I wish I could say I felt better the next morning, but honestly, I was still a little freaked out by that fireball. I've knocked down a few buildings in my day – entirely not my fault, of course – but destruction by fire was a new one for me. I didn't know what kind of spell could do that sort of flame, either, and that kind of scared me.
When I'm scared, really scared anyway, far past the usual level of mortal dread that goes with being an adult without steady income, I like to be around my dad. And so I headed out at the crack of noon the next day to my dad's office.
Dad's office was always comforting to me. He'd had the same one for as long as I could remember, and it was as if part of Dad has sunk into the office so deeply that no one else could possibly ever have it. The room was like an extension of him. It might need an exorcism to get Dad out of that office. It was filled to the brim with his successes, the bad guys he'd caught over the years, the awards he'd won, that it always seemed to me to embody everything heroic about my father. And he usually had food in there, too.
I stopped outside the door with my hand on the knob. I could hear a very familiar female voice, and knowing my parents as I do, I paused to see if she was ranting at him or if they were doing something that might require me modifying my own memory to un-see.
She was ranting. Relieved, I opened the door. Mum was pacing back and forth in front of my dad's desk, her arms waving as she went on about something. Dad, sitting at his desk, looked very glad to have an interruption.
“Rosie!” he said, breaking into Mum's rant. “Have you come to save- er, to visit your old dad? Have a seat.”
I sat down in the green leather chair that he always kept in his office, usually occupied either by Uncle Harry or sometimes by a bad guy, while Mum gave Dad a look that said she knew exactly what he'd been about to say, and he would pay for it later.
“What's going on?” I asked, since it was clear Mum had not finished her tirade. I could always tell when she'd been broken off in midstream. She got a certain murderous look on her face. I wondered if the bondsmen had people picketing her office again.
“Your mum's having some trouble repealing that custodian law,” Dad told me.
“I wouldn't be having any trouble if it weren't for the cursed bondsmen fighting me at every turn,” Mum snapped. “Mrs. Pilliwickle went to the head of the Wizengamot and told her how much trouble there would be if the current custodians were let out of their bonds, and now I have to redo everything so that the current custodians complete their bond agreements. Can you believe it? It's simply unacceptable.”
I'd told her that was what would happen, but she never listened to me.
“I told you this would happen if you pushed it,” Dad said. “You never listen to me, though.”
Mum's eyes flared angrily. “You told me? Ronald Weasley-”
“If they let the current custodians out of their bonds, they're essentially letting the bonded criminals walk free,” Dad said loudly, overriding her. “The bond agreement will be voided if you take the custodian part out of it. They'll all need something rewritten, and if they have nothing to secure the bond – and they haven't, or they wouldn't have agreed to become custodian in the first place – then the bonds offices will forfeit the money to the courts.”
“I know that,” said Mum, though she'd ignored it on at least two occasions that I was aware of. “The bonds offices can afford to absorb the cost on this.”
“But they can't,” I said, feeling rather as if I didn't want to get involved, but damn, the thought of Angelo's reaction to that statement made me shudder. And Mrs. Pilliwickle would probably eat Mum's liver for her tea. “Mum, if there's no security on the bond, the bond offices will lose their insurers. Who would insure someone who handed out unsecured bonds?”
“If the bond offices lose their insurers, they will be forced out of business,” Dad put in. “They won't be able to get an operational license from the Ministry.”
Mum didn't look as if she thought this was an entirely bad thing, but Dad continued, “We need the bondsmen, Hermione. You're going to have to let the current custodians complete their bonds. Maybe you can change what will happen to them if their skips aren't found, so they don't go to jail in place of them. Set up a foundation to secure the bonds for them or something, but you can't just leave the bondsmen out to hang. They'll never let the Wizengamot agree to it.”
“Secure the bonds.” Mum's face had gone thoughtful. “Hmm.”
I started to say something, but Dad gave me a look that said clearly to be quiet. Mum was muttering to herself, which she often did when very deep in thought, but I couldn't make anything out.
After a few minutes, she said rather absently, “I need to go check something,” and left Dad's office as if she couldn't see either of us.
Dad rolled his eyes when the door closed behind her. “She'll figure it out,” he told me. “Your mum is a very smart woman. She's just a little... stubborn, when she thinks she's right.”
No kidding. I glanced over at the door. “Are the bondsmen picketing her office?”
“Yes. Four of them sent people with big placards.” Dad grinned. “One of them says Stop The Oppression! I thought your mum's head would explode when she saw that one. Her, the oppressor.” He chuckled.
That had probably been Highland Magical Bonds. Ivor MacTavish served a lot of low-income clients in rural areas, the population most likely to not own anything worth securing a bond and therefore forcing them to become custodians. He'd also once gotten into a shouting match with my mum after she'd accused him of profiteering off the miseries of others. Calling her an oppressor would be right up his alley. Mrs. Pilliwickle tended to be subtler than that. Angelo wrote Italian curses.
“The Bow Street fellows enchanted their placards to shout their slogans in Cockney accents,” Dad said, clearly enjoying himself. “Fair Laws For Fair Folks! and Bondsmen Are People Too! I had tea and scones sent round this morning.”
I tried not to laugh. “You shouldn't encourage them. Mum will kill you if she finds out.”
“It's worth it.” Dad sat back in his chair then. “What brings you to my office, Rose? Do you need money?”
Well, it wouldn't hurt... “No, Dad, we're all right. I wanted to check if you'd heard anything new about Knapper.”
“Oh, we got a report back from the Department of Mysteries,” Dad said, his expression sharpening. “Some of what he was selling was very nasty.”
Oh, great. If Knapper turned out to be Venatici, my parents were going to lock me in my room for the rest of my life. Without Scorpius. “Anything really bad?”
Dad shrugged. “Worth about five years in Azkaban. It was nothing nice, but it could have been worse. They still have a few things to check out, though.”
I really wanted to talk to my dad about the booby-trap last night, but I couldn't think of a way to fit it into the very small not-going-mental slot in my dad's brain about that sort of thing. Not all of it, anyway. I couldn't let on that I was there, but maybe I could get him to talk about it if I hinted that I already knew a bit about the fire.
“I heard there was a fire last night? Something with the Aurors?” I said cautiously, trying to keep my voice casual.
“Where'd you hear about that?” he asked, frowning a bit, but before I could answer, he went on, “Your friend Jack Upchurch again, I suppose. The MLEs gossip entirely too much.”
“I heard it was pretty bad,” I volunteered, not confirming his suspicions about Jack and me.
“We have it under control,” Dad said, and I could hear the iron in his voice. It wasn't very often that I heard that – Mum tended to be the one with the brick in her handbag – but I recognized it right away. Dad was about to slam the proverbial door on me without telling me a thing.
Hoping for just a bit more from him, I began, “I was just wondering if-”
“It has nothing to do with your skip, Rose,” Dad interrupted firmly. “It's none of your business. Ministry secrets.”
Dammit. I was really glad he didn't know I'd been there, but it would have been nice to hear what he said about the booby-trap. I was actually a little more scared that he wouldn't talk about it. It must be a big, or very dangerous, case. Not good.
“Have you eaten yet?” Dad asked. “Your mum and I were going to have lunch, but then we started arguing, and obviously she's forgotten all about me now. Want to come with me? My treat.”
If I turned down free food, I'd have to hand in my Weasley card. “Thanks, Dad.”
After filling up on fish and chips, and pocketing ten Galleons my dad gave me for later, I set off for the day. Making the usual rounds seemed to be the thing to do, so I hit Knockturn Alley with my photo of Knapper, and canvassed the locals. I wasn't terribly surprised when once again, no one had any idea who he was or where he'd disappeared to.
I stopped in at Angelo's before I went home in case Lydia had a quick pick-up for me. The office seemed very quiet, and I was pretty sure Angelo wasn't there.
“Hi Rose,” Lydia said cheerfully. She was filing her nails, her feet up on the desk. Angelo definitely wasn't there. Lydia usually at least pretended to work when her uncle was in his office.
I sat down in one of the ratty chairs we keep in the front room for clients and their families. “Anything interesting come in?”
“Sorry,” she said. “Everyone's so hung up on your mum's hearing to change the custodian law that we've hardly written any bonds at all. Dino took the only two skips we had last night.”
To hell with Dino, I say. I was less annoyed with him for taking all the skips than I would have been had Scorpius not just been paid, but I still thought he sucked. Wouldn't even help me with my skip. Jerk. “Crap,” I said.
“Still no luck with Knapper?” Lydia asked, blowing some nail dust off her fingers.
“He could be living in an orphanage in Thailand right now for all I know,” I told her. “The man is gone.”
“Angelo's not going to like that. He's already in a bad mood because of your mum. He said to thank your dad for the scones, though.”
I rolled my eyes. My parents are so weird.
“Have you already had lunch?” Lydia asked. “I was just going to go down to the Leaky Cauldron and see what Mrs. Longbottom is serving today.”
“I ate with my dad,” I said apologetically. “Maybe tomorrow?”
Lydia put a sign in the window to say she'd be back in an hour and locked up the office. I decided I might as well head home. The day was pretty much shot. No luck with my dad, no luck in Knockturn Alley. At least I'd gotten a free lunch.
It was such a relief to go home to my own flat instead of my brother's that I just sat on the couch looking around for a while at first. The silence was quite lovely, but after a little while my own failure was thrumming in my head, and the blossoming fireball played itself back in slow motion every time I closed my eyes. Where the hell was Knapper?
He wasn't at his brother's house. That much was sure. He wasn't at Worthing's. Wherever Worthing and Pulford had gone, they must have Knapper with them. The only other explanation I had was that Knapper was dead. I didn't bring in the kind of bounties that Dino did, so I didn't have experience with that kind of scenario. I wasn't sure if I'd still get the money if I found Knapper's body. I supposed I should have asked Lydia. It seemed such a cop-out to say he must be dead if I couldn't find him, because really, it wasn't as if I were very good at this and could reasonably say that anyone I couldn't find had to be in a shallow grave somewhere. He could be on the beach in Majorca, actually. The knot in the pit of my stomach told me he wasn't, but I was starting to distrust my instincts.
I tried to keep Uncle Harry's words about that in mind, but I didn't think my instincts could compare to his. Though I sometimes had a hard time connecting the Uncle Harry I knew, who gave piggy-back rides when I was a kid and had once eaten a flobberworm to impress his sons, with the Harry Potter who defeated Dark Lords, killed basilisks, and was called The Chosen One, I was aware of my uncle's accomplishments. If I were him, I'd trust my instincts too. But I wore unicorn shirts and couldn't fry eggs. I was no Harry Potter.
These depressing thoughts kept me company for almost half an hour before the door burst open and Victoire walked in with her two sons. Johnny looked as surly as ever, but Remus had sprouted an extra set of arms and had turned bright orange. He looked very strange.
“Oh thank God you're home,” Victoire exclaimed when she saw me. “I need you to watch Johnny for me while I take Remus to St. Mungo's. I don't know how he did this to himself, he must have gotten my wand somehow, and Teddy isn't answering when I Floo him at work so I don't even know where he is-”
“You want me to what?” I said in disbelief.
Johnny immediately flung himself onto the floor, stretched out on his back, lifted up his legs, straight-kneed, and dropped them with a resounding thump. He slowly repeated it. Thump. Thump. Oh dear God. I am never, ever going to have children.
“I can't,” I said to my cousin.
“Please, you've got to,” Victoire begged. “I can't have him in the hospital while I'm trying to help Remus, you've seen what he's like lately.”
“That's why I've no intention of watching him,” I told her. “Why can't you leave him with your mum?”
“Mum and Dad are in France visiting my aunt. Dominique is watching Dora, and she can't handle Dora and Johnny with her baby too. And don't even ask about Gran, she won't have anything to do with Johnny right now. She says her nerves can't take it.”
“What about Louis?” I asked desperately.
Victoire gave me a look. All right, that had been a stupid idea.
“Victoire, I can't-”
“Rose.” She fixed a steely eye on me. “You owe me.”
Oh holy Kneazles. I looked down at Johnny, who was spinning around on the floor now, rotating on his shoulderblades as he pushed himself around in a circle, his feet thumping on the floor with each push.
“It's only for a few hours,” Victoire said, reading my panic. “I'll be back as soon as we're done, I promise. I'll come here first before I pick up the baby.”
“You better. And you better bring booze, too,” I added. I was going to need an entire bottle after this. Of the really strong stuff.
“I will. Thank you. Come on, Remus.” She scooped Remus up into her arms, holding him tight, stepped out into the hallway, and Disapparated with him.
I stared down at Johnny and wondered what Victoire would do if her son was hogtied when she returned. After a few minutes, he paused in his circle and gave me a considering look.
“Don't even think about it,” I warned him, a little weakly.
Johnny called my bluff and let out a loud wail. I clapped my hands over my ears and watched him for a moment as he laid there on the floor and screamed. I really had no idea how to stop him, but Mrs. Kochel was going to evict me again if he didn't shut up, so I grabbed my wand.
Blessed silence fell. Victoire never does this to her kids. She says it's cheating at parenting, and one has to actually teach one's children how to be functional members of society, and that Silencing them when they're being annoying doesn't teach them a thing. He wasn't my kid, though. I can Silence him if I want, right?
Johnny continued screaming for a moment longer, then it seemed to register to him that he couldn't hear himself, so he sat up and patted his mouth.
“I'll take the charm off if you promise to knock that off,” I offered, and he turned to glare at me. “But if you keep acting like that, I'm going to just let you stay Silenced until your mum gets back.”
I wasn't sure I would really do that to him, but he seemed to believe the threat, and nodded at me. His little mouth moved as he tried to talk, and I took the charm off him.
“Are you going to be good?” I asked suspiciously.
“Yes, Aunt Rose,” he said, sounding rather dejected. Hey, Silencing works.
Johnny and I stared at each other for a few minutes. I had absolutely no idea what one was supposed to do with a little boy his age. Victoire makes this stuff look so easy most of the time. I tried to think of what Hugo had done at this age, but mostly what I remember was him breaking my toys and beheading my dolls, so I didn't think he was a good example.
I was at a total loss about what to do with this kid. I drew upon my Weasley blood. “Are you hungry? Do you want a sandwich or something?”
“Okay,” Johnny said, and followed me into the kitchen.
We poked around in the cupboards, and I sort of wished Scorpius would come home and make us some food, but I managed a cheese sandwich for Johnny and me, and I let him sit on the kitchen counter, his little legs crossed underneath him while he ate.
This put him at about eye level with me, and I watched my cousin's bratty little boy eating and thought about how much he looked like Teddy. Only with red hair. I supposed the Lupin genes weren't entirely overpowered by the Weasley ones. Maybe Victoire would manage to pop out a Metamorphmagus yet.
Johnny was being very quiet while he ate. I started to cheer up, feeling very accomplished that I had managed to stop the tantrum and feed him actual food as well. Maybe I wasn't so bad at this after all. Ha ha. Take that, maternal instincts.
Once he finished his sandwich, we were back to staring at each other.
“Do you have any toys?” Johnny asked hopefully after a few minutes.
“I don't think so.” Nothing I owned really qualified as a toy. I don't think we even have a Quaffle in the house.
“Tellie?” Johnny was starting to look at me as if he could not believe how useless I was.
“Erm, no.” We'd never gotten around to getting one. We did have a wireless, though. I doubted that was going to cut it for Johnny Lupin. Did one play punk or heavy metal for a three year old?
“What do you usually do before dinner?” I asked.
Johnny regarded me speculatively. “Mummy lets me go to the playground.”
“What, all by yourself?” Did he think I was born yesterday?
He nodded, his face a picture of innocence. Apparently he did think that. I gave him a look, and he seemed to give up on that line right away.
I followed him as he wandered around the flat for a bit, looking around at all my things. I snatched Scorpius's art supplies away before Johnny could touch them. Scorpius would kill me if Johnny messed with his paints and brushes and whatnot.
Johnny found my old Care of Magical Creatures textbook and spent the next three quarters of an hour looking at pictures of manticores and dragons (I was pretty sure this would get me in trouble with his parents, but hell, it was keeping him quiet) while I listened to the afternoon broadcast on the wireless and thought about how else to find Knapper. I supposed I could go back to his house and dig around some more. Maybe his wife had heard something. Anything was better than sitting here twiddling my thumbs.
Maybe I could bribe Lenny Graves with some powdered dragon claw to help me some more. I would probably get arrested if I tried to buy that stuff, though. Then my mum would kill me, or I'd go to Azkaban. I wasn't sure which was worse.
I realized Johnny was looking up, staring at the wireless, and snapped back to attention. They were talking about Venatici. Another new body had turned up. I'm not the most maternal of people, but it seemed inappropriate for him to listen to talk of serial killers. I pointed my wand at the wireless and it fell silent. Johnny gave me a look and I smiled brightly.
Someone knocked at the door, and I barely held in my exclamation of “Oh thank God!” as I jumped to my feet. Victoire didn't usually knock, but maybe it was Teddy coming to pick up his son. I would take Louis at that moment, so long as someone took this kid off my hands. I could hear him tearing a page out of the book now my back was turned and knew it was the really gory picture of the manticore eating a witch.
I opened the door and my mouth dropped open in shock. Hiram Worthing stood at my doorstep, with Balthazar Pulford standing a pace behind him.
“Hello, Rose,” Worthing said in his kindly voice, and Pulford waved his wand at me.
Everything went black.
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