A/N: I know this is the shortest chapter yet, clocking in at only 2700 words, but, well... I sort of thought adding anything else would be anticlimactic. I think you'll like it.
I was feeling quite fit and confident the next morning, and by morning of course I mean noon. Whatever had been getting to me all afternoon yesterday seemed to have worn off in the light of the new day. I pulled Knapper's file out and spread it across the unmade bed (the housework was really slipping now Scorpius wasn't home to do it).
Most of what was here, I already knew. I saw there was a note about his wife that Angelo either hadn't turned up or hadn't bothered to tell me. Good ol' Lomatia had a criminal record too. She'd hexed the neighbour's dog a few too many times last year. I had a good laugh over this, and then read the report on Knapper's arrest. The arresting officer had noted that Knapper had a number of objects they couldn't even identify on him, and they had been handed over to the Department of Mysteries. That couldn't be good. There was a note at the bottom in Dad's handwriting that said he'd interrogated Knapper and had agreed to bail after deciding he was unlikely to become violent if released. Another note stuck to the file said a research request had been sent to cross-check for known associates, but had not been filled yet. Apparently all the departments were behind, and Knapper was a low priority.
Nothing terribly helpful here, but at least I knew what the Aurors knew now, and that made me feel a bit better that they hadn't gotten any further than I had. They hadn't even turned up the half-brother or Hiram Worthing. Haha! Score one for the bounty hunter!
After a cup of very strong tea, I was raring to go. First things first. I knew who I was going to ask for back-up, and I might just catch him on his lunchtime body receipts if I hurried.
I sailed into the office just as Lydia was handing a bag of Galleons and a case folder to Dino Agnelli.
“Hi Rose,” Lydia said cheerfully. “Caught Knapper yet?”
“Nope. Dino, can I ask you a favour?”
He was thumbing through the folder and didn't look up at me. “I'm kinda busy today, Rose. Can it wait?”
I glanced at Angelo's door. “Not really.”
Dino heaved a sigh that I decided not to be offended by. He had given me some training when I first started this, so we'd worked together before on pick-ups. I'm pretty sure he saw me as a mild annoyance at best and a huge pain in the butt at worst. So we were practically family. “If you want to talk, you can come along with me. I'm picking up an Assault and Magical Battery.”
“Sure.” I waved to Lydia as I followed Dino out the door.
He stopped a few feet into the street. I put my hand on his arm to guide me, and we Apparated to a rooftop that looked to be in another part of London. I started talking while Dino investigated the area.
“I have this pick-up I can't find-”
“Butrus Knapper,” Dino filled in, poking his wand at a skylight. “He doesn't even have an Apparition license, how far could he get?”
I felt a sting of annoyance at that, and tried not to let it get to me. Dino was related to Angelo, after all, and I keep thinking I'm used to Agnelli men's rudeness, but then they spring it on me again. “Apparently he got far enough to hide pretty deep. I can't find him. I have a lead I want to check out but I need back-up.”
“So you want me to play back-up to you while you check it out?” Dino said. He muttered a few spells at the door that led into the building, and it popped open with a soft click. “Cheap wards,” he said, and set off down the stairs.
I followed him out onto the ninth floor and down the hall. “So will you help me out? Maybe after this pick-up we could go check it out.”
“I don't know, Rose, there's always trouble around you,” he said, reading the gold numbers on the doors. I wondered if the entire building was magical or if there was just a wizard living here among Muggles. It didn't seem like anybody was home, the floor was quiet, so I guess it didn't matter.
“It's not my fault,” I told him. “I don't do these things on purpose.”
“Thus the problem.” He put a hand to his lips then and pointed at the door of 9B.
Guess this was his perp. I zipped my mouth shut, and he rolled his eyes at me as he tested the wards on the flat.
After a minute of this, Dino thumped on the door. “Bond enforcement agents! We are legally authorized to bring you to the custody of Magical Law Enforcement. Come out with your wand up!”
Huh. It did sound much better when Dino said it, I had to admit, but I was cheered when it didn't work for him any better than it had done for Fred.
“Bugger off, you devil!” came a shrill soprano voice from inside.
“You're picking up a woman?” I asked, rather surprised. It seemed almost unsporting for Dino to go after a witch, even on an Assault and Magical Battery. Shouldn't Angelo have given the job to me?
I don't know why it surprised me, actually. I've hunted down nearly as many witches as wizards, and they're often even more vicious than the men in fighting back. And yes, I'm aware that 'hunted down' is probably not the most accurate turn of phrase, but it sounds better than 'been insulted by and eventually brought down via a series of accidents that worked out in my favour rather less often than not'. Semantics. Of course, this train of thought also reminded me why Angelo hadn't given me the job. I was mostly incompetent, and I didn't like scary felons.
Dino didn't answer, and began shooting spells at the door, throwing his shoulder against it occasionally. I could hear screaming from inside. There was a male voice pleading with the screaming female. Great, she's with someone. Angry spouses, even battered ones, are always a volatile addition to the mix in a take-down. Will they help you or hex you? You just don't know.
Come to think of it, the male voice sounded vaguely familiar. Before I could place it, Dino had knocked in the door through a combination of some nasty-looking spells I didn't recognize and sheer brute force. I stepped aside, flattening against the freshly painted wall – honestly, it was a relief to meet a felon who knew basic home maintenance – and hoped the protective enchantments would hold in the walls now the door was busted in.
Dino ducked under a jet of purple flames, then shot a Stunner underhand. I heard a crash from inside and risked a peek around the door. My jaw dropped.
“Louis?” I asked in disbelief.
My cousin was standing on top of an armchair, hugging the seat cushion to him as if he thought it was a shield. This seemed weird to me, but maybe she enchanted her cushions for extra protection in case of bad guy attack. I don't know her life.
“What the hell are you doing here, Louis?”
His eyes were wide as saucers, his red-gold hair gleaming in the light of the candles and oil lamps. I had a sudden nasty feeling that Louis wasn't holding the seat cushion to his chest as a shield, but rather because it was large enough to conceal his entire apparently naked torso. I took in the scene around the small flat. The curtains were drawn tight. Cloying perfume filled the air with a musky scent. Rose petals were strewn about somewhat haphazardly, and there were candles in quantities far in excess of the norm. The felon my cousin was evidently dating was lying on the floor, Stunned, wearing nothing but what my aunt Ginny had once called 'lace and hope'.
“Oh holy Kneazles,” I said, rolling my eyes. “What the bloody hell have you been doing? No, don't tell me, I don't want to know. How on earth did you get involved with this woman? Have you any idea what she's even being arrested for?”
Dino was grinning as he Incarcerated Louis's girlfriend. “This is why I don't want to work with you, Rose. I'm amazed nothing blew up, actually.”
“That was later,” Louis said.
“Gah,” I exclaimed.
“I met her at the pub,” Louis told me. “She said she was in some trouble with the law, but she was so hot.”
“What were you doing at a pub?” I demanded. “It's one o'clock in the afternoon!”
“Well, I'd been there since last night. They threw us out about an hour ago so we went back to her place for a nightcap, and one thing led to another.”
One thing had never led to a room full of candles and rose petals the first time I met anyone. I tried not to be impressed at Louis's mojo, but I have to admit I kind of was.
It occurred to me that every time I ran into something odd or went to a seedy place, it turned out my cousin Louis had already been there, or been thrown out of there, with some witch he was dating. Maybe Louis was secretly a supervillain, or a serial killer like Venatici. Probably not, though. Maybe one of his girlfriends was.
Dino pulled the woman to her feet. “Rose, if you want to wait until next week, I might be able to make time to come along with you.”
Next week? I gaped at him. I'd be living in a cardboard box by next week. Or buried in one, since Angelo would have killed me if I didn't have Knapper by then.
Dino read my lack of grateful happiness over his offer. “Best I can do. I've got a ton of work of my own, and my wife informs me we're going away for a long weekend, so I'll be gone for the next four days. Sorry. Bad timing. Mind locking up behind me?”
“Sure. Yeah.” I was pretty sure he was just too proud to be my back-up, but I couldn't see a way of forcing him to help me. I watched him drag the woman out the door, then turned to my cousin. “You'd better go home, Louis.”
He looked shifty for a moment, then admitted, “I need a lift.”
“What are you on about?” I asked suspiciously.
“My Apparition license was revoked after that, erm, incident with that witch in Cornwall, and I can't Floo home naked, obviously-”
“I can't take you home,” I interrupted him. “If I take you home, they'll all think I've arrested you, and I'll never hear the end of it from my mother. Ask one of your sisters to come round for you."
“Like this?” he asked incredulously. “I haven't any drawers on, thank you very much. We left my clothes behind earlier, I've no idea where they are.”
“Well, that isn't my fault. Make a sheet toga and call Victoire.”
“She'll never let me live it down. Go on, you can drop me a few blocks away.”
“So you can march through Tinworth wrapped in a sheet and your mum can call mine and ask why I brought you home in the nuddy? I think not.”
“You've no sense of family duty, Rose,” Louis said mournfully.
“Bugger off. I could have been Flooing the lot of them to tell them how I found you, couldn't I?” I paused, tapping my foot impatiently. This should not be my problem. What was wrong with my life that I had to contemplate how to get my cousin home without anyone seeing him naked? Honestly, I should've raised thestrals, it'd be less trouble. “What if I leave you at Uncle George's shop? They're bound to have something you can wear there.”
Louis looked horrified. “Show up starkers at Uncle George's? Are you mad?”
I threw up my hands. “All right then, you figure it out.”
“Bloody hell, Rose.” Louis adjusted the cushion in front of him. Really, my life could not be more crap.
“What if I call Hugo? Or Albus? One of them can loan you some clothes and take you home.”
Louis didn't look appreciative enough, but agreed to this. “I suppose if that's the best you can think of.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. Ingrate. Fine, if that's how he wanted to be, I was calling James. It was sure to be the fastest way to make certain the entire family knew Louis's predicament, and thus could be considered rather mean, yes, however it would also be very funny.
I Flooed James's house, and after I'd yelled his name for a few minutes, he turned up in the living room.
“All right there, Rose?”
“I need you to come over here and get Louis.” I gave him the address. “And bring him some trousers, for the love of God.”
James grinned. “A day without trouserless Louis is a day without sunshine.”
“Just be quick about it,” I said, ducking back out of the fireplace.
Ten minutes later, I stood in the broken doorway, examining the damage and hoping I could fix it, when I heard footsteps coming. They didn't sound like James Potter's heavy footsteps. I turned and saw my cousin Lily, James's little sister.
“Hi Lily. I meant James to come pick him up. How did you get slated with Louis Pick-up Duty?”
Lily rolled her eyes. “I owe James money. He knocked half off my debt if I'd come for Louis.”
“Nice.” James was a terrible creditor, so this was luck for Lily. Charging your relatives compound interest is dirty pool, I tell you. I once borrowed five Galleons from him while we were at school, and I swear he was interviewing Slytherins to be enforcers and break my kneecaps or something when I hadn't paid him back within a fortnight.
Lily stopped short when she saw Louis, still holding the cushion in front of him, and made a face. “I thought he was joking about bringing clothes along.”
Louis went pale. “You didn't bring clothes?”
Louis let out a moan and threw himself into the overstuffed couch. Lily and I both backed away, shielding our eyes.
“Louis!” Lily shrieked.
“I can't believe you didn't bring me trousers!” Louis wailed.
“I thought he was joking! It's James, he's always an ass.”
“I'm going to have to do the Sheet Toga Walk of Shame again, aren't I?” he said miserably. “You can open your eyes again.”
I opened my eyes. He was safely covered again, thank God.
Lily was looking around the flat. “Was there a fight?”
“One of my colleagues took Louis's girlfriend into custody,” I explained, while Louis hid his face with one hand, still clutching the pillow with the other.
“Oh, not again,” Lily said in exasperation. “Honestly Louis, can't you find any girl to sleep with you who's not defective in some way?”
“Can't we conjure him something?” I asked desperately. I really wanted to flee the scene and leave him to Lily, but was afraid she'd Body-Bind me and make me help out anyway.
“I never got the hang of doing clothes,” Lily said apologetically. “I could make you a spanking good pair of glasses, though. I'm very good at conjuring those, I can even adjust my prescription now.”
“That must come in handy,” I said, interested. “Can you do sunglasses as well? I'm always losing mine.”
“I'm in distress,” Louis whinged. “Can you talk about your bloody glasses later?”
“All right, all right, we'll see what we can do.”
Conjuring clothes had never really been my forte, but I gave it a go, and between me and Lily, we managed a pair of lederhosen for Louis. I'll admit, we were trying for tweed trousers, but they covered up the necessaries, and that was really the important thing here. Louis put them on with much grumbling, and Lily escorted him out, rolling her eyes. I repaired the door and locked up the felonious girlfriend's flat behind us, and we Apparated our separate ways.
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