Chapter 9 : Dipped in Sludge
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“Rose?” Scorpius said in a whisper.
“Unnnhhh,” I said.
“Here, drink this.”
'Here, drink this' was what had gotten me into this situation in the first place. But I did it anyway. There was a refreshingly light taste of mint that only made me want to throw up a little bit. I hid under the blankets, and a few minutes later the effects of the potion kicked in. I sat up, pushing my hair out of my face.
Scorpius was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding the empty mug of Hangover-Curing Potion. “Have fun last night?” he asked with a grin.
“Firewhiskey is bad,” I told him. “Very, very bad.”
“Get up and get showered,” he said. “You got an owl from your cousin this morning.”
Oh, great. I wondered which one and what the hell they wanted. I managed to stumble into the shower, and tried to wash off the remnants of last night's party. Firewhiskey was seeping out of my pores.
I contemplated wardrobe options for a few minutes. Purple baby hippogriffs, or Portia the Plucky Pygmy Puff in green? Both of them had glitter and were almost sickly cute, so it was a win either way. I pulled on the Portia t-shirt and a pair of jeans, stuffed a Shield Hat into my back pocket, and stumbled out into the kitchen.
“Whoa,” said Lenny, who was sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of oatmeal. “That shirt is the same colour as your face, man.”
I went back and changed into the purple baby hippogriffs shirt.
Scorpius looked like he was probably laughing at me when I came back out, but he handed me the letter without commenting.
It was from my cousin Lucy. It ended with I'm going to get you back for this, Rose, so that ought to tell you pretty much how she felt. Whoops. Well, too late now.
Scorpius handed me a cup of tea. “Victoire said you ought to owl Molly an apology, too.”
Oh crap. “Did she mention why?”
He laughed. “I think she was only joking.”
“Don't mess me about right now,” I warned him. “I'll dump this tea over your head.”
“I miss firewhiskey,” said Lenny.
“I need to go over to the bonds office this morning,” I went on, ignoring Lenny. “Is it still morning? What time is it?”
“A bit after ten,” Scorpius said.
Dear God, it was practically dawn. “Why did you wake me up so early? Nevermind, I'm going out.” I grabbed my handbag off the counter. It was sticky, and smelled of alcohol. “Ew.”
Scorpius drew his wand. “Scourgify.”
When I do that spell, hardly anything happens. When he did it, things became pristine. My handbag looked brand-new again. I gave Scorpius a quick kiss on the cheek, waved to Lenny, and headed for Knockturn Alley.
Lydia was in Angelo's office when I got there. O'Toole was sitting on the couch in the waiting area near Lydia's desk, and he waved to me. I went over to sit down next to him.
“What's going on?”
“Angelo's in conference with a new client or something,” he said. “I'm waiting for them to be finished so Lydia can cash in some bounties for me.”
“Oh.” I glanced down at the small pile of body receipts on the arm of the couch next to him. He took in way more bounties than I did. I think my record was three pick-ups in four days. Dino had once taken in five in one day.
“What are you in for?” O'Toole asked, smiling at me.
“I need Lydia to do some research for me.”
“Any luck finding Lenny yet?”
Dino and O'Toole always seemed to know what skips I was looking for, even though I never knew who they were going after. Maybe I was legendary here, too. Probably they had just turned all my cases down first, though.
O'Toole had been Angelo's main bounty hunter until about five years ago, when he'd retired, and Dino had started taking over the cases O'Toole would have taken. Apparently he'd gotten bored in retirement, and had come back to the job about eight months ago. I didn't think Dino was entirely happy about this, and it had made Angelo a lot tetchier than he normally was. O'Toole was in his fifties, with greying ginger hair and a lot of freckles, and was built like an ageing prizefighter. He had one of the thickest Irish accents I'd ever heard, and a tendency to swear in some obscure language when angry. He'd told me once it was called Gammon, and said to keep it under my hat. Since I didn't know what he was talking about, that was easy to do.
“I'm still working on Lenny,” I said, and O'Toole nodded, faded blue eyes twinkling.
“Excellent dodge, Rose. I'd almost miss that you didn't actually say you was still looking for him if I wasn't a master of the double-speak meself.”
Uh-oh. I froze. Nobody else had noticed that.
O'Toole grinned at me. “I don't care if you turn him in or keep him in your basement in a body bag, so long as Angelo doesn't make me go looking for the little punk.”
“Thanks,” I said, relaxing.
Lydia and Angelo came out of the office then, followed by an older woman who looked far too elegant to be here. Her hair was a shining silver, and she was dressed in perfectly tailored, plum-coloured silk robes. She looked very rich. That sort of person usually went to Mrs. Pilliwickle's bond office. Mrs. Pilliwickle's was much nicer than Angelo's, even in the office. They had actual potted plants in there. We had mice. I wondered what the hell she was doing with Angelo.
Angelo shook the woman's hand, and she turned to leave. Her eyes met mine for a moment as she passed, then she looked at O'Toole. I felt him go utterly still beside me.
The woman left in a flutter of expensive perfume, and Angelo breathed a sigh of relief.
“I think we're going to close the deal. Lydia, get back to work.” He appeared to notice the two of us sitting on the couch then. “Why are you loafing about here? Don't I pay you to do something?”
“Only when you have to,” I muttered. He didn't hear me, but I was pretty sure O'Toole did.
O'Toole let out a small chuckle and hauled himself to his feet, handing his body receipts to Lydia. “I'll just get out of your hair, then, Angelo. Nice seeing you.”
Angelo grumbled something in Italian and went back into his office, kicking the door shut.
“She's thinking about investing in the business,” Lydia whispered conspiratorially as she counted out Galleons for O'Toole.
“Stranger things have happened,” said O'Toole.
“Hey Lydia, can you look someone up for me?” I asked. “Just a background check.”
“Yeah. Write the name down, and I'll get to it next.” Lydia scooped the Galleons into the bag O'Toole held out. He had a mokeskin pouch that was much nicer than mine.
After he'd gone on his merry way to wherever it was O'Toole actually went (no one knew), I noticed there was something different about the wall over the couch.
“Why is there a motivational poster in the office?” I asked suspiciously, pointing at it.
It had a rather lovely picture of an old-fashioned sailboat, going peacefully across a serene ocean. Lovely and also extremely boring. Underneath it said Adversity: We cannot direct, the wind but we can adjust our sails.
“The comma has been driving me nuts all morning,” Lydia said, rolling her eyes.
“Where the hell did it come from?” I couldn't imagine Angelo bringing in anything like this. Clearly Lydia hadn't.
“O'Toole brought it in last night. He reckons it will comfort the people coming to secure bonds. I think he meant well. Otherwise it could be an insidious attack to undermine Angelo's confidence. I figured I'd leave it up just in case.” Lydia seemed quite cheerful about this possibility.
“It's horrifying. Mind if I fix the comma?” I twirled my wand a bit, and Lydia shrugged.
“Go on. You can't make it any worse.”
I managed to move the comma down two words. It still looked extraneous to me, but it was a marked improvement. I wondered if I could give it a more obnoxious saying instead. That might upset O'Toole. I had never seen him upset. I didn't really want to, either.
I left Lydia to her research and wandered over to my uncle's shop to kill time poking around the Defensive Magic merchandise. I was almost there when I saw a familiar ginger-haired figure stalking toward me from out of Flourish & Blott's. Crap. I tried to run away, but it was too late.
“Rose Weasley,” my cousin Lucy said, shaking a finger at me. “Roxanne has been hanging around me all day! I can't get rid of her! If I lose my job because you told her to carry her insane obsession with that Quidditch player into my shop, I'm going to call your mother.”
“Oh, please don't,” I said, horrified. “I'm sorry, Luce, it seemed like the thing at the time. You know how mental she is. I just didn't want her whinging later about how Hilarion would have fallen in love with her if she'd had more time with him than just an autograph.”
Lucy frowned. “Well, you might have something there, but still. Why did you have to drag me into it?”
“It couldn't be helped. Why don't you see if you can get her officially hired on? Extra staff to help out because of all the crowds expected for Hilarion Winston-Fisher's signing, and all that. That way she has a reasonable excuse to hang around, she won't be around forever, and you can put her to work in the meantime.” I gave her a hopeful, please-don't-call-my-mum smile.
“That's not a bad idea, actually,” Lucy said thoughtfully.
This was one of my favourite things about my cousin Lucy. She was quite willing to take on new ideas, and admit when someone else might have had a good one before she did. If you hang around my other cousins long enough – especially the Potters – this quality becomes very refreshing.
“All right, you're off the hook for now,” Lucy told me. “But if this goes wrong, I'm calling Aunt Hermione and telling her about that time you were at Hogwarts and you set the Quidditch stands on fire.”
“That wasn't my fault,” I exclaimed, aghast that she even knew I'd had anything to do with that. Most people didn't. I'd never been caught, actually. I hadn't realized Lucy had found out about that. Damn. She really could keep a secret, apparently, at least when she wanted to.
“I'll see you later, Rose,” Lucy said then. “I have to get back to work.” She turned on her heel and headed back to the shop.
“You're no fun at all, Lucy!” I called after her.
She waved to me. I went to Uncle George's shop.
Fred was sitting on the counter, watching the customers in the shop, and dressed in the maroon robes of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. He hopped down when he saw me and rushed forward, and I saw he had some sort of wires draped around his ears, hooked up to bits of black plastic in each ear.
“What are those things on your ears?” I asked, touching one of the little pieces of plastic.
“Some kind of Muggle things called earbugs. This girl I met in the pub last week told me they were great for fooling people into thinking you're busy and leaving you alone.” He twirled the cord around, obviously feeling he was extremely cool.
“Are they working?”
“I don't think they work on wizards,” Fred admitted. “It worked great on the Muggles, though.”
I felt like we might be missing an essential element here, and examined the earbugs a little more closely. “Is it supposed to be plugged into something? Granddad's plugs all have something you stick them in.”
Fred examined the end of the wire. “It doesn't look like a plug.”
“Well, nevermind. Has your dad got any new stuff out in Defense Against the Dark Arts merchandise?” I asked, peering around his shoulder to see the door to the back room where Uncle George kept all the really interesting stuff.
Fred perked up. “Why, have you got a case? Can I come along?”
“No, I'm just shopping. I'm stuck on my case right now anyway,” I said with a sigh. “I just wanted something to perk me up.”
“I can give you a joke wand on the house,” Fred offered. “That always cheers me up.”
It was true, joke wands always cheered up my cousin Fred. I wasn't sure that said anything good about him, as he was twenty-nine years old and probably too old to still find joke wands amusing. Of course, Uncle George was fifty-five and also found them amusing. It was probably a hereditary defect.
“Or you could come have lunch upstairs,” he added. “Mum made steak and kidney pie last night, there's still half of it left.”
I never turn down free food. Especially when it had been made by my aunt Angelina.
It was almost two hours later by the time I got back over to Angelo's. Lydia was just packing up to go to lunch herself when I came in.
“Oh, Rose, you caught me just in time,” she said, tapping her desk with her wand to lock the drawers. “Look, are you sure you got her name correct? I can't find any records on an Ambrosia Heggs.”
“Nothing?” I asked in disbelief.
Lydia shook her head. “Nope. No address, no background, no trace. Sorry, Rose.”
She hurried off to lunch, and I stood in the office, feeling spooked. Lydia had never before failed to get something for me on any name I'd brought to her. How could there be nothing on Ambrosia? Obviously she hadn't gone to Hogwarts with me after all. Victoire had been right about her being suspicious. She was so suspicious, she didn't even exist.
I was a little freaked out.
I Disapparated and headed for the Lupins'.
Most of the time when I'm scared, I go straight for family. Predictable, and a little childish, maybe, but when something had me spooked like this, I liked to be around the comforting chaos of the Weasleys. Victoire's house was the most chaotic of them all, having taken that title from Uncle George's when Johnny was born. There was no question in the family that Johnny Lupin was an agent of chaos, or possibly evil. He'd broken something in nearly everyone's houses, and threw legendary tantrums.
Teddy let me in, and I followed him as he kicked his way through the detritus of plush dragons, toy trains, and small wooden knights all over the corridor to the living room, where Victoire sat folding laundry.
“Hi Rose,” she said cheerfully.
“Ow!” Teddy yelled, having just stepped on the sharp end of a toy, then sneezed twice. “Dammit,” he added.
“Go to bed, dear,” Victoire said, totally unfazed.
“Why don't you just take some Pepper-Up Potion?” I asked.
“I did,” he said, scowling at me. “Twice. It isn't working. Why the hell is this stuff all over the floor?” he added loudly, turning back to his wife.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Were you looking for an answer more complex than 'because we have children'?”
Teddy stomped off to bed, grumbling under his breath. I sat down next to Victoire, who rolled her eyes.
“Men,” she said. “He's such a baby when he's sick.”
I nodded wisely. Scorpius was also a beast whenever he had so much as a sniffle. One would think he'd had a limb chopped off if he got a cold.
“Auntie Rose!” came a loud shriek from the hall, and a small, ginger-haired cannonball came barrelling toward me.
I managed to block him just in time, so that his head didn't do me a serious injury, and then sat back as Johnny Lupin climbed into my lap. I wondered if I was the only one who could see that he was completely naked, because he didn't seem to notice, and nor did Victoire. She was still folding laundry as if her son hadn't just attacked me with his notoriously hard head.
“Hi,” Johnny said, putting an arm around my neck. “Do you want me to defeat any bad guys for you today? I'm still a manticore, you know.”
“I know,” I said, patting him on the head. I had to admit, I was kind of fond of the little guy. He was completely mental, of course. I was pretty sure it came in the Weasley blood right alongside the red hair. I noticed he was still mispronouncing his R's, and wondered again if it was calculated. “I'm fresh out of bad guys, though.”
“You're his favourite person still,” Victoire said lightly. She was smiling, but there was a bit of anxiety in her eyes. The last time I'd babysat Johnny, we'd both been kidnapped by a couple of serial killers. That had to make any mother take pause, even if it had been Johnny.
“So, Johnny,” I remarked conversationally. “Where are your clothes?”
“I like to air out,” he told me.
Victoire was still folding clothes. “Johnny, go put some clothes on, we have company.”
“But I need to protect Auntie Rose,” he said, outraged.
“You can do that better with your clothes on. Go. Now.”
“No!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. I clapped my hands over my ears. Johnny ought to be a Quidditch announcer when he grew up. He wouldn't even need a Sonorus spell.
“Teddy!” Victoire yelled.
“Boys, listen to your mother,” Teddy's voice came from upstairs, still sounding like he had a head cold.
Normally Johnny took no notice of any parental disfavour, but he must have noticed his dad's grumpiness of late, because he stomped off to get dressed, and Victoire finished folding the laundry.
“Can I talk to you in private?” I said in a low voice. I wasn't sure if Teddy could hear our conversation from upstairs. Half of Victoire's house is under surveillance, with baby monitors and such, so she can spy on her kids. Sorry, I mean keep a watchful parental eye on them.
“Sure. Come into the kitchen.”
I cast Muffliato as soon as we were in there. We both stood next to the sink, and I told her about Lydia not being able to find anything on Ambrosia.
“I knew it,” Victoire said triumphantly. “I knew she was suspicious.”
“Yeah, but now how am I supposed to track her down? It's probably not her real name. I have no idea who she is.”
“That's a problem,” Victoire agreed. “Maybe if you go back to Gormly's, or to Annable's, you can find something to lead you to her?”
That seemed like a stretch. But I'd stretched before and it had worked out, so maybe I ought to give it a try. It probably couldn't hurt, although both places were still cordoned off by the Ministry as active crime scenes as far as I knew.
“What about your dad?” Victoire asked. “Anything new on Gormly's murder?”
I shook my head. “I haven't heard anything yet.”
“Maybe Ambrosia killed him,” Victoire mused. “Maybe she's his boss. Maybe she's his girlfriend and she killed him because he started acting like an idiot.”
When she makes remarks like that, I tend to think she's referring to her husband and/or her kids. I wondered if Victoire had ever considered killing Teddy for acting like an idiot. “I dunno, I don't think she was his girlfriend. She's too pretty, and he was definitely not. But she could be Father Christmas for all I know.”
“Oh God,” Victoire said suddenly, and threw up in the sink.
“Are you hung over?” I asked, covering my nose. Ew, ew, ew. “I thought you didn't drink last night.”
She turned on the tap to rinse the sink and then propped her hands on either side of it, staring out the window. “No, I'm not hung over.”
“I don't think I've ever seen anyone throw up like that before. Well, there was that one time when James was a lot drunker than I thought he was, but that was out a window. This was just out of nowhere, though,” I went on, still amazed at how gross that had been. “Are you okay? Do you want me to get Teddy? Or a Healer?”
Victoire turned to me with a weird look on her face. “I think I'm pregnant.”
“What, again?” I exclaimed. “Dora's only... How old is she?” I should probably know that, but I'll be honest, I'm sort of vague on the ages of the Lupin kids. Well, clearly, since she'd had to tell me how old my own godson was.
“She's going on eleven months old.” Victoire pulled a face. “It's not fair. I'm still nursing her most of the day, it's supposed to keep you from getting pregnant!”
“Guess it didn't work.” I realized this was not helpful, but what can you say?
“Nothing keeps a Weasley from getting pregnant for long,” she said, and I swear to God, a chill went down my spine. Fertile Weasley genes are rather terrifying.
“Um, does Teddy know...?”
Victoire shook her head. “I want to do a test to confirm before I tell him. I felt a little sick yesterday, but I thought maybe I ate some bad food. And I've never been regular, so I didn't really pay attention to that. But I never throw up, only when I'm pregnant...”
I really didn't know what to say. Victoire looked rather shell-shocked, so I wasn't sure if I should congratulate her or not. I was rather chuffed at being the first one to find out, but I didn't think I should probably say that either. I settled for giving her a quick hug, and she smiled at me. I decided I should probably also not mention that I'd noticed she'd been putting on weight. Guess it wasn't residual from Dora after all.
“So...” I wasn't sure what else to say, and reckoned we might as well finish the original conversation. “Ambrosia?”
“Right.” Victoire poured herself some water, and then sipped it slowly, looking thoughtful. “I reckon you need to see what your dad says. And you definitely need to tell him about Ambrosia – maybe it's an alias the Aurors know about.”
“That would be nice.” Probably too nice. I don't have that kind of luck.
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