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A Weirder Shade of Midnight by momotwins
Chapter 5 : A Nogtail in a Blanket
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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I was sort of hoping Angelo wouldn't be in, but of course I don't have that kind of luck. As soon as I opened the front door, Angelo stuck his head out of his office and barked, “Why the hell haven't you found Lenny Graves yet?”

“I'm still working on it,” I said, which wasn't technically a lie. I was still working on Lenny's case, just working to clear him instead of to bring him in and collect his bounty. I didn't think Angelo wanted to hear that, though. He'd probably have a coronary.

“How can you not have found him?” Angelo demanded. “He's Lenny Graves. He's probably in a pub, or down the street buying pixie dust or something. I usually see him in Knockturn Alley at least twice a week. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I said I'm working on it, jeez,” I said, annoyed.

“You want me to die skint broke and miserable. Why is everyone who works for me so bloody incompetent?” Angelo slammed his office door shut.

“Hi Rose,” Lydia said brightly. “So, no luck yet on Lenny?”

“I think I have a lead,” I said, dodging the question. I didn't mind lying to Angelo, because he was a prat, but I didn't really want to lie outright to Lydia. Best to just avoid giving a direct answer. “Can you get an address on a man named Nicomedes Gormly? He's from Ashby-de-la-Zouch originally, but I need a more current address.”

“Sure. It might take me a few hours to track him down.”

“That's okay. I can wait.” Really, I had no other choice. Gormly was my only lead on who might have actually killed Annable. And I wasn't even expecting much from him, to be honest. It was entirely possible that he was just an enterprising dealer who expanded into newly free territory. Still, I wasn't wholly giving up on the idea that Gormly would know something about who killed Annable. These kinds of people often know about rumours that never reach the ears of the MLEs, or even bounty hunters like me. And hey, maybe Gormly was the killer, and I could take him in and have Lenny's name cleared. Problem solved.

Of course, that would mean I was going to be visiting a murderer today. Not a happy thought. Good thing I had on my lucky shirt, the one with the pink unicorn with a shiny horn.

“Oh, I have someone for you. One of your favourites.” Lydia was grinning as she handed me the file.

I let out a loud groan when I saw the name. “Not Parmenter again!

“Yup. The usual, drunk and disorderly. If he ever went to a court date the first time, I think I would die of shock,” Lydia said conversationally. “It's a wonder they still give him bail.”

“It's because he always does the same thing. They know he'll turn up eventually. And he never does anything worse than bar brawls and minor theft from the liquor store.”

I really didn't want to go pick up Pyxis Parmenter. I must have taken him into custody two dozen times by now, and it was always some of the most annoying pick-ups I'd ever had to do. I don't know how he does it, honestly, but the man has no shame and far too much imagination.

Unfortunately, both Dino and O'Toole thought Parmenter wasn't worth the bother, and refused to take his cases. So I was the only one left. And frankly, I usually needed the money.

Lydia didn't know Lenny was paying me over twice his bounty, so even though I didn't actually need the money this time, I couldn't turn it down. All she knew was that I hadn't found Lenny, and I'd taken Lenny's case partly because we were broke again. It would look suspicious if I suddenly had money, and I couldn't let anyone know Lenny was at my house, or I'd be in jail alongside him. Scorpius too, and he'd probably kill me for getting him into this. Besides, Lenny hadn't actually given me the money he'd promised yet.

Damn. I was going to have to go pick up Parmenter.

“Okay,” I said, tucking the file into my shoulder bag. “I'll go get Parmenter, and you look into Gormly for me.”

“I'll try to have something waiting when you get back,” Lydia agreed. “Good luck with Parmenter.”

I was probably going to need it.

*

Pyxis Parmenter lived in a tiny, run-down house in Waltham Forest. This, of course, was because I had destroyed his last house in the process of taking him into custody. It had really not been my fault, honestly. He should have gotten that Bundimun infestation taken care of.

I wasn't sure what to expect from him this morning, so I pulled a Shield Hat out of my bag – one of the new knitted styles Uncle George had come out with for spring – and pulled it on before I knocked on his door.

Parmenter was far too canny to just open up. He'd been jumping bail for decades, so he knew the drill. For example, he knew better than to just open his front door when he'd just skipped out on a court date. He didn't have a peep hole, though, so he bellowed through the door.

“Who is it?”

“It's Rose Weasley,” I said, not bothering to lie. I'd picked him up so many times by now, he knew my voice. “You missed another court date, Parmenter.”

“No, I didn't. I was there, just invisible.”

I sighed. “Parmenter, you're really not fooling anyone. Open the door so I can take you over to the Ministry. Angelo will bond you back out again. You know he always does.”

“I'm not going back there,” Parmenter said indignantly. “Do you know what it's like in a Ministry holding cell? It takes Angelo over three hours to come and bond me back out. I don't want to sit in those dirty cells for three hours.”

Well, if anyone would know how long Angelo's average time to arrive with bond paperwork was, it would be Parmenter. He ought to get a frequent customer discount at the Wizengamot. “Don't be such a baby, Parmenter, it's only three hours.”

“Easy for you to say, you're not the one what has to do it.”

“Are you going to open the door or not?” I demanded.

“Not!”

“Parmenter,” I said warningly.

“You'll never take me alive!” he shrieked. He said this almost every time. Honestly, he practically had a script. Next would be a bit more cajoling, then hexing each other, then he would do something embarrassing to me and I would take him into custody, because at heart, Parmenter is even more inept than I am.

I sighed. “Come on, I have other things to do today, you know. Open the door.”

“Never!”

I heard sounds of scuffling, and then something heavy being dragged in front of the door. For crying out loud. I rolled my eyes at him and went around the side of the house, trying to look in the windows. I could just see Parmenter shoving a bookcase into place, blocking his front door. Great.

Parmenter turned around and caught sight of me. I ducked just in time, and the glass broke as a jet of red light came through the window. The shards bounced off my Shield Hat, handily. I hate picking bits of glass out of my hair. I would have to compliment Uncle George on the new design. Repelling small shrapnel was a handy touch. He had said he'd been inspired by me on some of the new hats. Apparently the frequency with which things are broken near me had been part of that inspiration.

I crouched down so I was under the level of the windows and hurried to the back door. Parmenter got there just before I did, and I heard the locks click shut. He grinned at me through the pane of glass in the door as I gave the doorknob a good shake.

“Come on, Parmenter! It's only three hours! They always let you back out. You're being ridiculous.”

He stuck his tongue out at me. Stupid git. I felt like a complete idiot, so I shot a hex at his kitchen window. It shattered, and I crowed with triumph. Parmenter sent another curse my way out the broken window, but it bounced off my Shield Hat. I climbed in the window, trying not to scratch myself on the glass, as Parmenter darted off into another room.

“Ouch,” I muttered as I brushed myself off. There was a cut on my elbow. I tried to get a look at it, but I couldn't see it clearly. Oh well. I would have to have it looked at later. I was determined to catch Parmenter today.

I held my wand at the ready and walked slowly after him. This was so typical of Parmenter. He never came along quietly. One time, I'd found him sitting at the bar in the Leaky Cauldron after looking for him at home for days, and we wound up both drenched in a bucket of mead after wrestling behind the counter. It took me three days to get all the shepherd's pie out of my hair, and I'd had to throw out my favourite t-shirt after Parmenter threw the jar of red pickled eggs at me.

The house wasn't that big, so he didn't get far. I was sort of afraid he'd climb out a window to run off, and sure enough, I found him in his bedroom, trying to wrap what appeared to be a piglet in a blanket while it squealed loudly and ran away from him.

“Come to Daddy,” he was crooning as he chased it.

“Is that a nogtail?” I asked suspiciously. Now I looked at it more closely, its legs were kind of long to be a regular pig. I had never seen a nogtail in real life, only in my Care of Magical Creatures textbook, and I hadn't seen an actual pig (uncooked, that is) in years – I'm a city girl, what can I say – so I was definitely not an expert on magical creatures, but knowing Parmenter, it probably was a nogtail.

“She's my darling Bessie,” Parmenter said, giving the animal a fond glance. Sheesh.

“It's illegal to keep a nogtail as a pet, Parmenter,” I said, and it looked up at me with its tiny black eyes. That was definitely not a normal pig.

“I bought her off some bloke in the pub,” Parmenter said, leaping for the nogtail again with his blanket. “She's my pet. She keeps me company. It's a lonely life.”

“Parmenter, if you come along quietly, I won't tell anyone about, um, Bessie.” I gave him my trustworthy smile.

Parmenter clutched the blanket to him, looking horrified. “You can't let them take her away! Those bastards in the Pest Division will put her down! It's what they always do to nogtails!”

“Maybe they won't,” I said. “Maybe they'll release her on a nice farm, where a lovely family will take care of her and there will be children to romp with.”

Parmenter shot a Stunner at me. I ducked, and it knocked a framed photo off the wall behind me. I returned his Stunner with one of my own and missed him by a foot. Parmenter tried to grab Bessie with the blanket again, but the nogtail had other ideas.

It turned to look at me, snorted once, pawed the orange shag carpet, and then charged me. I let out a shriek of alarm and tried to run, but I tripped over a pink squeaky chew toy in the hallway and landed on my belly, skidding a bit. Great, now I was going to have rug burn on my forearms.

I flipped over and scooted backward like a crab, up on all fours, as the nogtail bit into the hem of my jeans and tugged at my leg. “Call it off, Parmenter, call it off!”

The nogtail bit my ankle, and I kicked at its head, pushing its mouth away with my shoes and wishing I wasn't wearing purple ballet flats. If only I wore heavy combat boots like my cousin Molly. I was going to buy a pair if I got out of this. Maybe they came in pink. With glitter.

I managed to scramble to my feet, and the nogtail charged again. I ran around the room in a circle a few times while it chased me, jumping up on the furniture and everything, but it kept snapping at my heels. Eventually I made it into the kitchen and climbed up on top of the table. The nogtail tried to climb up after me, but I kicked the chairs away before it could figure out how to get on one.

“Parmenter!” I yelled. “Come get your stupid pet!”

There was slime all over the bottoms of my pants from where the nogtail had chewed on me. I could feel a breeze at my side where I shouldn't be feeling any draughts; there was a rip in the seam of my t-shirt. Great. If I ever picked up Parmenter without partially destroying an article of clothing, I would die of surprise. Seriously, when I went to pick him up, I needed to only wear ugly stuff that my aunt Audrey gave me for Christmas. Then when Parmenter threw rotten eggs and bits of pie at me, or set his nogtail on me, at least I wouldn't ruin a perfectly good shirt.

The nogtail was still snuffling around the table, making oddly evil-sounding squeaks and squeals, but there was no sign of Parmenter.

“Parmenter?”

I couldn't hear anything else. Oh, for crying out loud. He probably climbed out the window while I was busy with Bessie. I looked down at the nogtail and drew my wand, figuring it couldn't hurt to try.

I am happy to report that Stunners work on nogtails.

Once Bessie was unconscious on the kitchen tile, I went back into Parmenter's room. The window was open. Just to be sure, I waved my wand. “Homenum Revelio!

Nothing. He was gone.

*

When I got back to the office, I was feeling pretty low. For all Parmenter liked to throw sticky things at me and otherwise carry on like an idiot when I had to take him in, I'd never actually lost him before. I blamed the nogtail. Parmenter usually worked alone on his idiotic attempts to resist custody.

“Oh my goodness,” Lydia said when she saw me, a slow grin spreading across her face. “What happened?”

“I don't want to talk about it,” I told her grumpily. Stupid Parmenter.

“Did you get him?” Lydia was still obviously trying not to laugh.

“No. I'll go back tomorrow. He never stays away from home for long.” He would want to come back and check on Bessie. I could probably catch him later tonight if I went back after dark, but now I was mad at him. I didn't want to see Parmenter again for a while.

“Do you want some help with your clothes? I'm pretty good with repairing charms,” Lydia offered. “I might be able to do that cut on your arm, too.”

I let her do most of the work, I have to admit. Clothing charms always give me trouble, whether it's hems, stains, fixing holes, or removing patches of blood. Scorpius was pretty good with that stuff, fortunately. But I tried to avoid telling him about the worst of that sort of things: nogtail attacks, roofs collapsing, all that. It only tended to make him lecture me.

“I found Gormly, by the way,” Lydia said as she waved her wand, making the last of the nogtail drool stains disappear from my shirttail.

“You're the best, Lydia.” Nobody did research quite like Lydia. I think it's why Angelo actually hired her, nepotism notwithstanding. My understanding is that Lydia's dad, Angelo's younger brother, didn't get along with Angelo, and hadn't wanted Lydia to work for him, but she hadn't been able to get another job. Dino didn't much like Angelo either. It seemed nobody actually wanted to work for him. Sometimes I wondered why I was still here, especially when nogtails were chewing on me.

“He lives in a really rotten neighbourhood in Stoke Newington,” Lydia told me. “There, you're all set.”

I looked over my clothes. You'd never even know I'd been attacked by a minor-league Dark creature today. “Thanks, Lydia.”

Stoke Newington was really close to the part of Hackney where Annable had lived. Interesting. It was funny how often wizards congregated in dodgy parts of London. There were patches of wizards living all over the city, and a lot of them were on the poor side, so I supposed dodgy areas were all they could afford. Lord knows Scorpius and I don't live in the nicest building. Mrs. Kochel, our landlady, kept the really crazy people out, but we weren't exactly living in Kensington. Probably I shouldn't judge Gormly's dodgy neighbourhood, since mine was pretty dodgy too.

Nicomedes Gormly lived in a rowhouse, the end unit on the block. I could see a small backyard behind a fence, and the roof of a small shed. Nice set-up. He must be doing well at his, um, trade. I supposed if he were the enterprising type, that might be why he'd immediately set up shop in Annable's territory after someone took out the competition.

I knocked on the door and waited a while, but there was no answer. I waffled a bit, trying to decide if I should attempt to break in or just come back later. If I were trying to pick Gormly up, I'd probably try back later, but what the hell, I wasn't officially on the clock as a bounty hunter right now. I looked up and down the street to see if the coast was clear. The only person was a woman just turning the corner at the far end of the street. I waited for her to get out of sight and then tried the door handle. It opened immediately.

I slipped inside and closed the door quietly behind me. “Hello?” I called, not sure if I really wanted anyone to answer me. No one did.

The front room was furnished in a way that made me think Gormly had inherited this house from his elderly grandmother. It had the sort of furniture that old ladies tend to favour, with delicately skinny legs on the chairs and a large crocheted doily on the back of the ancient sofa. There was a china cabinet. I'd never met a drug dealer with a china cabinet before. Not that I meet an awful lot of drug dealers, to be honest.

I poked around a bit downstairs, examining his bookshelves and looking around the dining room and not finding anything more than yet more old lady furniture and an impressive collection of vintage Fifi LaFolle novels, then went into the kitchen.

The spice rack was full of things that were not normal cooking spices, I could see straightaway. Gormly really had been an enterprising sort of man – it looked like an apothecary in here. I went over to look at the pots and pans on the stove. They were cooling now, but still bubbled a bit with red glop. I had no idea what that was, but I was willing to bet it wasn't legal. There was a bottle of dragon blood near the stove. Yuck. Expensive, but yuck.

Whatever was in the small pot at the front (an unnatural shade of turquoise) suddenly popped, spitting drops into the air. One landed on my hand, and I shied back, then darted over to the sink to wash it off. I didn't know what it was, but I didn't want it on my skin.

As I washed my hands, I glanced out the small, grimy window over the sink.

Oh, holy Kneazles.

There was a man lying on the ground in the middle of the yard. He was not moving. Next to him was a shovel, covered in blood.
 


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