small vials filled with substances of dubious origin.
“What are you doing in here, Lenny?”
Leonard Graves smiled at me, but he looked a bit embarrassed. “Um...”
I laughed. “You know what? Don't tell me.”
Lenny's face relaxed a bit. “Cheers, Rose. I haven't seen you in ages. Still working for Agnelli?”
“Yeah. Still posting bail through Pilliwickle's instead?” Pilliwickle's was the more upscale bonds office, at the far end of Diagon Alley. They had potted plants in their office. And clean windows. I bet Mrs. Pilliwickle didn't berate her bounty hunters for not picking up a skip fast enough. Sniff.
“My dad says it's the best,” Lenny said, shrugging.
Lenny's dad was famous and extremely wealthy: he'd played cello for The Weird Sisters, and even though they broke up over fifteen years ago, people still liked to gossip about how Merton Graves' son was a petty criminal. I'd known Lenny for years, he'd been a friend of my cousin Dominique at school. He'd gotten involved with what my mum called 'a bad crowd' right after leaving school and had gone downhill from there. His dad always bailed him out, and Lenny always got into even worse trouble. One of these days he was going to get himself killed. It made me sad to see him standing there, smiling twitchily at me and looking like he'd been on a week-long bender, and think about how clean and smart he'd been at school. Powdered dragon claw was a hell of a drug.
The other thing about Lenny was that he talked to everyone, and because of both who his father was and his own drug habit and petty theft charges, they talked to him. He always seemed to know who everyone was in the criminal underbelly of the wizarding world. Lenny was often a good source of information, if you could catch him at a time when his mind was currently residing in his body.
I fished the photo of Knapper out of my pocket and showed it to him. “Do you know this bloke, Lenny?”
“Butrus Knapper?” He shook his head. “Not personally. You want to stay away from him, Rose. You'll get involved in very bad things.”
“My dad says he's a nobody.”
“Maybe your dad isn't as in the know as he likes to think he is. Ron Weasley doesn't know everything.”
I frowned at him, stowing the Knapper photo back in my pocket. “What have you got against my dad?”
“Nothing. Nevermind. Look, Rose, could you, uh...” Lenny looked around furtively then leaned closer to whisper to me. “Don't mention to anyone that you saw me here, would you?”
“Oh, Lenny, are you on the run again?”
He coughed slightly, looking twitchier than ever. “Just, you know, if you happen to run into any Pilliwickle's bounty hunters...”
I sighed. Poor old Lenny. I wished he would clean up his act, but I wasn't going to turn him in to Pilliwickle's. And hey, maybe Angelo would stop yelling at me about Knapper if I told him I helped Pilliwickle's lose a bit of gold over Lenny Graves. “I won't say anything.”
“Cheers, Rose,” he said again, and I saw a flash of the old Lenny in his smile, the Lenny who'd laughed and flirted and played guitar sitting on the lawn at school.
I headed back to the office and picked Lydia up, and we strolled up Diagon Alley to the Leaky Cauldron. Lydia was trying to stop smoking, and instead she'd taken up chewing gum. I think her purse was entirely full of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum. She was leaving a trail of blue bubbles behind her as we walked. I'd tried to get her to use Muggle gum that didn't have any special effects, but she said the flavour didn't last as long as wizard sweets.
Lydia Agnelli was a bit younger than me, a bit shorter, and loved to gossip just as much. She'd gone to school with my cousin Lily and my brother Hugo. I'm pretty sure she went out with Hugo for a while during their fifth year, but it was hard to keep track of the swath of girls my brother had left behind over the years, so I couldn't be sure about that. She'd remained friends with Lily, however, and eventually with me as well. It was through Lydia that I'd started working for Angelo. She'd told me all about her cousin Dino one time and how he caught witches and warlocks who couldn't be found by the law, and it had sounded so incredibly cool that in a moment of rum-filled insanity I'd said I could do it as well, and next thing I knew I was working for Angelo. Of course, I didn't find people who the law couldn't find. I found people the law couldn't be bothered to find.
We found a seat in the Leaky Cauldron and soon the landlady was bringing us butterbeers and sandwiches. Mrs. Longbottom and her husband were old friends of my parents, and she always gave me extra-large portions when I came by for lunch. It always made me feel a bit guilty for not paying better attention to her husband in Herbology back at school. Oh well.
“Angelo's bookie stopped by this morning after you left,” Lydia said after Mrs. Longbottom had bustled off to help another customer. “They were locked in his office for twenty minutes.”
I grinned. “Did you use an Extendable Ear to listen in?”
“I tried, but he'd made the door Imperturbable.” Her expression said that she thought her uncle had no right to prevent her from eavesdropping on him while his bookie threatened to break his kneecaps.
Angelo always owed someone money. He had what Dino kindly called a wee bit of a gambling problem and Lydia more accurately called a raging addiction to betting on whatever magical creatures were battling in underground fights in the back rooms of Knockturn Alley. I'd heard that some Muggles watched dogs fighting, or bears or other animals. Wizards trained anything from Blood-Sucking Bugbears to Kneazles to fight each other. It was illegal as all get-out, but that didn't stop Angelo from placing a bet. Once we'd caught him Flooing a bet for a hundred Galleons on a yeti versus a mountain troll.
“I wonder how much he owes now,” I said around a bit of sandwich. I know, talking with my mouth full. I've heard it from my mother a hundred times, but sometimes you just have to say something and can't wait to swallow your food.
“It must be in the thousands, or they wouldn't come to his office. They don't usually do that. Normally he just gets nasty Floos about making payments.” Lydia took a long drink of her butterbeer, and we ate in silence for a while. Eventually she asked, “How's it going with your skips?”
“Not well. I can't find any trace of Knapper. It's like he was eaten by Pogrebins or something.”
Lydia picked at the sesame seeds on her sandwich, looking as if she wanted to say something but knew she shouldn't. I watched her warily for a moment, and then she asked, “Have you thought of checking with Scorpius's family?”
“Why should they know anything about him?” I asked in surprise.
“Well, you know his family has a certain reputation. I just thought, maybe they might know something...”
I considered that for a moment, taking a long drink of my butterbeer. It was possible that Mr. Malfoy knew something, but I'd always been under the impression that he hadn't been involved in anything Dark since the war ended. I was pretty sure my dad wouldn't have hesitated to mention it if he had. My dad still didn't like the idea of my being around the Malfoy family. Scorpius didn't like to talk about his family's past as what could only be called some of the Darkest of the Dark wizards who'd fought for and believed in Voldemort – the very essence of 'Dad's bad guys.'
Still, I doubted they would know anything about a petty criminal like Knapper. He seemed too small-time for them to have known anything about him. Even my dad couldn't be bothered with him.
I remembered then what Lenny had said about very bad things and felt a sudden chill. Maybe Knapper wasn't as petty as everyone thought. I needed to look into him more, but first I needed to go back to Harmon Ladd's again.
I left Lydia back at the office in a cloud of blue bubbles, and Apparated back to Pembrokeshire. I could see lights on in the house, so someone was at home. With any amount of luck, I'd have this bloke in the clink by mid-afternoon and be slightly less broke as well.
I walked up to the door and rang the bell. The strains of an old Celestina Warbeck song played, and I winced. Nice musical taste, Ladd. I could hear someone approaching, and a peephole suddenly came to life in the door, aiming its bright blue eyeball at me.
“Harmon Ladd?” I asked loudly.
“Who's askin'?” came a gruff voice from inside. It didn't sound like a very happy voice. I had a bad feeling about this, but I pressed on.
“I'm Rose Weasley, I work for Angelo Agnelli. You missed your court date, and I need to bring you in to reschedule.”
“Bugger that for a lark,” he said. “I'm staying right in here, and there's nothin' you can do about it.”
I gritted my teeth. “You have to come in, Mr. Ladd. I have the legal authority to bring you in with whatever force is necessary.” I'd heard Dino say this and it sounded good, but it was pretty much an empty threat from me. The only way I'd managed to injure anyone thus far had been accidental. And demolishing Parmenter's house certainly didn't count, although I suppose that had been necessary force.
“No way,” said Ladd. “I'm not going to the Ministry, I ain't done nothin' wrong!”
“You attacked your wife!”
“She's a dumb Mudblood!”
“Well then, why'd you marry her?”
“She tricked me!” he yelled.
Uh-huh. Anybody who married this jerk must've been on a controlled substance of some kind. “Are you going to open the door or not?”
“Bugger off, blood traitor bitch!”
“That won't work on me,” I yelled back. “I'm a Weasley, you know how many times I've been called a blood traitor?”
He yelled back something even less complimentary about my parentage, but he didn't open the door. Damn. I tried a couple of spells on his door, but it stayed locked tight. I had just taken a step back to think about what to do next when I heard Ladd muttering from inside, and my reflexes took over. I ducked down, curling into a ball with my arms protecting my head just as the blast went overhead right where my face had just been. The window next to Ladd's front door had shattered as the spell went through it, and there was glass all over the front stoop, and all over me.
In the immortal words of my cousin Fred, this sucked royal hippogriff. I kept my arms over my head, still curled in a ball, and Apparated out of there.
One of my few useful job skills was the ability to Apparate from any position. I didn't need to do the stand-and-twirl gig to escape from armed felons. I could Apparate from sitting, crouching, laying down, upside down while falling off a cliff, whatever. Once I'd been on holiday at Broadsands with Scorpius and got stuck under a wave, smashed down against the ocean floor, and panicked and Apparated back to the beach. No Muggles had seen me suddenly appear out of thin air, luckily, but the fish I'd accidentally brought along had seemed pretty confused.
I reappeared in Diagon Alley outside Gringott's, and patted myself down quickly to make sure all my bits were still there. So much for an easy pickup. I decided the day was a wash, and went home to sulk. Scorpius was there when I walked in the door, wearing his best robes and having a drink in the kitchen.
“What're you all dressed up for?” I asked. I probably sounded a little surly, but damn, it had been an irritating afternoon. I hate when people try to curse me. I really needed to buy some more Shield Hats. Shame I didn't have any money. I'd stop by my uncle's shop tomorrow and try to wheedle some out of him on credit, or if all else failed, shoplift a few.
“I had a job interview today. I start tomorrow morning.”
I dropped my handbag on the sofa and stared at him, stunned. “A job? A proper job with a regular paycheck?”
“Yes, that sort of job.” Scorpius leaned against the counter and folded his arms across his chest. “Don't look so bloody surprised, Rose.”
“Sorry.” I was aware that my mouth was still hanging open, and closed it while I tried to pick my brains back up off the floor. A job? Scorpius? I didn't think he'd ever had a proper job. “What sort of job is it?”
“A junior clerk position at the Ministry,” he said. “In the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office.”
“But you don't know anything about Muggles,” I pointed out, even more flabbergasted.
“Nor did the interviewer,” Scorpius said. “To be honest, I don't think anyone else applied. They probably would have taken anyone. Pulse optional. Besides, I know quite a bit about Muggle music, thank you.”
Yeah, Muggle theatre music from eighty years ago. The bit about the lack of other applicants didn't actually surprise me though. My dad sometimes talked about the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office, often with a rather guilty look on his face. From what I gathered, it was a place one generally ended up when one had done something to annoy one's superior, such as turning his mother into a goat. I'm not sure anyone in that office actually set out to work there.
“It was all I could get, Rose,” Scorpius added. “You know I didn't do well on my N.E.W.T.s.”
He was a little sensitive about that, and I suddenly felt bad for him. I went to him and wrapped my arms around his waist. “I know you didn't want to do this. When I find Knapper, you can go back to painting.”
He dropped a kiss in my hair. “You're damn right I will. I'm filing, Rose.”
I tried not to smile. Scorpius was not meant for a life pushing paper. Scorpius was meant to be on stage or standing at the back of an art gallery drinking wine and schmoozing with rich patrons of the arts. He might even have been destined for an older, extremely rich woman being his (air quote) patroness, but he was with me instead. Take that, smarmy old rich woman.
“We should celebrate,” I said. “Let's go out for a drink.”
“Who's paying? We haven't any money.”
“I'll wear a low-cut top, maybe I can get someone to buy us drinks.”
Scorpius rolled his eyes at that.
I Flooed my brother to come along while Scorpius got changed. By the time we reached the seedy little pub the boys favoured when they went out boozing, Hugo was already waiting for us with a drink in his hand and a familiar dark-haired young man by his side.
“I invited Albus as well,” Hugo said as he shook Scorpius's hand.
“Heard about your new job,” Albus said, holding out a hand to Scorpius. “Congratulations, mate.”
“It's nothing, really,” Scorpius said, shaking Albus's hand and looking rather embarrassed, but Albus and Hugo both insisted on buying a round of drinks to celebrate.
My cousin James turned up half an hour later, and he bought a round as well. By this time, I was starting to feel a little woozy, but James needled me about not keeping up with the men – he knows me too well – and I drank four more rounds with them. Free liquor! I love my cousins sometimes. And my brother as well. My family's not so bad, really.
I was feeling so cheerful, basking in familial love and free booze, that I started singing along with the wireless playing on the bar. My singing improves when I drink. Or at least, my perception of it does. I normally never sing, and Hugo and Albus were laughing at me, so I kicked my brother in the shin. James seemed to find the entire thing utterly hilarious, so I tried to kick him too and landed on my arse on the floor with a crash.
Scorpius picked up my drink suspiciously and took a sip while Hugo hopped around, clutching his leg. He let out his breath in a waugh. “Good Lord, Rose, no wonder you're so juiced up.” He snatched Albus's drink out of his hand and took a sip, then shook his head and gave James a suspicious look. James's wand was sticking out of his pocket, and Scorpius frowned at him. “Did you tamper with Rose's drinks?”
“Just upped the proof a little in her vodka,” James said with a grin.
Albus helped me to my feet, and I was overcome for a moment with vertigo, little black sparkles dancing on the edge of my vision. When the world came back again, James was Scourgifying vomit off his shoes while Albus was red-faced with laughter.
Scorpius was looking at James reprovingly. “I suppose that'll teach you to mess with her drinks in future,” he said sternly.
James made a disgusted noise.
A/N: "That sucked royal hippogriff" originated with the extremely brilliant and hilarious A Very Potter Musical, script by the Lang brothers and Brian Holden, music by Darren Criss and AJ Holmes. I now have AVPM quotes in my head whenever I watch the Potter movies. "Luckily next year I'll be transferred to Pigfarts!"
Pogrebins are canon magical creatures described in "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" as hairy gray rocks that follow people around making them feel hopeless until they collapse, then eating them.
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