I don't know why I booze with my cousins. It's always a bad idea. By the time Appleby had finished losing to Kenmare, Roxanne and I were both stinking drunk, and Molly had Flooed Scorpius to come and collect me. I think she let Roxy pass out on her floor. That's what cousins do for each other, at least when they haven't a boyfriend to carry their drunk self home.
I may have thrown up on Scorpius when he'd Apparated us home. I can't be sure. Everything's a little fuzzy past the third quarter of the game.
Scorpius must have left my brother a threatening note, because he didn't try to wake us at five again. I was still unconscious – I mean asleep – when Scorpius left for work, and I slept until well past lunch. There was a Hangover-Curing Potion waiting for me on the kitchen table. Now that's love. Either I hadn't thrown up on him, or he wasn't upset by it. I knew Scorpius had made it, because my brother would leave me to suffer or make one for myself.
After recovering from the dreadful hangover, I spent the afternoon trawling through the files and notes I'd collected on Knapper, his brother, and Hiram Worthing, looking for anything that could tip me off to where they'd gone to ground.
I spread the papers out all over Hugo's coffee table, sitting on the floor in front of it while I re-read everything and hoped for something to jump out at me, some small fact that would give me a clue. I could feel it, somehow, that Knapper was with Pulford, wherever they were. I hadn't been able to find Knapper alone, but I'd found the other two. Maybe I could find them all together.
The brief background on Pulford that Lydia had done for me listed a couple of past residences of his, and an employer from ten years ago. People often went somewhere familiar when they went into hiding. I reckoned this was my best shot at a next step in my investigation. I copied the addresses onto a scrap of parchment.
Worthing's background was even less informative than Pulford's, though I knew Lydia had put more effort into it. Either the man had never done anything interesting in his life until he disappeared, or he'd made sure there was no paper trail. The only thing there was an old printer's press in Kent that I was pretty sure had gone out of business well over ten years ago. I added the address to my list and surveyed it.
At least it was a start.
I heard the door opening, and smiled up at Scorpius as he came inside.
“I know what you did,” he said.
I watched him with trepidation as he kicked off his shoes. That sort of statement covers a lot of ground. I do a lot of things that I try to make sure he doesn't know about, at least not in detail. I knew better than to walk into a trap like that, of course, because I'm the child of Ron and Hermione Weasley. I would wait until he said which thing he knew that I'd done, and then I'd defend it.
“I wish I'd been there,” Scorpius went on, quite cheerfully actually, as he grabbed a butterbeer and popped off the cap. “I've always wanted to yell at my father. I bet it felt bloody marvellous. Well done, Rose.”
“Oh, that,” I said airily, shuffling the papers into a pile as I moved to sit on the sofa. “Yeah, I ran into him in Knockturn Alley. Where'd you hear about it?”
“My mum owled me to complain. Wonder what he was doing in Knockturn Alley,” Scorpius mused, plopping down next to me. Hugo was working a double shift and wouldn't be home until four in the morning. We had the place all to ourselves, and it was very tempting to do something naughty on my brother's sofa. The idea that my brother had already done something naughty on his own sofa stopped me, though. Ew.
I didn't care to speculate on what his father might have been up to. I didn't really want to hear about what his mum had said about me, either, so I changed the subject. “Dunno. How was work?”
“The usual. Bored me to tears. I got a paper cut. How was your day?”
“I made a list,” I said, brandishing the evidence of my productiveness at him. “Of every location ever associated with Balthazar Pulford and/or Hiram Worthing.”
Scorpius glanced at it. “That's a short list, Rose.”
“They lead very boring lives, it seems.”
“Why are you making a list of everywhere they've ever been?” he asked, though his expression was reserved. I was pretty sure he was questioning the wisdom in asking me this. Men.
“Because I can't find stupid Knapper, that's why,” I informed him. “These two clods know something, and now I can't find any of them. I have a good feeling about this.”
“Bloody marvellous,” Scorpius muttered, taking a long drink of his butterbeer.
I set the list down and gave him a serious look. I'd been waiting all day for this. Hell, I'd been waiting all week for this. “Did you get paid?”
He pulled a moneybag out of his robes with one hand, still drinking his butterbeer. I snatched it away from him and hugged it. “Oh, sweet freedom! I can finally wear a different shirt!”
Scorpius rolled his eyes. “Let me change out of this monkey suit and we'll go give Mrs. Kochel her blood money.”
Mrs. Kochel didn't look surprised to see us when we turned up on her doorstep. Then again, she never looked surprised about anything. She looked annoyed. This was pretty much her permanent state of being, so it didn't come as a shock to me.
“You haff my money?” she demanded, holding out one fat hand.
Scorpius was frozen next to me, as was his endearing habit when confronted with Mrs. Kochel. He was staring at her hose. I took the moneybag from him and counted out Galleons into Mrs. Kochel's hand. Once she was satisfied, she went and hid the money wherever it is she hides the rents – probably in her hose drawer, which no one in their right mind would touch with a ten-foot wand – and then marched down the hall and up the stairs to our flat.
After she'd unsealed the door, I ran my wand down the edge and was relieved to hear the locks clicking open. Scorpius breathed a small sigh. Mrs. Kochel huffed her way back down to her own flat, muttering under her breath about ungrateful, poor excuses for tenants. I'm sure she meant our neighbours.
I spun in a circle in the middle of the room, my arms flung wide. “Oh, it's so good to be home!”
“Do you smell something?” Scorpius asked, sniffing the air.
There was some extremely dead milk sitting on the counter. I'm pretty sure that was my fault, but Scorpius was kind enough not to remark upon this as he cleaned it up. This is why I love him. Well, among other reasons.
I dropped the bag we'd brought from Hugo's on the bed and pulled out my list of Pulford-related locales. It was still pretty early, I could go check a few of these out, but I didn't really want to do it alone. I decided to go see if Victoire was free.
After a quick change of clothes, I went out to the kitchen, where Scorpius was cleaning the spoiled food out of the icebox. I watched him for a minute, feeling very fond of him. Love means never having to ask who left the milk out.
He looked up when he noticed me, a bottle of salad cream in his hand. “Going out?”
“I'm going to check out a few of these places. I'll be back later.” I leaned over to kiss him on the cheek, and he went back to his cleaning as I sailed out the door and Disapparated from the hallway, reappearing in the street in front of my cousin's house.
Whatever was going on in Victoire's house was audible even from the street. I paused at her front gate, trying to identify the sound. I think it was one of her kids, but it might have been a banshee. I didn't bother knocking. Probably no one would hear me.
Louis was sitting at the table with Teddy Lupin and his eldest son, eating dinner. Victoire stood at the stove, ladling beef stew into a bowl. Johnny was on the floor, kicking and screaming at the top of his lungs, his little face bright red. Everyone else seemed to be pretending he wasn't doing anything, except Louis, who was eyeing his nephew in horror.
Victoire stepped over her son, and he grabbed her ankle. She shook him off and kept walking to the table, and Johnny let out a particularly blood-curdling scream.
“Merlin's beard,” Louis said in a low voice.
“La la la,” Victoire said with determined cheer. “I can't hear anything.”
“What's his problem?” I asked Teddy. I didn't bother to lower my voice. You could hardly hear yourself talking for the screaming as it was.
“I can't even remember now,” Teddy said, rubbing his temple. I could hardly blame him. The noise was already getting to me.
“Hello Rose,” Victoire said loudly. “Are you hungry? Would you like some stew? There's plenty.”
“Um, no thanks.” I looked down at Johnny again, wondering how they could eat in this racket.
“Eat the stew, Rose,” Victoire ordered. “Everyone loves to eat stew, don't they Uncle Louis?”
Louis looked startled at being included. “Um, yes. It's very good,” he added gamely.
“Daddy eats stew. Mummy eats stew. Remus and Uncle Louis and Aunt Rose all eat stew,” Victoire went on very loudly, apparently to no one in particular. I gathered that Johnny had refused to eat the precious stew, thus the horrific tantrum. I'm so glad I don't have children.
“He's a monster,” Louis muttered, apparently thinking the same thing I was, and Teddy gave him the evil eye.
“Just ignore him, he'll get tired of it and stop eventually,” the monster's mother advised me, to my disbelief.
Teddy and Louis didn't look too convinced of this either. Johnny had the lung capacity of an opera singer and seemed prepared to go on all night the way he was. I sat down next to Louis, feeling I ought to, though I wanted to get going before it got dark. Something told me Victoire wasn't going anywhere tonight. Maybe she'd Disillusion me so I could go alone without being seen.
Victoire handed me a bowl of stew with a look that said I'd damn well better eat it, and went to get some for herself. “Mmm, it smells so delicious,” she called determinedly.
Johnny screamed even louder. Teddy's eyelid twitched. Louis looked ready to bolt. I took a few bites of the stew and pretended I was on the beach in Majorca. I was getting pretty good at that.
Victoire made sure we all cleaned our plates, occasionally yelling out remarks like, “Delicious!” and “I love to eat stew!” to make her happy, and all the while Johnny kicked and screamed on the floor. Before Johnny came along, I would have laid odds that Victoire would win any battle of wills. Now, I wasn't so sure, and didn't want to stick around to see the carnage.
“Why are you here?” I asked Louis around a bite of stew. He didn't hang out at his sister's house often. It tended to be only when he had nowhere else to go.
He gave me a hangdog look, and Teddy informed me helpfully, “Louis' girlfriend chucked him.”
“Sorry,” I said to my cousin, trying to muster some sympathy. I wonder if he'd paid her bail before she dumped him.
“I loved her,” Louis said morosely.
Teddy rolled his eyes.
When Victoire finally got up to check on the baby, I hurried after her. There was a soundproofing charm on the baby's room to keep her noisy brothers from disturbing her, so when I stepped over the threshold, I was enveloped in blissful silence.
Dora was asleep in her cot, one little fist flung over her head. Victoire gave her a little pat. I waited until she'd come back to the doorway to talk to her, so our voices wouldn't wake the baby.
“Want to check out a few possible leads with me?” I asked hopefully, though I was pretty sure it was a lost cause.
“I can't go out with you tonight,” she said, looking harassed. “Teddy will murder me in my bed if I leave right now.”
“Just Disillusion me and I'll come back and bring you booze when I'm done,” I said, giving her a wheedling smile.
“All right, but it better be good booze,” Victoire warned me.
I promised some kind of relief in a bottle, and escaped the Lupins' house freshly Disillusioned. I would've rather had Victoire along to keep me company – and keep me brave – but being practically invisible was the next best thing.
The first address on the list had been torn down. I checked on the next two and didn't find anything out of the ordinary. By the time I got to the fourth address, I was feeling pretty discouraged and had an itchy feeling that the Disillusionment Charm was starting to wear thin.
The sun had already dropped behind the horizon when I appeared in the overgrown lot in Kent. Long shadows covered the squat old building, making the shrubberies look as if they were teeth of some monster trying to swallow the house back into the land. The printer had indeed closed down, and the property had fallen into disrepair. There were knee-deep weeds everywhere, and the paint on the building was faded and peeling. I walked around the edges of the lot as best I could. No one had been here for a long time, from the looks of things. That ought to make it the perfect hiding place, but if they were hiding here, they'd left no trace.
I stood on tiptoe to try to see in the windows. There was a faint reflection in the glass from my hand when I steadied myself, and I felt a tremor of fear. The charm was starting to wear off. I had to do this fast.
“Homenum Revelio,” I whispered, pointing my wand with a small flourish at the dilapidated building.
Something sparked inside. I frowned. That spell wasn't supposed to do that. I could see something blue inside, shining ever brighter. It occurred to me a moment later that I should move, and I Disapparated just as the small blue spark ignited into a huge fireball, the heat bursting through the windows as shimmering flame lapped through the broken glass.
I reappeared far enough away that the flames couldn't get me, and watched the building burn in dismay. I hardly even touched the place, honestly. No one could actually consider this my fault. Any reasonable jury wouldn't convict me.
The ceiling slowly began to cave in, the beams creaking as they fell, and the flames leapt ever higher.
“Oh, holy Kneazles,” I whispered.
I was about to Disapparate and get the hell out of there when I heard the pop of someone appearing. More followed, and in a matter of seconds there were half a dozen MLEs running about the place, putting out the fire. I froze in place, hoping the Disillusionment Charm would hold until they went away or I could get somewhere unobtrusive to Disapparate.
Another pop and a familiar figure appeared. Jack Upchurch took in the scene with a long, low whistle, then glanced around. His eyes homed in on me. Dammit. I was pretty sure he could see me. Not good.
He stuck his hands in his pockets and strolled casually over to me. We stood side-by-side, watching the MLEs trying to put out the fire. The blue flames seemed to be fighting them back. The building was completely engulfed, the fire flaring high up into the night sky. Bits of ash were raining down on everyone, blown by a light breeze.
After a few minutes, Jack said quite calmly, “You're going to wind up in front of the Wizengamot if you keep going this way, Rose Weasley.”
“It wasn't my fault,” I told him.
Jack grinned. “I'll be dining out for a week on this story.”
“Shut up. How'd you get here so fast, anyway?”
“This building's been flagged,” he said, nodding at the smoking remains. “Something for the Aurors, no one knows exactly. Very hush-hush. There was a watch notice put on it, so any magic done on the property would put an alert out, and Magical Law Enforcement could respond instantly. Didn't expect to find you here, though.”
“The Aurors?” I shrieked. “My dad is going to kill me! You can't tell anyone I was here.”
Jack looked uncomfortable. “Rose, I have to-”
“Jack, I'm begging you. Don't tell anyone you saw me here. Please.” I did my best beseeching, damsel-in-distress gaze. Anywhere that had been flagged by the Aurors couldn't be anywhere good, and my dad would flip his cauldron if he heard I'd been here.
“Why are you here, Rose?”
“I'm looking for a skip,” I said sullenly. “I just tried to figure out if anyone was in the building, and suddenly it caught fire. A minute later, the place was crawling with Magical Law Enforcement. It wasn't my fault.”
Jack shook his head. “How does this always happen to you? You really are going to end up before the Wizengamot, you know,” he told me. “Despite your family's reputation.”
“What do you mean?” I demanded, bristling. “Because everyone calls the Weasleys blood traitors?”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Jack said sharply. “I mean that everyone knows the Weasleys are always the good guys.”
Oh. I smiled at him, and he rolled his eyes at me.
“Are you going to tell on me?”
He heaved a sigh. “No. Get out of here before someone else sees you.”
“You're a peach, Jack.” I gave him a pat on the arm and he shook his head at me.
I spun on the spot, feeling the darkness envelop me. I reappeared in Diagon Alley and made a quick stop before continuing on to Victoire's. If I showed up empty-handed, it would be me who was murdered in my bed.
She seemed quite frazzled when I got there, though she perked up when she saw the bottle in my hand. She snatched it out of my hand, hugged the bottle, then gave me a little hug. “Oh, you wonderful girl. Come sit and have a glass with me.”
I tried to brush the soot and ash from my hair while she poured the wine, and she pretended not to notice what I was doing.
“Did Johnny eat his stew?”
Victoire made a face. “No. He went to bed without supper, and screamed himself to sleep.”
“He's just going through a difficult phase,” she said, and I rolled my eyes. 'Difficult' was possibly the understatement of the year when it came to Johnny.
“How did things go with you?” she asked me then, eyeing my hair.
“Not well.” I told her what had happened, and she grew more and more solemn-faced.
“The building was booby-trapped?”
“So it would seem. I didn't do anything to start that fire, it just came out of nowhere.”
Victoire rolled her wineglass in her hand thoughtfully. “Someone didn't want that building being investigated. It obviously wasn't the Aurors or MLEs, because they just set an alarm on it. They wouldn't want it destroyed if they're watching it for some reason. It must have been booby-trapped after they did that, though. That took some really difficult magic to set a trap like that without setting off the Ministry alarm.”
I got a sudden chill. She was right. If it had been booby-trapped before, it would have gone off when the Ministry set their alarm. Whoever readied that fireball spell had done it without tipping off the Ministry. Not good.
“Someone probably knows you were there, Rose.” Victoire looked uneasy. “I'm worried about you. I think you're in over your head on this case. Whatever's going on, it's getting dangerous.”
I was feeling pretty worried right now, too. I tried to cover it up for her benefit. “It'll be fine, Victoire. I'm a trained bond enforcement agent, remember?”
She gave me a look. “Be careful, okay?”
I tried not to worry as I went home and crawled into bed next to Scorpius, but it was a long time before I fell asleep. The tiny blue spark exploding into a huge fire was haunting me.
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