An hour later, I was snugly ensconced in an overstuffed armchair in Uncle Harry's office. Uncle Harry had checked Johnny over, quickly repaired a fractured arm, and now Johnny was sound asleep on the leather couch at the back of the office, drooling all over the upholstery.
Dad had gone to get Mum, Victoire, and Teddy, and I was sure one of the three of them would probably kill me. I would have just gone home and gone to bed, but I really wanted to know how they'd found me, and Uncle Harry said I had to give an official statement about what had happened. Apparently confessing all to my uncle and my dad counted as an official statement.
Uncle Harry was sitting in the chair next to me, his glasses sliding down his nose as he read a report. He'd said he would wait for everyone to get there before we went into the whole story. I could feel my stomach rumbling; I had no idea when I'd last eaten.
“Haven't got anything to eat, have you, Uncle Harry?” I asked hopefully.
He looked up. “There's probably some leftovers in the mini-fridge behind my desk. You're welcome to anything you find.”
But before I could get up and raid the fridge, the door burst open and Scorpius rushed in, looking wide-eyed. “You found her?” His eyes zeroed in on me and he rushed over, hauling me up into his arms and kissing me soundly. “God, Rose, I was sure you were going to turn up in a ditch somewhere. You scared the hell out of me.”
“Oof,” I said, because he was squeezing the air out of my lungs. Scorpius loosened his grasp on me and stepped back, noticing Uncle Harry sitting next to me.
“Um, hi Mr. Potter.”
Uncle Harry gave him a mild smile. “Hi Scorpius.”
“Are you all right, Rose?” Scorpius turned back to me, looking me over as if scanning me for injuries.
“I'm fine. Totally alive and with no limbs turned into Hands of Glory, I swear.”
“That's not funny,” Scorpius said, picking up my hands to look at them. He didn't seem to care that Uncle Harry was still watching us, because he brought my hands to his lips and kissed my knuckles. “I'm glad you didn't get chopped into pieces and turned into Dark objects, Rose.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Dad came back in then. He rolled his eyes when he saw Scorpius holding my hands, but he didn't say anything. Mum was right behind him, and she practically shoved Scorpius aside to hug me. There were tears in her eyes, and I had to pretend not to see them. I hate when Mum cries. I like her much better shouting and ranting.
Victoire and Teddy had rushed in behind my parents, and they completely ignored me, instead dashing over to their son. Johnny woke up when his mother snatched him into her arms, and he complained loudly, “I was sleeping! Be quiet!” but Victoire just started kissing his face as if she couldn't hear him. Teddy ran his hands over his son, probably making sure he wasn't missing any limbs either.
“Oh, my baby, my baby,” Victoire was sobbing, hugging him tight.
Johnny tried to wriggle out of her arms. “I'm not a baby, I'm a manticore.”
Teddy took him out of Victoire's arms, and she collapsed on the leather couch, crying. Uncle Harry went over to sit next to her, putting an arm around her shoulders.
Teddy came over to me with Johnny in his arms. I was still half-afraid he was going to blame me for the whole thing, but instead he said quietly, “Thanks, Rose,” and went back to his wife. Johnny seemed to find the whole thing very trying. He was still grumbling at his parents, or maybe he was growling. He was a manticore, after all.
My mum continued to hug me, while Scorpius and my dad hovered nearby, and eventually Victoire staggered to her feet and threw herself at me. Mum let go, and Victoire hugged me.
“I thought he was dead, I thought you were both dead,” she said tearfully, wiping at her face as she let me go.
“I told you, I'm a manticore,” Johnny piped up.
“He attacked them,” I told Victoire. “He really does think he's a manticore. He went right at Pulford, hit him right in the kneecaps-”
Teddy winced. He'd been hit in the knees by his son before, as had quite a few other members of the family. Johnny had a notoriously hard head.
“He was pretty amazing,” I finished to Victoire. “And totally mental. Pulford had a very large knife at the time.”
Victoire paled. “Oh my God.”
“Auntie Rose made me call her Mum,” Johnny told his father. “She's not my mum.”
“What?” Teddy said in surprise.
“They thought he was mine,” I explained. “Worthing and Pulford. They thought Johnny was my son, mine and Scorpius's. I didn't think they would let him live if they knew he wasn't my son.”
“I don't know if I can handle hearing any more,” Victoire said, covering her eyes briefly with one hand.
“How did you lot find us, anyway?” I asked, looking around at them.
“I came to get Johnny after I got out of St. Mungo's with Remus.” Victoire's eyes were huge and luminous with tears as she looked at me. “The door was open, but no one was home. I knew you wouldn't have taken Johnny anywhere by yourself-”
That was for damn sure.
“-and I just had a terrible feeling about it,” Victoire finished.
“We checked with Scorpius, and he didn't know where you were, either,” Teddy said. “So we went to your dad. He told us he'd take care of everything.” Teddy gave my father a pleased smile, and Dad chucked him on the arm.
“Teddy, we should take Johnny home,” Victoire said, stroking Johnny's hair. “Dominique is probably ready to lose her mind by now, too. She's got Remus and Dora,” Victoire added in an aside to me.
“Yeah, you're right. Thanks, everyone.” Teddy ushered his wife and son out of the office.
Dad leaned back against Uncle Harry's desk and made himself comfortable. Mum went to sit on the sofa that Johnny had been napping on, and Scorpius sat down next to her. They were all looking at me. I had a feeling this was going to be a long series of explanations, probably followed by a lecture on why I ought to quit my job.
Uncle Harry spoke first. “Victoire came to us with Scorpius when they couldn't find you, and your dad and I checked your flat over and found evidence of Dark magic in the living room.”
“Probably from when Pulford cast that spell on me to knock me out,” I said, and Dad's eye twitched. “That's how they took me and Johnny. I just opened the door – I thought it was Victoire – and there they were, Pulford and Worthing.”
“Well, once we saw that, we reckoned something bad had gone down with the skip you've been looking for,” Dad said. “Scorpius told us everything he could remember about it, which wasn't much-”
“Not my fault,” Scorpius said calmly. “Rose never tells me what she's up to, and when she does, it's often half a lie.”
I ducked my head guiltily. Mum was frowning at me, so I looked back to Dad. He didn't look terribly pleased, either.
“Your dad tore the Ministry apart trying to figure out how to track what happened to you, Rose,” Uncle Harry said quietly. “We finally brought in your MLE friend, Jack Upchurch, and he admitted that he'd seen you on the scene at the incident at the old printer shop in Kent.”
“He said you were looking for your skip, but he didn't know why the Aurors were watching the building, so he didn't make the connection.” Dad rubbed the bridge of his nose. “If he'd just told us at the time that he'd seen you there...”
“I made him promise,” I said, wincing. Dad would have made the connection ages ago if I'd admitted to starting the fire at the printer shop. Whoops. “I didn't want you to yell at me for being there.”
“You're lucky you weren't killed,” Mum piped up. She was still frowning at me. “That building has been under magical surveillance in connection with the Venatici murders for the past two months.”
“Well, I wasn't to know that,” I said defensively. “I tried to ask Dad about that fire in Kent, but he told me it had nothing to do with Knapper.”
Now Dad was frowning at me, too. “Well, I didn't know, did I? Scorpius told us you had looked up addresses related to your skip's half-brother and his friend. When we searched your handbag and found your notes, Scorpius recognized the names.”
Scorpius picked up the narrative then. “I finally have things mostly organized in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office. I've been filing nonstop since I started there, so I've seen the names of a lot of petty and not-so-petty criminals in the paperwork. I recognized the names on your notes. When I got the file out, there was a lot more there than anyone had been aware of.”
“They'd just been telling us that people had no priors so no one would find out the state of their paperwork,” Dad growled. “Bloody idiots. So many criminals that have walked on minor charges because we didn't know they'd done it a dozen times before-”
“We got the full picture on Balthazar Pulford after that,” Uncle Harry interrupted. “He had a long history of Muggle abuse, escalating in violence each time, but no one knew because each incident was treated as his first. Each time he was arrested, he was prosecuted as if it was his first offence, because the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts bunch kept swearing there was no record of him. The time he did five years in Azkaban was a pretty bad incident, but he would have done more time if we'd known his history then.
“The Department of Mysteries finally finished their report yesterday. Some of what your man Knapper was carrying at the time of his arrest had come from the same bodies that had already been connected to Venatici. And then we saw the Kent printer on your list, and it was a known Venatici address. We thought at first that Pulford must be Venatici, but when we saw his file, we knew he couldn't be. Your dad arrested Venatici, he knew what he looked like, and it didn't match the photo in the file. But in his file, it said he was bailed out every time he was arrested prior to his incarceration by the same man: Hiram Worthing.”
“Worthing acted as a character witness for him as well,” Mum said. “But no one had a photograph of him.”
“But Pulford's file did have one address you didn't have, Rose,” Dad finished. “So we put out a call to all the MLEs on duty tonight to meet us there, and your uncle and I went straight over. And that's where we found you. We had just gotten there when I heard you scream.”
I was feeling pretty grateful that they'd come when they had. If they'd waited for more backup, I'd probably have been dead when they got there. Good thing Dad had a habit of leaping straight in without looking first, with only Uncle Harry as backup.
“They had just agreed to kill Johnny,” I said. “Worthing didn't want to, but then Johnny broke his harmonichord.”
“Good for Johnny,” said Scorpius, cracking a smile.
Uncle Harry was watching me expectantly. I guessed it was my turn for explanations. I didn't think they were going to like any of it, but I plunged in anyway.
“They were both Venatici,” I told them. “Worthing and Pulford. Worthing is who you arrested, Dad, but he was working with Pulford the whole time. Knapper told me Worthing had been using the name in Ireland, but when he came back to England, he and Pulford started up together. They had set a booby trap on that old printer's shop, that's how they knew I was on to them.” On to them probably wasn't the best choice of words there, but it sounded good.
“Did they hurt you at all, Rose?” Mum asked tightly. She looked very worried.
“No. They were worried about actually killing me. Worthing said it would be too much trouble in the long run, he just wanted to Obliviate me.” I wasn't sure how much detail I should tell them about what had happened. Uncle Harry seemed pretty calm, but Dad was already mumbling curses under his breath, and Mum looked like she might go hunt Worthing down and kill him herself. “He was sure killing me would bring Dad and Uncle Harry down on him, and he didn't want that.”
“Damn right,” said Dad.
“But Pulford was furious with Dad, and he wanted to kill me for revenge. He blames you for the time he did in Azkaban,” I added apologetically to my father. Dad's face flushed with anger. I went on hurriedly, “But Johnny knocked him down before he could do anything. Knapper had gotten distracted when Johnny had an accident in his sleep, so he never renewed the charms on Johnny to restrain him.”
“Well thank God Johnny was there with you, then,” Mum said. “Although your cousin will probably never let you near him again.”
I didn't think that was a bad thing, and from the looks on Uncle Harry's and Dad's faces, neither did they. Johnny had a reputation, after all, ever since that time he'd broken Gran's Weasley clock during a tantrum.
“They were worried about Mr. Malfoy too,” I said then, and Scorpius looked rather startled.
“What, my father?”
“Because he was a Death Eater. And he was selling some scary Dark objects through Knapper. Worthing seemed a little afraid of him because of it.” I gave Scorpius an apologetic glance for ratting out his dad. He didn't look bothered, though.
“He was selling Dark stuff?” Dad looked very interested, but then he said regretfully, “I suppose there's no proof. Malfoy was always good about covering his own arse.”
Uncle Harry agreed with him. “I doubt anything will come of it, but we'll poke around and see if we can find out anything about that. Apparently dating a Malfoy has some unexpected benefits,” he mused. “Scares away serial killers.”
“I had no idea who Worthing and Pulford were when I was checking them out. I was just hoping one or the other of them would lead me to Knapper. If I'd known they were serial killers, I promise I would have told you, Dad,” I added virtuously.
Dad shook his head. “When I think about you following Venatici around for weeks, while the entire Auror department was searching for him...” He shuddered.
“Is there a reward at all for finding Venatici?” I asked hopefully.
Uncle Harry chuckled. “You know, I think there was something for information leading to his capture.”
“Which you withheld,” Mum snapped at me.
“I didn't know he was Venatici,” I said loudly. “I wasn't withholding anything, just trying to find Knapper.”
“Speaking of Knapper,” Uncle Harry said then, and handed me a sheet of paper. “I had the desk sergeant fill this out for you.”
It was a body receipt for Butrus Knapper. I grinned at Uncle Harry. Dad was smiling, too. I was definitely going to get the bounty on Knapper. Mum still looked rather disgruntled. I decided I'd had enough. I was dead on my feet.
“I'm going home,” I announced, standing up. “I'm that exhausted, need some sleep.”
“If there's anything else we need to know, we'll contact you, Rose,” Uncle Harry said in his official voice, but he ruffled my hair.
Mum got to her feet as well and came over to me, enfolding me in a fierce hug. “I love you,” she said into my hair, her voice muffled.
“I love you too, Mum.” I patted her on the back. She was half-strangling me, but I knew she was just relieved I hadn't been hacked to bits by mass murderers. I'm sure all mums feel that way about their daughters.
Scorpius was behind her, obviously waiting to take me home. Dad pried Mum off of me, and she hugged him. He didn't seem to mind.
“I need a drink, Ron,” I heard her mumble against his chest.
I stopped at the door and looked back at them. Uncle Harry peered at me over the rims of his glasses. Mum was still sniffling against Dad's chest, but he looked over at me.
“Thanks for saving my life, Dad, Uncle Harry.”
Dad reddened, but he smiled. Uncle Harry waved to me, and Scorpius and I left.
“So,” I said as we left the Ministry, “Are you mad at me too, for following serial killers around without knowing it?”
He rolled his eyes at me. “Honestly, Rose, I'm just really glad you're alive.”
“Oh yeah? How glad?”
We went home to our flat, and Scorpius set about showing me exactly how happy he was that I was alive.
A/N: Expository dialogue-heavy, I know, but it's the classic "Let's explain everything that happened" chapter of a mystery novel. Needs to be done. It's not quite over yet! Epilogue coming next week!
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