I sailed through the front door of Angelo's Magical Bonds and waved to Lydia Agnelli, who was sitting at her desk with her feet propped up. She was charming her nails a virulent shade of green. Our offices were in Knockturn Alley, which made most witches and wizards nervous, but Lydia and I were undeterred. Lydia's uncle was the owner of the business, and Lydia had been working there since she'd left Hogwarts. I had started about five years ago. It was hard to believe I'd been at this so long, and was still this crap at it.
“Got anyone new for me?” I asked hopefully as I handed Lydia the body receipt for last night's pick-up.
She took it with a cheerful grin and pulled the lockbox out from beneath her desk, giving it a tap with her wand. It popped open with a small fanfare, and she began to count out Galleons for me. “Just the one. It'll only be ten Galleons for you, sorry.”
I pulled a face at her. “Ten? Is that all?” Ugh, that was hardly worth Apparating for. Still, someone had to do the small bounties. The other bounty hunter working for Angelo's was Dino Agnelli, Angelo's cousin, and Dino wouldn't get off his sofa for anything less than five hundred Galleons. All the little ones were left for me.
“You said you didn't want anything difficult before you left for New York,” Lydia pointed out. “You didn't want to get into a long case, remember?”
I couldn't believe she remembered what I'd said. “Dammit,” I mumbled, and the door behind Lydia's desk opened up.
Angelo Agnelli popped his head out and gave me a once-over. “Was that the lockbox I heard? Picked up another of these idiots, have you? I don't know why I keep bailing out people like this. Honestly, I might as well leave them to rot.”
“It all adds up,” Lydia reminded him helpfully. “It's what you say when you bail out Pyxis Parmenter.”
Angelo rolled his eyes and pounded his fist against his chest. “You're killing me. Rose, try to learn how to not be a screw-up while you're in New York, eh? Maybe those Americans can teach you how it's done, and then you'll be worth paying.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “I love you too, Angelo.”
He ducked back into his office, slamming the door behind him, muttering in Italian.
Lydia and I turned back to each other.
“Can't you give me anyone else?” I pleaded. “I'm bloody bored here. You can only pack a nappy bag so many times, you know?”
“Did you pack, then?” Lydia asked in surprise. “I thought Scorpius did all that.”
This was technically true, but it was also another reason I was bored. Scorpius had everything ready for the trip, but we didn't leave for two whole days. I needed something to occupy me until then, or I'd wind up sitting around our flat watching Ramses chew on my handbags.
“You must have something,” I said, poking at a stack of files on Lydia's desk.
She snatched them away from me, then picked up a file from a much smaller stack on the other side of her desk and held it out to me. “Nothing that won't keep until you get back. Go and pick up the shoplifter, then relax, okay? You can have a day off to play with the baby and watch Scorpius finish packing.”
Maybe the shoplifter would keep me busy longer than it looked. I took the file from Lydia. “Fine,” I said, wrinkling my nose at her. “You're no fun at all, Lydia.”
“Bye Rose,” she said, grinning at me.
I flipped open the file as I walked toward Diagon Alley. Dulcie Turpin had been caught shoplifting in my cousin Lucy's bookshop, and Lucy had pressed charges. I raised my eyebrows. Lucy pretended to be quite tough but was actually rather tender-hearted; this Dulcie person must have been caught before or been a right git to make Lucy actually call the MLEs on her.
From the small, grainy photo in the file, Dulcie was a round young woman with extremely short hair. Twenty years old. I couldn't wait to see what sort of person shoplifted books.
Sighing, I Disapparated and headed for Waltham Forest.
Dulcie lived in a tiny flat above a Muggle pawnbroker. The lock on the iron gate that lead to the stairs appeared to be broken, but when I touched it, it sent a magical charge through my hand, accompanied by a shower of red sparks.
Jumping back, I stomped my feet and danced about in a circle, cursing as I shook my the pain out of my hand. Holy Kneazles, that stung. Who put charms like that on their door where anyone might touch it? Honestly.
I used my wand to slam the door open with a gust of wind and went past it, careful not to touch the iron. The stairs weren't in any better repair than the gate, but I was leery of it now. One of them creaked ominously as I stepped on it, and I prepared to Disapparate at any moment. The next step creaked even worse, and I paused with one foot on each step, waiting.
I crept up the rest of the stairs, hoping Dulcie Turpin was actually home so I didn't have to do this all over again, and at the top step, I held up a hand to bang on the door but stopped, remembering the iron gate.
I banged on the stairwell wall instead.
A few minutes later, a short and very round girl with coffee-coloured skin opened the door and looked me up and down. “Yeah?”
“Hi, I'm Rose Weasley. I work for Angelo's Magical Bonds. You missed your court date, so I need to bring you in to reschedule.” It never hurt to try to bring them in nicely. Some of them actually did come along with me after this sort of spiel, thinking 'reschedule' did not involve being arrested again.
Dulcie frowned. “I did not. It's tomorrow.”
“You did.” I waved the folder at her. “I promise, you missed your court date or I wouldn't be here.”
“What day is it? Monday?”
“Bloody hell,” said Dulcie. “I haven't been to work all week.”
Wow. She was bound to come along quietly, the sort of people who did were always the ones who didn't have the sense to stand a cauldron upright. “Well, if we reschedule your court date first, you can go in to work after.”
“All right, let me get my purse,” she said, and then closed the door.
I waited a few minutes before I heard a loud crack from inside the flat. She'd Disapparated. I kicked the wall in frustration, then opened the file again to get her work address. Maybe she'd gone in to work to make her excuses for not having been there all week. I wondered what the hell she'd been doing that she forgot what day it was and missed four days of work.
Dulcie Turpin worked in Diagon Alley, at the seedier end of it past the old wand shop, where the second-hand and junk shops began. There was a small curry take-away shop back there that my dad frequented when Mum wasn't likely to catch him (curry gave him horrible heartburn, but he loved it anyway), with a shop next door I'd never gone into. It was simply labelled Razey's above the front door. I pushed open the door and was assaulted by the smell of tobacco. The walls were lined with shelves stacked high with bins of different kinds of tobacco: flavoured tobaccos, scented tobaccos, tobaccos that gave off colourful smoke. I had never seen so much tobacco.
The smell was overpowering, and it was not well-lit. It was hard to see past the small aisles between shelves. I wove my way toward the back, and a familiar voice came from behind a dingy curtain.
“I'm sorry, I just need one more chance-”
I drew my wand and tiptoed closer. The edge of the curtain, brown with nicotine, moved a bit and I could see Dulcie and a tall and skinny man standing in a narrow back room packed with yet more boxes of tobacco, in different boxes than what was out front.
“I gave you a chance last time you did this,” said the man in a distinctly Scottish accent. His arms were folded over his chest. This did not look good for Dulcie's career prospects.
“Stupefy,” I whispered, aiming for Dulcie.
The Stunner missed and hit the shelves between the two of them. Dulcie shrieked and hit the floor; the man burst through the filthy curtain and stared at me wide-eyed.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“I wasn't aiming for you,” I said, pushing past him.
Dulcie was still shrieking. I grabbed her arm and tried to haul her to her feet, but she was too heavy, so I pointed my wand at her and cast an Incarceration Curse on her, then for good measure, a Silencing Charm as well.
“Crivvens,” the man said, shaking his head in disgust. “Turpin, you're sacked. I can't take any more out of you.”
She glared daggers at me at this, and I turned to her boss. Former boss, I should say. “Sorry about the mess back there.”
“That's all right,” he said, rather to my relief. “Just take her away and don't let the MLEs come for her, all right?”
I glanced at the boxes in the back room again. Apparently not all of them were tobacco, since he was so eager for the MLEs to stay away. Illegal substances weren't my department, though. I took Dulcie by the arm again and Disapparated.
It didn't take me long to get rid of Dulcie Turpin at the Ministry. It was still early enough to go cash in the body receipt with Lydia, who handed me my ten Galleons with a grin and well wishes for safe travels.
Then there was nothing for it but to go home and get ready for dinner at the Lupins'. At least that would keep me from being bored for the rest of the day.
“Eurgh,” Scorpius said as I came inside. “Why do you smell of tobacco?”
“I had to pick up a skip in a tobacco shop,” I told him.
“Don't touch Ramses until you've showered, then,” he ordered, waving a hand in front of his face as if he couldn't stand the smell.
I had to duck past Ramses' room on my way to the bathroom so he didn't notice me. By the time I was dressed again, it was nearly time to leave for Victoire's. We had to travel by Floo now that we had Ramses; he was too little to be brought by Side-Along Apparition, and we didn't own a broom anymore, not since I'd accidentally caught it on fire trying to pick up a skip. It hadn't been my fault though; the felon had been trying to get me with some sort of potion and it had reacted badly with the spells on the broom.
My cousin Victoire was waiting for us outside her fireplace, and brushed the soot off the three of us briskly before blocking up her fireplace again. Victoire's baby-proofing was extensive, though I wasn't sure anything was enough to prevent her brood from occasional wholesale destruction.
“You're right on time,” Victoire remarked cheerfully, waving us in now we were cleaned off. “Come on in. Hi Ramses,” she added, tickling him under the chin. He made a grab for her red curls with one fat little fist.
Victoire was the oldest of my cousins, and the first of us to have children of her own. She was up to four now, but she didn't seem to be finished yet. She and her husband Teddy Lupin had been popping them out left and right since they'd got married, and Teddy occasionally said he'd like to have enough children to have his own Quidditch team. Victoire said she didn't mind, because she liked a full house.
Teddy was sitting on the couch watching Quidditch on the tiny wireless. Scorpius sat down next to him with Ramses in his arms.
“Is that the Arrows?”
“Yeah. They're winning by a landslide,” Teddy added. “But everyone does against the Cannons, don't they?”
“Dad will be ever so pleased,” I said dryly to Victoire, who rolled her eyes. My father's love for the Chudley Cannons was legend in the family.
Victoire's second son popped into the room then. He was wearing goggles, and a snorkel was dangling from a cord around his neck, but otherwise looked quite normal. “Auntie Rose!” he yelled loudly when he clapped eyes on me. He'd finally learned to say his R's correctly, though I still thought he'd mispronounced them deliberately to sound more endearing. He was diabolical that way. He'd started saying them correctly when he'd found out my son's name. I didn't think the timing was coincidental.
Ramses let out a squeal of delight at the sight of his cousin Johnny, wriggled down out of Scorpius's lap to charge full-speed at Johnny on all fours, and crashed into Johnny's feet, leaving drool across his socks. Johnny bent down to give Ramses a pat on the head. I watched my godson warily. Johnny Lupin was under the impression that, because he had determined he was my personal protector, this somehow conveyed ownership to him of my firstborn child.
Ramses, for his part, seemed quite happy to go with this view of things. He loved Johnny, for reasons that escaped me. He practically worshipped at Johnny's beat-up, dirty trainers. Johnny, on the other hand, treated my son in much the same way as he treated his family's pet dog.
Johnny smiled angelically at the lot of us and scurried off to his room with Ramses crawling along behind him.
“Don't wake your sister,” Victoire called after them. “She's still napping!”
If Johnny heard her, he gave no indication of it. I thought I heard Ramses giggle.
Teddy sighed. “I don't know what we're going to do with that boy.”
“He'll grow out of it,” Victoire said optimistically. Teddy rolled his eyes and turned off the wireless with a flick of his wand.
Victoire dispatched Teddy to open a bottle of wine. She and I agree that there is no substitute for a bottle of wine when there are five children in the house. Victoire's kids always give me the urge to drink, actually.
We chatted amiably about Teddy's job and Victoire's recent forays into learning to knit from our gran, the Junior Quidditch League their oldest son Remus had started in, and the fact that Johnny had learned what crossbows were and was trying to build one (Victoire seemed to think this was both funny and cute. Teddy looked pretty much how I felt: frightened as all hell at the thought of Johnny with a weapon).
Teddy was pouring a third round of wine when we heard a little voice call imperiously from the top of the stairs, “I'm up now!”
I glanced over to see the only Lupin daughter, Dora, standing there looking rather rumpled and sleepy, her red curls tousled. She had clearly just awoken from her afternoon nap. Dora did not like the stairs, and always simply announced herself and waited for someone to carry her down rather than climbing down them herself.
Remus scurried up from behind her and hoisted her down the stairs. She was at least half his size, so this was a rather strange procedure to watch.
Once they reached the bottom step, Dora slid out of her brother's arms and walked over to us to lean against the arm of the couch next to her mother. Remus immediately left the vicinity. I sort of thought this was a hint that I ought to hide as well.
“Hello my love,” Victoire told Dora in her high-pitched mummy voice. “Run along and play now, Mummy is having a chat right now.”
Dora clearly did not care to be told to run along. “I wanna sit on your lap.”
“Not right now, my darling, Mummy is having grown-up time.”
Dora's pretty little face clouded over. I had an eerie sense of deja-vu.
“Your mother said go play,” Teddy told her sternly. She didn't move from the spot.
Victoire turned to me determinedly, carefully not looking at Dora. I was familiar with this particular parenting tactic of Victoire's; she was sure her children would stop doing whatever was annoying her if she ignored the behaviour. It sounded good in theory, and no doubt plenty of parenting manuals backed her up, but her children hadn't gotten that memo. They were quite possibly even more stubborn than she was.
“Mummy,” Dora said in a long, drawn-out whinge.
“Are you looking forward to your trip?” Victoire asked loudly over her daughter. I tried to focus on the conversation.
“To the trip, not really, I hate travelling, but I'm looking forward to seeing New York,” I told her.
Teddy snorted. “You hate travelling? But Apparating is the only thing you're good at.”
“That's not true,” Scorpius said loyally. “She was really excellent at History of Magic.”
“I've forgotten all of it,” I assured him.
“And Charms, you did well in that. And Transfiguration, you got an E on your N.E.W.T., remember?”
“Rose is very smart,” Victoire agreed.
“Just lacking in common sense and any sense of direction,” Teddy said, not quite under his breath.
“Thanks a lot, Teddy,” I said. Victoire kicked him in the shin.
Dora had gone quiet during this exchange. I looked over at her. She was holding her breath now, and her little face was turning red but her lips were gone a bit blue. She looked very odd. This was a form of temper tantrum I hadn't seen yet. Johnny had always favoured kicking and screaming, and Remus had been quite even-tempered all his life. I didn't think I'd ever seen Remus throw a tantrum. Apparently Dora was not going to follow in either brother's footsteps.
Scorpius had noticed Dora too. “Um, Victoire-”
Victoire waved a hand at her daughter dismissively. “She'll stop in a moment.”
“She's going to pass out,” Scorpius said nervously.
“Well, that'll make her start breathing again, then,” Victoire remarked with aplomb. “How long will you be in New York?”
It was hard to concentrate on the conversation when an almost-three-year-old was standing at one's elbow, holding her breath and turning blue in the face. “Um,” I managed to say. “A week and a half. We thought we'd make it a holiday.”
“How nice.” Victoire smiled. “I've always wanted to go to New York. I know you'll be very happy, Scorpius, they do a lot of musical theatre there.”
Scorpius seemed to forget about Dora's approaching asphyxiation in his enthusiasm for musical theatre. “Yeah, we're going to take in at least one Broadway show. I can't wait to see them live. There's a production of 'Anything Goes' playing right now.”
Dora's eyes fluttered shut and she keeled over backwards. We all turned to look. Her face was clearing up, the colour returning to normal. I could see her little chest rising and falling.
“There, you see?” Victoire said calmly. “I told you she'd stop in a moment.”
Teddy shook his head at his fallen daughter. “Still, at least it's quiet.”
I nodded agreement. It actually was something of an improvement over Johnny's screaming, I had to admit.
Johnny darted in then with Ramses balanced precariously on one skinny hip. “Auntie Rose! Look!” He stepped over his sister and set Ramses down in front of me, then took a few steps back. Ramses started to crawl closer to Johnny.
“Look at this, Auntie Rose, I taught him to sit.” Johnny turned to Ramses and commanded him, “Sit!”
Ramses plopped his little nappied bottom down and gave Johnny a look of adoration. I decided I may as well not point out to Johnny that Ramses had begun sitting up on his own four months ago. It had clearly not sunk in already.
“Good baby,” Johnny said tolerantly, giving my son a pat on the head, then turned back to me proudly. “I'm training him,” he explained. “Next we're going to work on heel.”
“Johnny,” Victoire exclaimed, looking mildly horrified. “People don't heel.”
“Ramses will,” he retorted confidently.
I had a feeling my son was going to be heeling to Johnny Lupin very soon. Sometimes it seemed like everyone heeled to Johnny Lupin. The kid was a force of nature.
“I think it's time to eat,” Victoire announced. “Johnny, go tell your brother it's dinnertime. Teddy, go and fetch Liam, please. I'll wake Dora.”
Victoire served pot roast with parsnips and carrots. Johnny, true to form, ate only the meat, having 'accidentally' dropped his vegetables on the floor where the dog gobbled them up immediately. Dora ate the carrots and a dinner roll and threw her parsnips at her younger brother Liam, who scooped them off his forehead and ate them. Victoire and Teddy seemed completely unconcerned by all of this. I wondered why she bothered making full dinners at all.
It only took twenty minutes for Johnny to pick a fight with Dora. Both of them were sent to their rooms in disgrace, Johnny red-faced and shouting and Dora's face streaked with angry tears. Johnny slammed his door twice, probably to make sure no one had missed it the first time. Victoire pretended nothing had happened. Teddy looked more resigned than embarrassed. I finished my dinner as quickly as possible. The sooner we got the hell out of there, the better.
“Want to take one of them with you to New York?” Teddy asked, giving Scorpius a look that was half-joking and half-desperate.
“No,” Scorpius said firmly.
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