I left Victoire cleaning out the sink, and went home to check on Scorpius and Lenny. They were sitting at the kitchen table playing some sort of complicated card game of the sort Scorpius always tried to teach me and then despaired when I laid down cards at random. I stood behind Scorpius, watching him play, and couldn't decide whether or not to tell him that Ambrosia wasn't who she said she was (I generally don't tell him about things that are likely to upset him).
On the one hand, maybe he would have an idea of what to do next.
On the other hand, maybe he would get upset and make me turn Lenny over to the Ministry.
He seemed to like Lenny. Maybe we were safe after all. I sighed. This case was getting a lot more complicated than I'd thought.
Someone knocked on our door, and I jumped a little, startled. Scorpius looked up at me, and I shook my head to tell him I wasn't expecting anyone.
“Who is it?” he called, getting up from his chair, cards still clutched against his chest.
“It's Rose's dad,” came my dad's voice from the other side of the door. He always says this, as if he thinks Scorpius might not know him by name. My parents are so weird sometimes.
I grabbed Lenny and hauled him into the bedroom. He appeared to have grasped the gravity of the situation, probably because my dad had been trying to have him locked into a rehab facility for years, because when I shoved him into the closet and put a finger to my lips, Lenny only nodded and sat down, curling up behind some of my longer robes. I cast a Silencing Charm on the closet just to be safe, then turned to Scorpius with a nod. He opened the door, and my dad stepped inside.
“I didn't catch you at a bad time, did I?” he asked, looking at us askance as he headed for the couch.
I was standing in the bedroom doorway, I realized. Whoops. Well, better for him to think that he'd just interrupted us in a, um, private moment than for him to think we had an accused murderer hiding in our closet.
“No, Rose and I were just in the middle of a game,” Scorpius said, setting his cards down.
“Playing cards? Like a little old married couple now, eh?” Dad said, chuckling, then appeared to register what he'd said. “Not that I'm saying you ought to get married,” he went on quickly. “Although it would make your grandmother happier than you living in sin like this. Oh, bloody hell. Forget I said anything, all right?”
I sat down next to him and grinned. “Everything all right, Dad?”
My dad hardly ever stopped by our place. Usually we went to visit him and Mum at their house. My parents didn't entirely approve of my relationship with Scorpius and never had, but they were pretty well used to it by now. Mum was a little more accepting than Dad, actually. Still, I don't think they liked to stop by and see where the relationship was happening, as it were.
Scorpius, of course, had learned exactly how to get round my father. “Mr. Weasley, would you like something to eat? I made a crumble this morning.”
Dad tried and failed to pretend he didn't care for crumble. “All right, thanks.”
Scorpius went to serve my dad up a plate (I noticed he hadn't offered me any crumble when I came in), and Dad leaned over toward me.
“Does he know about the case you're working on?” he asked in a whisper.
I nodded. Scorpius was already on his way back. “I told him about it.”
“Okay. Cheers,” Dad said to Scorpius as he took the plate from him. It looked really delicious. I reached over to steal a bit, but Dad intercepted me with his fork and fended off my fingers. “Get your own,” he told me, holding the plate out of my reach.
Scorpius sat down opposite us in his armchair, and raised his eyebrows. Apparently he was also wondering what had caused my dad to come over to our flat when he almost never did so.
“I've been looking into Lenny's case,” Dad said then, around a mouthful of crumble. “This is really good, Scorpius. You ought to teach my wife to make this.”
Scorpius grinned. Mum's cooking was rather infamous. If she'd been taught how, and it wasn't overly complicated, she could generally reproduce a dish. Recipes escaped her somehow though. And don't even get me started about her trying to improvise. I still have sympathetic digestive trouble at the memory of some of Mum's less notable attempts to wing it in the kitchen.
“Anyway, I can't find who authorized the manslaughter plea,” Dad told me. “The lead investigator took a sudden vacation to Istanbul in the middle of the case, and the MLEs who've taken over his workload have no idea what's going on or when he'll be back. There are notes missing from the file, and no record of who the Ministry attorney was on the case, nor any record of a consult from the Auror department. Harry says he never heard anything about it, and if they spoke to anyone in our department, we haven't found who it was. They're supposed to at least have a word with the Aurors if there's Dark magic involved,” Dad added for Scorpius's benefit. “In a case like this, we probably wouldn't have taken over, because it would have seemed like a one-off deal. But they let him out on bail, and offered him manslaughter, and bungled the paperwork and procedure completely. It's bizarre.”
“Uncle Harry's looking into it too?” I had not missed his remark about Harry not knowing about the case. Uncle Harry was Head Auror, so I supposed it only made sense, but I felt a little uneasy about how big all this was getting. Next he was going to tell me he'd told Mum all about it.
“I spoke to your mum as well,” Dad said.
“She's looking to see who the attorney might have been. She says it smacks of corruption, so of course she wants to get to the bottom of it.” Dad scraped the last of the crumble off the plate. I think he would have licked the fork clean if we weren't watching him.
Mum was on the lookout for corruption now. This was turning out to be a lot deeper into the Ministry than I'd realized. I was suddenly very glad I'd told Dad about the case, although it seemed like the chances of my being caught harbouring Lenny had got much more likely now that Mum and Uncle Harry were involved as well.
“Just be careful until we figure this all out, all right Rosie?” Dad went on. “And if you find Lenny, don't bring him to the desk officer on duty. Bring him straight to me.”
Scorpius glanced at me with wide eyes. I tried to tell him silently not to give us away, but luckily, Dad was looking over at the kitchen.
“Second helping of crumble, Dad?” I said quickly, snatching up his plate and handing it to Scorpius.
“Yeah, that'd be great. I hardly got any lunch today. Your mum was so busy ranting about corruption and bribes and such, she almost put me off my food.” Dad grinned.
“What about the murder of Nicomedes Gormly? Any news on that?”
Dad's grin faded. “Hibbitt is still working on it. I trust him to do the job right, but I'm keeping an eye out. It was a vicious murder. I saw the body in the morgue. Stoved his head right in, poor fellow.”
“He was a drug dealer, Dad.”
“Still a terrible way to die.” Dad accepted the second helping of crumble with a nod of thanks, and then sat poised with his fork over the plate for a moment. “Look, Rosie, you might be right that Gormly actually killed Annable, but there's no witness, and now he's dead so you'll never get a confession out of him.”
“Not unless we find Gormly's killer,” I said.
“Unless Lenny killed both of them,” Dad said, forking up some crumble.
Scorpius and I exchanged a glance. Oh, holy Kneazles. We were Lenny's alibi for the Gormly murder. He'd been with Scorpius when it happened. But we couldn't alibi him out without giving ourselves away as illegally harbouring a fugitive. I'd be sacked, we'd probably both go to Azkaban, and in the end Lenny might still go to prison for murdering Annable, so it would have all been for nothing. The full magnitude of our involvement with Lenny was starting to hit me, and I almost wished I had just taken him in that day I'd found him in the pub.
But then Lenny might have gone to Azkaban for the rest of his life for a murder he hadn't actually committed.
“What about the blonde woman Skone told you about?” Scorpius asked me. “Have you found her?”
“Actually...” It seemed the decision on whether or not to tell Scorpius about Ambrosia was out of my hands. I was going to have to tell both of them now. “I think it might have been Ambrosia Heggs, but she doesn't actually exist.”
“What?” said Scorpius.
“Who?” said Dad.
“It was Victoire's idea,” I told them.
Dad set his fork down on the plate and then carefully put the plate on the table. He sat back and looked at me sternly. “Start from the beginning, Rose.”
“You remember I told you that Skone, the barman at the Grinning Troll, said a woman with blonde hair and blue eyes had come round asking about Annable just before I had?”
“You told me he gave you a description,” Dad said with a grunt. “You didn't tell me what it was. Go on.”
“Well, so then I took the wand and traced it to its maker. When I got there, he was with a client. I didn't think anything of it at the time. On her way out, she spoke to me, said she'd gone to Hogwarts with me, and she told me her name was Ambrosia Heggs. Blonde hair, blue eyes, kind of pretty, matched Skone's description.”
“Yeah, but so do thousands of other witches,” Scorpius pointed out.
I rolled my eyes. “I know, that's why I didn't think anything of it at the time. I didn't remember her from Hogwarts, but then I asked round and you didn't remember her, nor did Hugo or Victoire, and then Victoire and I were watching Cullip's house-”
“Who is Cullip?” Dad said. He had his Auror face on, and I wondered how much I should tell him.
“He's another drug dealer. Lydia Agnelli turned him up as a known associate of Annable and Gormly. No evidence of his involvement, he just seemed like he might be a lead. I was getting kind of desperate,” I admitted.
“I'll have him picked up and questioned,” Dad said. “It can't hurt.”
Man, it was good to be an Auror. Flunkies and the ability to pick up anyone for questioning. “Well, while Victoire and I were watching his house, we were talking about the case, and she suggested that the blonde Skone mentioned might be Ambrosia. And it kind of made sense. When I got to the wandmaker's, she was already there, and after she left, he was acting kind of odd.”
“How could you tell?” Scorpius asked doubtfully.
“I mean odd even for a wandmaker. Like he'd just had his memory modified or been Confunded or something. And he said the purchase record for Gormly's wand was right on top. Why would it be right on top unless he'd just looked at it? Gormly bought that wand twenty years ago.” Now I thought about it, it was making a lot more sense. I hadn't really noticed the receipt thing until I'd started talking about it, but it really didn't fit unless Ambrosia had been questioning him about Gormly, too.
“Well, she's right up there on my list of suspicious persons,” Dad agreed. “Why do you say she doesn't exist?”
“I asked Lydia to run a background check on her so I could do some surveillance, but she didn't turn up a thing. No one by that name exists, no matter how you spell it.”
Dad frowned. “So she's using an assumed name.”
“Why would she tell you she went to Hogwarts with you, then?” Scorpius asked.
“Probably just distracting you until the wandmaker came round from whatever spell she'd cast on him,” Dad said. “Plus it made her less noticeable at the time, giving you an identity that you wouldn't question. Most people wouldn't have noticed a thing. Smart, really.”
I hadn't noticed a thing, actually. Victoire had. I reckoned he was right, it had been a pretty smart move.
“I'll see if Ambrosia Heggs is a known alias of anyone the Aurors are looking for,” Dad went on. “We'll find out how she fits into all this. Do you think she's the one who killed Annable?”
I shook my head. “Lenny said he heard a man's voice. Ambrosia definitely sounded like a woman. Soprano. Maybe she's the one who killed Gormly.”
“She's involved somehow. I've got a feeling Gormly was involved in this whole Lenny and Annable thing, too.” Dad got to his feet. “I'm going back to the office, see what I can find out about this woman. If you find anything new, let me know.”
“Notice he didn't say he would let me know if he found out anything,” I remarked dryly after Dad had left.
Scorpius didn't seem amused. “You probably shouldn't bring Victoire along any more on this case, you know. What if Ambrosia is dangerous?”
An image of Nicomedes Gormly's body flashed into my head, his skull bashed in with a shovel. Dad was right, it was a terrible way to die. I shivered a bit. If Ambrosia had done that, I didn't want to be around her, much less bring any of my cousins along. And Victoire was probably pregnant. I wasn't bringing her anywhere right now.
The rest of the week crawled by like it had been coated in treacle.
I played a lot of hangman with Lenny. He was looking much better now, almost like his old self again. Scorpius was nearly finished with the painting of Lenny and his guitar, and I had to admit, it was extraordinary even for him. Lenny sat in a shaft of golden sunlight in the portrait, strumming his guitar. The final enchantment wasn't on it yet, so nothing moved. Scorpius always left that for last, because he said if the spells went on too soon, the portrait argued with him on his technique and his colour choices. Even without the animation of the portrait, it was amazingly life-like.
By Friday, I was going completely mental just to get out of the house.
I wasn't sure what to do next, to be honest. My leads, such as they were, had dried up. I didn't know how long it might take my dad to get to the bottom of whatever was going on at the Ministry over Lenny's case. All in all, I was feeling pretty inadequate as a private investigator, even a fake one. I hadn't found anything to clear Lenny. All I had found were more mysteries. And a dead body.
And we were still very, very broke. I needed a quick pick-up or we were going to have to go raid my parents' kitchen in order to eat, never mind paying our rent. Mrs. Kochel had evicted us once before, and I didn't want it to happen again.
And if I played one more game of hangman with Lenny, I was going to lose it.
Lydia was sitting on her desk, waving her wand through the air so that the stacks of paperwork filed themselves. The drawers in the filing cabinets opened and closed in an almost rhythmic way. I sort of felt like I should do a harmony to it.
“Hey Rose,” Lydia said when she saw me. She was chewing gum again, and the blueberry bubbles were floating over her head like miniature rainclouds.
“Hi Lydia. Got any new skips I can pick up?” I gave her a hopeful smile.
“You can look through the pile there,” she said, nodding at a small stack of files on one side of her desk. “I was going to give them to Dino and O'Toole, but if you think you can handle any of them, go for it.”
I was pretty sure I couldn't handle them, but I looked through anyway. Aggravated assault, robbed a Muggle bank, train heist (wow), forgery-
“I'll take the forger,” I said. How hard could that be? Forgers weren't violent, right? I looked through the file. Joseph McBride had been arrested for trying to produce fake Galleons and pass them off as the real thing. Minting one's own coins, pretty bold choice there. His bond would net me a hundred and fifty Galleons. It wasn't quite enough to cover rent, and I wouldn't be able to pay Hugo back yet, but it would keep us afloat a bit longer.
There was a grainy photo attached, but it wasn't terribly helpful. I reckoned I'd go to his house first, see what I could find, and then see if I couldn't knock him out with a Stunner before he could get away. I hoped he wasn't a runner. I hated chasing people.
“Hope it's an easy pick-up,” Lydia called as I left.
Yeah, me too.
Joseph McBride lived on the outskirts of Glasgow, on the banks of the River Clyde, in a thatched cottage that looked like something out of a postcard. I stepped through the fence, admiring the carefully tended garden. There had to be a Mrs. McBride. I hardly ever run across well-kept felon's homes unless they were female. Not to say that men didn't keep house well; clearly Scorpius was much better at it than I was, but in my experience, petty thieves and public drunkards do not often enjoy gardening or maintaining their homes.
I examined the house, planning my attack. Maybe he wasn't violent. Maybe he would come along quietly and Angelo could bond him back out this evening. No harm done, right? Unfortunately, they almost never came along quietly.
I pulled on my knit Shield Hat just in case and knocked on the door, preparing my standard trustworthy smile and opening remarks. The door swung open a few minutes later, and a man leaned against the doorjamb and smiled at me.
My eyes bugged out, I know it. Holy Kneazles. He was gorgeous. Dark, wavy hair fell over his deep blue eyes, and curled around the edges of his chiseled jaw. Wow. Seriously, he should have been a model or something. I'd be willing to lay odds his posters would out-sell Hilarion Winston-Fisher's.
“Um,” I said.
“Can I help you?” the gorgeous man said in a delightful Irish lilt.
“Um. I'm, um, looking for Joseph McBride,” I managed, wondering if I could pinch myself surreptitiously, or if he would pose for a picture so I could show Victoire.
“I'm Joe McBride,” he said, and my heart drooped a little. I had to take the gorgeous man into custody. It seemed a huge shame. He was so very pretty.
“Oh,” I said. I sounded extremely intelligent this afternoon.
“What's your name, darlin'?” McBride asked.
“Rose Weasley.” I opened my mouth to go on, but he had taken my hand and was pulling me closer.
“Rose. What a beautiful name, and what beautiful hair. Are you Irish, darlin'?”
“Um,” I squeaked. He was stroking my palm with his thumb, and my thoughts scattered. Scorpius! Think of Scorpius! I pulled my hand away and said, trying to keep my voice normal, “I work for Angelo's Magical Bonds, and you-”
“Let's not talk about such unpleasantness,” McBride cooed, and I realized he'd drawn his wand. I went to pull mine out of my pocket, but McBride was faster.
The spell bounced off me, and I remembered I was wearing my Shield Hat. Whew. Thank you once again, Uncle George.
“Damn,” said McBride, and slammed the door in my face.
Crap. Why are the really good-looking blokes always prats? I banged on the door. “Joseph McBride, you are in violation of your bond agreement, and I am legally authorized to-”
“Bugger off, English bitch!”
He sounded much less good-looking now. I sighed in annoyance and tried again. “I am legally authorized to bring you to the custody of-”
He yelled something in Gaelic. All Gaelic sounds a little like swearing to me, but I was pretty sure this actually was swearing.
For crying out loud. I went around the side of the cottage, hoping he had a back door that hadn't been sufficiently enchanted, and tested the wards on the house as I walked. As I'd suspected, anyone who was willing to forge Galleons was willing to pony up on the protective enchantments. His house was a fortress. The MLEs had been lucky to catch him spending his fake gold in Diagon Alley, because they never would have gotten him out of here without tearing the house apart at the seams.
The back door was sealed just as tightly as the rest of the house. I backed up a few paces. I'd never done this on a thatch roof before, but what the hell. There was a first time for everything.
Most people did not put enough protective enchantments on their roofs, oddly enough. You would think they would, but strangely, it's a part of the house that goes largely ignored as security measures go. This was a recent discovery of mine, and I suspect it was because most people would rather blast their way through a door or window, or even a wall, than climb up onto a roof.
I am far lazier than most people. Blasting my way in would take a lot more effort than breaking in through the less well-protected roof.
I Disapparated, and reappeared on the roof, stumbling a bit as I got my footing, but I didn't go through the thatch. Ha ha! Take that, gorgeous forger!
A blast of green flames came through the thatch right next to my foot, and I scrambled back a bit. The singed straw crackled around the hole he'd left.
“Are you crazy?” I yelled.
“Get off my roof!”
Another burst of flames followed his words, and I moved again, further up the roofline. It was a lot steeper than it had looked on the ground. I had to put a hand on the thatch to steady myself.
McBride sent two more columns of flames at me, and I realized it was getting a little smoky up here. The thatch was on fire.
McBride's scream of rage came through just as I realized the thatch was giving way underneath me. I Disapparated just before I began to fall, reappearing inside the cottage as some of the roof collapsed where I'd been standing. McBride was right in front of me. I grabbed his arm and Disapparated again before he could do more than twitch his wand at me.
We popped back into existence inside the Ministry of Magic, amongst the Floo fireplaces where most people were coming and going from the building.
“Oh, bloody hell,” McBride muttered, but I had my wand jammed in his back.
“Come along quietly or I'll Body-Bind you,” I told him.
“Fine,” he grumbled ill-temperedly. “But you better send someone to put out that fire.”
The officer on duty was my friend Jack Upchurch, which would have been a relief the day I'd brought in Parmenter. He grinned when he saw me and crowed with delight.
“Yes! I was hoping I'd draw the night you brought someone in. What happened? Honey? Bees? Killer bees? Ice lollies again? Another rain of condiments? I was quite sad to miss that one. Wait, let me get my camera-”
“Shut up and give me a body receipt,” I told him.
Jack took hold of McBride's arm and plucked his wand out of his hand. “I'll take that, my lad.”
“Oh, and his house was on fire when I left,” I added. “Can you send someone over?”
Jack started laughing, while McBride glared at me.
“It wasn't my fault,” I said.
Jack managed to regain enough breath to speak again, red-faced with laughter. “Oh, Rose. I do love you so.”
“Glad I could amuse you,” I grumbled, but I did get the body receipt, so overall, it was a fair cop.
Write a Review A Weirder Shade of Midnight: A Model Forger