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Chapter 9 : The Good One
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Balthazar Pulford was a sketchy character, and I was going to find out what that sketch was.
I Disillusioned myself as I turned up the path to Pulford's house and away from Muggle eyesight. I wasn't invisible, but I faded in well enough. It was like I'd become background. Still there if you looked hard enough, but not plain as day. I was wearing clothes designed to blend in – a t-shirt nearly the same colour as the trees, with a cartoon Bundimun on it (admittedly, this t-shirt had seemed funnier before Parmenter had thrown them at me, but it was the only green shirt that was clean) and faded brown trousers. I sort of regretted the bright yellow Shield Hat, but I wasn't forgoing the protection just because the colour was poorly thought out for camouflage.
I carefully made my way closer to Pulford's house. It was just as obviously magical as before, and now had a plume of blue smoke coming out the chimney. I shook my head at it in disbelief. Really, people. No class.
I made my way to the spot in the backyard where I'd found halfway decent cover before and hunkered down behind a hedge. I could see the back door pretty clearly, and the kitchen window. There were two shadowy figures moving behind the door. Was it finally Knapper?
The shadowy figures disappeared then, and I crouched in the hedges, waiting and wishing this wasn't stupidly dangerous and that I had backup, so at least I'd have someone to chat with. I didn't even have any éclairs. What's surveillance without éclairs?
After about five minutes, my legs gave out on me. Yeah, I'm not in that great shape, what can I say. I sat down cross-legged in the grass behind the hedge, and dug around in my shoulder bag for a snack.
At the bottom of my bag was a gift from my grandfather that I'd never put away properly after my birthday. I'd meant to give them to my other grandfather, actually. Granddad Granger, my mum's father, is a dentist, so he generally gives me Muggle gifts, which more often than not I give to Granddad Weasley. Sometimes he just steals it outright before I can give it to him – if he catches sight of anything Muggle, you can kiss it good-bye. Granddad Granger had given me these, saying they'd help out with my job. It was sweet of him, and they'd seemed straightforward enough, so I hadn't asked how to use them.
I looked them over now. They looked like Omnioculars, but without the dials and fiddly bits. Maybe they still work, despite being bashed around in my handbag for months. I pulled a candy wrapper off them that was stuck on with a bit of caramel, and held them up to my eyes.
On the second try, I got them the right way round, and suddenly Pulford's kitchen window was right up close. Cool. There weren't any buttons for replay or special effects, so I assumed all they did was show you a close-up.
They weren't terribly helpful. All I could see was the filmy white curtain, and dark shapes behind it that looked like furniture. Oh well.
I was bored. I looked down at my watch. I'd been here for ten minutes, total. Truly, I was pathetic.
I stuck the binoculars back in my bag and poked around a bit more, finally coming up with a smashed humbug. How did that even get in there? I pitched it into the grass just as the back door popped open.
I winced, ducking my head unconsciously, and hoped the flying humbug hadn't been visible.
Pulford stepped outside, not looking around, simply walked out of his house as if he hadn't a care in the world. Well, at least he wasn't expecting surveillance.
My jaw dropped when the next person came out the back door. Hiram Worthing. So much for him not being much in contact with his old friend any more. Obviously they still knew each other. Worthing did look around as he came outside, but didn't notice me.
Neither of them spoke a word to each other, simply nodding, and then Worthing Disapparated and Pulford went back inside. I heard the clicks of magical locks sliding into place.
I stared at the spot where Worthing had disappeared. Are you kidding me? He said they weren't really friends any more, didn't he? I tried to recall his exact words, but couldn't. Crap. Why was he here? Was he tipping Pulford off, warning him that I'd found their connection? Maybe it was more important than I thought. Maybe Knapper was in there after all and now he would find a new hideout. Dammit, dammit, dammit. I had the urge to roll around in the grass and scream, and suddenly felt a strong kinship with Johnny Lupin, the king of rolling around on the floor throwing a tantrum. If I were his age, I would take every opportunity that I could to pitch a big fit, too.
I need backup, for cripes' sake. I need to be able to kick down that door and then kick some felonious butt. Something was going on in there, and I wanted to know what. I spent the next twenty minutes waffling over whether I should just go bang on the door and yell at Pulford. Maybe I'd been wrong, and he wasn't the jerk who was harbouring Knapper. Maybe Worthing the Liar was. Wouldn't that be just my luck.
It just goes to show, Victoire is right. Everyone lies.
The only thing that stopped me from marching up there and telling Pulford off was the memory of the Shield Hat's destruction. I didn't want that to happen to my head.
I chewed on my thumbnail while I decided what to do. It's a bad habit, I know, I've been trying to stop for years.
If I went up there and Pulford attacked me, nobody knew where I was. Scorpius had been at work when I went out, and I hadn't mentioned going to Pulford's today. But maybe he wouldn't hex me, and I'd walk in and take Knapper into custody and Bob's your uncle, five hundred Galleons was in my pocket.
Yeah right. On the whole, I thought I wasn't brave enough to tackle Pulford again on my own. I kind of suck at this whole bounty hunter thing, in case you hadn't noticed. I decided to just go home and try to come up with a new plan. Maybe I could think of a way to browbeat Dino into coming along before he left on his weekend away with his wife.
I was still feeling angry and incompetent when I got home and found Scorpius, still in his work robes, sitting on the floor outside our front door. I gave him a wary look as I approached.
“What's the matter? Why are you out here?”
“Read the sign,” he said dully.
I noticed the sign pinned to our door. I didn't have to read the whole thing. The title was enough. Eviction Notice. I tried to open the door without thinking, waving my wand down the length of it, but the locks didn't respond to me. I stared at the door, shocked, then looked down at Scorpius.
“Didn't you pay the rent?” I asked in disbelief.
“I haven't been paid yet, Rose. Friday I'll have the blunt for it, but today we can't make our rent. I thought Mrs. Kochel would wait. She said she'd wait.” He seemed pretty angry.
“What are we going to do? Do you think she'll Vanish all our things and rent out our flat?” I asked, panic rising in my chest. Mrs. Kochel is mean. Mean and vindictive, and she doesn't like us. Okay, we never pay our rent on time and leave our dirty wellies in the hallway, but other than that, we're pretty good tenants. Except that time we'd had a party and my cousin James made a four-foot hole in the wall, but she could hardly count that against us.
“I don't know.” Scorpius was staring at his feet still, his hands clasped tightly, arms resting on his updrawn knees. “We need somewhere to stay tonight. Victoire and Teddy's?”
“Hugo will let us stay at his place. He has a spare bedroom.” My brother might not be terribly pleased about it, but he would let us stay. And he'd probably keep quiet about it, too, unlike Teddy Lupin, who would immediately tell my uncle Harry. No one in this family can keep a secret, honestly. Probably Hugo would shut up about it at least until we got the money for the rent and were back in our flat, and then it would be a done deal and I could brush it off as being in the past. Ooh. New horrible thought. “D'you think she'll lease it to us again? Wasn't there a clause in the contract saying she could deny renewing our lease if we were late on the rent?”
He rubbed his hand over his face. “I think there was. I didn't read it very closely. Your mum would know, she looked it over before we signed, remember?”
“I am not asking my mum what the terms of our lease regarding eviction were,” I said with finality.
“Well, let's go to Hugo's, then.” Scorpius got to his feet, and I took his hand, falling into step with him.
I looked back over my shoulder as we walked away, hoping that our things would still be there when we had the money for Mrs. Kochel.
Scorpius glanced down at me, and lifted our entwined hands to kiss the back of mine. “It'll be all right, Rose.”
He didn't answer.
Hugo answered the door in a Chudley Cannons t-shirt, with a butterbeer in his hand. I forgot, the Cannons were playing today. He raised an eyebrow at us, plainly wondering what the hell we were doing on his doorstep.
“Hugo!” I gave my brother a hearty hug. He staggered a bit. I guess I'm overly affectionate when I'm homeless. “Do you mind if we spend a few days here?”
“Why, what's wrong with your place?”
“It's complicated,” I told him.
“Did you get evicted?”
“Maybe it's not so complicated,” Scorpius remarked, kicking off his shoes.
“You can stay,” Hugo said. “Want a butterbeer, Scorpius?”
I sat on the couch as they went into the kitchen, chatting like the responsible adults with paying jobs that they were, and feeling sorry for myself. If I'd caught Knapper, this wouldn't have happened. On the other hand, if Scorpius had had the foresight to ask for a pay advance, this wouldn't have happened. Blaming it on him as well, if only in my head, made me feel a bit better. He'd talked to Mrs. Kochel about rent once already, so I suppose I should talk to her as well. Maybe I can talk her into letting us back into our flat.
“So the Cannons are playing tonight,” Hugo said, sitting in the leather armchair across from the couch and propping his feet up on the coffee table. “I'm going over to Mum and Dad's to watch the game on their wireless with Dad. Want to come along?”
“Do not tell them about us getting evicted,” I warned him. “It's only temporary.”
“I never tell them anything about you,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I find it's a good policy, because then I don't have to listen to them complain about your job.”
Scorpius sat down next to me and handed me a butterbeer. I cracked it open and said to my brother, “Remember when I was the perfect child and you were the brat?”
“Yeah,” Hugo said with a reminiscent grin. “Funny how things work out when you grow up. Now I'm the good one and you're the screw-up.”
I stuck my tongue out at him, and he mirrored me.
We made it over to my parents' house in time for dinner, handily. Even Hugo isn't above bumming a free meal that someone else had to cook.
Dad was cooking tonight. Dad cooking was sort of a big deal. He announced it days beforehand, and made sure everyone was aware of how much we ought to be impressed by it. He always did it for Chudley Cannons games, I think it's one of those weird sports superstitions where if you do something once and the team plays well that day (or in the case of the Cannons, sucks slightly less), you have to keep doing it forever. It seems to be a guy thing, but I can't be sure. I think Mum's just relieved not to have to cook now and then, so she puts up with it, even though she has to do the washing-up anyway.
Of course, Dad's cooking prowess is significantly lower even than Mum's in most areas, but he can make one thing, and make it well: breakfast. He presides over the frying pan on nights that he cooks with the air of an admiral commanding his fleet, wand in one hand and an orange apron tied around his waist.
The table was loaded with eggs, sausages, bacon, fried bread, and baked beans when we arrived, all of it dripping with oils and fats and smelling utterly delicious. It's a wonder any of us survived to adulthood.
“Rose!” Mum said, giving me a kiss on the cheek. “I didn't know you were coming. Hello, dear,” she added to Scorpius.
“Mrs. Weasley,” he said, and they exchanged a cheek kiss as well.
Dad had a plate loaded with enough fried foods to clog the arteries of a small Mediterranean country, and was already digging in. He waved to me with his fork, a piece of fried bread in his hand.
“I heard about your cousin Louis,” he said around a mouthful of beans. Mum shot him a look, and he swallowed before he resumed chortling.
“I heard about it as well,” Mum said ominously. “Your aunt Fleur Flooed me to tell me you'd arrested Louis's girlfriend?”
“That wasn't me,” I said, grabbing some fried bread. “That was Dino. She ran out on her bail, he had to. Besides, it isn't really arresting her. I'm not an MLE. I just bring people in to custody who've already been arrested and then ran off.”
“Was he really naked?” Hugo asked.
I made a face. “Unfortunately.”
“Louis is always good for a laugh,” Dad said, still chuckling.
“She was arrested on an Assault and Magical Battery, you know,” I informed my mother, who was still looking at me suspiciously, as if I'd deliberately arrested my cousin's girlfriend to embarrass her in front of my aunt. “Besides, she wasn't his girlfriend. He'd picked her up in a pub that morning.”
“I don't know how he does it,” Hugo said with a grin as he piled bacon on his plate. “If you put Louis in a room full of choirgirls and nuns, he'd find the only one who would take all his money and leave him naked in an alley, without his wand.”
Dad choked on his beans and had to take a swallow of pumpkin juice. Scorpius was laughing quietly as he filled his own plate, shaking his head.
Mum gave all of us a severe look. “It's not funny.”
“You know, Louis is exactly the sort of idiot who would sign one of those custodian bonds for some witch he barely knows-” Hugo's voice cut off with a grunt of pain. I'm pretty sure Dad had kicked him under the table.
Mum set her glass down with a thump and scowled at my brother. “Being ill-informed about one's rights does not make a person stupid. These people who are trapped in an unlawful and inhumane magical contract didn't know what protections the law should be giving them, and you'd do well to feel some sympathy for their plight-”
“Game's on,” Dad said, grabbing his plate and making a beeline for the wireless.
“Ronald Weasley, you'd better not spill anything!” Mum yelled after him.
Hugo stacked a few more slices of fried bread on his plate, along with the jar of marmalade, and followed Dad. Scorpius has much better table manners than the rest of us, and asked to be excused from the table before he fled the scene as well.
Mum glared after the three of them for a moment, then folded her arms on the table in front of her and eyed me. “Go on, Rose.”
I grabbed my plate and reached the living room just in time to hear Dad saying to Hugo in a low voice, “Try not to make any more leading comments around your mum.”
“Sorry,” Hugo said. “It just slipped out.”
The game wasn't actually on yet. There were a couple of sports announcers talking about the Cannons' history of shoddy performances. You could say that the Cannons had been having a bad run for the past fifty or sixty years, although I'm not sure they've ever had a good game. They'd always been the bottom of the league, but my dad never missed a game anyway, watching them and moaning about their poor skills and awful players. It seems to make him happy. I think the personality trait that makes him do that is the same one that makes my mum doggedly try to cook, even though she's no good at it. My parents are weird.
“Any luck with Knapper, Rosie?” Dad asked, scooping up beans onto his toast.
“Not yet. I saw in the file you didn't give me-”
“You gave her confidential Ministry information?” Mum's voice said behind me, sounding annoyed but not really surprised.
“No,” Dad said, and then, because he has this strange compulsion to tell my mum the truth, he added, “Harry said I could.”
Mum harrumphed at him, and I hurried to speak before she could lecture him about Ministry secrets. “Dad, there was a note that said you'd sent out some things Knapper was caught with to the Department of Mysteries. Did they identify them yet?”
“If they did, they didn't tell me about it,” Dad said, rolling his eyes. “That lot never wants to share, it's like pulling gnomes to get them to tell us anything.”
“How about the research on known associates?”
Dad shook his head. “Nothing useful. A few that he sold to, none of his suppliers. I'm not sure how thorough their research was, everyone's busy working on the Venatici case.”
“They've even had us looking into him in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts,” Scorpius put in. “The victims were all Muggles, after all. Nothing's turned up yet in our records, though.”
Dad grunted. “If they'd been doing their jobs properly all these years, maybe it would have.”
“It's a mess in there,” Scorpius agreed.
It was sort of weird to have my dad and Scorpius talking Ministry business together, not to mention agreeing with each other. I suppose Dad liked Scorpius better now he had a job.
“I can keep an eye out for Knapper's name while I'm filing,” Scorpius volunteered. “Maybe something useful will turn up on your case in some of my paperwork.”
That seemed rather unlikely. I had to stop myself rolling my eyes at him so I didn't hurt his feelings, and smiled instead. He smiled back, and went back to his food as the game began. Dad promptly lost all interest in the conversation, his eyes glued to the wireless. Hugo wasn't paying any attention to us either, and Mum went off to start the washing-up. I watched Scorpius for a moment as he watched the wireless.
There was a tightness in his face that had never been there before. It occurred to me that I hadn't heard him singing in nearly a fortnight – since he began working at the Ministry. He really was stressed out over this stupid job he had to work. Guilt crept up over me, making my insides burn, or maybe that was the greasy food. I had to find Knapper so Scorpius could go back to painting.
It was time for that cup of tea with Hiram Worthing.
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