Chapter 2 : The Warning
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"What the hell was that, Al," Rose stormed, stalking up to him and glaring. "You cannot drag us all through the mud like that!"
Albus sidestepped her carefully and slowly, pulled the coat and scarf off. Nonchalantly, gracefully, he flung them onto the nearest chair and loosened the tie around his neck as everyone else watched.
"Chill, Rosie. Nothing happened," he said in a soothing voice and Rose almost had palpitations.
"Nothing happened?! You were tried by the bloody Wizengamot! That's not nothing," she screeched and would have continued her tirade had Harry not sent a loaded look her way. Still glaring, she dropped onto one of the leather sofas and crossed her arms so tightly it looked like a crowbar would be needed to get them undone.
"Albus, Rose is right. And you know it," Harry said quietly in a voice that once made Albus feel worse than if his mother was screaming at him. That, though, was years ago. "You cannot rely on a name to get you out of trouble and I have no hesitation in saying that I'm a little ashamed."
All eyes were fixed on Albus once more as he opened the fridge and helped himself to a tall glass of orange juice before answering. "Don't for one second," he said just as quietly and forcefully, "think that I'm indebted to you. Like I said, nothing happened. Nothing worth a conviction, whether they were trying Albus Potter or John Smith."
"Don't be facetious, Albus," Harry snapped, "this is serious. And anyway, it doesn't do to have department heads hauled in to be put on trial. You're bloody lucky you weren't demoted."
At that, Albus snorted in amusement. "Right and who would they have promoted in my place? I know everything that happens inside that department and I'm not going anywhere. I told the court exactly what happened; go and find the minutes if you want to know what I said, I don't make a habit out of repeating myself."
In the silence, Rose stood up stiffly and marched over to the door; with one final glare at her cousin, she left and slammed it closed behind her.
"You and I both know that you didn't give them the full picture," Harry continued but Albus had already had enough. James and Hugo avoided his gaze as he looked over to them and he sighed.
"Fine, you think something illegal happened? Prove it. Get your Aurors onto that," he said harshly. "You won't find a thing. Department of Mysteries has higher security clearance than the Minister himself, although whoever's in charge of making sure McLaggen's little secrets don't get out is doing a pretty crappy job of it. If I'm telling you that nothing happened then nothing bloody happened! And if you're getting uppity about an esteemed Potter being taken to court, I suppose it's time to remind you that you were there first!"
The silence was awful; Hugo fiddled with a button on his shirt cuff, James chewed on his lip as he always did when things got awkward and Harry just held his son's gaze. "Fine," he said at last, "Audrey's hosting lunch on Sunday. If you've grown up by then, come and see your family for once. If you're still acting like a infant, don't bother. We have enough real toddlers to want to deal with you, too." With that, he turned on his heel and walked out of the flat. After a few moments, James walked away as well.
"I'll talk to you soon, Al. I've got training," he said softly before leaving but Albus ignored him until the faint click told him that the door was shut and the latch down.
"Well, at least they've gone," he said in a decidedly more cheerful tone and he grinned at Hugo. "Are the others upstairs?"
Seemingly used to his cousin's quick mood changes, Hugo grinned, too, and nodded.
"Then I'll get changed and we'll go and crack a bottle open," Albus said and sauntered into the bedroom, reappearing a few minutes later in chinos and a shirt. Grabbing a bottle of champagne from the fridge, the two cousins left the flat and took the lift upstairs.
"What was dear Rosie's problem, anyway," Albus asked, still cheerful despite the two glasses of champagne he'd already had. He was sat down in a leather chair in Number 221A, The Quay and had his back to the spectacular London skyline view that the penthouse afforded.
"She's worried about missing out on promotion. As if it'll make any difference; I've seen the promotion papers," Hugo replied with a roll of his brown eyes and Albus grinned.
"Rosie the over-achiever. Good to know that some things don't change," he laughed and leaned back in the chair. This was the life; champagne at half eleven in the morning, a city skyscrape behind him, friends hanging out and a pair of Dunhill trousers. Those poor sods still doing 9-5 in the Ministry had no idea what they were missing out on.
"So what now? I'm getting restless and our last sting was only a week ago," Lyra Nott complained, draining her crystal flute in one and helping herself to more.
"Patience is a virtue," Hugo muttered and Albus shot him a conspiratorial look before stretching out in the chair.
"I think... I think we wait a couple of weeks. Stay low, go back to our regular jobs. Act like nothing happened and keep our eyes and ears out for anything promising. Oh, and nothing that involves a near priceless painting this time. I don't feel like breaking into the Musee d'Orsay for quite some time," he laughed but he was the only one; everyone else had their glasses frozen halfway to their lips, shocked looks on their faces.
"Oh, come on," he continued, "you can't be serious about getting straight back into it? I'm as restless as any of you and I at least saw some action today, but people will be more cautious. Anything we do will be more obvious and think about it, are any of our contacts going to want to do us a favour if they know there's the possibility of one of us getting hauled back in front of the Wizengamot? No. Give it a few weeks and we'll do something exciting."
"Can I get written confirmation," Nick scoffed but Albus had appeased them for the present.
"And besides, I want to know how the hell they traced Darnell back to me," he ranted, standing up to look out at the skyline. It was midday and the sun was high in the sky; people as small as ants below him hurried about their everyday lives, completely oblivious to magic and wands and the entirely different world that operated around them. And that was the beauty of living in Muggle London; the four of them were as good as invisible and in case the facade slipped for one moment, there was nothing that a good Memory Charm couldn't fix and they were all highly skilled in that area. "How did they even find out about him? Were the phones tapped or something?"
Hugo shifted uncomfortably on his bar stool. "No and that's the worrying thing. There's not a secret service in the world that could get around the protection I put on our phones but somehow, the information was leaked. To be honest, we're lucky they only picked you up, Al. I doubt the rest of us would have gotten off so easily if we'd been caught."
Not satisfied with the answer, Albus stayed quiet, taking small sips of his champagne. "Well, we'll need new phones then," he said finally but Hugo interrupted him before he could finish.
"I'm already there," he said and with a flourish, whipped out four brand new iPhones from his jacket pocket. He tossed one to Nick, Lyra and Albus in turn before fiddling with his own. "Same as the last model, security's a little better. There's not much I can improve on, if I forego modesty for a moment. Just make sure you don't get the password wrong; one wrong entry and the phone wipes all the data permanently. And this time, I do mean permanently. Plus, if two of the phones have their data wiped, it sends a signal to all of our laptops and begins deleting data from those, too, until all data is gone or we manually stop the deletion."
Nick grinned, tossing his up in the air and catching it before it could slip through his fingers. "And somehow you were a Gryffindor, Hugh. I'll never understand that," he teased.
The knock at the door stopped anyone from answering. Three sharp, quick knocks.
"Who ordered Chinese for lunch," Lyra said but the sarcasm was undermined by the hesitation in her voice. No one ever knocked on the door of Number 221A, The Quay. Not once in the four years they'd used the penthouse for. Rumour had it that the Muggle government used it for interrogations. One knock could be explained, two knocks were cause for a moment's doubt. Three knocks struck fear into all of them. Immediately, everyone moved around the apartment stealthily; Hugo to the concealed control panel for the laptops, Nick to the cupboard where the pistols were kept, Lyra to the lift hidden behind a wooden door and Albus to the forefront of the open-plan space. The front line, where he always was.
Wandlessly and wordlessly, he opened the door and it swung open silently to reveal three ominous figures. The two hulks were dressed in black leather jackets, black jumpers, black trousers; the leaner, taller, better looking one in the middle had obviously raided a Gucci store before putting in an appearance.
"It's been too long but here we are, friends together once more," Maximilian Nott said jovially, as though he hadn't just walked into one of the most secure houses in London. He spread his arms wide, taking the space in and grinned.
"True, but I was rather hoping that it'd take you a little longer to find us," Albus said wryly and slipped a hand into his trouser pocket, making sure that the new phone was still in there. If things reached the worst case scenario... With a subtle glance to his left, he saw both Hugo and Nick had hands in jacket or trouser pockets, too. If the situation wasn't quite so serious, the innuendo would have been flying off the walls.
"That's no way to treat an old friend, Al," Max admonished with a hurt expression but a gleam in his eyes. The two burly men bookmarking him looked around the apartment, their eyes lingering on the glass and sharp wooden corners.
"No, it's not, but then you aren't really a friend, are you, Max? So I'll treat you however I please and you'll be thankful I haven't put a bullet in your skull already." Albus's tone was pleasant but the threat was poorly disguised; everyone present knew that none of the others were above using a little physical stimuli to get what they wanted.
"That'd be terribly enterprising but if you killed me, you wouldn't hear what I have to say to you," Max replied and he paused for dramatic effect. With a hand in his jacket pocket and another finger on the master control key, Hugo rolled his eyes.
"As if we'd want to hear what you have to say. But if you insist on telling us, get on with it. We're not waiting for Christmas," he said scathingly but Max smiled again indulgingly.
"Now that would be even more enterprising of you because, you see, you won't see another Christmas. I hope you had enough mince pies to last you a lifetime because there won't be any more for you. “
By now, Lyra's sharp nails had cut into her palm so much that she was drawing blood. "Could this be any more long-winded," she taunted but no one paid her any attention.
"You have six months left, Albus. Six months at most, I'd say. At that point, the most important of the people you've exploited and cheated and robbed will have caught up with you, regardless of where you are and what you're doing, and they will tear you limb from limb. All of you. And let me tell you something, you've pissed off a lot of powerful people who all want their come-uppance on you lot. Especially you, Albus," Max drew the 's' out into a long hissing sound and looked each one of them in the eye in turn.
"So why're you telling us this? Forgotten how much we took off you," Nick asked but Max looked at Albus as he answered.
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm telling you this because I'm going to enjoy chasing you down. Wherever you go, I'll be one step behind you and I'll be waiting for your second error. You have, of course, already made your first and boy, was it a whopper. Nothing you do for the next six months is going to be easy, I guarantee you that."
Albus' face was impassive as he stepped forward and reduced the space between them. A quiet intake of breath told him that they all thought he was being stupid but he couldn't lose; this was a win-win situation.
"I'm looking forward to this," he said quietly with a smile on his face, "because I'm going to knock that arrogant smile off your face once and for all. And I'll enjoy that more than I enjoyed taking those Picassos off you."
Max smiled tightly but said nothing. With a snap of his fingers, he turned on his heel and walked back to the door, pausing on the threshold. "People in glasshouses," he smiled, "don't throw rocks."
With that, he and his henchmen were gone and Albus breathed only when the door closed and the latch clicked. The adrenaline rush was the best part of this job and he was on one hell of a high right now.
Author's Note: well, things really get going in the next chapter- thoughts so far? -Tasha
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