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A Weirder Shade of Midnight by momotwins

Format: Novel
Chapters: 17
Word Count: 63,715
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: General, Humor, Mystery
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Rose, Scorpius, Teddy, Victoire, OtherCanon
Pairings: Rose/Scorpius, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Teddy/Victoire

First Published: 11/15/2010
Last Chapter: 04/28/2011
Last Updated: 05/02/2011

Summary:


Rose Weasley is still working as a bounty hunter (to the chagrin of her mother) and still living in sin with Scorpius Malfoy (to the chagrin of both their fathers). When she agrees to help out a friend in trouble, things start getting out of control - not that that's unusual around Rose...

Sequel to Just Another Midnight Run ** beautiful banner by tresor @ TDA!


Chapter 1: On The Hoof
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I did really well in school. This may be hard to believe if you meet me these days, but it's true. I did really well. High test scores, beloved by teachers (even the ones who weren't biased in my favour thanks to my war-hero parents), all that stuff. Really well.

I think there's some kind of disconnection or something somewhere in my brain, because while I can write papers really well, and remember spells for a test, I can't seem to actually do anything with them, when it comes right down to it. Maybe I'm just lazy about applying myself like my mum always says. None of those jobs she wanted me to do after school were at all interesting, though. I'm pretty sure all that magical knowledge fell out of my head at the leaving, anyway. I know all the potion recipes did.

I got a respectable number of O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s and lovely letters of reference, and yet here I am, sitting behind a rubbish skip outside the home of a petty criminal, for the third evening in a row, hoping he'll come home before I fall asleep behind the bin.

Again.

I did try to get this guy at work, and at home during the day. But he's really fast, and has surprisingly good wards on his flat. It's not right, I tell you. I prefer my criminals lazy and slow, but what can you do. Someone's got to pay the rent.

It wasn't going to be my boyfriend, that was for sure. Scorpius Malfoy and I had been living together for a few years now, but during that time he'd only had a real, actual job for about a month or so. This arrangement was actually fine by me, because Scorpius really enjoyed keeping house, and I am, shall we say, probably actually as lazy as my mum believes me to be. At least when it comes to scrubbing the kitchen sink on a regular basis and things of that nature.

Honestly, I didn't even know one was supposed to clean under the refrigerator.

So Scorpius stayed home and puttered around and did the cooking and washing-up and whatever other domestic chores had to be done, and I went out and fought criminals (if I couldn't hex them from behind first) and brought home the occasional paycheck.

Lately, that had been very occasionally. It was a dry spring, what can I say.

When Lydia Agnelli offered me a felon she might normally give to her cousin Dino to bring in, I jumped at it. He wasn't violent (much), but he had a criminal record as long as my arm, so the bounty was higher than I normally took in, which made it worth the effort.

Maybe not the smell, though.

I looked up at the rubbish bin and wrinkled my nose. It smelled like something had died in there a few weeks ago. I hoped it wasn't my felon, because I didn't want to have to climb in after him. And the paperwork for finding a dead body is really a pain. I hate police paperwork.

I'd been a bond enforcement agent for Angelo's Magical Bonds for several years now, thanks to a series of drunken boasts that continued to bite me in the arse on a daily basis.

Or that could be the fleas. I scratched at my bum, wondering if there was a spell that repelled fleas. My cousin Victoire Lupin was bound to know; her kids had gotten a puppy for Christmas. If I didn't catch this idiot tonight, I was going to have to ask her.

I had just cycled through my usual surveillance routine (stretch toes, get cramp, swear, wish had something to eat, wish had brought Victoire along for company, consider cutting hair, discard as short hair looks awful on me, foot asleep, wish could scream over pins and needles, stretch toes, etc.) when I heard the sounds of someone coming down the street.

I leaped to my feet, realized my left leg was still asleep, and stumbled into the rubbish skip with a loud bang, whacking my knee against it.

My felon, Sikke Hoof, leapt backward and yelled a swearword that would have caused my grandmother to soap his mouth out. He stumbled back and landed on his backside, skidding a bit in the refuse on the street. I scrambled forward and grabbed his ankle, and he tried to kick free of my grip, but I had a pretty good hold on the hem of his pants, my fingers digging into the fabric.

“Let go, you crazy bitch!” Hoof bellowed.

“Crap,” I said as my knee began to throb from the impact of the rubbish skip. “Hold still, damn it.”

Hoof managed to scramble away, and I let out a squeal despite myself and looked down at my hand. Yep. Broke a nail. I got up as quickly as I could and took off after him.

I was supposed to tell him why I was taking him into custody at some point while actually taking him into custody, so I huffed out while I ran after Hoof, “You are in violation of your bond agreement, Sikke Hoof, and I am legally empowered by the Ministry of-”

“Bugger off!” he yelled over his shoulder as he ran. “You'll never take me alive!”

I hate when they say that. It never ends well.

We were two streets over from where we'd started, and the neighbourhood was going downhill in quality as fast as I was losing the ability to chase this idiot. My knee hurt, and my broken fingernail hurt, and I didn't like running. I'm not very athletic. That's why wizards have wands, dammit, so we don't have to run, but we were in Muggle London, I couldn't very well start shooting hexes at him.

I really hate taking people into custody in Muggle areas. I'm much better at catching bad guys with a wand than without it. And since I'm not very good at catching bad guys with a wand, that should tell you how bad this could go if I couldn't use my wand.

I jumped at Hoof again and managed to catch hold of the hood of his jacket. His head snapped backward, and it slowed his pace enough that I was able to wrap both arms around his torso, knocking him to the ground.

“Oof,” Hoof said as he hit the pavement. I agreed; that had not felt particularly good for me, either. I think I just twisted my ankle.

“Oi, there. Wot's going on?” People were beginning to gather, and as always with a mob situation, there was a bloke with a low-rent accent and an overinflated sense of self-worth.

“She's a maniac,” Hoof yelled.

I went to pull my wand automatically to restrain him and then remembered this was Muggle London, and we were surrounded by a growing crowd of Muggles. I couldn't put a Body-Bind Hex on him in front of all these people. What did Muggle bounty hunters do when they caught a skip and had to restrain them? I had no idea.

“I'm a bounty hunter,” I said, looking around and hoping nobody would stone me or something. “He missed his court date and I have to take him in to the uh, authorities.” I hoped that sounded sufficiently vague. I wasn't sure what Muggle bounty hunters did exactly, if it was the same as what wizards did. For all I knew, they might have to wear uniforms.

“I didn't know bounty hunters could be girls,” one young man said in the back of the crowd.

“You should be at 'ome wif your children,” another man, this one at least fifty, said severely.

“I don't have any children,” I said, annoyed.

“Then you should be at 'ome doing housework,” he retorted, and I scowled at him.

“I have a boyfriend for that.”

“Get off me!” Hoof was still struggling, trying to kick me. I really needed these Muggles to go away so I could get him Body-Bound and Apparate to the Ministry and turn him over to Magical Law Enforcement. That was just a whole lot of things to do that would utterly violate the Statute of Secrecy if I did them in the middle of a crowd in central London.

“'Ere, how do we know she's a bounty 'unter?” asked the first man. “Wot kind of proof do we 'ave? She don't look like one. Maybe she's just some crazy bint. We ort to search 'er for some kind of identification. Stands to reason.”

There was a general murmur of agreement from the rest of the crowd.

Oh, holy Kneazles. That would not end well. They'd find my wand if they searched me.

“It seems to me,” said the man whom I was now starting to hate, “that she ort to prove she is wot she says. I wouldn't feel right letting her take this bloke away if she's some crazy murderer or wotnot. 'Is body could turn up in a ditch tomorrow, am I right?”

The murmur was growing. My wand felt like it was burning a hole in my pocket. The urge to flee was starting to make my back itch. This situation was going downhill fast, and I was beginning to think magic was my only way out.

Hoof twisted underneath me and gave me a feral grin. He was sure he was about to get away thanks to a bunch of Muggles. I put my knee into his back, making him groan in pain, but at least it kept him from running long enough for me to pull my wand. This was going to suck royal hippogriff, but I couldn't see an alternative.

I aimed my wand at the crowd and hoped I could do this spell en masse. “Obliviate!

Thankfully, a blank look slid over the faces of the crowd, and I turned to the other side to catch any stragglers, casting the Memory Charm again.

“You're going to be in so much trouble,” Hoof chortled. “Casting spells at Muggles!”

No kidding. I hoped my dad could get me out of any problems that might come from the whole 'Obliviating a crowd of Muggles' thing. If he couldn't, maybe my mum could, or Uncle Harry. It was handy having family in positions of power in the Ministry. Not that I would, you know, ask them to abuse their power. Unless I couldn't get out of trouble on my own. Then I totally would.

“It was your fault, you drove me to it,” I told Hoof.

“Yeah, I'm sure they'll believe you down at the Ministry. Here now,” Hoof added, twisting around to look at me again. “What's your name? You look familiar.”

“Well, I am a Weasley,” I said. “We all look alike.”

“I got arrested by Ron Weasley two years ago,” Hoof said in an almost conversational tone. “Nice bloke. Punched me right inna face, but I had just tried a nasty spell on him, I'll give him that.”

“That's my dad,” I told him proudly. “I'm Rose Weasley.”

“Pass my compliments to your dad then, eh?”

Man, my job is weird sometimes. “Yeah, okay.”

Hoof suddenly jerked, trying to escape again, and I dug my knee further into his back.

“Ow!” he complained loudly, looking hurt, as if he hadn't just tried to evade capture again. “You're Ron Weasley's daughter, right enough. Going to punch me inna face now?”

“No. Just Body-Bind you.” I aimed my wand at him. “Petrificus Totalus!"

He went rigid, and I relaxed a bit. Whew. I glanced around to make sure the crowd was still out of it, and Disapparated.
 



A/N: Hi! Welcome back to the world of Just Another Midnight Run. This is my second NaNoWriMo novel for this month, so I'll be attempting to get 50k words into the story by the end of November. I'll start editing and posting new chapters starting December 1st, but I couldn't resist putting this one up right away.

As always, I do not own the Potter-verse or its characters. I do own the many random OCs Rose interacts with and the plot. This story is inspired by Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series.


Chapter 2: Son of a Rock Star
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When I woke up the next morning (well, ish. Morning is such a subjective word), I found a letter sitting on the kitchen table. It had a disturbingly official look, and the Ministry of Magic seal was on the back. There was a note next to it in Scorpius's handwriting that said What did you do now, Rose? I opened the envelope and read it quickly. It was a summons to the Ministry for a hearing on my violation of the Statute of Secrecy, signed by some clerk I'd never heard of. Great.

I drank the last of the pot of tea Scorpius had left out and got dressed quickly, shoving the official summons into my handbag. They had to understand the circumstances. This couldn't possibly stick. Any reasonable judge wouldn't convict me.

Still, better talk to my dad about this.

When I got to the Ministry, it was almost one o'clock, and Dad and my uncle Harry were sitting on the ugly old orange sofa at the back of Dad's office, eating bacon sarnies. There were several bottles of butterbeer at their feet.

“Hi Rosie,” Dad said, waving me in. “Are you okay? Do you need money? Are you hungry? I think there's still some food left in the bag.” He investigated the contents of a white takeaway sack for a moment, and then handed me a cheese sarnie.

“Cheers,” I said, taking it. I never turn down free food. “Um, Daddy-”

“You're here about your little incident yesterday, aren't you?” Uncle Harry asked with a grin.

Man, he was good. I supposed that was why Uncle Harry was Head Auror. And because of being, you know, Harry Potter. “How did you know?”

“You only ever call him 'Daddy' when you're in trouble or you want something.”

“Harry,” Dad reprimanded him with a frown. “She does not.”

I totally did. It usually worked, too. I frowned at Uncle Harry, hoping he would shut up about that. I didn't want Dad cottoning on to my code.

“Nevermind, nevermind.” Uncle Harry held up a hand in defeat and went back to his sandwich.

I decided not to push my luck with the Daddy thing again and instead opened with, “It wasn't my fault.”

Dad and Uncle Harry both grinned at this.

“I was apprehending a skip, and he lives in a Muggle area,” I went on. “I had taken him down without using magic, but then this crowd gathered around us, and they were talking about searching me for identification because they didn't think I was really a bounty hunter. I couldn't see another way out, so I Obliviated the lot of them and then took Hoof in.”

“Sikke Hoof?” Dad asked.

“Yeah.”

He nodded approvingly. “Nice one, Rosie. He's a tough bastard. I got him a couple years ago, he went down fighting, I'll say that much.”

“He said you punched him in the face,” I told him. “He asked me to pass his compliments to you.”

Dad chuckled. “Well, it doesn't sound like you had much choice but to use magic in front of Muggles. It's what I would've done. Harry, what do you think?”

Uncle Harry nodded, wiping his mouth with a napkin as he finished the last bite of his sarnie. Once he'd swallowed, he said, “Yeah, sounds to me like a Memory Charm was your best option, Rose. I'll take care of the hearing for you, have them drop the matter. I've got some friends over in the Improper Use of Magic office. Consider this an official warning, though, to be more careful in the future,” he added sternly.

“She will,” Dad answered for me. “Y'know,” he added, leaning over to kiss my forehead, “I'd been feeling worried about you yesterday. Must've been my fatherly instincts telling me you were in trouble.”

“You said you had an upset stomach because you ate some dodgy fish,” said Uncle Harry.

“Shut up, Harry,” Dad told him.

I went over to Angelo's Magical Bonds to cash in my body receipt from Hoof. It had been too late last night when I turned him over to Magical Law Enforcement to go collect the bounty (normally I made a beeline for the cash as soon as I got a body receipt). Angelo Agnelli's bond agency was in Knockturn Alley, one of the dodgiest parts of magical London. When I was younger, I hadn't even been allowed to set foot in Knockturn Alley. The fact that I technically worked there now made my mother's face go all pinched whenever she thought about it.

Angelo wasn't the nicest guy to work for, but he wasn't the worst either, I suppose. It wasn't a large business. There was Angelo, who wrote the bond contracts, his niece Lydia at the desk, and three skip-tracers: Angelo's cousin Dino, an Irish bloke named O'Toole, and me. Dino and O'Toole got the big crazies, and I cleaned up all the fish too little for them to fry.

Lydia was sitting at the front desk as usual. She had dark hair and favoured low-cut robes, and she was filing her nails with her feet propped up on the desk, snapping her chewing gum. Blue bubbles were floating over her head. I grinned. Drooble's Best – Lydia chewed it all day ever since she'd finally quit smoking.

“Hi Rose,” she said when she saw me, still filing her nails. I looked down at the nail I'd broken yesterday chasing Sikke Hoof. Lydia's nails always looked better than mine.

“Hi Lydia.” I set the body receipt on her desk, and she sat up and grinned at me, taking her feet off the desk.

“You caught Hoof? Good for you.”

Angelo stuck his head out of his office, peering at me around the door. “You actually caught Hoof? Damn. I owe Dino five Galleons.”

“Thanks a lot, Angelo,” I said, rolling my eyes. Actually I was pretty pleased that Dino hadn't bet against me. I supposed that was a vote of confidence. Coming from Dino, it was a high compliment. He was actually a really good bounty hunter, unlike me.

Angelo was a stocky old bloke, around fifty years old, with a barrel chest, a shock of steel-grey hair, and a penchant for gambling. He owed a lot of unsavoury people a lot of money on a regular basis. He didn't like me much, but that was okay, because I didn't like him much either. He hadn't fired me, despite many threats to do just that, and I didn't think he was likely to ever fire me at this point. It was kind of hard to take Angelo's threats seriously when he'd been claiming he was going to fire me on a weekly basis for the last three years, anyway. I did believe him when he said I was incompetent. I kind of thought that of myself. Although I did catch Sikke Hoof last night, I thought, cheered.

“Since you caught Hoof, you can take the murder case that just came in,” Angelo said. “Lydia, pretend you actually work here and give her the file.”

“You're giving me a murderer?” I squeaked, wide-eyed, as Lydia fished around in her in-box. I'd never gone after a real murderer before. I'd met a few, but I hadn't been attempting to capture them at the time. Normally I run the other way from murderers. That one time with the serial killers had totally not been my fault. “Shouldn't Dino take that? You never give me murderers.”

“It's Lenny Graves,” Lydia told me, holding out a folder.

My heartrate went back to normal. “You're kidding,” I said, taking the folder from her. “Lenny wouldn't do that.”

“Even if he's out of his mind on dragon claw?” Angelo looked like he didn't believe it either.

“You know Lenny. He only gets friendlier and even more cowardly when he's on something.” I skimmed the pages. There wasn't much detail there, even less than the Ministry usually gave to the bondsmen. The report said they'd charged him with murder, then offered him a plea bargain down to manslaughter, but even still. Lenny Graves? No way.

We all knew Lenny. He might like mind-altering substances of all varieties, but Lenny wasn't violent. He was more likely to squeal like a girl if confronted with actual violence. I'd gone to school with Leonard Graves, and back then, he'd been a decent guy. Before the drugs, he'd been handsome and talented, playing his guitar all the time and writing songs to flirt with girls who only liked him because his dad had been in a famous wizard band, the Weird Sisters.

After the drugs, Lenny had become a wiry little guy who was always a little too skinny, a little too dirty, and a little too nervous. He would probably pass out if he even saw a murder. He certainly wasn't likely to have committed one. Hell, he'd been a Hufflepuff. I couldn't even really buy manslaughter from him. Not Lenny.

Maybe I remembered the old Lenny too well. Maybe manslaughter wasn't outside the realm of possibilities even for a coward like him. He did do a lot of drugs. He'd been in and out of jail for it for years, and jumped bail pretty regularly. Normally he posted his bail through Pilliwickle's. I wondered if Mrs. Pilliwickle had finally had enough of Lenny constantly skipping out on his bail. He'd never posted bail through Angelo before.

It was all pretty weird. Even for Lenny, whose middle name was probably Weird (given his dad's old band, this was not outside the realm of possibilities either).

Well, it wouldn't hurt me to look for him. I could use the money. Murder netted a higher bond, so a higher bounty for me. I never said no to an easy pick-up, especially for more money.

“All right, I'll take it.” How hard could it be to track down Lenny Graves, anyway? I knew most of the places he liked to hang out.

“Good.” Angelo went back into his office, slamming the door behind him. Lydia rolled her eyes and went back to doing her nails.

*

Lenny was disappointingly easy to find. Honestly, he was the worst felon ever. I found him in a pub in West London, sitting at the bar with a trio of pretty women smiling vacantly at him and the friend he was hanging out with. That friend looked awfully familiar. I groaned. I knew that friend. I was related to that friend.

Lenny didn't even have the decency to look worried to see me. “Hi Rose!” he chirped. He didn't look like he was on anything but alcohol, fortunately. There was a glass of firewhiskey in front of him.

“Hi Lenny.” I turned to his friend. “Hi Louis.”

My cousin Louis Weasley waved at me with his drink. “Hi Rose,” he slurred. Great. Drunk Louis was even more annoying than sober Louis.

I leaned closer to Lenny and whispered, “Lenny, you do know you're wanted for murder?”

He fumbled with his drink and swore. “Rose, you're not going to arrest me, are you?”

“Why would you arrest Lenny?” Louis asked. “Lenny is awesome.”

There was a small cheer at this from the nearby bar patrons. I tried to take control before things got out of hand. Something about Louis in a bar always made things get out of hand. I gave my cousin a dirty look and turned back to Lenny. “You skipped out on your bail, Lenny.”

“I totally didn't do it, man, someone's framing me or something. I wasn't even there! Well,” he amended, looking rather sheepish, “I mean, I was there, I just wasn't really there, if you know what I mean, I mean, I was just trying to buy, uh, something, and-”

“Lenny, shut up,” I said, then turned to my cousin. “Louis, go home. I'm not arresting Lenny, you know I'm not an MLE. I can't arrest anyone.” Technically this was true: I wasn't arresting Lenny. I was taking him into custody, which was entirely different. Once I got him to the Ministry, they would arrest him.

“I'm not going home now, it's only three in the afternoon,” Louis objected.

“Then go find something else to do. Why are you hanging out in a pub at three in the afternoon, anyway? Don't you have a job?”

“You're no fun, Rose.” Louis slid off his bar stool and put an arm around two of the women. The third clung to her friends, giggling as she looked at Louis. “I know a really great place around the corner...”

Louis always knew a really great place around the corner. It was a large part of the problem with Louis. Once my cousin had left with the three bimbos, Lenny blinked at me and shook his head like a dog shaking off water. It did not appear to sober him up at all.

“Someone is trying to frame me, man, you got to believe me,” he whispered urgently.

I sat down next to him with a sigh. “Lenny, why would anyone try to frame you for murder?”

“I don't know, man, but it's true!”

“I need to take you in, Lenny. You can talk to a lawyer about the charges, then-”

“I already did.” Lenny suddenly looked much more sober, and I got a little chill as he met my eyes. “He said he wasn't sure what he could do for me and told me to take the manslaughter plea. My record is against me. No one will believe a washed-out drug addict son of a rock star when there's no evidence to back up my testimony.”

Poor Lenny. He'd been a good guy, once upon a time. Whenever I saw glimpses of the old Lenny under the addiction, it made me really sad. I missed the old Lenny. “Oh, Lenny. Go sober, then. Get cleaned up.”

“I don't think I can.” He shivered, hunching down over the bar again. “I need help, man.”

“Sorry, Lenny.” I didn't know what to tell him. Poor bloke. Maybe he should have gone into one of the rehab programs my dad had tried to force him into. “Can you go to your dad?” When your dad is Merton Graves of the Weird Sisters, you ought to have a pretty good variety of resources at your fingertips, I reckoned.

Lenny shook his head. “He'll make me go to the MLEs and turn myself in, man. He's the one who hired the lawyer that told me I was, like, unlikely to win or whatever.”

“That really sucks,” I said, patting him on the shoulder sympathetically.

He looked up at me suddenly, leaning toward me, and I leaned back. He smelled like he'd been drinking for three days. “Hey man, you could help me! You could investigate things, find out who's framing me. And help me go straight for my next court date, man.”

“Lenny, they won't let you back out,” I told him as gently as I could. “You jumped bail on a charge like that, they're not going to give you another chance. You'll have to wait in jail for your court date.”

A panicked look came into his eyes. “I can't do that, man. I have to find who's setting me up.”

I was getting worried about him. His eyes were whirring a little madly, pupils darting back and forth with paranoia. “Lenny-”

“I'll give you four hundred Galleons.”

Whoa. My net from his bail would only be three hundred. I looked around, and leaned in to whisper, “Lenny, I have to take you to the MLEs. I don't want to, but-”

“Eight hundred. That's all I have, man. Please help me, Rose.”

I looked at him. More than twice his bail. It was a lot of money, but I'd be harbouring a fugitive from justice. If anyone found us, I'd risk going to jail too. That might be more trouble than even Harry Potter could get me out of.

But the strange thing was... I believed him. I didn't think Lenny had done it. I wasn't as sure that he'd been set up, but I didn't believe he'd done it. And he was right, he might not get out of these charges when he went before the Wizengamot. I didn't want him going to Azkaban for something he didn't do, not if I could help him.

Maybe I could find some proof that Lenny hadn't done it. Maybe I could do this. It couldn't be that much different than looking for skips. And hell, eight hundred Galleons.

“All right, Lenny,” I said in a low voice, glancing around the pub. “But you have to do what I say, okay? I'm in charge here. And you'll have to stay out of sight, because if anyone sees you, Angelo will be pissed at me for not catching you, and someone might turn me in to the Ministry. We need to pretend you've gone into hiding, then I can investigate the charges against you while I'm supposed to be finding you. And if someone really is framing you, Lenny, you might be in danger. So I'm in charge, got it?”

Lenny was nodding vigorously. He looked relieved, in a crazy kind of way. “Yeah, totally, man. Whatever you say.”

We left the pub, trying not to draw attention to ourselves, and Disapparated from the alley between the pub and the shop next door.

It occurred to me as we arrived in the corridor outside my flat that I should probably have run this past Scorpius first, since it was his flat as well. I hoped he was up for harbouring an accused murderer.

 


Chapter 3: More Cheese Puffs
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“What've you got to eat, man?” Lenny asked, poking around in the kitchen cupboards.

I was sitting on the couch, re-reading the folder Lydia had given me about Lenny's bail agreement and arrest, and waiting for Scorpius to come home. It was almost four, he was usually home by now. I supposed that meant he was having a good day of painting, which was good, because if he was in a good mood, he might not call the MLEs and turn Lenny in. I was kind of hoping to appeal to his mercenary nature, too, but I have to admit, his nature isn't as mercenary as mine is.

“Hey, cheese puffs!”

We had cheese puffs? Wait, focus. “Hey Lenny, come here for a minute.”

Lenny plopped down onto the floor in front of the couch, sitting cross-legged, and set the bag of cheese puffs in his lap. “What is it, man?”

I held up his arrest photo and said, “I want you to tell me exactly what happened the day you got arrested. And I mean everything, especially the stuff you didn't tell the police or the lawyer.”

“It was pretty wild, man,” Lenny said, stuffing a cheese puff in his mouth. “It's a great story. I was visiting my, um, friend-”

“Lenny, I'm not a cop, or a judge, or a lawyer,” I said patiently. “Tell me the truth.”

“Oh, right.” Lenny ate another cheese puff. “So I was visiting this guy I know who sells this great stuff made from asphodel and mallowsweet, you like, smoke it in a pipe or whatever, but he had upped his price, man, it wasn't cool. So I went in the bathroom to try to, you know, sober up or whatever, so I could bargain with him, cause I'm not very good at that when I'm not, like, feeling like myself-”

I had a feeling Lenny's explanation was going to give me a headache. I motioned to him to get on with it, and he said, “Right. So while I was in the bathroom, somebody knocked on the door, right, and I kind of stayed in there and just listened, cause you never know what will happen when that kind of stuff goes down, and then I heard this voice arguing with Annable-”

“Your dealer's name is Annabelle?” I interrupted. I couldn't help it. His dealer was a guy named Annabelle? Wow. Lenny was always good value, really.

“No, man, Annable.” He said it a littler more clearly, enunciating the last syllable, so it sounded like Anna-bull. “It's his last name, man. I don't know his first name.”

I checked the file. Lenny's alleged victim's name was one of the few details it included. I had skimmed right over it before, and the name hadn't jumped out at me. “Herbert.”

“Whoa,” said Lenny. “Really?”

“Yeah. Herbert Nigel Annable, it says.”

“Man, no wonder he never told me,” Lenny said.

“Anyway, go on. Someone was arguing with Annable. A man or a woman?” I grabbed a quill from the coffee table and started scribbling notes on Lenny's file.

“It was a dude, man,” Lenny told me. “I couldn't really tell what they were saying, but it sounded like the dude thought Annable had done something wrong, you know, and somebody was mad about it.”

“Like the dude who was arguing with him?” I suggested.

“Hey, yeah,” Lenny said in amazement. This had apparently never occurred to him. I gave him the 'go on' motion again, and he continued around another cheese puff, “Then it sounded like they were hexing each other or something, and then there was a flash of green light, and then it got, like, all quiet. So I went out there and the dude had left, but Annable was like, dead, man. And the door was open, and one of his neighbours, this old lady, man, she opened her door and saw me looking down at Annable, and she, like, freaked out. Then the MLEs showed up and arrested me.”

That didn't entirely make sense to me, although if Lenny had been on some kind of substance, he'd probably been even less coherent than he was now, so his statement to the arresting officers would've been a mess. Still, I couldn't see why they were so determined Lenny had done it. “So why do they think you killed him, Lenny? You should be a material witness.”

“Well, you know the, like, murder weapon?”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah?”

“It was my wand,” Lenny admitted.

“How did the dude get your wand?” I demanded.

“I kind of, you know, left it on the table when I went to the bathroom. I guess he picked it up, or whatever.”

Crap. Between Lenny being a crazy addict with an extensive criminal record of petty charges, the murder weapon belonging to him, and the victim being his dealer after an argument over the price of some rubbish Lenny wanted to smoke, I could see why the cops didn't believe in 'some dude' having been the real murderer. Lenny's charge had probably been dropped to manslaughter because of his dad and because none of his previous crimes had been violent, although that still rang funny to me. I sighed. Poor Lenny. This really didn't look good.

“I think you should, like, try to find that dude,” Lenny said, eating a cheese puff. “The one who killed Annable? He could totally like, exonerate me or whatever.”

“Good idea, Lenny,” I said, but before I could ask him for more details on the dude (seriously, I was thinking I might just refer to him as The Dude until I found out his actual name), I heard the locks turning.

“Hey, I think your boyfriend is home, man,” Lenny said, turning to the door.

Scorpius came inside, singing cheerfully (I could actually name the song, for once: 'Man of La Mancha'. It was one of his favourites), his hair in a braided ponytail and his sleeves streaked with paint. He stopped dead when he saw Lenny.

“Is that Lenny Graves?” he asked me.

“Yeah. Hey, we need to talk.” I scrambled off the couch, dropping Lenny's file on the coffee table. “Come with me to the bedroom. Lenny, you stay there, okay?”

“Yeah, man,” he said, and Scorpius gave me a look.

“It's not what you think,” I said automatically, and honestly, whatever he was thinking, it probably wasn't that I was harbouring Lenny from a murder charge, so this was actually a true statement.

“This is going to be good,” Scorpius muttered.

“I totally don't weigh twelve stone,” Lenny said. He was looking at the file on his arrest. “I'm, like, eleven at most, man.”

I followed Scorpius into our bedroom, and he set his rucksack on the bed with a sigh.

“I was having a really good day,” he said. “Why the hell is Lenny Graves in our flat?”

“He was arrested for murder,” I told him.

Scorpius looked startled. “What, Lenny? No way. Lenny wouldn't kill anyone.”

“He skipped his court date, probably because he didn't know what day it was thanks to the mallowsweet and azaleas or whatever he's been smoking lately, and Angelo assigned me to go pick him up and bring him in. But Lenny says he didn't do it, and he's going to give me eight hundred Galleons to help him prove it. Eight hundred Galleons,” I repeated, in case he had missed the salient point.

“That's a lot of money,” Scorpius said warily. “Are you sure he has eight hundred Galleons?”

“His dad is Merton Graves. Lenny can get us the gold.”

Scorpius rubbed a hand over his face. “I was only gone for a few hours... How do these things keep happening? At least it isn't a serial killer.”

“That wasn't my fault,” I reminded him, though he'd seemed to be talking to himself.

“Isn't it illegal to let him stay here if he's wanted for murder?” Scorpius asked me, obviously not convinced yet.

“Well, technically, it is a bit, but I'm the bounty hunter who's supposed to be catching him, and he's in my custody, so really it's only going to be illegal if the Ministry finds out. Besides, nothing is going to happen.”

Scorpius gave me a look. I had to admit, that had been some fast-talking rationalization, even for me.

“Would I lie to you?” I gave him my trustworthy smile.

“Yes,” he said. “You lie to me all the time, Rose.”

“Not all the time,” I hedged, and leaned in to kiss him.

“You are not going to sway me with sex,” Scorpius said, but he kissed me back.

“It won't be for long,” I murmured. Murmuring was all I could manage at the moment. My lips were kind of busy. I scooted a bit closer and threw one leg across him, so I was sitting square on his lap. “He'll sleep on the couch, I'll find evidence to clear him, we'll have three months' rent. It'll be great.”

The kissing worked, or possibly the sitting on his lap. Scorpius caved. “All right. He can stay.”

“Thank you.” I kissed him again and slid off his lap. “Also, we're going to help him sober up.”

“Sure,” said Scorpius, shaking his head. “Why the hell not.”

“So how did your painting go?” I asked, nodding at his rucksack.

Scorpius was what my father called a failed painter (to be fair, his father also called him this), and what I called a starving artist. Well, not starving, because I bought food and Scorpius cooked it, or I'd be a starving bounty hunter. Cooking was not among my skills. But Scorpius painted, and once in a while actually sold a painting. Mostly he gave them away to people we knew. Mainly my family. Almost everyone I was related to had one of Scorpius's landscapes in their home.

He grinned, and fished a small rectangle of paper out of his jeans. “Look at this, I met an agent today!”

I read the paper. It was mostly a bunch of numbers, and an address in Muggle London. At the top was the name Gregory Barnes. I had no idea artists had agents. What the hell did they do? Walk around Hyde Park handing out cards, it seemed.

“He said I had real talent, and he might be able to get me into a gallery,” Scorpius said excitedly. He took the card back and tapped it with his wand, then slapped it up on the mirror over our dresser, hanging by a precarious Temporary Sticking Charm.

“That's great,” I said sincerely, and not just because if Scorpius was in a gallery, his paintings might sell for actual money. I really did want him to be happy as an artist too, and I knew this would make him very happy. It was clearly making him so happy just at the possibility that he was willing to overlook me moving the washed-out addict, fugitive of justice, son of a rock star into our living room for an unknown length of time. Cheers, Mr. Barnes.

“I'm going to take some paintings for him to look over, examples of my best work. I have to figure out a way to transport them without magic. I don't know how Muggles carry their paintings.” Scorpius started pulling canvases out of the enchanted rucksack he used to transport his art. My mum had given it to him as a Christmas gift. It seemed unlikely that Muggles used bags with Undetectable Extension Charms on them to carry paintings.

“You could go to a Muggle art store and ask,” I suggested. “There's bound to be one in London.”

“I've seen some of the Muggles who paint in the park with large black bags propped against their easels, I think they must use those,” Scorpius said, leaning a painting of a couple under a tree against our bedroom wall. “I bet they sell them at the Muggle art shops, yeah.”

I fished the bounty from Hoof out of my pocket. “Here, take this. You can cash it into Muggle money and go buy what you need.”

He hooked an arm around my neck and pulled me close to kiss the top of my head. “I love you, Rose.”

“I love you too. I better get back out there before Lenny overdoses on cheese puffs.”

*

I hung out with Lenny the next morning while Scorpius went and got whatever he needed from the Muggle art store, and played hangman for almost an hour with Lenny spelling out surprisingly long words, all related to magical creatures or plants that could be turned into psychoactive drugs, but totally failing to get any of the more normal words I chose until there was only one letter left. I would have gone out and worked on his case, but I didn't want to leave Lenny alone in case he wandered off. I didn't trust him, and if we were going to get him clean and hidden, he was going to have to have someone keeping an eye on him at all times.

Scorpius had promised to stop by Lenny's flat and pick up some of his stuff, and Lenny seemed pretty cheerful at the thought of having his guitar. I was more looking forward to Lenny having clean clothes.

I did take a moment, while Lenny ate poached eggs and more cheese puffs, to owl a friend of mine in Magical Law Enforcement to invite him to lunch so I could grill him for information on Lenny's case. I hinted that the topic might come up in my letter, and hoped he would get the hint and bring Lenny's arrest report or something else that might help me. I didn't tell him I was helping Lenny. It didn't seem quite the thing. He would probably assume I was trying to find Lenny, and that was fine with me.

Lenny and I had just finished another round (SCREECHSNAP) when Scorpius returned. He grinned at us and set his rucksack on the kitchen table.

“I found just the thing. Oh, and Lenny, I got your stuff.” He started pulling parcels out of his rucksack. The first two were clearly Lenny's clothes, and then he pulled out Lenny's guitar.

“Sweet,” Lenny exclaimed, taking it. “Thanks, man.”

“No problem. And here it is,” he added, pulling out a very large parcel. It was some kind of very large, rectangular leather bag. It looked big enough to fit the largest of his paintings, but not very many of them. Without an Extension Charm of some kind, I couldn't see how more than about two or three paintings could fit in there. Muggle artists must make several trips to their agents.

“Nice,” I said, wondering what the hell the appropriate response was here.

“It's called a portfolio,” Scorpius said proudly, unzipping it.

“Whoa,” Lenny said, peering down at it. “That's pretty cool, man. Does it like, change colour or anything?”

I left them selecting artwork for Scorpius to bring to the Muggle art agent and went to meet Jack Upchurch for lunch.

I'd known Jack Upchurch for years. He was a Magical Law Enforcement officer, and a nice guy. I often used him as a source, since I could generally get information out of him on the agreement that he could tell stories about me (usually blowing stuff up, occasionally showing up with a criminal while in an embarrassing state, such as the time Pyxis Parmenter had thrown ice lollies at me and they'd gotten in my hair and all over my clothes) to his friends. He said Rose stories were always good for a free round at the pub. It worked out pretty well for me, really. I thought I was getting the better end of the deal, although God only knew what his MLE buddies thought about me.

Jack was waiting at the bar when I arrived at the Leaky Cauldron, and he had a butterbeer waiting for me. I slid onto the stool next to him and smiled cheerfully, picking up the glass. Nice and frosty. Mrs. Longbottom always serves good stuff.

“I heard you had to Obliviate some Muggles,” Jack said by way of greeting, grinning at me.

“It wasn't my fault,” I assured him.

Jack chuckled. “It never is. Good to see you, Rose.”

“You too. Thanks for meeting me.”

“You're looking for Lenny Graves, are you?” he said, taking a sip of his butterbeer.

“He jumped bail and Angelo wants me to find him.” That was good, right? I didn't actually say I hadn't found Lenny. I tried not to lie to the MLEs if I could help it, especially ones I was friends with.

“I looked into his arrest report,” Jack said. “I remember Lenny from school, you know. I have a hard time picturing him killing anyone, but he does do a lot of drugs.”

Jack had known Lenny for years, but he was an MLE first. If even he thought Lenny might kill someone if he was stoned enough, that wasn't good. It was really past time for Lenny to clean up his act. “I don't suppose you brought along a copy of the report?” I asked hopefully. “The file Lydia had was really light on facts.”

Before he could answer, Mrs. Longbottom bustled over to us with two plates. Jack must have ordered lunch already for us. I hoped he'd paid while he was at it, but since this had been my invitation, I probably had to pick up the cheque. I thanked Mrs. Longbottom, and she smiled back at me fondly. I'd always liked her, and her husband too. They were friends with my parents, and part of the war generation. I tried not to stiff her on cheques because of that.

We dug into our bangers and mash, and once Jack had taken a few bites, he set his fork down and pulled a tightly folded piece of parchment from his pocket.

“Here,” he said, handing it to me. “You didn't get this from me, though.”

I stuck the report into my handbag and Jack took a long draught of his butterbeer. “Thanks, Jack. You're a peach.”

“Don't tell anyone else that.” He winked at me. “MLEs have to be tough. We eat criminals for breakfast, you know.”

“Here I thought you preferred eggs and toast. Jack, do you really think Lenny might have done it?”

He shrugged. “Stranger things have happened. And a drug deal gone bad is more likely than an execution. Lenny said in his statement that someone came in while he was hiding in the bathroom and killed the dealer. The arresting officers said he was rambling and a little incoherent, so they didn't think he was really credible.”

Lenny was rambling and a little incoherent, it was true, but I still didn't believe he was also a murderer. Jack seemed to see my reluctance, because he leaned in. “Don't get too attached, Rose. You have to treat Lenny like any other skip. He missed his court date, so just find him and bring him in. Let the Wizengamot worry about whether or not he's guilty.”

“Thanks, Jack,” I said, smiling at him. He was trying to look out for me, I knew. Jack thought I got too personal with felons. It was easier for MLEs to keep their distance, I reckoned.

I was dying to read the rest of Lenny's arrest report, but I hung out with Jack for another hour, gossiping and swapping stories. After a while, he admitted he had to get back to work, and I tried to pick up the cheque. Jack plucked it from my hand.

“I know you're always broke,” he said, and then glanced at the total. “Does the landlady give you a discount or something? This is way too cheap.”

“She's friends with my parents,” I told him. And therefore also knew that I was always broke.

Jack shook his head. “Lucky. I need to eat here with you more often. This was a bargain.”

It had been a bargain for me, too. Free lunch and inside law enforcement information. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.





A/N: 'Man of La Mancha' is from the eponymous musical by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh.

 


Chapter 4: A Man Named Annable
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Lenny's arrest report was giving me a headache. I'd read through it half a dozen times now, hoping it would stop making such terrible sense to me, but unfortunately, it was all pretty logical, if you looked at it on paper.

Lenny was a known drug user with a long history of being arrested for substance-related charges. The victim was his dealer. They had been in the middle of a sale when the victim was killed with Lenny's wand. There was no evidence of anyone else being at the scene of the crime, only the word of the primary suspect. To the MLEs, this was an open and shut case, it seemed: drug deal gone wrong, dealer murdered by crazed junkie.

Somehow, I'd been hoping to find a weird detail, something that didn't fit, didn't make sense with the rest of the report. But there wasn't anything weird: it all made sense. It was something that happened all the time, and the MLEs had seen it far too often.

Except that I didn't believe it when I looked at Lenny.

It was actually the afterwards part that I thought was weird. The arrest and the MLE's conclusion that Lenny was the murderer made such perfect sense that the fact he'd been offered a plea seemed off. It probably amounted to nothing more than Lenny having a famous father, but it didn't gel with the rest of it.

I set the report down on the table and sighed. Scorpius was washing the pans from dinner, and Lenny was sitting on the couch, hugging his pillow against him while he read a book. Neither of them seemed terribly concerned that Lenny was going to go to jail for murder. Or they trusted me to fix it. Yikes.

I watched Lenny reading the book (some kind of horror novel Scorpius had gotten from my cousin Lucy, who worked in a bookstore and was always giving us deadstock that should have been thrown out – we had a very weird library because of it) for a while, considering his face.

He'd been at our flat for two days now. And in that time, he hadn't abused any substances, not even alcohol. He was showered and wearing clean clothes, and generally behaving pretty normally. Scorpius was even willing to play hangman with him now. I hoped it would last. I still didn't entirely trust him if left alone – I was afraid he'd take off – but he was reminding me more and more of the old Lenny. And the more sober Lenny got, the less I could believe he had killed someone.

I wasn't a detective. I wasn't sure I really knew what to do here, so I decided the only thing to do was to start at the beginning: the scene of Lenny's alleged crime. The address was in the report, so I assigned Scorpius Lenny-sitting duties again and took off for Hackney.

Herbert Annable had lived in an extremely dodgy-looking building on a run-down street in a Muggle area. The building was magical, though: I could see pieces of additions jutting out at bizarre angles where the tenants had expanded their flats straight out over the street. None of the Muggles passing in the street could see it. They walked past without a glance, even though the building was so very strange-looking. It must have been nice, once upon a time, but now it was falling apart at the seams, and there was a homeless man, cracked and Spellotaped wand clutched to his chest, sleeping near the door next to a shopping trolley full of junk.

I stepped around a pile of rubbish on the steps, and went upstairs. Herbert Annable had lived on the fourth floor, and the door was still cordoned off, a large note posted to warn people it was off-limits pending a murder investigation. Lovely. I tested the wards on Annable's unit, but I didn't want to set off any alarms, so after a moment I gave up and looked around. Two of his neighbours had a clear view of his front door from out their peepholes. If they were anything like the tenants in my building, they knew what Annable was up to almost as soon as he did it. If anyone else had been there, or anything strange had been happening, they must have seen it or known of it. And they would probably not have told the MLEs, either. People in this sort of place didn't talk to the MLEs.

I picked a door at random and knocked on it. I could hear a shuffling sound, and then the peephole sprang to life, the tube stretching around to look at me. A tinny voice came through it.

“What do you want? I don't buy door-to-door, and I've got quite enough religion to be getting on with.”

“I'm not selling anything,” I said, trying to make my voice sound kind and trustworthy. “I'm investigating the murder of your neighbour, and I wanted to ask you a few questions.”

“I don't like bizzies, neither,” came the voice.

“I'm not an MLE,” I assured the peephole.

The tube retracted back into the door, which opened a crack and a woman who had to be eighty if she were a day peered out. She had a ginger wig, purple eyeshadow up to her pencilled-on brows, and wore the brightest red lipstick I'd ever seen.

“Who are you?” she asked in a thick Liverpool accent.

“I'm Rose Weasley,” I said, hoping she was not among the group of people who would call me a blood traitor and slam the door in my face. I really didn't like it, though I was used to it by now. I'd been called a blood traitor so many times I'd lost count.

She looked me up and down, and then said, “I called the bizzies when I heard that curse. I didn't open my door none, though. Don't want any attention from the wrong sort.”

“Did the wrong sort hang out around Mr. Annable's place very often?” I asked, giving her my best trustworthy smile.

“Dunno. I keep to myself, mostly. He were a busy thing, that one. I could hardly sleep for the people coming in and out constantly. Not that I sleep much anyway. Getting older is a pisser.” She adjusted her wig, scratching a bit at the front.

Dealing drugs did give one a full social life, I reckoned. “Do you remember anyone in particular? Recently? Or any incidents?”

“Like I said, I keep to myself. Here now, if you're not an MLE, who the devil are you?” She eyed me disapprovingly.

“I'm, um, a private investigator,” I told her. It sounded good. And telling old ladies one is a bounty hunter pretty much inevitably winds up with a door in the face. Might as well find out how being a P.I. compares.

She looked mildly impressed. “Cor. Like Sherlock Holmes?”

Wow. It was a good life, being a P.I. I should do this more often. Especially if all their customers pay rates like Lenny. I moved on to the other door, and this one opened to reveal a very large, very stocky man with a shaved head and stained red robes. He had to be nearly seven feet tall. I looked up at him, hoping he wasn't going to squish me like a bug.

“Um, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

He looked down at me and grunted. I had no idea what that was supposed to mean. Yes? No? Did he not speak English? I pressed on.

“Did you ever notice anyone strange around your neighbour's flat?”

“Nobody but strange blokes around there,” he rumbled. Whew, he did speak English.

“Maybe someone unusual, then? Not part of his regular crowd?” These people were so unobservant. Honestly, where was the nosy old lady who peers through her curtains to see what the neighbours were doing? The world needs more nosy old ladies.

“There was a man there last week. Right before Herb got killed,” Shaved Head said. “Dark hair, and dark robes. He didn't look nice. Herb was that frightened of him, I can tell you that.”

This sounded promising. “Did you tell the MLEs about him?”

“No,” Shaved Head said, his brows beetling. “They said some skinny kid killed him. Did the kid kill him?”

I gave him my trustworthy smile. It seemed to work all right on him. Poor guy. “I don't think so, no. Is there anything else you can tell me about the man Herb was scared of?”

“Herb said they worked together. He never told me his name, though.”

I thanked Shaved Head and went back outside, stopping on the front stoop to think for a minute.

Annable didn't work. He'd been a drug dealer. Was the other man, the one he was afraid of, a drug dealer too? Or some other kind of bad guy? And why was Annable afraid of him? Was this entirely coincidental? Maybe, but it was the closest I'd come to a lead, and I figured I'd follow up on it. Now I needed to find out more about Lenny's dealer's associates. How did I do that without getting arrested or killed?

I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure Lenny would know, either.

But I was betting someone in Knockturn Alley would know.

“You got any money?” the homeless man asked, making me jump. I'd forgotten he was there. Whoops.

“Um.” I fished in my pocket and came up with a pair of Knuts. I dropped them in his open hand and said, “Sorry, that's all I have.”

He looked at the two small coins and then back at me, giving me a beatific, one-toothed smile. “Cheap bitch,” he said.

“Hey, I'm broke too,” I told him indignantly.

He harrumphed, and I stuck my tongue out at him and Disapparated.

*

I could hear music from the hallway when I got home. I opened the door to find Lenny sitting cross-legged on the living room floor in the middle of a patch of light from the open window, playing an old Weird Sisters song on his guitar while Scorpius sat nearby, sketching busily on a large sheet of paper and singing along.

“What's going on?” I asked, peering down at Scorpius's drawing pad. He was sketching Lenny with his guitar. It looked pretty good to me. Scorpius didn't do portraits often, but it wasn't for lack of talent. I ought to nag him about painting portraits on commission. Maybe he could make some money at it. I remembered the agent then. Hopefully the landscapes Scorpius loved to paint would start making money now.

“Just hanging out with Lenny,” Scorpius said, flashing me a grin as he rubbed at the paper a bit with the side of his hand. “How'd your afternoon go, Rose?”

“Not very productive. How's Lenny?”

“Sober,” Lenny crooned, and then continued singing, to the tune of one of the Weird Sisters' greatest hooks, “Feeling pretty good, all things considered, but kind of wanting a hamburger.”

“I'm going to make a painting of Lenny,” Scorpius said, and held up the sketch to show me. “Have a look.”

I couldn't picture paintings in my head the way he could, but the sketch looked pretty cool. “Nice.”

“Let me see,” Lenny said, and then when Scorpius turned the drawing to him, “Whoa. You're good, man. Can you draw my axe like a flying V instead?”

“I don't know what that means,” Scorpius said apologetically, returning to his sketching.

“Nevermind.” Lenny strummed his guitar a bit. “Hey man,” he added, looking up at me. “Did you find out who murdered Annable?”

Scorpius glanced up at Lenny in disbelief. “Wait, you're accused of murdering a girl?”

“No, man, Annable. He was, like, my friend.”

“I'll explain later,” I told Scorpius. “No, Lenny, I haven't found the real killer yet. I'm still working on it. I did get a lead, so I'm going to go out later to try to trace it. I'm headed out to Knockturn Alley.”

“Pick up some tomatoes on your way home,” Scorpius said without looking up. He was dashing off a second sketch of Lenny and his guitar.

Lenny waved to me vaguely with one hand. “Have fun, man. Hey Scorpius, do you know 'Do The Hippogriff'?”

“Some of it. Do you know 'Get Me To The Church On Time'?”

Clearly I was not needed here.

When I got to Knockturn Alley, it occurred to me that if I went into Angelo's, I would get flack about not having found Lenny yet. I couldn't tell them the truth, obviously; Lydia was one of the biggest gossips I'd ever met, and Angelo would have a coronary for sure. Lying to both of them was the only option, but that meant Angelo thinking I couldn't even manage to catch Lenny Graves. I didn't feel like listening to Angelo yelling at me for being incompetent, so I reckoned I'd just avoid the bonds office altogether. Unfortunately, it was right at the mouth of the street as it feeds into Diagon Alley, and I would have to pass it to go anywhere else in Knockturn Alley. I considered Disillusioning myself, but it seemed too much bother. Besides, I'm not very good at it.

Hell with it. I ducked down below the level of the shop's windows and ran, crouched down, until I was past it. People gave me weird looks, but it worked. Or at least, no one came running out after me, so it seemed to work.

I went into a few shops, asking if anyone had known a man named Herbert Annable. A few people copped to knowing him slightly (by which I assumed they were 'friends' much as he'd been 'friends' with Lenny) but didn't know anyone he might have been associated with. I did get a few hints on other places where Annable was known to do business.

It's amazing how vague people can be when they think knowing something will get them in trouble with the MLEs. Everyone in Knockturn Alley knew I wasn't with the Ministry – I'd been working for Angelo long enough that the denizens of the alley mostly recognized me on sight as a bounty hunter – but they also knew who my parents were. I sort of fell somewhere in between: not a criminal, not an authority, but definitely not a nobody. There are times when being a Weasley, especially Ron and Hermione Weasley's daughter, was a distinct disadvantage, and let's not even get started on Uncle Harry.

I wound up in a pub tucked into the very back corner of Knockturn Alley. The Grinning Troll was a dirty place, staffed by some of the most disreputable people I'd ever met, and it served what had to be the world's most disgusting pub grub. I never ate here, but I did occasionally come in for a drink with Lydia, who loved the place. She'd known the barman for years – he'd been friends with her mum since before she was born.

“Good evening, Rose.” he asked as I slid onto a barstool. “How is life treating you?”

“Hullo, Skone. I'm all right.” I smiled at him. Skone was a huge man; he'd been the strongman in the wizarding circus where Lydia's mum had been a trapeze artist. I'd once seen Skone throw an oak table across the room with one hand. Oddly, he had the most cultivated, upper-class accent you'd ever heard. He sounded more posh than Scorpius's parents.

“What brings you to the Troll today?” he asked, handing me a bottle of butterbeer.

I supposed it couldn't hurt to ask him. “Skone, do you know a man named Annable?”

“His kind isn't allowed in here,” Skone said sternly. “I don't approve of that sort of thing. Annable figured it out after I threatened to break his legs. He stayed away after that. I heard he was killed, and the very next day a new fellow tried to move in on our corner of the street. Well, I put a stop to that, I don't mind telling you.”

This sounded promising. “Someone is taking over Annable's territory?”

“I had to snap his wand in two before he'd leave.” Skone shook his head. “These punks today have no respect. Just because this is Knockturn Alley, they think they can get away with anything. And then just this morning, some cheeky blonde bint came in asking about this as well. Wanted to look at the wand, and a description of the man who'd owned it.”

If it had been violence, he wouldn't have cared. Even if it were Dark magic, Skone probably would have looked the other way. Drugs, though, that was something this lot wouldn't put up with. They were old-school criminals. I didn't know who else would be looking into this, though. Maybe Lenny's dad had hired a real P.I.?

“What did she look like?” I asked. “The woman who came in asking about the man who took over for Annable.” I really needed to find out these people's names, just to make it easier to refer to them.

Skone held up one hand and waggled it in mid-air in a so-so gesture. “Blonde, like I said. A dark blonde, though. Sort of pretty. Not too thin. She was quite average, really.”

I looked up at the array of broken wands nailed over the bar. Skone always kept them. Trophies, I suppose, but it was pretty well-known that if you made Skone angry enough to break your wand, you weren't going to get the pieces back. “Which one was his?”

Skone pointed to the remains of a mahogany wand nailed to the wall. I could see the unicorn hair poking out from the broken ends.

“Mind if I borrow it?” I asked.

*

I visited three wand-makers before I found the right one. Stabbe & Stange was not one of the more popular wand shops in England, but it seemed to do a steady enough business. I had to wait for the man at the counter to finish with a customer – a woman in bright red, nicely tailored robes who looked about the same age as me – before I could ask him about the broken wand.

As she was leaving, the customer caught sight of me and stopped short.

“Rose? Rose Weasley?”

I looked up from the copy of Witch Weekly I'd been paging through. I had no idea who this person was. I hoped I hadn't taken her husband or one of her parents into custody. That seemed like it would be awkward.

“Um,” I said intelligently. “Yes?”

“It's me. Ambrosia Heggs. From Hogwarts.” She smiled at me encouragingly. Her eyes were very blue, with expertly drawn eyeliner, and her dark blonde hair was swept up into a twist. She didn't look at all familiar. Since I still had no idea who she was, and I was starting to feel like an idiot for not knowing, I did the only thing I could think of, and faked it.

“Oh, Ambrosia!” I said, as if I'd just remembered her from an Herbology class or something. “Hi. It's been a while, eh?”

“What are you doing in Birmingham? Gosh, I haven't seen you in forever. What are you up to these days?”

I didn't really want to play catch-up with this person. We must not have been friends at school, because I didn't remember her at all. That wasn't unlikely, though, since I'd spent most of Hogwarts either with various cousins or with Scorpius. I hadn't spared much attention for the rest of my classmates, I had to admit. But I couldn't see a way out of this conversation without being rude, so I just said, “Oh, I'm here doing some, um, research on wands.”

“Are you married? Any kids?” she asked, still smiling widely at me. Her smile was weird somehow, and it didn't reach her eyes. I decided I didn't like her. Probably why we hadn't been friends at Hogwarts. Why do people think you should be friends years later when you had nothing to do with one another in school? I wasn't that nostalgic for my school days, thanks.

“No, Scorpius and I live together,” I told her. “We're not married.”

“Scorpius Malfoy?” she said, a note of surprise in her voice.

I wondered how she could be surprised by this. Scorpius and I had started going out in fifth year. It had been all over the school when we started dating; after all, I was a Weasley and he was a Malfoy. The sheer amount of gossip based solely on our family names had made us pretty notorious, not to mention his reputation (I blamed the showtunes). God, it was exhausting just remembering all that. “Yeah. He was in my year, but in Hufflepuff,” I added, hoping she'd respond by telling me what house she had been in. Maybe she'd been a year above or below me. Oh jeez, was she one of Hugo's ex-girlfriends? There were too many for me to remember.

“Oh, right.” Ambrosia chuckled a bit, and I looked at her more closely.

There was something in her eyes that was off. Had she been in my year at Hogwarts? Who was she? One of those shy kids who sit in the back and never talk to anyone? Why didn't I remember her at all? I was going to ask Scorpius if he remembered her as soon as I got home.

“Well, I better get going,” I said, waving a hand at the counter. “I still have more errands to run today. It was nice seeing you, Ambrosia.”

“Good to see you too, Rose.”

I watched her leave the shop, wondering what the hell that had been about. Ambrosia Heggs. I didn't remember anyone by that name, but now that I thought about it, I could hardly remember the names of half my classmates. Maybe it had been nothing. Maybe she was just one of Hugo's old girlfriends after all. Wouldn't be the first to think I would remember her just because she went out with my brother for a week ten years ago.

The man behind the counter looked up and saw me, and started a bit. “I'm sorry, I didn't see you there. Can I help you?”

Didn't see me? I'd been standing in his lobby for ten minutes while he talked to Ambrosia, and then the last five minutes talking to her myself. That was some crap customer service. I pulled the wand out of my pocket. “I'm a private investigator, and I'm trying to find the owner of this wand.” I set the broken halves on the countertop.

He looked down at them, then pulled out a large magnifying glass. “Ah yes, mahogany and unicorn tail hair, twelve inches. A very nice wand, I thought. Let me see if I can look up the purchase record for you.” He tapped his wand against a filing cabinet and a drawer extended about six feet out. I raised my eyebrows; that was a lot of wands. I wondered how long he'd been in business.

It took him a surprisingly short amount of time to find the appropriate receipt. “Oh, here it is.” He waved a piece of paper at me. “I must have had it out recently, it was right on top. His name was Nicomedes Gormly, of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. He bought that wand from me when he was eleven years old, just before going to Hogwarts.” The salesman beamed in fond recollection, probably of the wand. In my experience, wandmakers remember the wands with remarkable clarity, and the customers not at all.

“Has he been back at all? To buy a replacement for the broken wand?”

The salesman shook his head. “No, I haven't had anyone buying replacement wands lately.”

Gormly must have gone somewhere else for a new wand. Well, at least I'd gotten his name. “You wouldn't have a current address, would you?” I asked.

He looked at me blankly, as if he did not understand the question. “For the wand? It's right there in your hand, dear.”

Wow. Yeah, definitely a wandmaker. I thanked him and headed back to London. I was going to have to get Lydia to find out where Nicomedes Gormly lived now. Great. I was going to have to go by Angelo's for that.

 





A/N: The songs mentioned: Do The Hippogriff is the song the Weird Sisters sing at the Yule Ball in the Goblet of Fire movie. Get Me To The Church On Time is from the Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner musical “My Fair Lady”.

Sherlock Holmes is the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
 


Chapter 5: A Nogtail in a Blanket
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I was sort of hoping Angelo wouldn't be in, but of course I don't have that kind of luck. As soon as I opened the front door, Angelo stuck his head out of his office and barked, “Why the hell haven't you found Lenny Graves yet?”

“I'm still working on it,” I said, which wasn't technically a lie. I was still working on Lenny's case, just working to clear him instead of to bring him in and collect his bounty. I didn't think Angelo wanted to hear that, though. He'd probably have a coronary.

“How can you not have found him?” Angelo demanded. “He's Lenny Graves. He's probably in a pub, or down the street buying pixie dust or something. I usually see him in Knockturn Alley at least twice a week. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I said I'm working on it, jeez,” I said, annoyed.

“You want me to die skint broke and miserable. Why is everyone who works for me so bloody incompetent?” Angelo slammed his office door shut.

“Hi Rose,” Lydia said brightly. “So, no luck yet on Lenny?”

“I think I have a lead,” I said, dodging the question. I didn't mind lying to Angelo, because he was a prat, but I didn't really want to lie outright to Lydia. Best to just avoid giving a direct answer. “Can you get an address on a man named Nicomedes Gormly? He's from Ashby-de-la-Zouch originally, but I need a more current address.”

“Sure. It might take me a few hours to track him down.”

“That's okay. I can wait.” Really, I had no other choice. Gormly was my only lead on who might have actually killed Annable. And I wasn't even expecting much from him, to be honest. It was entirely possible that he was just an enterprising dealer who expanded into newly free territory. Still, I wasn't wholly giving up on the idea that Gormly would know something about who killed Annable. These kinds of people often know about rumours that never reach the ears of the MLEs, or even bounty hunters like me. And hey, maybe Gormly was the killer, and I could take him in and have Lenny's name cleared. Problem solved.

Of course, that would mean I was going to be visiting a murderer today. Not a happy thought. Good thing I had on my lucky shirt, the one with the pink unicorn with a shiny horn.

“Oh, I have someone for you. One of your favourites.” Lydia was grinning as she handed me the file.

I let out a loud groan when I saw the name. “Not Parmenter again!

“Yup. The usual, drunk and disorderly. If he ever went to a court date the first time, I think I would die of shock,” Lydia said conversationally. “It's a wonder they still give him bail.”

“It's because he always does the same thing. They know he'll turn up eventually. And he never does anything worse than bar brawls and minor theft from the liquor store.”

I really didn't want to go pick up Pyxis Parmenter. I must have taken him into custody two dozen times by now, and it was always some of the most annoying pick-ups I'd ever had to do. I don't know how he does it, honestly, but the man has no shame and far too much imagination.

Unfortunately, both Dino and O'Toole thought Parmenter wasn't worth the bother, and refused to take his cases. So I was the only one left. And frankly, I usually needed the money.

Lydia didn't know Lenny was paying me over twice his bounty, so even though I didn't actually need the money this time, I couldn't turn it down. All she knew was that I hadn't found Lenny, and I'd taken Lenny's case partly because we were broke again. It would look suspicious if I suddenly had money, and I couldn't let anyone know Lenny was at my house, or I'd be in jail alongside him. Scorpius too, and he'd probably kill me for getting him into this. Besides, Lenny hadn't actually given me the money he'd promised yet.

Damn. I was going to have to go pick up Parmenter.

“Okay,” I said, tucking the file into my shoulder bag. “I'll go get Parmenter, and you look into Gormly for me.”

“I'll try to have something waiting when you get back,” Lydia agreed. “Good luck with Parmenter.”

I was probably going to need it.

*

Pyxis Parmenter lived in a tiny, run-down house in Waltham Forest. This, of course, was because I had destroyed his last house in the process of taking him into custody. It had really not been my fault, honestly. He should have gotten that Bundimun infestation taken care of.

I wasn't sure what to expect from him this morning, so I pulled a Shield Hat out of my bag – one of the new knitted styles Uncle George had come out with for spring – and pulled it on before I knocked on his door.

Parmenter was far too canny to just open up. He'd been jumping bail for decades, so he knew the drill. For example, he knew better than to just open his front door when he'd just skipped out on a court date. He didn't have a peep hole, though, so he bellowed through the door.

“Who is it?”

“It's Rose Weasley,” I said, not bothering to lie. I'd picked him up so many times by now, he knew my voice. “You missed another court date, Parmenter.”

“No, I didn't. I was there, just invisible.”

I sighed. “Parmenter, you're really not fooling anyone. Open the door so I can take you over to the Ministry. Angelo will bond you back out again. You know he always does.”

“I'm not going back there,” Parmenter said indignantly. “Do you know what it's like in a Ministry holding cell? It takes Angelo over three hours to come and bond me back out. I don't want to sit in those dirty cells for three hours.”

Well, if anyone would know how long Angelo's average time to arrive with bond paperwork was, it would be Parmenter. He ought to get a frequent customer discount at the Wizengamot. “Don't be such a baby, Parmenter, it's only three hours.”

“Easy for you to say, you're not the one what has to do it.”

“Are you going to open the door or not?” I demanded.

“Not!”

“Parmenter,” I said warningly.

“You'll never take me alive!” he shrieked. He said this almost every time. Honestly, he practically had a script. Next would be a bit more cajoling, then hexing each other, then he would do something embarrassing to me and I would take him into custody, because at heart, Parmenter is even more inept than I am.

I sighed. “Come on, I have other things to do today, you know. Open the door.”

“Never!”

I heard sounds of scuffling, and then something heavy being dragged in front of the door. For crying out loud. I rolled my eyes at him and went around the side of the house, trying to look in the windows. I could just see Parmenter shoving a bookcase into place, blocking his front door. Great.

Parmenter turned around and caught sight of me. I ducked just in time, and the glass broke as a jet of red light came through the window. The shards bounced off my Shield Hat, handily. I hate picking bits of glass out of my hair. I would have to compliment Uncle George on the new design. Repelling small shrapnel was a handy touch. He had said he'd been inspired by me on some of the new hats. Apparently the frequency with which things are broken near me had been part of that inspiration.

I crouched down so I was under the level of the windows and hurried to the back door. Parmenter got there just before I did, and I heard the locks click shut. He grinned at me through the pane of glass in the door as I gave the doorknob a good shake.

“Come on, Parmenter! It's only three hours! They always let you back out. You're being ridiculous.”

He stuck his tongue out at me. Stupid git. I felt like a complete idiot, so I shot a hex at his kitchen window. It shattered, and I crowed with triumph. Parmenter sent another curse my way out the broken window, but it bounced off my Shield Hat. I climbed in the window, trying not to scratch myself on the glass, as Parmenter darted off into another room.

“Ouch,” I muttered as I brushed myself off. There was a cut on my elbow. I tried to get a look at it, but I couldn't see it clearly. Oh well. I would have to have it looked at later. I was determined to catch Parmenter today.

I held my wand at the ready and walked slowly after him. This was so typical of Parmenter. He never came along quietly. One time, I'd found him sitting at the bar in the Leaky Cauldron after looking for him at home for days, and we wound up both drenched in a bucket of mead after wrestling behind the counter. It took me three days to get all the shepherd's pie out of my hair, and I'd had to throw out my favourite t-shirt after Parmenter threw the jar of red pickled eggs at me.

The house wasn't that big, so he didn't get far. I was sort of afraid he'd climb out a window to run off, and sure enough, I found him in his bedroom, trying to wrap what appeared to be a piglet in a blanket while it squealed loudly and ran away from him.

“Come to Daddy,” he was crooning as he chased it.

“Is that a nogtail?” I asked suspiciously. Now I looked at it more closely, its legs were kind of long to be a regular pig. I had never seen a nogtail in real life, only in my Care of Magical Creatures textbook, and I hadn't seen an actual pig (uncooked, that is) in years – I'm a city girl, what can I say – so I was definitely not an expert on magical creatures, but knowing Parmenter, it probably was a nogtail.

“She's my darling Bessie,” Parmenter said, giving the animal a fond glance. Sheesh.

“It's illegal to keep a nogtail as a pet, Parmenter,” I said, and it looked up at me with its tiny black eyes. That was definitely not a normal pig.

“I bought her off some bloke in the pub,” Parmenter said, leaping for the nogtail again with his blanket. “She's my pet. She keeps me company. It's a lonely life.”

“Parmenter, if you come along quietly, I won't tell anyone about, um, Bessie.” I gave him my trustworthy smile.

Parmenter clutched the blanket to him, looking horrified. “You can't let them take her away! Those bastards in the Pest Division will put her down! It's what they always do to nogtails!”

“Maybe they won't,” I said. “Maybe they'll release her on a nice farm, where a lovely family will take care of her and there will be children to romp with.”

Parmenter shot a Stunner at me. I ducked, and it knocked a framed photo off the wall behind me. I returned his Stunner with one of my own and missed him by a foot. Parmenter tried to grab Bessie with the blanket again, but the nogtail had other ideas.

It turned to look at me, snorted once, pawed the orange shag carpet, and then charged me. I let out a shriek of alarm and tried to run, but I tripped over a pink squeaky chew toy in the hallway and landed on my belly, skidding a bit. Great, now I was going to have rug burn on my forearms.

I flipped over and scooted backward like a crab, up on all fours, as the nogtail bit into the hem of my jeans and tugged at my leg. “Call it off, Parmenter, call it off!”

The nogtail bit my ankle, and I kicked at its head, pushing its mouth away with my shoes and wishing I wasn't wearing purple ballet flats. If only I wore heavy combat boots like my cousin Molly. I was going to buy a pair if I got out of this. Maybe they came in pink. With glitter.

I managed to scramble to my feet, and the nogtail charged again. I ran around the room in a circle a few times while it chased me, jumping up on the furniture and everything, but it kept snapping at my heels. Eventually I made it into the kitchen and climbed up on top of the table. The nogtail tried to climb up after me, but I kicked the chairs away before it could figure out how to get on one.

“Parmenter!” I yelled. “Come get your stupid pet!”

There was slime all over the bottoms of my pants from where the nogtail had chewed on me. I could feel a breeze at my side where I shouldn't be feeling any draughts; there was a rip in the seam of my t-shirt. Great. If I ever picked up Parmenter without partially destroying an article of clothing, I would die of surprise. Seriously, when I went to pick him up, I needed to only wear ugly stuff that my aunt Audrey gave me for Christmas. Then when Parmenter threw rotten eggs and bits of pie at me, or set his nogtail on me, at least I wouldn't ruin a perfectly good shirt.

The nogtail was still snuffling around the table, making oddly evil-sounding squeaks and squeals, but there was no sign of Parmenter.

“Parmenter?”

I couldn't hear anything else. Oh, for crying out loud. He probably climbed out the window while I was busy with Bessie. I looked down at the nogtail and drew my wand, figuring it couldn't hurt to try.

I am happy to report that Stunners work on nogtails.

Once Bessie was unconscious on the kitchen tile, I went back into Parmenter's room. The window was open. Just to be sure, I waved my wand. “Homenum Revelio!

Nothing. He was gone.

*

When I got back to the office, I was feeling pretty low. For all Parmenter liked to throw sticky things at me and otherwise carry on like an idiot when I had to take him in, I'd never actually lost him before. I blamed the nogtail. Parmenter usually worked alone on his idiotic attempts to resist custody.

“Oh my goodness,” Lydia said when she saw me, a slow grin spreading across her face. “What happened?”

“I don't want to talk about it,” I told her grumpily. Stupid Parmenter.

“Did you get him?” Lydia was still obviously trying not to laugh.

“No. I'll go back tomorrow. He never stays away from home for long.” He would want to come back and check on Bessie. I could probably catch him later tonight if I went back after dark, but now I was mad at him. I didn't want to see Parmenter again for a while.

“Do you want some help with your clothes? I'm pretty good with repairing charms,” Lydia offered. “I might be able to do that cut on your arm, too.”

I let her do most of the work, I have to admit. Clothing charms always give me trouble, whether it's hems, stains, fixing holes, or removing patches of blood. Scorpius was pretty good with that stuff, fortunately. But I tried to avoid telling him about the worst of that sort of things: nogtail attacks, roofs collapsing, all that. It only tended to make him lecture me.

“I found Gormly, by the way,” Lydia said as she waved her wand, making the last of the nogtail drool stains disappear from my shirttail.

“You're the best, Lydia.” Nobody did research quite like Lydia. I think it's why Angelo actually hired her, nepotism notwithstanding. My understanding is that Lydia's dad, Angelo's younger brother, didn't get along with Angelo, and hadn't wanted Lydia to work for him, but she hadn't been able to get another job. Dino didn't much like Angelo either. It seemed nobody actually wanted to work for him. Sometimes I wondered why I was still here, especially when nogtails were chewing on me.

“He lives in a really rotten neighbourhood in Stoke Newington,” Lydia told me. “There, you're all set.”

I looked over my clothes. You'd never even know I'd been attacked by a minor-league Dark creature today. “Thanks, Lydia.”

Stoke Newington was really close to the part of Hackney where Annable had lived. Interesting. It was funny how often wizards congregated in dodgy parts of London. There were patches of wizards living all over the city, and a lot of them were on the poor side, so I supposed dodgy areas were all they could afford. Lord knows Scorpius and I don't live in the nicest building. Mrs. Kochel, our landlady, kept the really crazy people out, but we weren't exactly living in Kensington. Probably I shouldn't judge Gormly's dodgy neighbourhood, since mine was pretty dodgy too.

Nicomedes Gormly lived in a rowhouse, the end unit on the block. I could see a small backyard behind a fence, and the roof of a small shed. Nice set-up. He must be doing well at his, um, trade. I supposed if he were the enterprising type, that might be why he'd immediately set up shop in Annable's territory after someone took out the competition.

I knocked on the door and waited a while, but there was no answer. I waffled a bit, trying to decide if I should attempt to break in or just come back later. If I were trying to pick Gormly up, I'd probably try back later, but what the hell, I wasn't officially on the clock as a bounty hunter right now. I looked up and down the street to see if the coast was clear. The only person was a woman just turning the corner at the far end of the street. I waited for her to get out of sight and then tried the door handle. It opened immediately.

I slipped inside and closed the door quietly behind me. “Hello?” I called, not sure if I really wanted anyone to answer me. No one did.

The front room was furnished in a way that made me think Gormly had inherited this house from his elderly grandmother. It had the sort of furniture that old ladies tend to favour, with delicately skinny legs on the chairs and a large crocheted doily on the back of the ancient sofa. There was a china cabinet. I'd never met a drug dealer with a china cabinet before. Not that I meet an awful lot of drug dealers, to be honest.

I poked around a bit downstairs, examining his bookshelves and looking around the dining room and not finding anything more than yet more old lady furniture and an impressive collection of vintage Fifi LaFolle novels, then went into the kitchen.

The spice rack was full of things that were not normal cooking spices, I could see straightaway. Gormly really had been an enterprising sort of man – it looked like an apothecary in here. I went over to look at the pots and pans on the stove. They were cooling now, but still bubbled a bit with red glop. I had no idea what that was, but I was willing to bet it wasn't legal. There was a bottle of dragon blood near the stove. Yuck. Expensive, but yuck.

Whatever was in the small pot at the front (an unnatural shade of turquoise) suddenly popped, spitting drops into the air. One landed on my hand, and I shied back, then darted over to the sink to wash it off. I didn't know what it was, but I didn't want it on my skin.

As I washed my hands, I glanced out the small, grimy window over the sink.

Oh, holy Kneazles.

There was a man lying on the ground in the middle of the yard. He was not moving. Next to him was a shovel, covered in blood.
 


Chapter 6: Legendary
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It's amazing how fast Magical Law Enforcement will arrive with the proper motivation. Tell them your neighbour has hexed your garbage bin or transfigured your cat, they might send someone over in a week. Tell them you found a dead body while breaking and entering illegally, and they pop right on over.

Okay, so I didn't tell them about the breaking and entering illegally part. I told the desk officer I had found the body when I came over to question the owner of the home in relation to one of my skips, implying I had seen the body while looking over the fence. Most of the MLEs knew me, or knew who I was, at this point, so none of them seemed surprised to see me on the scene.

The investigator in charge of the scene, Phineas Hibbitt, was one I'd known since my first days as a bond enforcement agent. Hibbitt was a nice enough guy, nearing retirement, half a dozen grandkids, and a belly that spoke of years of enjoyment of beer and ale. I liked him. He seemed to like me. When he saw me, he smiled broadly and came over to shake my hand.

“Good to see you again, Rose. I see you found us a body.”

“It wasn't my fault,” I told him.

“It never is,” Hibbitt agreed. “You're getting to be something of a legend in our department, you know.”

I perked up a bit. Hey, I was flattered, what can I say.

Hibbitt smiled at me and pulled out a notepad and a quill. “So, walk me through it.”

Like that was going to happen. I walked him through it, leaving out all the bits I didn't want the MLEs to know. “I've been searching for a skip, Lenny Graves, and I turned up Mr. Gormly's name in connection with him. So I came over to talk to him, but there was no answer at the door. I came around the side here and peeked over the fence, and I saw the body. So I sent for the Ministry straight off,” I added virtuously.

Hibbitt nodded, still smiling as he scratched away at his pad of paper. Whether or not he believed me, he said, “Okay. We'll let you know if we need anything else from you, Rose. Give your dad my best.”

I hung around outside the gate for a bit, hoping to overhear the MLEs say something helpful or at least interesting, but eventually Hibbitt turned around and gave me a very distinct wave goodbye. I took the hint and went home.

I came home to find Scorpius in the middle of turning his sketch of Lenny playing guitar into a painting, humming softly to a tune I didn't recognize. The preliminary stages of a painting always look a little weird to me. I reserved judgement on whether or not this one would be any good, and set my shoulder bag on the table. Scorpius didn't look up from his work.

“Hi,” I said. He ignored me, or didn't hear me. Possibly both. I turned to Lenny, who was sitting on the couch, reading an Auror novel that my brother had given me last week. I hadn't had a chance to read it yet.

“Whoa,” said Lenny, engrossed in the novel. “So his girlfriend was a double agent all along!”

Didn't they know I was a legend? I sighed and poked around the kitchen, making myself something that nearly approached a ploughman's lunch. I was halfway through the bread and cheese before Scorpius looked up and finally noticed me.

“Oh hey, you're back. How did it go?”

I glanced at Lenny, who seemed totally enmeshed in his book. I didn't really want to talk about finding Gormly's body in front of him. I pursed my lips, debating whether or not to wait until we'd gone to bed to tell Scorpius about it.

“That good, huh?” Scorpius said. He cleaned off his brush and set it down on the tray of his easel, then came to sit next to me at the table.

“I tracked down a lead, a man who'd been taking over Annable's territory as soon as he was killed,” I told him in a low voice.

“Your use of the past tense has not escaped me,” he responded dryly. “What happened to him?”

“I found his body in the backyard. Killed with a shovel, it looked like.” I pointed at the back of my head to indicate where the blow had struck, and added, “I called the MLEs. They said I'm getting to be legendary.”

“That doesn't surprise me at all,” Scorpius said, but he cracked a smile. “Only you, Rose. So now what? Who do you think killed this guy?”

“I have no idea. It could have been anyone.” I sighed and glanced over at Lenny. If he'd overheard anything, he wasn't showing it. “I'm not sure what now. I have to think about what to do next. I need a new lead.”

“Something will turn up. It always does.”

“I'm not a private investigator,” I said uneasily. “I don't really know what I'm doing.”

“Maybe you'll luck out and someone will kidnap you.” He leaned closer and sniffed at me. “Do you smell like a farm for a reason?”

I rolled my eyes. “I tried to pick up Parmenter this afternoon.”

“Ah.” He leaned back, grinning. “What did he do now?”

“The usual. Hey,” I said, remembering the thing I'd been meaning to ask him. “Do you remember a girl named Ambrosia Heggs? From Hogwarts?”

There was no recognition in his eyes. He shook his head. “No. Should I?”

“I ran into her, and I have no idea who she is, but apparently she was at Hogwarts with us.”

“Maybe one of Hugo's ex-girlfriends,” Scorpius suggested. “She wasn't in our year, I remember our entire class. It wasn't that big.”

“I didn't think so. Oh well.”

Scorpius rubbed his fingernail against a patch of green paint on the back of his hand. “Hey, Rose, I need to go out for a bit. Can you stay home with Lenny?”

“Yeah. Where are you going?”

“That art agent. I'm going to bring over my paintings.”

Oh, right. I'd all but forgotten his plans with the agent and that portfall he'd bought. “Of course. You definitely should go.”

“Um.” He paused, picking at the paint patch again. “I need to pay him a fee, he said, standard to start up a new account. Some kind of processing thing.”

“Okay.” I looked at him warily. It must be a lot of money or he wouldn't be acting this way. “How much is it?”

“Five hundred pounds.”

“How much is that in Galleons?” I asked suspiciously. It sounded like a lot, but I didn't really know much about Muggle money.

“About a hundred,” he admitted.

I'm pretty sure my eyes bugged out. “Um.” Oh, holy Kneazles. Nearly half a month's rent. We didn't have an extra half a month's rent. Hell, we didn't have this month's rent yet at all.

This was his dream. It was his dream, and I couldn't step on his dream. You didn't cast your mates into the cacky, and you didn't tell your boyfriend his life's dream wasn't worth a hundred Galleons. It was worth it. Of course he was worth it.

But that was a lot of money.

“Okay,” I said, trying to keep my voice even. “I didn't get the bounty on Parmenter, but we can see if Lenny has any money on him.”

“I thought he was going to pay us,” Scorpius said in a low voice, his brows drawn together.

“He is, I just haven't been able to take him to Gringott's to get it. I can't exactly let him parade down Diagon Alley, he's a wanted criminal. They'll turn him in to the MLEs if he shows his face in the bank. Let me just see if he has anything on him.” I patted Scorpius's shoulder reassuringly and then went over to Lenny.

He looked up at me when my shadow fell across the open pages of his books.

“What's up, man? You're in my light.”

“Do you have any gold on you, Lenny?”

“I think I have ten Sickles,” he said, and fished around in his pocket. “Whoa, a Galleon.” He handed me a handful of coins, and I brought it over to Scorpius.

“You'll have to get the rest from our stash,” I told him.

Scorpius sighed, and got up from the table. I followed him into the bedroom and watched as he pulled a mokeskin pouch from under the mattress. I'd had it for years, but it looked good as new. Those things last practically forever. We'd been keeping our money in it since we'd moved in together. Yeah, we don't have a vault at Gringott's. Usually we spend whatever money we do have as fast as we get it. The money that was in the pouch now was supposed to go toward this month's rent. It wasn't enough yet to cover it, I knew that much, but I wasn't sure exactly what was in there.

“There's just enough, but that only leaves us about five Galleons until Lenny pays us,” Scorpius said after he'd emptied out the pouch. He didn't look too happy about this.

“I'll get Parmenter tomorrow, then we'll have his bounty,” I promised. “Just take the money for your fee.”

“How much is the bounty on Parmenter?”

“Twenty-five Galleons.”

His face fell. “Maybe I shouldn't-”

“No!” I sat down next to him on the bed. “This is your dream, babe. You've been trying to break into the art world for years. Maybe this is your ticket to fame and fortune. You should do it. I'll get Lenny exonerated and we'll have plenty of money to last a couple of months at least.”

Scorpius leaned over and kissed me softly. “When I'm a famous artist, we're moving to Majorca, and we're going to lie on the beach every day.”

“Okay.” I kissed him back.

After he'd gathered up his art and his gold and taken off to exchange it for Muggle money and then go visit the agent and do artist-y things, I went into the living room and sat down next to Lenny.

“This book is awesome, man,” he said, tapping the pages. “It's so real.”

I'd read the back cover. There were spies, counterspies, Aurors, Dark wizards, and a conspiracy that included the Muggle Prime Minister. I didn't think 'real' was strictly accurate. Hugo had said it was hilariously bad. But if it was keeping Lenny happy, it was fine by me. “How are you feeling, Lenny?”

“Pretty good, man. It's weird how different everything is when you're sober,” he told me cheerfully.

“I'm sure,” I agreed absently. There had to be a way to clear Lenny. There were ways around Veritaserum, so a confession under its influence could be argued around in court. A person could tamper with their memories, or have them tampered with. What I needed was concrete proof that someone else had done it. I wasn't sure how to get it, though. I'd had a good feeling about Gormly, but he was officially a dead end now.

“Thanks for helping me,” Lenny said then, drawing my attention. I looked over at him and found him smiling at me, and he looked like the old Lenny again, the Lenny I'd known at school. “And for believing me.”

I smiled back. “We'll get you out of this yet, Lenny.”

“Man I hope so,” Lenny said. “I don't want to go to Azkaban. You should hear some of what goes on there.” He tapped the book again with a knowing look.

I needed ideas for what to do next. I couldn't talk to my dad about it, I'd have to be so vague as to make the conversation useless. I couldn't talk to Lydia, and Scorpius didn't know anything about this stuff. I could only think of one person I could talk to who wasn't likely to turn me in if I told the whole story, but might have some good ideas.

*

“Hi Rose.” Teddy Lupin smiled at me as he opened the door. His eyes and nose were a little red.

“Hi Teddy,” I said, stepping inside out of the drizzling rain.

Teddy sneezed. “Bloody cold won't go away. Victoire's in the kitchen,” he said, waving me in.

I could hear the little Lupins screaming to each other upstairs, accompanied by loud thumps and the puppy's barks. Most make-believe from the two Lupin boys involved a lot of punching and kicking, and occasional body-checks. A lot of their 'games' would have gotten them thrown out of the National Quidditch League for unnecessary roughness. Teddy and Victoire took it all in stride, though. You would think they didn't even hear the screaming.

My cousin Victoire was in the kitchen, supervising some bread dough that was kneading itself. She smiled at me when she saw me. Victoire and I were pretty close these days. She was almost seven years older than I was, and you'd think we wouldn't have much in common. She was a mum of three small children; I was a bounty hunter. But Victoire liked to tag along with me when I did surveillance, and any time I'd discussed cases with her, she came up with very insightful comments and good ideas. She was probably a lot smarter than I was.

She was definitely a better cook than I was. I eyed the sugared biscuits cooling on the counter, and she laughed, dusting her hands off on her apron. She'd put on a few pounds lately, I saw, as the apron stretched across her belly. She never really lost all her pregnancy weight, though, so maybe I just hadn't noticed before. Victoire was an adorably round puffball of a woman with ginger curls even redder than mine. She looked just like our Gran, and I swear it made her Granddad's favourite of the grandkids. She was the oldest of us, too, which always gave her a one-up, but still, she looked the most like Gran. I was sure it biased Granddad in her favour. She got away with absolute murder around him and always had.

“Go ahead,” Victoire told me, waving at the biscuits. “But don't let Remus or Johnny see you eating them, I told them they had to wait until after dinner.”

I grabbed two. “I'm a grown-up, that rule doesn't apply to me.”

“I'm not sure they count you as a grown-up, Rose,” she told me, eyes twinkling.

I glanced around and made sure Teddy couldn't overhear me. “Can I talk to you about something in confidence?”

“Yeah. Come on outside.”

We went out to her back porch, and I cast a Muffliato spell so if Teddy came near, he wouldn't hear a word. While I trusted Victoire not to turn me in, I wasn't so sure about her husband. He might think he was doing it for my own good. Teddy had an overly inflated sense of right and wrong sometimes and frowned on things like harbouring murderers. He was such a stickler about that kind of thing.

I explained the whole situation about Lenny to Victoire as fast as I could. Victoire made a great sounding board when I had trouble turning up a felon. She thought differently than I did, so she often turned up things I hadn't noticed or got ideas I hadn't, and didn't seem to mind if I pretended they were all my ideas to my boss.

She was frowning by the time I finished explaining. “Are you sure Lenny didn't do it, Rose?”

I nodded. “I don't buy it for a second.”

“All right,” she said, accepting this at once. “And you think this Gormly person had something to do with it.”

“Yeah, I think so. He moved right in on Annable's territory. It should have taken a few days for someone to realize he was dead and take advantage of it. But he was outside the Grinning Troll the next morning. If he were friendly with Annable, he would have known Skone doesn't put up with that sort of thing on his turf, so the fact he was there at all... I think he killed Annable to take over his business.”

“It makes sense,” Victoire agreed thoughtfully. “But there's no proof.”

“I know. Someone came in and used Lenny's wand to kill Annable. Lenny didn't see a thing, and the neighbours claim they didn't see anyone, either, just that someone had been fighting with Annable and Annable was afraid.”

Victoire pursed her lips. “Hmm. What about this blonde woman your friend the barman told you was looking for Gormly as well?”

“I'm not sure what to make of that,” I admitted. “I don't know if she ever found him, or who she was. I think that's a dead end unless I can get another lead on her. Skone didn't have her name, only a vague description.”

“Honestly, Rose, the only thing I can think of is to find out what the MLEs know about Gormly's murder.” Victoire shook her head. “You have a lot of dead ends, but that's still open to you for investigation. I think you should look into it. It may give you an idea where to go next.”

She was undoubtedly right, but the only ways I could possibly get that kind of detail on an open murder case was to try to wheedle it out of Jack (he'd already given me the case file on Lenny, and I didn't really want to try to get any more out of him – I didn't want him to get in trouble at his job for it) or to ask my dad. Of the two, my dad was more likely to be persuaded to pass along confidential Ministry information, if I could get him alone and feed him. I wasn't so keen on talking about Lenny to my dad – didn't want him finding out I already had Lenny in custody and hadn't turned him in yet – but I reckoned I could talk around that well enough.

Before I could thank Victoire for talking it out with me, one of her kids came outside. I waved my wand to remove the Muffliato spell.

“Mummy,” began her eldest son, Remus. “You need to come upstairs and punish Johnny. He needs a time out. In the corner. And no dessert.”

“Why?” Victoire asked. Her voice goes up in pitch when she talks to her children. It was the strangest thing, but she'd been doing it since Remus was born. I wondered when she would give up and address them in her real voice. Well, when she wasn't angry with them, that is. Her voice dropped quite a bit when she was shouting.

“He kicked me in the face,” Remus told her, leaning against her with a mournful expression and a distinct lack of any obvious pain. “You should punish him.”

Victoire patted him on the head rather perfunctorily. “Well, you're not bleeding, or crying. Do you need me to take you to St. Mungo's?”

“No!” This was said emphatically, with his eyes wide. Victoire's kids lived in fear of St. Mungo's. I had no idea why. It wasn't as if anything bad had ever happened to them there. The Healers had removed Remus's extra arms in a trice that one time he'd gotten a hold of Victoire's wand.

“Were you playing a game?”

“Yes.”

“Were you kicking him in the face as well?”

She should be an MLE, honestly. Or a lawyer.

“Yes,” Remus admitted. “He wanted me to kick him.”

Victoire gave him a kiss on the top of his head. “I think you're fine. Go apologize to your brother, and tell him he has to apologize to you, or I'll send Daddy up to deal with both of you.”

“But I don't want to play with him any more. He's not my friend now.” Remus clung to her arm more tightly.

“Then go find something else to do. I'm trying to talk to your Auntie Rose.”

“But Mummy-”

“Go away, Gerald,” Victoire said, shooing Remus away. He ran off back into the house, probably to juggle knives or invent new forms of mathematics. I never put anything past the Lupin kids.

I eyed her. “Who's Gerald?”

“Oh, Remus has decided he wants to be called Gerald now,” she told me cheerfully, as if one's child using an alias were the most normal thing in the world.

“Do a lot of five year olds need assumed names?” I asked warily.

“He's six now, Rose. Remember, you came to his party?”

Yeah, I had pretty much repressed Remus's birthday party, but cheers for bringing it up again. Of course, I couldn't say that to my cousin, so I kept it to myself and just smiled at her, hoping she would take that as whatever answer was more appropriate than 'your kid's party made me never ever want to have children'.

“That reminds me,” Victoire began, giving me a significant look. I had no idea why. “Johnny will be four next month-”

“What, already?” I interrupted. “I thought he was just turning three.”

Victoire gave me a look. “Rose, you're his godmother.”

Was I? Oh, right. I think she'd told me that once or twice. God, what had I been thinking when I agreed to that? I didn't think it was my fault; after all, I must have agreed to it when she was pregnant with Johnny, and I couldn't possibly have predicted how he would turn out. No one could have predicted Johnny Lupin.

“Anyway, I wanted to give you a heads-up so you have some ideas for presents. No toy wands, we don't allow them,” she warned me. “And no Muggle toy guns, either. Granddad gave the boys some for Christmas that shot actual pellets and I had to throw them away.”

The thought of the Lupin boys with guns made my blood run cold. What was Granddad thinking? And how did Gran not find out about that and put a stop to it? Maybe she had thought they were just play weapons, or didn't know what a gun was. Either way, the idea of my buying guns of any kind, toy or not, was highly bloody unlikely.

“I already had to remind Louis not to give them anything inappropriate,” Victoire added. “Honestly, he has no sense whatsoever. Dominique managed to give them age-appropriate toys even before she had a child of her own. Even Albus gave them a lovely gift at Christmas, and he's a bachelor too.”

I noticed she hadn't mentioned what James or Fred had given them. Neither of them were likely to select anything even remotely appropriate, much like Louis. I despaired of my cousins sometimes, really. Apparently Victoire did too. Even of me – she felt she had to give me the same reminder she gave Louis. Hmm. I didn't think I was as bad as him. What did I give her kids for Christmas? I think Scorpius had picked it out, actually, whatever it was. He and Hugo could be trusted to choose gifts that wouldn't anger parents but would still make little boys happy.

“Speaking of Louis,” I said, remembering my run-in at the wandmaker's. “Do you remember if he ever went out with a woman named Ambrosia Heggs?”

Victoire shook her head. “Not that I recall, but he doesn't always introduce his, um, short-term relationships to me. Why?”

“I ran into her and apparently we knew each other at school, but I don't know why. Scorpius says she wasn't in our year, so I thought maybe she was one of Hugo's ex-girlfriends, or one of Louis's.”

“I don't think so. What does she look like?”

“She was pretty, kind of in an average way, blonde hair, blue eyes. About my age.” Something was nagging at me, but I didn't know what it was. “It's bugging me that I can't remember who she is.”

“I always feel like an idiot when someone remembers me but I don't remember them,” Victoire agreed.

Teddy stuck his head out the back door. “Are we eating tonight, or what?”

“Sorry, dear. Rose, let me know what your dad says, all right?”

I left the Lupins to their dinner, promising to update Victoire on the case. Teddy didn't ask what we had been talking about. He never does. I think he preferred not to know what I was doing, especially if his wife was going to come along.

 


Chapter 7: A Rain of Ketchup
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My dad's office in the Ministry was one of my favourite places. It was always warm, always full of interesting things to look at (my dad's version of filing is to put paperwork in large stacks all over his desk, around the edges of the wall, and on empty spaces on bookshelves, until eventually one of the department secretaries comes in and cleans it out and files it properly), and almost always has something to eat. The wall behind his desk is covered with his victories: awards and commendations, and Ministry photos of Dad at award ceremonies. A shelf underneath all that held framed photos of my mum, me, and my brother, and one of my favourites: a photo of my parents and Uncle Harry in their first year at Hogwarts. They all looked so young and cute.

My favourite thing in his office, though, was the wall of Dad's bad guys. He had a large bulletin board, with the Aurors' Most Wanted List on top – the worst Dark witches and wizards out there – and underneath, the caseboard for whatever bad guy Dad was currently trying to catch, with known associates and crimes listed. Along one side was pinned press photos from Dad's more spectacular captures. I loved looking at Dad's case board, and loved even more looking at his victory photos, as I thought of them. The awards were nice, but the headlines saying “AURORS CATCH MEATHOOK KILLER” and the like were way better. My dad was just cool.

It was nearly lunchtime, and I was hoping my dad would pay for some take-out for us – he's usually good for lunch if I turn up at the right time – so I knocked once on the door and then opened it.

Mum was sitting on Dad's lap, on the chair behind his desk, kissing him. He had his hands buried in her hair.

Ohmigod.

I let out a squeak and closed the door quickly, leaning against it.

One of the department secretaries, in the cubicle nearest my dad's office door, looked up at me with a grin.

“Sorry,” he said. “I should have warned you, your mum went in there about twenty minutes ago.”

“They need a 'do not disturb' sign to hang on the doorknob, honestly,” I said.

“We never open the door without waiting to be invited in,” he agreed.

I shook my head in sympathy. My parents never failed to embarrass me. Apparently they had a reputation. I should know better, really, because it was always a rule at home that you never just opened the door to Mum and Dad's room, but this was his office. His place of business. Oh God, did they do the same thing in Mum's office, too?

My dad's voice called out then, “You can come in, Rosie.”

The secretary gave me another grin and went back to his work, and I opened the door cautiously. Mum was standing next to the desk now, and her clothes looked a little rumpled, but nobody was snogging, so I came inside and sat down, hoping Mum was on her way out. My mother was, shall we say, not sympathetic to the plight of overprivileged rich kids who turn into 'bad seeds', as she calls them. If I brought up Lenny in front of her, I wasn't going to get much out of Dad around her ranting.

“Hi Rose,” Mum said, and she looked a little pink. “How are you, dear?”

“I'm all right.” I didn't need to ask her how she was. Clearly she and Dad were having a lovely day.

“I'll see you tonight, Ron,” Mum said to Dad, and he winked at her. Ew.

Mum left then, and Dad settled back into his chair.

“Come to have a lunch date with your old man?”

“You're not having lunch with Mum?” I asked.

“No, she has a meeting of some sort. That's why she came by, to tell me she'll be late getting home tonight. I was going to see if your uncle wanted to grab some lunch, but I'd much rather eat with you.” Dad gave me a fond smile. He was in a good mood, luckily for me. Maybe I should send Mum a thank-you card for buttering him up for me.

“Thanks, Dad.”

We went down to the Chinese food place around the corner that Dad favoured, and I made sure to get an extra order of egg rolls. Dad always ate them all first.

I suggested we eat in his office, so I didn't have to worry about wheedling Ministry secrets out of him in public. Seemed like I'd have an easier time of it if he were somewhere he felt comfortable. Once we were safely back in the heart of the Ministry of Magic, I snagged an egg roll before Dad could get at them. He took the rest.

“I haven't seen you in a few days,” Dad remarked as he ate. He had a bad habit of talking while chewing, which he restrained in front of Mum for the most part, but didn't bother around me and Hugo. Mum says it's revolting. It didn't bother me. I had to admit, I did it too sometimes.

“I've been busy with my latest skip,” I told him. “Lenny Graves.”

“Another drug charge?” Dad grunted. He had never been impressed by Lenny much, but always tried to get him a chance to clean up instead of going to prison whenever Lenny was arrested. I think Dad felt sorry for him. My cousin Dominique had been good friends with Lenny years ago, and he'd wrung an introduction to her famous uncles and aunt out of her. I remembered Lenny coming to our house once with Dominique when they were about fifteen, and I was twelve. Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny had been over for dinner that night. Lenny had seemed so very cool to me, but he'd been star-struck by my uncle Harry. Dad still treated Lenny like that star-struck fifteen year old.

“Nope, murder.”

Dad choked on his egg roll and had to take a drink before he could speak. “Lenny?” he spluttered finally. “Lenny Graves wouldn't kill anyone.”

Nobody seemed to believe Lenny was capable of murder except the MLEs. I found that interesting, and also mildly annoying. I understood why they had arrested him, but it seemed like even a blind man could tell Lenny wasn't the murderer after five minutes of speaking to him. Was that why they'd offered him manslaughter?

“Who is the detective in charge of the case?” Dad demanded. “How was the victim killed?”

“Killing Curse,” I told him, but I drew a blank on the investigator. “Um, I can't remember who's in charge of his case.”

“The Killing Curse is Dark magic. They must have had at least a consult from the Aurors at the time of his arrest,” Dad said with a frown. “We should be handling the case. I'll look into it.”

“They dropped it to manslaughter, but then he didn't show up for his court date, so they may not offer him that deal again.”

Dad stared at me. “You're telling me Lenny Graves was arrested for murdering someone with an Unforgivable Curse, and they've offered him a manslaughter plea? Unforgivables are supposed to be a one-way ticket to Azkaban. Why would they offer him a charge that he might do eight to ten years on?”

“I thought maybe because of his dad being famous,” I said a little nervously. I didn't want to accuse the Ministry's lawyers of corruption even a little bit – after all, my mum was one – but it was pretty weird.

“Rose, you've been around me and your mum, not to mention working as a bounty hunter, long enough to know that what you're talking about is not normal,” Dad said sternly. “There is no way Lenny should have been offered a plea if they really think he killed someone with an Unforgivable. Are you hiding anything? Is there something we're missing?”

I breathed out a sigh of relief. I had to admit, I'd been feeling wound pretty tight over this Lenny thing. It didn't sit right with me, but nobody else seemed to get the full extent of the not-rightness. My dad clearly got it, and now I had begun telling him the story, I already felt a lot better.

Still, I wasn't going to tell him I was harbouring Lenny. I would just have to tell him everything but that part.

“Hold on,” Dad said, and went to his office door. He stuck his head out and said to one of the secretaries, “Get me the most recent arrest report on Leonard Graves.”

There was a general murmur of 'right away, sir' from the pit, and Dad shut the door again. I needed flunkies. It must be nice. Lydia was great, but Dad had a whole squad of Lydias to do his bidding.

“Okay,” said Dad, sitting back down and pulling a carton of beef and broccoli toward him. “Start at the beginning.”

“Lenny was in a flat belonging to a dealer named Herbert Annable, trying to score some new drug or other, and they argued over the price. Lenny went to the bathroom to calm down a bit, and left his wand in the living room. While he was in there, he heard another man enter the home and cast the Killing Curse at Annable. When he came out of the bathroom, Annable was dead and no one else was around. One of the neighbours summoned the MLEs, and Lenny was arrested. He told them about the other man, but they didn't believe him.”

“You sound suspiciously like you've already read the full arrest report, not just the bit that gets sent to the bond agencies,” Dad said mildly.

“I might have done,” I admitted.

“Your friend Jack, I suppose.” Dad sighed. “Go on.”

Jack always got the blame when I had information that Dad hadn't given me. Funny how he never minded if I got it from him, but if Jack told me things, Dad got all huffy that I knew insider Ministry information.

“The MLEs think it was a cut and dry case. Junkie and dealer fight over the price, dealer winds up dead.”

“Makes sense,” Dad said. “At least until you get to the part about the Ministry deciding to offer him manslaughter.”

“That seemed off to me too,” I agreed. The whole case was wrong to me, but now he'd mentioned it, I knew he was right. They shouldn't have offered Lenny manslaughter. Using an Unforgivable Curse meant a life sentence in Azkaban, no wiggle room given.

“It might just be because his dad's band is so popular. Celebrity kids get away with more,” Dad mused.

Um, yeah, look at me, daughter of two war heroes and niece of Harry Potter, picking up Ministry secrets and getting illegal copies of arrest reports. I smiled cheekily at him. Dad didn't seem to notice.

“Still, it's a miscarriage of justice. If they really think he did it, he should go to Azkaban for the rest of his life, no questions. That's how the law works in these cases. Manslaughter... I suppose they tested the wand?”

“Lenny's wand was the one that killed Annable,” I said, nodding. “But Lenny swore to the MLEs he hadn't been the one using it. No one else saw the man he heard, though.”

“So what aren't you telling me?” Dad asked. “I can see on your face that there's more. Go on.”

I leaned forward and took the orange chicken from him. I love orange chicken. “Well, I thought it was odd, so I started looking into things. I questioned the neighbours, and they confirmed they hadn't seen anyone else but Lenny there that night, but they also didn't actually see Lenny kill Annable. One of his neighbours told me Annable had been arguing with another man recently, and Annable was scared of him. Annable told his neighbour that he and this other man worked together. I started poking around for Annable's known associates and any enemies, and it turns out, the morning after he was killed, another drug dealer moved into his territory.”

Dad's eyebrows rose. “Awfully organized, isn't that? They're not normally that quick on the draw.”

“Exactly. So I asked around, and found out the man had been thrown out of the Grinning Troll for trying to sell down there. Skone gave me the wand he'd taken from the dealer-”

“I didn't hear that part,” Dad said. “Illegal confiscation of a wand.”

I gave him a look. “Um, yeah. Anyway, I traced it to the wandmaker and got the name of its owner, a man named Nicomedes Gormly. Lydia looked up a current address for me and I went over to look around – um, you didn't hear this part either, Daddy-”

He waved his hand dismissively, unconcerned that I was about to reveal something illegal that I'd done. He was leaning forward now, obviously interested in the story.

“When I tried his front door, it was unlocked, so I went inside and looked around. He was obviously manufacturing drugs in the kitchen, and when I looked out the back window, I saw a man dead on the ground. So I summoned the MLEs, but they wouldn't tell me a thing.”

“Who was in charge of that murder scene?” Dad asked.

“Phineas Hibbitt.”

He nodded. “Good man.”

“I don't know who killed Gormly, but isn't it suspicious? It has to be related.”

“Not necessarily,” Dad said. “Drug dealers get killed all the time. Same M.O.?”

I shook my head. “Looked like Gormly was killed by a shovel blow to the head.”

Dad raised his eyebrows again. “A shovel? Wow.”

“Skone told me there was another woman asking about the dealer who'd moved in on Annable's territory,” I added. “I don't know who, though. He didn't get her name.”

“Another bounty hunter?” Dad suggested.

Oh, holy Kneazles. I hadn't even thought of that. Would Angelo hire someone else without telling me, and send her after the same case? Yeah, he probably would, but Lydia would have told me about it. “I don't think so,” I said slowly. “But you never know.”

“Could be a freelancer. Well, it's suspicious, at the least. Keep an eye out, in case you see her. I'd question her if I were you. Find out who she is and what she knows. Did you get a description from Skone?”

I nodded.

“Good girl.”

The door to Dad's office opened and a petite, dark-haired woman walked in. I reckoned she was one of the secretaries, and sure enough, she handed Dad a file.

He nodded at her as he took it. “Thank you, Marie. Can you also pull the file on the murder of Nicomedes Gormly?”

“Yes, sir.” She smiled at me and then left. Very efficient. I really do need flunkies.

Dad opened it and skimmed the reports. He glanced up after a minute and gave me a look. “You definitely read this report, Rosie.”

Since he'd called me 'Rosie' and not 'Rose', or worse, used my middle name as well, I knew he wasn't upset. I smiled at him and he went back to reading.

When he finished, he looked up at me and tapped the file. “There is no way this should have been downgraded to manslaughter. Either Lenny's dad is pulling some strings to get him a lighter sentence, or something fishy is going on here.”

“I don't think it's Lenny's dad,” I said, and then immediately wished I hadn't. I couldn't exactly tell Dad that Lenny had done a bunk on his court date because his dad's lawyer had basically told him he wasn't going to be found innocent.

“Why is that?” Dad asked.

“Just a feeling.” I went on quickly, “Would Lenny be missing if his dad were trying to get him a lighter sentence? And wouldn't his dad be fighting for him to be exonerated completely? Lenny told the MLEs he didn't do it. His dad would believe him, you would think.”

“Maybe.” Dad looked thoughtful. I hoped I had sufficiently diverted his attention. I didn't want him finding out Lenny was at my place when he was supposed to be in a holding cell awaiting trial.

“Do you think Lenny did it, Rose?” Dad asked quietly, and I looked back up at him. We locked eyes.

“No,” I said. “I don't.”

Dad nodded, but he didn't take the subject any further. I breathed a sigh of relief when he said, “I'm going to review the case, and Gormly's. I might have your mum take a look, too. Something isn't right here.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

I really had nothing else to do the rest of the day, but since we needed money, I decided I'd better spend my time wisely and go pick up Parmenter.

I checked his house, but he wasn't home. Normally I would break in and make sure, but I was afraid that nogtail was still in there. Who keeps a nogtail as a pet? Honestly. I Disapparated, heading for his job.

Parmenter currently worked at a place at the tail end of Diagon Alley that served cheap, oily food. He was mopping the floor when I came in, and his eyes widened when he saw me.

“You can't take me into custody here,” he said in a stage whisper. “I'll lose my job!”

“Then come along quietly, and you can be back to finish your shift in a couple of hours.” This was a forlorn hope, I knew, but I always tried to convince Parmenter to come along without a fight. It never worked.

His nostrils flared a bit, and I could see the words You'll never take me alive! flashing across his mind, but he managed to restrain himself from shrieking it out like he usually did.

Instead he dropped his mop and grabbed a bottle of ketchup from the tray of condiments on the counter behind him. “Don't come any closer!”

“What are you going to do, shoot me with the Magic Ketchup Pump of Death?” I asked sarcastically. “Come on, Parmenter, just put it down.”

“You'll never take me alive!” he yelled. I reckoned he couldn't resist.

I shot a Stunner at him, but he leaped aside and it hit the wall in a burst of red light. A witch in the back of the restaurant grabbed her kids and hurried outside via the back door. The only other people in the place were a spotty kid behind the counter, who ducked down behind it, and an old man in a booth at the front. He was still eating his chips placidly as if he hadn't noticed a thing.

“Parmenter, this is stupid!” I yelled, ducking down behind a booth. A hex went over my head, followed by a squirt of ketchup.

“I'm not going back there! You can't make me!”

I peeked around the booth and aimed another Stunner at him. He swore loudly and squirted the ketchup at me again, then tossed it aside as if he hadn't realized he didn't have his wand in that hand.

The ketchup had landed on my shoe. I stomped my foot a bit, and some of it slid off onto the dirty tile floor. Stupid Parmenter. He always had to do something ridiculous. I took another peek, and this time a glob of sauerkraut flew at me, splattering against the wooden bench.

Parmenter yelled another hex, and the condiments exploded, raining ketchup, mustard, and various sauces all over the restaurant. I put my arms up to cover my head. Worcestershire sauce dripped off my elbows. Another shirt ruined, I thought, annoyed.

I shook the sauce off and leaned around the edge of the booth again, aiming a Body-Bind Curse at Parmenter. It caught him on the shoulder, spinning him around before he fell like a plank of wood, his body straight as a board. Silence suddenly echoed through the restaurant.

I scrambled to my feet and squelched through the ketchup and mustard all over the floor over to Parmenter's stiff form, sliding once in a puddle of pungent sauces. “Why do you always have to do this?” I sighed. His eyes swivelled wildly, but he couldn't speak. Probably best. He didn't look happy.

“I didn't order any salad cream,” said the old man at the front, brushing some off his fried fish.

*

The officer on duty at the MLE offices laughed his head off when I brought Parmenter in, both of us covered in condiments, and made me pose for a picture with him. I think he might have asked for my autograph on the photo if he could. It was embarrassing. So much for the legend, although probably this was the sort of thing that had made me legendary in the first place. Maybe I wasn't a good legend like my dad was.

I took the body receipt triumphantly to Angelo's, and Lydia, chortling under her breath, gave me the bounty on Parmenter. It did not seem sufficient for having been covered in ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, but it was better than nothing.

“I have good news for you,” Lydia said. She was still grinning as she looked at the mustard stains on my jeans. “I was looking into that Gormly bloke some more, and I found an associate of Gormly and Annable's. Similar criminal record and pattern of drug arrests, and they were all arrested on the same occasion twice. I thought you might like to check him out. He's got a few more violent priors than either Annable or Gormly, though.”

More violent priors didn't sound terribly appealing, but until my dad came up with something from the reports on their murders, I had no other leads on either Annable or Gormly. I took the sheet of parchment from Lydia and read over her notes.

Archie Cullip had a rap sheet longer than my arm, most of it drug dealing convictions and a few assault and batteries. There was one knifing, but no Dark magic. Maybe he wasn't entirely bad. It seemed he would be more likely to be the shovel-to-the-head killer than the Killing Curse killer, but I supposed he might have done both. Hey, maybe Gormly had killed Annable and Cullip had killed Gormly. A chain of murdering drug dealers? Stranger things had happened.

If he was the murderer of one or both of my dead bodies, I didn't really want to go poking around his place by myself. I reckoned I would do some surveillance first and see how scary he looked before I went to talk to him. I'd gone in blind to Gormly and found a dead body. Caution seemed to be in order this time.

And hey, if I was going to do surveillance, it meant I could bring a friend.

 


Chapter 8: Royal Hippogriff
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


Victoire popped open the tin of cashews and offered it to me. “Hungry?”

“You're eating cashews? No éclairs?” I peered into her handbag.

Victoire was my favourite person on surveillance, because she always brought pastries, and she was fantastically good at the Disillusionment Charm. You were practically invisible when Victoire Disillusioned you. A few weeks ago, I saw her cast the charm on her new puppy so her kids would let the poor creature have a break for a little while. I hadn't even been sure where the puppy was until it barked.

Today she was letting me down, though. Cashews? That was practically healthy. Proper surveillance food included only things coated in chocolate, in my opinion.

“I've been in the mood for cashews all week. Can't get enough of them. I have pastries in there somewhere though,” Victoire said, taking her bag from me and rummaging around inside it. “Aha!” She pulled out a white paper bag with the logo of her favourite patisserie printed on it.

I took them gratefully and pulled out a crème puff. It just wasn't surveillance without food you oughtn't be eating.

We were sitting outside Archie Cullip's row house, on the pavement across the street. We had a pretty good view through the front window, and we'd be able to see if anyone came in or out. No sign of Cullip yet. I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking for, to be honest, but at least I felt productive. I was doing something, even if it was only eating pastries with my cousin.

We had taken the usual precautions for staying hidden: Disillusionment Charms and Muffliato so no one could hear us chatting. Victoire had cast a Cushioning Charm on the pavement, so my feet weren't even falling asleep. I was actually quite comfortable. I really loved doing surveillance with Victoire, it was so much better than going alone.

“Are you coming to Dominique's party this weekend?” Victoire asked, popping a cashew into her mouth.

“I don't know. It depends on if Lenny's still at my house or not, I guess. Do you know why she's doing this?”

My cousin Dominique, Victoire's younger sister, had sent out word to all the cousins that she was having a dinner party this Saturday evening and particularly wanted all of us to be there. I'd agreed, because there seemed to be no other choice, even though Dominique and I didn't socialize much. If she'd ever had a dinner party before, I certainly hadn't been invited. I didn't know what she wanted with me this time.

Victoire shrugged. “She didn't say. My guess is she's pregnant again and wants to make a big announcement to tell everyone.”

I had to suppress a groan. Dominique had spent her first pregnancy completely miserable, and had taken it out on everyone else. I really hoped she wasn't pregnant again. If she was, I was avoiding her until Christmas.

“I'm going to bring a bottle of wine,” said Victoire. “What are you bringing her as a hostess gift?”

Oh, man. I didn't have any money for hostess gifts. “Do I have to bring something? She's my cousin.”

Victoire gave me a look. “She's my sister, and I'm bringing a gift. Besides, you know Dommie. She's Little Miss Proper about manners. If you don't bring her one, she'll tell our mum about it, and Mum will mention it to Aunt Hermione.”

Crap. She was right. Dominique would blow it out of proportion, and next thing you knew, my mother would be saying, Your aunt Flooed me... “Um, I'm broke.”

“I figured. I'll cover you. I can pick up a second bottle, it'll be from you.” Victoire elbowed me in the ribs. “With all those cousins there, we're going to need plenty to drink, am I right?”

This was very true. No one can drive you to drink quite like family. “Thanks, Victoire. I'll pay you back later.”

She grinned. “I'll add it to your tab.”

I elbowed her back, and we ate in silence for a while, watching Cullip's house. Nothing happened. Nobody came by to see him, and he didn't go out. It was very boring. I could see a telly on through the window; Cullip must have been watching it. I wished I could see it better, so I could watch it too.

“So what did Uncle Ron tell you about Gormly's murder?” Victoire asked eventually, brushing some cashew salt off her fingertips.

“Nothing. He said he would look into it for me, though.”

Victoire made a face. She looked strikingly like her son Remus when she did that. Sorry, I meant Gerald. “Nothing at all? Uncle Ron usually does better than that for you.”

“Actually, we had a really great chat about the case. I didn't tell him Lenny was with me, though.”

“Smart move,” she agreed.

“He thought the whole thing sounded fishy. They shouldn't have offered Lenny a manslaughter plea, you know,” I told her. “Anyone who uses an Unforgivable Curse is supposed to be put in Azkaban for life.”

“That's weird. Why would they let him off with a lesser charge?”

“That's what Dad's going to find out,” I told her. “He did suggest that maybe the blonde woman was another bounty hunter.”

“Who, that Ambrosia person you told me about?” Victoire asked, looking rather startled. “I thought you said she went to Hogwarts with you.”

“No, not her. The woman looking for Gormly at the Grinning Troll, I mean. Skone said she was blonde, blue eyes, kind of pretty.”

“Do you know a bounty hunter who looks like that?”

I shook my head. “Nope. There's only one other female bounty hunter that I know of. She works for Highland Magical Bonds, but she's Senegalese. Could be a new freelancer, though. We get them occasionally.”

“Maybe the blonde from the bar and Ambrosia are the same person,” Victoire suggested. “The description Skone gave you fits Ambrosia, doesn't it? Maybe Ambrosia is the blonde who questioned him.”

I stared blindly at Cullip's open window, feeling as if a light were dawning, and not in a pleasant way. It couldn't be the same woman. The wandmaker had been a little off, almost like he'd been Confunded, but wandmakers were naturally a little off, so it was hard to tell. Maybe he was just like that. Or maybe she'd modified his memory. And then no one knew who she was, even though she said she'd gone to Hogwarts with me. And she did fit Skone's description, Victoire was right. Not that it had been a terribly detailed description. A lot of people fit it.

Were we following a false trail with Cullip? I didn't like the thought that I'd just wasted four hours here, although the crème puffs had been delicious. I had to admit, it had been a tenuous sort of lead, but it had seemed the next best thing to do. Besides, a lead being crappy had never stopped me from following it before.

What if Cullip was the killer? He could have murdered Gormly, or Gormly and Annable. But then, what if Cullip wasn't involved at all? What if it had all been Ambrosia Heggs? What if Ambrosia had killed Gormly and Annable?

It was a lot of what-ifs. I was quite accustomed to leaping merrily to conclusions, but this was a lot of what-ifs even for me.

“Crap,” I said aloud. I didn't know what to do.

“Sounds like this Ambrosia person is a better lead,” Victoire said, picking at the chocolate coating on one of the crème puffs. “If she is the blonde who was asking questions at the Grinning Troll and then you saw her at the wand shop, then she's a step ahead of you. And the man you were both looking for turned up dead. I think you should find out what she's doing now, and what she plans to do next.”

I was starting to feel a little sick. If I had gotten to Gormly first, would he still have been murdered? If I hadn't gone to pick up Parmenter... If Parmenter had come along quietly for once... If Lydia had gotten that address for me a little more quickly... Could I have stopped Gormly's murder? Or would I have been dead by shovel too? If Gormly hadn't been killed by another drug dealer, why had he been killed?

“This is speculation, though,” I said uneasily. “We don't know it's the same woman.”

“I reckon we ought to stake her out,” said Victoire.

“I'll have Lydia look into her, get a background and an address. Then I can figure out what to do next.”

“Okay, but if you do stake her out, I'm coming along.”

“It's a deal,” I said. We linked pinkies and shook on it.

*

Scorpius went out first thing the next morning to his agent, while Lenny and I were both still asleep. I woke up late morning (okay, it was noon), and found Lenny cooking omelettes. Wow, having Lenny around was kind of nice. Normally if Scorpius wasn't home to feed me, the most complicated thing I could manage was oatmeal. The instant kind, that is. I could pour hot water like nobody's business.

Lenny and I ate omelettes and drank breakfast tea, and he told me about a song he was writing about his arrest and false accusations of murder. It was going to be punk-metal. I couldn't wait to hear it, I had to admit. It sounded hilariously bad.

Scorpius arrived home in a bubbly sort of mood. I could hear him singing from down the hall. He swept inside, obviously very pleased with himself, and Lenny handed him an omelette.

“Mr. Barnes says my paintings are really brilliant,” he said excitedly, forking up some of the eggs. “Hey, this is really good, Lenny.”

“Thanks, man. I like your paintings, too,” Lenny said.

“That's great, babe.” I was glad things were going so well for him. It was about time. He was really a brilliant artist, and I thought it was about time someone recognized this about him. Not to mention the getting paid aspect of being a real artist, that was definitely a plus.

“Mr. Barnes says they just need a professional appraisal before he can start looking for a gallery for them,” Scorpius went on.

I wasn't sure what to make of that. “I thought he was appraising them? Isn't that what he does?”

“No, he takes them to the gallery and talks people into buying them. But they need an appraisal first, he says.”

A warning bell was going off in my head. “How much is that going to cost?” I asked suspiciously.

“Three hundred pounds. Um, about fifty-five Galleons, I think?” Scorpius didn't look concerned, but I wasn't pleased.

I tried to hide it, because again, I wasn't going to be the one to crush his dreams, but holy Kneazles, another bloody fee? All I had was the bounty on Parmenter, and it wasn't even half the amount needed. Was this really how artists got started? It seemed like a lot of initial outlay. I thought the painting was supposed to be the finished product, and once you had that, it was just a matter of a buyer. Now there were fees and appraisals... Well, it was his dream, I thought determinedly. We would just have to find the money somehow.

“How are we supposed to come up with the money for this?” I asked Scorpius in a low voice as Lenny took his empty plate to the sink. “We're already almost broke, and rent is going to be due in two weeks. You know how Mrs. Kochel feels about us being late with the rent.”

“I have to pay the fees to get started, Rose,” Scorpius said sharply. “Once the paintings get in a gallery, Mr. Barnes says he can sell them each for thousands of pounds. We'll be set. And we can pay rent with Lenny's gold. You'll find something to clear him by then.”

His confidence in me was nice, but I wasn't feeling so confident. I wasn't any closer to getting evidence to clear Lenny. We had to eat, and feed Lenny, and pay rent. And now we had to give everything we had left, plus more, to this agent? Again?

“Maybe I can borrow it from Hugo,” I suggested, though I didn't want to. I already owed Victoire for the hostess gift for Dominique. Now I was going to owe my brother as well, and a whole lot more than a bottle of wine.

Scorpius hates borrowing money from anyone. I thought it spoke pretty clearly about how badly he wanted this agent thing to work out that he was willing to agree to borrow money so easily. He nodded, his face a little pinched. “I don't think we have much choice.”

“When do you need the money by?” I asked quickly. Lenny was coming back.

“As soon as possible,” Scorpius admitted.

Crap. “I guess I'll go over to Hugo's, then.” I finished my omelette first, though. I wasn't going to go pan-handling from my brother for money on an empty stomach.

*

My younger brother lived in a small but rather nice flat right near St. Mungo's, where he worked as a trainee Healer. He was far more responsible than I was, paid his rent on time every month, often because he had a roommate, and never had to steal food from our parents or borrow money off anyone. He and I were still pretty close, though, even though he was now the Good Child and I was the one my mother said gave her heart palpitations when she thought about my job. Probably because he was my only sibling. We had a long history of him trying to decapitate my dolls while I told our parents he was the one who carved 'Rose' into the dining room table. That really brings you close.

Hugo answered the door still wearing his lime-green uniform robes. They looked absolutely horrific with his ginger curls.

“Hi Hugo,” I said cheerfully as I stepped inside, giving him a quick hug as I passed. That was probably going to tip him off that I wanted something, since I was generally only affectionate with him like that when I was about to borrow money or tell him I'd been evicted and needed to stay at his place. That only happened once, though, honestly. “Do you have-” I stopped short. There was a girl on Hugo's couch.

She was also wearing lime-green robes, and appeared to be about Hugo's age. She was pretty, with curly brown hair and dark eyes. She had on far too much eye makeup for someone who had obviously just come from work.

She looked up at me with an expression like she'd just stepped on a dungbomb. “Hugo?” she said.

“Um, Chastity, this is Rose,” Hugo said, waving at me. “She's my sister.”

I had to cover my mouth for a second. Chastity? Oh, Hugo.

Chastity's face lost most of the curdled-milk expression, and she repeated, “Your sister?”

“Yeah, I'm his sister,” I said. I didn't like her. I tried not to let it worry me, though, because knowing Hugo, she'd be gone in a fortnight.

“Did you need something, Rose?” Hugo asked, clearly eager to shuffle me out of his flat so he could be alone with his new little girlfriend.

“Yeah. Come in here.” I grabbed his sleeve and towed him into the kitchen, where hopefully we wouldn't be overheard.

“What do you want?” he demanded in a whisper once we were alone, shaking my hand off. “Can't you see I'm busy? Bugger off.”

“I need to borrow forty Galleons,” I said.

He frowned at me. “Forty Galleons? Come on, Rose.”

“Scorpius needs it. He's got this agent, and maybe they can sell his paintings in a gallery, or something like that. We'll pay you back,” I added, although I almost never paid Hugo back when I borrowed money off him.

“All right, fine. Just a minute. Try to be nice to Chastity, okay?”

I stuck my tongue out at him, and he went off to his room. I returned to the living room and sat on the armchair across from his girlfriend.

“So, how long have you and Hugo been going out?” I asked, trying to be nice to her.

“This is our second date,” she said.

Second date and she was already at his place? She definitely would not be getting an introduction to Mum and Dad. “That's nice,” I said.

“He's a really great guy,” Chastity told me.

“Sure.” If she said so. Oh, all right, Hugo was a great guy. He was loaning me forty Galleons, wasn't he? And he almost never told Mum and Dad what I was up to these days.

“I really like him,” she confessed.

I restrained myself from rolling my eyes. “Okay.”

Clearly she needed validation, because she was still talking. “I think he likes me too. Do you think he likes me too?”

“I have no idea,” I told her, maybe a little too honestly.

Hugo came back in and handed me a small bag. “Here, Rose. Bye, Rose.”

“Okay, I'm leaving. It was, um, nice to meet you, Chastity,” I added, waving to her.

“You too,” she said, waving back.

“Oh, hey, Hugo,” I said, stopping in the middle of the doorway. I'd almost forgotten, I'd been meaning to ask him about Ambrosia. If she was just his ex-girlfriend, I'd know she wasn't a murderer. Well, probably. “Did you ever go out with someone named Ambrosia Heggs?”

“What? No, I didn't,” he said, with a glance over his shoulder at Chastity. The stepped-on-a-dungbomb expression had returned to her face. Whoops. Guess I shouldn't have asked that in front of her.

“Bye,” I said to my brother. He gave me a little shove out the door. Nice. But he had given me the money, so I went home in triumph to give it to Scorpius.

When I got home, Scorpius was reading a letter while an owl waited at the open window. He looked up when he heard me come in.

“Oh, just in time.” He handed me the letter. “She wants an answer by return owl.”

I scanned the letter, noting the signature at the bottom first. My cousin Molly. No wonder she wanted an immediate RSVP. Molly was extremely organized. She was inviting us to a victory party. Apparently her team had won the league this year, and she'd actually gotten to play in the last game. Molly was the reserve Keeper for the Holyhead Harpies.

“Do you want to go?” I asked Scorpius, glancing significantly at Lenny.

“Actually, I'd rather finish this painting,” he said, nodding at the half-completed portrait of Lenny and his guitar. “You go ahead. But I do need to run over and pay the appraisal fee before you go.”

I dashed off a note to my cousin confirming that I would be there but Scorpius would not, and he dashed off to hand over my hard-earned (well, hard-borrowed) money to the agent. I went and changed clothes and put on some makeup while he was gone. Might as well look nice at Molly's. It was bound to be huge. Molly rarely threw parties, probably because she was so compulsive about keeping her flat clean, but I had a feeling she'd invited literally everyone she knew to this one.

I was ready for the party by the time Scorpius came back an hour later, and I gave him a quick kiss before heading out to the hall to Disapparate.

Molly lived in a little town in Wales, in a building with very modern architecture and beautiful but minimalist gardens outside. She loved it. It was a little too stark for me. I preferred my gardens overflowing and chaotic, in classic English cottage style. Molly was very minimalist and modern herself, though, so it suited her.

As I'd expected, the place was packed. I could see my cousin Fred standing over in a corner with my cousin James, and dodged behind a large man in purple robes so they didn't see me. Fred liked to think he was my sidekick or bounty hunter apprentice or something because I'd taken him along on a job or two. Really his only useful skill was the ability to pick almost any lock, Muggle or magical. I was rubbish at both. If I hung out with him tonight, he'd want to tag along on my next job. I'd much rather take Victoire. James I was avoiding because he was trouble. I hoped Molly remembered to keep an eye on him; the last time he'd come to a party at my flat, he'd thrown a lamp out the window without opening it first and put a large hole in the wall trying to hex an apple off Fred's head.

I made my way over to Molly, since it was probably proper to say hello to the hostess first, and she was standing in front of the booze.

“Hi Rose!” she said, hugging me. “Scorpius couldn't make it tonight?”

“He was feeling the muse, so he stayed home to paint,” I said, grinning at her. Molly's hair was done in the green and gold of her team, as usual, and pushed up into a six-inch mohawk. She pulled it off brilliantly, probably because her normal style of dress included a great deal of black leather and cleavage.

“Well, have fun. And if you have a drink, make sure you go home by Floo or have a Designated Apparator,” she added sternly. I rolled my eyes. Molly was, I admit, a very cool person, but she had been Head Girl in her day, and sometimes she still acted as if she were in charge of the lot of us.

After I'd gotten a drink of firewhiskey and soda, I went over to the sofa, where I could see my cousin Roxanne, Fred's older sister, sitting with a butterbeer and looking a little morose.

“Hi Roxy,” I said, sitting down next to her. I hadn't seen Roxanne for a while. We didn't hang out much, really. She was always with Molly; they were best friends, I suppose. They certainly spent their every waking moment together, it seemed, talking Quidditch. Roxanne didn't play herself, but she loved the sport, and wanted to be a Quidditch correspondent on the Wizarding Wireless Network, the way my aunt Ginny was for the newspaper. That was something else Roxanne and Molly had in common: they both adored Aunt Ginny.

Don't get me wrong, I like Aunt Ginny too. I just don't spend all my free time admiring her and her career. Molly wanted to be Aunt Ginny twenty-five years ago, when she had played for the Harpies (and not as a reserve player). Roxanne wanted to be Aunt Ginny now, lead Quidditch correspondent for the Daily Prophet.

Both of them were mental. But Roxanne was particularly mental, because she also had a long-standing crush on a professional Quidditch player she'd never actually met, Hilarion Winston-Fisher. He was very good-looking, in a vacant sort of way, and I was pretty sure if Roxanne ever actually met him, she'd probably faint. Or fake it, right into his arms.

“The Arrows lost their last two games,” Roxanne said. “Hilarion was in the papers talking about how sad he was over it, the poor dear.”

“Shouldn't you be happy for Molly?” I asked delicately.

“I am.” Roxanne shot a furtive glance over at our cousin. “I'm just also sad for Hilarion.”

“You don't even know him,” I pointed out.

“He's a lovely person,” she said.

Like I said, she'd never actually met him. “Molly said he was a twit with a monosyllabic vocabulary.”

Roxanne shook her finger at me. “When I marry Hilarion, you'll be sorry you said that.”

“You've never even met him,” I exclaimed. Why is everyone I'm related to completely mental?

“I will next week,” Roxanne said triumphantly. “He's coming to Flourish and Blotts to sign copies of his book, and I'm going to meet him when he autographs my book, and then he's going to fall in love with me.”

I gave her a wary look. Somehow I didn't think this was likely, but Roxanne had been delusional about Hilarion Winston-Fisher for a long time now. “He wrote a book?”

“Yes. Well, sort of. It's a photography book. Pictures of him. Shut up, Rose,” she added. I reckoned I hadn't chortled quietly enough.

“You're not worried that it will take him longer than the space of an autograph to fall in love with you?” I asked, hoping to divert her attention before she kicked me. Roxanne often tried to kick people she was annoyed with.

Roxanne frowned. “What are you trying to say? I'm not lovable?”

Well, she was totally mental... “No, not that,” I assured her. “I just think, since this may be your only shot at meeting him, you might want to give yourself more time with him.”

“Hmm.”

“I mean, your entire future happiness could be resting on this moment.” I was on a roll. I couldn't stop talking. “You want to give it every chance you've got, don't you?”

“Yeah,” Roxanne agreed loudly. “You're right, Rose!”

“I'm just saying. Hey, doesn't Lucy work at Flourish and Blotts?” Yeah, I was throwing our cousin Lucy to the wolves here, and she would probably kill me, but I really did not want to hear Roxanne moaning about how Hilarion Winston-Fisher would have fallen in love with her, if only she'd had more time. At least this way if he turned her down, she might finally get over him. It was really annoying, and probably unhealthy. She was too old to fixate on a celebrity this way. I used to think she was only joking, but the possibility of meeting him seemed to have made her snap. Or maybe she'd been serious all along. My family is so weird.

“Yeah, she does,” Roxanne said, then a moment later she stood up. “I've got to go.”

I watched her leave, and hoped she didn't tell Lucy this was all my idea. Lucy was Molly's younger sister, so she was probably well aware of Roxanne's crazy about Hilarion. Oh well. I was sure I would hear about it if Lucy was annoyed with me, probably through the parental grapevine. Yet another opportunity for my mum to begin the ominous statement, 'Your aunt just Flooed me...'

My cousin Fred plopped down on the couch next to me on one side, and James on the other. Great. I drank my whiskey and soda quickly, before James could tamper with it like he'd done the last time I went drinking with him. He'd thought it was hilarious until I'd thrown up on his shoes. Changing the proof of alcohol was very difficult magic. I'd never actually heard of anyone but James who could do it. He was quite good at magic, actually, it was just a shame he didn't use his powers for good. The world was all a big joke to James, which was fun sometimes and annoying at others.

“Hi Rose,” James said cheerfully. “Were you trying to avoid us? I saw you come in, but you didn't say hi. Not very friendly of you. Want another drink?”

“No,” I said, covering my empty glass with one hand. “Hi James. Hi Fred.”

“Hi Rose,” Fred said. “Have you got any skips? Do you need help picking anyone up?”

“Nope, no skips,” I told him. All right, maybe I don't mind lying so much, if the occasion called for it. Fred was like a puppy, though, all wide eager eyes and bouncy enthusiasm. It was very annoying at times.

“Really?” James said innocently. “Because I heard you were supposed to be arresting Lenny Graves.”

“I don't arrest anyone,” I said, but neither of them listened.

“Why would you pick up Lenny Graves?” Fred asked. “Lenny is awesome. Do you need help? I can help you.”

Oh, holy Kneazles. “Go away, James,” I said, annoyed with him now for putting Fred on my case.

“Lenny is awesome,” James agreed with Fred, ignoring me completely. “So what did he do, Rose? Louis didn't know.”

“He killed someone,” I told them.

Fred and James both reared back in unison.

“What, Lenny?” Fred said, echoing what seemed to be the universal reaction to the charges against Lenny. “Lenny wouldn't kill anyone.”

“No way,” agreed James.

“It's not up to me. There's a warrant out for him, and he broke his bond agreement by missing his court date.” I was so not going to tell Fred or James that Lenny was staying with me. No one in my family could keep a secret except Victoire. And maybe Lucy, but I didn't really talk to Lucy much.

“Wow. Poor Lenny.” James shook his head. “I can't picture Lenny killing anybody. Who did he kill?”

“None of your business,” I said.

“You're no fun, Rose. You used to be fun.” James sighed dramatically, putting his hand to his chest.

“Yeah, Rose,” put in Fred. “You suck royal hippogriff.” The two of them exchanged a complicated hand slap in front of me and then left.

They both sucked royal hippogriff.

I left the couch. It was obviously bad luck. I threaded through the crowd, looking for familiar faces. I waved at my cousin Lily, who was standing near a man I recognized as a Chaser for the Wigtown Wanderers. She was looking very cute and flirty, as only Lily could, in a short skirt and cat's eye glasses. She gave me a finger waggle back, but went right back to giggling at her companion, so I left her alone. Clearly she was busy.

I hit the bathroom, and while washing my hands I did my usual nosy-cousin peek around and realized that Molly had colour-coded her bathroom.

I opened the medicine cabinet. More colour-coding. Under the sink. More colour-coding. Blue for hair potions, red for face and skin potions, green for makeup. Even her eyeshadow palettes were arranged in alphabetical order by name.

I got out of there as quickly as I could, but stopped before returning to the party. I had to see how far this went.

I ducked into Molly's bedroom and opened the wardrobe. It had always been frighteningly neat, but now she had colour-coded it as well. Shirts on green hangars, spaced evenly apart, trousers on pink, and so forth. Wow. How was she related to me? How did she have boyfriends? Oh right, low-cut leather vests.

Still, it was quite freakish. I backed slowly away from the wardrobe and left the room quietly.

I bumped into Victoire in the hall, just coming out of the bathroom.

“Oh hi, Rose,” she said. “I'm glad you're here. It's a madhouse.”

“I need another drink,” I agreed.

She linked her arm through mine. “I'll be your Designated Apparator for the night, then.”

“Okay,” I said. This was fine by me. I always hated having to be the designated sober person for the night. I'd rather do my drinking, thank you. Fortunately Scorpius was always willing to stay sober and carry me home if necessary. “I'll drink your half, too.”

“Thanks, Rose, you're a peach.”

“Where's Teddy?” I asked as we got to the bar.

“Home with the kids. He's still sick,” Victoire added with relish. “I can be out all night. The baby's night-weaned, you know.”

No, I didn't, and I would have preferred not to, either. Why did motherhood make women think they should overshare every detail of their children's lives? Ugh. “Shouldn't you be worried about Teddy?”

She gave me a look. “No.”

Okay then. I went back to drinking. Victoire had to levitate me home.




A/N: "That sucks royal hippogriff" = AVPM. Oh, Goyle rules!


Chapter 9: Dipped in Sludge
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Every time I go drinking with my cousins, I wake up the next morning remembering why I should never, ever go drinking with anyone related to me. The only thing I could manage was a weak moan and a trip to the bathroom, without actually opening my eyes. My body was broken. Broken, dipped in sludge, slapped back together, and then coated with goo. I hate hangovers. I flopped back down into bed and weakly tried to put the pillow over my face. It was too heavy.

“Rose?” Scorpius said in a whisper.

“Unnnhhh,” I said.

“Here, drink this.”

'Here, drink this' was what had gotten me into this situation in the first place. But I did it anyway. There was a refreshingly light taste of mint that only made me want to throw up a little bit. I hid under the blankets, and a few minutes later the effects of the potion kicked in. I sat up, pushing my hair out of my face.

Scorpius was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding the empty mug of Hangover-Curing Potion. “Have fun last night?” he asked with a grin.

“Firewhiskey is bad,” I told him. “Very, very bad.”

“Get up and get showered,” he said. “You got an owl from your cousin this morning.”

Oh, great. I wondered which one and what the hell they wanted. I managed to stumble into the shower, and tried to wash off the remnants of last night's party. Firewhiskey was seeping out of my pores.

I contemplated wardrobe options for a few minutes. Purple baby hippogriffs, or Portia the Plucky Pygmy Puff in green? Both of them had glitter and were almost sickly cute, so it was a win either way. I pulled on the Portia t-shirt and a pair of jeans, stuffed a Shield Hat into my back pocket, and stumbled out into the kitchen.

“Whoa,” said Lenny, who was sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of oatmeal. “That shirt is the same colour as your face, man.”

I went back and changed into the purple baby hippogriffs shirt.

Scorpius looked like he was probably laughing at me when I came back out, but he handed me the letter without commenting.

It was from my cousin Lucy. It ended with I'm going to get you back for this, Rose, so that ought to tell you pretty much how she felt. Whoops. Well, too late now.

Scorpius handed me a cup of tea. “Victoire said you ought to owl Molly an apology, too.”

Oh crap. “Did she mention why?”

He laughed. “I think she was only joking.”

“Don't mess me about right now,” I warned him. “I'll dump this tea over your head.”

“I miss firewhiskey,” said Lenny.

“I need to go over to the bonds office this morning,” I went on, ignoring Lenny. “Is it still morning? What time is it?”

“A bit after ten,” Scorpius said.

Dear God, it was practically dawn. “Why did you wake me up so early? Nevermind, I'm going out.” I grabbed my handbag off the counter. It was sticky, and smelled of alcohol. “Ew.”

Scorpius drew his wand. “Scourgify.”

When I do that spell, hardly anything happens. When he did it, things became pristine. My handbag looked brand-new again. I gave Scorpius a quick kiss on the cheek, waved to Lenny, and headed for Knockturn Alley.

Lydia was in Angelo's office when I got there. O'Toole was sitting on the couch in the waiting area near Lydia's desk, and he waved to me. I went over to sit down next to him.

“What's going on?”

“Angelo's in conference with a new client or something,” he said. “I'm waiting for them to be finished so Lydia can cash in some bounties for me.”

“Oh.” I glanced down at the small pile of body receipts on the arm of the couch next to him. He took in way more bounties than I did. I think my record was three pick-ups in four days. Dino had once taken in five in one day.

“What are you in for?” O'Toole asked, smiling at me.

“I need Lydia to do some research for me.”

“Any luck finding Lenny yet?”

Dino and O'Toole always seemed to know what skips I was looking for, even though I never knew who they were going after. Maybe I was legendary here, too. Probably they had just turned all my cases down first, though.

O'Toole had been Angelo's main bounty hunter until about five years ago, when he'd retired, and Dino had started taking over the cases O'Toole would have taken. Apparently he'd gotten bored in retirement, and had come back to the job about eight months ago. I didn't think Dino was entirely happy about this, and it had made Angelo a lot tetchier than he normally was. O'Toole was in his fifties, with greying ginger hair and a lot of freckles, and was built like an ageing prizefighter. He had one of the thickest Irish accents I'd ever heard, and a tendency to swear in some obscure language when angry. He'd told me once it was called Gammon, and said to keep it under my hat. Since I didn't know what he was talking about, that was easy to do.

“I'm still working on Lenny,” I said, and O'Toole nodded, faded blue eyes twinkling.

“Excellent dodge, Rose. I'd almost miss that you didn't actually say you was still looking for him if I wasn't a master of the double-speak meself.”

Uh-oh. I froze. Nobody else had noticed that.

O'Toole grinned at me. “I don't care if you turn him in or keep him in your basement in a body bag, so long as Angelo doesn't make me go looking for the little punk.”

“Thanks,” I said, relaxing.

Lydia and Angelo came out of the office then, followed by an older woman who looked far too elegant to be here. Her hair was a shining silver, and she was dressed in perfectly tailored, plum-coloured silk robes. She looked very rich. That sort of person usually went to Mrs. Pilliwickle's bond office. Mrs. Pilliwickle's was much nicer than Angelo's, even in the office. They had actual potted plants in there. We had mice. I wondered what the hell she was doing with Angelo.

Angelo shook the woman's hand, and she turned to leave. Her eyes met mine for a moment as she passed, then she looked at O'Toole. I felt him go utterly still beside me.

The woman left in a flutter of expensive perfume, and Angelo breathed a sigh of relief.

“I think we're going to close the deal. Lydia, get back to work.” He appeared to notice the two of us sitting on the couch then. “Why are you loafing about here? Don't I pay you to do something?”

“Only when you have to,” I muttered. He didn't hear me, but I was pretty sure O'Toole did.

O'Toole let out a small chuckle and hauled himself to his feet, handing his body receipts to Lydia. “I'll just get out of your hair, then, Angelo. Nice seeing you.”

Angelo grumbled something in Italian and went back into his office, kicking the door shut.

“She's thinking about investing in the business,” Lydia whispered conspiratorially as she counted out Galleons for O'Toole.

“Stranger things have happened,” said O'Toole.

“Hey Lydia, can you look someone up for me?” I asked. “Just a background check.”

“Yeah. Write the name down, and I'll get to it next.” Lydia scooped the Galleons into the bag O'Toole held out. He had a mokeskin pouch that was much nicer than mine.

After he'd gone on his merry way to wherever it was O'Toole actually went (no one knew), I noticed there was something different about the wall over the couch.

“Why is there a motivational poster in the office?” I asked suspiciously, pointing at it.

It had a rather lovely picture of an old-fashioned sailboat, going peacefully across a serene ocean. Lovely and also extremely boring. Underneath it said Adversity: We cannot direct, the wind but we can adjust our sails.

“The comma has been driving me nuts all morning,” Lydia said, rolling her eyes.

“Where the hell did it come from?” I couldn't imagine Angelo bringing in anything like this. Clearly Lydia hadn't.

“O'Toole brought it in last night. He reckons it will comfort the people coming to secure bonds. I think he meant well. Otherwise it could be an insidious attack to undermine Angelo's confidence. I figured I'd leave it up just in case.” Lydia seemed quite cheerful about this possibility.

“It's horrifying. Mind if I fix the comma?” I twirled my wand a bit, and Lydia shrugged.

“Go on. You can't make it any worse.”

I managed to move the comma down two words. It still looked extraneous to me, but it was a marked improvement. I wondered if I could give it a more obnoxious saying instead. That might upset O'Toole. I had never seen him upset. I didn't really want to, either.

I left Lydia to her research and wandered over to my uncle's shop to kill time poking around the Defensive Magic merchandise. I was almost there when I saw a familiar ginger-haired figure stalking toward me from out of Flourish & Blott's. Crap. I tried to run away, but it was too late.

“Rose Weasley,” my cousin Lucy said, shaking a finger at me. “Roxanne has been hanging around me all day! I can't get rid of her! If I lose my job because you told her to carry her insane obsession with that Quidditch player into my shop, I'm going to call your mother.”

“Oh, please don't,” I said, horrified. “I'm sorry, Luce, it seemed like the thing at the time. You know how mental she is. I just didn't want her whinging later about how Hilarion would have fallen in love with her if she'd had more time with him than just an autograph.”

Lucy frowned. “Well, you might have something there, but still. Why did you have to drag me into it?”

“It couldn't be helped. Why don't you see if you can get her officially hired on? Extra staff to help out because of all the crowds expected for Hilarion Winston-Fisher's signing, and all that. That way she has a reasonable excuse to hang around, she won't be around forever, and you can put her to work in the meantime.” I gave her a hopeful, please-don't-call-my-mum smile.

“That's not a bad idea, actually,” Lucy said thoughtfully.

This was one of my favourite things about my cousin Lucy. She was quite willing to take on new ideas, and admit when someone else might have had a good one before she did. If you hang around my other cousins long enough – especially the Potters – this quality becomes very refreshing.

“All right, you're off the hook for now,” Lucy told me. “But if this goes wrong, I'm calling Aunt Hermione and telling her about that time you were at Hogwarts and you set the Quidditch stands on fire.”

“That wasn't my fault,” I exclaimed, aghast that she even knew I'd had anything to do with that. Most people didn't. I'd never been caught, actually. I hadn't realized Lucy had found out about that. Damn. She really could keep a secret, apparently, at least when she wanted to.

“I'll see you later, Rose,” Lucy said then. “I have to get back to work.” She turned on her heel and headed back to the shop.

“You're no fun at all, Lucy!” I called after her.

She waved to me. I went to Uncle George's shop.

Fred was sitting on the counter, watching the customers in the shop, and dressed in the maroon robes of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. He hopped down when he saw me and rushed forward, and I saw he had some sort of wires draped around his ears, hooked up to bits of black plastic in each ear.

“What are those things on your ears?” I asked, touching one of the little pieces of plastic.

“Some kind of Muggle things called earbugs. This girl I met in the pub last week told me they were great for fooling people into thinking you're busy and leaving you alone.” He twirled the cord around, obviously feeling he was extremely cool.

“Are they working?”

“I don't think they work on wizards,” Fred admitted. “It worked great on the Muggles, though.”

I felt like we might be missing an essential element here, and examined the earbugs a little more closely. “Is it supposed to be plugged into something? Granddad's plugs all have something you stick them in.”

Fred examined the end of the wire. “It doesn't look like a plug.”

“Well, nevermind. Has your dad got any new stuff out in Defense Against the Dark Arts merchandise?” I asked, peering around his shoulder to see the door to the back room where Uncle George kept all the really interesting stuff.

Fred perked up. “Why, have you got a case? Can I come along?”

“No, I'm just shopping. I'm stuck on my case right now anyway,” I said with a sigh. “I just wanted something to perk me up.”

“I can give you a joke wand on the house,” Fred offered. “That always cheers me up.”

It was true, joke wands always cheered up my cousin Fred. I wasn't sure that said anything good about him, as he was twenty-nine years old and probably too old to still find joke wands amusing. Of course, Uncle George was fifty-five and also found them amusing. It was probably a hereditary defect.

“Or you could come have lunch upstairs,” he added. “Mum made steak and kidney pie last night, there's still half of it left.”

I never turn down free food. Especially when it had been made by my aunt Angelina.

*

It was almost two hours later by the time I got back over to Angelo's. Lydia was just packing up to go to lunch herself when I came in.

“Oh, Rose, you caught me just in time,” she said, tapping her desk with her wand to lock the drawers. “Look, are you sure you got her name correct? I can't find any records on an Ambrosia Heggs.”

“Nothing?” I asked in disbelief.

Lydia shook her head. “Nope. No address, no background, no trace. Sorry, Rose.”

She hurried off to lunch, and I stood in the office, feeling spooked. Lydia had never before failed to get something for me on any name I'd brought to her. How could there be nothing on Ambrosia? Obviously she hadn't gone to Hogwarts with me after all. Victoire had been right about her being suspicious. She was so suspicious, she didn't even exist.

I was a little freaked out.

I Disapparated and headed for the Lupins'.

Most of the time when I'm scared, I go straight for family. Predictable, and a little childish, maybe, but when something had me spooked like this, I liked to be around the comforting chaos of the Weasleys. Victoire's house was the most chaotic of them all, having taken that title from Uncle George's when Johnny was born. There was no question in the family that Johnny Lupin was an agent of chaos, or possibly evil. He'd broken something in nearly everyone's houses, and threw legendary tantrums.

Teddy let me in, and I followed him as he kicked his way through the detritus of plush dragons, toy trains, and small wooden knights all over the corridor to the living room, where Victoire sat folding laundry.

“Hi Rose,” she said cheerfully.

“Ow!” Teddy yelled, having just stepped on the sharp end of a toy, then sneezed twice. “Dammit,” he added.

“Go to bed, dear,” Victoire said, totally unfazed.

“Why don't you just take some Pepper-Up Potion?” I asked.

“I did,” he said, scowling at me. “Twice. It isn't working. Why the hell is this stuff all over the floor?” he added loudly, turning back to his wife.

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Were you looking for an answer more complex than 'because we have children'?”

Teddy stomped off to bed, grumbling under his breath. I sat down next to Victoire, who rolled her eyes.

“Men,” she said. “He's such a baby when he's sick.”

I nodded wisely. Scorpius was also a beast whenever he had so much as a sniffle. One would think he'd had a limb chopped off if he got a cold.

“Auntie Rose!” came a loud shriek from the hall, and a small, ginger-haired cannonball came barrelling toward me.

I managed to block him just in time, so that his head didn't do me a serious injury, and then sat back as Johnny Lupin climbed into my lap. I wondered if I was the only one who could see that he was completely naked, because he didn't seem to notice, and nor did Victoire. She was still folding laundry as if her son hadn't just attacked me with his notoriously hard head.

“Hi,” Johnny said, putting an arm around my neck. “Do you want me to defeat any bad guys for you today? I'm still a manticore, you know.”

“I know,” I said, patting him on the head. I had to admit, I was kind of fond of the little guy. He was completely mental, of course. I was pretty sure it came in the Weasley blood right alongside the red hair. I noticed he was still mispronouncing his R's, and wondered again if it was calculated. “I'm fresh out of bad guys, though.”

“You're his favourite person still,” Victoire said lightly. She was smiling, but there was a bit of anxiety in her eyes. The last time I'd babysat Johnny, we'd both been kidnapped by a couple of serial killers. That had to make any mother take pause, even if it had been Johnny.

“So, Johnny,” I remarked conversationally. “Where are your clothes?”

“I like to air out,” he told me.

Victoire was still folding clothes. “Johnny, go put some clothes on, we have company.”

“But I need to protect Auntie Rose,” he said, outraged.

“You can do that better with your clothes on. Go. Now.”

“No!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. I clapped my hands over my ears. Johnny ought to be a Quidditch announcer when he grew up. He wouldn't even need a Sonorus spell.

“Teddy!” Victoire yelled.

“Boys, listen to your mother,” Teddy's voice came from upstairs, still sounding like he had a head cold.

Normally Johnny took no notice of any parental disfavour, but he must have noticed his dad's grumpiness of late, because he stomped off to get dressed, and Victoire finished folding the laundry.

“Can I talk to you in private?” I said in a low voice. I wasn't sure if Teddy could hear our conversation from upstairs. Half of Victoire's house is under surveillance, with baby monitors and such, so she can spy on her kids. Sorry, I mean keep a watchful parental eye on them.

“Sure. Come into the kitchen.”

I cast Muffliato as soon as we were in there. We both stood next to the sink, and I told her about Lydia not being able to find anything on Ambrosia.

“I knew it,” Victoire said triumphantly. “I knew she was suspicious.”

“Yeah, but now how am I supposed to track her down? It's probably not her real name. I have no idea who she is.”

“That's a problem,” Victoire agreed. “Maybe if you go back to Gormly's, or to Annable's, you can find something to lead you to her?”

That seemed like a stretch. But I'd stretched before and it had worked out, so maybe I ought to give it a try. It probably couldn't hurt, although both places were still cordoned off by the Ministry as active crime scenes as far as I knew.

“What about your dad?” Victoire asked. “Anything new on Gormly's murder?”

I shook my head. “I haven't heard anything yet.”

“Maybe Ambrosia killed him,” Victoire mused. “Maybe she's his boss. Maybe she's his girlfriend and she killed him because he started acting like an idiot.”

When she makes remarks like that, I tend to think she's referring to her husband and/or her kids. I wondered if Victoire had ever considered killing Teddy for acting like an idiot. “I dunno, I don't think she was his girlfriend. She's too pretty, and he was definitely not. But she could be Father Christmas for all I know.”

“Oh God,” Victoire said suddenly, and threw up in the sink.

Ew.

“Are you hung over?” I asked, covering my nose. Ew, ew, ew. “I thought you didn't drink last night.”

She turned on the tap to rinse the sink and then propped her hands on either side of it, staring out the window. “No, I'm not hung over.”

“I don't think I've ever seen anyone throw up like that before. Well, there was that one time when James was a lot drunker than I thought he was, but that was out a window. This was just out of nowhere, though,” I went on, still amazed at how gross that had been. “Are you okay? Do you want me to get Teddy? Or a Healer?”

Victoire turned to me with a weird look on her face. “I think I'm pregnant.”

“What, again?” I exclaimed. “Dora's only... How old is she?” I should probably know that, but I'll be honest, I'm sort of vague on the ages of the Lupin kids. Well, clearly, since she'd had to tell me how old my own godson was.

“She's going on eleven months old.” Victoire pulled a face. “It's not fair. I'm still nursing her most of the day, it's supposed to keep you from getting pregnant!”

“Guess it didn't work.” I realized this was not helpful, but what can you say?

“Nothing keeps a Weasley from getting pregnant for long,” she said, and I swear to God, a chill went down my spine. Fertile Weasley genes are rather terrifying.

“Um, does Teddy know...?”

Victoire shook her head. “I want to do a test to confirm before I tell him. I felt a little sick yesterday, but I thought maybe I ate some bad food. And I've never been regular, so I didn't really pay attention to that. But I never throw up, only when I'm pregnant...”

I really didn't know what to say. Victoire looked rather shell-shocked, so I wasn't sure if I should congratulate her or not. I was rather chuffed at being the first one to find out, but I didn't think I should probably say that either. I settled for giving her a quick hug, and she smiled at me. I decided I should probably also not mention that I'd noticed she'd been putting on weight. Guess it wasn't residual from Dora after all.

“So...” I wasn't sure what else to say, and reckoned we might as well finish the original conversation. “Ambrosia?”

“Right.” Victoire poured herself some water, and then sipped it slowly, looking thoughtful. “I reckon you need to see what your dad says. And you definitely need to tell him about Ambrosia – maybe it's an alias the Aurors know about.”

“That would be nice.” Probably too nice. I don't have that kind of luck.
 


Chapter 10: A Model Forger
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I left Victoire cleaning out the sink, and went home to check on Scorpius and Lenny. They were sitting at the kitchen table playing some sort of complicated card game of the sort Scorpius always tried to teach me and then despaired when I laid down cards at random. I stood behind Scorpius, watching him play, and couldn't decide whether or not to tell him that Ambrosia wasn't who she said she was (I generally don't tell him about things that are likely to upset him).

On the one hand, maybe he would have an idea of what to do next.

On the other hand, maybe he would get upset and make me turn Lenny over to the Ministry.

He seemed to like Lenny. Maybe we were safe after all. I sighed. This case was getting a lot more complicated than I'd thought.

Someone knocked on our door, and I jumped a little, startled. Scorpius looked up at me, and I shook my head to tell him I wasn't expecting anyone.

“Who is it?” he called, getting up from his chair, cards still clutched against his chest.

“It's Rose's dad,” came my dad's voice from the other side of the door. He always says this, as if he thinks Scorpius might not know him by name. My parents are so weird sometimes.

I grabbed Lenny and hauled him into the bedroom. He appeared to have grasped the gravity of the situation, probably because my dad had been trying to have him locked into a rehab facility for years, because when I shoved him into the closet and put a finger to my lips, Lenny only nodded and sat down, curling up behind some of my longer robes. I cast a Silencing Charm on the closet just to be safe, then turned to Scorpius with a nod. He opened the door, and my dad stepped inside.

“I didn't catch you at a bad time, did I?” he asked, looking at us askance as he headed for the couch.

I was standing in the bedroom doorway, I realized. Whoops. Well, better for him to think that he'd just interrupted us in a, um, private moment than for him to think we had an accused murderer hiding in our closet.

“No, Rose and I were just in the middle of a game,” Scorpius said, setting his cards down.

“Playing cards? Like a little old married couple now, eh?” Dad said, chuckling, then appeared to register what he'd said. “Not that I'm saying you ought to get married,” he went on quickly. “Although it would make your grandmother happier than you living in sin like this. Oh, bloody hell. Forget I said anything, all right?”

I sat down next to him and grinned. “Everything all right, Dad?”

My dad hardly ever stopped by our place. Usually we went to visit him and Mum at their house. My parents didn't entirely approve of my relationship with Scorpius and never had, but they were pretty well used to it by now. Mum was a little more accepting than Dad, actually. Still, I don't think they liked to stop by and see where the relationship was happening, as it were.

Scorpius, of course, had learned exactly how to get round my father. “Mr. Weasley, would you like something to eat? I made a crumble this morning.”

Dad tried and failed to pretend he didn't care for crumble. “All right, thanks.”

Scorpius went to serve my dad up a plate (I noticed he hadn't offered me any crumble when I came in), and Dad leaned over toward me.

“Does he know about the case you're working on?” he asked in a whisper.

I nodded. Scorpius was already on his way back. “I told him about it.”

“Okay. Cheers,” Dad said to Scorpius as he took the plate from him. It looked really delicious. I reached over to steal a bit, but Dad intercepted me with his fork and fended off my fingers. “Get your own,” he told me, holding the plate out of my reach.

Scorpius sat down opposite us in his armchair, and raised his eyebrows. Apparently he was also wondering what had caused my dad to come over to our flat when he almost never did so.

“I've been looking into Lenny's case,” Dad said then, around a mouthful of crumble. “This is really good, Scorpius. You ought to teach my wife to make this.”

Scorpius grinned. Mum's cooking was rather infamous. If she'd been taught how, and it wasn't overly complicated, she could generally reproduce a dish. Recipes escaped her somehow though. And don't even get me started about her trying to improvise. I still have sympathetic digestive trouble at the memory of some of Mum's less notable attempts to wing it in the kitchen.

“Anyway, I can't find who authorized the manslaughter plea,” Dad told me. “The lead investigator took a sudden vacation to Istanbul in the middle of the case, and the MLEs who've taken over his workload have no idea what's going on or when he'll be back. There are notes missing from the file, and no record of who the Ministry attorney was on the case, nor any record of a consult from the Auror department. Harry says he never heard anything about it, and if they spoke to anyone in our department, we haven't found who it was. They're supposed to at least have a word with the Aurors if there's Dark magic involved,” Dad added for Scorpius's benefit. “In a case like this, we probably wouldn't have taken over, because it would have seemed like a one-off deal. But they let him out on bail, and offered him manslaughter, and bungled the paperwork and procedure completely. It's bizarre.”

“Uncle Harry's looking into it too?” I had not missed his remark about Harry not knowing about the case. Uncle Harry was Head Auror, so I supposed it only made sense, but I felt a little uneasy about how big all this was getting. Next he was going to tell me he'd told Mum all about it.

“I spoke to your mum as well,” Dad said.

Oh, great.

“She's looking to see who the attorney might have been. She says it smacks of corruption, so of course she wants to get to the bottom of it.” Dad scraped the last of the crumble off the plate. I think he would have licked the fork clean if we weren't watching him.

Mum was on the lookout for corruption now. This was turning out to be a lot deeper into the Ministry than I'd realized. I was suddenly very glad I'd told Dad about the case, although it seemed like the chances of my being caught harbouring Lenny had got much more likely now that Mum and Uncle Harry were involved as well.

“Just be careful until we figure this all out, all right Rosie?” Dad went on. “And if you find Lenny, don't bring him to the desk officer on duty. Bring him straight to me.”

Scorpius glanced at me with wide eyes. I tried to tell him silently not to give us away, but luckily, Dad was looking over at the kitchen.

“Second helping of crumble, Dad?” I said quickly, snatching up his plate and handing it to Scorpius.

“Yeah, that'd be great. I hardly got any lunch today. Your mum was so busy ranting about corruption and bribes and such, she almost put me off my food.” Dad grinned.

“What about the murder of Nicomedes Gormly? Any news on that?”

Dad's grin faded. “Hibbitt is still working on it. I trust him to do the job right, but I'm keeping an eye out. It was a vicious murder. I saw the body in the morgue. Stoved his head right in, poor fellow.”

“He was a drug dealer, Dad.”

“Still a terrible way to die.” Dad accepted the second helping of crumble with a nod of thanks, and then sat poised with his fork over the plate for a moment. “Look, Rosie, you might be right that Gormly actually killed Annable, but there's no witness, and now he's dead so you'll never get a confession out of him.”

“Not unless we find Gormly's killer,” I said.

“Unless Lenny killed both of them,” Dad said, forking up some crumble.

Scorpius and I exchanged a glance. Oh, holy Kneazles. We were Lenny's alibi for the Gormly murder. He'd been with Scorpius when it happened. But we couldn't alibi him out without giving ourselves away as illegally harbouring a fugitive. I'd be sacked, we'd probably both go to Azkaban, and in the end Lenny might still go to prison for murdering Annable, so it would have all been for nothing. The full magnitude of our involvement with Lenny was starting to hit me, and I almost wished I had just taken him in that day I'd found him in the pub.

But then Lenny might have gone to Azkaban for the rest of his life for a murder he hadn't actually committed.

“What about the blonde woman Skone told you about?” Scorpius asked me. “Have you found her?”

“Actually...” It seemed the decision on whether or not to tell Scorpius about Ambrosia was out of my hands. I was going to have to tell both of them now. “I think it might have been Ambrosia Heggs, but she doesn't actually exist.”

“What?” said Scorpius.

“Who?” said Dad.

“It was Victoire's idea,” I told them.

Dad set his fork down on the plate and then carefully put the plate on the table. He sat back and looked at me sternly. “Start from the beginning, Rose.”

“You remember I told you that Skone, the barman at the Grinning Troll, said a woman with blonde hair and blue eyes had come round asking about Annable just before I had?”

“You told me he gave you a description,” Dad said with a grunt. “You didn't tell me what it was. Go on.”

“Well, so then I took the wand and traced it to its maker. When I got there, he was with a client. I didn't think anything of it at the time. On her way out, she spoke to me, said she'd gone to Hogwarts with me, and she told me her name was Ambrosia Heggs. Blonde hair, blue eyes, kind of pretty, matched Skone's description.”

“Yeah, but so do thousands of other witches,” Scorpius pointed out.

I rolled my eyes. “I know, that's why I didn't think anything of it at the time. I didn't remember her from Hogwarts, but then I asked round and you didn't remember her, nor did Hugo or Victoire, and then Victoire and I were watching Cullip's house-”

“Who is Cullip?” Dad said. He had his Auror face on, and I wondered how much I should tell him.

“He's another drug dealer. Lydia Agnelli turned him up as a known associate of Annable and Gormly. No evidence of his involvement, he just seemed like he might be a lead. I was getting kind of desperate,” I admitted.

“I'll have him picked up and questioned,” Dad said. “It can't hurt.”

Man, it was good to be an Auror. Flunkies and the ability to pick up anyone for questioning. “Well, while Victoire and I were watching his house, we were talking about the case, and she suggested that the blonde Skone mentioned might be Ambrosia. And it kind of made sense. When I got to the wandmaker's, she was already there, and after she left, he was acting kind of odd.”

“How could you tell?” Scorpius asked doubtfully.

“I mean odd even for a wandmaker. Like he'd just had his memory modified or been Confunded or something. And he said the purchase record for Gormly's wand was right on top. Why would it be right on top unless he'd just looked at it? Gormly bought that wand twenty years ago.” Now I thought about it, it was making a lot more sense. I hadn't really noticed the receipt thing until I'd started talking about it, but it really didn't fit unless Ambrosia had been questioning him about Gormly, too.

“Well, she's right up there on my list of suspicious persons,” Dad agreed. “Why do you say she doesn't exist?”

“I asked Lydia to run a background check on her so I could do some surveillance, but she didn't turn up a thing. No one by that name exists, no matter how you spell it.”

Dad frowned. “So she's using an assumed name.”

“Why would she tell you she went to Hogwarts with you, then?” Scorpius asked.

“Probably just distracting you until the wandmaker came round from whatever spell she'd cast on him,” Dad said. “Plus it made her less noticeable at the time, giving you an identity that you wouldn't question. Most people wouldn't have noticed a thing. Smart, really.”

I hadn't noticed a thing, actually. Victoire had. I reckoned he was right, it had been a pretty smart move.

“I'll see if Ambrosia Heggs is a known alias of anyone the Aurors are looking for,” Dad went on. “We'll find out how she fits into all this. Do you think she's the one who killed Annable?”

I shook my head. “Lenny said he heard a man's voice. Ambrosia definitely sounded like a woman. Soprano. Maybe she's the one who killed Gormly.”

“She's involved somehow. I've got a feeling Gormly was involved in this whole Lenny and Annable thing, too.” Dad got to his feet. “I'm going back to the office, see what I can find out about this woman. If you find anything new, let me know.”

“Notice he didn't say he would let me know if he found out anything,” I remarked dryly after Dad had left.

Scorpius didn't seem amused. “You probably shouldn't bring Victoire along any more on this case, you know. What if Ambrosia is dangerous?”

An image of Nicomedes Gormly's body flashed into my head, his skull bashed in with a shovel. Dad was right, it was a terrible way to die. I shivered a bit. If Ambrosia had done that, I didn't want to be around her, much less bring any of my cousins along. And Victoire was probably pregnant. I wasn't bringing her anywhere right now.

*

The rest of the week crawled by like it had been coated in treacle.

I played a lot of hangman with Lenny. He was looking much better now, almost like his old self again. Scorpius was nearly finished with the painting of Lenny and his guitar, and I had to admit, it was extraordinary even for him. Lenny sat in a shaft of golden sunlight in the portrait, strumming his guitar. The final enchantment wasn't on it yet, so nothing moved. Scorpius always left that for last, because he said if the spells went on too soon, the portrait argued with him on his technique and his colour choices. Even without the animation of the portrait, it was amazingly life-like.

By Friday, I was going completely mental just to get out of the house.

I wasn't sure what to do next, to be honest. My leads, such as they were, had dried up. I didn't know how long it might take my dad to get to the bottom of whatever was going on at the Ministry over Lenny's case. All in all, I was feeling pretty inadequate as a private investigator, even a fake one. I hadn't found anything to clear Lenny. All I had found were more mysteries. And a dead body.

And we were still very, very broke. I needed a quick pick-up or we were going to have to go raid my parents' kitchen in order to eat, never mind paying our rent. Mrs. Kochel had evicted us once before, and I didn't want it to happen again.

And if I played one more game of hangman with Lenny, I was going to lose it.

Lydia was sitting on her desk, waving her wand through the air so that the stacks of paperwork filed themselves. The drawers in the filing cabinets opened and closed in an almost rhythmic way. I sort of felt like I should do a harmony to it.

“Hey Rose,” Lydia said when she saw me. She was chewing gum again, and the blueberry bubbles were floating over her head like miniature rainclouds.

“Hi Lydia. Got any new skips I can pick up?” I gave her a hopeful smile.

“You can look through the pile there,” she said, nodding at a small stack of files on one side of her desk. “I was going to give them to Dino and O'Toole, but if you think you can handle any of them, go for it.”

I was pretty sure I couldn't handle them, but I looked through anyway. Aggravated assault, robbed a Muggle bank, train heist (wow), forgery-

“I'll take the forger,” I said. How hard could that be? Forgers weren't violent, right? I looked through the file. Joseph McBride had been arrested for trying to produce fake Galleons and pass them off as the real thing. Minting one's own coins, pretty bold choice there. His bond would net me a hundred and fifty Galleons. It wasn't quite enough to cover rent, and I wouldn't be able to pay Hugo back yet, but it would keep us afloat a bit longer.

There was a grainy photo attached, but it wasn't terribly helpful. I reckoned I'd go to his house first, see what I could find, and then see if I couldn't knock him out with a Stunner before he could get away. I hoped he wasn't a runner. I hated chasing people.

“Hope it's an easy pick-up,” Lydia called as I left.

Yeah, me too.

Joseph McBride lived on the outskirts of Glasgow, on the banks of the River Clyde, in a thatched cottage that looked like something out of a postcard. I stepped through the fence, admiring the carefully tended garden. There had to be a Mrs. McBride. I hardly ever run across well-kept felon's homes unless they were female. Not to say that men didn't keep house well; clearly Scorpius was much better at it than I was, but in my experience, petty thieves and public drunkards do not often enjoy gardening or maintaining their homes.

I examined the house, planning my attack. Maybe he wasn't violent. Maybe he would come along quietly and Angelo could bond him back out this evening. No harm done, right? Unfortunately, they almost never came along quietly.

I pulled on my knit Shield Hat just in case and knocked on the door, preparing my standard trustworthy smile and opening remarks. The door swung open a few minutes later, and a man leaned against the doorjamb and smiled at me.

My eyes bugged out, I know it. Holy Kneazles. He was gorgeous. Dark, wavy hair fell over his deep blue eyes, and curled around the edges of his chiseled jaw. Wow. Seriously, he should have been a model or something. I'd be willing to lay odds his posters would out-sell Hilarion Winston-Fisher's.

“Um,” I said.

“Can I help you?” the gorgeous man said in a delightful Irish lilt.

“Um. I'm, um, looking for Joseph McBride,” I managed, wondering if I could pinch myself surreptitiously, or if he would pose for a picture so I could show Victoire.

“I'm Joe McBride,” he said, and my heart drooped a little. I had to take the gorgeous man into custody. It seemed a huge shame. He was so very pretty.

“Oh,” I said. I sounded extremely intelligent this afternoon.

“What's your name, darlin'?” McBride asked.

“Rose Weasley.” I opened my mouth to go on, but he had taken my hand and was pulling me closer.

“Rose. What a beautiful name, and what beautiful hair. Are you Irish, darlin'?”

“Um,” I squeaked. He was stroking my palm with his thumb, and my thoughts scattered. Scorpius! Think of Scorpius! I pulled my hand away and said, trying to keep my voice normal, “I work for Angelo's Magical Bonds, and you-”

“Let's not talk about such unpleasantness,” McBride cooed, and I realized he'd drawn his wand. I went to pull mine out of my pocket, but McBride was faster.

Confundus!

The spell bounced off me, and I remembered I was wearing my Shield Hat. Whew. Thank you once again, Uncle George.

“Damn,” said McBride, and slammed the door in my face.

Crap. Why are the really good-looking blokes always prats? I banged on the door. “Joseph McBride, you are in violation of your bond agreement, and I am legally authorized to-”

“Bugger off, English bitch!”

He sounded much less good-looking now. I sighed in annoyance and tried again. “I am legally authorized to bring you to the custody of-”

He yelled something in Gaelic. All Gaelic sounds a little like swearing to me, but I was pretty sure this actually was swearing.

For crying out loud. I went around the side of the cottage, hoping he had a back door that hadn't been sufficiently enchanted, and tested the wards on the house as I walked. As I'd suspected, anyone who was willing to forge Galleons was willing to pony up on the protective enchantments. His house was a fortress. The MLEs had been lucky to catch him spending his fake gold in Diagon Alley, because they never would have gotten him out of here without tearing the house apart at the seams.

The back door was sealed just as tightly as the rest of the house. I backed up a few paces. I'd never done this on a thatch roof before, but what the hell. There was a first time for everything.

Most people did not put enough protective enchantments on their roofs, oddly enough. You would think they would, but strangely, it's a part of the house that goes largely ignored as security measures go. This was a recent discovery of mine, and I suspect it was because most people would rather blast their way through a door or window, or even a wall, than climb up onto a roof.

I am far lazier than most people. Blasting my way in would take a lot more effort than breaking in through the less well-protected roof.

I Disapparated, and reappeared on the roof, stumbling a bit as I got my footing, but I didn't go through the thatch. Ha ha! Take that, gorgeous forger!

A blast of green flames came through the thatch right next to my foot, and I scrambled back a bit. The singed straw crackled around the hole he'd left.

“Are you crazy?” I yelled.

“Get off my roof!”

Another burst of flames followed his words, and I moved again, further up the roofline. It was a lot steeper than it had looked on the ground. I had to put a hand on the thatch to steady myself.

McBride sent two more columns of flames at me, and I realized it was getting a little smoky up here. The thatch was on fire.

Great.

McBride's scream of rage came through just as I realized the thatch was giving way underneath me. I Disapparated just before I began to fall, reappearing inside the cottage as some of the roof collapsed where I'd been standing. McBride was right in front of me. I grabbed his arm and Disapparated again before he could do more than twitch his wand at me.

We popped back into existence inside the Ministry of Magic, amongst the Floo fireplaces where most people were coming and going from the building.

“Oh, bloody hell,” McBride muttered, but I had my wand jammed in his back.

“Come along quietly or I'll Body-Bind you,” I told him.

“Fine,” he grumbled ill-temperedly. “But you better send someone to put out that fire.”

The officer on duty was my friend Jack Upchurch, which would have been a relief the day I'd brought in Parmenter. He grinned when he saw me and crowed with delight.

“Yes! I was hoping I'd draw the night you brought someone in. What happened? Honey? Bees? Killer bees? Ice lollies again? Another rain of condiments? I was quite sad to miss that one. Wait, let me get my camera-”

“Shut up and give me a body receipt,” I told him.

Jack took hold of McBride's arm and plucked his wand out of his hand. “I'll take that, my lad.”

“Oh, and his house was on fire when I left,” I added. “Can you send someone over?”

Jack started laughing, while McBride glared at me.

“It wasn't my fault,” I said.

Jack managed to regain enough breath to speak again, red-faced with laughter. “Oh, Rose. I do love you so.”

“Glad I could amuse you,” I grumbled, but I did get the body receipt, so overall, it was a fair cop.
 


Chapter 11: Dinner Party from the Black Lagoon
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I took McBride's bounty straight to Mrs. Kochel. It wasn't the full amount, but it was enough to keep her from throwing us out until I got her the rest of the money. I was sort of afraid that if I didn't pay our rent a bit early, Scorpius's agent was going to come up with another fee to eat away at our meagre funds. And as much as I loved my boyfriend and wanted him to be successful, I wasn't sure how much I trusted this agent fellow. After all, what did we really know about him?

I only brought this up with Scorpius once, and he got so angry about it, he went and slept on the recliner in the living room. I didn't trust his ability to judge character, apparently. So I didn't mentioned it again, and though Scorpius was still a little snippy, things seemed to go back to normal, relatively speaking.

Speaking of relatives, my cousin Dominique's dinner party was looming. I had already gotten dressed when Scorpius informed me he would not be coming along, because he had been unable to procure a babysitter for Lenny.

“Ha ha,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“You go on and have a good time,” Scorpius told me, watching me fasten on a pair of dangly earrings.

“If you're still brassed off because of what I said about Mr. Barnes,” I began, and he interrupted me in a lofty and rather annoying voice.

“No no, I'm just really feeling the painting tonight. I think I'm going to finish it. The last layer of paint should be dry enough by now for me to carry on.”

“Fine,” I said.

“Fine,” he said.

I went to the dinner party alone. Clearly being cooped up together for too long, with an illegal houseguest, was straining our cordiality a bit.

Dominique and her husband lived in a very nice, Edwardian terraced home near Cambridge. She had married Andrew Campbell four years ago, and had a son who was roughly the age of Victoire's daughter (I was even more vague about Dominique's baby than I was about the Lupin kids). I didn't like Andrew. I'd tried, because Dominique had been so determined to marry him, but I thought he was a pompous arse. Dominique was something of a pompous arse herself, so this seemed to work out for them.

Victoire was waiting outside when I got to Dominique's street, and handed me a bottle of wine. “Here,” she said. “Use it well.”

“Thanks. Where's Teddy?”

“Still being a baby. Where's Scorpius?”

“Same.”

Victoire chuckled. “Men,” she said tolerantly.

“So, you reckon she's pregnant?” I said as we went up the stairs.

“I can't think why else she would call us all here. You know Dommie, she likes to make a statement.”

Dominique's engagement announcement had involved a seven-course meal and a display of fireworks, and the birth of little Thornton had caused the arrival of singing letters in iambic pentameter (Scorpius had called it a Howler, which it hadn't technically been, though it had been really loud). So if she were pregnant again, a large dinner party seemed right up her alley. Great, we got to celebrate the procreative powers of the Weasleys tonight. Again.

“Are you going to tell her about...” I pointed at Victoire's belly.

“No. Shh. I haven't even told Teddy yet.” Victoire didn't bother to knock, but went right in. Privileges of a sister, I supposed.

Dominique was in the living room, surrounded by most of my female cousins. I spotted Molly over with the men, who were huddled around a small wireless that was replaying the last Quidditch game of the season. It appeared Dominique had actually gotten all the cousins together, which was no small feat. Even Lucy was there, and she hardly ever turned up to family gatherings if she could possibly avoid us. But all twelve of us were here tonight. It was sort of nice, even though I thought Dominique was mental.

“Oh, that was rough, he really ate it on that one,” Molly was saying, shaking her head at the tiny screen of the wireless.

“Broke his arm, didn't he?” James agreed. “Yeah, there go the medi-wizards...”

“Victoire!” Dominique said, leaving her little circle. She was a little taller than her sister, a lot thinner, and a lot less fun. “There you are, chérie. I wondered when you would get here.”

“Hello, dear,” Victoire said, giving her sister a kiss on the cheek. Dominique liked to play up their French side. Victoire did not. If she actually spoke any French, I didn't recall ever hearing it. I wasn't so sure Dominique actually spoke much either. Enough to sound pretentious and somewhat social-climbing. Her husband was an attorney with the Ministry, did I mention? You could practically smell the ambition when you got around Dominique and her husband.

I was smelling a little less ambition than usual, actually. I looked around her living room. Andrew was nowhere to be seen. I was about to ask where he was but was interrupted by a loud roar from the area around the wireless.

“So close,” Albus said, shaking his head. “Missed it by an inch.”

Dominique waved her wand at the wireless, which shut off. There came a general mutter of disappointment, and she said brightly, “Come along to the table, everyone.”

Andrew was definitely not there. The meal (three courses) seemed otherwise normal for a Weasley meal, with several conversations going on at once, except that nobody asked about Dominique's husband. By the time the pudding was over, I was starting to wonder what was going on, because I didn't think she was pregnant again after all. Dominique finally got to her feet at the head of the table, and cleared her throat.

This had very little effect.

“Shut up, you lot,” Victoire said loudly over the din.

Everyone fell silent, except Fred chortling a bit at the back, and Dominique drew a deep breath.

“I wanted to let all of you know first,” she began, her voice steady but oddly toneless. “But you mustn't tell the adults until after I've let our mum and dad know.”

The words could have meant pregnancy, but from the way she said them, I was sure now that wasn't it. I had a bad feeling about this. Victoire and I exchanged a glance, and I knew she was thinking the same thing.

“Andrew and I are getting a divorce,” Dominique announced.

Lily drew in her breath sharply. “What happened?”

“He's... he's met someone else,” Dominique said, and burst into tears. There was a general outcry from the table, as half my cousins rushed to comfort her, and the other half broke into fiery denouncements of Andrew.

“That bastard!” James said loudly.

“We'll take care of him for you, Dommie,” Louis promised. There was an uncharacteristically ugly look on his face.

“He says he's going to marry her,” she sobbed. “I don't know what I did wrong. I don't understand, I thought he loved me...”

“Shh, it will be all right,” Lucy said, hugging her.

“How?” Dominique demanded hysterically. “How will it be all right? He said they've sent the notice to the papers! The papers! He only told me last week, the bastard!”

“I'm going to kill him,” Louis said.

“I'll help,” James volunteered.

“Yeah, I'll hold his arms,” Fred agreed. Hugo was nodding vigorously beside him.

Albus, always the most rational of my male cousins, sighed and said, “Hold his arms? Are you barbarians? Put him in a Body-Bind Curse, then we can all have a go at him at once.”

“Do you want to be arrested?” Victoire said loudly. “You need to be Disillusioned, then have a go at him. That way he can't identify you to the MLEs and press charges.”

“Good thinking,” Louis said, nodding at his sister. “Disillusion ourselves, Body-Bind the bastard, and then we can get him.”

Dominique sniffed, wiping the tears off her face. “Thanks, boys. It means a lot to me that you'd do that.” She tried to say something more but went back to sobbing broken-heartedly instead.

I was standing near her, between Victoire and Lily, and I started to edge backward a bit, away from the hysterics (I don't like crying, okay? I don't even like my own crying), but Lily grabbed my arm and held me in place. Victoire didn't seem to notice.

“Is there anything we can do?” she asked her sister gently. “I'll watch Thornton any time you need, of course.”

Dominique managed a nod, and threw her arms around Victoire. I was pretty sure she was just nodding in gratitude, since she didn't make any suggestions of what we could do.

The boys had what they could do well in hand. Hugo seemed to be organizing the boys into a hit squad, and was advising them on the most painful hexes they could use on Andrew. Being a trainee Healer clearly had its uses.

“When are you going to tell Mum and Dad?” Victoire asked softly, stroking her sister's hair.

“I don't know,” came Dominique's voice, muffled against Victoire's robes. “Promise you won't tell them, Victoire. You can't say anything to any of the adults, or they'll tell Mum and Dad.”

“I promise, I won't say anything.” Her voice was very soothing. Dominique was still crying, hugging her sister while Victoire held her in almost the same way she held her children.

“I don't know what to do any more,” Dominique mumbled. “I... I haven't got anything left.”

“Of course you do,” Victoire said briskly. “You still have your son.”

Dominique nodded, sniffing loudly. “Yes. My baby...”

“Get Thornton and pack some of your things, you're coming to stay with me for a few days, all right?” Victoire nodded firmly and set Dominique upright again. “Yes, that's what you'll do. Go on, go pack, you'll come home with me.”

This seemed like a good plan to me, and not only because it absolved me of any need for involvement in the whole mess. Not that I could have done much anyway, since I couldn't exactly invite Dominique and her baby to stay with me and Scorpius when we already had an accused murderer sleeping on the couch. Besides, Victoire was her sister, and she had a really nice guest room. And a baby-proofed house.

Dominique went off to her room, accompanied by Lucy and Roxanne, to pack her bags, and Molly began a loud conversation with Lily about how she'd known all along that Andrew was no good and would do this to Dominique someday. Lily had apparently also known all along. I felt sort of left out; I'd just always thought he was a git. Victoire glanced around and then drew me aside a bit.

“Tomorrow's Sunday,” she said in a low voice. “They put the engagement notices in the Daily Prophet on Sundays. What if Andrew is announcing his engagement tomorrow? We have to stop it, or Mum and Dad will know what's going on.”

“Stop the paper from printing an engagement notice?” I repeated skeptically.

Victoire nodded firmly. “Yes. It will be too painful for Dommie to see it, it's better if it doesn't run until she's had more time. And we don't want anyone else in the family to see it.”

“Stop the press, are you mad? How are we supposed to do that? Dominique never does things like this,” I complained, feeling irritated that I had to be part of another familial madcap scheme. “Normally the really mental stuff comes out of Roxanne and Fred.”

“And you,” Victoire pointed out.

“And Johnny,” I retorted.

“Johnny doesn't count,” she replied. “Look, you go over first thing tomorrow morning to Aunt Ginny's and see if she can call in a favour and have this stopped. She knows everyone at that paper, and she's married to Harry Potter. If she can't stop it, then it can't be done.”

It was true, Aunt Ginny got away with absolute murder because she was married to The Boy Who Lived. “We promised not to tell any of the adults,” I said uneasily.

“No, I promised. You never said anything,” Victoire said serenely. “You'll have to have Scorpius wake you up early. And I mean early, Rose, not nine or ten. The paper will have already gone to press if you wait too long.”

“Why me?” I asked.

“Aunt Ginny likes you best,” she said. I wasn't sure that was actually true, so I gave her a look.

She rolled her eyes. “All right, she likes you a lot, and you know how close she and Uncle Harry are with your parents, that ought to count for something. And you haven't anything better to do, and you're a fast talker.”

“All right, all right, I'll do it,” I said. “How early are we talking, though?”

*

I was sort of hoping nobody would be awake at the Potters' at this hour of the morning (honestly, I don't think those numbers should even exist), because then I could Apparate home and go back to bed, but I could see lights on. Someone was up.

I sighed and knocked on the door. At my parents' house, I just went right in, but Uncle Harry was Head Auror. I wasn't sure I could walk right in, and even if I did, I wasn't sure I wanted to. Who knew what his security was like.

Aunt Ginny answered, still wearing her dressing gown over her pyjamas. Her red hair was tied up in a sloppy ponytail, showing off a few streaks of grey. “Rose! My goodness, it's not even seven, what are you doing up so early?”

“I'm sorry to bother you, but it's kind of an emergency.” I followed Aunt Ginny into the house to the kitchen, where she sat me down at the barstool next to the butcher block island in the middle of her spacious kitchen (I'm pretty sure Scorpius would leave me for Aunt Ginny's kitchen. Every time he's been to the Potters' house, he's given it longing, soulful gazes the entire time).

“What's going on? Do you want me to make coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

Aunt Ginny got up to start a pot of coffee, and I tried to think of how to break the news to her.

“Victoire sent me. We need a favour, and it has to be this morning. We think you're the only one who can do it.”

Aunt Ginny smiled, pulling out two coffee cups from a cabinet. “I'll do my best. What is it?”

“Dominique's husband left her-”

Aunt Ginny dropped a cup. It shattered against the tiles, and she gaped at me. “What? But Thornton isn't even a year old! How could he? That bastard-”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, making a face to indicate that Andrew Campbell was the biggest bastard in the world. “But he says he's met someone else and wants to marry her, and he told Dominique that he put the notice in the papers and we're afraid it will go out before Dominique has a chance to tell Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur about her divorce, she doesn't want them to find out that way-”

“Say no more,” Aunt Ginny said, holding up a hand. She picked up her wand from the counter and waved it at the broken cup, which leapt back onto the island and repaired itself. “I'm friends with the editor of the Daily Prophet, I'll Floo her and she'll have the notice pulled if it was set to run today. I doubt she'll run it at all, actually; her first husband left her in much the same way.”

“Thank you,” I said, smiling at her. Aunt Ginny really was very cool.

She went off to the fireplace to Floo her friend, and I watched the coffee dripping for a bit until she returned.

“There, all taken care of.” Aunt Ginny went over to pour us some coffee, and handed me a cup. “So he ran off and left her? With a little baby? What an unbelievable pile of rat droppings. I never liked Andrew.”

“That seems to be the general consensus,” I agreed. “I never liked him much either, but I didn't think he'd do this.”

“Well, there won't be much left of him when Bill finds out. Bill will kill him.” Aunt Ginny smiled serenely, sipping her coffee. Apparently she was fine with the idea of her brother killing someone. I hadn't stopped my brother from joining in on that sort of plan myself, so I supposed I shouldn't judge.

“He'll have to kill whatever's left when the boys are through with him,” I told her. “Louis was heading up a mob last night after Dominique told us.”

“Poor Dommie,” Aunt Ginny said, shaking her head. “Good for the boys. Just don't let them get caught.”

“Victoire suggested they Disillusion themselves first,” I said.

“Good thinking, that woman.”

“Thanks for helping us, Aunt Ginny.” I smiled at her, feeling very fond of my auntie. “You have to promise not to tell anyone about Dominique's divorce, though. She made us all swear not to tell.”

“You told me,” Aunt Ginny pointed out with a small smile.

“Well, I had to. Besides, I never actually swore.”

“I see. Is she already divorced now?”

I shrugged. “I don't think so. She was a little hysterical at the dinner party when she told us about it, I didn't get the whole story.”

Aunt Ginny's eyebrows went up. “She told you at a dinner party?”

“She threw a dinner party to tell us,” I corrected her. “Invited all the cousins.”

“Oh my,” Aunt Ginny said, shaking her head. “That is very... very like her. Well, she's better off without him, he's obviously not good enough for her.”

“Yeah.”

We drank our coffees for a bit, then Aunt Ginny asked, “How are you and Scorpius?”

“Good. Had a little argument a few days ago,” I admitted. I never talked to my parents about it when Scorpius and I fought. I hated seeing my dad's eyes light up with the hope that I might dump Scorpius, and my mum asking me if I want to move back home... Ugh. But I didn't mind talking to my aunt about it. She didn't judge, and even though she didn't like the Malfoys either, she didn't seem to be eagerly awaiting the day I came to my senses and dumped my boyfriend. I liked talking to her, actually. I was feeling sort of glad now that Victoire had made me come over here, even if it was far too early in the morning to be early in the morning.

“Sorry to hear that,” Aunt Ginny said, and I knew she meant it. “It happens to all couples. I fight with your uncle all the time. And I don't know if you've noticed, but your parents have been known to fight occasionally as well.”

That was the understatement of the year. “Yeah, I've noticed.”

“What were you fighting over?”

“Oh...” I sighed. “It's this agent he's got for his paintings, there are so many fees to start up, and I said to him, we don't really know anything about this bloke, and he got all angry and said I should trust him to be a good judge of character or something like that.”

“Ah.” Aunt Ginny nodded sagely. “You crushed his masculine ego a bit.”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“He's got an agent though? That's good, isn't it? Maybe his career will start taking off now.”

I appreciated that she had refrained from adding the word finally.

“I hope so. He's very talented,” I said, and grinned then, wanting to lighten the mood. I didn't want to think about doubts. Scorpius had an agent, and he was finally going to make it. “Someday he'll be a famous painter. I just don't know how I'll handle his celebrity status.”

“Ah yes,” Aunt Ginny said dryly. “Being married to a celebrity can be a pain.”

“Yeah, but on the other hand, I'll have known Scorpius since before he became famous. It'll be different than with you and Uncle Harry. He was already famous when you met him.”

“When I met him, he was eleven years old and a twerp,” said Aunt Ginny.

“Scorpius was a twerp when I met him, too,” I said fondly, thinking of my first day on the Hogwarts Express. All right, I'd been kind of a twerp back then, too, but Scorpius had definitely been one.

Aunt Ginny didn't seem to be listening to me any more, though. She went on in a dreamy sort of voice, “Then he kept saving me and my family. And then he saved everyone. Sometimes I still think how amazing it is that Harry Potter loves me.”

I eyed her warily. Maybe someone had conked her on the head while I wasn't looking. I'll admit, I dissociate a little between the famous Harry Potter, Boy Who Lived, Chosen One, and Defeater of You-Know-Who, and the Uncle Harry I knew, who had once tickled me until I wet my pants (in my defense, I was only six). I had a hard time picturing him as a boy killing basilisks and Dark wizards, and just as much difficulty picturing him as a romantic hero to poor deluded Aunt Ginny.

Uncle Harry came in then, looking rumpled and in need of a shave and wearing a pair of pyjama bottoms with a tear in the knee. He looked pretty scraggly and scarred, and I was pretty sure there was a law that said men his age weren't allowed to run around shirtless. Yuck.

Aunt Ginny seemed to snap out of her reverie when she saw her husband. I was half-expecting her to burst into an embarrassing confession of love, but instead she said, “Did you take out the rubbish?”

Uncle Harry looked shifty for a moment, then said, “I was, uh, saving it. For first thing this morning.”

Aunt Ginny rolled her eyes, and Uncle Harry took out the rubbish. Things seemed to be back to normal, so I decided to pretend I hadn't had that little conversation with Aunt Ginny.

“What are you doing here so early, Rose?” Uncle Harry asked when he came back in. “I wasn't aware you ever got up before noon.”

“Um.” I wasn't sure if I should tell him or not. It was sort of need to know. Aunt Ginny had definitely needed to know, but her husband didn't. Would she feel that she had to tell him?

“Just girl stuff,” Aunt Ginny said firmly. “Don't worry about it, dear. Want me to knock up some breakfast?”

“I do,” I volunteered. Aunt Ginny was far and away a better cook than my mum. Honestly, those Potter kids didn't know how good they'd had it.

Uncle Harry sat at the counter next to me and ruffled my hair. He'd been doing that since I was little. I had to admit, I kind of liked it, even if it did mess up my hair. I rearranged my curls and Uncle Harry asked, “How's your case coming, Rose?”

“Nothing new to report,” I said truthfully. “Dad told me to be careful until he got to the bottom of things at the Ministry, and I haven't got any new leads, so I've pretty much just been twiddling my thumbs the last couple of days.”

“Sorry about that. Better safe than sorry, though,” Uncle Harry said, giving me an encouraging smile. It was easy for him to say, he was Head Auror. Besides, if Uncle Harry had ever actually lived by 'better safe than sorry' in his life, I would be very surprised.

“You sound like Hermione,” Aunt Ginny said, giving him a sidelong grin. He winked at her.

“I don't suppose you've found out anything you can tell me?” I asked Uncle Harry hopefully.

He shook his head. “Nothing that would help you find Lenny.”

Damn. Uncle Harry never shared inside Ministry information. He was almost as tight-lipped about it as my mum was. Well, no matter, I'd just try to stop by Dad's office and wheedle it out of him.

I stuck around long enough to eat eggy bread, beans, and sausages with Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry, then left them to do whatever it was old married couples did on Sunday mornings, and went home.

Scorpius was puttering around the kitchen when I came through the door, scrubbing the counters with his purple dish gloves on, his hair pulled up into a ponytail. He looked up when he saw me and paused in mid-scrub.

“How'd it go?” he asked.

“Aunt Ginny fixed it at the paper,” I told him, setting my handbag down on the counter.

“Oh. Good.”

We looked at each other for a moment, and then I said, “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you.”

“I'm sorry too,” he said, dropping the cleaning rag in the sink. “I shouldn't have been so touchy.”

It was probably just both of us feeling weird because Dominique was getting divorced, but I sort of felt particularly in love with him this morning. I really didn't want to fight about the stupid agent again, and promised myself to let it go. If he wanted to throw our money away on this, that was going to have to be fine with me. I'd just work a little harder to find evidence to clear Lenny, and then we'd have that money to make up for all these fees and stuff.

“I love you, Rose,” Scorpius said, putting his hands on either side of my face and pulling me in for a kiss. The dish gloves were damp and cold, but I didn't care, and wrapped my arms around his neck.

“Aww,” came Lenny's voice. “That's sweet, man.”

 


Chapter 12: The NLWA
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I hate twiddling my thumbs.

It's a character flaw, I'm sure, but I don't deal well with boredom. This is probably why I have such trouble doing surveillance alone and tend to fall asleep if I'm on my own. I don't mind it if Victoire is along, or I have a healthy level of fear to keep my interest, but boredom and I don't mix well.

Scorpius was finishing his painting. Lenny was reading every book in our flat, apparently. He was going through one or two novels a day. My parents were still investigating or whatever. I had nothing to do.

Rather than pick a fight with Scorpius to entertain myself, I decided I might as well go out and canvass Knockturn Alley again in hopes of some new leads. Maybe Lydia had a new skip I could pick up, that would keep me busy.

Dino and O'Toole were both in the office when I got there, standing nose to nose in front of Lydia's desk and shouting at one another. I could only make out part of what they were saying, but it sounded like they had gone after the same skip yesterday accidentally. That couldn't be good.

“You stole it from me, right out from under me,” O'Toole was shouting.

“I had it first!” Dino yelled.

Lydia was sitting in her chair with her hands over her ears. She grimaced at me when she saw me. I sidled around Dino and O'Toole and stood next to Lydia's chair.

“Hi,” she said, keeping her hands over her ears.

I was starting to think that was a good idea. It looked as if the two men would come to blows at any moment. “Hi, Lydia. Got anything for me?”

She shook her head. “We're flush with big bounties right now, but nobody you'd want.”

Damn. I sure as hell wasn't going to fight it out with Dino or O'Toole over a skip they wanted to pick up.

“Who had it first?” Dino demanded, turning to Lydia. O'Toole crossed his arms tightly and glared belligerently at her.

Her eyes widened at being included. “Um,” she said.

“Who had it, lass?” O'Toole barked.

“I don't know!” she wailed. “You've both been coming in and snatching up any cases that come in, and I don't know who takes a copy of what file any more!”

“Maybe you guys could take turns on the bigger bounties,” I suggested. They both turned to glare at me. Jeez. Touchy.

I turned to Angelo's door, and O'Toole said loudly, “He's not here, the little rat weasel. He's off at the hippogriff track.”

Great, Angelo was gambling again, just what we all needed. “Well, since you don't have anything for me, I'll just go,” I told Lydia.

“You still haven't found Lenny?” Dino asked, eyeing me. “How hard can it be? It's Lenny Graves.”

This was Dino's standard response to any of my skips. He tended to think that anything with a low enough bounty for me to take on ought to be an extremely easy pick-up. Sometimes this was true, but more often it was just a big pain for a small bag of gold. Some of the small bounties were surprisingly good at hiding. Or worse, people like Pyxis Parmenter.

“Actually,” I said, feeling rather annoyed with him, “I'm trying to find out more about this Annable bloke Lenny supposedly killed. He was Lenny's dealer.”

“Try the pubs in the area he sold in,” O'Toole suggested.

Not a bad idea. That reminded me, I ought to ask the two of them as well. “Have either of you ever heard of a woman named Ambrosia Heggs?”

O'Toole shook his head.

“No,” said Dino shortly.

“Well, cheers, boys,” I said.

They went back to shouting at one another. Lydia put her hands back over her ears.

“You could Silence them,” I suggested.

Lydia's eyes went wide again. “Are you mental?”

Okay, she probably had a point.

I left the office and started down Knockturn Alley, asking whoever would stop and talk to me if they knew Herbert Annable, Nicomedes Gormly, or Ambrosia Heggs. A few people admitted knowing Annable or Gormly, but they didn't know anything about their deaths. No one knew Ambrosia. By the time I got to the end of the street, people were starting to avoid me.

Maybe O'Toole was right and I should start looking in pubs. Maybe a few bartenders would know something useful. I'd gotten my best leads from Skone, after all. Looking for his associates hadn't worked out well. I didn't really want to turn up any more dead bodies, either. Plus I could have a drink while questioning the bartenders.

Cheered by this thought, I started a pub crawl of wizarding London. No one had heard of him in the Frog and Frigate, and the barman in the Knotty Goblin told me to bugger off. I had better luck in the Chipped Flagon; one of the barmaids said she'd seen Annable a few times, but didn't know much about him, just that he was a crap tipper. Somehow that didn't surprise me. She did direct me to a more likely pub around the corner. According to her, the Swimming Firkin was a much seedier place than the Chipped Flagon. If Annable had been seen in the one, he was sure to have gone to the other as well.

The Swimming Firkin was near Hackney, where Annable and Gormly had both lived. It looked as if it had been painted blood-red four hundred years ago, and then never had any sort of repair or upkeep since then. The wood around the door was rotting, and I thought I saw a shrunken head on the wall. The light was so dim, I could hardly see.

I could feel eyes staring at me as I came in and approached the bar. Suddenly I wasn't so sure coming here was such a good idea. Normally I get along quite well with barkeeps. They tend to like me. But this bar was pretty creepy.

The barman here was a small, wiry fellow with salt-and-pepper hair and a pretty serious scar on one cheek that had been left by Dark magic, if I was any judge of scars. He was wiping down the bar surface with a rag that looked even dirtier than the dark wood.

He looked me up and down without pausing what he was doing.

“Oh look,” he said. “Another Weasley.”

“Sorry?” I said, sliding onto one of the barstools.

“I can tell a Weasley when I see one. Are you going to be trouble, too?” He stopped wiping the bar and threw the rag on the floor next to him, giving me a threatening look.

Oh, great. I was sure I knew what this was about. “You've met my cousin Louis, haven't you,” I said with a bit of annoyance but no real surprise. Louis had been thrown out of any number of pubs all over England.

“Tossed him out on his arse last week,” the barman said.

“Sorry about that,” I told him. “Normally someone calls one of us out to pick him up. In case you have to throw him out again, try calling Fred Weasley or James Potter to come get him. It usually saves time. And then the MLEs don't have to come.” Louis normally frequented the sort of pubs that did not want the MLEs coming inside for any reason.

The barman lost some of his threatening look. “Happens a lot, does it?”

“All too often,” I confirmed. “Louis is known for it. How many women were with him?”

This time the bartender actually cracked a tiny smile. “Four. He claimed one of them stole his money while he was in the loo with her.”

I sighed. “She probably did, knowing the sort of women he likes. I don't know where we got him, honestly. His mother is French, it's got to be that.”

The tiny smile widened. “What's your name, luv?”

“Rose. Weasley, of course.” I held my hand out and we shook over the still-sticky bar.

“What can I get you, then?” he asked, pulling a glass out from behind the counter and setting it in front of me.

I reckoned I ought to have a few drinks, to keep the friendly air going. I glanced around; everyone was ignoring me again. I must have passed. Luckily, not being an MLE meant I could drink on the job whenever I liked.

“Firewhiskey,” I said, smiling at the barman.

“I'm Hargest, by the way,” the barman said as he poured my drink. “Owner of this here establishment.”

We spent a few minutes good-naturedly bashing Louis' inability to go to a pub without being thrown out with some trouble-making witch, and once Hargest seemed as friendly as he was going to get, I decided it was safe to bring up Annable.

Hargest pursed his lips. “I knew him, yeah, but not very well. He weren't exactly the sort of person I'm like to spend time with, if you know what I mean.”

It seemed like no one had actually liked Annable. Even Lenny had argued with him, and Lenny pretty much caved to anyone. I was starting to feel like it hadn't been such a bad thing for someone to murder him.

“He weren't just a lone wolf though,” Hargest added in a whisper, looking around the pub and then leaning toward me, resting one elbow on the bar. “He had a network of sorts. Have you ever heard of the Organization?”

Um. The what? “The what?”

Hargest leaned even further sideways onto the bar, blocking his face from the sight of the rest of the bar's patrons. “The Organization. A network of... folks who specialize in the darker side of life.”

“Dark wizards?” I asked in a whisper.

“Not all of them. People like Annable, people who might be on the wrong side of the Ministry in other ways as well.”

I got a little chill. “Organized crime, you mean.”

“Well, not everyone thinks these things are crimes, you know. I shouldn't be talking to you. I know your name, Rose Weasley. I know who your parents are, and I know what you do. You live with a Malfoy, but you don't belong here. You probably ought to leave, it isn't safe here for someone like you. And keep your cousin out of this neighbourhood if you can.” Hargest stood upright again and gave me a bland smile as if we'd just been chatting about the weather. “Another drink?”

“No, I'm good.” I slid a couple of Galleons his way. It was way more than the drink was worth, but I sort of felt I ought to be paying him for that warning.

I got up and left the pub. People were staring at me again as I walked out the door. I leaned against the red-painted stones of the Swimming Firkin, blinking in the sunlight.

Great. Organized wizard crime. Just what I needed to vague up the death of Herbert Annable. If he'd been part of some sort of criminal cartel, he had clearly been very low-level, judging by the nasty flat he'd lived in. Did that mean his death had been part of some sort of power play with the 'Organization', as Hargest had called it? Was his killer also part of the Organization, and was that killer still out there somewhere? And would any of this actually help Lenny?

Maybe if I told Dad about what Hargest had said, it would help him. I knew he wasn't telling me everything – my parents never did – so maybe he would be able to piece this together.

I pushed away from the wall and turned to Apparate to the Ministry, and almost bumped into someone. I took a step back automatically to avoid a collision and then gaped at the person in front of me.

Ambrosia Heggs was standing right there, looking at me with one eyebrow raised.

“What,” she said, “do you think you are doing?”

Before I could respond, she grabbed my arm and pulled me along as she Disapparated.

*

I stumbled a bit as we reappeared, and Ambrosia snatched my wand out of my pocket.

Incarcerous,” she said, flicking my wand at me. Golden ropes shot out and wrapped tightly around my torso, pinning my arms to my sides.

Great. Incarcerated with my own wand. I stood there for a minute, feeling kind of stupid, while Ambrosia grinned at me triumphantly, and then sat down cross-legged on the ground and looked around.

We were in some kind of rubbish dump. I wasn't sure where. There was a sign above a large building that said North London Waste Authority in large print. That wasn't terribly helpful in narrowing down where the hell she'd brought me. There was no one in sight. I turned back to Ambrosia, who promptly sat down in front of me, folding her legs gracefully underneath her. She was wearing black trousers and a black shirt, and ruby red lipstick. I sort of wished I looked half as cool – but I had on one of my favourite shirts, the purple one with the baby hippogriffs, so that was okay. I'd already proven once that I couldn't pull off the all-in-black tough-girl look.

“You've been busy, Rose,” Ambrosia said. She sounded different than the last time I'd spoken to her. “You've really been pissing off my boss, too, and making me look bad. I can't have that.”

“Hang on,” I said, disregarding her words and focusing on her accent. That was why she sounded different. “You're an American?”

“Maybe.” Ambrosia grinned. “Maybe I'm just talking this way to mess with you.”

I stared at her. “Are you?”

“Am I what?”

“Just messing with me.”

She stared at me. “Does it matter?”

“Who are you, really?” I demanded. This was getting very annoying.

“Promise not to tell anyone?” Her grin was back.

She had to know I would, even if I did promise. “No.”

“Fair enough.”

I remembered what she'd said a minute ago. “Who is your boss? How have I been making you look bad?” I hadn't been particularly busy, really.

“Poking around the Firkin, arresting my pet forger.” Ambrosia shook her head. She had returned to her faintly East Anglian accent now. What the hell. Why do I never meet normal criminals? I always get the weirdos.

Hang on. “Your pet forger?”

“McBride. He was in the middle of a job for me. Now we're delayed by almost a week thanks to you picking him up and bringing him to the Ministry.” Ambrosia set my wand down and pulled her own out. A trickle of gold sparks fell from the tip. “Ah, much better. I always prefer to use my own wand, don't you?”

“Why did you kidnap me?” I asked. I was proud that my voice came out almost bored. Not at all frightened. I suppose having been kidnapped before helped. And that time had been a pair of serial killers, not just some stupid blonde woman. I was more irritated with Ambrosia than I was afraid of her.

“It was easier than doing you in by shovel,” she said.

Okay, now I was a little afraid of her. “You killed Gormly?”

She stared at me.

“Did you kill Annable, too?” I pressed. It wouldn't do me any good to get a confession from her – it wouldn't help Lenny really, that is – but I wanted to know.

She twirled her wand again and said thoughtfully, “Do people normally answer in these situations? I don't see why. I have no reason to tell you, and any number of reasons not to tell you. Look, Rose, I'm not going to kill you-”

“Cheers,” I said.

She smiled. “But I am warning you. Stay out of my affairs, or I will smash your head in with a shovel. I am in the middle of something, and I won't have you messing it up. Are we clear?”

“Sure,” I said. “But if I don't know what your affairs are, how can I stay out of them?”

“I'm sure you'll think of something,” she told me. “Avoiding death by shovel is a pretty good motivation, wouldn't you say?”

She had a point, I had to admit.

“I'll leave you your wand before I go, so you can escape. If you're able,” Ambrosia added, grinning at me. She really did have a very annoying grin. “I really don't want to kill you unless it's absolutely necessary. It's so messy, and I'm wearing my favourite shoes. Now, I'm going to run along, and you're going to stay here until I'm gone, then you may wriggle over to your wand and do whatever you can.”

Did she say wriggle? “Wriggle?” I repeated.

Ambrosia rose fluidly to her feet, and tossed my wand away. It clattered to the pavement about twenty feet off.

“Oh, that's very nice,” I said.

“It will slow you down a bit. Good-bye, Rose. No more interference, or I will make you pay for the trouble you have caused me.” Ambrosia gave me another annoyingly dazzling grin and then spun on the spot, disappearing with a loud crack.

I looked at my wand, then tried to stand. Maybe sitting down had been a mistake. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and I'd kind of hoped it would annoy her if I was nonchalant about being kidnapped. I wasn't sure that had worked.

I finally managed to stagger to my feet, and then walked over to my wand. My hands were not in the best position to manage complicated wrist movements such as the sort that removing an Incarceration Curse required. Great.

I had to sit down again in order to pick up my wand, scraping my knuckles against the concrete as well. Crap, crap, crap. These things never happen to my brother. Or any of my cousins. Except maybe Louis.

Removing the ropes was not working, I found after a few tries. I got back on my feet after yet more staggering, and clutched my wand tightly. At least I could Apparate. I had a feeling the ropes were going to come along, but maybe they'd drop off along the way. I closed my eyes and felt my way into darkness.

I'm really good at Apparating. I always have been. It's probably my only useful skill as a bounty hunter. I could always run away to fight another day (well, if I was strictly accurate, I usually ran away in order to run away another day). I can Disapparate from any position, no turning on the spot required. I'd Disapparated from sitting, standing, lying on the ground, even from falling through a burning roof.

Apparently I could not Disapparate out from inside an Incarceration Curse.

Oh, I Disapparated, all right. But the curse came along with me.

I reappeared inside the atrium at the Ministry of Magic, still bound in the thick ropes. It was as close as I was going to get to going straight to my dad's office.

The clerk on duty at the welcome desk gaped at me, his wand paused in midair over a stack of papers. One floated to the floor as he stared at me.

“Would you mind calling Ron or Hermione Weasley, please?” I asked politely.
 


Chapter 13: Crime, Inc.
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Dad wasn't pleased. “You were kidnapped again, Rosie?” he asked as I took a seat in his office.

“It wasn't my fault,” I told him, rolling my shoulders a bit. Those ropes had been tight.

Mum had come down to the atrium to collect me, and she'd had the Incarceration Curse off in a trice. Once the ropes had disappeared, she ushered me straight upstairs to the Auror department, where my dad and Uncle Harry were sitting in Dad's office.

Now, when one has just been kidnapped, there are no people one would rather see when one is released than a pair of Aurors of that reputation and my mum (who really ought to count for at least two people). I felt pretty certain they would keep me safe if I stuck around them closely enough. But it was a little intimidating to walk into a room and sit opposite the three of them while they questioned me. The last time that had happened had been right after the serial killer team Venatici had kidnapped and tried to kill me, but I'd been too tired at the time to be bothered with it. Today I sat across from them and felt about ten years old.

It really hadn't been my fault, though. Not that I was aware of, anyway. Can I help it if crazy people happen to kidnap me occasionally?

“What did she say exactly?” Uncle Harry asked. He had a Quick-Quotes Quill poised in the air above them, ready to take down my statement. I'd had my statement taken many times, but I never entirely trusted those quills. Magical Law Enforcement always bought the kind that was supposed to take down one's words verbatim, I'd been told. I'd never actually verified it, but if Mum wasn't having a fit over it, it must be true.

I tried to remember Ambrosia's exact words. “Um. She said she was in the middle of a job, and I'd almost messed it up by bringing in McBride.”

“Who?” Mum demanded, pouncing on this.

“A skip I picked up last week, Joseph McBride. He was out on bond after trying to forge Galleons, and he missed his court date.”

Mum went to the door to bark orders at Dad's lackeys, telling them to get everything they had on Joseph McBride.

“What else, Rose?” Uncle Harry asked.

“Um,” I said, trying to think. I'm not good at instant recall under stress, okay?

“This would be a lot easier if we had a Pensieve,” Uncle Harry remarked to my dad.

Dad nodded. “I bet the Department of Mysteries has one.”

“They're very rare,” Mum said. She was still standing at the doorway. “I've been wanting one for my department for ages. Do you think they do have one down there? I don't remember ever seeing one.”

“That was years ago. And we didn't see everything they have hidden down there,” Uncle Harry pointed out.

“I'm going to requisition one,” Mum announced. “Do you think we could get it today?”

“No,” Dad and Uncle Harry said in unison.

I was inclined to agree. From what I knew of the Department of Mysteries, it took those blokes weeks just to respond to a request for information, much less actually help out.

Uncle Harry shook his head. “We'll do without. All right, Rose, try to remember what was said. What happened first?”

I went over the conversation with them, trying to remember everything that had been said. I was afraid I'd left something out, but I did the best I could. Dad and Uncle Harry walked me through it twice, questioning everything, and I had to admit, they were good at what they did. I remembered more when they were asking me for more details.

“All right,” Mum said when Uncle Harry finally declared the subject exhausted (I suspected by 'subject', he meant me rather than the topic of discussion). “If she didn't intend to kill you, what was the point in kidnapping you? I don't believe this 'warning you off' nonsense for a moment. She must have intended to lay a false trail, to keep you out of her hair for a while.”

“Not bad,” Dad said, giving her a nod, “but you can't assume everyone is as smart as you are, Hermione. This Ambrosia person might really have meant to scare Rose off.”

“They haven't met Rose, then,” Uncle Harry said, giving me a wink. “What about the American accent?”

“Bit dodgy, that,” Dad said. “Was it real, do you think?”

“It could explain why there's no record of her,” Mum said.

“So you did look her up in your files?” I asked Dad.

“Yeah, came up dry. If it's an alias, it isn't one we know of. We looked through our still-at-large files and didn't turn up any women who fit Ambrosia's description, either. I think she's a new player, but I'm not sure who she's working with.”

Great. I'd been hoping Dad would come up with something there. “I don't see how McBride fits into all this, though,” I said. “That part didn't make any sense to me. What does he have to do with Lenny or Annable? Or Gormly?”

“A project involving two drug dealers and a forger?” Dad said thoughtfully. “Manufacturing some kind of Ministry-controlled substance, maybe?”

“There aren't many that you'd really make much off of on the black market,” Uncle Harry pointed out. “Floo powder is regulated to manufacture but not to purchase, and it's cheap anyway. It wouldn't be worth the effort.”

“Maybe they're making a knock-off of some of Uncle George's Defence Against the Dark Arts products,” I suggested. “That could make some real money.”

“Could be,” Dad said. “George does make some bloody complicated stuff.”

“Let's start from the beginning,” Mum said, pulling a piece of parchment toward her. “It all started with this case, so we'll begin there. Herbert Annable is murdered with a Killing Curse, possibly by Lenny Graves.” She scribbled on the parchment.

I've seen my mother's thought process on paper before, so I knew what she was looking for: all the facts on this initial incident. “Lenny was buying something or other from Annable-”

“What was he buying, exactly?” Mum said sharply. “It might be important.”

“Um...” I thought back. “Mallowsweet and daffodil, I think? No wait, asphodel.” Hey, maybe I'm better at remembering details than I thought. Probably not, though.

Mum wrote it down.

“Lenny attempts to buy what is probably an illegal substance from Annable, they argue over the price, Lenny goes to hide in the bathroom,” Dad said, picking up the narrative. His eyes followed Mum's quill across the parchment as she wrote. “He leaves his wand with Annable, on the coffee table. While he's in the bathroom, a man comes in and uses Lenny's wand to kill Annable with a Killing Curse. Lenny comes out, finds the body, picks up his wand again, and the MLEs arrive and arrest him for murder after testing his wand. At the Ministry, Merton Graves hires a lawyer for Lenny and he is offered a plea bargain for manslaughter. The Auror department is never contacted about the arrest, despite the use of an Unforgivable Curse, and Lenny is released on bail, which he promptly skips out on.”

“Right,” Mum said, tapping her quill against the table. “I looked into that, and I can't find anyone who will admit to having authorized the plea. The attorney who offered it to him said he received a memo instructing him to do so, but the memo is gone now.”

“Convenient,” Uncle Harry grunted.

“I know,” Mum agreed. “I'm inclined to believe him, though, so I've been investigating who was on duty at the time Johnson received the memo, and none of them have turned up anything in their background checks to indicate suspicious behaviour. Honestly, I'm not sure where else to look. If it wasn't someone officially on duty, then there are another hundred possible suspects. It will take me forever to investigate all of them.”

“You're sure you didn't miss anyone?” Dad said.

Mum gave him a look. “Of course, Ronald. I've checked all of them. Well, obviously I didn't check Andrew. He's family. But I've been through everyone else's file, interviewed them all, and there's nothing. Whichever one of them did it, they've covered their tracks very well.”

Oh, holy Kneazles. I suddenly felt like there was a ringing in my ears. Andrew Campbell. Dominique's Andrew. She hadn't looked into him because he was her niece's husband, and Mum didn't believe a member of the family would be guilty of corruption. “Mum...”

Uncle Harry seemed to have noticed my expression. “What is it, Rose?”

“I think you should investigate Andrew, Mum.”

Mum's eyes narrowed. “Why?”

Dominique was going to kill me, but I had to do it. “Because he's run off and left Dominique for another woman. That was why I was at your house the other day,” I added to Uncle Harry. “Aunt Ginny helped us pull the wedding announcement from the Daily Prophet. Andrew was going to announce his engagement, but Dominique hasn't told Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur that she's getting a divorce, so we didn't want them to find out in the paper.”

“Bastard,” Dad said.

Uncle Harry nodded his agreement.

“Yeah, about that, if he turns up all bloody and bruised, it had nothing to do with any of your sons or nephews,” I told them.

“Well done,” said Uncle Harry.

“He may be a worthless human being for running out on Dominique, but that doesn't prove he's the one who offered an illegal plea bargain,” said Mum. “I'll look into him, though. If he's the one behind that missing memo, I'll find out.”

Andrew might prefer getting beat up by my brother and cousins over having Mum investigate him, actually. He was very ambitious, and having Hermione Weasley as an enemy was not going to do his career any good.

“All right, what's next?” Mum said, drawing a line down her paper to start a new column.

“Gormly's death,” I told her.

“No, what's next is you running into Ambrosia Heggs at the wandmaker's,” Dad corrected me.

We went over the sequence of events from my visit to Skone through to finding Gormly's body. Mum didn't like hearing it, especially the part about my breaking into Gormly's house. Uncle Harry seemed to take it in stride that I'd done something illegal. You would think they all would have gotten used to it by now, but Mum never does.

“He was manufacturing something, then,” Mum said after I'd described Gormly's kitchen. “We'll look for the report, it should say what he was up to. Maybe it will give us a clue to what this group's 'project' is.”

I watched her draw another line down the paper. Mum was a little frighteningly methodical sometimes. I wouldn't necessarily use the word 'pathologically', but...

She looked up, all business now. “All right. What's next? This McBride person? Should we classify this in with your kidnapping, since they were directly related?”

Dad shook his head at her. “Hermione...”

“What?” Mum looked at him with her quill poised in the air, blinking owlishly.

“She's our daughter.”

“Oh.” Mum turned a little pink, and she patted my hand. “I'm sorry, dear. I didn't mean to bring it up so cavalierly.”

I shrugged. “I'm fine. I've been kidnapped before, and this time wasn't nearly as scary.”

“She's your daughter,” Dad told Mum.

I told Mum everything I knew about Joseph McBride, which wasn't much, and what had happened when I picked him up. She was frowning by the time we were through.

“I'm not sure this has told us a thing. Where is the file on him? They should have turned it up by now.”

Mum went outside to yell at the secretaries, and Dad and Uncle Harry exchanged a glance.

“What?” I said.

“Rose, if there's anything you left out because of your mum...”

“No, Dad, I told you everything.” Except that Lenny was sleeping on my couch, but that hardly seemed like it would help figure out what was going on.

“We have two dead drug dealers, a forger, and a woman involved somehow in organized crime.” Uncle Harry shook his head. “I can think of a few scenarios, but we have no proof, and no leads. We need someone to flip.”

“Maybe they've still got McBride,” Dad suggested.

“They would have bonded him back out, wouldn't they?” I asked. “I mean, he wasn't listed as having a violent history or anything. And he came along pretty quietly once his roof was on fire, actually.”

“They probably did, yeah. Your mum won't be pleased about that,” Dad said, rolling his eyes.

“Dad, did you ever have Cullip picked up?” I asked then, remembering what he'd said when he'd come to my flat.

He pulled a face. “Yeah, but we didn't get anything useful out of him. He didn't know anything about Annable or Gormly. Gone straight, actually – said he'd found religion and was trying to lead a better life, wasn't involved in the drug trade any longer.”

Damn. I supposed that really had been a crappy lead, but I'd still sort of hoped it would have played out.

Mum came back in then. She didn't look happy. “McBride was bonded back out. He's probably gone into hiding by now. We have to find the attorney who authorized the plea bargain, he's the last person left we might have access to.”

“Just what we were saying,” Uncle Harry said. “Rose, why don't you go on home. We'll contact you if anything comes up.”

I noticed he hadn't exactly said they'd contact me if they found out anything. Typical. Well, why not. I was tired anyway. I could do for a nap.

I gave my mum a quick hug, and waved to Dad and Uncle Harry. “Bye. Don't say anything to Scorpius about me being kidnapped, okay?”

*

Scorpius and Lenny were in the living room, examining a painting, when I got home. I half-expected it to be the painting of Lenny and his guitar, but instead it was a rather lovely painting of my uncle Bill's house, Shell Cottage, with the ocean behind it.

“I thought you were saving that one to give to Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur for Christmas?” I said, nodding at the painting.

“I am,” Scorpius said. He was rubbing his chin with one hand, looking thoughtful. “But I think I might just bring it by Mr. Barnes' office first, see what he says. I didn't have anything like this one in the lot I gave him. I think it might be good to show him I can do seascapes too.”

“I've always liked the beach painting you gave Hugo,” I agreed.

“Right. I'll be back in a bit.” Scorpius put the Shell Cottage painting in his Muggle art carrier thing, and trotted off for the agent's office.

“How's it going with my case, man?” Lenny asked.

I sighed and flopped down into an armchair. I wasn't sure how much I should tell him. It had all started with Lenny, so maybe he ought to know. On the other hand, I didn't want him accidentally telling Scorpius I'd been kidnapped today, so maybe I'd leave that part out. “It's not going real well, Lenny, to be honest.”

His face fell. His brown eyes, no longer bloodshot as they'd always been while he was using, looked at me pleadingly. “You're not giving up on me, are you? I didn't kill Annable, Rose, I swear.”

“I know you didn't. I've even almost got my parents convinced of it,” I said, and when Lenny's eyes widened a bit, I added swiftly, “They don't know you're here, they just think there's something very fishy about your case. Look, Lenny, did you ever buy from a man named Nicomedes Gormly?”

Lenny shook his head. “No, man, I always bought from Annable. He gave out samples.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. “Samples. Okay, then. Did you ever meet a blonde woman who might have gone by the name of Ambrosia Heggs?”

“Yeah, man. She was Annable's boss.”

I sat up straight. “What?”

“What?” Lenny repeated, looking startled.

“Lenny, why didn't you say something before?” I demanded.

“Was I supposed to, man?” He looked a little paranoid. “It was a dude who killed Annable, not her. I didn't think about it.”

Oh, holy Kneazles. Had I asked him before about Ambrosia? I couldn't remember. I thought I had done, but apparently not. “What do you know about her?”

“Annable said she was sort of the regional boss for greater London,” Lenny told me. “She brought him his, um, products to sell, and she took most of what he made, I guess. I never met her, actually, I just saw her once leaving Annable's when I was coming over. Annable didn't like her, man. He said she was a crazy bitch.”

“Is that it? Nothing else? Did you ever hear of The Organization?” I couldn't believe he hadn't mentioned any of this before.

“What organization, man?” Lenny said.

I had a feeling he was exhausted as a source, as Uncle Harry says. His brain was so addled from years of drug use, even now that he was sober I wasn't sure how much he could actually recall.

“Can you remember anything else Annable might have mentioned about who he worked for, or with, or anything else?” I asked, hoping something else would come up.

“No, man, we mostly talked about how much he was going to charge me per ounce,” said Lenny.

I chewed on my thumbnail while I thought this over, and Lenny flipped on the wireless and looked for a Quidditch match.

I needed to tell my parents that Ambrosia had been Lenny's supplier and coordinator. I wasn't sure how to do that without revealing how I knew and therefore implicating myself in a crime. I didn't like to think of the looks on their faces if I told them I'd been harbouring the fugitive I was supposed to be bringing to justice. An anonymous source? That might work. A barman, maybe. I got a lot of good tips from barmen, and they probably wouldn't question it. Not to my face, anyway.

If Ambrosia had been Annable's boss, had she ordered his death? Or had Gormly killed him after all, and Ambrosia killed him in retaliation? Was Gormly part of this Organization thing or not? I wasn't sure Lenny's information had actually helped me. It felt like all it had done was give me more questions. I had a bunch of pieces and no idea how they fit together.

Ambrosia needn't have bothered kidnapping me to warn me off. I had no idea what was going on.

“Lenny, what made you decide to post bail through Angelo's instead of Pilliwickle's?” I asked suddenly. The thought had just popped into my mind out of nowhere. I wasn't even sure why I was asking, although I had wondered about it before.

He shrugged. “Well, man, I knew you work for Angelo. I was kind of hoping...”

“What?”

I had a feeling I knew what he was about to say, and sure enough, Lenny went on, “If I jumped bail on these charges, I didn't want anybody from Pilliwickle's coming after me. You should see their bounty hunters, man. They're not as nice as you.”

Great. Lenny had known all along that Angelo would give me his case when he skipped out on his bail. I felt kind of stupid and kind of flattered. He'd known I was a sap, because I'd let him go before when I knew Pilliwickle's was looking for him. But on the other hand, he thought I was nicer than any of Mrs. Pilliwickle's skip tracers. That made me feel a little better, although 'nice' probably wasn't something I ought to aspire to as a job skill.

“You owe me, Lenny,” I told him.

He hung his head sheepishly. “Sorry, Rose.” His face turned serious then, and he looked up and met my eyes. “Do you want me to turn myself in? Maybe your parents will make sure I get a fair shake from the Wizengamot. I'll still give you the money for helping me.”

I shook my head. “Not yet, Lenny. We still don't know who it was at the Ministry who sold you out. Your case was mishandled and bounced around so much, my mum hasn't traced the person yet.”

I didn't want to tell him the person was very likely my cousin's soon-to-be ex-husband. If it wasn't Andrew, I probably shouldn't accuse him of corruption, if only to Lenny. Being a wife-and-child-abandoning, cheating bastard didn't necessarily mean he was also a corrupt lawyer.

The door banged open and Scorpius came in with his painting carrier bag thing (I had forgotten the Muggle word for it) slung over one shoulder, red in the face. Some of his hair had pulled out of the braid he'd had it in when he left, and now hung loose around his face. I didn't think I'd ever seen him look so very pissed off.

“What happened?” I asked, scooting off the chair.

Scorpius flung the bag down, and it bounced end over end down the hallway to our bedroom. Uh-oh.

“The damned agent is gone! He's gone! His office is completely emptied out!” Scorpius paced back and forth in front of the door, kicking it shut as he went past. “There were two other artists there, and they said he'd done a bunk – ran off with everyone's money – he was never really an agent at all, just printed off some cards to trick people – bilked us all out of our money – squatting illegally in the office space – can't believe this, bloody damn hell-”

Oh, holy Kneazles. “He wasn't a real agent?” I repeated in disbelief. All that money for nothing...

Scorpius still looked ready to explode, and vented some of his feelings by kicking one of the chairs over. “He stole all the paintings off one of the blokes I met today! Every one of them! He didn't even take one of mine!”

“Hang on, are you pissed because he didn't steal your work?” I asked. Men are so weird.

“At least if he'd taken one, I'd feel like I had some bloody talent. But Barnes didn't think any of my bloody paintings were good enough to steal.” He kicked the chair again.

Seriously weird. His feelings were hurt because the fake agent hadn't wanted to steal his paintings as well as his money? Jeez.

“Man, that sucks,” Lenny said. I'd almost forgotten he was there.

Scorpius drew a deep breath, pushed his hair out of his face, and then bent down to put the chair right. “Sorry,” he said to me, and I went to him and wrapped my arms around his waist.

“I'm sorry he didn't steal your paintings,” I said, trying to make my voice sound like I didn't think he was mental.

“All that bloody money for nothing,” Scorpius muttered, but he put an arm around me. “Thanks, Rose.”

“What do we do?” I asked. “Do we go to the MLEs? Can't we get the money back?”

“He was a Muggle,” Scorpius pointed out. “We'd have to go to the Muggle authorities, and I don't know about you, but I don't fancy the idea of them looking into me, even as a victim of a crime. I'm not sure I even have the proper documentation to exist in the Muggle world. Even if I did, what could they do? How will they find him? It probably wasn't even his real name.”

I was really getting tired of people using aliases. “There must be something we can do...”

“If I ever see him again, I'm going to hex him, I don't care who's watching,” Scorpius muttered.

I let go of him and took a step back. “Did you get all your paintings back?”

“Yeah. They wouldn't all fit in the damn portfolio,” he added. “I had to use my rucksack. Nobody noticed a thing, they were all too busy shouting and running about with their own paintings. I left before the Muggle MLEs showed up.”

“Policemen,” I corrected him absently. He was probably right, the Muggle police would want too much identification from him, things he wouldn't be able to provide, and he would give himself away and break the Statute of Secrecy. Scorpius had been raised a pureblood, he knew even less about Muggles than I did. Except old theatre music. Somehow I didn't think would help.

Scorpius stacked his paintings against the living room wall where he always kept them, working in silence. Lenny picked up a book off the coffee table and started reading, and I watched my boyfriend, wondering if there was any way I could track down Barnes and get the money back (and maybe give him a good hexing). I'd never tried to trace a Muggle before and wasn't sure if I even could. I was pretty good at finding wizards who were hiding. But Barnes was a Muggle, and using an assumed name. I wouldn't be able to use any of my usual methods. And Lydia probably wouldn't be able to help at all. I really relied on her for information on my skips.

I discarded the idea, and figured we'd just have to consider this a wash. Over a hundred Galleons down the drain. I really needed to find out who the real killer was so I could get Lenny exonerated and get that eight hundred Galleons from him.

Still, I was really glad I'd given Mrs. Kochel some money while we'd had it. At least we wouldn't be evicted again.

Scorpius headed for the bedroom once all his paintings were back in place and I followed him, closing the door so Lenny couldn't hear us. Scorpius sat down in the middle of the bed, crossing his legs underneath him. He looked very unhappy.

“I really thought this was my shot,” he said plaintively.

I sat down next to him and laid my head on his shoulder. “I know.”

“Maybe I should just give up.” He was staring at his hands. There was a spot of red paint at the base of his thumb, and he rubbed at it a bit. “Maybe I'm never going to be good enough at this.”

“Don't say that. Something will happen. This wasn't your break, but it will come.”

Scorpius flopped back on the bed, stretching out. I curled up next to him, putting my hand on his chest. He reached up to link his fingers with mine, and kissed the top of my head.

“This sucks royal hippogriff,” I said.

“Yeah, it does,” he agreed.

I decided not to mention I'd been right about Barnes after all. It seemed unlikely to please him.


Chapter 14: Andrew Campbell
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A/N: Devout apologies for not getting this chapter finished sooner. As you probably guessed, I have now posted everything I wrote during NaNoWriMo, so now have to finish the story (no comments on my not having done that sooner!) with fresh stuff. So... New chapters will hopefully be every other week now. I'm off on a vacation trip next week, so the next chapter may be about three weeks off. I'll try to get one done and posted before I go, but I can't promise anything. And now, onwards...





I went by my dad's office the next morning. And by morning, of course I mean one in the afternoon. I figured I'd better tell him what Lenny had said about Ambrosia being Annable's boss. Since I couldn't just tell him Lenny had told me about it, I was going to invent a former customer of Annable's whom I had allegedly run into down Knockturn Alley. It sounded a little dodgy, but half the things I actually did were dodgy, so I was hoping Dad wouldn't question my source.

Dad was at his desk when I got there, behind a very large and rather precarious pile of papers. He looked up when I came in and smiled broadly at me.

“We found Andrew,” he told me. “Well, we didn't exactly find him. It was more that he was delivered to us.”

I moved a stack of papers from the chair opposite Dad's desk to the floor and sat down. “How do you mean?”

“Well, we sent the MLEs after him yesterday after your mum started looking into him a bit more – turns out old Andrew has put out a few other dodgy plea bargains – but no one knew where he was. They were supposed to go out again this morning to find him when his superior reported that he hadn't turned up for work. Funny thing, though, when we got up to the Auror department, we found Andrew on our doorstep, trussed up like a suckling pig and covered in green tentacles, with a sign pinned to him saying Cheating bastard, ought to be locked up.”

I snorted. Hugo and the boys had been busy. “Tentacles?”

Dad was grinning. “Yes, it was a terrible thing. Poor bloke was completely unconscious. Your uncle Harry thought the handwriting on the sign looked a lot like your cousin James's handwriting, but you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?”

“Nope, not a thing,” I assured him. “You'll probably never find out who assaulted him like that. London has a lot of crime. Could've been anyone.”

“That's what I thought.” Dad chuckled. “As soon as the mediwizards brought him round and he saw your mum looming over him looking like she might put the tentacles back on, he clammed up and asked for a lawyer. We haven't got anything out of him yet, but hopefully he'll make a deal and give up whoever he's been working with. He's down in a holding cell now, waiting for his lawyer.”

Dad seemed pretty chuffed about Andrew turning up so easily, even if he had refused to talk without an attorney. I decided it was probably safe to go with my invented Knockturn Alley drug user story after all – Dad in a good mood might overlook the dodginess.

“I have a bit more on Ambrosia,” I told him, trying to stick to the truth as long as possible. “I was canvassing Knockturn Alley yesterday, and I ran across a few people who knew Annable-”

“Ex-customers, no doubt,” Dad said with a grunt, but he still seemed in a good mood.

As much as my parents say I've been lying to them since I was a little girl (and they have a point), I don't really like telling my dad a bold-faced lie if I can avoid it. Just small ones. White lies, as it were. Just so I don't get in trouble over something unimportant. But I'd gone as far as I could with the truth: I had canvassed Knockturn Alley yesterday and had run across a few people, but now I had to lie to my dad. “Yeah. I was asking them if they knew Ambrosia Heggs as well, and one of them told me she was Annable's boss.”

Dad sat up straight. “Tell me exactly what this person told you.”

“Ambrosia brought Annable his 'products' to sell and took some of his profits, and they didn't get along. Annable thought she was a right bitch. He said she was Annable's boss, and in charge of greater London.”

“That's not a bit more, Rose, that's a lot.” Dad had his Auror face on, that keen look he got when he was on a case. “I'd say that's our first solid point of connection between Ambrosia and this whole Lenny mess. She's definitely part of this Organization, then.”

“She can't be that high up in it,” I pointed out. “If she's some sort of regional boss distributing illegal substances to drug dealers, doesn't that seem like a mid-level sort of thing to be doing?”

“Yeah, it does, but we won't know unless we can get her. I wonder how Andrew got involved in all this.” Dad rubbed a hand over his face. “I can't believe someone married to my niece is cutting deals for organized crime.”

“Lenny isn't organized crime,” I pointed out, and Dad shook his head.

“Not Lenny – the other plea bargains Andrew's been offering were to mobsters and crooks. I don't know how Lenny fits in to all that, except that he used to buy from Annable.”

I didn't know either, but I was willing to bet Andrew did. It was almost a shame the Ministry already had him in custody; if I'd gotten to him last night when my brother and cousins had him, I could've questioned him myself. I didn't have to worry so much about legal issues when I questioned someone the way Dad and Uncle Harry did, so sometimes I wound up getting a bit more out of them. And I knew a bit more about Lenny than I'd told Dad, of course. I wondered if there was any way Dad would let me talk to Andrew now.

Well, it couldn't hurt to ask.

“Daddy, can I talk to Andrew?”

Dad eyed me. “Rose, he asked for a lawyer. We can't let anyone speak to him until his lawyer gets here or he'll sue us.”

“But I'm not an MLE,” I pointed out. “Or an Auror. Talking to me won't violate any of his rights. I'm not an official. I'm just his cousin, concerned for his well-being.”

“That's true,”said Dad slowly. He appeared to like this particular rationalization. “As a member of his family – legally speaking – you have every right to go see him. And you're not with the Ministry... You'll tell me everything he says?”

I nodded.

“It'll be hearsay,” Dad added, mostly to himself. “But it might give us something we can use. Come on, Rosie.”

I followed Dad down to the holding cells and waited while he exchanged a few words with the MLE on duty. The man grinned broadly when Dad told him who I was. Maybe I really was a legend.

Being a legend seemed to have its uses, though, because the MLE – Stark, his name badge said – took my wand for safekeeping, then led me back into the cells and unlocked Andrew's.

Andrew was lying on the bench, looking sullen, but he sat up when I came in. I sat down on the bench on the opposite wall (lucky Andrew had managed to get a holding cell all to himself) and Stark locked the door behind me. I could hear his footsteps clacking down the hall as he walked back to his desk, where my dad was waiting.

Andrew seemed surprised to see me, and more than a little wary. I supposed this was only to be expected, since I wasn't exactly close with Dominique, and had only had an actual conversation with him on a couple of occasions. And my brother had, after all, attacked him only last night. Probably I wasn't someone he really wanted to see right now.

I sat there across from Andrew for a minute. I had to talk to him, I knew. He was involved in this whole mess somehow – this was probably the man behind the mysterious plea bargain. But all I could see when I looked at him was the bastard who'd made Dominique burst into tears over her complicated dinner. If Stark hadn't taken my wand, I might have hexed him.

“I don't have to speak to you without my lawyer,” Andrew said. He looked pretty defensive about it. Guess he thought I might attack him any moment.

“I'm not an MLE, Andrew,” I told him. “I'm not with the Ministry at all. I'm just your wife's cousin. You can talk to me without a lawyer present.”

I watched Andrew weigh this. He wasn't dumb, for all he might be an ambitious, unprincipled man. He knew perfectly well anything he said to me would only be hearsay to the Wizengamot if I tried to testify against him. He could very easily get my entire testimony thrown out of court.

He had twitched a little when I mentioned his wife, though.

“What do you want?” he asked eventually.

“I just want to talk to you about a plea bargain you made to Lenny Graves.”

Andrew blinked in surprise. “Lenny?”

I got the impression he'd thought I wanted to talk about Dominique. I wouldn't mind telling him what a jerk he was for that, but right now I had more pressing matters. “Yes. Did you know Herbert Annable? And do you know a woman named Ambrosia Heggs?”

There was a blank look on his face. Either he didn't know Ambrosia, or he was a better liar than I'd ever given him credit for. “No, I don't know her. And I didn't know Mr. Annable personally, either.”

“But you did know him,” I said sharply. He wasn't going to trip me up with that 'personally' bit. I hated lawyers. Except my mum, of course. “How?”

“I didn't know him at all,” Andrew said, backpedaling a bit. “I only knew who he was. I prosecuted a case against him once, that's all. Drug charges. He was a nobody.”

Nice. “Then why did you offer Lenny Graves a plea bargain when the MLEs were sure he'd murdered Annable?”

“It was a favour for... a friend.” Andrew's demeanour changed completely as he said this. He frowned at me and folded his arms across his chest.

“What about all those others? My mum says you've offered several illegal plea bargains.”

“I know,” he said sourly. “She's investigating me for corruption now.”

Um, yeah, because he was corrupt. I stared at him for a minute, trying to think how to get him to open up. I reckoned I ought to back away from mentioning his shady dealings.

“A favour,” I said slowly. I thought I had an idea. “Who asked you to do this favour?”

Andrew brushed this off with an irritable wave of his hand. “It doesn't matter.”

“Did you get paid for this favour?”

He bristled. “It wasn't like that. I just... did someone a favour, that's all. Don't tell me you've never done someone a favour, Rose.”

I tried not to look embarrassed. I was presently committing some sort of felony by hiding Lenny instead of bringing him to the authorities. Andrew sort of had a point there.

Andrew gave me a look that I thought was a little overly familiar, even considering he was married to my cousin. Well, used to be married to my cousin. “Xanthe's boss, she knows Lenny's dad or something. She didn't want to see him get in trouble, and Xanthe just wanted to have her boss be pleased with her. You know how it is with bosses. You scratch their back, and they'll scratch yours.”

I couldn't imagine Angelo scratching anyone's back, no matter what they did for him. Angelo didn't respond to kindness, only threats of bodily harm from his bookies. “Who is Xanthe?”

“My fiancée,” Andrew said, looking a little surprised. “Didn't Dominique tell you her name?”

I seriously wanted to punch him in the face. He'd scream bloody murder for Officer Stark if I did, though. I pictured Hugo and the boys hexing him with tentacles and felt a little better. “Xanthe,” I repeated.

“Yeah. She's brilliant, absolutely brilliant.”

“She asked you to let Lenny off on murder charges?”

“Not off, really,” Andrew said. “Just reduced sentence. You know Lenny, he probably didn't mean to do it anyway. His dad's got highly placed friends in the Ministry, you know. He'd have gotten it anyway. I just saved everyone some time and media trouble.”

He actually seemed proud of himself. Unbelievable. Unfortunately, he was also not terribly helpful. If he really hadn't known Annable, and didn't know Ambrosia Heggs – and I believed him about that – then he probably wasn't directly involved in the Organization. But the other criminals he'd let off had likely been part of some sort of organized crime.

“So Lenny had nothing to do with the other plea bargains that my mum's investigating?”

Andrew's face went sour again. Whoops, maybe I should have asked that differently. “No.”

“Did you hand out those other plea bargains because of Xanthe, too?” I asked. I wasn't sure where that had come from, actually. It had popped out of my mouth without my really thinking about it.

Something flashed across Andrew's eyes. Surprise, maybe, and a little bit of guilt. “No, of course not.”

“Why were you offering those other plea bargains, then? Did someone pay you to do that?”

Andrew shook his head. “I'm not talking about that without my lawyer, Rose, MLE or not.”

Crap. I found it hard to believe there was nothing worse going on there, and that Lenny's case wasn't somehow connected to this. Where did the Organization fit in? And Ambrosia Heggs? And who had really killed Annable? Was everything that had happened to Lenny just happenstance? I had an itchy feeling that something more was happening here with Andrew. Maybe more than even he knew about, but whatever it was, this wasn't the whole story. I couldn't think of an angle, though. “So you only offered Lenny a plea bargain to make your girlfriend happy? That's all?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I'm going to marry her. I want her career to go well.”

Now I really wanted to punch him.

“You should meet her, Rose,” he went on, smiling suddenly in a disgustingly lovesick way. “Oh, she's beautiful. She has these blue eyes like the sky in Majorca, and this hair-”

“Dominique has blue eyes,” I cut across him loudly. This git had been to Majorca and I hadn't. I didn't want to hear him waxing rhapsodic about the woman he'd left his wife for. “And she has great hair.”

Andrew's smile faded. “Yes, well...”

“And you have a son with her. Victoire said that Dominique said that you haven't even been by to see the baby.”

“I've been busy,” he told me. “Plans with Xanthe and all...”

I pulled a face at him. “You're a fantastic example of fatherhood, Andrew.”

He glared at me. “No one asked you, Rose. I want my lawyer now.”

I reckoned that was probably as much as I was going to get out of Andrew, so I called for Stark to come open the cell.

When I got back to the desk, my dad was still standing there, looking a little impatient. Another MLE, this one a man who looked fresh out of Hogwarts, was behind the desk now, watching Dad out of the corner of his eyes and looking a little nervous. I supposed my father was probably quite intimidating to a rookie MLE.

“What did he say?” Dad demanded as soon as the door to the holding cells closed.

“Not a lot.”

“Come to my office.” Dad grabbed my wand from the desk and then ushered me back to the lifts, heading for the Auror offices.

We waited in silence for the lift, and managed to get one to ourselves when it finally came.

“What did he say?” Dad asked again as the lift set off.

“A bunch about his girlfriend, Xanthe.”

Dad snorted. “Git. What did he tell you about Lenny?”

“He says he only offered the plea bargain because his girlfriend's boss is friends with Lenny's dad, and he wanted to help her out at work. He said he reckoned Lenny would get off light anyway because of his dad. He called it a favour.”

“That's insane,” Dad said. “He'd jeopardize his career over this woman?”

“He'd already jeopardized it with those other plea bargains,” I pointed out. “He probably figured one more wouldn't hurt.”

“True.” Dad went on in a mutter, “He'd already thrown away his marriage for her, anyhow.”

We rode in silence a bit longer, then I said, “I asked him if he knew Annable, or Ambrosia Heggs. He said he'd prosecuted Annable for drug dealing once, but he didn't know either of them.”

The lift doors opened, and Dad waved me out first.

“So,” he began as we went inside his office and plopped down onto the orange sofa, “Lenny's plea had nothing to do with the rest of this mess, then.”

“That's what he said.” I wasn't sure how much I trusted Andrew, and I was pretty sure Dad didn't trust him much either, but there wasn't anything much else to be done.

“I find it hard to believe there isn't a connection between Andrew, the plea bargain, and this whole Organization thing, including Ambrosia Heggs, or whatever her real name is.” Dad shook his head. “Maybe he was lying about that.”

“I don't know, he seemed to be telling the truth, at least about why he did it. He had a weird look on his face when I asked him if he'd done the other dodgy plea bargains as a favour for Xanthe, too.” Now I thought back on that, maybe he hadn't been feeling guilty for leaving Dominique at all. Maybe he felt guilty because he was lying to me about offering those pleas.

“Interesting. That's an angle we'll have to look into,” Dad said thoughtfully. “We don't know anything about this girlfriend of his. Get a last name on her?”

I shook my head. “No, I didn't think of it.”

“I'll find it. We'll get a background check on her.”

This was really not going well for Andrew. First he was attacked, then his career imploded, now the woman he'd left his wife for would be investigated, too. Chalk up another enemy for the Weasley family after this. He wasn't going to want anything to do with us.

Cheered by this thought, I asked, “Do you think when you question him with his lawyer present, you might get any more out of him?”

“Doubt it,” Dad said. “His lawyer will advise him not to say a word, they always do.”

Dad set off to get his flunkies to look into Andrew's girlfriend, and I set off back home. I wanted to check on Scorpius and make sure he hadn't done anything mental while I was gone. He was still in a bloody awful mood from the mess with the imposter agent yesterday, at times depressed and at times angry. I wasn't entirely sure what to do with him, actually.

When I got home, Scorpius had the painting of Lenny playing guitar propped up on his easel in the middle of the living room. I stopped to admire it, and realized the painting was moving now. He must have done the charm this morning. The portrait of Lenny strummed his guitar and sang in a soft voice. I couldn't make out the words, really, but it was oddly soothing. Lenny had a pretty decent voice.

The real Lenny was sitting on our couch, reading an Auror novel and eating cheese puffs. He looked relaxed, and his thin face was smiling slightly as he read.

“How do you like it?” Scorpius asked, nodding at the portrait. He was standing at the kitchen table, cleaning his paintbrushes. His wand twirled as he worked. “It's finished now.”

“It's amazing. You should do portraits more often.”

He seemed pleased, and smiled at me. I went and sat on the chair and stared at the painting of Lenny, thinking.

Getting Andrew in custody, even though he wouldn't tell them anything without a lawyer, and knowing that the MLE who'd mishandled Lenny's case was no longer at the Ministry, probably meant that Lenny could now safely be turned in to the authorities. I wasn't quite sure how to do it, though.

This had all gotten far more complicated than I'd expected when I'd agreed to help Lenny. I had thought I would hide him for a while, find out who the real murderer was, and then produce Lenny at the appropriate moment and pick up both my bounty on him and the money he owed me. Easy. Gormly's murder had thrown a wrench in my plans. I was pretty sure he had murdered Annable, although I didn't know why, but then Ambrosia had murdered Gormly and now he couldn't testify. She was probably the only person who knew for sure what had happened between Gormly and Annable. And she was still out there on the loose. The Ministry wanted her for questioning in Gormly's murder after what she'd said to me when she kidnapped me, so at least Lenny was in the clear on that one. As far as I knew.

I couldn't decide. Would it be more potential trouble to turn him in now, or to wait until Dad had found out a bit more? I reckoned I might as well give it a bit longer, see what Dad turned up on Andrew once he was able to question him. And that background check on Andrew's girlfriend. Maybe something helpful would come out of that.

Scorpius came over and sat on the arm of the chair next to me. “Everything okay, Rose?”

“I have no idea any more,” I said honestly.

He held out his hand, and I laced my fingers through his.
 


Chapter 15: Dammit, Rose
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A/N Huge apologies for taking so long with this chapter. Insert usual real-life-interfering excuses here. I hope you enjoy, and please review :)





My cousin Roxanne arrived on my doorstep early the next morning. Thankfully, Scorpius was already awake when she arrived and managed to shuffle Lenny into our closet again before letting Roxanne inside. Waking up to one's boyfriend stuffing one's felonious houseguest behind your robes at practically dawn is not terribly pleasant.

I threw on my favourite pink unicorn t-shirt. I had a feeling I was going to need its pretty pink cheerfulness today.

Roxanne was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of tea, when I came out. She set her cup down with a loud thunk when she saw me.

“I think I made a huge mistake.”

I sat down warily next to her. Roxanne, like most Weasleys, didn't often admit to having been mistaken about anything. “About what?” I asked cautiously, in case she was going to blame me for whatever was going on.

“I don't think Hilarion is really The One,” she said.

Oh, that. For crying out loud. Well, it didn't entirely surprise me, actually. Molly had been right all along, it seemed: Hilarion must be a twit. Roxanne, for all her crazy over him, couldn't abide stupid people. She had no patience for anyone who wasn't as smart as she was. Uncle George sometimes said she had more of Uncle Percy's genes than she did of his. If Hilarion really was a twit, Roxanne wouldn't be able to put up with him for long, no matter how good-looking he was.

Probably I shouldn't point that out to her, though. “Well, that, um-”

“I don't think he's really as smart as he pretends to be,” Roxanne blurted out.

Yeah, Molly had been right. “Most men aren't,” I told her.

Scorpius, leaning against the kitchen counter behind Roxanne, rolled his eyes at me. “Maybe he just doesn't think the way women think. Most men don't.”

“Sometimes he makes so much sense, like we just click, and then other times it's like he's a completely different person.” Roxanne didn't appear to be listening to either of us. “The other day he took me to this gorgeous little restaurant near the Arrows team pitch, and it was just so lovely – we had the best conversation – but then when we left the restaurant, it was like he just... switched off. I don't understand it.”

“Maybe he had something on his mind,” Scorpius suggested. He seemed quite interested in Roxanne's problems, to be honest. More than I was, at least. Roxanne had turned to Scorpius now and wasn't paying me any attention.

“Maybe he didn't think I was as lovely as I thought he was,” Roxanne said.

“Maybe he was just a little preoccupied and it had nothing to do with you,” Scorpius said gently.

Maybe they were both mental and I should go back to bed.

“Maybe,” Roxanne allowed. “He was so different when we left the restaurant. And then just this morning, I went to see him at his team practice, and it was like the Hilarion from the restaurant had never been there at all. He seemed a bit nervous when he saw me, to be honest,” she added.

“You should speak to him,” Scorpius told her. “Just ask him what's going on. Men don't appear to be two people at different times unless something is up. We're not that complicated, really.”

Roxanne stood then, and she seemed much more cheerful now. “I think I will, yeah.”

I stood as well, and tried to think of something to say to get rid of her so I could go back to bed. “It was nice to see you, Roxy. Sorry about Hilarion.” This was probably not the most helpful thing to say, but hey, I hadn't really contributed anything to the conversation yet, so why start now?

“Thanks Rose, this has really helped me get my head clear about a few things,” Roxanne said, and gave me a quick hug. I hugged her back and took the credit, even though it had really all been Scorpius's ideas.

“No problem.”

“Sorry for coming over so early. I know you don't like waking up at this hour.”

I grinned at her. “It's okay. I'm going back to bed after you leave.”

Scorpius ushered her out the door. Once she was gone and the door was locked again, he leaned back against it with a relieved expression.

“That was close,” he said. “I nearly didn't get Lenny in the closet quickly enough.”

“I'm going back to bed now,” I told him.

“It's nearly half past, you might as well just get up.”

“Half past dawn is too bloody early to wake up,” I said airily, and headed back to our bedroom.

“Nine in the morning isn't dawn!” Scorpius called after me.

I evicted Lenny from the closet and went back to bed. I had nearly fallen asleep again when Scorpius banged in quite loudly and shook my shoulder. I rolled over to scold him, but the look on his face stopped me.

“This is for you,” he said, handing me a letter. “It came by your dad's owl.”

It had an official Auror seal on it. My dad never used his official seal to just send me letters. Something had gone wrong. I sat up and snatched the letter from Scorpius, who craned his neck to read over my shoulder.

Rose,

Come to the Ministry immediately. Very important. Consider this an official request for your presence. Meet me in the MLE offices.

Dad

“That can't be good,” Scorpius muttered.

Whatever was going on, it definitely wasn't good if the Auror office needed me. Normally anything I did at the Ministry with Dad was unofficial. I scrambled to get dressed. Scorpius watched me worriedly.

“Tell me what's going on as soon as you can,” he said as I headed for the door.

*

When I arrived at the MLE lobby, there was a much larger crowd than usual for this time of morning, and most of them looked a little nervous but were bustling around as if they were very, very busy. It didn't take long to find why. My dad was standing in front of the desk where the MLE officer on duty wrote my body receipts and took custody of my felons, and where they kept the keys to the holding cells. There were two officers on duty, and Dad was shouting at both of them, with Jack Upchurch hovering by his elbow.

“You bloody well should have checked before you let her in! He's not supposed to have any effing visitors anyway!”

“But he'd already had one,” mumbled a young officer miserably. He looked as if he'd rather be anywhere else. If his age hadn't already told me he was a rookie, the fact he was arguing with my dad would have.

“That wasn't an official visitor,” said the other officer, who I remembered from my visit to Andrew as being called Stark, looking a bit embarrassed at having to explain this to the rookie.

“I didn't know that!” the rookied wailed.

I sidled up next to my dad, who looked down at me. His face was bright red. Something bad had definitely happened. Dad wasn't often quite this pissed off. I glanced at Jack, who gave me a raised eyebrow in return.

“What's going on?” I asked, and the rookie cowered a bit.

“Andrew's memory has been modified,” Dad told me. A vein was throbbing in his forehead. “He doesn't remember anything from the last three months.”

I think my jaw dropped. I know my brain felt scrambled. “You're kidding. How did... But... How?”

“These bloody morons let in a visitor.” Dad gave them a scathing look. Stark stood up a bit straighter, but the rookie looked as if he might cry. “She must have snuck in a wand.”

“Who was she?” I demanded, not sure if I should be asking Dad or the MLEs. I was a little annoyed myself. Andrew had been our best break in the case, really.

“We checked the ID after Andrew's lawyer finally turned up and reported the memory loss to us,” Dad said. “It was a fake identity. We don't know who she really is, but the name she gave was Xanthe Black.”

“Andrew's fiancée?” I asked, startled.

“You ought never have let her in,” Dad said, turning back to the MLEs. “He wasn't supposed to see anyone until he'd seen his damned lawyer.”

“But we allow spouses, and Xanthe Black-”

“There is no such person as Xanthe Black,” Dad roared.

The rookie was cowering behind the desk again. “I didn't know! She said she was his fiancée, and he's had visitors, I thought it was all right-”

Stark grabbed the rookie by the collar and forced him back into his chair, where he slumped down, looking miserable. Stark drew himself up to attention and addressed my dad. “Sir, I apologize, we had no idea she wasn't who she claimed to be, she had proper identification-”

Dad shook his head, but he seemed to have gotten his temper under control again. “It's not your fault. We only just found out it was a false identity. You wouldn't have known,” he added to the rookie, his voice turning gruff in the way it did when he was a little embarrassed by his own temper but didn't want to admit it. The rookie looked a little relieved that he wasn't being shouted at any more.

“Let's get an alert out, have the MLEs look for her,” said Jack. He pulled a notepad from his pocket and gave the rookie an encouraging nod. “Go on, Dewhurst, give us a description.”

“She was in her twenties, probably. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a little bit tanned. She was pretty. Sounded like she was from Norfolk or Suffolk.”

Oh, holy Kneazles. I thought the bottom might have dropped out of my stomach. “It can't be,” I said, and apparently I said it louder than I'd thought, because they all turned to me.

“What?” Jack asked.

“Rose?” Dad was frowning at me a bit.

“Ambrosia Heggs,” I told them.

“Oh, bloody effing hell,” Dad said, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Don't tell me she was able to walk right into the Ministry and Obliviate our only lead.”

“Not our only lead,” I pointed out. We sort of had others. Of course, we didn't know where any of them were, but they were out there somewhere.

“The only lead we had in custody. Upchurch, go put out an alert for a woman by that description and add both aliases,” Dad added to Jack. “I don't even want to think about how many other names she might be going by.”

Jack bustled off, looking very official and efficient, and Dad turned to me. “And you, young lady, go upstairs to my office and don't move a muscle until I come for you.”

“What?” I gaped at him a little, and couldn't help feeling nervous. Had he found out something I'd done? Oh no, did he know about Lenny? “Why?”

Dad gave me an impatient look. “Rose, you were the last person to speak to Andrew before he was Obliviated. If it was this Ambrosia person who did it, and I think it's likely, then she knows damn well who you are. If Andrew told her he spoke to you...”

Oh, holy Kneazles. If Andrew had talked – and of course he probably had, because he was an idiot and thought he was talking to the new love of his life – then she might be coming after me next. With a shovel, or a Memory Charm? I didn't know, but either way, it wasn't good.

“Go up to my office,” Dad said again, but this time he reached out to ruffle my hair. “And stay there, Rosie. I'll be up shortly, and we'll figure out what to do next.”

I headed for the Auror department, thinking about Ambrosia and her shovel threats. I was almost to Dad's office when a thought occurred to me. I stopped in my tracks, and nearly bumped into a passing secretary.

Ambrosia knew damn well who I was. She probably knew where I lived. And she definitely knew I lived with Scorpius, because I'd told her so at that wandmaker's shop. Would she try to hurt him to get to me? I kind of thought she would. And if she came to our flat, she'd find Lenny there too. God only knew what she'd make of that. They would both be in danger, and I was pretty sure neither one of them could beat Ambrosia in a duel. Their only hope would be physically overpowering her, and frankly I doubted either of their pureblooded little selves would think to try Muggle duelling on her.

I tried to tell myself that this was crazy, that Ambrosia wasn't going to come to my flat, but I had to admit, I really didn't know what she might or might not do. She'd threatened to kill me with a shovel if I interfered with her plans, and I was pretty sure I was still interfering with whatever she was up to, even though I really had no idea what that was. Injuring Scorpius to punish me seemed like a more and more likely scenario the more I thought about it.

At the very least, getting him out of harm's way would keep my mind at ease (well, relatively speaking), and at worst it wouldn't hurt him to hang out somewhere aside from our flat for the day.

That meant, of course, I had to do something with Lenny.

I wasn't sure where to stash them, though. None of us had the money for a hotel. Not without making a potentially dangerous trip to Gringott's, anyway. They couldn't go just anywhere, since Lenny was a wanted criminal. Lenny was probably safest in Ministry custody at this point – and if I turned him in, I'd finally get some money and we could afford to hide Scorpius in the Leaky Cauldron for a few days.

But I wasn't so sure the Ministry was safe right now. Everything and everyone at the MLE offices was in an uproar at the moment. This was probably when Ministry security was at its tightest, of course – just after a breach. Locking the barn door after the thestrals have flown, really. Even so, I was a little uneasy about taking Lenny to them. Ambrosia had gotten to Andrew, after all.

There was only one place I knew that was safer than the Ministry. I glanced around. No one was paying me any attention, so I turned around and headed away from Dad's office, toward the Auror Apparition point.

*

“Rose, my goodness,” Aunt Ginny said as she opened the door. “And Scorpius, hello dear – and is that Merton Graves's son?”

“Get in, everyone,” I said, giving Scorpius and Lenny a push. Once we were all safely inside, I turned to my aunt. “Can you lock up your house? All your security?”

“What's going on, Rose?” Aunt Ginny asked, frowning at me. She turned and waved her wand at the door, though, and several locks began to turn. “Harry's upstairs-”

“Good, I'll explain soon. Can you block up your Floo connection too?” I knew that could be done; Mum had always been able to shut ours off at will at my parents' house. In their occupations, leaving access to unexpected visitors was suicidally stupid.

“Dammit, Rose,” Scorpius began, setting his rucksack down on a chair.

“I'm going to go fetch Uncle Harry,” I interrupted him.

As I dashed up the stairs, I could hear his and Aunt Ginny's bewildered voices. There had been no time for explanations at our flat; I'd just grabbed the boys and taken off. Scorpius had picked up his painting rucksack on the way out, and Lenny's guitar was still in his hands. He'd been playing it when I'd arrived.

Uncle Harry was in his study when I got upstairs. He was reading a letter, tapping his wand against his leg and looking rather annoyed and a bit worried.

He looked up when I came in, and the worry vanished when he saw me. The annoyance did not. He dropped the letter on his desk. I glanced down (I'm nosy, what can I say) and recognized my mother's handwriting immediately. Uncle Harry probably already knew everything. Mum was nothing if not efficient.

“Your mum says you disappeared.” Uncle Harry was wearing a stern expression I knew very well, having grown up around his kids. I think he still looks at James that way on a regular basis. “Ron told you to stay put, and you ran off instead. Why?”

“I have Lenny Graves downstairs,” I told him.

He regarded me in silence for a moment. “What providential timing,” he finally said in a distinctly suspicious voice. “Got a sudden hot tip, did you?”

Whatever I told him right now, he wasn't going to believe anyway, so I went for the big whopper. I wasn't about to tell him the truth, after all. “Yeah, that's it exactly. A man I met in a pub last week came across Lenny and owled me. I had to go pick him up right away.”

Uncle Harry's eyes narrowed slightly. “And you brought him here instead of to the Ministry?”

“Seemed safer. Did Mum tell you what happened to Andrew?”

“Yeah, she did. Dammit, Rose-”

Sometimes I thought 'Dammit' might actually be my first name. “I really can't explain everything.”

“Now that I believe,” Uncle Harry said tiredly. “Let me guess, is Scorpius here too?”

“Yeah. Uh-” Whoops. I forgot to fit that into the whopper. “He, um, happened to be at the pub when I picked up Lenny?”

“I think we'll all feel better if you re-think this explanation before you tell it to your parents,” Uncle Harry said.

That sounded like a good plan. “Cheers.”

We went downstairs, where Aunt Ginny was still standing in the foyer with Scorpius and Lenny. Aunt Ginny's arms were crossed tightly in front of her. Uh-oh. I was probably going to hear the infamous Your aunt Flooed me from my mother over this.

“Hey man,” Lenny said, breaking into a huge grin when he saw Uncle Harry. I'd almost forgotten the young Lenny who'd finagled an introduction to my uncle all those years ago, but the boyish grin he now turned on Harry Potter brought him suddenly back to age fifteen.

“Harry,” Aunt Ginny said sharply. “What's going on? Rose?”

“It's a bit of a long story,” Uncle Harry said, and to his credit, he didn't emphasize story. “Lenny, Scorpius, why don't you go make yourselves comfortable in the kitchen? Help yourselves to some snacks.”

They both made a beeline for the kitchen, following Uncle Harry's wave in its direction. Lenny didn't need to be told twice to snack, and Scorpius lusted after the Potters' kitchen. It made ours look pretty pathetic by comparison, I had to admit.

“You think whoever got to Andrew will be coming after Lenny?” Uncle Harry asked bluntly once the boys were gone.

“Just a gut feeling,” I said, leaving out that she'd actually be coming for me, and in doing so would have found Lenny. Maybe this was hedging a little, but I couldn't tell the Head Auror the full story. He was my godfather, my uncle, and my parents' best friend, but he was Head Auror too, and hiding Lenny had been quite illegal. I was pretty sure he had guessed already, but there was no need to confirm it to him. He might feel he had to do something about it.

“What happened to Andrew?” asked Aunt Ginny.

“Obliviated,” Uncle Harry said shortly. Aunt Ginny's eyes widened, but before she could say anything else, Uncle Harry turned back to me. “I'm going to take you back to your dad's office, and this time you really are going to stay put.”

Great, I'd spend the afternoon sitting on the ugly couch at the back of Dad's office and not hearing a thing about what was really going on. At least there was a reasonably good chance he'd have Chinese food, or some kind of wildly unhealthy sarnies. “I have to talk to Scorpius first,” I told Uncle Harry. “I didn't get a chance to explain before we came here.”

Uncle Harry glanced at his beat-up old wristwatch. “Ten minutes, Rose.”

Scorpius was in mid-bite when I came in the kitchen (leaving Aunt Ginny interrogating Uncle Harry in the hall), but when he saw me, he set his sandwich down. Lenny was still rummaging through cupboards; he'd already found several packets of crisps and a jar of dip.

“All right,” Scorpius said as I sat down next to him. “Time to explain.”

I ran him through the morning's events, from Andrew being Obliviated to my realizing Ambrosia knew where I lived. He listened quietly, picking at the bread crusts on his sandwich. I could see Lenny at the edge of my vision; his ransacking of the Potters' snack foods had slowed quite a bit. Clearly he was listening as well.

“You were probably right to bring us here, then,” Scorpius said when I finally finished. “But I think you forgot someone.”

My stomach clenched a bit. Had I endangered someone else and not realized it? “I never told Ambrosia about Victoire's involvement. She won't know about her.”

He shook his head. “Not Victoire. Lydia. Lydia does all your research for you, and she looked into Ambrosia's false identity.”

“I'm sure she's fine,” I said uneasily. “Angelo's got good wards on the shop; the amount of criminals we've gone after, he can lock it down like it was Gringott's. Even if Ambrosia did find out that Lydia was looking for her, she won't be able to get to her.”

“You should still warn her,” Scorpius said. “Send her an owl.”

“I don't have time to write it all down.” Uncle Harry had only given me ten minutes, but I could pop over to Angelo's, tell Lydia to go home and lock up well, be on her guard, that sort of thing, and be back here before Uncle Harry knew I'd gone. I stood up and gave my boyfriend a pat on the shoulder. “I'll just run over-”

Scorpius looked mildly horrified. “What? Rose, no-”

“I'll be two minutes, I promise. Maybe three.”

He followed me to the back door. He didn't look very happy with me. “Your dad's going to kill you if you run off again.”

“Only if he finds out. Cover for me with Uncle Harry.”

“Dammit, Rose-”

I slipped out the back door and darted out past the Potters' garden shed, where I knew you could safely Disapparate through their wards. Lydia was a fast listener, and I was a fast talker. I could be back before Uncle Harry noticed I was gone.

*

When I arrived at Angelo's, the place was quiet. Far too quiet. Angelo wasn't there (big surprise, the track was open) and neither was Lydia. O'Toole, however, was there, sitting on the couch across from Lydia's desk with a stack of body receipts in hand.

“Hi Rose,” he said when he saw me. “Looking for Lydia?”

“Yeah.” Crap, if she was out, it was going to take me more than two or three minutes. “When is she due back?”

“Should be soon.” O'Toole shrugged. “The note on her desk says she left for lunch an hour ago.”

I glanced at the note and then sat down next to O'Toole. “I guess I can wait a few minutes. Did you get that train robber?”

“Yeah. He nearly got me, though.”

We passed a pleasant couple of minutes chatting about his train robber. He made the story sound a bit funny and a lot adventurous, but it pretty much reinforced for me why I never want to fight Dino and O'Toole for the big, scary bounties. I didn't fancy going up against a wizard who was willing to rob a Muggle military train filled with soldiers and ammunition.

I finally glanced at the clock on the wall above the horrible motivational poster. If I didn't get back soon, Uncle Harry was going to kill me. Then my parents would kill me even more.

“Do me a favour, would you?” I said to O'Toole. He nodded, so I went on, “Tell Lydia to be careful, watch her back, and come talk to me as soon as she can, okay?”

“Something wrong, Rose?” he asked mildly. He didn't look worried. O'Toole never seemed to worry about much.

“Something's always wrong these days.”

I got up to leave and turned at the sound of the door opening, expecting to see Lydia finally coming back from lunch. Maybe I could still take two or three minutes to warn her.

But the woman in the doorway wasn't Lydia.

“Hello Rose,” Ambrosia Heggs said pleasantly. Her wand was in her hand.

“You,” O'Toole said, and I glanced behind me. He was on his feet now too, and from the look on his face, he'd met Ambrosia before.

“I thought you said you didn't know anyone named Ambrosia Heggs,” I exclaimed.

“I don't,” he told me. “I thought her name was Electra Marwick.”

“And yet neither of you know my real name,” Ambrosia said, and waved her wand at us.

O'Toole grabbed my arm, but I was already ducking as a jet of green magic went over our heads. He shot a Stunner at Ambrosia, but she blocked it. The spell went out the door, and I heard a crash and yell from across the street.

I crouched down behind one end of Lydia's desk, for what little protection it might have, and tried throwing a few spells at Ambrosia. Her Shield Charm was too strong, though, and I couldn't break through it.

O'Toole had a Shield Charm of his own up, and Ambrosia was working hard on knocking it down. She didn't seem to be sparing me quite as much attention. This didn't entirely surprise me. I would have considered myself less of a threat than O'Toole, too. I thought about using her distraction to Disapparate and go for help, but I didn't want to leave O'Toole alone. I wasn't much backup, but it was better than nothing.

Ambrosia was really good, but O'Toole was a tough old bastard. He'd been a bounty hunter for about thirty years and knew how to fight. He was practically an Auror, actually. He had sent so many spells at Ambrosia now that the door had splintered and come off its hinges, and her Shield Charm was flickering blue around her.

But then Ambrosia sent something that looked like purple mist at him, and O'Toole's Shield Charm dissolved. He only had time to widen his eyes in surprise before she hit him with a Stunner. O'Toole flew backward, unconscious, across the floor, and slammed into the wall.

There was a ringing silence for a moment while I stared at O'Toole, and then I looked over at Ambrosia.

She was conjuring something. A shovel formed in mid-air, then fell into her open hand. A shiver of fear went down my spine.

I didn't want to leave O'Toole alone with her, but I was thinking I should go ahead and Disapparate for help now.

“Oh Rose,” she said with a fake sigh, advancing on me. “You just couldn't listen, could you?” She swung the shovel, and I ducked down and tried to Disapparate, but she grabbed a hold of my shirt just as I felt the crushing blackness engulf me.

When I popped back into existence, I knew right away something was wrong. The pain was immediate and sharp, stabbing into my leg. For the first time in my life, I had splinched myself.
 


Chapter 16: Up in Flames
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I staggered backward and nearly dropped my wand. My leg felt like it was on fire – I looked down and saw blood starting to soak my pant leg. Oh, holy Kneazles. I didn't want to look at what was under there.

Ambrosia had managed to come along by hanging onto my shirt, and she wasn't in any better shape. She'd left behind a chunk of forearm. The shovel clattered to the pavement and she clutched at her wounded arm, staggering back from me a few paces. Her face had gone a little ashen, but she didn't make a sound.

Someone groaned, and I realized it was me. My leg really hurt, and I was suddenly angry with Ambrosia. “This is all your fault,” I told her snappishly. “I don't even know what the bloody hell you've been doing, you know.”

Her lips pressed together angrily for a moment, but she only said, “Where the devil are we?” She raised her wand and I flinched for a second, but she only used it to conjure bandages.

I looked around and realized with a thrill of horror that we were right around the corner from Victoire's house. I hadn't meant to come here. I tried to wipe the expression from my face before I turned back to Ambrosia, who had been wrapping her arm. “I don't know. I meant to go to Harry Potter's house.”

Ambrosia shook her head and came toward me. “This time, I'll do it. I don't need another injury.” She grabbed my arm and I tried to jerk away, but her fingers dug in and she dragged me along with her as she Disapparated.

This time when we reappeared, I had no idea where we were. She'd managed not to splinch us, either, which I sort of resented, since she apparently now thought I was incompetent at what was actually my best skill. We were in some kind of building, a large and cavernous room that looked like a disused office building. There were boxes stacked along one wall from floor to ceiling, the only part of the place that didn't look dusty and cobwebbed.

Ambrosia tried to grab my wand from my hand and we struggled over it for a moment. I was just starting to feel stupid about our tug-of-war when I heard a snap. I looked down; my wand had cracked in half.

Ambrosia looked down at it too and then let go of me. “You might as well keep it, then.”

I stared at the broken halves of my wand as she walked off. I wasn't sure what to do without a wand. I'd had it taken a few times by bad guys – even by Ambrosia – but I'd never broken a wand before. I'd had that wand since I was eleven. I stuck the broken wand in my pocket, for lack of anything better to do with it. I wasn't quite ready to just toss it aside. I sort of felt like I should give it a proper burial at my parents' house, actually. Maybe a little memorial service with coffee and cakes.

Ambrosia had gone over to the stacks of boxes while I was mourning my dead wand, and started looking in the boxes. I watched her for a moment, but she was mostly ignoring me. I debated just walking off and looking for an exit, but since she was here and wasn't hexing me or trying to kill me at the moment, and my leg was still throbbing and oozing blood so I probably couldn't outrun her...

“Did you kill Herbert Annable?”

Ambrosia looked up at me, and we regarded each other steadily for a moment, then she said, “No. Gormly did him. Wanted Annable's territory.”

“And you killed Gormly.”

She nodded. “Can't have my dealers putting on airs, can I? Once they start thinking they can take what they want instead of following orders, you lose control over them.”

I realized she was speaking in an American accent again. Ambrosia was possibly the most frustrating felon I'd ever dealt with. “And Lenny Graves?”

“I didn't even know he was involved until I heard he'd jumped bail,” she admitted.

“Andrew said you asked him to let Lenny off on a plea bargain.”

She snorted. “I never did. He did that all on his own. Thought it would get him in good with Lenny's dad, give him good contacts at the Ministry or something.”

She sounded very disparaging when she spoke of him, which I couldn't really blame her for, since he was a huge git. But still: “He left his wife for you.”

“I never asked him to,” she said, and there was such disinterest in her voice, I believed her. “I just needed a Ministry lawyer, so I started an affair with him. He started talking about weddings and engagements, and I played along for a while. We needed someone on the inside, letting our men off easy when they got arrested. It was good timing to end it now anyway. He was getting entirely too serious – told me he'd gone and left his wife – and he'd pretty well served his purpose. Once they get caught out, having a lawyer in your pocket stops being useful.”

I was feeling kind of stunned. She wasn't at all sorry or embarrassed at the devastation she'd wrought in that family. Andrew had only been a tool for her to use up and throw away, not caring that she'd destroyed his career and his family in the process. He'd walked toward his own corruption willingly enough, so my sympathy for him was limited, but Dominique and her baby hadn't deserved any of this.

“It was a calculated risk, using him,” Ambrosia went on. “He was married to a Weasley. Not a family my boss wanted annoyed with her, if anything went wrong, but it gave him more cover at the Ministry. People don't suspect Weasleys of this sort of thing. You're too well known as good guys.”

She'd chosen him pretty well, actually. Her reasoning was exactly what had let him go on as long as he had. Nobody suspected Andrew. He'd married a Weasley girl.

I had an uneasy feeling she was only talking so freely because she thought she could kill me at her leisure now, but I was getting so much out of her, I decided to go with it a little longer.

“What's your real name?” I asked.

“You can go on calling me Ambrosia. It's as good a name as any.” She turned back to the boxes then. I thought she might be counting something.

“What's in there?”

“Inventory.”

Drugs, I'd bet. I quickly reviewed what she'd told me to see if I'd missed anything. Andrew had been deliberately chosen as her patsy; Lenny's involvement had been accidental, but she hadn't cared about it; Gormly had killed Annable after all, and she'd killed him to keep him in line. This confirmed quite a bit of what we'd deduced (and by deduced, I mean guessed), but there were still some unanswered questions, aside from who she really was. For one thing, I didn't think Annable or Gormly were involved in whatever she was doing with McBride. I had a feeling they had only been a side distraction to her, and unfortunately, the two of them had gotten me involved as well.

But since I was involved now, might as well go for broke.

“Who is your boss? What is it you've been doing that you didn't want me messing up? How is McBride involved? Was Annable involved too? Are you part of The Organization?”

Ambrosia chuckled, still looking through the boxes. “Which do you want to know about first?”

“I don't know about Miss Weasley,” came a new voice in ringing tones from behind me, “but I'd like to know what you've been up to with Joseph McBride.”

Ambrosia seemed to freeze. She turned slowly, and I saw her wand was in her hand. I looked behind me and started when I recognized the woman as the silver-haired investor Angelo had been sucking up to not long ago.

She walked slowly towards us, her sensible grey heels ringing on the bare concrete floor. Two men stood behind her, towering over her petite frame. They looked like mob goons in a Muggle film, except that they were wearing black tailored robes instead of pinstripe suits. Their wands were drawn and pointed at Ambrosia.

“Don't bother trying to Disapparate, my dear. While you were chatting with Miss Weasley, I had an Anti-Disapparition Jinx put on this building.” She smiled at Ambrosia pleasantly, but her eyes were cold and flat in a way that scared me almost as much as Ambrosia and her shovel.

“I wasn't going to,” Ambrosia said firmly. She didn't sound at all frightened. She held her wand a little warily, as if she weren't sure what was going to happen next. I sort of thought she was stupid not to be afraid when she was outnumbered, but then again, she had taken out O'Toole without breaking a sweat. Well, maybe a little sweat.

“To what purpose were you putting our talented young Joseph?” The silver-haired woman, who I was thinking now was Ambrosia's boss, asked in a tone of voice that indicated she was used to being in command.

Ambrosia's face was completely blank. She stood there, frozen, looking at the woman, but I could see she was only wary, not afraid. I sort of thought she was calculating her next several moves. I reckoned she hadn't expected this turn of events.

“Have you asked him?” she said eventually.

“Sadly, I have not been able to find him,” the silver-haired woman said (I really needed to find out her name).

This seemed to relieve Ambrosia a bit, though she tried to hide it. I was getting an inkling now that whatever she'd been up to had been under her boss's radar, and she hadn't meant to be found out.

“Was he working for you? Forging your paperwork for your little takeover? I know you were sleeping with him.”

Ambrosia didn't answer, and the Boss Lady curled her lip at Ambrosia and then turned to me. “Miss Weasley, you are bleeding. Did Mariana injure you?”

It only took me half a second to realize who she meant. Great, another alias for Ambrosia. I sort of doubted that one was her real name either. “No, I splinched myself.”

“Sergei.” Boss Lady snapped her fingers, and one of the goons came forward. I wasn't so sure I wanted him doing anything to me, injured or not, but I didn't have a way to stop him.

Sergei pulled a thick, stubby wand from his pocket and aimed it at my leg, where the blood was still coming through my jeans. He muttered something in a low bass, and I felt my leg reknitting. It wasn't a pleasant feeling, but it was over quickly, leaving my leg with only a dull throb.

“We don't often have the luxury of sending our people to St. Mungo's for minor injuries,” Boss Lady informed me in her cool voice. “Sergei here is quite good with healing spells.”

“Um, thanks,” I managed, resisting the urge to pull up my pant leg and compare Sergei's work with my brother's.

He nodded at me and stepped back into line behind the Boss Lady. I noticed no one offered to fix Ambrosia's splinched arm.

Ambrosia hadn't looked at me while Sergei was healing my leg, only kept staring at her boss. Boss Lady returned her attention to Ambrosia, and they stared at one another. I started edging backward. They looked like there might be a duel soon, and I didn't want to be caught in the crossfire.

“Did you think I didn't know what you were doing? That I didn't know about your little conspiracy with Joseph?” the Boss Lady asked.

Ambrosia was silent. I sort of thought that was a bad sign. She was utterly still except one finger slowly rubbing the handle of her wand. Definitely a bad sign. I edged back a little. I thought for a second that no one had noticed, but then Sergei came to stand next to me. He didn't say anything, but I got the message.

We watched in silence for a while as as Ambrosia and the Boss Lady stared at each other. Eventually Sergei leaned over and said, “Mariana, she is not so good, she has been stealing from the Madame. The Madame, she believes Mariana seeks to kill her and take away her empire. She does this with our artist Joseph.”

His accent was thicker than Mrs. Kochel's. It took my brain a minute to filter out the accent and figure out what he'd said.

“That doesn't actually surprise me,” I told him.

Sergei nodded. “Upon whom do you place your gold? Mariana, she is young and quick like a cobra, but the Madame, she has much experience and has killed many others who tried to steal from her.”

Great. Ambrosia had tried to do a hostile takeover on someone just as sociopathic as she was.

The two women were so still, they might have been statues but for the cold calculation in each pair of eyes. I sort of felt like I was looking at the same woman, twenty-five years apart. Thirty or fifty, either way they were conscienceless and cold-blooded. A cobra, Sergei had said. Good comparison.

“My money is on the Madame,” Sergei added.

Maybe she heard him, because suddenly both Ambrosia and the Boss Lady threw a barrage of curses at each other. Flashes of red and blue illuminated the empty offices, and I tried to turn and run while everyone was distracted.

Sergrei wasn't as distracted as I'd thought. He reached out and grabbed my arm in a grip like iron. “Please not to make me cast a Body-Bind Curse upon you, miss,” he said calmly.

Crap. I'd sort of been hoping they would just let me go once Ambrosia was dealt with – assuming the Madame won their duel – but now I was starting to think that wasn't going to happen. Sergei and his boss weren't going to let me see the light of day again. I knew if Ambrosia won, it was the shovel for me.

I was in trouble either way, I reckoned. I was going to have to figure a way out somehow. No brilliant ideas were forthcoming. I had no wand, an injured leg, no idea where I was, and I was outnumbered. As usual, my stock was in the toilet.

The duel suddenly stopped as abruptly as it had begun, and Ambrosia and the Madame (I was starting to think of her that way, in Sergei's accent and everything) paced slowly around each other in a wide circle. The floor where they'd been standing was charred and blackened.

“This, it is typical,” Sergei announced sagely. He would've made a good Quidditch commentator. You know, if he didn't have an accent you could chew on. “They test one another, and now, now someone will be killed.”

I had seen a few people get killed, and I didn't really want to see it again. I looked around; the windows were big enough to climb out one easily if I could break the glass, but I didn't know how high up we were. I didn't see any exits, but there must be at least one – the Madame and her henchmen had come in somehow – and with the right distraction I might be able to outrun Sergei.

I glanced down at Sergei's legs. He was built like a bull. I was lazy and didn't run unless my life was in imminent danger, so I probably wasn't in as good shape as he was, and my leg still ached where I'd splinched it. Maybe I couldn't outrun him. Besides, he had a wand and I didn't. Outrunning him and dodging Body-Bind Curses might be too much to hope for.

If I could break a window, even if we were high up, I could Disapparate in mid-air before I fell more than a few feet. The Anti-Disapparition Jinx should end at the building's edges. But I needed a wand to Apparate. I didn't want to try it with just my broken wand, in case that made me splinch myself. Or worse, nothing at all happened.

Ambrosia and the Madame resumed their duel, startling me. A stray spell zoomed toward us, and I ducked a bit and shrieked, “Shield!”

Sergei had a Shield Charm up before I'd even finished speaking – man his reflexes were good – and the spell ricocheted off it and slammed into the stacks of boxes. A few of them exploded outwards, sparking and hissing, and then it all went up in a whoosh of bright green flames.

“Oops,” Sergei said.

Ambrosia and the Madame kept dueling, and the flames leapt higher, licking at the ceiling. A few more boxes exploded in a shower of silver sparks, and something went up like a rocket, smashing through the charred ceiling and out the roof. We were on the top floor, apparently: I could see the overcast sky through the hole.

The Madame looked over at the boxes and then at Ambrosia, and cast a Killing Curse at her. Ambrosia ducked and the rush of green went over her head, hitting the wall behind her. Ambrosia started running, and the Madame cast two more Killing Curses that missed, and a third that missed Ambrosia but hit the second goon in the shoulder.

The force of the spell spun him around, and for a second I thought it might have glanced off him so he didn't catch enough Dark Magic to die, but then his face was visible and I knew he was already dead. He fell heavily, landing with a thud on the dusty floor, face-down.

Neither Ambrosia nor the Madame seemed to have noticed or cared that her henchman had been killed in the crossfire. Sergei hadn't even blinked. I was feeling a little sick to my stomach, personally. I didn't even know the man's name, and I was the only one upset at his death.

Sirens sounded in the distance, growing closer, and Ambrosia and the Madame fought on, faster and more vicious now. I could just see out the window to my right – the one I'd chosen as my escape route if I could get a hold of a wand – Muggle fire trucks and emergency vehicles pulling up into the parking lot outside. Uh-oh. There was a lot of magic in here.

There was no ignoring the sirens now. Sergei had turned away from the duel and was looking out the window with a small frown. The Muggles were pouring out of their vehicles and into the building. I reckoned we only had a few minutes until they were on us. Ambrosia and the Madame appeared to have reached the same conclusion.

“Sergei,” the Madame began, and in the split second that her focus on Ambrosia wavered, Ambrosia cast a spell that smashed the window, glass flying everywhere, and bolted.

She ran flat-out toward the window, past the hexes the Madame threw at her, and leaped through it into the empty space in a perfect swan dive. Over the screams of the Muggles below, I heard the crack of Ambrosia Disapparating.

She had stolen my exit strategy.

The Madame was stock-still now, and I thought she might finally have been surprised. She turned as Muggle firefighters broke through into the room and tried to Disapparate, but was trapped by her own jinx.

“I did not see that coming,” Sergei remarked, but then he had his hands up as Muggle firemen came up to us, armed with axes and hoses and assorted paraphernalia I couldn't identify. They looked a little bewildered.

“What the hell happened here?” one of the firemen asked.

Sergei and I exchanged a glance. I couldn't even begin to explain.

*

By the time we got down to the parking lot, the Obliviators had turned up, accompanied by a squad of MLEs. The Obliviators set to work erasing memories and sending the Muggles away, and some of the MLEs took the Madame and Sergei into custody while the rest cordoned off the magical mess that we'd made of the office building.

Some of the Magical Law Enforcement officers must have recognized me, because no one tried to take me into custody. I saw Jack Upchurch on the edge of the crowd, talking to a few other MLEs, and waved to him. He came over with a big grin.

“I knew there couldn't be a mess like this without you involved,” he said.

“It wasn't my fault,” I told him.

“I already called for Aurors,” Jack said. “I'd be willing to lay odds your dad will be with them.”

I wasn't willing to take those odds. Good thing, too, because my dad and Uncle Harry arrived about five minutes later with five other Aurors. Dad made a beeline for me while Uncle Harry and the rest of their team went straight for the Madame and Sergei.

Dad looked like he might want to spank me or ground me for a month, but he kissed my forehead instead and said, “Young lady...”

“Sorry, Daddy.”

“I knew you'd be here as soon as I heard about this mess.”

“Told you,” Jack put in sotto voce. Dad ignored him.

“Are you okay, Rosie?”

I relaxed a bit. He wasn't really angry or I'd have gotten middle-named. “I'm fine.”

Dad nodded, looking relieved now, then turned to look at the building. Smoke rose in huge plumes from the roof, changing from red to yellow as it rose into the grey sky, and as I watched, shouts went up and one wall slid off the building in a cascade of bricks. I could see a couple of MLEs inside the building, which now looked as if someone had sliced off one side of it.

“Nice,” said Jack. “This is one of your better ones.”

“She did so well in school,” Dad said in a faraway voice.

“It wasn't my fault,” I assured them. “Sergei blocked a curse and it ricocheted.”

Another squad of MLEs and Obliviators arrived by portkey. They dropped the empty beer bottle they'd been holding and ran toward the building. A few more bricks fell off the upper story, and something inside the ruined building shot up into the air and exploded fifty feet over the building. MLEs were shouting inside.

“I better get back to work,” Jack said, and jogged off.

Uncle Harry came over, looking rather intense. “Ron,” he began, ignoring me. “Do you know who that is?”

Dad glanced over at Sergei and the Madame. “Not Ambrosia Heggs.”

“She got away,” I said. “Jumped out the window and Disapparated when the Muggles arrived.”

“Bloody hell,” Dad said. “How mental do you have to be to do something like that?”

Hmm.

“Ron,” Uncle Harry said impatiently. “That's Joan Mihalek.”

This drew Dad's full attention. “You're joking.” He turned to look at the Madame. “Finally!”

“Who is she?” I asked.

“Number Five on the Auror Department Ten Most Wanted,” Uncle Harry told me. “Murder, extortion, money-laundering, theft, arson, Dark magic of all kinds, you name it. We've been after her for years. I can't believe we finally got her.”

He and Dad were both looking very pleased now. No one was yelling at me. I thought that probably counted as a case well ended.

“Is there a reward?” I asked hopefully.
 


Chapter 17: Leaping Lethifolds
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There wasn't a reward. I never have that kind of luck.

Mum was overjoyed to prosecute the Madame for a list of crimes longer than my arm. She was never going to see the outside of Azkaban Prison again. She gave up quite a bit about Ambrosia/Mariana, but it turned out most of it wasn't true. Joseph McBride's involvement seemed to have helped with that, along with various forged deeds and business papers giving control of most of the Madame's holdings to Mariana Peffers, whose existence only came through more of McBride's work. The Organization began to crumble with the Madame's arrest, giving Mum a slew of other criminals to put away. She'd be busy with this for months, and was happy as a clam. Dad and Uncle Harry got all the credit in the papers for the capture of a big crime boss. They usually do. The Daily Prophet loved to talk about Uncle Harry.

Whatever takeover Ambrosia had been planning seemed to have gone up in flames at the abandoned office, and once the Organization began to fall apart, it didn't look like she'd have anything much to take over. She was reported a few days later as leaving the country, but no one managed to catch her, and there was no further trace of her whereabouts. The Aurors list her as Still At Large. McBride's body turned up a week after Ambrosia disappeared. His head had been smashed in with a large blunt object. Dad and I were both betting on shovel.

Andrew kept asking for his wife. He didn't understand why she wouldn't come see him in jail, and finally my dad took him aside and explained to him what he'd done: the girlfriend, the pending divorce, the bribery and corruption. Andrew claimed he couldn't be held responsible for it now as he didn't remember doing any of it – a lawyer to the end. He seemed to fully expect things to go right back to how they were before with Dominique. She refused to take him back and is going through with the divorce. She'd decided she was better off without him and plans to write a book about her experience. I have a feeling it's going to do well.

O'Toole was fine – just a few hours in St. Mungo's and he was good as new. Mrs. O'Toole (I hadn't even known O'Toole was married – everyone but Angelo had been rather surprised by it, too. Guess he'd known all along) had decreed that O'Toole had to retire again, once he recovered from his injuries. He did one last pick-up – a Dark wizard who'd killed two Aurors and seven MLEs while escaping Ministry custody – and then retired. Again. I wasn't so sure it would stick this time. Mrs. O'Toole was bound to get tired of him again and send him back to work.

For once, my mum had swallowed her annoyance at entitled celebrity children and had a word with the Wizengamot on Lenny's behalf. The charges against Lenny were dropped. He got out with a small slap on the wrists for evading capture, and brought me all eight hundred Galleons that he'd promised, so our rent was all paid up, I had a shiny new wand, and we had a kitchen full of food. I even paid Hugo back. No one ever asked about where Lenny had been, so Scorpius and I didn't have to lie about it. Lenny was still clean two weeks after leaving our flat. I didn't know how long it would last, but I hoped it did.

*

The street was bustling when we arrived at the Muggle art supply store in a rather posh London suburb. Surely there were cheaper paints and canvases elsewhere. Scorpius had grown up rich, his natural default was expensive neighbourhoods. I reckoned he couldn't help himself.

Returning the Muggle portfolio didn't take long. They only gave him store credit for it, sadly, but at least he'd wind up using that eventually. It was better than nothing.

Scorpius was in a rather pissy mood, probably because returning the portfolio was making him think of the bloody agent who'd stolen all our money. I know it was making me feel annoyed with the world. But he took my hand and managed a small smile as we left the store and set off down the street. It was a lovely day, not raining for once, and we set a leisurely pace.

“My parents invited us to dinner tomorrow night,” Scorpius said as we strolled.

Ugh. Scorpius's parents don't like me. The feeling is mutual. “I suppose we have to go.”

“It's hard to dodge them for long,” he agreed. “We haven't seen them in two months. I think it's a new record.”

He was squinting at someone ahead of us, and suddenly increased his pace. I was still thinking of ways we could dodge Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy for another two months, so it took me a second to catch up to current events.

“What's going on?”

Scorpius didn't answer. He let go my hand and grabbed a man walking in front of us and spun him around.

“You!” he shouted.

I was a little taken aback. The man seemed to be too, but next moment his expression changed to fear. Whoever he was, he certainly knew Scorpius. Scorpius's face was quickly turning purple with rage.

Hang on.

“Mr. Barnes?” I asked.

“Bloody bastard!” Scorpius yelled. “Son of a - I ought to-” and he drew his wand, spluttering with anger.

“Scorpius!” I glanced around. “People are watching.” The last thing we needed was for someone with the surname Malfoy to be caught hexing Muggles, no matter how much they deserved it.

Scorpius appeared to regain a bit of control, because he stashed his wand in his pocket again. He kept a hold of Mr. Barnes's collar and shook him like a dog with a rat. “Where's our money, then, you bastard?”

Mr. Barnes was clutching at his neck, where Scorpius's hand twisting his tie seemed to be choking him a bit. “I haven't got it,” he gasped. “It's gone, all gone.”

Scorpius punched him in the face, and he landed hard on the pavement.

“Feel better?” I asked.

“Loads,” he said, and shook his hand. His knuckles were a bit red. “Should we take him to the Muggle MLEs?”

“Policemen,” I corrected him. All the reasons we didn't want to go to the police hadn't changed. There wasn't really any more we could do about Barnes, or whatever his real name was. I gave Scorpius a look and he seemed to understand instantly.

“Yeah, all right,” he said, glancing down at Barnes. “We may as well go, then.”

Barnes was picking himself off the pavement as we walked off. I glanced over my shoulder. Seeing Scorpius knock him down had been quite satisfying, but not satisfying enough.

I pulled my wand from my pocket and aimed it at Barnes, holding it between me and Scorpius so no one would see, and whispered a jinx.

Barnes slipped and fell, crashing back down to the pavement. I grinned.

“Feel better?” Scorpius asked, taking my hand with a grin.

“Loads.”

When we got home, there was an owl waiting for us at the window. I didn't recognize the bird, but I recognized the Ministry seal on the letter from ten paces. Great.

“That's bound to be for you,” Scorpius said. I reckoned he could see the seal as well. “You shouldn't have done it.”

I took the letter from the owl and shooed it away without a tip. It looked hurt but flew away. “I couldn't help it.”

He rolled his eyes. “Sure, you wouldn't let me hex him, but it's all right for you.”

“I'm not from a family with a history of Muggle abuse,” I said, feeling a bit annoyed.

“Touché,” said Scorpius.

I opened the letter. It was exactly what I'd been expecting, a summons to appear before the Improper Use of Magic office for using magic on a Muggle. I supposed it could've been worse: they weren't accusing me of attacking a Muggle, after all. Still, I was going to have to call in a favour with Dad and Uncle Harry to get it taken care of. They were still so pleased about the capture of Madame Mihalek that they'd probably only need a bit of cajoling to help me out.

Someone knocked on our door then, and Scorpius said, “You may as well answer it. It's probably the Ministry coming to take you away.”

“Very funny.” I went to the door.

The man standing on the other side – accompanied by a small entourage – was one I knew very well, though he'd gone a bit to seed since the last time I'd seen him. He wore a hairy purple jacket and extremely tight leather pants, and his droopy moustache didn't quite hide the familiar-looking features. Those features had spent the last couple of weeks on my couch, eating all my cheese puffs.

It was Merton Graves, famous cellist in the Weird Sisters.

“Are you Rose Weasley?” Lenny's dad squinted at me. I noticed he wasn't wearing a shirt under the hairy jacket, just a lot of gold chains.

“That's me,” I said, trying to sound cool and not at all starstruck. Merton Graves was in my living room!

So were his bodyguards and other hangers-on. Ten people were standing in our flat now. I was glad Scorpius had picked up the dirty underwear I'd left on the floor.

Merton took my hand and gave my fingertips a damp kiss. His moustache tickled a bit. “Thanks for helping my boy, luv, it was right decent of you. You're a first-rate bird, aren't you.” He kissed my fingers again.

Holy Kneazles. “Um, no problem?”

“Mr. Graves,” one of the hangers-on said suddenly, and pointed into the corner. We all turned to look.

Scorpius's easel was set up there, and the painting of Lenny playing guitar was still sitting on it. He hadn't been sure what to do with it, so it had been sitting there since he'd finished it. I'd gotten used to it now and had sort of stopped noticing. Or maybe I'd just gotten used to seeing the real Lenny in my living room.

“Is that my boy?” Merton dropped my hand and walked up to the painting, squinting at it. One of the bodyguards handed him a pair of glasses, and he slid them on, looking down his long nose. “Leaping lethifolds. That's bloody amazing.”

“Thanks,” Scorpius said. He was grinning proudly now.

“It looks just like him. Look at the way he strums, like his old dad, isn't he. I need to have this. How much have I got on me?” Merton asked, addressing this comment to the room in general.

A small, officious-looking man at the back of his entourage gave a little cough. “Mr. Graves-”

“Give the man some gold, Smythe. I'm taking this home. Cheers, mate.” Merton picked up the painting and handed it to one of his bodyguards. “Rose, luv, thanks again for all you did for my boy. He don't deserve it, do he, all those drugs – well, bloody well done. See you around. Lovely meeting you, and all that.”

And with that, Merton Graves wandered out the front door, his entourage trailing behind him. The officious-looking man named Smythe lingered.

“Is a thousand Galleons enough?” he asked in a low voice.

Scorpius's eyes bugged out. He'd never sold a painting for more than a hundred.

Smythe seemed to take Scorpius's stunned silence as disapproval for a low offer. “Very well. Here.” He pulled a smallish leather pouch from inside his robes. “There's two thousand Galleons in there. Thank you.”

Scorpius took the bag, looking as if someone had hit him over the head. As soon as the door closed behind Smythe, I snatched the little bag from Scorpius's hand – it was much heavier than it ought to be for its size - and he sat down and put his head between his knees while I opened it.

“Oh holy Kneazles,” I breathed, looking at the gold. It was a lot of gold. I was pretty sure I didn't need to count it. Merton Graves probably handed out thousands of Galleons every day, and something told me that little man named Smythe knew every Knut Mr. Graves had. I was willing to lay odds with Angelo's bookie that there really was two thousand Galleons in there. It sure felt like it. Not that I'd ever felt two thousand Galleons before.

Scorpius was taking slow, deep breaths. After a moment, he looked up, his face flushed. “Rose... Is it really...”

“Yeah, I think it is.”

“We're going to have to get a bank vault now, aren't we,” Scorpius said, and put his head back between his knees.






A/N: The end! I hope you enjoyed the story - please leave a review - and stick around my author page, because there's going to be a spinoff coming soon. Were you wondering about Roxanne and her Quidditch player? ;)
 


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