Hugo reminded me first thing the next morning why I dislike staying at his place. He was up at the crack of dawn, banging about the flat and blaring the Weird Sisters at top volume from the wireless.
I rolled over and saw Scorpius blinking at me groggily.
“What time is it?” he muttered.
“You don't want to know,” I said, my voice scratchy with sleep.
Hugo poked his head in our room. “Oh good, you're up. I thought I'd do a bit of a fry-up for us before I go to work.”
“We had a fry-up at Mum and Dad's last night,” I pointed out, sitting up. I could feel my hair sticking up at weird angles. I'm sure I looked a hot mess.
“You look a hot mess, Rose,” Hugo said cheerfully.
I gave him the evil eye. “I don't normally get up this early.”
“Is it really five A.M.?” Scorpius asked in horror. “I could've slept another hour at least.”
“Since you're both up, come eat,” Hugo said, and left the room.
“I hate your brother,” Scorpius said to me.
“I'll go beg Mrs. Kochel to take us back first thing this morning.”
“Tell her we'll do anything she asks, if she'll only give us back our flat.”
We stumbled out to the kitchen, squinting into the bright light. How is it daytime at this hour? That can't possibly be right. I'd only gotten half the sleep I normally did. It was a nap for me this afternoon, I'll tell you that much. It is simply not normal to be awake at this hour unless one has been up all night and is only just going to bed.
Hugo was whistling to himself as he whisked some eggs and poured them into a frying pan. Scorpius sat down on a barstool at the counter on his second try, and I leaned against him sleepily.
“You two are grumpy gusses in the morning, aren't you?” my unnatural brother said.
Scorpius gave him the evil eye. I was sort of hoping Malfoy blood could make that work, but sadly Hugo's head completely failed to burst into flame. Hugo went back to whistling and dished us up some fried eggs. There's something wrong with him, honestly.
Hugo left for St. Mungo's half an hour later. After drinking three cups of very strong tea, Scorpius went to work as well, still grumbling about the extra hour of sleep he'd missed out on. I decided since I was up anyway, I may as well get out there and get something done. Today I was going to be productive and assertive, and not take crap from anyone. Really. Unless it was my mother, because I have to take her crap. She gave birth to me. It's like a law or something.
I took a long shower, revelling in hot water I didn't have to pay for and hoping to punish my brother with a huge water bill for waking me at dawn (take that, Hugo!).
I sat on the bed in the guest room and combed my hair, wondering what the hell I was going to wear today. All my clothes were locked up in our flat, or possibly Vanished or donated to charity by now. I went into Hugo's room and rummaged through his drawers, thinking of shrinking one of his shirts to fit me, and found the shirt I'd been wearing when I fell through Harmon Ladd's roof folded neatly next to Hugo's socks. I pulled it out. He'd cleaned the blood off it and repaired the gash. It was good as new. Aw. My brother's a good sort, really.
Now I felt sort of bad about running up his water bill, though. Well, what's done is done.
I pulled the shirt on and looked at my reflection in the mirror for a moment, unsure for the first time since I was sixteen if I was pleased with what I saw.
Clearly, Worthing had not taken me seriously as a bounty hunter. I'm not big and scary like Dino Agnelli, and my wardrobe is sadly lacking in intimidation factor. As it seems unlikely for me to suddenly grow six inches and put on a couple stone of muscle overnight (not without some Polyjuice Potion anyway), changing my wardrobe seemed the way to go. Maybe I would feel productive and assertive if I had different clothes. Of course, I had no money to buy new clothes, so I was going to have to rely on other sources. But first things first. I needed to go talk to the landlady.
Mrs. Kochel was in her seventies. Everything about her was thick, from her arms to her Slavic accent, and especially her legs, which were always encased in dark brown compression hose that made them look like bratwurst. It wasn't that she was fat, particularly. It was just that she was built like a tree stump.
She opened the door very quickly when I knocked, so I knew I hadn't woken her up. She was probably a weirdo morning person like my brother. It was after seven now, after all, and I've heard that many people consider that to be morning. When she saw it was me, her face set into a deeper frown and she looked me up and down distastefully, as if I were a dog who'd just messed on her rug. “What do you want?”
No point beating around the bush, not with Mrs. Kochel. It was always straight down to business with her. “Will you hold our flat for us? We'll have the money for you on Friday, I swear.”
She didn't look as if she believed me. “You and boyfriend always swearing. 'We pay you tomorrow,' and then you give me no money. You should haff paid me two weeks ago. I rent out your flat to new people who pay rent on time, and give things left behind to St. Mungo's Charity.”
“But all our things were in there! They weren't left behind, we couldn't get them out!” I said indignantly. “Please, just give us one more chance.”
“You don't pay your rent, why should I let you back in?” she said, burly arms folded under her chest.
“It would save you the bother of having to clean the flat and deal with the charity people,” I said. The St. Mungo's Charity collectors were notorious for their poor attitude. Mrs. Kochel hated them. I saw her throw a tin of peas at one out the window last Christmas.
Mrs. Kochel seemed to consider this. “This is true,” she allowed.
“And Scorpius has a job with the Ministry now-” temporarily, I added in my head - “so we'll have the rent money on time next time, I promise.”
“Okay,” Mrs. Kochel said, in a tone that indicated she felt she was bestowing a generous stay of execution on a hardened criminal. “You come back after pay rent. If you lie to me, I hex off all your hair and beat boyfriend soundly.” She waved a sausage-like finger at me threateningly.
“Okay. Yes. No problem. Beat him all you like.”
She waved me away, and I let out a long breath of relief as the door closed. I'm pretty sure that was an empty threat. Nearly. All right, I'm a little afraid of my landlady. She could probably crush me with one hand. And Scorpius fears her hose above all else.
I decided since I was already getting threatened this morning, I may as well go by Angelo's too. Lydia was at her desk, charming her fingernails bright red, when I sailed into the office.
“Someone's in a good mood,” she said, looking me up and down.
“I'm being productive and assertive today.”
“Well don't get any on me,” Lydia said. “I don't want to be either of those.”
Angelo stuck his head out of his office. “Oh, it's you,” he said, eyeing me with distaste. “Do you know your mother is trying to bankrupt me?”
“No one's trying to bankrupt you, she just doesn't like that custodian law,” I told him.
“Get over it,” Lydia added.
“You tell that woman you're related to not to darken my door again,” Angelo said, pointing at me. “And I better not hear you mention her in my office again, either. She is dead to me! Vietato il discorso!”
“Uh-huh,” I said, unimpressed. That was the fourth time he'd forbidden me to speak of my mother since I'd started working there.
“Did you find Knapper yet?” Angelo demanded.
“I'm still working on that.”
Angelo shook his head. “I'm losing money. Every day you don't find that idiot costs me money. Your entire family is trying to bankrupt me.”
“It's all part of my master plan,” I assured him. “First you, then Pilliwickle's, then the entire tri-city area.”
“Why do I hire you people?” Angelo asked in disgust, glaring at me and Lydia. “You're all useless.”
Lydia rolled her eyes. Angelo slammed his office door shut, yelling, “Find Knapper or you're sacked!”
“How's the quitting smoking going?” I asked Lydia.
“It's all right. Want a quick pick-up? Shoplifting in your uncle's shop. Seems right up your alley.”
“Sure.” I took the file from her and paged through it. Some eighteen year old kid was caught for the fourth time at Uncle George's, shoplifting Daydream Charms. Lame. Uncle George had pressed charges, and the girl hadn't shown up for her court date. Also lame. I'd go pick her up later. For now, I had other Plimpies to fry. Well, maybe not fry. My stomach still felt a little heavy from last night's fry-up, not to mention this morning's fry-up, and I didn't even want to see anything fried today.
My cousin Molly lives in an unpronounceable town in Wales, on Holy Island. She's the reserve Keeper for the Holyhead Harpies, the team my aunt Ginny once played for. She and Aunt Ginny get along extremely well, unsurprisingly. Molly's all right, it's just that she and I don't have a lot in common, so I don't hang out with her much. She spends an awful lot of time with my cousin Roxanne, who also thinks the sun rises and sets on Aunt Ginny.
Molly opened the door to her flat and smiled at me. “All right there, Rose?”
Her hair was cut even shorter than the last time I'd seen her, standing up in an asymmetrical shock of green on top of her head, with a blonde streak at the front. I wondered if she'd charmed it that colour herself, or had it done. It looked very cool. There was no way I could've pulled it off, but Molly managed it. It helped that she was wearing dragonskin pants and a very low-cut black vest. It's not like you can have green hair with just any clothes.
“I need to borrow some clothes,” I told her as I stepped inside.
She looked rather surprised, and glanced down at the t-shirt I was wearing. It was one of my favourites: purple, with some truly adorable cartoon baby hippogriffs frolicking across the front in a cloud of rainbows and glitter.
“You want to borrow my clothes?” Molly asked, as if she were making certain she hadn't been hallucinating.
“I need to look tougher. No one believes I'm a bounty hunter.”
“Do you still wear that shirt with the pink unicorn on it?”
“Well, yes,” I admitted.
“That might be why,” Molly said.
She followed me into her bedroom and I threw open the closet doors. Not only is Molly fond of wearing leather, she's also very neat and clean, so the closet was as diametrically opposite mine as was possible without creating a parallel universe. Everything was spaced evenly apart on the clothes rods or folded neatly onto shelves. Her shoes were lined up in a perfectly straight row on the floor, all polished and looking brand-new. My closet was an explosion of pink and purple, things slipping off their hangers and piled on the floor on top of shoes long widowed from their mates. I could not keep my closet looking like hers for more than five minutes if my life depended on it. Scorpius had given up on it and believed it lived according to new laws of magic that prevented cleaning spells working in there.
“What did you have in mind?” Molly asked, pulling out a red dragonskin miniskirt and offering it to me. “How about this?”
“Um, not that.”
After twenty minutes, I escaped with an armful of clothes and a promise not to let anything happen to them, which I might even keep. I went back to Hugo's and changed into a pair of black trousers which seemed primarily comprised of buckles and rivets, slid into a black low-cut top, and examined the effect.
I looked like a poseur.
Maybe I should dye my hair green, too.
Productive and assertive. I left Hugo's flat, still feeling well past half an idiot, and Apparated to the slum where the big fat liar lived.
Hiram Worthing's street was deserted when I arrived. Did anyone actually live there? Maybe the lines of washing hanging between the two buildings were just a front.
I knocked on his door and waited for ten minutes. It was pretty clear no one was home. I wonder if his flat has anti-Apparition wards. This was the sort of low-rent district where they wouldn't come standard, and a lot of people don't know how to do the spell themselves. I glanced around to make sure no one was watching me, and tried to Apparate in.
It was like being flung into a steel wall. The strength of the wards knocked me backward, and I skidded a few feet on my butt, bracing myself with my hands as I came to a stop. Damn. I hadn't expected that. That's the sort of ward people like my uncle Harry put on their houses, not what you'd normally find in this neighbourhood. What the hell was Worthing hiding in there that he needed security of that magnitude?
I cast a few spells to check him out, and found his security was tighter than any I'd ever run across. I'd never tested Uncle Harry's wards, but I'd be willing to put a couple Galleons on Worthing's security out-doing Uncle Harry's. Of course, there was one area most wizards forgot to protect against. Unfortunately, it was another skill I was lacking in.
I took a few steps back from the door and stared at it, thinking hard. If I ask him to come along again, he'll never stop bugging me. Worse still, if I say I need his help, he'll think he's my partner. But I don't know how to do this. I could buy a kit, but I don't know how quickly I could make it work. He doesn't even need a kit, he can do it with a kirby grip.
I spun on the spot and reappeared in Diagon Alley, outside my uncle's shop, and went straight in. My cousin Fred was sitting on the counter, watching a pair of ten year old twin boys who were looking amongst the bins of joke candies very intently. He perked up when he saw me, though.
“Hi Fred. Want to come help me out? I need a lock picked the Muggle way.”
He puffed his chest out a bit. “Hell yeah. Dad's around here somewhere, he'll never notice I'm gone.” He looked down at my clothes. “Why are you wearing that? Should I be in disguise too? Let me get my kilt-”
“No time for that,” I said, tugging Fred's arm. “I don't want this bloke to come home while I'm breaking and entering illegally.”
“You're so lucky that you can break and enter legally sometimes,” Fred said enviously.
The legality of that was a little whiffy at any time, actually. I decided not to share that with him.
“Oi!” Fred pointed at the twins, who looked up at him guiltily. “Put anything in your pockets and it's straight to the clink with you. They can remove your extra ears later.”
They looked a little terrified, and I thought I saw one dig something out of his pocket, but Fred was already heading for the door, so I left the boys to Uncle George and followed him.
The street was still empty when we reappeared in front of Worthing's house. Fred had the door open in two shakes of a wand, and we were in. I locked the door behind us, and we stood there for a moment, looking around.
I'd only had tiny glimpses of the place before. There was the little round table and battered chair I'd seen from the window when Victoire and I were watching the place. There were a couple of dirty dishes in the sink, a single cup and saucer and a salad plate, and a copy of the Daily Prophet on the round table. The harmonichord was gone, though.
“Dreary little place, isn't it?” Fred said conversationally, flicking a corner of the newspaper. “Who'd want to live somewhere like this?”
“Someone who has to,” I said, feeling rather annoyed with him. “Someone whose father doesn't own an entire building in Diagon Alley and a summer home in France.”
Fred looked slightly chagrined. “Sorry.”
I walked the tiny flat slowly. A narrow hallway led to a small, sparsely furnished bedroom and a tiny washroom. There was very little here, really. Hiram Worthing didn't have much of a life or personality, it seemed. The harmonichord had been the only interesting thing about him. I wondered if he'd had to sell it. Wish I had obscure antique musical instruments to sell, I might not've been evicted.
Fred was still in the kitchen, looking a bit bored, when I came back out of the bedroom.
“Find anything good?”
“Where d'you suppose that leads?” Fred asked, nodding to a narrow door next to the small bank of cabinets. I hadn't noticed it before when I'd looked through the window; it wasn't visible from outside.
“Probably a pantry.”
Fred reached for the doorknob and I had a sudden very bad feeling.
“Fred, no-” I reached for him at the same time that he gave the knob a tug. A shrieking klaxon went off, and I grabbed Fred's arm just as a gust of purple came at us.
We reappeared outside Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Fred looked salty-pale and completely stunned. I was feeling pretty terrified myself. Who the hell puts a spell like that on a pantry? That purple spell couldn't have been anything good. The only times I've seen that colour from a spell, extremely bad things happened to the person it was cast at.
Fred patted himself down and leaned against the façade of his father's store. “Merlin's beard.”
“Oh holy Kneazles,” I gasped, letting go of his arm and putting a hand to my chest. “My heart's going that fast.”
“Close one,” Fred agreed wanly. “I forgot how good you are at Apparating. Running away is your forte.”
I smiled as my heartbeat began to decelerate. “I should have that printed on a t-shirt.”
“Now I know what to get you for Christmas,” said Fred. “What the hell was that, Rose?”
“I don't know.”
“I'm going inside now,” Fred informed me. “And I'm going to give you a free copy of that Muggle book on lockpicking that my dad always keeps in stock. And then I'm going to have a really big drink.”
“That sounds like a really good plan,” I agreed. “Think I'll do the same.”
Fred went inside. I Apparated home. It wasn't until I got there that I remembered I'd been evicted. Mrs. Kochel was huffing her way up the stairs as I stood uncertainly in the corridor, still feeling frightened and wishing I could go hide in my closet for a while. She scowled at me when she caught sight of me, and I shrank back automatically.
“Why are you here? Do you haff rent money?” Mrs. Kochel demanded.
“Go away then, or I Vanish all your things and rent out flat to nice people who pay rent on time.” She seemed to notice how shaken I was, and frowned at me. “You see a Grim or what?”
“Almost. Sorry, I'll go.”
I had gotten a few steps down the hall when Mrs. Kochel called after me, “Someone came looking for you. I told him you don't live here no more because you and boyfriend don't pay no rent.”
Some of my fear evaporated under the rising annoyance. Did I just miss out on a lead because my landlady is bitter? “What did he look like?”
“I don't remember. You and boyfriend probably owe him money too,” Mrs. Kochel added sourly, and stomped off down the hall to terrorize another tenant.
“Bloody marvellous,” I said into the sudden silence.
So much for being productive and assertive.
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