Hugo woke us up the next morning with obnoxious cheer at what was, to any reasonable person, the middle of the night.
“Dear God,” Scorpius muttered as Hugo wished us a cheerful good morning. “Not again. This is grounds for justifiable homicide, isn't it?”
I made an obscene hand gesture at my brother and told him what he could do with his good morning.
Hugo was undaunted. “It's five already, the sun's up – well, nearly – and the birds are singing. It's going to be a beautiful day!”
I told him what he could do with his birds and his beautiful day, too.
“Fine, be that way,” my brother said huffily. “You can make your own damned breakfast.” He slammed the door, and a moment later I heard him yelling from the kitchen, “You're a crap houseguest, Rose!”
“Well, you're a crap host!” I yelled back.
Scorpius picked up his pillow and put it over his ear. I pulled the covers over my head and went back to sleep. It seemed I'd barely closed my eyes before Scorpius's alarm was going off, and he groaned as he rolled over and tried to reach across me to the alarm clock.
“Gah,” I muttered incoherently. “Gerroff me.”
The alarm abruptly stopped, and Scorpius wrapped an arm around me and pulled me close. “Mmm,” he mumbled into my hair. “Warm.”
“Work?” I mumbled back. We're not very talkative in the morning.
He had to rush to get ready, but I think he managed to make it to the Ministry on time.
I had a leisurely breakfast on my own, courtesy of my brother's well-stocked kitchen, then went to my room to contemplate my cousin Molly's clothes hanging in the closet.
I wasn't sure how well they'd worked. I certainly hadn't felt any different. If anything, I'd felt even more incompetent than usual. My regular clothes may not look intimidating, but at least I felt comfortable when I wore them. I'm pretty confident as myself, usually. I'm not very confident as my cousin. And Scorpius had laughed and said I looked like a twit when he saw me in the buckle-and-rivet trousers.
But, I hadn't actually talked to any felons yesterday to see their reactions, so maybe I should give the tough-chick clothes one more chance.
I tried Worthing's house first, but there was still no answer. The man didn't have a job, where was he? I sat outside his house all morning, poorly Disillusioned, bored out of my mind, and uncomfortable in clothes that didn't suit me, but he never turned up. Nor did anyone else. Whatever alarm I'd triggered yesterday with Fred either had stopped its shrieking or had been Silenced, because I couldn't hear it from the street. I remembered suddenly how Victoire and I hadn't been able to hear the missing harmonichord playing. Maybe the alarm was still going off and I just couldn't hear it because the flat was so well soundproofed.
Who the hell has an alarm like that if they don't want it heard from outside? It was obviously not intended for burglars or to alert passing MLEs to a crime in progress. It must be designed for the resident of the flat. His security was really over-the-top for what was actually in the little flat. I wondered what was behind that door. Not a pantry, obviously. Hot cauldrons? Stolen jewellery? Obscure musical instruments?
The harmonichord was missing. It hit me all at once, realization blossoming inside my head, and I stared through the window at the spot where Worthing had played his harmonichord while Victoire and I watched, invisible, and let the thought take shape.
Worthing had left, and he hadn't planned to come back to his flat. He'd taken his harmonichord and gone... where? Pulford's house seemed the most likely candidate, but for all I knew he was staying at the Leaky Cauldron and eating Mrs. Longbottom's fish and chips right now.
I could do with some fish and chips, in the name of research, of course. I'd been sitting here hours, twiddling my thumbs, and my stomach was complaining loudly of my continued lack of forethought in handbag-based snacks. I really needed to stock up on portable foods. I Apparated to Diagon Alley and made my way into the pub, sliding into a seat at the familiar bar. If Worthing was here, he wasn't eating in the main dining area.
Mrs. Longbottom wasn't there, only a barmaid, so I had to pay full price for my lunch, but I sat and ate and thought about what to do next.
I had to go to Pulford's and check him out. Worthing was probably there, and maybe Knapper as well. The two of them were both obviously involved in something they didn't want me to be aware of, and since I'd found them through Knapper, it seemed logical that he was involved somehow. Whatever it was, it wasn't my problem, so long as I could bring Knapper in and get my five hundred Galleons. That was the important thing. Eyes on the prize, Rose.
Speaking of prizes, I had another pick-up. I fished around in my shoulder bag and pulled out the file. Eighteen year old Annabelle Cleary, arrested by my favourite MLE Jack Upchurch, and then hadn't showed up for court yesterday. She still lived at home with her mum, who had posted bail for her. Her arrest photo was in the file. She was a bit chubby, and had dingy blonde hair and a rather boring face. She lived over near Victoire, and had no priors.
I finished my lunch, left the barmaid a nice tip, and set off for Victoire's town. I recognized the street Annabelle lived on. I was pretty sure I'd stumbled drunkenly down it a few times before while trying to get home with Victoire. The gutters looked familiar, anyway.
The Cleary house was lovely, like something out of a story book. A little blue cottage with white trim, a stone chimney, and an ancient-looking low stone wall surrounding the property. It was in good repair, too. Well done, Mrs. Cleary.
I knocked on the door, suddenly wishing I was wearing my pink unicorn shirt after all, and a blonde, heavyset woman who could only be Annabelle's mother opened the door a moment later.
She took me in with a long glance, her eyebrows raised at my clothes. “Can I help you, dear?”
“I'm Rose Weasley, I work for Angelo Agnelli. I'm looking for Annabelle Cleary.”
“That's my daughter. She's upstairs. Is something wrong?”
“She missed her court date, and I need to bring her in to reschedule.”
“Oh my goodness. I'm so sorry. I'll get her, just a moment.” Mrs. Cleary bustled off, leaving me on the doorstep.
Annabelle appeared a few moments later, looking sullen, accompanied by her mother, who told me, “Here she is. Bring her back when you're done. Annabelle, you behave.”
“Yes, Mum,” Annabelle muttered.
Mrs. Cleary shut the door behind us, and Annabelle stared at me.
“Are you a bounty hunter?” she asked abruptly.
“Is there a bounty on me?”
“Yes.” Not much of one. It was almost not worth the trip, but the little bounties add up, and after all, someone's got to do them. Dino sure as hell wouldn't bother with someone like Annabelle Cleary.
Annabelle nodded. “Cool.” She scuffed her toe on the stone steps for a moment, and I was about to ask her if she was ready to go when she suddenly said, “I was too embarrassed.”
“What?” I said distractedly, confused. What the hell was she talking about?
“I was too embarrassed to pay for the Daydream Charms, and then I was too embarrassed to go to court.”
Oh for the love. Too embarrassed to buy a freakin' Daydream Charm? Really? “You were too embarrassed? But you were caught shoplifting four times.”
“I'm not very good at it,” Annabelle said.
“Let's go.” I took her arm and Apparated her Side-Along to the Ministry.
As we walked up to the desk, she asked, “You said your name was Rose Weasley? I heard you talking to my mum.”
“Yes, that's me.” I was getting rather annoyed with Annabelle Cleary. These sorts of pick-ups are always irritating. If they're easy to bring in, it's generally because they're too stupid to make trouble, and unfortunately they're also usually too stupid to be out and about in society either.
“Are you related to the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes man?”
“That's my uncle.”
“Cool. Do you think you could get me a Daydream Charm?”
I handed her over to the officer on duty gratefully, and escaped with my body receipt. I was halfway to the exit when I remembered my boyfriend worked here now. I stopped in my tracks, thinking.
Probably I should go say hello to him. Probably that was what a nice girlfriend would do. I looked down at the body receipt in my hand. I'd see Scorpius tonight. After all, we lived together. If I stopped and said hello to Scorpius, I'd probably have to stop and say hello to my parents as well, and then my entire day would be shot. I still wanted to go take a look at Balthazar Pulford's house, and I needed to cash in Annabelle's bounty. Daylight was wasting.
The Lake District was starting to look so familiar, I almost felt I should be leading a tour group. Over here is the lovely mountain whereupon a romantic poet wrote depressing sonnets, and over here is the house that's not magical at all, I promise...
There was no colourful smoke from Pulford's chimney today. I Disillusioned myself, hoping it would work well enough for a bit of poking around, and crept closer to the house. There was an empty feeling to it, not simply that no one was home, but as if it had been abandoned. I held myself poised and ready to Apparate to safety, and whispered a spell at the house. “Homenum revelio.”
Nothing happened. The house really was empty. I didn't lift the Disillusionment Charm, just in case, and got my first really up-close snoop around Pulford's house. I looked in the windows, my stomach a bit knotted up – what if I'd done the spell wrong? But there was no one there. Pulford's house was rather better furnished than his friend Worthing's, from what I could see, at least in quantity. I couldn't say much for his style. There were armchairs that looked to have seen better days, and a scuffed-up coffee table and decrepit old sofa, sagging in the middle. The windows were in dire need of a Scouring Charm or some of Erica Stainwright's best cleaning potions, and cobwebs hung heavily in the corners of the rooms.
I couldn't see any indication that Pulford was home, or that Worthing had come to stay. I didn't see the harmonichord in there.
I went back to my usual spot and sat down behind the hedge. After two hours, no one had come to the house, and I decided to give it up as a bad job. I'd go cash in Annabelle's receipt and go back to Hugo's. Maybe go return Molly's clothes to her, since they were obviously not working. I'll keep my happy little purple glitter baby hippogriffs, thank you very much.
Lydia laughed when I recounted the Annabelle Cleary pick-up to her as she counted out the meagre bounty. I have to admit, it sounded funnier to me too.
“She sounds a treat,” Lydia said, shaking her head. “Where does Angelo find these people?”
“Scraping the bottom of the barrel for bonds now, aren't we,” I agreed, chuckling. Strictly speaking, scraping the bottom of the barrel was the normal business practice for Angelo's.
She handed me the money bag. “Pilliwickle's gets all the good ones. We get the losers. What the hell are you wearing, by the way?”
I left before Angelo noticed I was there and yelled at me again. I rounded the corner to head toward Diagon Alley and came face to face with Scorpius's father.
He looked me up and down – I was really starting to regret the change in wardrobe – and said coolly, “Miss Weasley.”
“Hi, Mr. Malfoy.”
“Is this a new look for you?” he asked with a dismissive wave toward my clothes, his lip curling back.
“I was hoping to look intimidating.”
“Keep trying,” Mr. Malfoy said.
“What are you doing in Knockturn Alley?” I demanded, flustered. I know the clothes were a mistake, I don't need Scorpius's dad to point that out to me. Especially when everyone in his family looked so effortlessly intimidating.
“That's hardly any of your concern,” he told me in polite but frosty tones. I think an icicle actually formed on his punctuation.
Lydia's words came back to me suddenly, and before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “Do you know a man named Butrus Knapper?”
Mr. Malfoy stared at me for a moment. I couldn't read his face, but there was a distinct nonplussed air to his silence.
“No, I don't believe I do,” he said finally.
Now I was silent for a moment. Then, “Oh.” I'm so articulate.
“Is he a 'client' of yours?”
I could almost hear the quotation marks clanging into place around the word client, like it was something dirty he was picking up with a tissue and two fingers. Pinky in the air. Rich people, I tell you.
“He's a criminal who skipped out on his bond, yes,” I said firmly. “And I'm trying to find him.”
“I'm sorry, but I can't help you.” Mr. Malfoy adjusted the lapels of his robes. “I have business, Miss Weasley. I can't take any more time to talk about trivial matters with you.”
A flare of anger went through me, and I spoke without filtering my words. Less than usual, I mean. “I'm so sorry to have wasted your time. I'm sure you're sorry you wasted mine as well.”
A brief flash of surprise crossed his features, but I pushed past him and stormed off. I could feel his eyes on my back as I reached the end of the alley and Disapparated.
I reappeared inside Hugo's flat and kicked one of his chairs over. I stood still for a moment, breathing heavily and staring unseeing at the painting on the wall.
Why did I put up with that family? They hate me. They think I'm a nobody who's not good enough for their son. Beneath their stupid rich people Death Eater dignity, because my mother is Muggleborn and my surname is Weasley. Why do I do this to myself?
As my breathing evened back out and the world came back into focus, the painting in front of me suddenly slid into sharp relief.
It was one of Scorpius's.
A beautiful, calm seascape was rendered in soft acrylics, the small waves washing over the rocky beach. The unexpected contrast between the rough beach and the serenity of the ocean, so different from how seascapes are usually painted, had appealed greatly to Hugo, and Scorpius, always generous with his creations, had given it to my brother as a housewarming gift when Hugo had moved into this, his first flat all on his own. The painting meant something different to my brother than it did to me, I know it. That was one of my favourite things about art. Its meaning was as individual as those who looked at it, and all those meanings were true.
I looked at it now and saw myself in that rocky beach, and Scorpius in the ocean. That was why I put up with his stupid family. He was my ocean. I love him, so I have to put up with his family. I'm sure mine are no walk in the park for him. Hell, he was filing paperwork at the Ministry for me. I could be nice to his father.
I righted the chair, went into the spare bedroom, and stripped out of Molly's clothes. I pulled on my own familiar clothes, slightly twee though they may be, and hung Molly's carefully up on their hangers, then piled them up on the bed. No point keeping these any longer. I couldn't wear them and be me. Tomorrow Scorpius would be paid, we'd give Mrs. Kochel her money, and I'd have my own clothes back. Forget productive and assertive, I was going back to my natural state of bumbling around until I stumbled on something interesting. It had worked in the past.
Molly didn't look surprised to see me on her doorstep again. She waved me inside with the drink in her hand. I sniffed it as I passed. Firewhisky.
“Got any more of that?” I asked as I deposited the clothes on her bed. I wasn't even going to try to put them back in the closet the way she'd had them.
My cousin Roxanne was sitting on Molly's couch, drinking firewhisky and yelling at the wireless, where the Appleby Arrows were losing spectacularly to the Kenmare Kestrels.
“Hi Roxy,” I said as Molly poured me a drink.
“Bollocks,” she said, downing the last of her whiskey. “Hit me again, Molly.”
Molly refilled Roxanne's drink and then sat back on the sofa. “Are we dying?”
“Bollocks,” Roxy said again, then took off one of her shoes and threw it at the wireless.
“Who are you supporting?” I asked.
“Appleby, of course. That's Roxy's future husband on that broom, you know.”
Roxanne had a long-standing obsession with the Seeker for the Appleby Arrows, Hilarion Winston-Fisher, whom she had never met. I tried to tell her that marrying a man with that name was a bad idea, but she was sure one day their eyes would meet across a crowded Quidditch pitch and he'd declare his undying love for her. I'm pretty sure thousands of witches across the country had the same fantasy. Posters of Hilarion always sold out quickly. I had to admit, he was a very good-looking bloke.
Molly, who actually had met Hilarion Winston-Fisher once, said he was an utter twit, but Roxy didn't care.
“Maybe they'll come back in the next round,” Molly said sympathetically as the Arrows trudged off the field on the tiny black and white screen.
“Don't be sad, Hilarion, I'll comfort you,” Roxy crooned to the screen.
Molly rolled her eyes. “So Rose, how'd the clothes work out for you?”
“Not good. Thanks for letting me try, though.”
“You wore some of Molly's clothes?” Roxanne asked, diverted. She took a sip of her whiskey, not bothering to hide her chuckle.
“Shut up,” I advised her.
“But Molly doesn't wear pink. Or anything with glitter on it. Or unicorns.”
Maybe my wardrobe was more infamous than I thought. Clearly it was my trademark, and I shouldn't change it. I drank some more whiskey. “I decided I like my pink glittery unicorns, thank you very much.”
Roxy snickered again, and I stretched one leg out to kick her gently. She tried to kick me back and almost spilled her drink on Molly's leather sofa.
“Give me those,” Molly said, snatching our glasses away from us. “Honestly, you're like children.”
Roxy and I collapsed into a heap of giggles, and Molly shook her head at us.
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