I don't remember there ever being a time when I thought my mum was cool. Oh, my father's cool, right enough, he catches bad guys after all, but Mum, well... She does her best, you know, but she's the sort of high-powered and politically placed barrister that Mr. Malfoy wishes Scorpius was. And that's just not cool. Mildly interesting, yes, but just not cool. Lydia Agnelli's mum was a trapeze artist with a wizarding circus before Lydia was born. Now that's cool.
Mum's not-coolness was in full force today. She bustled into my flat with a small, flattish box about the size of a ream of paper. I eyed it warily. When my mother brings you a small box, you should not trust that what comes out of it will be small as well. She had that look in her eye, too, the one that said she was on about something and would not be diverted from it by any means short of nuclear catastrophe.
She set the box down on the counter, making a bang that was far too loud for such a small box, and gave me a stern look. “I need the contact information for Butrus Knapper's wife.”
Oh. That's what she's on about. Angelo ought to know better than to tangle with my mother.
I gave my mother the name and address for Lomatia Knapper, hoping she'd take her scary box and go away again, but instead she began pulling papers out of the box. An ungodly amount of papers.
“I'm going to get rid of that custodian law,” Mum said determinedly, stacking papers all over my kitchen counter. “If I can get it declared against human rights – and it is – then it will free Mrs. Knapper and all the other women-”
“And men,” I put in. There were plenty of men who were dumb enough to sign a custodian bond as well.
“Yes, of course, everyone who's been affected by it will be released from their contract.”
Uh-oh. That didn't sound good. “Er, Mum-”
“I can't believe something like that has stayed on the lawbooks as long as it has,” Mum went on, not listening to me. “I'm going to have Mrs. Knapper representing a class-action suit, arguing that it violates her civil-”
“What is it, dear?” Mum asked absently. She was scribbling furiously on a yellow legal pad.
“If you repeal the custodian bond law and let everyone out of their contracts, what happens to the felons they were custodian for? Is their bond still active?” I couldn't see how this would be as simple as she thought it would be. Getting the law stopped for future bonds, yes, but I doubted the bonds offices would fancy the idea of having all those criminals with unsecured bonds. Angelo would be down at the Ministry before you could blink, screaming about being out that kind of money. The other bondsmen in town would band together and picket my mother's office. Again.
Mum waved her quill at me dismissively. “I'm sure we'll be able to work that out.” She had never been very sympathetic to the bondsmen, though I had explained many times that they performed a necessary function in the judicial system, especially the already overworked Magical police. I don't think she quite believed it. She had once called Angelo an exploiter of the underprivileged, so I'm pretty sure she wasn't concerned with him having to cough up the Galleons on anyone with a custodian bond.
Mum found whatever it was she'd been looking for amongst the papers in the box, and started repacking them. “I've got to run. I need to speak with a few members of the Wizengamot about this, I want it reviewed by week's end, and then I'm meeting your father for lunch. Lots to do. See you later, my love.” She gave me a kiss on the cheek and tucked the box under her arms, and before I could say anything else, she was out the door.
I should tell Angelo about her plan. A good employee would give her boss fair warning, right? But then, this was my mother, and obviously my first loyalty was to the family. I should stay as far away from this as I possibly could. Yes, that sounded better. Angelo would find out soon enough what Mum was up to, anyway.
I made myself a cup of tea and started doodling on a napkin, gathering my thoughts. I had very little on the Knapper case, honestly. He had no friends, even his wife didn't want him back. His freaky half-brother claimed not to know where he was, but I didn't trust him. A random bloke in the pub Knapper might have disappeared from knew the freaky half-brother but had no connection to Knapper. None of them had jobs or significant others. Honestly, they all seemed rather a bunch of losers. Something seemed off to me, though. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
If the freaky half-brother and the random bloke in the pub had a reason to cover Knapper's disappearance after a relatively minor Dark object trafficking charge, I didn't know what it might be. They didn't seem like the kind of family who loved their relative so much they couldn't stand for him to go to the clink. Lenny Graves seemed to think there was more going on here. Maybe there was.
And it seemed it was up to me to find out.
I tried to come up with a plan of attack, but couldn't think of anything logical, so I decided to just go poke around wherever I got a bad feeling and hope something turned up. It had worked for me in the past, so I may as well go with my winning strategy, lame as it may be.
I figured I'd start with Hiram Worthing, since he was less scary than Pulford. I finished my tea and set off for the day.
Worthing's flat was empty from what I could see, trying to surreptitiously look through his window. It was badly located for nosy bounty hunters to poke around. Honestly, some architects just don't think.
One of the neighbours was peering out their window. I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman. I waved cheerfully and the drapes snapped shut. Great. Maybe Worthing didn't talk to his neighbours. Scorpius and I avoided ours like the plague.
I wondered where he went during the day if he wasn't at home. He didn't have a job. Maybe he was getting his nails done.
I stared at the front door for a while. There was a small plaque that said in gold lettering No Solicitors. I concentrated on the sign, thinking hard. He was friends with Pulford. He might know something. But my stomach was all knotted up at the thought of knocking on the door. Very bad things.
Hell with it. I knocked twice on the door and took a step back. My non-threatening stance. Not that I looked threatening, especially in this pink unicorn t-shirt. I really need to throw this thing out. Note to self: Buy intimidating wardrobe, primary fabric leather.
I stood at the door, my heart pounding in my throat. The seconds ticked by, and I started feeling stupid. There's only so long you can stay in a state of nervous terror, I suppose.
Why didn't he have windows in his front door? Does no one think of the poor lowly bounty hunter's needs when they design houses and flats? I stood on tiptoe and tried to see through the windows. The flat was dark and empty. Dammit.
I sighed and turned away, and the door suddenly popped open behind me.
I let out a loud shriek and skidded back a few feet. Worthing started in shock and banged his elbow into the door jamb. I think both of us nearly jumped out of our skins.
“Who are you?” Worthing asked, rubbing his elbow.
“I'm so sorry,” I gasped. “I didn't mean to frighten you-”
“It's all right.” He stopped rubbing his elbow and gave me a kind smile. He really reminded me of Uncle Charlie. I liked him immediately. Why had I been so nervous?
“I'm sorry to disturb you,” I began. The flat was still dark behind him, and he looked a bit rumpled. I must have woken him up. I felt rude and awkward, and my words came out in a rush. “I work for Angelo Agnelli Magical Bonds, and I'm trying to find Butrus Knapper. I've been looking for anyone with even the slightest connection to him, and your name turned up as a school chum of his half-brother.” Did I just say chum? Oh my God, I'm skipping my mother and becoming my grandmother.
Worthing looked rather impressed. “Excellent research there, young lady. Yes, I was friends with Balthazar at school, but not his brother. There's several years between them, you know. I'd already left by the time Balthazar's brother came along.”
“Are you still in contact with Balthazar?” It was sort of weird to think of this nice guy hanging out with scary, weird Balthazar Pulford. Maybe Pulford had been friendlier when he was younger. I couldn't picture Worthing setting foot in the Knapper residence either. What I could see of his apartment was scrupulously clean and neat. It was much cleaner than my flat, actually. I might've mentioned that to Scorpius if he didn't have a proper job now.
“Now and then, yes.”
“I asked him if his brother had contacted him, but...” But he was a freaky weirdo who made me want to run away and hide under my bed.
“Well, I'm sure if Balthazar said his brother hadn't contacted him, then he hasn't been in touch,” Worthing said, giving me another kindly smile. “Would you like me to let you know if I hear anything?”
“Thank you, that would be great.” I smiled back at him. I wish more people were nice to me. It was a lovely change not to have a door slammed in my face or my parentage insulted.
Worthing held out a hand. “What did you say your name was, my dear?”
“Rose Weasley,” I said, shaking his hand. His grip was firm and light, pleasant. I hate when men try to overwhelm me with a handshake. It happens a lot when you're a female bounty hunter.
“Would you care to come in for a cup of tea, Miss Weasley?” Worthing stepped back and held a hand up to his front door invitingly.
“Oh, no, thank you, I don't want to disturb you. I still have work to do today.” I had to accomplish something today. I already felt like a failure for my inability to get a bead on Knapper. All I had were dead-ends.
He took my refusal graciously. “Some other time, perhaps.”
We exchanged cordial good-byes, and I went back to London and Knockturn Alley. I stood at the mouth of the alley where it feeds into Diagon Alley and contemplated whether or not going to talk to Lydia was worth the possibility of running into Angelo. On the whole, I decided I should avoid the place. I strolled down Diagon Alley, trying to regroup in my head.
The Worthing lead had been tenuous at best, but I was disappointed, I have to admit. I really thought that would pan out. But I believed him when he said he didn't know Knapper. Pulford hadn't gone well either, and I was a little nervous of going back there. I was just floating around from one half-assed lead to the next, and it was getting me nowhere.
What the hell was I going to do?
I kicked at the building next to me. This sucked royal hippogriff. I had no idea what to do next, and that was my biggest problem. I needed help. I thought I had pretty much exhausted the array of cousins, and tried to figure out who the hell I was going to ask.
Dino? Oh yeah, so he can steal my gig. No way. Lydia? I'd tried bouncing ideas off her before, and she was, shall we say, a surface that did not bounce. Scorpius? Hell to the no.
Aw, crap. I knew who I needed to go see.
“Hi Rosie.” Dad gave me a kiss on the forehead.
I dropped my purse on the green leather couch in Dad's office and took in the scene. There were stacks of paper everywhere, and on top of them was a half dozen cartons of Chinese food. Posters of wanted criminals were pinned to a corkboard on one wall. The shadowy photo of Venatici was in the centre. Uncle Harry was sitting in a wooden chair across from Dad's desk, and waved at me with a pair of chopsticks, his mouth full.
“Pull up a chair,” Dad said, waving to indicate his implied hospitality. “Grab some chopsticks and have lunch with your old dad.”
There wasn't another chair. Uncle Harry, still chewing, conjured one for me.
“Thanks, mate,” Dad said, settling into the somewhat beat-up leather chair behind his desk.
“Not having lunch out today, are we?” I said, picking through the cartons. Dad always eats all the egg rolls first. Damn. “Mum said she was meeting you for lunch, I wasn't sure you'd be back yet.”
“We're hiding from your mum,” Uncle Harry said, picking up a carton of noodles.
“Harry,” Dad said reprovingly.
“Don't try to pretend you're not hiding from your wife,” Uncle Harry told him with a grin.
Dad's ears reddened. He gave me a sheepish look. “You know how your mum is when she's on the warpath.”
I rolled my eyes, selected a carton of orange chicken, and leaned back. “Yeah. She came to see me earlier. That damn custodian law. Angelo's going to be pissed.”
“I might have told her that it wasn't realistic to think all the currently named custodians would simply be released from their contracts,” Dad said around a bite of sweet and sour chicken.
“You should have known better,” Uncle Harry told him smugly. “At least I know better than to argue with my wife.”
“Well, it isn't realistic,” Dad muttered. “There won't be any replacement collateral for the bonds, so the law won't get passed as is. The bondsmen will never allow it, and well they shouldn't. She can't expect to grandfather all these people in. New custodians, yes, but not the current ones. Especially since there aren't even that many of them. The Wizengamot won't see it worth angering the bondsmen over a handful of people. They provide a service to the judicial system and the MLEs, dammit. We need them, or we'd be overrun with petty criminals who can't meet their bail that we have to hold until their court dates, and that would put a strain on the holding cells and the prison.”
Uncle Harry grunted in what I presumed was agreement, or simply acknowledging that he already knew all this.
“I tried to tell Mum all that this morning,” I put in. “She didn't listen to me though.”
Dad winced. “It's always the principle of the thing with her. Honestly, the woman's barking mad.”
“You've been saying that since we met her.” Uncle Harry didn't look concerned. “What can we do for you, Rose?”
“I'm having trouble finding Knapper,” I told him.
“Butrus Knapper,” Dad said. “He was arrested a few months ago, minor trafficking charges, skipped his court date. I have his file in my inbox.”
Uncle Harry and I both looked at Dad's desk. If there was an inbox there, it was not immediately apparent. Uncle Harry let out a little cough that might have been a laugh.
Dad rolled his eyes. “Shut up, Harry. Rosie, go over what you've got on him. Let's see if we can turn something up.”
I put my carton back on the desk and started listing everything I knew about Butrus Knapper's disappearance. “Wife, rented rowhouse in a crap neighbourhood. She hasn't seen him. She's custodian, and there seems to be no love lost, so I think she'd tell me if she knew where he was. Half-brother, not close, checked on him but he says he hasn't been in contact with Knapper for ages. I looked through Knapper's desk and found a note with the name of a pub and what I think is a date, the last day anyone saw Knapper, and when I checked out the pub I heard someone mention the brother's name. Followed that guy home-”
“Rosie,” Dad interrupted, looking appalled. “You followed some strange bloke home from the pub, who might be involved with a criminal? Have you lost your mind?”
I decided not to mention the destruction of the Shield Hat incident outside Pulford's house. It seemed, as Scorpius phrased it, unlikely to please my father. “It was fine! It's my job, Dad. I had Lydia Agnelli look into him, got his name, and it turns out he was a school friend of the brother. I talked to him today and he was really nice. He doesn't know anything about Knapper though.”
“You're giving me grey hairs,” Dad said, putting a hand over his eyes. “Why can't you work somewhere safe?”
I rolled my eyes at him, and Uncle Harry laughed.
“Ron, calm down. Rose, is there anything else?”
I shrugged. “Not that I can find. This guy was a nobody. No regular hangouts, no friends.”
“He was a trafficker, you said? Dark objects?” Uncle Harry waited for Dad's nod, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Did you find any of his business contacts?”
“I checked Knockturn Alley, but no one would even admit to knowing who he was,” I said dejectedly, then remembered. “Well, except Lenny Graves.”
Dad shook his head. “That kid, I swear. Rosie, you bring him to me the next time you see him. He was supposed to check into a rehab facility as part of his parole, and he never did.”
I ignored this. Let Pilliwickle's bring Lenny in, he was their bounty. “Lenny said Knapper was involved in very bad things.”
Neither Dad nor Uncle Harry looked worried about this. “Dark objects are very bad things,” Dad pointed out.
“The pub sounded like a decent lead to me,” Uncle Harry said. “There must be some connection between Knapper and that pub if he wrote its name down and the date he disappeared.”
“I don't know whether he even made it to the pub,” I pointed out. “His wife saw him that morning, and then he never came home. He could have disappeared at any point during the day.”
“True. Which pub was it?”
“The Merman's Tail.”
“Didn't Louis get arrested there once?” Uncle Harry asked Dad.
“Probably. Rosie, have you tried watching the brother's house? Maybe he lied.”
Duh. Thanks for assuming I'm an idiot, Dad. “I staked out the brother and the brother's friend, but I didn't see anyone come in or out. I thought there might be someone in the brother's house, but I couldn't tell if it was Knapper.” I heaved a big sigh, feeling like a failure again. “I don't know what to do next.”
Dad frowned and looked over at Uncle Harry, who was chewing thoughtfully.
“What does your gut say?” he asked finally.
I sat in silence for a moment, mulling it over. “I like the brother for it.”
“Well then. There's your answer. I always go with my gut.”
“Your uncle's always had good instincts,” Dad said. “You have, too, Rosie. You should go with them.”
I didn't want to go back to Pulford's house. Pulford was scary, and gave me a bad feeling, which is probably why I thought he was lying to me about his brother. “I'm a little nervous about going back there on my own.”
“So take backup,” Uncle Harry said. “Everyone needs backup, kiddo. Your dad never goes in alone. Except that one time-”
“Shut up, Harry,” Dad said, his ears reddening again.
Uncle Harry grinned and took a large bite of beef and broccoli.
“Can I have a copy of your file on Knapper, Dad?” I asked hopefully.
“Absolutely not,” Dad said sternly. “That's confidential Ministry information.”
I gave him my best trustworthy, wheedling smile. “Please, Daddy?”
I swear it only works on him. No one else buys that smile, but my dad always falls for it. I keep hoping it will work on someone else, but at least it does work on him. Dad looked uncomfortable and shot a pleading glance at Uncle Harry, who snorted and then said, “Ron, I've gone temporarily deaf and blind.”
Dad grinned at him, opened a file drawer and rooted around for a minute, opened another file drawer, and finally pulled out a rather scanty-looking file, which he tapped with his wand. Another file appeared on top of the first, and he handed this to me. I tucked it in my bag and gave Dad a kiss on the cheek, then gave Uncle Harry one too, for good measure.
I snagged the carton of orange chicken on my way out. I never turn down free food. I'm a Weasley, after all.
A/N: The line Harry says "I have gone temporarily deaf" is a reference to the canon line in Goblet of Fire, chapter 24, when Harry insults Rita Skeeter. Dumbledore responds that he's gone temporarily deaf :)
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