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A Weirder Shade of Midnight by momotwins
Chapter 7 : A Rain of Ketchup
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 13


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My dad's office in the Ministry was one of my favourite places. It was always warm, always full of interesting things to look at (my dad's version of filing is to put paperwork in large stacks all over his desk, around the edges of the wall, and on empty spaces on bookshelves, until eventually one of the department secretaries comes in and cleans it out and files it properly), and almost always has something to eat. The wall behind his desk is covered with his victories: awards and commendations, and Ministry photos of Dad at award ceremonies. A shelf underneath all that held framed photos of my mum, me, and my brother, and one of my favourites: a photo of my parents and Uncle Harry in their first year at Hogwarts. They all looked so young and cute.

My favourite thing in his office, though, was the wall of Dad's bad guys. He had a large bulletin board, with the Aurors' Most Wanted List on top – the worst Dark witches and wizards out there – and underneath, the caseboard for whatever bad guy Dad was currently trying to catch, with known associates and crimes listed. Along one side was pinned press photos from Dad's more spectacular captures. I loved looking at Dad's case board, and loved even more looking at his victory photos, as I thought of them. The awards were nice, but the headlines saying “AURORS CATCH MEATHOOK KILLER” and the like were way better. My dad was just cool.

It was nearly lunchtime, and I was hoping my dad would pay for some take-out for us – he's usually good for lunch if I turn up at the right time – so I knocked once on the door and then opened it.

Mum was sitting on Dad's lap, on the chair behind his desk, kissing him. He had his hands buried in her hair.

Ohmigod.

I let out a squeak and closed the door quickly, leaning against it.

One of the department secretaries, in the cubicle nearest my dad's office door, looked up at me with a grin.

“Sorry,” he said. “I should have warned you, your mum went in there about twenty minutes ago.”

“They need a 'do not disturb' sign to hang on the doorknob, honestly,” I said.

“We never open the door without waiting to be invited in,” he agreed.

I shook my head in sympathy. My parents never failed to embarrass me. Apparently they had a reputation. I should know better, really, because it was always a rule at home that you never just opened the door to Mum and Dad's room, but this was his office. His place of business. Oh God, did they do the same thing in Mum's office, too?

My dad's voice called out then, “You can come in, Rosie.”

The secretary gave me another grin and went back to his work, and I opened the door cautiously. Mum was standing next to the desk now, and her clothes looked a little rumpled, but nobody was snogging, so I came inside and sat down, hoping Mum was on her way out. My mother was, shall we say, not sympathetic to the plight of overprivileged rich kids who turn into 'bad seeds', as she calls them. If I brought up Lenny in front of her, I wasn't going to get much out of Dad around her ranting.

“Hi Rose,” Mum said, and she looked a little pink. “How are you, dear?”

“I'm all right.” I didn't need to ask her how she was. Clearly she and Dad were having a lovely day.

“I'll see you tonight, Ron,” Mum said to Dad, and he winked at her. Ew.

Mum left then, and Dad settled back into his chair.

“Come to have a lunch date with your old man?”

“You're not having lunch with Mum?” I asked.

“No, she has a meeting of some sort. That's why she came by, to tell me she'll be late getting home tonight. I was going to see if your uncle wanted to grab some lunch, but I'd much rather eat with you.” Dad gave me a fond smile. He was in a good mood, luckily for me. Maybe I should send Mum a thank-you card for buttering him up for me.

“Thanks, Dad.”

We went down to the Chinese food place around the corner that Dad favoured, and I made sure to get an extra order of egg rolls. Dad always ate them all first.

I suggested we eat in his office, so I didn't have to worry about wheedling Ministry secrets out of him in public. Seemed like I'd have an easier time of it if he were somewhere he felt comfortable. Once we were safely back in the heart of the Ministry of Magic, I snagged an egg roll before Dad could get at them. He took the rest.

“I haven't seen you in a few days,” Dad remarked as he ate. He had a bad habit of talking while chewing, which he restrained in front of Mum for the most part, but didn't bother around me and Hugo. Mum says it's revolting. It didn't bother me. I had to admit, I did it too sometimes.

“I've been busy with my latest skip,” I told him. “Lenny Graves.”

“Another drug charge?” Dad grunted. He had never been impressed by Lenny much, but always tried to get him a chance to clean up instead of going to prison whenever Lenny was arrested. I think Dad felt sorry for him. My cousin Dominique had been good friends with Lenny years ago, and he'd wrung an introduction to her famous uncles and aunt out of her. I remembered Lenny coming to our house once with Dominique when they were about fifteen, and I was twelve. Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny had been over for dinner that night. Lenny had seemed so very cool to me, but he'd been star-struck by my uncle Harry. Dad still treated Lenny like that star-struck fifteen year old.

“Nope, murder.”

Dad choked on his egg roll and had to take a drink before he could speak. “Lenny?” he spluttered finally. “Lenny Graves wouldn't kill anyone.”

Nobody seemed to believe Lenny was capable of murder except the MLEs. I found that interesting, and also mildly annoying. I understood why they had arrested him, but it seemed like even a blind man could tell Lenny wasn't the murderer after five minutes of speaking to him. Was that why they'd offered him manslaughter?

“Who is the detective in charge of the case?” Dad demanded. “How was the victim killed?”

“Killing Curse,” I told him, but I drew a blank on the investigator. “Um, I can't remember who's in charge of his case.”

“The Killing Curse is Dark magic. They must have had at least a consult from the Aurors at the time of his arrest,” Dad said with a frown. “We should be handling the case. I'll look into it.”

“They dropped it to manslaughter, but then he didn't show up for his court date, so they may not offer him that deal again.”

Dad stared at me. “You're telling me Lenny Graves was arrested for murdering someone with an Unforgivable Curse, and they've offered him a manslaughter plea? Unforgivables are supposed to be a one-way ticket to Azkaban. Why would they offer him a charge that he might do eight to ten years on?”

“I thought maybe because of his dad being famous,” I said a little nervously. I didn't want to accuse the Ministry's lawyers of corruption even a little bit – after all, my mum was one – but it was pretty weird.

“Rose, you've been around me and your mum, not to mention working as a bounty hunter, long enough to know that what you're talking about is not normal,” Dad said sternly. “There is no way Lenny should have been offered a plea if they really think he killed someone with an Unforgivable. Are you hiding anything? Is there something we're missing?”

I breathed out a sigh of relief. I had to admit, I'd been feeling wound pretty tight over this Lenny thing. It didn't sit right with me, but nobody else seemed to get the full extent of the not-rightness. My dad clearly got it, and now I had begun telling him the story, I already felt a lot better.

Still, I wasn't going to tell him I was harbouring Lenny. I would just have to tell him everything but that part.

“Hold on,” Dad said, and went to his office door. He stuck his head out and said to one of the secretaries, “Get me the most recent arrest report on Leonard Graves.”

There was a general murmur of 'right away, sir' from the pit, and Dad shut the door again. I needed flunkies. It must be nice. Lydia was great, but Dad had a whole squad of Lydias to do his bidding.

“Okay,” said Dad, sitting back down and pulling a carton of beef and broccoli toward him. “Start at the beginning.”

“Lenny was in a flat belonging to a dealer named Herbert Annable, trying to score some new drug or other, and they argued over the price. Lenny went to the bathroom to calm down a bit, and left his wand in the living room. While he was in there, he heard another man enter the home and cast the Killing Curse at Annable. When he came out of the bathroom, Annable was dead and no one else was around. One of the neighbours summoned the MLEs, and Lenny was arrested. He told them about the other man, but they didn't believe him.”

“You sound suspiciously like you've already read the full arrest report, not just the bit that gets sent to the bond agencies,” Dad said mildly.

“I might have done,” I admitted.

“Your friend Jack, I suppose.” Dad sighed. “Go on.”

Jack always got the blame when I had information that Dad hadn't given me. Funny how he never minded if I got it from him, but if Jack told me things, Dad got all huffy that I knew insider Ministry information.

“The MLEs think it was a cut and dry case. Junkie and dealer fight over the price, dealer winds up dead.”

“Makes sense,” Dad said. “At least until you get to the part about the Ministry deciding to offer him manslaughter.”

“That seemed off to me too,” I agreed. The whole case was wrong to me, but now he'd mentioned it, I knew he was right. They shouldn't have offered Lenny manslaughter. Using an Unforgivable Curse meant a life sentence in Azkaban, no wiggle room given.

“It might just be because his dad's band is so popular. Celebrity kids get away with more,” Dad mused.

Um, yeah, look at me, daughter of two war heroes and niece of Harry Potter, picking up Ministry secrets and getting illegal copies of arrest reports. I smiled cheekily at him. Dad didn't seem to notice.

“Still, it's a miscarriage of justice. If they really think he did it, he should go to Azkaban for the rest of his life, no questions. That's how the law works in these cases. Manslaughter... I suppose they tested the wand?”

“Lenny's wand was the one that killed Annable,” I said, nodding. “But Lenny swore to the MLEs he hadn't been the one using it. No one else saw the man he heard, though.”

“So what aren't you telling me?” Dad asked. “I can see on your face that there's more. Go on.”

I leaned forward and took the orange chicken from him. I love orange chicken. “Well, I thought it was odd, so I started looking into things. I questioned the neighbours, and they confirmed they hadn't seen anyone else but Lenny there that night, but they also didn't actually see Lenny kill Annable. One of his neighbours told me Annable had been arguing with another man recently, and Annable was scared of him. Annable told his neighbour that he and this other man worked together. I started poking around for Annable's known associates and any enemies, and it turns out, the morning after he was killed, another drug dealer moved into his territory.”

Dad's eyebrows rose. “Awfully organized, isn't that? They're not normally that quick on the draw.”

“Exactly. So I asked around, and found out the man had been thrown out of the Grinning Troll for trying to sell down there. Skone gave me the wand he'd taken from the dealer-”

“I didn't hear that part,” Dad said. “Illegal confiscation of a wand.”

I gave him a look. “Um, yeah. Anyway, I traced it to the wandmaker and got the name of its owner, a man named Nicomedes Gormly. Lydia looked up a current address for me and I went over to look around – um, you didn't hear this part either, Daddy-”

He waved his hand dismissively, unconcerned that I was about to reveal something illegal that I'd done. He was leaning forward now, obviously interested in the story.

“When I tried his front door, it was unlocked, so I went inside and looked around. He was obviously manufacturing drugs in the kitchen, and when I looked out the back window, I saw a man dead on the ground. So I summoned the MLEs, but they wouldn't tell me a thing.”

“Who was in charge of that murder scene?” Dad asked.

“Phineas Hibbitt.”

He nodded. “Good man.”

“I don't know who killed Gormly, but isn't it suspicious? It has to be related.”

“Not necessarily,” Dad said. “Drug dealers get killed all the time. Same M.O.?”

I shook my head. “Looked like Gormly was killed by a shovel blow to the head.”

Dad raised his eyebrows again. “A shovel? Wow.”

“Skone told me there was another woman asking about the dealer who'd moved in on Annable's territory,” I added. “I don't know who, though. He didn't get her name.”

“Another bounty hunter?” Dad suggested.

Oh, holy Kneazles. I hadn't even thought of that. Would Angelo hire someone else without telling me, and send her after the same case? Yeah, he probably would, but Lydia would have told me about it. “I don't think so,” I said slowly. “But you never know.”

“Could be a freelancer. Well, it's suspicious, at the least. Keep an eye out, in case you see her. I'd question her if I were you. Find out who she is and what she knows. Did you get a description from Skone?”

I nodded.

“Good girl.”

The door to Dad's office opened and a petite, dark-haired woman walked in. I reckoned she was one of the secretaries, and sure enough, she handed Dad a file.

He nodded at her as he took it. “Thank you, Marie. Can you also pull the file on the murder of Nicomedes Gormly?”

“Yes, sir.” She smiled at me and then left. Very efficient. I really do need flunkies.

Dad opened it and skimmed the reports. He glanced up after a minute and gave me a look. “You definitely read this report, Rosie.”

Since he'd called me 'Rosie' and not 'Rose', or worse, used my middle name as well, I knew he wasn't upset. I smiled at him and he went back to reading.

When he finished, he looked up at me and tapped the file. “There is no way this should have been downgraded to manslaughter. Either Lenny's dad is pulling some strings to get him a lighter sentence, or something fishy is going on here.”

“I don't think it's Lenny's dad,” I said, and then immediately wished I hadn't. I couldn't exactly tell Dad that Lenny had done a bunk on his court date because his dad's lawyer had basically told him he wasn't going to be found innocent.

“Why is that?” Dad asked.

“Just a feeling.” I went on quickly, “Would Lenny be missing if his dad were trying to get him a lighter sentence? And wouldn't his dad be fighting for him to be exonerated completely? Lenny told the MLEs he didn't do it. His dad would believe him, you would think.”

“Maybe.” Dad looked thoughtful. I hoped I had sufficiently diverted his attention. I didn't want him finding out Lenny was at my place when he was supposed to be in a holding cell awaiting trial.

“Do you think Lenny did it, Rose?” Dad asked quietly, and I looked back up at him. We locked eyes.

“No,” I said. “I don't.”

Dad nodded, but he didn't take the subject any further. I breathed a sigh of relief when he said, “I'm going to review the case, and Gormly's. I might have your mum take a look, too. Something isn't right here.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

I really had nothing else to do the rest of the day, but since we needed money, I decided I'd better spend my time wisely and go pick up Parmenter.

I checked his house, but he wasn't home. Normally I would break in and make sure, but I was afraid that nogtail was still in there. Who keeps a nogtail as a pet? Honestly. I Disapparated, heading for his job.

Parmenter currently worked at a place at the tail end of Diagon Alley that served cheap, oily food. He was mopping the floor when I came in, and his eyes widened when he saw me.

“You can't take me into custody here,” he said in a stage whisper. “I'll lose my job!”

“Then come along quietly, and you can be back to finish your shift in a couple of hours.” This was a forlorn hope, I knew, but I always tried to convince Parmenter to come along without a fight. It never worked.

His nostrils flared a bit, and I could see the words You'll never take me alive! flashing across his mind, but he managed to restrain himself from shrieking it out like he usually did.

Instead he dropped his mop and grabbed a bottle of ketchup from the tray of condiments on the counter behind him. “Don't come any closer!”

“What are you going to do, shoot me with the Magic Ketchup Pump of Death?” I asked sarcastically. “Come on, Parmenter, just put it down.”

“You'll never take me alive!” he yelled. I reckoned he couldn't resist.

I shot a Stunner at him, but he leaped aside and it hit the wall in a burst of red light. A witch in the back of the restaurant grabbed her kids and hurried outside via the back door. The only other people in the place were a spotty kid behind the counter, who ducked down behind it, and an old man in a booth at the front. He was still eating his chips placidly as if he hadn't noticed a thing.

“Parmenter, this is stupid!” I yelled, ducking down behind a booth. A hex went over my head, followed by a squirt of ketchup.

“I'm not going back there! You can't make me!”

I peeked around the booth and aimed another Stunner at him. He swore loudly and squirted the ketchup at me again, then tossed it aside as if he hadn't realized he didn't have his wand in that hand.

The ketchup had landed on my shoe. I stomped my foot a bit, and some of it slid off onto the dirty tile floor. Stupid Parmenter. He always had to do something ridiculous. I took another peek, and this time a glob of sauerkraut flew at me, splattering against the wooden bench.

Parmenter yelled another hex, and the condiments exploded, raining ketchup, mustard, and various sauces all over the restaurant. I put my arms up to cover my head. Worcestershire sauce dripped off my elbows. Another shirt ruined, I thought, annoyed.

I shook the sauce off and leaned around the edge of the booth again, aiming a Body-Bind Curse at Parmenter. It caught him on the shoulder, spinning him around before he fell like a plank of wood, his body straight as a board. Silence suddenly echoed through the restaurant.

I scrambled to my feet and squelched through the ketchup and mustard all over the floor over to Parmenter's stiff form, sliding once in a puddle of pungent sauces. “Why do you always have to do this?” I sighed. His eyes swivelled wildly, but he couldn't speak. Probably best. He didn't look happy.

“I didn't order any salad cream,” said the old man at the front, brushing some off his fried fish.

*

The officer on duty at the MLE offices laughed his head off when I brought Parmenter in, both of us covered in condiments, and made me pose for a picture with him. I think he might have asked for my autograph on the photo if he could. It was embarrassing. So much for the legend, although probably this was the sort of thing that had made me legendary in the first place. Maybe I wasn't a good legend like my dad was.

I took the body receipt triumphantly to Angelo's, and Lydia, chortling under her breath, gave me the bounty on Parmenter. It did not seem sufficient for having been covered in ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, but it was better than nothing.

“I have good news for you,” Lydia said. She was still grinning as she looked at the mustard stains on my jeans. “I was looking into that Gormly bloke some more, and I found an associate of Gormly and Annable's. Similar criminal record and pattern of drug arrests, and they were all arrested on the same occasion twice. I thought you might like to check him out. He's got a few more violent priors than either Annable or Gormly, though.”

More violent priors didn't sound terribly appealing, but until my dad came up with something from the reports on their murders, I had no other leads on either Annable or Gormly. I took the sheet of parchment from Lydia and read over her notes.

Archie Cullip had a rap sheet longer than my arm, most of it drug dealing convictions and a few assault and batteries. There was one knifing, but no Dark magic. Maybe he wasn't entirely bad. It seemed he would be more likely to be the shovel-to-the-head killer than the Killing Curse killer, but I supposed he might have done both. Hey, maybe Gormly had killed Annable and Cullip had killed Gormly. A chain of murdering drug dealers? Stranger things had happened.

If he was the murderer of one or both of my dead bodies, I didn't really want to go poking around his place by myself. I reckoned I would do some surveillance first and see how scary he looked before I went to talk to him. I'd gone in blind to Gormly and found a dead body. Caution seemed to be in order this time.

And hey, if I was going to do surveillance, it meant I could bring a friend.

 


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