I didn't remember Scorpius leaving the next morning. There was a note on the kitchen counter when I finally managed to stumble out of bed around noon, telling me he was at work and I was on my own for a Hangover-Curing Potion. Great. Like we had any of the bloody ingredients to brew one even if I could remember how.
I opened the refrigerator and squinted into it, hoping that food had magically appeared overnight. It had not. I scrounged in the cupboards and eventually found a packet of stale biscuits, which I washed down with tap water, my head pounding and feeling very sorry for myself.
After standing under a hot shower for twenty minutes, I finally reckoned I could face the day. My first order of business would be to find my cousin James and hex him into next week. Wait, he'd be at work. Suddenly it seemed everyone had a regular job except me. I decided I'd better go over to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes instead, and managed to towel myself off, though drying my hair was too painful to contemplate. I found the darkest pair of sunglasses I could and ventured out, wondering if I should swallow my pride and go to my brother for a Hangover-Curing Potion.
I headed for Diagon Alley and my uncle's shop. The glaring colours and flashing signs made my eyes hurt even through the sunglasses, and I squinted as I went inside. I didn't see Uncle George anywhere, and no one was paying any attention to me as I headed for the racks of Shield Hats and stared at the display.
I had no money. I was in no condition to sweet-talk anyone. Shoplifting seemed the way to go, but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it. My mother would kill me if she found out.
“Can I help you- oh, it's you, Rosie.”
I turned and came face to face with my uncle, a stocky older man with thinning red hair shot with grey and a bit too much belly from years of eating my aunt Angelina's delicious cooking. Sometimes I was rather jealous of my cousins, when I compared Aunt Angelina's cooking to my mother's. Uncle George was smiling at me kindly, and gave a low whistle.
“You don't look so good,” he said, grinning. “Out late tippling?”
“Yeah,” I admitted, taking off my sunglasses.
“In the market for a new Shield Hat already? You only just bought your last one.” Uncle George plucked a pink beret off the shelf and placed it on my head.
“It was destroyed.”
Uncle George's hand paused on top of my head for a moment. “How do you mean, destroyed?”
“Someone tried to curse me and the hat just... burned into cinders.”
He looked grave, an unusual expression for Uncle George. “Rose, it takes a lot to turn one of these into ashes. What are you involved in?”
“It's nothing, really, just work, don't worry.” I snatched the beret off my hair and put it back on the shelf, taking a yellow straw sunhat instead.
Uncle George didn't look convinced. I gave him what I hoped was a wide grin and tried to look cheerful and confident, but this seemed to convince him to stop worrying even less. Damn hangover. Uncle George grabbed a second yellow straw hat off the rack and handed it to me. “Maybe you should have a back-up, then.”
I couldn't even pay for one hat, much less two. I tried to ask him sweetly to let me pay him next week, but it came out a dejected, “I don't have the money for these, Uncle George.”
Uncle George's expression softened a bit. “Go on, take them. I don't want anyone killing you if I can help it.”
“Thank you.” I hugged him, the hats still clutched firmly in my hand, and felt my eyes welling up a bit with hangover-fueled feelings of love for my family. Annoying as they could be at times, they did stick up for me in wonderful ways, like buying me free booze and giving me free Defence Against the Dark Arts merchandise so I didn't get my head cursed off.
“What's going on over here? Hi Rose.” My cousin Fred appeared between the shelves and grinned at me. “Wow, you look like hell.”
Uncle George gave me a quick squeeze and released me. “Don't get yourself killed, all right Rosie?”
I nodded, and he disappeared into the shop. Fred turned to me.
“Get yourself killed?” he echoed.
“It's nothing,” I said, mopping my eyes.
Fred eyed me suspiciously. “You look bladdered, Rose, were you out last night?”
“Yeah, I was at the pub with Scorpius, Hugo, and Albus. And James,” I added with a frown, remembering that I still needed to hex James.
“You went boozing last night with all them, and you didn't invite me?” Fred demanded, looking offended.
I winced. “A little quieter please, Fred.”
“You suck, Rose,” Fred said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I thought we were mates.”
Fred was James's age and tended to hang with him more than with me, but all my cousins were my mates, really. Now I felt guilty for not inviting him along, even though I hadn't actually invited Albus or James. “Sorry, Fred. Next time you can come. I have to get going, I need to work today-”
His ears perked up, honestly. “Can I come along?”
Fred thought my job was very cool, which was easy for him to say when he had an awesome job working for his cool dad. Fred had been living in the flat above Weasley's Wizard Wheezes since he'd left school, and he'd been working for his dad since he was fourteen. It seemed generally known that Fred would take over the shop someday. His sister, my cousin Roxanne, certainly had no interest in it. She wanted to be a journalist like my aunt Ginny. Fred liked working in the shop, but I think he had dreams of being the kind of bounty hunter that Dino Agnelli was. He wouldn't be so impressed with it if he saw me in action.
I was still feeling guilty and hung over, and I heard the words coming out of my mouth without really filtering through my brain. “Sure, come on.”
Fred looked happy and said, “Give me a minute to tell my dad I need the afternoon off.”
As he darted off through the shop, I called after him, “You'll need Muggle clothes!”
What was I thinking? Of all the cousins to bring along while I worked, Fred seemed one of the least likely to be helpful in any way. I stuffed the two Shield Hats into my bag, kicking myself mentally. I didn't even bring Victoire along if there was a likelihood of actual interaction with anyone. I tried to hang on to the feeling of familial love that I'd had a few minutes ago, but it seemed to be escaping me.
I went over my mental plan for the day while I waited for Fred to return. First, I would stop by Mrs. Knapper's again and see if he'd been in contact with her. Maybe she'd thought of something helpful. I wanted to keep tabs on her. Then I was going over to try Harmon Ladd again, and then I was going to track my cousin James down and cause him bodily harm.
This seemed like a good plan, but it was already after two in the afternoon, and daylight was burning. Fred came down just as I was debating leaving him a note saying he could come along next time.
“Dad says don't forget, we're supposed to have dinner at the Burrow tonight with the whole family for Aunt Ginny's birthday,” Fred said as he rejoined me.
Aw crap. I'd forgotten all about that. My dad would skin me alive if I didn't show up, so it was lucky I'd come by or I'd have been found dead in a ditch tomorrow. Scorpius hadn't mentioned it either, so he must've forgotten as well in all the excitement of having an actual job. Normally he kept track of our social calendar, since he was much more responsible than I was.
Fred and I set off for chez Knapper then. I had my fingers crossed that Butrus Knapper had come home to his wife. It seemed unlikely, though, especially if she really had changed the locks on him.
“Cor,” Fred said, looking around at the neighbourhood. “Do you always go to areas like this? My mum would kill me if she saw me here.”
My mum would kill me if she saw me here, too. I didn't want to tell him this wasn't even as bad as some places I'd been. I wasn't sure if it would make him want to be a bounty hunter more or less.
Mrs. Knapper answered the door in a housecoat, her hair in curlers, but she let us in. She was staring at Fred as we came in and sat down on the filthy sofa. She didn't appear to have cleaned anything since I'd last been here, and she was drinking again. I wondered if that had been her habit before her husband abandoned her, too.
“What the hell are you wearing?” she asked Fred, eyeing his outfit.
“Muggle clothes,” he said, looking down at the red and green plaid kilt and purple floral lace-trimmed tank top he was wearing. “Muggles wear these clothes. I'm blending in.”
“You people make my ass twitch,” Mrs. Knapper said, and tossed back her whiskey.
“Have you heard from Butrus at all?” I asked, and Fred immediately let out a snort. “Shut up, Fred.”
Mrs. Knapper was giving Fred the evil eye. “No, he hasn't been home.”
I could hear a dog barking in their backyard, a high-pitched yipping that grated across my hung over nerves, and struggled to maintain a pleasant demeanour when I wanted to go Silence the damn dog. “Have you thought of anything else that could help me find him?”
She shook her head, but dog's barking seemed to be distracting her too. “Excuse me one moment.”
Fred waited until she'd left the room before chuckling. “Dude's name is Butrus? Did he insult his mother when he was born or something?”
“Not helping, Fred,” I said warningly. “I need to stay on his wife's good side so she'll help me find this guy. I don't have any leads.”
“Maybe we could search his room for clues?” Fred suggested.
That was actually a good idea. Maybe I should bring Fred along more often after all. Lomatia Knapper was coming back now, the yapping stopped. I decided it wouldn't hurt to ask. “Mrs. Knapper, I've been searching for Butrus but haven't found any leads on where he might have gone. Would you mind if we looked around a little at his things, in case it gives us any sort of clue about his location?”
She picked up her glass again, shrugging. “Knock yourselves out.”
Butrus Knapper kept what could only loosely be called a desk in the back of the rowhouse behind the kitchen. It was nothing but a battered wooden table with a single wide drawer, piled high with stacks of paper, beneath a shelf filled with pickled internal organs that I chose to believe had come from animals, and a shrunken head that definitely had not.
“Ugh,” said Fred, taking it in. “I thought this guy was just some bloke you were picking up. This looks like Dark magic to me.”
“Don't be a wuss,” I said, pulling open the drawer and poking around. “Look for anything with dates, locations, names, something that would tell us someone he has a connection with or places he might be known at.”
“Right.” Fred grabbed a stack of papers and started looking through them.
We searched in silence for a while, and eventually he said, “I think I found something.”
He handed me a torn piece of parchment with the words Merman's Tail scrawled on it. “So?” I said. “What does that mean?”
Fred rolled his eyes at me. “That's a wizard pub, you idiot. It's over in West London, and not in a good part of town.”
“How d'you know about it, then?”
“I had to pick Louis up there once, that time he met that witch from Romania and nobody saw him for three days, and he said he'd been kidnapped but really he was just drunk.”
Sadly, this was a regular occurrence with our cousin Louis.
Fred tapped the paper. “Look, these numbers here, I think that's a date, and it looks like there was a name at the top, but it's been ripped off.”
I looked at the numbers and felt a chill. If they were a date, it was the day Butrus Knapper had disappeared. I could hear Lenny's voice in my head again. Very bad things...
“Now what?” Fred wanted to know.
“There's nothing else here,” I said, tossing the papers I'd been holding back onto the desk. “Let's go. Want to come along on a pick-up?”
“Yeah, sure,” Fred said easily. “Where are we going?”
“I love Wales. Will you buy me a souvenir?"
We said our good-byes to Lomatia Knapper, who saw us out with a beady eye on Fred, and then we found a deserted alley to Apparate from.
“What about Knapper?” Fred asked as we walked toward the town where Harmon Ladd lived.
“I'll go check out that pub later. It's too early now, I want to go in the evening when there's the best chance of catching a good lot of people, and tonight is Aunt Ginny's birthday dinner. It'll have to wait until tomorrow. But I might be able to catch another skip at home.”
Fred looked excited. “You're going to let me help you catch this guy?”
I was going to use him as bait, sort of. “Yup.”
“And you'll let me go with you to the Merman's Tail tomorrow?”
Hell to the no. “We'll see.”
Fred seemed to take that as acquiescence. “So what do we do with this guy?”
“His house is sealed up tight against jinxes and hexes, but I'm betting there are holes in his protective wards on the roof. First though, we ask him nicely to come out and let us take him into custody.”
“Does that ever work?”
Harmon Ladd had repaired his window, I saw as we approached the house. I could see movement behind it. Someone was home. I had yet to meet Mrs. Ladd, so it might be her, but Ladd had been home yesterday at this time – and locked down tight – so I was betting it was him.
“So do we go in and yell Bounty hunters! Freeze! or do we just hex him?” Fred asked eagerly, his step bouncing as he walked next to me. It was like working with a large puppy.
“You can't just hex first, you're supposed to identify yourself before you take them into custody. And actually, it's bond enforcement agents, we really don't say bounty hunters.” Well, I did, but Dino didn't. It sounded much cooler to me, and everyone knew what you meant.
“Bond enforcement, right, got it.” Fred bounded up to the house and, before I could stop him, he pounded on the door and yelled, “Bond enforcement! Come out with your wand up!”
I could hear Harmon Ladd laughing hysterically inside. I couldn't really blame him. Fred turned to me with a big grin, and I rolled my eyes at him.
“What happens next?” he asked excitedly.
“Now we put these on,” I said, slapping a Shield Hat on Fred's head, “and Ladd curses us.”
I pulled Fred to the ground just in time as a burst of red light shot through the window in an explosion of glass.
“Merlin's beard,” he said, eyes wide as saucers.
I stood up and fired a hex through the window, then ducked back down again as Fred put up a Shield Charm around us. Another burst of light went overhead, and I reached up to throw a hex through the window without aiming it.
“I think I should go home now,” Fred said, making as if to leave.
I grabbed the hem of his kilt and yanked him back down. “Don't move, you idiot, do you want to be cursed?”
“What do we do now?” he asked, looking worried. Curses were still flying over us.
“You keep that Shield Charm up, stay down, and occasionally throw a hex through the window so Ladd stays here near the front of the house. I'm going up to the roof and then maybe I can Apparate into the house and get him from behind.”
“Rose, no, don't leave me here alone-”
I Disapparated over his protests, and reappeared up on the roof. The wood roofing tiles were half-rotted, and I had barely had time to get my footing when the roof gave way underneath me and I fell. I landed with a crash in the middle of the living room, right on top of Harmon Ladd, along with half the ceiling. There was a sharp pain in my arm, but I didn't have time to spare any attention for it. Harmon Ladd was struggling to his hands and knees under the rotted wood of what used to be his roof. Why don't felons take better care of their houses? Sheesh.
“Petrificus Totalus,” I croaked, pointing my wand at him. Ladd went rigid and fell over. I went over and kicked his wand away, out of his reach, then went to open the front door for Fred. “That didn't work out at all the way I thought it would,” I said by way of greeting.
He came inside, staring at the wreckage in the living room. “I don't think my mum's going to let me play with you any more, Rosie,” he said in an awed voice. “Does Victoire do this sort of thing when she goes out with you?”
I shook my head. “She only does surveillance. Help me get him to the authorities.”
“Rose, your arm-” Fred's face had gone pale.
I looked down. There was a huge gash in my arm, six inches of flesh torn open, splinters and dust littering the wound. Oh holy Kneazles.
“We have to take you to St. Mungo's,” said Fred, staring at my arm.
“No, no, no!” I shrieked, backing away from him. “If I go to St. Mungo's it'll get back to my mum!”
Fred rolled his eyes. “Come on, Rose, you're being ridiculous. Someone needs to heal that, and if you think it'll be me, you've got the wrong bloody cousin.”
“Just...” Inspiration hit me. “Take me to Hugo. He can heal it.”
After the amount of drinking we all did last night, Hugo might still be in bed, but what the hell. I was NOT going to St. Mungo's so some gossipy witch could see my name on a chart and call my mother. Or worse, my dad. Hugo wouldn't tell, and he knew what he was doing, even though he was still a trainee Healer. And hung over. Hell, he'd probably managed to brew up a Hangover-Curing Potion this morning. Hugo was a responsible adult with a well-stocked potions supply cabinet. I didn't even have a bag of crisps.
“What about him?” Fred nodded his head at Ladd, who was still frozen on the floor.
“We have to take him in first, then we'll go to Hugo's.” My arm was bleeding pretty badly, but I didn't want to bring Ladd to Hugo's first, and I really wasn't going to leave him here now I'd gone through all this to catch him.
“All right.” Fred aimed his wand at Ladd. “Incarcerous.”
We took the now heavily-bound Harmon Ladd and held him between us as we Apparated to the Ministry lobby.
We only had to wait about ten minutes at the desk before Jack Upchurch appeared. He let out a low whistle when he saw my arm.
“Did our lad here do that?” he asked, signing the body receipt quickly.
“No, it happened when I fell through the roof.”
Jack laughed. “Only you, Rose. Better go get that looked at, it doesn't look too good.”
I took the receipt for Harmon Ladd and we transferred custody. I was glad to be shot of him. Better Jack than me. Fred and I Apparated directly into Hugo's living room. Rude, yes, but hey, he's my little brother, and I needed his help.
Hugo was eating when we appeared, and he paused with the fork halfway to his mouth. A blob of tuna fell from the fork as he stared at us.
“Rose needs some help,” Fred said.
Hugo suddenly dropped his fork with a clatter and dashed over to the kitchen counter where he'd left his wand. I sat down heavily in a chair and looked at my arm. The bleeding had slowed to an ooze, but it was pretty fast as oozes went. I moved it for a look behind and the blood came faster again.
“Hugo?” I said a little faintly.
He had cleaned his hands quickly and started examining the wound, poking at it a bit with his fingertips. “We can fix this,” he said steadily. “It's going to be okay.”
His voice was strangely soothing when he said that, and I let him clean the wound and begin healing it. I looked away, and Fred gave my other hand a comforting pat. It didn't take long, and soon the skin was pink and new again.
“What the hell happened, Rose?” Hugo asked as he siphoned the blood off his fingers with his wand.
“She fell through a roof while some crazy dude attacked us,” Fred said, not helpfully I thought.
“Do not tell anyone else about that,” I said threateningly to Fred. “You either,” I added to my brother.
Hugo frowned at me but he didn't look surprised. “Whatever. You really ought to take a Blood-Replenishing Potion, but I don't have one here and I doubt you'll go to St. Mungo's for one-”
“Got that right.”
“-so you'll just need to eat a lot of iron-rich food tonight to help your body produce the blood on its own,” Hugo finished without acknowledging my interruption.
“Okay. Iron-rich. Gotcha. Do not tell Mum about this,” I said. “Or Scorpius.”
Hugo didn't look like he was happy about any of it. “All right, all right, I heard you the first time.”
“Okay then.” I looked down at my ripped and bloody sleeve, and the tears and dirt all over the freshly-washed shirt I'd put on that morning. “Um, can I borrow a t-shirt from you?”
I went home wearing a Chudley Cannons t-shirt that made me look even paler than I normally did. This was probably loss of blood more than the screaming orange colour. Scorpius wasn't home yet when I got home, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I got in the shower and shampooed the bits of rotted roofing tiles out of my hair.
I was rinsing off when I heard Scorpius's voice. “Rose?” He poked his head in around the shower curtain.
“How was your day?” I asked.
“Boring to a degree I never knew existed. But it's looking up now,” he added, eyeing me.
I shut the water off. “No time for that now, it's Aunt Ginny's birthday dinner at the Burrow tonight.”
His eyes widened. “Oh crap, I forgot all about that.”
We got dressed in record time and Apparated to the Burrow only ten minutes late. Gran was in the kitchen, with Aunt Angelina helping her with the food, and I gave her a brief hug and waved hello to my aunt as we passed.
Aunt Ginny was in the parlour with what I would always think of as 'the adults', despite the fact that my cousins and brother and I were all adults now as well. Uncle Harry had his arm around her shoulders, relaxed against the couch cushions, and they were both laughing at something my dad was saying. He was sitting on a chair next to the couch with Mum perched on the arm, her hand on Dad's shoulder. She was laughing too, but there was a tightness around her eyes and a tension in the way she held her hand on Dad. Venatici must've been in the paper again. Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur were in there as well, and Uncle George. I didn't see Uncle Percy anywhere. Bit of luck there. Granddad was in a chair by the fire. He'd evidently nodded off, despite the noise in the house.
I went over like a dutiful niece and gave Aunt Ginny a quick kiss on the cheek and wished her a happy birthday.
“Thank you, Rose,” she said, smiling at me.
“Happy birthday, Mrs. Potter,” Scorpius added.
“Thank you,” she said again, and the smile she gave him was only a bit less warm than the smile I'd gotten. Scorpius had been around the family quite a lot over the past couple of years, especially since we'd moved in together, but from my parents and Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny, there was always a bit of reservation in them when they looked at him. They were friendly enough with him, the same as with any of the girls Hugo had brought home, and more so than with some of James's girlfriends, but I knew it was Scorpius's dad's fault. He'd been a right little bastard to them at school, apparently, and I didn't think my parents or Uncle Harry were ever going to forget that.
Scorpius and I made our escape as Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey came in, and headed for the living room, where Victoire and Teddy were sitting on the couch. I could hear loud banging coming from upstairs, so I knew they'd brought their kids. I tried to be happy about that. Yay, little Lupins. Ahem.
James was chatting near a bookcase with my cousins Fred and Louis, and I went over to punch him in the arm.
“I should hex you for what you did at the pub last night, you jerk,” I hissed.
He put on a look of wounded innocence. “You'd hex me at my mummy's birthday party?”
“If I told your mum what you did, she'd probably hex you herself.”
James gave this some consideration. “She probably would,” he admitted.
“What did you do, James?” Louis asked.
He grinned and started telling the story as if he were quite proud of himself, so I left them there. Scorpius stayed by the bookcase, listening to James with a rueful grin. I went over to sit next to Victoire.
“All right there, Rose?” she said, smiling at me.
“Hi Victoire. Hi Teddy,” I added, leaning forward a bit to smile to him.
He gave me a friendly wave, looking rather tired.
“Long day with the kids?” I asked.
“Johnny's decided he's a manticore,” Victoire said brightly. Teddy's eye twitched a little. I decided I didn't want to know details.
“Any luck with that man you were looking for, what was his name?” asked Victoire.
“Butrus Knapper. I think I might have a new lead. But I caught another skip this afternoon.” I hadn't had a chance to go by the office and cash in my body receipt, thanks to my little incident with Harmon Ladd's roof. I'd have to go in first thing in the morning. It wasn't much, but it would at least buy us some food.
“Good for you, dear.” There was a particularly huge crash from upstairs followed by a high-pitched scream, and Victoire gave her husband's knee a pat. “Would you go check on the boys, please?”
Teddy hauled himself off the couch and went upstairs, his footsteps thudding. I could remember ominous footsteps like that growing up. Hearing Dad coming up the stairs was usually enough to break up whatever fight Hugo and I had been involved in. I wasn't sure it worked as well on the mini-Lupins, from the sound of things.
“Aren't you worried they're injured?” I asked.
“That was a frustrated shriek, not an injured shriek,” said Victoire.
I wasn't sure how she could tell. Practice, I suppose. Before we could chat any further, Aunt Angelina's magically amplified voice called everyone to dinner.
The rest of the family seemed to appear out of the woodwork as we seated ourselves around the long tables in the backyard. Granddad got the head of the table, of course. Apparently someone had woken him up. Hugo and I flanked Scorpius, as we often did. A nice buffer for the poor Malfoy amongst the Weasleys. His blonde hair stood out even more than my aunt Fleur's did, somehow.
“Weren't you just eating not an hour ago?” I whispered to Hugo as we sat down at the table.
“Nevermind.” I sometimes wondered if my brother really did have a hollow leg, with the amount he ate.
Dinner at the Burrow was always very noisy when the entire family was there. Small pockets of conversation threaded through the large table, as everyone chatted with their neighbours. I listened to Hugo and Scorpius discussing the upcoming Quidditch season with Roxanne and Uncle George for a while. Mum turned to me after twenty minutes of gardening talk with Aunt Audrey, and started in on her usual nagging about getting a proper job.
“I worry about you, it's such an insecure life,” she said, not for the first time.
“We're doing just fine,” I told her with finality. “We've got more steady income now, anyway.”
“Did you quit Agnelli's?” she asked hopefully.
“No, I didn't. Scorpius got a job at the Ministry,” I said, apparently a little too loudly.
The table fell silent. Everyone was staring at me and Scorpius. Dad's eyes were popping. I wondered what he was going to call Scorpius now that he was no longer technically a layabout.
“Where?” Mum managed to ask.
“Junior clerk in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office,” Scorpius said.
More silence, and then-
A cackling noise came from the other end of the long table. I leaned forward to see around my cousin Roxanne. Granddad was laughing so hard he started coughing.
“Do you hear that whirring noise, Molly?” he managed to say to Gran between gasping breaths. “That's Lucius Malfoy spinning in his grave!”
She thumped him on the back. To help the coughing, probably. Gran would never thump her husband out of annoyance. Uncle Percy didn't look too sure about that, and was frowning at his mother.
“Well,” Mum said, with a glance down at Granddad. She still looked rather stunned. “That's lovely. Well done, Scorpius.”
Dad grunted, and conversation around the table resumed. Scorpius gave me a look, and I tried my winsome smile. It seemed to work on him, at least, because he rolled his eyes and went back to talking Quidditch with my family.
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