It was hard to tell how much time had passed. It was dark now, and though Johnny had managed sleep, I couldn't. It might have been ten, or it might have been two in the morning, I couldn't be sure. Johnny seemed out for the night, the poor little devil. I couldn't stop thinking about what Teddy Lupin was going to say when he found out. Hell, he probably already knew I'd gotten his son kidnapped by mass murderers. And my mum was going to make me work in Scrivenshaft's with my cousin.
I didn't see much of Worthing or Pulford for a while. Occasionally Knapper walked past the door to my prison cell of a room, avoiding eye contact with me. I was still sort of hoping that he would, in fact, free us, but it did seem unlikely at this point.
Eventually Knapper came in to take me to the bathroom, and I got a better look at the house we were in. The living room was small and dirty, with a single beat-up sofa upholstered in blue velvet. It was singularly ugly, and my tired brain focused on it way too deeply, noticing the rips and stains and missing buttons. This is what comes of letting men decorate, I could hear Victoire's voice in my head.
We passed the kitchen then, and I turned at the sound of voices arguing. They broke off when they saw me.
“What the bloody hell are you doing?” Pulford demanded, staring at his half-brother with those cold eyes of his.
“Taking her to the bathroom,” Knapper said nervously.
Pulford continued to stare at him as if Knapper were a cockroach that had dared to crawl out across the linoleum in broad daylight. Worthing, however, waved us past.
“Just go. Quickly. And no mistakes, Butrus.”
Knapper shoved me into the tiny loo at the back of the kitchen. There was nothing but an utterly disgusting sink and absolutely unthinkably dirty toilet, but I was dying. I hovered, though. Couldn't bear the thought of touching that toilet seat.
I could hear Worthing and Pulford resume their argument. Either they didn't think I could hear them, or they didn't care. Probably they didn't care. I couldn't see how the ramifications of that could be anything but bad. I had a bad feeling that the last thing I would do in this life was to pee in a filthy toilet. Horrible, really.
“She knows too much. How'd she find the old print shop, eh?” Pulford was saying. “It took the Aurors months to find it. She's been digging around too deep into both our pasts. I told you when you set that trap that we'd have to come to this. It'll be best to clean everything up now.”
“Everything is cleaned up,” Worthing responded, sounding almost unnaturally normal. “The house, the grounds, they're all empty. All we have to do is wipe her and the boy clean and then disappear. There's not a trace left.”
Oh, holy Kneazles. My heart was racing, but I let Knapper lead me back to the prison room without looking up at Worthing and Pulford as we walked past them.
When we reached the room, Knapper stopped in his tracks, looking down at Johnny.
“Oh bloody hell,” he muttered. “He's gone and wet himself.”
I looked down at Johnny. There was an unmistakeable wet spot on the front of his trousers. Ew. “Well, what do you expect?” I said, improvising. “He's little, and he's asleep.”
“Does he do this every night?” Knapper demanded, his lip still curled back in disgust.
“Er... Not every night...” I had no idea. Did Johnny wet the bed every night? Victoire had never mentioned.
Something changed in Knapper's eyes as he looked up at me, and I got the disconcerting impression that he was reading me far too well. “He's not your kid, is he?” he asked in a low voice.
A thread of terror went through me. “You can't tell them. He's just a little boy, they'll kill him-”
Knapper didn't look surprised, only a little resigned. “Yeah, they will. Whose is he?”
It didn't seem to do any good to lie about it. “My cousin's.”
“What a mess.” Knapper shook his head. “I just wanted a bit of extra gold. What a mess.”
“You're not going to say anything, are you?” I asked, unable to keep the pleading note out of my voice. I didn't want to beg from this sad little man, but it was Johnny's life. He was sort of a horrible child, but he was family. If there was anything worth begging for, it was family.
Knapper's head snapped around. He looked frightened again, and I was terrified he was going to snitch on my fake motherhood. “Yeah?”
“Bring her in here!”
Knapper gave me a wide-eyed look, but he dragged me into the other room at his brother's call.
Pulford and Worthing were standing in the ragged living room, their argument having hit the point where they could no longer let me alone. Worthing gave me that pleasant little smile, and Pulford was doing his cold-blooded stare again. I honestly couldn't say which was more frightening.
Knapper pulled a rickety wooden chair over and pushed me roughly into it. I could feel the warmth of a spell at my back and instinctively tried to move away from it, but it was too late. Knapper had me stuck to the chair.
“All we have to do is wipe her memory,” Worthing said then, but Pulford's face was red with anger.
“Killing her is the best way to be sure.”
“Killing her is the best way to earn a dementor's Kiss,” Worthing responded calmly. “They will find us. Leaving her here with no memories is safer. They won't have a reason to come after us if she's alive. If they find her body, they'll never stop looking for us.”
“Then we don't leave a body!” Pulford snarled. “Weasley owes me! Five years of my life, rotting in Azkaban! Ron Weasley is due some payback for that. If I can't have it out of his flesh, I'll have it out of his family's.”
“She's a Weasley. You never run across just one Weasley. They're like ants, there are scores of them. They will find her body and then they will find you.”
“I don't care about the Weasleys,” Pulford said mulishly.
“Her father is an Auror. Her uncle is Harry bloody Potter. Do you really want them coming after us with blood vengeance on their minds? It's better to cut and run. Wipe her memories of us and leave her here. I'll wipe the place clean of all evidence. Just don't do anything stupid.”
Pulford just pulled a face, as if the effort of a Memory Charm was just too much bother for him. “It'd be easier just to kill her.”
I looked back and forth between them. I could honestly say just then that I wasn't entirely sure having my memory wiped by Hiram Worthing was the better option. Sure, I'd be alive, but who knows what he'd do to my mind? The thought of him – either of them, really – messing with my brain made my skin crawl. At least a Killing Curse is fast. And there's no chance of spending the rest of your life in a closed ward at St. Mungo's, not knowing who you are.
God, my life really is in the crapper when I'm weighing the pros and cons of death versus possible permanent brain injury.
“She lives with a Malfoy,” Worthing said coldly. “If you don't care about the Weasleys and Harry Potter, think of the Malfoys. Do you want to go up against that family? You know who they are. Who they were. She was seen only days ago with Draco Malfoy in Knockturn Alley. Ron Weasley might send you to Azkaban, but Draco Malfoy will make you disappear forever. You've heard about the things your brother has sold for him.”
This comment sort of snapped me out of my reverie. Are you kidding? They were nervous because Scorpius's dad used to be a Death Eater? Damn, I was going to have to send Mr. Malfoy a thank-you card. Dear Mr. Malfoy, thank you ever so much for coming from an evil and scary family so people don't kill me when they meet me... Wouldn't that be cheerful. Guess I should send one to Mrs. Kochel as well, for telling them Scorpius's surname when she was badmouthing us as tenants.
Pulford scowled at him and didn't look convinced. “You should have told me about her. All of this would have been prevented if you'd just killed her when she first came to your flat.”
“Hindsight,” said Worthing.
“We should have killed them both at her flat,” Pulford added, giving me a black look.
Teddy Lupin was going to kill me for letting this happen to his kid. Assuming the bad guys didn't kill me first. I really hoped Johnny wouldn't grow up to be a serial killer because of this experience. And, you know, his obsession with manticores.
“Killing children always gets you a worse sentence,” Worthing said absently, as if he were commenting on the weather instead of murdering a three year old. He seemed to be deep in thought.
“What the hell are we going to do, then?” Pulford demanded loudly.
Worthing's control seemed to snap, and for the first time, I could truly see the monster inside him. His face darkened, and he roared back, “Shut up and let me think!”
Pulford looked at me again. “What if we just kill them and turn them into Dark objects? We can profit from this. No one will find out if there aren't any bodies.”
“They're not Muggles. It doesn't work on magic folk,” Worthing snapped.
“So? We can still-”
“So none of this has gone according to plan! It took me by surprise, and now I'm trying to think of how to salvage this before it all goes to hell!” Worthing looked furious now, and his kindly face had turned ugly and hard.
“It wasn't my fault, was it?” Pulford said hotly. “I didn't know the boy would be there. It was supposed to be just her. You should've thought faster.”
“If you could see past your knives and chopping blocks, maybe you could help do the thinking sometimes.”
Oh dear. I've seen this kind of film, when the bad guys fight like this. This was not going to end well. They were going to kill me and Johnny, and then Victoire would never forgive me. And I'd never get the money for finally having found Knapper.
Pulford stepped forward and grabbed my hair, yanking my head back. “Fine, I'll do the thinking.” He pulled out a long knife that I hadn't seen in his hand before, and put it to my throat. I could feel the razor-sharp edge begin to press, and closed my eyes and thought of Majorca.
Everyone looked over. Johnny was awake.
After his high-pitched bellow, he immediately launched himself, barrelling toward Pulford.
“What the-” Pulford took a step back, his grip on my hair loosening, but Johnny slammed into him like a tiny comet, hitting him dead-on in the knees. Pulford dropped the knife and buckled, hitting the floor with a crash. He knocked into something behind him as he fell, and it splintered and fell to the floor rather musically. Worthing's eyes bulged; that must have been his harmonichord.
Johnny was growling loudly and pummelling Pulford's knees for all he was worth, and Pulford was cursing at the top of his lungs in pain, while Knapper stared at them with his mouth hanging open like a fish. I was pretty sure Johnny thought he was a manticore right about now.
“Somebody spank that damn kid!” Pulford howled.
Worthing was shouting at Johnny too, threatening to give him a ding about the ears, but Johnny didn't stop.
“Johnny, run!” I begged, but he didn't seem to hear me.
Pulford kicked at Johnny, still yelling swear words, and finally Worthing drew his wand and aimed it at Johnny, who rose into the air above us all. Silence fell abruptly, except the sound of Johnny's continued manticore noises. He swiped at Worthing with his little fists as he hung in midair.
Pulford rolled over, making a discordant note on the remains of the harmonichord, lying on his side on the floor and clutching his knees.
“Madame, this child is a menace,” Worthing informed me.
“He really is,” I agreed, staring up at Johnny in disbelief. Why the hell hadn't he just run off when he had the chance? He ran off from his mum every time they went shopping.
“Bloody goddamn son of a -” Pulford managed to stumble to his feet, his face blotchy with rage. “I'm going to kill that little brat, and you won't stop me,” he snarled at Worthing.
“I can see that your injuries have overtaken the logic involved in our plan of escape, so I will bow to your wishes in the interests of our continued friendship,” Worthing said.
Pulford seemed to be in too much pain to understand him. “What?”
Worthing sighed. “Kill the brat.”
“No!” I screamed.
They both looked over at me, and behind them I saw the door burst open. I went weak with relief when I saw my father and uncle.
Dad's eyes widened when he saw me with Pulford and Worthing. All he managed to get out was “Bloody hell-” before Pulford snarled “Weasley!” and shot a burst of purple flames at him. Dad ducked under them, and the top half of the front door disintegrated, right where his head had been, leaving a large hole, blackened and withered at the edges of the remaining wood.
Worthing released Johnny abruptly, and his little form fell to the floor with a sickening thud. Worthing threw a curse at Uncle Harry, and suddenly everything in the room seemed to explode in a chaotic burst of colourful spells as Dad and Uncle Harry began to duel my bad guys. I couldn't move, couldn't duck or run away, but I wasn't sure I would have even if I could.
Johnny was lying very still on the hard wooden floor. It had been a short fall, but he was so little.
Suddenly my dad was behind me, and the next moment I could feel a cool sensation tingle over my back, and I could move again. I dropped out of the chair and crawled to Johnny.
“Rose, grab him and run!” Dad yelled, throwing hexes at Pulford. The moment he'd taken to cast a spell to free me instead of to defend himself had cost them, and Uncle Harry was fighting hard to make up for it. Worthing was good, though, and Pulford had a psychotic rage at my father to fuel him. It seemed a pretty even match, which I thought was pretty scary in and of itself.
Worthing was close to the ruined front door. I was never going to make it out. My limbs felt heavy and useless from all the time I'd been bound in the chair, so I huddled over Johnny, holding him as best I could with one arm, and crawled behind the ugly blue sofa, hoping it would block us from any stray spells. I rounded the corner and found myself sitting next to Butrus Knapper.
“I just wanted some extra gold,” he said morosely, his arms wrapped around his knees as he sat on the floor.
I couldn't help it. I punched him in the face. He went over backward, his nose gushing blood.
The lights from the spells continued to flash overhead, and I could hear Pulford screaming profanity at my father. I wanted to look, but Johnny was still unmoving in my arms. I put my ear to his chest and heard his heart beating. The steady sound of it brought me back to my senses. Of course Johnny wasn't dead. It hadn't been a long drop, maybe eight feet at most. I looked him over, but I couldn't see any injuries. Maybe he'd just been knocked cold. Thank God. Victoire and Teddy might just not kill me after all.
Knapper was knocked cold too, or doing a good job faking it so I wouldn't punch him again. I decided to ignore him, since I couldn't really do anything about him right now. I didn't have a wand, or I'd have Incarcerated the little weasel.
I could hear a few cracks from outside, and then a rush of more yelling in the room. I sneaked a peek over the back of the couch. The cavalry had arrived – I recognized a few Aurors who worked closely with Dad and Uncle Harry, and some of my friends in Magical Law Enforcement, including Jack Upchurch.
The reinforcements brought the duel to a swift end. Worthing was overpowered and Incarcerated. I looked around and saw Pulford lying on the floor, Uncle Harry bent over him.
“He's dead, Ron,” Uncle Harry called out.
Dad swore in disgust, and one of the other Aurors slapped him on the back in commiseration.
“Not your fault, mate, you were defending yourself.” Uncle Harry had his official, Head Auror face on as he looked at my dad. “He had your daughter, and he's killed dozens of people. No one will blame you.”
Dad looked around then and saw me peering over the back of the couch. I got to my feet with Johnny in my arms, and Dad and Uncle Harry both rushed toward me while the other law enforcement personnel started to poke around the rest of the house.
Uncle Harry took Johnny from me and examined him, giving me a reassuring smile.
“Rosie!” Dad patted me down quickly, as if he were making sure I really wasn't injured, then he hugged me close, swearing under his breath.
I let my body relax in the warm cradle of my father's arms, and suddenly it was all just too much. I burst into tears.
“Shh, sweet girl, Daddy's here,” Dad whispered, patting me on the back.
“It's all right now. You're safe.”
I sniffed, the tears still falling freely. “I still get to collect the bounty on Knapper, don't I?”
Dad let out a low chuckle. “That's my girl.”
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