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.”
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.
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