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Chapter 21 : Rose. --- A Coming Storm.
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Rose battled with herself about whether to admit to the eavesdropping. On one hand, she knew that she should on principle, especially considering her track record with listening in on Scorpius's private conversations and his general reaction to it. On the other, she was feeling more than a little petty, and if he wasn't going to be open with her, she didn't see why she should be honest with him.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions, you know,” Van remarked when she confided in him and Victoire a few days later. Most of the other members of their division were out doing field work, so the office was deserted. Only Lavender had stayed behind when the normal workday had finished, and she was shut up in her office.
“I should be fine, then. I don't have any of those.”
He snorted and tossed her a scroll. “Come on, finish up your report on that damn kelpie so I can tear it to pieces.”
“I thought you were supposed to teach me how to write it.”
Victoire snorted, and Van flashed a smile at Rose before turning back to his own piece of parchment. “That, too.”
When he finished his letter, Van got up and slipped into Lavender's office. Rose exchanged a look with Victoire, but was surprised to see a considering expression on her cousin's face.
“What exactly was Scorpius saying he was jealous of?” Victoire's voice was gentle, and barely above a whisper.
Rose winced. She'd made it out to seem like he was jealous of her job as a whole, not of her immediate boss – it would have been far too awkward to wade into that territory with Van right there – but she should have known that Victoire would see through it.
She fiddled with her quill. “Er -”
“It's Van, isn't it?”
Rose swallowed hard. “I – um – yes.” Victoire's steady gaze made it impossible to dissemble. “I mean, I don't think that's all of it, but... it doesn't help.”
Victoire leaned over to squeeze Rose's shoulder. “Don't worry. You'll get through this, one way or another.”
When she was getting ready to leave for the day, James stuck his head into their office. “Hey, you're still here.”
Rose threw Van a dirty look. He'd made her redo the report three times before deeming it 'adequate enough.'
He grinned back at her and saluted her with his quill.
“When did you get back?” she asked James, turning away from her boss.
“Just a little while ago. It was a bust – we couldn't find the nest anywhere. I think someone was messing with us. So, do you want to join me for dinner? I think Al is out with Bridget again.”
“You mean I won't have to cook?”
“I was thinking a stir fry. I might make you chop onions.”
She grabbed her coat. “Yes, please.”
Both men looked a little taken aback by her enthusiasm.
“I'm hungry,” she said. “And I hate cooking.”
As they stepped into the lift, James nudged her. “So, do you still get butterflies in your stomach when your boss looks at you?”
She elbowed him back. “Shut up.” She had not, in fact, stopped having butterflies, although she was getting much better at ignoring them, especially when he was assigning her a lot of dull and annoying work.
James snorted. “Well, at least you're getting them over someone you’d never sleep with, so you're pretty safe.”
The lift lurched to a stop, and the doors opened. The memos zipped out immediately, but something in James's tone made Rose pause. “What happened?”
He stepped out of the lift. She followed him, and after a moment, he said, “I met up with Roxanne on Sunday.”
“Right.” Roxanne had mentioned that she'd been planning to see James the next day when they'd gotten together on Saturday.
“She brought Marion with her.”
“Oh.” Roxanne had left that part of the plan out.
James had dated Marion Thomas, a Gryffindor who’d shared her dormitory with Roxanne, throughout his N.E.W.T. years at Hogwarts. They'd all played Quidditch together, and Rose had liked her quite a lot, though they'd drifted apart after James, Roxanne, and Marion had finished school at the end of Rose's sixth year.
James's breakup with Marion had been drawn out, messy, and uncomfortable for everyone who knew and liked them both. Roxanne had never quite accepted it, which had driven a schism between her and James, though they'd been inseparable at Hogwarts.
Springing his ex on him was unlikely to have helped mend that.
“Yeah.” James kept his head down, but from the way he was slouching across the atrium, Rose could tell that he was deeply bothered. She wasn't sure whether or not he was actually in danger of tearing up, but she decided not to offer him a hug; it didn't seem like she'd be doing him any favors if she did in such a public place.
“So how'd it go?”
“Awkward as hell. I don't think she told Marion I'd be there, so we were both equally taken aback.” They emerged into the chilly night, and he added, “And, of course, it reminded me of how long it's been since I've been out on a date.”
“It hasn't been that long.”
He sighed. “I guess not, but I still don't have a girlfriend, which is the point. Seeing your ex is much less awkward when you have a new girlfriend.” He was silent for a moment, and then he burst out, “And she kept licking her lips. I think they were just chapped, but, well...”
Rose bit back a laugh. It wasn't that she didn't feel bad for her cousin – she just felt a little awkward talking about his sex life, and she had a feeling that that was the real issue he was stepping around.
He'd given her so much advice regarding her relationship, however, that she felt like she had to push through it.
“So find some nice Auror. There are a lot of them.”
“Most of them are older than me, and besides, Dad's their boss. Awkward.”
“Hit Wizards? Dragon Research?”
He considered that. “Maybe. I'll ask Louis and Dominique if they know anyone.” He clapped her shoulder. “Good idea.”
Her mission accomplished, Rose focused on dinner. “Do we need to buy anything?”
“Nope. Let's eat.”
The next day started sedately enough. When she stepped into the early morning air, it was brisk, but not as bitingly cold as it had been during the unseasonal cold snap the week before, which had left her wishing she could afford an apartment in a building authorized to have a floo fireplace, as Victoire and Teddy did.
But those apartments were highly desirable, so they cost a lot more money than an entry-level Ministry official made.
The day stopped feeling quite so calm as soon as she stepped off the lift onto the D.C.B.'s floor. Lavender was standing just outside her office, conversing with Seamus, Julie, and Van in a hushed voice. When Rose neared them, the conversation abruptly stopped.
She knew better than to ask. Instead, she made a beeline toward Natalie's office to find Alex Finnigan, who had been a fellow Gryffindor in her year at school.
“Hey,” she said from the doorway. The office was empty except for him.
She leaned against the door frame. “So, do you have any idea what your dad's huddled with everyone about?”
“I wish. He won't tell me anything.”
“Something about playing favorites?” Albus frequently complained about that with his father.
“No. He just hasn't said anything. Maybe I'll visit them this weekend and listen at doors or something.”
“Oh well. Thanks anyway.” She turned to leave, and he cleared his throat.
“I didn't say that I didn't know anything, just that Dad hasn't told me anything.”
She whirled back around.
“My sister told me that a slew of people got carted into St. Mungo's a few nights ago. They didn't know what happened, but if they're huddled in a corner... well, I'd bet that something big is coming.” He eyed her closely. “I'm surprised Scorpius didn't tell you about it. It wasn't a secret.”
“I haven't seen him in a few days.”
“Oh. Well, anyway, that's what I heard. I'll tell you if I hear more.”
She bumped into James on her way back to her office. He glanced past her to the open doorway. “Finally wise up and decide to go for the nice Gryffindor boy?”
She heard Alex give a snort of laughter behind her. He’d asked her out twice several years earlier, with slightly awkward results - ironically, that had been back when she and Scorpius were first getting involved. “Oh, shut up.”
“You'll never –“
“Rose.” Van poked his head out of their office. Apparently, the conversation he'd been absorbed in had ended. “Come on. You can gossip on your own time.”
She exchanged a mystified look with James – Van usually wasn't this impatient – but she slipped into their office without further comment.
“What's up?” she asked as she hung her coat on the coatrack near the door and stuffed her hat, scarf, and gloves inside one of the sleeves.
“Nothing good.” Victoire was slumped in her seat, looking thoroughly rattled. Rose almost never saw her cousin in this state – Victoire was generally one of the most level-headed people she knew. That was enough to make her slide into her seat in silence, a pit forming in her stomach.
Alongside that pit of apprehension, however, she could feel the beginnings of excitement. 'Nothing good' probably meant something dangerous and productive, something that made a difference. All of those were things that Rose liked very much.
She looked at Van expectantly when it became clear that Victoire wasn't going to say anything more.
“Remember the nest your cousin was looking into yesterday?”
Rose nodded. James's squad had been in Wales investigating reports of an acromantula nest. Those had become depressingly common, to the extent that a few of her fellow D.C.B. members called them their 'bread and butter.' Rose wouldn't go quite that far, but it was true that a disproportionate amount of their time was spent dealing with acromantulas.
“Well, it seems like they couldn't find any sign of them because there aren't acromantulas in the area.”
“Oh. Well, that's a good thing, right?”
Van pursed his lips together. “Not when there are lethifolds instead.”
Rose stared at him. The wheels were turning far too slowly in her mind for her to really make sense of what he was telling her. “But they live in the tropics. And it’s been freezing here lately.”
“These ones don't.”
“But – multiple lethifolds? That doesn't make sense.”
“And yet it seems pretty clear that there are, in fact, several.”
She rubbed a hand over her forehead. She hadn't expected to ever have to deal with lethifolds – not that she didn't know how to, in theory, but in her daydreams and nightmares and fantasies, she was never fighting them. It was always manticores, or basilisks, or even quintapeds. Lethifolds were supposed to only exist in the tropics. Being in Britain – and while it was so cool, no less – made no sense.
“Could you – I don't know – be wrong?”
“We don't think so.”
“There also appears to be a basilisk wandering around London.”
Rose whirled around to stare at her cousin. ”What?”
“And another up in the Forbidden Forest. It's been pushing acromantulas have started coming closer to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.”
“Why – how do you know?”
The pit of apprehension was building. So was her excitement. It wasn't that she was happy that people were dying. She hated that.
But the prospect of doing something about it was so thrilling it verged on being intoxicating.
“Sienna found one wandering around the grounds. It said something about fleeing the forest, because it was hunting them, before it attacked her.”
Sienna Kettletoft had been part of the D.C.B. until just a few years ago, when she'd been seriously injured in a fight with some acromantulas and decided to step down to take over the Defense Against the Dark Arts post following Anthony Goldstein's promotion to Head of the school. Rose supposed that if anyone would accurately assess the situation, it would be Sienna.
“And when Goldstein went to talk to the centaurs, they said that they'd found animals that had nothing visibly wrong with them, apart from being, you know, dead.”
That definitely sounded like a basilisk.
“What about London?”
Van sighed. “Well, if it's not a basilisk, it's something else that's causing people – mostly Muggles, but a few wizards – to spontaneously drop dead or become petrified.”
“It's not a dark wizard?”
“Not unless that dark wizard has also gotten into the habit of killing or petrifying dogs, cats, and rats wherever they find people they'd like to kill or petrify.”
That also sounded like a basilisk.
“Oh.” Rose shifted in her seat. “Well, which one are we handling?”
Van shook his head. “Maybe neither. I'm not sure. We’re finally sure that the quintapeds have made it over to the mainland – or some of them, anyway. We might have to go deal with them.”
“All of this in the last few days?”
Rose looked from Van to Victoire, who had gone back to staring at the floor after talking about the basilisk in the Forbidden Forest. She looked back at her boss. “Is all of this happening at once really just a coincidence?”
“Maybe. It could be coordinated, too. We're working with the Aurors to figure it out.”
“There's also been an increase in dragon activity,” Victoire put in. “It might be unrelated, but...”
Rose found this part of the conversation much less exciting. Dangerous creatures were one thing. Coordinated attacks using dangerous creatures by dark wizards was something else entirely, and the idea made her skin crawl. “Is that likely?”
“We're not sure.”
“Are we going anywhere today?”
“No, but you'd better be ready tomorrow, because I'm sure we'll be sent to deal with something. I'm not sure what yet. At this rate, we'll hear about three more incidents involving new monsters by lunchtime.”
They did not, in fact, hear about any new incidents by lunchtime, though reports of several Hogwarts students being injured by acromantulas as they wandered the grounds of the castle had trickled in by the time they left in the mid-afternoon.
Her enthusiasm significantly dampened by this news and, more importantly, the prospect of a dark wizard or dark wizards coordinating dangerous creatures to wreak havoc on the magical and Muggle communities of the country alike, Rose decided to put her pride and irritation aside. In the face of this news, and the upcoming danger she would be exposed to, there was one person that she really, really wanted to see.
A/N: Well, this has become serious in a hurry. Nothing bad could possibly happen, though, right? ;)
I hope you liked this chapter, and as always, I would love it if you left a review telling me what you think. Either way, thank you for reading!
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