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Sevenfold by Lululuna

Format: Novel
Chapters: 12
Word Count: 65,526
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Mystery, Young Adult
Characters: James (II), OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 04/19/2014
Last Chapter: 08/21/2014
Last Updated: 08/21/2014

Summary:
lovely banner by LilyLou.|| Dobby 2014 Finalist: Best Plot Twist.||TGS 2014 Winner: Best Mystery.






In 1945, a girl was buried in Nurmengard prison. Eighty years later, figures from the Second Wizarding War are being brutally murdered. Armed with clues that lead in circles, a beautiful partner, and a meddling set of cousins and sisters, Louis Weasley must keep history from repeating itself.


Chapter 1: all romantics meet the same fate
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Chapter 1
all romantics meet the same fate

 

Gorgeous image by carpe.noctem at tda.


Nurmengard Prison, Germany, 1943

The mystery begins in a dark fortress where, among the howling of the innocent and the lamentations of spirits, a young woman is whispering a story. The listener, a little boy with bare feet and three missing teeth, will die in the morning. Nurmengard is no place for women and children – they never stay for long in Nurmengard.

When she finishes the story – an old German folk tale, about two children who wander through the woods and leave a trail of bread crumbs – the boy’s nimble fingers push through a scrap of red ribbon, red, red ribbon, the color of blood. The color of revenge. The symbol of resistance. And in the blackness that descends upon the prison, in the creeping cold which lingers beneath fingertips, the red ribbon is a promise that beyond the stones of the fortress, somebody has not forgotten.

The guards, nicknamed die Guten, do not kill the girl, for they dare not make a martyr of her. Word of her deeds spread on the wings of owls, in coded letters and telegrams, when Muggle technology is the only way to get word to loved ones in other parts of the world. The Sorceress of the Streets. The Sevenfold Killer. The Slayer of the Sinful. Poetic words which float on tongues and linger in angry dreams. She rests in a tiny cell, and on the other side of the wall is the holding pen for those who pass through Nurmengard. The wicked black fence which will blow anyone who touches it into pieces – they call the entrance ‘Gates to Hades,’ with the triangular eye looking down like the eye of the devil himself.

This group was brought in from near Hamburg, she thinks, listening to their chattering dialect. The men have already been weeded out from the women and children, dragged off to cry out in cells so far away that the wind cannot carry their goodbyes. They will be put to work, worked to death, but Nurmengard has no use for those who cannot work, not in these desperate times when der Meister must dispose of his enemies as quickly and quietly as possible, lest they rise up. Like Ada tried to do.

Executions are difficult. The Secret Police thought about bringing the magical women and children to the death camps for Muggles, to Auschwitz, to Krakow-Plaszow, those stains on the parchment of humanity. They have invented many creative ways of killing. Crumbling, one by one. But the soldiers lost their appetite for that, for looking their pleading victims in the eyes. The injection sites, where nurses feigned a medical test, leading the prisoner to stand against a measuring stick on the wall. As he waited, his executioner would inject the spine, and his fellows would be sent to take away the bodies before attending their own killings. And the newest method: the gas chambers.

But wizards have ways of spurting up unexpected magic, of protecting themselves in ways Muggles never could. Executions were foiled by someone whose power flared up inside him from fear. Or the woman whose naked body collapsed and gave the appearance of death, yet who, when examined, turned out to be alive, having cast a wandless Bubblehead charm around her face. So der Meister had to come up with a foolproof solution for killing the enemies he could no longer use. Avada Kedavra. Rockslides which fell from the sky and vanished at the wave of a wand. Bones which vanished with the stones. Fire and ashes like the witch burnings of the past. Terrible things. The girl sat in her cell and she listened as the screams thinned and grew less and less. Für das größere Wohl, it reads over the entrance to the place. For the greater good.

And through the streets, her name drifts on magical tongues, hides close to the bosoms of those who do not quite dare to resist, tucked close with the red ribbons which are sewn into their pockets. Ada Red, they are calling her. Red, like a martyr. Red, like a saint. She is Joan of Arc to them.

Before the war, before Grindelwald and his puppet, Hitler, and before their disciples wrought their horrors on the people whom she loves, her name was Ada Treuherzig. Before she became the sevenfold killer. Before the life of Ada Treuherzig was ended.

But nothing truly ends in Nurmengard.

**



Many years later, in another nation and another time.

July 4, 2027. London, UK.


“Louis! Oi, you’re being summoned to head office.” I am overwhelmed with a flowery scent and feel Emily Longbottom’s long hair tickle my cheek as she bends over me. I groan and tip my head up from where it has been resting on a teetering stack of paperwork: a rather inconvenient pillow.

I scowl at Emily, though it’s difficult. She has one of those perky, pretty faces that most people just want to stare at and drink in. Dark hair – dyed to cover up her natural dirty blond – is tucked behind her ears, which stick out a little, and she gives me a look informing me that I should know better than to be dozing at work. She has round cheeks which give her a childlike expression, and dark eyes which have known laughter.

“Emily, hold on. You mean… I… perhaps I’m getting an assignment?” I sound like a bleary drunkard, even to myself. However, this is a fair question. Emily and I, being two of the newest Auror recruits in a country with a relatively low magical crime rate, are yet to get any truly tangible cases to work on.

Emily is in magical forensics, and apprenticed to one of the top Necrowizards in Britain. While her job, performed in the dark, cold vaults below the Department of Mysteries, is a quiet one, Emily herself is one of the most cheerful people I’ve ever met. She graduated from Hogwarts in the year below, but we became quite close during the three years of training as the self-proclaimed underdogs in our class of Auror trainees.

As for myself, Louis Weasley, I’m currently between mentors. The Auror system works in teams of two, but for some reason nobody has been overly eager to pick me up. Instead, I’ve been shadowing some of the other pairs of mentors and trainees, though I usually feel like a third wheel and get all of the grunt work and none of the glory. Emily tells me that because I’m Harry Potter’s nephew, some wizards assume I got the job based on my family and not on my talent. Predictable enough, I suppose.

Being an Auror apprentice and not yet having a partner is difficult to stomach. I was already passed over by my Uncle Harry. My least favorite fellow trainee, Mickey Mclaggen was snapped up by the Auror we all really wanted – a rugged yet amiable dark wizard catcher called Savage. Technically, I’m meant to be training in the investigative stream, but other investigators have been previously paired with dark wizard catchers.

“Shouldn’t you be down in the vaults, crouching over some cadaver?” I poke Emily in the ribs, and she recoils, giggling loudly. The handful of other Aurors working at their cubicles glance up, a couple eyebrows rising, though one witch with a patch over her eye hides a smile behind a manicured hand. A memo whizzing through the air behind me – heading for the lifts, no doubt – hits me in the back of my head. Emily laughs even more loudly and loops her arm through mine.

“I’ve just been up to visit with an old friend,” she tells me, and starts pulling me towards head offices – Proudfoot and Potter’s offices, side by side. “And I wanted to give you the happy news yourself. I’m going to be on the case too, I think – though they want to get you investigators in first. Oh, hi, Quentin.” She waves to another one of our apprentice Aurors, Quentin Chang-Lu, who winks at her over a large stack of parchment. To my surprise, Emily turns a little pink.

“So there’s been a death,” I say, scuffing my fine leather shoes along the marble floor in an attempt to distract her from Quentin. They were a gift from my mother, and I’ve been trying to break them in for weeks. Emily glances over at me – she’s half-a-head shorter than I am – and winks. “Possibly a murder? Em, I’m resisting the urge to hit a high-five with you right now.” I whisper this last bit in her ear.

“You and me both,” she whispers back, wrinkling her nose. “I suppose it wouldn’t be proper to get excited about a murder.”

“Like those old bats aren’t all wishing somebody would drop dead so they could get out of their desks,” I mutter back, snorting. Unfortunately, I mis-interpret the snort and feel some bogeys rushing forward to the entrance of my nostrils – sadly, I have one of those odd, misplaced colds which creeps up unexpectedly in the summer months. Wiping my nose hastily on the back of my sleeve, I hope that Emily hasn’t noticed – though, knowing her, of course she has noticed. She’s an Auror apprentice, after all – observational skills are an asset.

Emily chooses not to comment on my sloppiness, but as we reach the door to Proudfoot’s office, she pulls out her wand and conjures a tissue, reaching up and wiping my face with it quickly. Smiling gently, she adjusts the collar of my robes and squeezes my arm, in that strange way she has of getting physically close to somebody.

“Good luck,” she tells me. “I’ve got to go back to the vaults now – but I think you’ll like the person in there.” Emily grins up at me and swooshes past me, back towards the lifts. She pauses at Quentin’s desk.

I shove the tissue in my pocket just as the door to the head’s office swings open for me, without anybody touching it. Stepping inside, I dodge the closing door and nearly stumble over the rubbish bin.

Proudfoot is sitting at his desk – the old bum leg propped on a little stool beside him. Newspaper clippings line the walls, and a Sneakoscope and several maps and books are spread out on his desk. Sitting across from him is a young woman with dark hair, and she turns around to look me over through a pair of thick-rimmed glasses.

“Erm, hullo, sir,” I say to Proudfoot, who nods at me. “Em- ah, Auror Longbottom said you wanted to see me.”

“Have a seat, Weasley,” Proudfoot says. He takes a sip from the cup of water on his desk and flicks his wand at the empty chair. The girl turns to me, appraisingly, and sticks out a small, pale hand.

“Louis Weasley, I believe,” she says. “My name is…”

“I know who you are,” I cut her off, and feel my face glowing a little pink beneath the freckles. Her hand is soft, but she has an iron grip.

Eugenie Bones is thin, with elbows jutting out of her arms and a very graceful neck. She has dark hair pulled back in a neat tail spouting from the top of her head, and shakes my hand firmly with a warm smile, striking gray eyes shining out from that pair of glasses. She’s quite attractive, but I know from her reputation that she isn’t somebody to underestimate. Bones became a national hero when she uncovered the murderer of Arietta Silver, a witch who had been known for her compassion towards Muggle victims of magical attacks, and brought the killer to justice in a twisted web of deceit and lies – or so the Prophet labeled it.

Last year, Bones was sent to live in Italy to learn from the justice system there, on a special paid scholarship only given to the most promising of new Aurors. She’s the same age as my sister’s boyfriend, Teddy, and therefore a few years my elder.

“Lovely to meet you then, Auror Weasley,” Bones says, crossing her fingers on the desk. “Proudfoot has been telling me about your progress in the program. Congratulations on passing the exams and making it to apprentice. I reckon you’re interested in seeing some real action after three years of training.”

“You bet,” I say smartly, glancing at Proudfoot. He’s a grizzled old giant, with tufty silver hair and several missing teeth, and one of the senior Aurors. “Sir, what is this about, if I might ask?”

“Well, Weasley, we’re going to link you up with Bones for this one, let her show you the ropes,” Proudfoot says, his voice a low hum. He opens the file in front of him and pulls out two photographs and a letter, sliding the images across the desk towards me. “Tell me, Weasley, do you recognize this man?”

I peer down at the photographs – both were clearly taken in a place with poor lighting. The first shows a dull, gray sort of man with lifeless eyes lolling against a wall, his face empty of all emotion, as if he has been propped there. As I watch he seems to raise a hand towards his face, and then let it fall again. I recognize the small symbol in the corner of the photograph, of a crossed sword and wand that identify the man as a prisoner of Azkaban. Indeed, the stance of the photograph resembles the typical formation for a mugshot, though this man is clearly not with his right wits. In training, we were given photographs of the most notorious criminals and dark wizards in Azkaban to memorize, but I supposed this particular one must be either non-threatening or have committed a small crime.

I relay this analysis to Proudfoot and Bones, who seem pleased.

“This was a prisoner,” Proudfoot growls. “He had been kept in Azkaban for over twenty-five years in the minimum security section.”

This is unusual – rarely would such a long sentence be paired with minimum security. I decided there must be a reason for Proudfoot to tell me this.

The other photograph sets me back for a moment. I pick the thing up to examine it more closely, shocked at the gruesome sight. It shows the same man – but instead of standing alive and listless, the cool tinge of his skin and the vacant stillness of his eyes suggest immediately that he is dead. More telling, however, is the pose his body is in: he has been splayed up on the wall, arms extended, forming his body in the shape of a cross. Dead hands are curled, stuck to the stone wall, and his legs dangle, stiff and straight in death, a few feet from the floor. I notice he does not appear to have been hung from the ceiling: instead, his head itself is upright against the wall, as if the back of his hair has been stuck to the gray stones.

“He… he couldn’t have done this to himself,” I say, putting the photograph done. My hands are sweaty, leaving little finger marks on the edge of the image of the victim’s corpse. “It almost looks like… he’s been crucified, I reckon.”

“Good observations, Weasley,” Bones says, crossing her legs and looking at me. She moves her glasses up to perch on top of her hair, and her naked eyes are very pale gray and a little unsettling. “His limbs have been stuck to the walls with a permanent Sticking Charm, and his body bears no signs of spell damage or a physical struggle. Which means…”

“Most likely the Killing Curse,” I finished. “It leaves no traces. But why would the killer display his body in this way?” I glance down at the photograph again – there is something very disconcerting about the dead man.

Proudfoot clears his throat, sounding like gravel being crunched beneath somebody’s foot. “That is what we need to figure out, Weasley,” he said. “And we think you’re the bloke to put on the job, you and Bones, of course.” He smiles at Bones. “Reckon you’re up to the task?”

“Hell yeah,” I say, voice breaking slightly. Bones smiles and pats me on the back.

“We’ll leave at once from the atrium,” she says. “Be sure you have your wand with you, and perhaps a jumper. Even the summer waters at Azkaban carry a chill.”

**



We Apparate onto the mainland docks, in a large warehouse which is used for nothing but wizards and witches going in and out of Azkaban. It is drafty and quiet and empty except for a witch with purple lipstick and a matching topped hat – a curious splash of colour in a place so filled with grey – who checks our wands and waves us on through to the boats. The boats are said to guide the innocent back and forth safely from the island without need for a steer master – quite similar to the enchanted Hogwarts boats which the first years take on their initial journey across the Black Lake.

Bones and I are both a little tall for the boat – surely they are not built for carrying two or three people. Bones tucks her legs up neatly, though mine soon begin to cramp. Adjusting her long hair into a neat, slick tail on top of her head, she fills me in briskly on the victim.

“When the Dementors take somebody’s soul,” she explains, gnawing on a neatly bitten-down fingernail covered with a layer of thin polish, “or, more correctly, when that was permitted by the Ministry, the victim is still alive, I suppose, in all physical sense of the word. They’re just a shell, you know? They need to eat and sleep and all that, but they’re not a person. Have you heard of the archway in the Department of Mysteries?”

I nod. The tug of the wind is making my nose run, but I don’t want to obviously wipe my nose with a tissue in front of her. As Bones knows, we trainees go on intensive tours of the Department of Mysteries during orientation. The official reason is that it helps us notice the little details of a scene – one horror story I’d heard (though it was from Uncle Ron, who might have been trying to terrify me before I joined up with the Aurors) says that some years the trainees were sent in alone and the Aurors overturned the tank of fishlike brains and evaluated the trainees on how well they defended themselves. This was most likely nonsense, of course. The real reason was that the Auror Department and the Department of Mysteries have a decades-old mistrust of one another and are always looking for chances to snoop around for cases of wrong-doing.

“Yes, well the archway used to be used for executing people who had been subjected to the Dementor’s Kiss. It felt more humane that way, I suppose.” There is a cold, neutral tone in her voice as she speaks of execution and the stealing of souls – this is a common attitude among the Aurors, where being hot-headed and overly emotional can cost lives. “But that was outlawed in the nineteenth century – you know, with Britain’s Act of Magical Rights.”

I nod. Auror training is quite all-inclusive, and so we learned about things ranging from magical law to basic healing skills, from dueling to the proper way of making an effective list of suspects.

The cold mist from the sea is rising up and clumping in my hair, and Bones’ dark ponytail whips about in the wind. In the distance, I can see it – the great fortress of a prison, rising up out of the churning waters. Hagrid, the Hogwarts’ gamekeeper, told me about Azkaban one night in my seventh year, when James and I crept down to see him for a late tea. Hagrid hates to speak of it – he said it was the coldest, cruelest place he’d ever been.

Bones is finishing up something about the Act, which I have missed in my musings about Hagrid. I nod, and the blue-gray eyes flash knowingly at me.

“So, you’re friends with Emily Longbottom?” she asks, the conversation taking a looser direction. She adjusts her glasses over her eyes. There will be plenty of time to explain the case when we reach Azkaban, after all. I nod again. “Oh, Emily is lovely. I was round hers for dinner last night, and she was telling me all about you. Her mother and mine were best friends in school – they were in the same year as Aurors Potter and Weasley – Ronald Weasley, of course.”

“Oh, haven’t heard of those two,” I say. Bones rolls her eyes, a smile playing about her lips. I notice that her pale hands are coiled between her knees, as if they’re cold.

“Well, Emily’s mum, Hannah, was actually there for my mother when she had me. My poor mother was a teen mum, you see. I was born a few months after the Battle of Hogwarts, in case you were wondering about my age.”

I hadn’t been wondering, not really, though I had been a little curious when she mentioned her mother being in the same year as Emily’s parents. “So you must have known my sister, Victoire?”

“I was just barely in the year above, but I was a classmate of Teddy’s,” Bones explains. “Frankly, I never got to know Victoire very well – she always seemed to be arguing with somebody or petitioning the teachers when I saw her.”

“Sounds like Victoire,” I reply. Azkaban is growing closer now, rising up higher and higher. Behind us, the mainland is reduced to little spots on the horizon. My eldest sister is currently working for the Witches Department at the Ministry, a new Department which focuses on problems facing witches in, as Vic would say, “the patriarchal and historically oppressive society of wizardkind.” She tends to get fired up quite quickly.

Bones goes on to tell me how she used to babysit Emily growing up, and they always had a close relationship. Her eyes keep glancing between my face and the looming fortress of Azkaban, as if she is already appraising the scene of the crime. It feels like an eternity – perhaps because my palms are sweating with nervous anticipation to finally reach the scene, to see the body, to work towards understanding the clues of who might have killed this wasteful shell of a man.

The little boat docks itself, and Bones and I climb aboard. She’s got stronger sea legs than I do, and I find myself wobbling a little, and stretch out the cramps in my legs.

“Ah, Aurors,” a voice says. I turn to see a very small, very squat wizard in black robes peeking up at us from the edge of the dock. “Was expectin’ you’d be here soon, I was.”

“We are here to investigate the recent incident,” Bones says, and the playful, contented tone she used when talking about Emily and her mother is gone. Instead, her face is a cool, professional mask, and she pulls out her wand, flexing and tightening her hands around it. I decide to do the same, though I notice the dwarf’s eyes go to my wand. He eyes it for a moment before nodding.

“Come along, then. We’ve left ‘im just where we found ‘im – in ‘is cell.”

“You had better just left him there,” Bones mutters under her breath. She pulls her robes more tightly around her tall frame. “Keep close, Weasley, and keep your wits about you. They’ve got murderers here – they’ve got thieves and spies and lunatics. There’s even a man who supposedly went mad eight years ago and killed his wife and children, and has recently come to his senses and is begging for release based on sanity. Conniving bastard. So stay alert.”

“I always do,” I tell her, hoping for another glimpse of the half-smile, but she is all business. And so we move inside of Azkaban.

Since the Dementors were sent away after the reign of You-Know-Who thirty years ago, it is said in wizarding circles that the prison has become a more bearable place. I never have met a Dementor myself, but its effects are said to be horrific, enough to drive even the more self-assured witch or wizard mad. But despite the lack of Dementors, Azkaban is a desolate place. We walk inside a labyrinth of cells, with tiny windows peeking out from behind the magically fortified doors. The ceilings are quite low, and I notice that Bones pulls down the top of her ponytail so that it does not scrape the wet ceiling. We walk on a pathway of wooden floorboards, which have been set into the muddy path – muddy because on this low level, the water has seeped up from the sea. Azkaban, it seems, is slowly sinking.

I realize after a few minutes that it is very rare there would be some prisoners down here – the situation is too deplorable, and any prisoner would be up to his ankles in dirt-colored sea water. As we move up through the spiral, enclosed staircases, I begin to hear the murmurs and calls – and even the sharp, strangely cosmopolitan voice of a guard reprimanding a prisoner – his voice a clear bell over the murmurings. We are on perhaps the third floor when the dwarf beckons to follow him down a corridor. Again, the walls are made of stone, and my fine leather shoes are scuffed from the touch of the filth, but these quarters are nowhere near as horrid as those on the ground level.

We pass by a couple cells. I can’t help but imagine poor Hagrid trying to fit into one of these small cages, his bushy head brushing against the leaking roofs made of stone and dirt. Pulling out his wand, the dwarf taps it against the lock of one cell. The door swings open, creaking slightly, and without hesitating, Bones steps inside.

“Here to see old grouchy, are you?” a voice whispers behind me, and I look over my shoulder to see a horrible face looking out at me – a dirty face, missing teeth, with very pale eyes and a long, straight nose peeking out between the narrow bars of the door. Gray hair slides in oily rows down over the prisoner’s ears. Resisting the urge to recoil, I purse my lips and nod curtly at the criminal, but his voices follows me through the cell as I follow in Bones’ path. “He’s dead, he’s dead!”

The sight which greets me is even more horrible than in the photograph. The prisoner is stuck upon the grimy walls, his eyes bulging and his mouth dangling open slightly. The body seems to stare at my leather shoes, and Bones takes a deep breath beside me. I wonder at her, and how, if some of the lads from my year at Hogwarts could see how stern and utterly unsqueamish she is, they might change their minds about saying that witches make poor Aurors. Then I shake my head, almost laughing at the distraction of this moment. My sister Victoire is beginning to wear off on me.

“How will they get him down for the Necrowizards?” I ask, not quite wanting to hear the answer. It isn’t my job to worry about the prisoner’s remains, besides. Only to capture his killer. Capture. Inwardly, the word thrills me. Capturing real criminals.

“There are counter-charms they can use, though the Necrowizards know to be careful and not damage the body,” Bones says. “Now, why don’t you look around for anything interesting while I chat with him. Do you know how to cast a spell detecting signs of magic?”

“Of course,” I say, and hold up my wand. Looking over my shoulder, I notice that the dwarf-guard is still standing in the doorway, looking at Bones with an almost greedy expression. She moves to speak with him, leaning forward slightly and pulling a pad of parchment and a Quik-notes quill out of her pocket and setting them to float in the air beside her. I step closer to the victim, wondering if his eyes appeared this empty even when he was still alive.

“Who did this to you, mate?” I whisper, holding out my wand and running it over him, extending a few inches from his body. “Who killed you, and stuck you up on the wall like some grotesque doll? Who would want to do this, and why?”

Realizing I am speaking with a corpse, I shut my mouth and glance over my shoulder at Bones and the dwarf. Happily, they seem to be ignoring me, but I catch the eye of the filthy prisoner who occupies the other cell, who spoke to me as I came in. His leery grin says that he’s heard me, and I nibble on my lower lip.

My spells confirm that the victim was killed with the Killing Curse, which should have registered itself with the Auror Department’s records of illegal spells. I find the Permanent Sticking Charms traced in the air as well – they are delicately performed things, I realize, set only upon one side of his body, and pressing it into very specific shapes. On closer examination of the victim’s arm, I find, hidden and sunken into the pale skin, the traces of an old mark – the image of a skull feeding on a snake.

“So he was a Death Eater,” I murmur, noting this information. It’s truly not too surprising – after all, many of the inhabitants of Azkaban are former Death Eaters from the Second Wizarding War. However, being able to trace a certain Death Eater makes it simpler to track those who might have wanted to kill them, even decades after they were disposed of or locked away. Revenge can be a powerful motivator in cases like this.

The other interesting discovery is something tucked into the pocket of his gray uniform. What looks like a bit of red ribbon is poking out the top, very bright against the darkness of the scene. Frowning, I reach up to finger the ribbon then, thinking better of it, shove my hand back into my own pocket, fiddling with a couple spare Sickles.

Looking at the body one more time, I wonder if Emily Longbottom is going to have to come here soon to help her partner transport it back to the Ministry. I know there are certain routines and loopholes for transporting corpses – often, the bodies of those who die at Azkaban are thrown into the seas or buried in a brimming cemetery on the island’s farthest point, joining the other skeletons beneath the rocks. Emily does excellently in gruesome situations such as this: I know she was a little reluctant to join with the Necrowizards at first, thinking it was a weaker option of being an Auror, but she really is perfectly suited for the task and has really taken to it.

Edging past the dwarf, who eyes me suspiciously, and Bones, who seems to nod slightly, I turn to the long-haired, pale-eyed prisoner across the hallway, who is still staring out at me, his hands clenched around the bars of his cell. Even just standing two feet from his cell, I can smell him: the odor of human waste and unwashed body, of foul breath.

“Did you see anything suspicious in the last day?” I ask him. The man only looks to the ceiling and hums. “Did you hear anything from inside the victims cell?” He ignores me again. “Sir, if you cooperate with the Aurors there may be rewards for you.” Instantly, I worry I have released this tidbit too quickly, but the prisoner seems to be expecting it. He stares at me: he grins a little, and sticks his tongue in the space where he is missing a large front tooth. He hums again.

“’e’s not going to tell you nothing, little Auror,” the dwarf taunts from behind me. I grit my teeth and turn around. Bones is examining the body again, her dark head bent close to the victim’s arm where I found the Dark Mark’s remains. “’e’s gone mad, been mad fer over ten years, ‘asn’t ‘e!” He chuckles, round cheeks rising slightly. There is something very vicious about the glint in his eyes.

“Mad or not, he still has eyes,” I say coolly. I move back into the victim’s cell. “Erm, Bones, I realized something I probably should have asked earlier. I’m sorry. I’m a terrible apprentice.”

“Not terrible, just getting a little overly excited,” Bones replies without looking at me. The Quik-notes quill scribbles something down. “Well, out with it then.”

“I was just wondering, what’s the victim’s name?”

“Ah, I’ve been waiting for this,” she says, and a little hint of the half-smile plays about her pale face. “His name, when he was alive, was Barty Crouch, Jr.”




Author's Note: Hello and welcome to my new novel! The story operates on two timelines - Ada's and Louis' - and is full of twists and false leads and clues, so keep an eye out: every little gesture or word choice could mean something. Sevenfold is prewritten, and has twelve chapters. I am going to update it once a week, and aim for every Wednesday, though this may fluctuate a little depending on the queue.

The title is taken from Joni Mitchell's beautiful song 'The Last Time I Saw Richard.'

Für das größere Wohl: for the greater good.
die Guten: the Good Ones.
der Meister: the Master.


Chapter 2: dreams filled with silver and gold
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Chapter Two
dreams filled with silver and gold

 


gorgeous image by vendetta at TDA.


Zauberei Dorf, Germany, 1941.

The village of Zauberei Dorf in southern Germany has been there for centuries, unique for its dense magical population. Though witches and wizards are scattered about central Europe and often integrated with Muggle populations, Zauberei Dorf is a miniature magical city in its own right, with apothecaries alongside drugstores, gardens filled with magical plants and herbs, and a primary school which teaches entry-level Charms. On a clear day, wizards and witches on brooms could be seen rising above the little brick houses, whirling through the air. But when der Meister came to Germany and began to extend his mighty, sly reach over the magical population, Zauberei Dorf became one of his main bases. The great mansions are inhabited again, and the Secret Police crept through the night. Few of the citizens dare draw their wands outside of their homes, lest they be accused of inciting trouble. People have been taken away for doing less.

As the war sets in, Zauberei Dorf is both one of the safest and most dangerous places to live: there is no need for the enemy to bomb a city they are not aware exists, yet sometimes the people of the village wish they could brave the bombs and fade into the anonymity of Berlin with their magic to protect them, rather than be rounded up like cattle.

Ada Treuherzig is, by all accounts, a plain sort of child. Her father is a Muggle and her mother a witch, and they had gotten along famously. Many Muggles who had long ago proven to be friendly to the wizarding community or had even integrated themselves into it were welcome in Zauberei Dorf, and Ada’s family is no exception.

Ada is home from Durmstrang – the school became more dangerous and darker in the last year, and Ada decided that she felt far safer at home with her beloved Mamma and Papa. She has hair the color of sand and very pale eyebrows and eyelashes, giving her the look of always being surprised. She is of average height and prefers to wear brown, humble Muggle dresses when she is not required to adorn herself in the fine and expensive uniforms required of the witches at school, but when she braids her thin hair in long, stringy plaits, she tied red ribbons around the ends, a bright, vibrant contrast against her plain dress.

The tension in the air in the village of Zauberei Dorf is touchable, particularly in the districts populated by magical folk who have intermarried with Muggles. Ada’s parents command that she not walk alone at night. The neighbors start to disappear, and sometimes she can hear the sounds of people in the houses around them as they pack up in the night. It becomes common to hear the loud crack! of Apparition in the alleyways, and to see hard-faced wizards with robes bearing the sign of der Meister – the triangle-eye with the line running down the center, glowing golden. Ada comes home from buying bread one day to find her mother sewing the image onto a pair of robes for each member of their little family to wear. Ada’s grandfather, the eldest Herr Treuherzig, who has lived with his son’s family for years and likes to grumble good-naturedly about magical folk, does not protest adorning the robes, which convinces Ada that this is not something to speak about. A bowed head and silent tongue is the best protection.

Yet silence is easily defeated. The name of der Meister is whispered on everybody’s lips. It is a name he chose for himself, a name which suits the sort of secretive power which he exercises over the people of the empire. There is the Fuhrer, as well – but he is different. It is easy enough for a witch or wizard to Confund one of the S.S., but Der Meister’s army operates in darkness and secrecy. People say he has banshees and Dementors on his side, that he can send them after his enemies to haunt them, to take away their souls and those of their children. Some whisper that he has Death himself on his side, like a figure from a nightmare – that he cannot be killed like a mortal man, that he is something far mightier than that.

Nobody quite understands who der Meister is targeting – some say it is the Muggleborns and Muggle spouses of wizards, or the Jews, or those who had sinned in tainting their blood by mating with Muggles, like Ada’s mother. Others whisper he destroys those who refuse to support his principles and do not agree to work for the large Ministry he is assembling across the empire. There are other rumors in Ada’s neighborhood that der Meister did not care about blood nor loyalty – that he did not need either, for fear is enough to subdue even the wisest and most powerful of folk.

His soldiers, die Guten, come to the Treuherzig home in the night. Ada is in her nightdress, scraggly red ribbons hanging from the ends of her braids, and she stumbles to her bedroom door as light floods in the gap beneath the wooden door. Her parents and her grandfather are already there, her grandfather wrapped up in his warm robe, the one which always smells like smoke from his pipe. A look of fear flashes across his weathered face as he sees Ada standing there, staring at the invaders – he shakes his head slightly, but they have already seen her, and one wizard gestures her forward, at the same time flicking his wand in her direction so that her own wand soars out of her bedroom and into his hands. She shall never be caught without her wand again: only once, when they finally catch her and take her away. But there is still a long way to go until that day. The lead die Guten grins at her, revealing crooked teeth.

His name is Gregore Gottschalk, Ada later learns, and he is a hardened creature, with no sympathy left for those who irritate him. He has cold eyes and thick arms and skin like iron, incapable of cracking. And he is hated by the people of the district, for he has developed a liking and a legacy for torturing his victims before he exterminates them, the squirming and screaming bringing a gleam of joy to the rocky face.

What happens next will become seared on Ada’s memory. It will haunt her in the moments when she thinks she is able to sleep – the terror on their faces will torment her as she wakes, sustained through her dreams. Their faces will follow her to Nurmengard. Her mother and father swear that the whole family is all magical – they plead, they wring their hands before der Meister’s men.

Ada’s mother is handed a wand and asked to Levitate one of the old cushions knit by Ada’s late grandmother, and she did so, tears streaming from her eyes. One of the men holds his own wand to Ada’s head as a threat for her mother, who is motioned to the other side of the room. Ada is handed a wand – the cushion rises, wavering, once again, knocking against the old chandelier and letting the little hanging gems twinkle in the light from the lanterns. And Ada’s father and grandfather – well, they do not have a drop of magical blood in their bodies. They are told to drop to their knees and bow their heads, hands behind their backs. Her father – a kindly, scholarly man, with a brown moustache and ink-stained hands. Her grandfather, round and white-bearded, his robe wrapped around him, engulfing him in the smell of his pipe.

Ada clings to her mother, her arms wrapped around her neck, the tears mixing with her own, crushing the red ribbons against her mother’s chest. And as she weeps, she vows something to herself, a thought. She is going to kill Gregore Gottschalk.

**



Louis Weasley, Apprentice Auror.
July 7th, 2027. London, UK.


Different magical governments vary in their methods of training future Aurors, but I have always been quite reluctant about Britain’s. The slow process and sudden streaming of Apprentices into certain disciplines was almost enough to convince me to move to Paris and train there instead – indeed, my mother being French, I have dual magical citizenship. However, my mother warned me that my accented French probably wasn’t strong enough, and I had very little experience with writing French since primary school before Hogwarts. My parents had opted to send my sisters and I to a local school in St. Austell, the city closest to our seaside home in Cornwall, which taught languages, but at Hogwarts the subject matter was far more limited.

A proud Ravenclaw, I devoted myself at Hogwarts to doing the best possible in the courses required to become an Auror. They only took the best, and I fancied following in my uncles’ footsteps and being hired as a Dark Wizard catcher. There was something very glamorous yet also humbling about being an Auror, and I spent a great deal of time day-dreaming in school about the recognition I could get from the media and from my friends – “Auror Louis Weasley catches notorious Dark Wizard- Auror Louis Weasley is the hero of the hour!” It was a lovely dream, and one which came with sweat and long nights in the library under Madam Pince’s eagle eye.

My mother had long complained about the schooling system at Hogwarts – she found it especially unfair how difficult it was to achieve an “O” at O.W.L or N.E.W.T level, yet that was all that employers looked at when hiring recent graduates. In Beauxbatons, she explained, magical jobs were won through the merits of the candidate, not only how they looked on paper. Despite the fact that I outmatched most of my year mates – earning one “O” in History of Magic and “E”s in all of my other subjects, I was rejected from the Auror trainee program my first year out of Hogwarts, and ended up spending the year living at home instead, Apparating into the Ministry every day to work as an assistant in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. I also took a couple courses by correspondence to raise my results, and was finally accepted to the Auror program, a year later.

Now, entry into the Auror trainee program is not exactly assurance that one will become an Auror. The program lasts for three years, and half our class was cut from the program within the first eight months. The coursework, which ranged from detection spells to dueling to first aid Healer training, including some special seminars such as “how to Apparate without spinning on the spot,” varied from incredibly taxing to unbearably dull. Emily Longbottom was my first and only lasting friend from the program – she had applied directly out of Hogwarts, therefore being a year younger than myself, and was so perky and silly that there was never a dull moment.

“I feel like the work we do is far too theoretical,” Emily had confessed one day when we were in the Ministry archives, researching an old case from the 1960s concerning a breach of the Statute of Secrecy by a hag and a troll. “I mean… sure, I have good researching skills, but I feel like I would meet a Dark Wizard and not know her if she looked me in the face. I can’t wait to be an Apprentice.”

The other three trainees who survived their first year of training were all a year younger than myself, and Mickey McLaggen, a brawny ex-Gryffindor who excelled at dueling and had a loud, booming voice usually proclaiming his own triumphs, never let me forget it.

“Think I could take old man Weasley in a good, old-fashioned Muggle rumble?” he would say, patting his biceps. He was muscular, sure, but in a way that Emily liked to whisper “was only five burgers and six missed workouts away from growing a beer belly.” Emily was great like that – she could be mean, but she only ever used her sass to make other people feel better.

Quentin Chang-Lu was a nice enough bloke, though he never really picked sides. He was quite pleasant but fiercely ambitious, and would always put someone else down if it meant bringing himself up in the eyes of the Aurors who were training us. He was – according to Emily, who got a little loopy-eyed when he came close – extremely pretty, for a bloke, which made me scoff and even feel a little heavy twinge somewhere in my gut.

The fifth and final member of our training year was Ermengarde Wilks, a serious-faced girl who never laughed and performed spells with deadly accuracy. Emily and Ermengarde were both painfully aware that witches were significantly underrepresented in the Auror force, and Emily explained to me a few months ago that there was a certain stigma about women being in positions of both authority and high risk.

“It goes back centuries, and is changing very slowly,” she had said, jutting her chin out, serious for once. This was part of why Eugenie Bones, my new partner in the Crouch case, was such an enigma – she had been top of her class, recognized already as one of the best investigative Aurors of her cohort, and to top it off, didn’t “take crap from anybody.” It was often said that once a female Auror got together with a male coworker, her career was over and nobody would ever take her seriously – though the men could sleep around as much as they liked, in witches, sexuality was seen as a sign of weakness.

“But I know you don’t think like that, Louis,” Emily had told me after explaining what she was up against. “You’re one of the good guys.”

Am I, though? I wondered. I thought about Lucretia.

“Who exactly is Lucretia?” Bones asks me now, twirling her quill round and round her pale fingers. She has turned out to be a very good listener – we are waiting for Proudfoot to appear to discuss the Crouch case, so I have been telling her about my trainee woes without acting too grateful that she actually wanted to work with me. The three days since investigating Azkaban have been spent theorizing possible suspects with motivation to kill Crouch, with a focus on those with the skills or Ministry access to go about breaking into Azkaban.

We already examined the records at the mainland office for the prison – the witch with the purple lipstick who worked in the large warehouse there was proving most useful. She had records of when visitors arrived, though not when they left, as wizards visiting the prison usually Apparated home the moment their feet touched the mainland. Bones had nodded grimly and was focusing on two visitors in particular, which we were going to explain to Proudfoot and ask for permission to investigate them farther. The Auror system of investigating was fickle, and as these particular wizards were highly placed in their professions and highly valued members of wizarding society, we required special permission in order to follow up on the leads.

“Don’t worry about Lucretia,” I say, feeling my cheeks turn a little pink. Girls like Lucretia Levanne and Eugenie Bones were so different, it was as if they existed in different realms. “I’m quite curious about what Proudfoot will have to say about these suspects, frankly. Did he give you quite free reign with the Arietta Silver case?”

“No,” Bones says blandly, twirling the end of her long ponytail around her fingers, dark strands very vibrant against her white skin. “He had to be very tough with me – I was unproven, and all the leads were very weak. When we arrested the killer…well, the Ministry prefers a smoother arrest, and it was messy, messy.”

“You’ll have to tell me about it later,” I offer, but am spared her answer when Proudfoot comes into the room, followed by my Uncle Harry – the husband of my dad’s baby sister, father of my obnoxious roommate and the man who saved the wizarding world from Lord Voldemort back when he was seventeen and still had all his dark hair placed on top of his head. Uncle Harry looks tired – his face is drawn and he has a shadow of darkness along his jaw. His thinning hair is flecked with gray and his glasses are dirty – he hastily tries to clean them on the collar of his robes when Proudfoot’s back is turned.

“Hullo, Aurors,” Proudfoot says, leaning back in his chair. He opens a folder and dips his quill into the ink, hand hovering over his parchment. It’s been spelled to only be read by the writer. “Now, Harry, today we’re talking about the Crouch murder, which Bones and Weasley accepted. The pair visited Azkaban three days ago, and the Necrowizards have since been in to remove the body to the morgue. It appears he was killed with the Killing Curse, and with no signs of a struggle – the more interesting thing is the unusual position of the body.” He passes Uncle Harry some photographs, where I can make out the stiff, splayed limbs of Crouch, stuck up on the wall.

Harry’s bushy eyebrows raise slightly, but he only nods and returns the photographs. “Louis, congratulations on your first real assignment,” he says, smiling at me from across the desk. I nod slightly as Bones hides a smirk behind her hand. Maybe I haven’t been containing my excitement as well as I thought. “Now, I assume you two have cooked up some suspects? Was there anybody who visited the prison during the appropriate timeframe – God knows the prison keepers are understaffed and don’t have eyes in all places.”

“I spoke with the head keeper, and he said nobody had been in to visit Crouch for years,” Bones explains, tapping her fingers against her knees. Today, she is wearing a set of very tight, expensive-looking robes in a dark shade of midnight blue, and a long leg in black tights pokes out from beneath them. “However, we have two men whom I believe would have good reasoning to go after him, and they both visited the prison that day.” She leans forward slightly, and balances her pale, pretty chin on one hand. I notice she’s not wearing polish – Lucretia, for one, is always wearing polish, and it’s usually chipped.

“Weasley?” I blink – in my study of Bones’ nails, I’ve missed a question from Proudfoot. “Care to explain the first lead?”

“Erm, yes, sorry,” I say, sitting up a little straighter. “Right, well Albert Runcorn – he’s the…”

“Senior Advisor of the Foreign Affairs Office,” Uncle Harry finishes grimly, but there is something amused in his eyes – a story he is not sharing. “He worked for the Ministry during Lord Voldermort’s regime, though he repented at the end of the war and pleaded Code Nine.” Code Nine is an Auror euphemism for claiming one had been under the influence of the Imperius Curse or some sort of Legilimency or mind control, and was therefore not responsible for their actions – many wizards were spared Azkaban and even returned to their Ministry posts due to the leniency of Code Nine. The most famous case of a Code Nine during the Second Wizarding War was Pius Thicknesse, who was the Minister for Magic under the control of a Death Eater, yet has climbed the ranks once again to be another contender for the Minister position in the coming election. “I’m sorry, Lou- Auror, carry on.”

“Yeah, well Runcorn visited Azkaban in order to file some papers concerning the deportment of foreign prisoners,” I explain. “But he was there during the right time, and we believe that as a former victim of Code Nine, he might have motivation to murder or harm former Death Eaters. But more interestingly, we also traced his family history, and it appears that Runcorn is a relative of Crouch’s on his mother’s side. He was Crouch’s mother’s brother.”

“Very interesting,” Uncle Harry says, glancing at Proudfoot. “Well, Crouch’s father was a very highly placed Ministry official, and being linked to his son’s crimes supposedly drove him mad. His son was the one who killed him – I reckon this might harbor some hard feelings among the family.”

I nod – I had done some research into the sordid and tragic history of the family, and Crouch really was a rotten bloke. “It would have been a crime of violence, not any real gain, Bones and I were saying. I mean, Crouch was only a shell. The man who committed the crimes is long dead.”

“Very good,” Proudfoot says, lifting his quill from the page again. “Yes, well you have my permission to investigate Runcorn – you know the proper procedures, Eugenie.”

“Of course, sir,” Bones says. “Immediately – this could be a coincidence. Half the wizarding world in related in some way, and there’s no obvious motivation, really. Crouch wasn’t bothering Runcorn or affecting him in any way. In some ways, I find our next lead far more plausible.” She glances at me.

“Draco Malfoy,” I blurt out. Proudfoot raises his eyebrows, while Uncle Harry’s face is expressionless. “He was visiting that evening – visiting his father, Lucius, who went to Azkaban despite pleading clemency, Code Nine, coercion, you name it, he pleaded it – after the war.”

“Draco himself was just barely spared prison,” Harry adds. I remember a faint old story about a school-age grudge between my Uncles Harry and Ron and Malfoy. “He bought his way back into the Ministry’s good graces by offering up huge sums of money for reforming the Ministry and rebuilding magical infrastructure – well, erm, some people say the money wasn’t so much offered as taxed and taken, but it was there all the same.”

“Yes. And Malfoy is currently employed at Gringotts as an investment coordinator,” Bones chips in. “Not only is he placed at the scene of the crime, but he was a Death Eater himself, a reformed Death Eater, and may be lashing out and trying to harm and punish other ex-Death Eaters. It could be a psychological thing – ex-Death Eaters and other members of organized crime in the past have been known to lash out at their former companions, out of guilt and anger.”

“This murder feels very calculated and planned, however,” I add. “This took some skill, and while both Runcorn and Malfoy are frequent visitors to Azkaban and have strong alibis for being there, it seems a little too obvious they would go through the regular administration route. So we’re keeping our eyes open.”

Proudfoot and Harry both nod.

“There is another thing I learned from speaking with the head keeper,” Bones says. “We don’t have any specific leads on it, but the keeper did say he saw a figure down the corridor, speaking with one of the inmates by the looks of things. It was two floors above Crouch’s cell, and he described the figure as a man wearing dark robes.” I can’t help but snort slightly at this – it’s a rather useless and vague description. Bones’ pale eyes shift over to me.

“Did he not try to apprehend the man?” Proudfoot asks, his face twisting as if he’s tasting something sour. “All visitors are meant to report to the keepers when they come to Azkaban, for these exact sorts of reasons.”

Bones shrugs one of her thin shoulders. “Well, he didn’t. And he said the man vanished into the air.”

“Apparated? No, you can’t Apparate on or off the island of Azkaban unless you are a house elf,” Harry says, correcting himself. It sounds like he’s repeating something Aunt Hermione has drilled into his head.

“We thought perhaps an Invisibility cloak,” I tell him. Harry sucks in his cheeks and tenses a little in his chair. “Now, Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes has control of the market on those, as they’re the only ones licensed to sell them in Britain. So assuming the intruder was British, he must have bought his cloak from the shop – after all, they’re known to stop being less effective after about two weeks, and if he’s truly dangerous than he would have wanted a fully functioning cloak. So that’s something we’re going to pursue as well.”

The Aurors nod and spare a few moments to congratulate Bones and I on our progess. I can’t help but smile broadly at this, and wish that Emily and Mickey McLaggen and the rest of my fellow Apprentices were here to witness this – Louis Weasley, receiving praise at last! However, the conversation quickly moves to other possible leads and how we are going to confront the ones we do have.

Proudfoot also suggests a new angle to the case in the form of wizards who call themselves human rights protesters, who have been campaigning in the media against the Dementor’s Kiss as a form of capital punishment. I vaguely remember my sister Victoire and cousin Molly having one of their infamous political debates about this issue last month at the Burrow – Victoire was saying something about the activists having the right to protest while Molly was insisting they were poorly informed about the actual numbers of criminals who have been subjected to the Dementor’s Kiss in the past few decades, and are therefore just stirring up smoke.

“So you’re saying they could have killed Crouch as a statement of how inhumane it is for a body to be kept alive after the soul has been taken?” Bones confirms, a tiny diamond of skin appearing between her eyebrows as she scribbles furiously on her pad of parchment. She has quite messy handwriting when she’s not using the Quik-notes quill to take notes, unlike Emily, whose penmanship is impeccable.

“Yes, and a lot of these protesters are quite religious as well – perhaps they meant to display Crouch as a sort of Christ or martyr figure,” Proudfoot adds. “It is worth investigating anyway, Bones. Here – I think we’re wrapped up here, if you want to come with me and chat with Sheila she can refer you to the correct archives with information about the group. You and Weasley can make an appointment with the archivists – Weasley, I believe one of your cousins is working there, if I’m not mistaken.”

Bones follows Proudfoot out of the room, but Uncle Harry lingers, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Listen, Louis… I just wanted to make sure you’re alright, dealing with this. I know… well, Crouch killed and hurt a lot of people before he was subjected to the Dementor’s Kiss. And I know you didn’t sign up to be an Auror so you could avenge, erm, the bad blokes.” He grins wryly. “Ron had a really tough time with it when he first started.”

“It’s alright,” I tell him, feeling a little touched. “I should almost consider it practice, I suppose. Practice for when the person’s life really does matter…” I wince at Uncle Harry’s drawn expression. “Sorry. That’s not what I meant. But I want to find out who did this – I do.” He nods at me and smiles – I am dismissed.

“Oh, and Louis-” I spin around, my fingers on the door. Uncle Harry has his glasses off and is massaging his forehead with his fingers. “When you get home tonight, could you tell James his mother is stopping by the flat tomorrow morning, or perhaps the morning after? I just don’t want any repeats of last time she came over, though I think she kind of enjoys making him squirm.”

“Of course, I’ll let him know,” I say, grimacing slightly. The last incident was awkward, to say the least, as Aunt Ginny had shown up when James had come home early from a night out with a girl in tow. Allegedly, Ginny had walked into the kitchen just as things were getting fun on the kitchen table – one of James’ favourite locations for hanky-panky, to my irritation. One of the pitfalls of having parents who still paid for our flat in London was the easy parental access, but at least I was the youngest child in my family and my parents couldn’t be bothered to keep up to date with all the details of my life.

“Are you and Auntie Ginny coming with us to visit the new place for Grandad and Nan? My mum’s been fussing about it for days, and James said he would come...” I cut myself off, but finish the sentence in my head. …if he isn’t too hungover. There are some things parents don’t need to hear, and I’m grateful for a moment that uncle Harry is a notoriously poor Legilimens.

**



“How are things going with Lucretia, anyway?” Emily Longbottom asks brightly, setting a paper bag of groceries from the deli down the road on my kitchen table. She pulls an apple out of the bag and moves to rinse it at the sink.

“Oh, same old really,” I say, grimacing. The casual business with Lucretia, while not being something I’m not proud of, exactly, isn’t really the sort of conversation to have with sweet, innocent Emily, who wouldn’t understand how blokes work. “I couldn’t help but notice you passed over the cookies in favour of an apple, Ems, but I just can’t resist a good chocolate chip.” I crack open the plastic tin and sink my teeth into one of the chewy cookies.

“I’m trying to eat a little more healthy and lose some weight this summer,” Emily replies, crunching into her apple. She grins at me, baring her teeth – her mouth is a little wet from the fruit and she has a piece of apple skin stuck between her front teeth. “So how is the Crouch case going?”

I sigh. “Well, we had that meeting with Proudfoot and Uncle Harry today – it was quite brilliant, actually, though we’re nowhere closer to having any obvious killer.” I stand up and move from the kitchen into my room, leaving the door open as I pull off my robes and clothes and change into a more comfortable pair of gray track trousers. I sling a shirt over my shoulder and move back into the kitchen, opening the windows and letting the cooling evening air trickle in. The air smells a bit like smoke, as if somebody is having a bonfire – or perhaps Mrs. Trickle’s cats from downstairs have knocked over another candle.

Emily giggles and pokes my stomach as I move by, and I jump back. “Oi! I’m ticklish!” She brushes her fingers against my skin again, and I swat her hand away, laughing despite myself. “Emily, stop. You know being ticked makes me have to wee.”

“You are such a loser,” she says, pulling her hair up in a knot on top of her head. “Crikey, it’s hot in here.”

“Yes, well the flat downstairs may or may not be on fire,” I say with a straight face, and move to put the milk and other groceries away. “James owes me money big-time, by the way. He hasn’t been shopping in weeks. He’d be starving if it weren’t for me.” I sit down next to Emily, pulling my shirt over my head.

“You’re so skinny,” she comments, glancing at my arms.

“Thanks, just what every man wants to hear.”

“It’s not an insult, Lou,” she replies, taking another bite of her apple. “I wish I could be that skinny. And no, do not give me that look, mister. I’m not fishing for compliments, I honestly just wish I could snap my fingers and be skinny, like Eugenie or Molly or… or Ermengarde.”

“Okay, first of all, never wish you look more like Ermengarde,” I tell her. Ermengarde is one of our fellow apprentices who has a very pinched face and is flat as a board – she’s about as sexually appealing as a carpet. I take advantage of the moment to look Emily over – she has a perfectly lovely body, with nice curves and a pretty face with round cheeks and a large smile. She really has nothing to be complaining about, but I’m not sure how to tell her that without sounding like a creep. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, Molly has the body of a ten-year old boy. So you should just be… content with your own lady bits, yeah?”

Emily laughs. “Thanks, Lou, but you shouldn’t say that about your cousin – she’s gorgeous, and she’s my friend. I know, I just get a little insecure sometimes, being around all these tiny people at work.” She glances at me, turning a little pink and blushing. “Imagine if I fancied a boy who looked like you, and I’d just crush him if we were hooking up. I think I have a bit of a tendency to fancy blokes who are too small for me.”

I feel myself getting a little annoyed, but remind myself that this is Emily, and she’s my friend. So I stand up, pluck the apple out of her hand, and replace it with a cookie – I don’t really know what else to do. “Trust me, if a bloke like me was lucky enough to pull a girl like you, your weight would be the last thing on his mind,” I tell her, and ruffle her fringe. She smiles and takes a nibble of the cookie. It’s a good moment.






Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and learning a little bit about the suspects. Credit is also due to Rumpelstiltskin, whose Murder Mystery challenge inspired this story, though I didn't have time to participate. A huge thank you to the amazing Emily, red_headed_juliet, Sian and Kiana who all left me such lovely reviews on the first chapter - you guys really made my week. ♥

The chapter title is taken from the song Sonny's Dream by Ron Hynes.


Chapter 3: all dead hearts to you
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Chapter Three
all dead hearts to you



Amazing image by aigue-marie at TDA.


Zauberei Dorf, Germany, 1941

The night is cool and quiet, frozen still, as if the whole city of Zauberei Dorf is holding its breath. Candles go unlit, and magic is used sparingly for fear the secret police will be drawn to that household which dares to look merry in dark times such as these. Curtains are drawn across the windows, and inside the houses the people sit in darkness, chew on some dry, leftover bread, silence their crying babies and dream of the older, happier times.

The town church is very old, and only the withered priest still putters away inside, preparing packages from the poor out of his meager rations and sweeping the long, quiet aisles with a stiff-bristle broom – his cleaner woman was taken away three months ago, and none have heard from her since. Ada knows the church well: she used to come here with her family as a little girl and on holidays home from Durmstrang, and they would sing the prayers and hymns in the blue-bound books, inhaling the dust coming down from the rafters. But tonight, the church is nothing but a meeting place. Where she waits for the man she is going to kill.

The bodies of her father and grandfather lay in the sitting room for two days until Ada coaxed some of the neighborhood men into helping them transport her family to the churchyard. People are afraid, afraid to be seen helping those who have been targeted, and Ada knows that she cannot blame her neighbors for being so cautious. Since the deaths, Gregore Gottschalk has struck again and again – his officers are ruthless, and he enjoys using torturous curses upon his victims – he has earned a reputation for it, for his utter lack of mercy. His name, or thoughts of his face stir dread and fear in the streets – it is said that shortly before old Mrs. Fiele from down the street was killed, she fainted and wet her pants for fear of Gottschalk standing in her home, his head scraping against the doorframe.

But Gottschalk has a weakness, and Ada stumbled upon it near by accident. She was coming back late at night from visiting the freshly-dug graves of her father and grandfather, for the cemetery is the only safe place when all of the lights have disappeared. As she moved out of the old churchyard, she saw him: the familiar hulking shoulders and dark cloak, touching his hand to the door of the church – her church, where the old priest was snoring in his cot, where the angels carved into the eaves looked down with sorrow on an empty congregation. Ada did not know why Gottschalk would make his nightly pilgrimage, his hands stained with the invisible yet inescapable blood of the innocents, whom he has been ordered to hate, commanded to kill, but as the night grows darkest in the sky, most nights he can be found there. And so, now Ada hides in the awnings of the old stones, behind the stone wall which separates the churchyard from the doors – and she fingers her wand in her pocket and musters her courage.

She is fortunate this night, for the street is deserted, and she has learned to creep silently at Durmstrang, to move and pounce upon someone who is not expecting it. The air of the city is chilled in her nostrils, and she breathes through her mouth without a sound. Today, she wears her long blond hair in a single braid, knotted at the end with a red ribbon which tickles her neck and is tied unevenly, little strands escaping and floating in the cool blanket of the night. The cobblestones are tough beneath her thin leather shoes, and Gottschalk kneels, tipping his forehead against the doors – his eyes are, she thinks, from what she can see to the dark – closed, his mouth moving with whispers of a prayer escaping his lips.

The spell moves without a sound from her wand, illuminating the stones around them with red light. Gottschalk rolls back, his knees bending beneath him and his head resounding against the cobblestones with a loud crunch. He is utterly still, other than his eyes which dart frantically inside his head.

Ada kicks his wand out of his hand, hand, wondering if she shattered any bones in his fingers in the process. She thinks about pickles, the spicy pickles which her mother used to serve her as a treat in the summer, and saliva pools in her mouth. She spits in Gottschalk’s face, and, raising her foot once again, slams her shoe into his wand – once, twice, three times. Crack. She thinks of the terrified faces of her father, her grandfather, of the lines on her mother’s face and how she curls herself into a ball, how she can barely eat the soup which Ada brings to her.

She looks upon Gottschalk’s face – she wonders what to say. This is one of those uncomfortable moments where she has no plan, nothing fueling her but her hatred, and she does not know just what to do.

So she stuns him again, just for good measure, for he is far larger and stronger than her and if he managed to get free then he could easily crush her before she had the quick wits to cast another spell. She nudges his side, sees his eyes narrow with pain. His flesh is soft – he has grown pampered off the poverty and fear of the people of her district of the city. He is only but one man, a conniving henchman, but she realizes, with a strange jolt of pleasure, that she will have great satisfaction in taking his life.

Green light flares in the street, but he is not dead. She stops, closes her eyes for a moment, thinks of the smell of her grandfather’s pipe, her father’s kind voice as he told her one of the old fairytales, of two little children who pushed an evil witch into her own fire. She holds those thoughts in her mind, and green light flashes again. Inside the church, the old priest is stirring, wondering what the scuffle was.

It is not enough to leave him here, Ada thinks to herself. She stares at the man’s lifeless body, heavy and broken next to the two pieces of his wand. Taking a deep breath, she thinks of the host inside of the church, the Saviour strung up on the cross, the symbol of sacrifice. She thinks of the false comfort of the church, of how even prayer cannot help them anymore. Something tumbles out from her hair.

And so when the streets awaken at first light, the people of the district marvel in horror and amazement at their old enemy – arms stretched out at his sides, dangling legs, head lolling, pressed into the exterior of the church as if through magic. He is a dark anti-Christ, a stroke of vengeance for the wrongs that have been orchestrated through his cruelty. And on his chest she has left a mark, a memory: she has taken the red ribbon which she wore in her hair and pressed it upon his chest in a tidy bow, neater than she ever secured her plait. The symbol that will come to represent the sevenfold killer.

**


London, July 9th, 2027

My parents had been quite pleased when I announced I’d been admitted to the Auror trainee program three years ago – so supportive, in fact, that they happily offered to pay for my flat in London so I could be closer to the Ministry when I was accepted into the program. The flat is in an old Georgian house that was converted into flats fifty years ago, and exists in the up-and-coming wizarding neighborhood a few streets away from Knockturn Alley. The downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Trickle, has a handful of cats who start up a wailing symphony around teatime, but other than that the place is decently quiet and good for studying. At least, it was until James came to live with me.

James Potter is the eldest son of my Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny, and a bit of a wildcard. He has messy dark hair which never seems to lie flat, skinny limbs and a scattering of freckles across his nose. He was a year below me at Hogwarts, and was always causing trouble of a sort – he’s easily distracted, has trouble concentrating in lessons, and is always coming up with grand schemes and exciting plans which never are pulled through. In comparison, his siblings Albus and Lily are far tamer - perhaps after growing up with James in the house they wanted to preserve the peace and quiet in their own personal lives.

My mother was always proud of sending us to primary Muggle school, despite a handful of incidents, like when Victoire turned the school bully’s face purple and Dominique once flew up into a tree which was scheduled to be chopped down for a new play structure and refused to come down. Whenever a teacher tried to climb up into the tree to fetch or reason with her, they were shocked to find they were physically incapable of climbing past the first branch. Anyway, Dominique was diagnosed at a very young age with having learning disabilities – words and writing came a little slower for her, and she was very self-conscious about not being able to keep up with Victoire. Indeed, my parents held Dominique back a year from going to Hogwarts so that she had extra time to get ahead and so that she’d have me there to help her out – she’s born at the end of her year, and there’s only about a year in between us, so she wasn’t significantly older than our other classmates.

But Dominique had the help she needed, and she had a special tutor who came in on the weekends to provide extra assistance with her schoolwork. I was also careful to make myself available for help, though Dominique is as proud as they come and doesn’t ask for assistance from her little brother very easily. But she graduated from Hogwarts with decent results in N.E.W.Ts and strong recommendations from the professors for how hard she had worked – not that she’s taken advantage of these opportunities, but that’s more Steak’s fault than hers, in my opinion.

My mother often said rather snidely that she was sure James had concentration difficulties as well – having done her research with child learning disabilities with Dominique, Mum diagnosed James informally with ADHD. She tried explaining to my Aunt Ginny many times that she should enroll James in primary school and perhaps even see about taking him to a Muggle specialist and finding some medication which would help him concentrate – there were plenty of other children in my year at primary school who had similar assistance and had turned out the better for it. But Mum would come home after these conversations huffing that Ginny had never liked her and she was giving James a disadvantage by being so stubborn and insisting on homeschooling her children the way Nan had with her and my uncles.

For whatever reason, James left Hogwarts with only a couple of N.E.W.Ts and absolutely no ambition. His Quidditch dreams hadn’t panned out when he broke his throwing arm in the first match of his seventh year and it had never properly healed, but most of the family agreed behind his back that he probably wasn’t enough of a team player or a stand-out star to actually go professional. He did get a job working in a wizarding restaurant in Diagon Alley, however, though this primarily led to him making large amounts of gold in tips then running out to spend it at the pub that night. His arm was healthy enough to carry a tray of pasta and hoist a pitcher of beer into the air, though this was a poor consolation prize.

Harry and Ginny had agreed to pay for James’ room and board in London on one condition – that he move into the spare room in my flat, which had previously been let to a friend of mine who moved to Japan my second year as an Auror trainee.

As roommates go, James could have been worse. He was family, so I loved the bleeder, though not exactly unconditionally. He was loud, messy and excitable, and had far more friends than I did who often could be found sipping beers in our living room before heading out to the bars – leaving me to clean up the bottles and chips after a long day of training. But he did drag me out of the flat on occasion, which I refused to thank him for but did quite enjoy every once in a while. We had some good nights – like the night we met Lucretia and Taryn. He was a good laugh, and a surprisingly good listener. We looked out for one another.

Except for this morning. I had met with Uncle Harry and Proudfoot yesterday, and the former did ask me to warn James that Aunt Ginny was planning on popping by in the morning to check up on us. Emily stayed for a while and we had played a few rounds of Exploding Snap before I walked her back through Knockturn to the Leaky Cauldron. Her family lived in the flat upstairs, and Emily was still happy enough to live at home. There was no sign of James all night, though I heard the door banging and some furious giggling at some point in the wee hours of the morning.

Now. I am awoken around eight by a shriek coming from the kitchen, followed by the sound of James shouting. Groaning, I pull on a pair of track pants over my briefs and move into the kitchen, sticking my head outside my door. I had left the window open the night before when Emily and I were in, but in typical London style it has started raining, and the counter is dripping with water. Worse, my red-haired aunt is standing in the front doorway, hands on her hips and her face very pink.

The cause of her anger is her eldest son, who is wearing very little and standing with his hands on his bony hips. Taryn scuttles past me, holding a shirt and a dress up to the necessary body parts, and she scowls evilly at me as she disappears into my cousin’s room.

“You can’t just show up unannounced like this, Mum!” James shouts. “I am an adult and this is my flat!”

“Sleeping on the floor doesn’t really seem like an adult move!” Ginny retorts, rolling her eyes. She looks at the floor in disdain and kicks a pair of darkly colored jeans out of the way. “I brought you boys some muffins and bread – I didn’t realize I would be greeted by…this.” She spies me lingering in the doorway. “Hello, Lou-is. Clearly going shirtless is a pattern in this house.”

“Hiya, Aunt Ginny,” I say sheepishly, retreating into my room and pulling on a shirt. Guiltily, I remember Harry’s request that I tip James off – clearly this is a failed cousin moment. I wonder if Taryn will dare show her face here for weeks after such an embarrassment. A door slams: James has finally retreated to get dressed.

When I emerge, my aunt is sitting at the table with her feet up on a chair. She smiles tiredly at me. “Did he really not know I was coming, or is this him trying to spite me? I feel quite sorry for that poor girl.”

“Don’t, she’s a troll,” I tell her, grabbing a warm muffin. It smells heavenly, and I can barely wait the time it takes to fetch the butter from the Muggle fridge (another convenience of letting a flat in urban London). The butter melts perfectly across the muffin, and I take a large, savoring bite, spilling crumbs across the top of my shirt.

Aunt Ginny sighs. “That’s rude, love. Do you reckon my son is going to come out of his room anytime soon?”

“Well, she’s really mean. And to be honest, I reckon he’s…” I begin, when a loud Crack! resounds from James’ bedroom. “And… that would be Taryn dis-Apparating.”

Lines of skin appear on Aunt Ginny’s freckled forehead. “I thought we told you boys to set up someone from the Ministry to make sure nobody could Apparate in or out of the flat?” I squirm and take another bite of my muffin, and she sighs. “Lou-is, I set you up with my contact at the Apparating Office months ago. It could be dangerous, if just anybody can appear inside – you’re an apprentice Auror, for Pete’s sake.”

I shrug and mumble something non-committal when James comes out, clothed and glaring at his mum.

“Your girlfriend didn’t come out to introduce herself to me properly, James Sirius. That’s not the best way to leave a first impression.”

“Not my girlfriend,” he mumbles. He smells like alcohol and dirty socks, and I edge away from him as he walks to the fridge and takes out a bottle of water from the supermarket – his hangover water, which allegedly is taken from some wild loch in Scotland and tastes nicer than tap water.

“Even better,” Aunt Ginny says under her breath. “Well, James, I’ve just heard from Lou-is that you boys didn’t set up the non-Apparition charms…”

“For God’s sake, stop calling him that, Mum,” James moans, massaging his head with his hands in a way that looks quite like his father. “It’s Lou-ee, not Lew-is. He’s been alive for twenty-two years, just get it right.”

“Erm, I really don’t care,” I mutter, even though I know Aunt Ginny’s just being stubborn because she thinks Lou-ee is a strange name and too French. James is wrong too, however, since the proper French pronounciation is more like Lui spoken very fast like it’s one syllable. But there’s no point in integrating myself into the argument – people can call me what they like, really.

As they bicker back and forth, I excuse myself (nobody pays any attention) and move to the toilet for a quick shower. I’m meant to be meeting Eugenie Bones at the Ministry in half an hour, and I certainly will be Apparating from the privacy of my own bedroom.

**




I meet Bones in the atrium of the Ministry. She’s wearing a neat black skirt and tights set under her robes, and a silver bracelet glints on her wrist. Her hair is pulled up and she has a pair of glasses balancing on her forehead, and she reaches up to check they are still in place and to smooth a hand over her dark tail of hair.

“Hiya, Weasley,” Bones says as I wave to her. She’s wearing heels, which make her a little taller than myself. She excuses herself to the Unspeakable standing beside her and clip-clops the distance over to me. “We’re looking at Mr. Malfoy’s documents today, remember?” A nudge in the ribs.

I raise my eyebrows at her. “Keep your bony elbows to yourself. Yeah, sorry – had some drama with the flat mate.”

“Baby Potter acting like a baby, eh?” she says as I follow her towards the lifts. I told her about James and his antics the other day.

I sigh, explaining in a few short words the incident with my aunt this morning and James’ bad attitude. “And he’s quite judgmental. He says he doesn’t think people with, and I quote, ‘short legs’ are attractive. I mean, how can you even tell that somebody has short legs? Legs are the longest parts of bodies, or so I thought.” I sneak a quick look at Bones’ legs. They look pretty long and well-shaped to me. I don’t tell her that I spent several minutes in front of the mirror after this particular conversation examining my own legs. “Or girls with big foreheads. Or who wear too much makeup. Victoire yells at him whenever they cross paths because he’s so picky and mean.”

“He sounds like such a wonderful joy. Actually, I spoke with another one of your cousins this morning – she works in the archives and is going to look into the case for us.” Bones nods curtly at a group of witches who are passing by, wearing even higher heels than she is.

“Oh, that would be Molly,” I tell her. “Brown hair, freckles, extremely ordinary-looking…”

“She’d make a good murderer,” Bones says, then giggles at my shocked expression. “What? The best criminals are always the ones whom nobody recognizes, nobody suspects. It’s common Auror-lore: that’s why I don’t think Runcorn or Malfoy is guilty of killing our man, even if we do have to investigate them. They’re too obvious. Which is why I hope you’re preparing yourself for hours of peeling through Malfoy’s boring business loans and most likely rendez-vous with secret mistresses…”

I grin at her – Bones is in a good mood today. I never saw her as the joking type, though she does have an air of dry irony about her. “I know he’s rich, but I don’t think dames go for men who are so blond they look bald…” Dimples appear in her pale cheeks, and she rolls her eyes, hoisting her pile of several roles of parchment up in her arms.

We step inside the lift, and Bones’ smile fades from her face. Her eyes shift towards me, and I look away, embarrassed to be caught looking at her so closely. Two men are already in the lift – both wearing the dark robes and red badges of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The first is a very tall man with burly shoulders and a large belly, and a black beard – too dark for his age, in fact. His large arm is in his pocket and clenched, as if he’s holding a wand, and his eyes shift between Bones and I and finally down to the scrolls she is holding. His gaze is surly and suspicious, and perhaps he has all the reason to be – we are quietly investigating him for possible murder, after all.

“Hello, Mr. Runcorn,” Bones says, nodding slightly. She looks at the other man, and her pale cheeks turn even whiter before she shuffles into the lift to stand on the other side of Runcorn, facing the doors so that she does not have to look at either of the men. I move in beside her – our arms graze, and she allows my sleeve to lean against her arm for a quiet moment before shifting slightly to the side and looking down.

“Auror Bones, a pleasure,” Runcorn says in a voice which indicates anything but. He does not acknowledge me, but turns to his companion and speaks to him in a low voice. I can’t be sure if he knows yet that he’s being investigated for the Azkaban murder, but there is a definite air of hostility radiating in the lift.

The other man’s dark eyes shift out – they seem to rest on Bones for a moment. He has dark hair streaked with grey and a clean-shaven face, and a face that is very thin and narrow, as if his cheeks were pinched in by the hands of a giant. He is very pale and slightly hunched, yet he carries himself with shrewd power. Everything about him is polished – from the crisp, spotless robes to his shining shoes. But I know who he is, of course – his name is Theodore Nott, and he is the Head of the Department of International Affairs, a post which he has held for seven years this August. Rumor has it that he’s one of the top contenders to run for Minister if Minister Shacklebolt makes good on his promise to retire. I glance at Bones and wonder if the reason she’s so uptight is because of Runcorn or Nott.

We silently step outside the lift after a trip which has felt far too long, and move towards Bones’ cubicle. She pulls out two chairs, patting the seat of one to indicate I should sit down, and spreads her scrolls across the neatly arraigned desk.

“Hey… are you alright? Why was that lift ride so awkward?” I ask in a low voice, in case some of the other Aurors are listening in. The cubicle across the aisle is enclosed by the sliding door, but I know that it’s the cubicle belonging to Auror Savage and my fellow apprentice Mickey McLaggen, whom I don’t particularly want sticking his large nostrils into my business. “Here… Muffliato.” I grin at her. “It’s a wicked spell – my uncle Ron… erm, Auror Weasley taught me.”

“I know the spell – we learnt in training,” Bones groans. She shrugs at me, then pulls out a quill. “It’s just that I know that Runcorn knows we’re investigating him. We can’t bring him into custody, not without some definitive proof, but blokes like that have ears everywhere… he can’t be pleased about this. And Nott… well, I disapprove of his politics, and he’s really unpopular in Italy. Foreign ministries are really displeased with his handling of the dragon blood export tariffs in particular.”

“Oh, right,” I say, feeling a little guilty. I’ve been quite busy lately that I’m not up-to-date on current affairs beyond the crime section of the Daily Prophet.

Bones shoves a roll of parchment towards me. “Here, start taking notes. Look for anything that might connect Malfoy to Crouch, or connect him to any illicit activity at all, frankly… I’d love to catch him on a technicality or corrupt transaction even if we can’t throw him into Azkaban with his father.” She smoothes out a scroll, then runs her hand through her dark hair again, pushing back a few tendrils which have escaped from her hairdo. She pulls down her glasses so they’re sitting on her nose – her eyes are firm and her face is set, but I can’t help but notice that her hand is quivering.

**




After a few hours, I find myself spending more energy grumbling to Bones than actually looking through Malfoy’s rather plain and uneventful papers. The most colorful thing I’ve come up with the time when Malfoy hauled a goblin into court for allegedly bringing him to the wrong vault and passing through the Thieves’ Downfall beneath Gringotts, which led to Malfoy’s expensive set of dress robes being revealed as having been enchanted to hold the threads together and causing them to expose him in his underwear in the cart. The Wizemgamot, presided over in this particular case by my Aunt Hermione, ruled in the goblin’s favor, and Malfoy found himself up to his eyeballs in law fees – greasy bastard.

Bones finds something interesting while looking over a list of Crouch’s victims when he was a Death Eater. Despite the fact that he was a criminal, she seems almost admiring of the fact that he was the son of a top Ministry official during the war and managed to keep his identity secret.

“Probably a good thing they had him Kissed when they had the chance,” she says darkly, and wets her lips with her tongue. Her finger moves down a list, and she frowns, shaking her head slightly then glancing at me. “Say, Weasley, you and Emily Longbottom are quite close, yeah? Has she ever talked to you… about her grandparents?”

I shake my head, frowning. “Not really. I don’t think they’re well… why?”

“Just a thought,” Bones says, covering up her parchment when she sees me looking. “Oi, don’t you have lunch plans with your sister?”

I groan and throw my head onto the desk, my nose smudging the ink on Mr. Malfoy’s receipt for an expensive taxidermy of a Hippogriff head. “Thank you for reminding me, Bones. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Enough with your sass,” she says, and slaps me on the knee with another scroll. “Have fun with Victoire – tell her I send my regards.” Her face twists. “And if you brought me a coffee – Muggle coffee is better than the icky stuff the house elves serve in the Ministry kitchens – I wouldn’t refuse it.”

“So that’s why you’re so ready to be rid of me,” I say, though I notice she is still covering the scroll with her hands. Resisting the urge to tug on her long, dark ponytail – perhaps we aren’t quite at that point yet – I struggle out of my chair, stretch my legs out and head down to the lifts to meet my sister.

**




Victoire and I meet at the café across the way – a Muggle establishment which is very popular with the Ministry crowd who are too tired of the cafeteria food. She’s already ordered me a healthy salad and a chicken wrap with light mayonnaise, and is scribbling away on a sheet of parchment when I slide into the seat across from her. She’s got her nose buried in the Daily Prophet when I come in – the front page story is a follow-up on a report of a prisoner of Azkaban, a former criminal who regained his wits and his memories and is atoning for what he did when he was out of his right mind – the story has been circulating for a few weeks.

Hola, senorita,” I say, rummaging in my wallet to make sure I’ve got enough Muggle money. Victoire puts down her quill and leans her elbows against the table. Her long curtains of red hair are loose about her shoulders, and her blue eyes are piercing beneath her perfectly plucked eyebrows. She’s almost more terrifying sitting down because we’re at the same eyelevel, and I carry a small fear that she’s going to practice Legilimency on me the way she used to try and do when we were children and Mum and Dad weren’t paying attention. “You alright? Thanks for the water.”

“You’re looking a little pasty,” she says, frowning, and stretches her hand across the table to lean the back of her hand against my forehead. I squirm out of the way and swat her hand. “Gross, Lou, your forehead is all sweaty.” The couple kissing at the table next to ours takes a break to glance over, and the one man nudges his boyfriend and smirks.

“Well, it’s quite warm outside and I had to hurry here or else be late.”

“I suppose. I detest tardiness. Well, I have a handkerchief here if you want to borrow it. I spelled it myself and it’s….” She looks around as if to ensure none of the Muggles are looking our way. “…self-cleaning.”

“I’m fine,” I say through gritted teeth. The café employee chooses this moment to bring our sandwiches over – a service which they don’t bother to do for everybody, and the poor bloke nearly trips over his own shoelaces in ogling my sister. She smiles at him – charming as a viper, really. “So how is Teddy?” I load my fork with a bit of spinach and moist carrot shreds from the salad.

Victoire sighs. “Same old – without ambition, yet still trying to trick me into telling him my ring-size.” She fingers the silver band around her ring finger. “I haven’t been taking this one off in case he steals it when I’m in the bath and brings it to the jeweler.”

I snort into my salad. “You are honestly impossible. I thought girls were supposed to be desperate for a ring… how is poor Teddy supposed to realize how absolutely insane you are?”

“Don’t be one of those prats who generalize about women, Louis,” Victoire says sternly. “I won’t stand for my own brother being one of those prats. I raised you better than that. And Teddy just wants to propose because we’ve been together for… well, two years this time around. I keep trying to tell him that I’m perfectly happy living in sin until I turn thirty-five and can actually afford to pay for my own wedding instead of mooching off Mum and Dad for it.” She gives me a pointed look, then takes a dainty nibble of her own chicken wrap.

“Are you done?”

“No.” She bares her teeth at me in a snarky smile. I decide not to tell her that she has a bit of spinach stuck between her front teeth – it’s the small victories which matter. “I wanted to talk to you about Dommy. Have you heard from her? My owl keeps coming back with the letters unreturned.”

I feel heat rushing to my cheeks, but try to keep silent. In the Auror field, being able to lie and keep a poker face is an asset, but my sisters can smell a lie before it even leaves my lips and I know that. She doesn’t even need Legilimency. Victoire leans back in her chair and crosses her arms across her chest, right below the pink badge on her robes.

Louis, you need to stop protecting her,” she says, flicking a strand of red hair over her shoulder. “She’s being a little irresponsible brat and she’s going to get eaten by a wild mountain troll if she keeps this up. Or worse – she and her hippie friends will get…”

“Excuse me,” one of the blokes sitting next to us says. “Did you just say a wild mountain troll?”

Victoire’s eyes travel to the man’s pockets – an inappropriate gesture, really, but I know she’s checking to see if he’s hiding a wand. Besides, Victoire does what she likes. “It’s our nickname for my sister’s crazy boyfriend,” she says finally, and both the Muggles laugh and turn back to their dessert. She looks at me again. “C’est assez proche de la verité.”

Peut-être, mais je pourrais vous arrêter pour violation de la loi,” I shoot back at her, deciding to break my silence. It has been weeks since I’ve properly spoken French, though my mother tries to speak it as much as possible when we’re at Shell Cottage.

Votre accent est horrible,” Victoire returns. She sighs, unable to resist her lunch anymore, and takes another large bite while staring at me expectantly.

“I got one letter last week,” I say, sighing. “She’s not in the Highlands anymore, so no worries about les trolls. She’s in some forest which is going to get cut down, and so her and Steak are camping out and… and...well, she sort of made it sound like they’re hexing the construction workers, but the letter was vague and was written on a bit of bark, so I had trouble deciphering.”

Victoire’s brown eyes narrow at the word ‘bark.’ “Did she say anything about pixies?”

“Erm, no. She did not mention pixies.”

My sister Dominique changed in the years since she graduated Hogwarts. While both Victoire and I followed in the regular footsteps of any average wizarding graduate and gone into the Ministry – granted, it had taken me an extra year to make the Auror program, but still – Dominique had run off with some Hufflepuff friends to help form an activist group for magical animals. When that fell through, and after Dominique’s boyfriend at the time, Narglefoot, was taken into custody, Dominique had left for Ireland to argue for leprechaun employment equity. Currently, she was traveling from wildland to forest with her new boyfriend, ironically nicknamed ‘Steak,’ and generally getting into trouble with the local police for trespassing and camping in non-camp designated areas. The last time I saw her was in April, and despite the spring chill she had refused to wear shoes and looked as if she hadn’t brushed her hair in about a month. She had been happy enough to be reunited with a toilet that flushed, however.

I know that my parents and Victoire are worried about Dominique, and think that Steak is a bad influence. In fact, I rather loathe the bloody prat myself – he tries very hard to look like a magical reincarnation of Jesus, braids the ends of his beard into stupid little trails, and lectured me about the corruption of the Aurors and the stack of parchment I’d brought with me to the house to study from since my apprentice exams were fast approaching. Not to mention he was consistently grabbing my sister’s behind and finishing her sentences for her. He is, in my opinion, the worst and most uninspiring kind of human being, while Dominique is the best kind – however, telling her the family’s true opinion of Steak would only make her like him more.

After I promise to show Victoire the tree-bark note from Dominique, the conversation moves onto other things. I pass on Bones’ greetings, and Victoire frowns and says it’s strange that she would want to say hello when they barely know one another and allegedly Bones once tried to snog Teddy in their sixth year – I can’t pretend that this doesn’t bother me a little, and I try not to let it show on my face. Victoire fills me in on her life – work is very exciting for her, as the Department has recently been campaigning for the rights of female prisoners in Azkaban and even, two weeks ago, secured the release of one elderly criminal witch into a magical retirement home.

I begin to fill her in on some of the non-confidential facts of the Crouch case, when the man sitting beside us cuts in again just as he’s standing up to leave. His partner is putting Muggle money down on the table. “Sorry,” the man says curiously, “but what exactly is Azkaban?”

Victoire stares down at the remains of her salad.

“It’s the name of a strip club,” I say with my best imitation of a poker face.

The man nods, confused, and as the door swings closed behind them my sister and I look at one another – and then we laugh, and we laugh.






Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading! I hope you are all enjoying the story. Thanks to all the people who have reviewed so far - I'm especially loving hearing your theories on the murderer. Hehe.

The chapter title is taken from the song 'Dead Hearts' by Stars.

Translations:

C’est assez proche de la verité: "Close enough to the truth."

Peut-etre, mais je pourrais vous arreter pour violation de la loi: "Yeah, maybe, but I could arrest you for breaking the law."

Votre accent est horrible: "Your accent is awful."

les trolls: "the trolls."


Chapter 4: in the midnight hour
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Chapter Four
in the midnight hour



Beautiful image by aigue-marie at TDA.


Nurmengard Prison, Germany, 1943

Nurmengard, Nurmengard – guardian of souls. The children and the little boy who listened to her fairytale are dead – their cries and pleas have been silenced, and only the cool winter wind blowing through the stones of the great fortress and trickling across Ada’s skin remains. She wonders if the ashes of the departed are in the wind, or worse, if their souls have been captured and held by this place. In her mind she can still hear the child – Ada Red, he whispered. He was devoted to her, to the sevenfold killer. She gave them hope, he said. But there was a desperate breaking in the boy’s voice – for he would go to his death in the morning, and Ada Red could not rescue him. Her power had faded when they snapped her wand and bound her wrists and beat her about the head and locked her here.

Gregore Gottschalk had been the first blood she spilt. He was a brute, practically a mercenary – but she had killed him, and the people had whispered with hungry excitement at the sight of his body upon the church. Ada had hidden with the crowd, a scarf pulled around her head. Gottschalk’s body looked more pathetic in the day than it had when she Levitated it and stuck him up on the stones of the church, fumbling in the dark. His broken wand lying on the stones where she had crushed it with her thin leather shoe – she could still feel the fracturing of power, the crunch of wood, see the unicorn tail glimmering in the faint light as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.

Killing was horrible, horrible – but on that night, the faces of her father and her grandfather were kind and calm in her head. She imagined them drinking tea, her grandfather’s pipe held in his brown-spotted hands. His bristly whiskers brushed against her cheek. Red ribbons which hung unevenly from her plaits, pressed upon the chest of those who had died.

Ada is startled from her memories with the sounds of footsteps in her lonely corridor. She crouches on the dirty cot – it creaks beneath her weight, but she pulls the gray blanket up over her knees and crosses her arms against her chest, staring at the bars of her cell door.

Perhaps they have finally come to kill me, she thinks bitterly. She looks at her nails – they are bitten down, for she is not permitted nail scissors – she nibbles them off when they are too long and spits them out on the floor – her nails taste like earth and stone. What punishment shall they choose for Ada Red? Crucified on a wall like Herr Gottschalk? Why, I would blend into the stones, I am so filthy and gray. Perhaps they will hang me from the ceiling – my neck snapped like Herr Machtig and Herr Grosse. Or my body broken and cracked like a doll a child has dropped – perhaps they shall kill me in the name of Madame la Douloureuse.

The names of her victims are ingrained on her mind – the seven of them, each killed in a different way, for a different reason. Death left a sour taste in her mouth but martyrs always suffered horrific ends. After all, Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. Ada can’t help but smile sourly at the thought.

But they are not here to kill her, for the wizard scarcely glances in Ada’s direction, as if she is a ghost. She moves closer to the door and peeks out through the bars which separate her cell from the corridor – when she touches her forehead to the door, it is coated in wet blackness, which she wipes on her smock.

She is shocked, for she realizes that the guard is ushering in a new prisoner – a girl! A girl who is so surprisingly familiar, and clean – her golden hair shines down in two plaits, as if the pins which held the braids to her head have been yanked away. Her face is pink and shining, her mouth extended in a grim pout – she still has the plump cheeks and round shoulders that she did as a schoolgirl. Ada bites down on her lip, hard, and moves away from the door as the guard mutters something and locks the door to the other cell, moving away down the corridor.

“Ruth,” she says aloud, trying the words on her lips. She has not spoken this loudly in months – her dialogue has come from words whispered through the walls. The girl does not look at her, so Ada bangs her fist against it, gritting her teeth against her dry lips. “Ruth! Ruth Kaufmann. It is you – I saw your face, Ruth!”

The blond girl turns towards her, and Ada wraps her fingers around the bars of her cell. She cannot help but grin – though for Ruth to be captured in this terrible place hurts her heart, the sight of the dear, familiar face sends life flowing through her body.

“Ada Treuherzig,” Ruth whispers, her pale face shining in the darkness of the corridor. “I thought… I thought perhaps your voice was a dream – they say that people go mad in Nurmengard.” Her face falls, her sweet mouth puckering. “Oh, Ada – we all feared you were dead! Der Meister has been spreading the word among the people that you died here.”

“I am certainly not dead, Ruth,” Ada says. She stretches her arm through the bars – she is thin enough that she can get her elbow through the gap, though she is stuck halfway through her upper arm. Ruth seems to understand, for she eaches out her arm as well, but they cannot quite touch – Ada realizes how very long it has been since she was touched by another human being, and her body longs for it – for affection, the way her mother used to hold her hand as a little girl or her grandfather’s rough hand patted her on the top of her head. “But… what has happened to you? Were you captured by the secret police?”

Ruth sighs – tears brim in her large, blue eyes. “Oh, Ava, I have been most foolish,” she whispers. “I could have fled from Germany – oh, I did not want to abandon our country in its time of need! Yet… I felt I could not leave my family, and I could not leave… him.” Her fair cheeks turn pink, a rare spot of color in darkly shrouded Nurmengard, though they are wet with tears. Ruth’s words begin to sound heavy, slurred, as if her tongue has swollen up and is pressing against her gums.

“How did they catch you?” Ada presses. She longs to ask more things of Ruth – why have they allowed her to remain in the prison when all the other women have been killed? Has she had word of their old friends from school – who is safe and who is not?”

“I… do you remember Joachim?” Ruth asks. She touches her hair, feels her scalp, and tries to wind her plaits up on top of her head. It is a childlike gesture, almost pathetic. “I am sorry… Ava, they took my pins from my hair when I was brought here.” Ada nods. “Joachim… he is with them – ah, it hurts my heart to speak it! He is here, serving der Meister – but you must not blame him, for all of the old gang from Durmstrang were pulled in. They would have killed him if he refused.” She bites her lip and begins to sob, loud, wrenching gulps.

“Ada,” Ruth says quietly, when her tears have subsided and the quiet fire returned in her. “Ada – I saw her body – Madame la Douloureuse. I know you must have heard it before, but… did you truly push her from a window?”

Ada smiles – she is lying on her cot, face pressed against the pillow, and her lips are rough against its gray canvas.

“I pushed her,” she confirms, remembering the feeling of the soft fabrics in her hands, the cruel, sharp face twisted in terror.

Slowly, over the coming few days, Ada assembles the story from the outside. Der Meister’s hands are touching every corner of the magical Third Reich, and no soul is safe. Ruth, a Muggleborn witch, is one of the prime targets sent to the final solution camps and prisons such as Nurmengard, but she was going to escape it – she needed only to flee the country with a kindly neighbor. But on the eve of her departure, Ruth had chosen to meet with her lover, Joachim, one final time – and was caught and rounded up before she could reach him.

Ada is surprised to discover that Ruth’s life was spared due to Joachim’s affection for her – he allegedly pleaded with the commanders of Nurmengard to spare the pretty girl’s life.

“He risked his own post to do so,” Ruth says, sitting with her back leaning against the wall as she perches on her cot across the corridor. Ada can just make out her pale face, forlorn and frightened. “He could not, of course, tell them about our love…” Here she holds her fingers to her eyes, pushing back on her eyelids as if to prevent the harsh, dry tears from burning her eyes once more. “I believe he said he desired me – wanted to possess me perhaps. Would death not be better than this?” She is growing hysterical with fear and dread – Ada believes the poor girl is furious with herself. It is a feeling she understands well.

“You must live so that we can rise from here, my darling friend,” she whispers across the chasm between them. Once, they shared a dormitory and braided one another’s hair and practiced charms together, giggling and carefree. Ruth is but one of the thousands whose lives are crumbling because of der Meister. Ada sighs and nibbles on her thumbnail. She prays that night, like she has not done in months – she prays for Ruth’s poor, sweet soul.

The Erik incident is the only thing which comes between them, for Ada knows that Ruth is thinking of it as sure as if she were a Legilimens. The truth of Erik hangs between them like a bitter smell, wafting on an occasional wind to pervade their companionship, and Ada wonders if Ruth fears her sometimes, if perhaps she is not the martyr and the heroine that the other wizards believe her to be.

**


London, July 11th, 2027

My first girlfriend – and only serious girlfriend – was called Agathe, and she lived in France in the same little magical village as my maternal grandparents where we visited every summer. We met in the summer after fifth year, and had a lovely month spent wandering around the fields, playing on hay bales and Agathe trying to give me practice in speaking French, per my mother’s request. She would reward me with kisses every time I got a verb tense correctly, which was pretty excellent incentive. We continued dating long distance via owl mail, and visiting over the holidays – this worked out well, as it gave me time to study with only the occasional distraction of writing a letter to Agathe – she told me that every time I sent her a letter with less than ten grammar mistakes in French, she would save the points up for a special surprise. This surprise resulted in my first time having sex – a moment which was both so awkward yet lovely that it was both scarred and commemorated in my mind.

Agathe broke up with me midway through seventh year – in French, and I had to bring the letter to Victoire to confirm that was what had happened. I was heartbroken – Agathe had been clever, silly, and quite pretty, and I was convinced that I had lost the perfect girl. She started dating some prat called Phillipe (emphasis on the last syllable) and I moved on by attaching myself to my N.E.W.Ts revision, whining to Dominique, and both satisfying and depressing myself by thinking about Agathe repeatedly during my private boy moments.

On the night I met Lucretia, James had been teasing me about what he labeled my “kill-count,” which had remained at a lowly three for the past few months. James’ number was “nine,” which he said was a magical number that could only be beaten by ten. Emily, who came out with us that night, I was shocked to learn had slept with four boys – four! I immediately wanted to go and smash their noses in, though she refused to divulge any names.

“Just as long as one of them wasn’t James,” I remember telling her, a mixed drink of Firewhiskey and orange juice sloshing in my hand. Emily had mimed vomiting into her own glass of wine – which tasted rather better than my drink, but which James had teased me for trying as it was distinctly feminine.

Ogretown is one of the new bars in the up-and-coming wizarding quarter of Knockturn Alley a few streets away from our flat, and was fast becoming one of James’ favourite haunts at the time. I can never seem to find the place during the day – its dark windows and plain entrance doors are easily camouflaged into ordinary daylit London – but at night strains of music sometimes trickled all the way to my bedroom door.

James vaguely recognized Taryn Corner from Hogwarts, and immediately found her and offered to buy her a drink. Taryn has blond hair and a very shrewd face, with a baby voice which she uses when she’s angry. She’s the worst kind of Slytherin, really – her bark and her bite are equally terrifying. James, after coughing into his sleeve after a particularly rough shot of Firewhiskey – introduced me to Lucretia Levanne, Taryn’s bestfriend. I’ll admit – immediately I thought Lucretia was pretty cute. She explained to me over the loud music that she came from ancestry ranging from Filipino, Irish and Italian, and that she loved playing Muggle football – a sport which I always did find fascinating since my early days playing in the yard at Muggle primary school. She was tall, with very long legs, and a silly, innocent way of flitting about the dancefloor in the bar. I soon found out that she was a very good dancer and an even better snog.

A few double-dates later and Lucretia happily became my number four. Emily, though she didn’t exactly approve of Lucretia, thought the girl was pretty ridiculous and repeatedly reminded me that I had absolutely nothing in common with Lucretia.

“You’re just using her, and perhaps she’s using you,” Emily told me a few days before the Crouch case began. “And that’s okay, but you should make sure you don’t hurt her. Remember how you felt when Agathe started seeing Philli-pay?”

A part of me admitted that Emily was probably right – conversation with Lucretia was quite strained and I was pretty sure that Taryn, her best friend who had been found sleeping naked on the kitchen floor with James after a night out by my Aunt Ginny, didn’t particularly like me.

This all comes to a head two days after my lunch meeting with Victoire. James had coaxed me out into going out with him and the girls the night before, and I wake up with a headache and a rumbling stomach, like the alcohol from the night before is still squirming around in my belly.

I realize naked from the waist up, and Lucretia’s hair is in my mouth and her head resting half on my shoulder and half on the pillow. Her arm is draped territorially over my waist. My stomach rumbles loudly, and I groan. This appears to be her cue to announce that she is awake, and she leans up on her elbow, grinning at me.

“Good morning, babe. I’ve been like, waiting for you to finally fucking wake up.” She leans in my kisses me – her lips are very dry, and her breath is far from sweet. Something tells me she’s been lying in this exact position for the whole night.

“Yeah… I’m going to the toilet,” I mumble, wracking my brain for what I’m meant to be doing with Bones today for the case. Stumbling out of bed, I zig-zag to the toilet and sit on it for a few minutes, brushing my teeth and missing the sink from my perch. I find the last of our Pepperup potion in the cabinet, but drink it down anyway – not to be rude, but my job is far more important than James’ employment at the restaurant, where he mostly just goofs off with the other servers and steals chips off customers’ plates and answers questions about his father. If he really wants more bloody potion he can go to the apothecary on his way to work later.

Curiously, when I return to my room Lucretia has disappeared. Shrugging, I climb back into bed, setting my alarm for an extra twenty minutes – the time it takes for the potion to kick into effect. Placing my wand carefully next to the clock, I close my eyes and tug the sheet up over my body.

Something light and soft touches my ankle. I freeze for a moment – I must be imagining it – but no, something is touching me! I rip back the sheet to reveal the foot of the bed – and scream.

**


“Was it really the size of your palm?” Emily asks. I’m sitting at the bar at the Leaky Cauldron, and she’s polishing glasses and serving the occasional drink to the customers. The rain outside creates a grim lighting in the bar, but the candles are lit and the wooden floors and bar are neatly scrubbed, like they have been since Emily’s mum, Hannah, took over from the old barman several years ago.

I hold my hand in front of me, curling my fingers and extending my palm. “I swear, Emily. It was bloody enormous.” Even just thinking about it sends goosebumps up on my arms, and causes the hair to stand on end. I shudder, bringing my shoulder blades together. “It was horrible. I honestly could have killed that horrid Taryn.”

“It sounds like James and Lucretia were in on it as well,” Emily says, wrinkling her nose at Lucretia’s name. “I mean, Lucretia was there, right?” She moves her cloth in mindless circles across the counter. “And James must have told Taryn you hated spiders.”

“And he does a good enlargement charm,” I say grimly. “Yes, my dear cousin was certainly responsible, and I think Lucretia just thought it was funny.” Emily snorts – her opinion of Lucretia is clearly not improving from this conversation. “Lucretia told me that Taryn is angry with me because I didn’t warn James about Aunt Ginny popping by the other morning.”

“But she always hated you – what was it that she called you? A scrawny, stringy nerd who is the…”

“…the five to Lucretia’s ten, or something wonderfully eloquent like that,” I say gloomily, kicking my feet against the counter. A grizzled wizard from down the bar beckons to Emily for a refill, and she pulls out a bottle of a very strong-smelling drink. “Emily, please do not pour that in front of me or I will be sick all over your lovely counter.”

“Fine, bossy pants,” Emily says, moving down the bar. “But I have something to tell you.”

I nod, but notice a familiar dark head of hair and pair of glasses coming down the stairs from the apartment above the pub. My Uncle Harry is here, and for a fleeting moment I wonder if he’s hoping to run into James, who should be showing up any minute once he’s off work at the restaurant. A look of extreme awkwardness is on my uncle’s face. The man he’s walking with is, of course, very familiar to me – he was my Herbology professor for seven years and the father of my best friend.

“Hiya, Dad,” Emily chimes from across the bar, though Neville Longbottom appears too focused on his conversation with Uncle Harry to acknowledge his only daughter. Uncle Harry sighs as Neville turns back up towards the stairs, rubbing his face with his hands. “Oh, hiya, Auror Potter. Can I get you a drink?” Emily smiles brightly at him.

“Perhaps just a coke, if you have it, love,” Harry says, and he comes to sit next to me. “Alright, Louis?”

“Were you quarreling with Professor Longbottom?” I ask, curious. Uncle Harry shifts and looks down at the bar – he seems extremely uncomfortable.

“It’s a long story, but perhaps one that need not concern you, mate,” he says. I frown but decide to say nothing – after all, Uncle Harry is the Head Auror, and therefore the most trustworthy person in Britain when it comes to trouble. Instead, I examine Emily’s bright grin as she takes a tip from a customer and stashes it behind the bar. Gliding back over to where we are, she serves Uncle Harry his coke – a delicious Muggle drink which the Leaky Cauldron started to serve when Hannah Longbottom took over – and leans against the bar, smiling at me.

“Necrowitch by day, bartender by night,” I say, laughing at her eager expression. She picks up one foot and leans it against her thigh, balancing like that. I raise my eyebrows. “Is this some sort of ninja bartender pose – serving drinks on one foot?”

Emily giggles. “It’s comfortable – I’ve always rested like this, especially when doing the dishes. Anyway, so I wanted to tell you…” she takes a deep breath, but her eyes flit behind me. “Erm, nevermind. But your parents are here.”

I spin on the stool – indeed, and so is Victoire, looking very tall, very red and very irritable. There’s my dad – silver hair cut neatly so it just reaches behind his jaw, and the beginnings of a beard. His customary silver earring glints in the faded light of the pub, and he strides forward and pats me on the back, then shakes hands with Uncle Harry.

“Family,” I say drily. Mum swoops up to me and kisses me on the head.

Mon cher, vous avez l’air d’être fatigue,” my mother says, frowning. “Ils vous travaillent trop dur au bureau.” She gives poor Uncle Harry a suspicious look.

“Mum, don’t make a fuss,” I tell her. “I’m just hungover.” Dad snorts loudly, and Mum and Victoire roll their eyes in a gesture which makes them look strangely alike. Mum has dressed up for the visit today – her silvery blond hair is pulled up in a tidy bun on top of her head, and the only sign of her age are the smile-wrinkles around her blue, piercing eyes. I used to avoid bringing mates round ours because they would always just gape at Mum, and then Victoire would be mean about it – of course I think she’s beautiful, but not because she’s part-Veela, but she’s my mother. Despite being annoying as all heck sometimes, she’s still one of my favourite people in the world.

I glance back to Emily – who also ranks as one of my favourites, and wonder idly what she wants to tell me. Emily looks very pretty today, wearing a blue summer dress beneath her barwoman’s apron, and her brown-blond hair is tumbling in tendrils around her face.

“Look, Lou, is James not here yet?” Dad asks, emerging from his discussion with Uncle Harry. “Because lunch at the home is meant to be starting at one, so we’d best be getting there before your grandmother starts to fuss.”

“She does like a good fuss,” I say, and Dad laughs.

“Say that in front of her and she’ll have words in return – you coming, Harry?”

“Erm, no, I just came by to see a friend and ran into the kids. Ginny and I went round last weekend. If you like, I can stay a few minutes and direct my errant son through the Floo.”

“Cheers, Harry,” Dad says. “Darling?” I realize that Mum has taken advantage of the distraction to sneak down the bar and take a quick drink of something pink and alcoholic from Emily, who is giggling.

“Well, cheri, if I ‘ave to spend ze afternoon with your mother zen I am entitled to one leetle drink,” Mum calls back, and Emily laughs again. Victoire sighs and mutters something to herself, but I laugh with Emily, and find myself wishing Dominique was here. I bet Steak and his crew aren’t as ridiculous as our family, I think a little wistfully.

James catches up just as we are about to step through the Floo, and it’s a quick trip from the Leaky Cauldron to the Shining Gurdyroot, the wizarding senior’s home which is just outside London and where my Weasley grandparents have lived for the past six months.

“I’m very upset with you,” I whisper to James. His dark hair is a mess and there are dark circles under his eyes, but he shrugs.

“You should have told us about Mum.”

“I forgot! I was having a really long day. Perhaps you should know better than to fall asleep after… whatever you were doing, gross… on the kitchen floor.”

“Perhaps you should know better than to be afraid of spiders when you’re supposed to be a big tough Auror,” James retorts. “What if you have to go into battle with a troop of Acrumantula? What then, Lou?”

“I’m an investigative Auror, not the kind who does battle,” I tell him, but I can’t help shuddering at the image. Spiders are disgusting. “But if I were to do battle, I’d do it with your dreadful little friend Taryn. She has no boundaries, and she’s a troll. I’m renaming her the Taryntula.” I’m quite pleased with this cleverness, and I can tell James is impressed by the twitch in his lips. Victoire glances over her shoulder suspiciously – no doubt lying in wait for the chance to pounce on one of us for being “one of those prats.”

Grandad and Nana moved Weasley moved into the Shining Gurdyroot with a surprisingly amount of agreeable ease. The move was set into motion when Grandad fell down the stairs at the Burrow while Nana was taking a nap without her hearing-enhancement charms – he lay there, patiently waiting, until she woke up, began to make her slow way down the stairs to find him crumpled at the bottom and to make a fuss. This incident triggered the truth about my grandparents living in the rather hazardous family home, and when Grandad’s leg got infected and Nana became overwhelmed with caring for him the decision was made.

Victoire cried when she found out the Burrow would have to be sold in order to support the grandparents’ new life in the retirement home – we had all been visiting there since we were babies, and the gnome-infested garden, rickety stairs and very ancient ghoul in the attic all held lovely memories. It was difficult for my grandparents to leave a house they’d built themselves through bricks, mortar and magic, and hard for the less practical cousins, aunts and especially uncles who were quite upset. The Burrow was still on the market, and would probably be sold to somebody who would tear it down and keep the land – a truth I had decided to avoid facing until it became necessary to grieve.

The Shining Gurdyroot is the only senior’s residence for magical elderly folk in Greater London, and it is situated in a large, sprawling building on a large chunk of land with gardens to walk in. There are several different wards or divisions, depending on the level of care which the client needs – for instance, my grandparents were living in their own suite with a bedroom, study and kitchen-living area – frankly, it was far fancier than mine and James’ flat. Several of my friends’ grandparents live there as well, including Emily Longbottom’s. Today, however, we were scheduled to go for lunch in the dining room, where servers whisked around with food prepared by the independently employed house elves who worked in the kitchens. There is also a ward for patients with cognitive deterioration, as well as ones who for some reason are seen as a magical threat to the other residents. Magical ability is usally either heightened or diminished by mental deficiencies, but there would always be that one old woman who used her age as a blanket for slipping suite-brewed love potions into the tea of the old widower in a wheelchair at her table.

“No sign of them,” Dad says, and sighs. “Fleur, Victoire, why don’t you come upstairs with me and we’ll see if Dad needs some help getting downstairs or what not. Lunch begins in ten minutes, so reconvene here, boys.” He nods at me. “No trouble.”

“No trouble,” I echo, knowing he’s referring to James, who tends to get into mischief when he’s not being occupied. My parents nad sister turn and stride towards the lift, and a couple old grizzled wizards slumped in their chairs by the doors straighten and stare at the two tall women. I resist rolling my eyes. “Oi, mate, fancy walking out in the garden while we wait?”

James nods and follows me towards the entrance doors. Similarly to the entrance to Diagon Alley, there’s a pattern in the wall which has to be taped with a wand in order to leave by the main doors or by the Floo. Apparating is prohibited anywhere on the grounds.

“I’d hate to be cooped up in here all day,” James sighs. “I’m going to die before I get old enough.”

“You do that, mate,” I tell him, clapping him on the back before remembering I’m angry with him for the spider incident this morning.

“I bloody well will,” James mutters, then his face brightens and he nudges me. “That’s Ms. Coffman – she’s a friend of Nana’s. Hey! Mrs. Coffman!” He bounds over to an elderly lady who is moving carefully through the atrium and back towards the lifts. She has a hand clenched on a cane and tufts of silver-white hair float up around her ears. The top of her head perhaps reaches my upper arm, and her spine is gently stooped over, but she moves quickly enough. I notice that she has the outline of a wand in her pocket.

“Oh, vell hello, dear,” Ms. Coffman says, and she shakily pats James’ arm. He frowns, and touches her elbow.

“Are you alright? Do you need any help getting to the lifts?”

“No, no, I vas just going to lie down for a minute,” Ms. Coffman says. Her eyes are blue but very clear, and she is dressed in a neat Muggle outfit of a matching shirt and cardigan and beige slacks with sturdy trainers. Her shoes are a little off-colored, I notice – judging from the direction in which she came, I decide she was probably walking in the garden. “Zee rain has stopped for now and it is fery beautiful.” This confirms my suspicion. “And is zis a friend – I do not see your charming cousin?”

“This is my other cousin, Louis,” James says confidently. I wonder shaking the little woman’s hand is the polite thing to do, and my right hand twitches, but hers is clenched on her cane, which seems to be holding her up. “Molly couldn’t make it today. Lou, meet Ms. Coffman – she’s a friend of Nana’s.” He puffs out his chest, pleased to be the one who appears more at home here.

“Lovely to meet you,” I say, smiling at her and being sure to speak quite loudly. Ms. Coffman smiles – revealing a mouthful of false teeth – and shuffles off towards the lifts.

“She’s really sweet, yeah,” James says as we walk towards the doors. “She had lunch with us when I came round to visit with Lily and Molly last week – she has all sorts of stories about her life.”

“Oh, interesting,” I say. I wonder what Bones is up to – today hasn’t been particularly productive for working on the case, but it is supposed to be my day off. I make a mental note to check in with Emily and the other Necrowizards tomorrow and see if any new clues have come to light, as we couldn’t really discuss the case in the Leaky Cauldron, especially with Uncle Harry present, though he did seem rather distracted.

James taps the code for the gardens – they range over several acres of land, sloping gently down a hill with benches shaded by trees and pavement paths, which I’m quite sure are charmed to keep the residents from slipping. The old building is far larger from the inside than it is from the outside, reaching up five stories with large windows the height of a man and red bricks which hint at a Georgian era. Many of the windows have flowerboxes hanging out of them, a detail which I find especially quaint, and bushes of roses border directly along the line of the building with beds of wildflowers ranging out. The air feels wet and crisp and when James shoves me into the grass my leather shoes turn the same colour as Ms. Coffman’s.

“Oi! Stop that, James. I could have you arrested for assaulting an Auror.”

“Then who would supply us with Pepperup potion for hangovers?” James retorts, grinning. The moist air causes his dark hair to stand up in little strands, and he shoves his hands into his pockets. “So when are you going to ditch Lucretia and ask Emily out? I saw you when I came in, blushing and making googly-eyes at her.” He raises his thick, dark eyebrows and waggles them suggestively.

“We’re just mates.” I contemplate shoving him back. “Just because we’re best mates doesn’t mean we have to leap into bed together.”

“Emily never would have giggled and stood by to let us put a spider in your bed,” James comments. I ponder this for a moment –though the truth is that there’s another girl in my mind, somebody a little more mature, who wears her hair in a long, dark ponytail and perches her glasses up on top of her head. Knowing James would just laugh at me if I told him, I shrug instead.

“Yeah, whatever. I’ll get the Taryntula back.” James snorts at this.

“Wicked nickname, though she’d kick me where it hurts if she ever heard,” James says. “Did I tell you I saw Alfie this morning? No – well, he came round the restauraunt. Reckon he’s back in London for a few weeks until he starts his Muggle schooling up again in September.”

“Yeah?” I ask, pleased but surprised. Alfie Peakes is one of my good friends from Hogwarts, who chose to go to Muggle university in Ireland after goofing off for a year. “We’ll have him round for drinks maybe, this weekend?”

“Prime,” James says, then freezes, grabbing my arm. “Wait, Louis… what is that? Over there – in the rose bushes.”

I squint – there’s something lying about a hundred metres in front of us, crushing the rose bushes right below the windows. James and I look at one another, then start to run forward, dread boiling up inside me. My first thought is that this is the side of the building where my grandparents have their apartment – glancing up, there is nobody to be seen at the windows, nobody but some distant pensioners sitting on a bench far away in the gardens.

“Oh shit, Lou, oh shit,” James breathes, and he sounds as if he’s going to cry. We are a few metres away, and I slow down, putting a hand on his arm.

“Hey… hey, Jay, it’s alright.” I put my hands on his scrawny shoulders nad look him in the eye. “Take a deep breath. Yeah – you don’t need to look, okay? Now, I need you to run back to the atrium and get help. Fetch the staff and have somebody send an owl to the Ministry, and to St. Mungo’s, and bring them back. Don’t make a big scene, alright?” I stare at him for a moment. He looks terrified. “Be cool, man.”

James nods and sprints off in the direction of the doors from where we’ve just come, and I suspect the only thing which saves him from tripping over his own feet are the anti-falling charms on the pathways. Taking a deep breath, I turn to the form on the ground – the body, for that is what it is.

The first thing I see is pink. And red. Pink quickly turning red because the thorns from the bushes are pricking her through her pink suit and drawing blood.

She is a woman, an elderly woman, with a round face and a rosebud mouth painted with red. I put my fingers to her skin at her neck – it is leathery and hard, and there is no pulse. Pulling out my wand, I whisper a quick incantation – no, she is well and truly dead, and no miracles - medical nor magical - will bring her back. I glance towards the path where James disappeared to.

As I look closer, there are scrape marks on the front of her body, tearing her pink clothes. And there are bits of glass on the ground, as if she fell – or was pushed – through the window. Looking up, the flower boxes obscure my view of which window she might have tumbled from, but the bushes did slightly cushion her fall, so in order to be dead this quickly she must have either died before falling or come from the highest floor – the floor with the greatest amount of security, used for high-risk residents who are rarely allowed to escape.




Author's Note:The plot thickens! Any guesses about who Victim number two could be? Or what's going on with Neville? Or the elusive murderer? What is going to happen to Ada, and what do you think about Ruth and the mentions of some person called Erik? So many questions, so little time, hehe. Thanks so much for reading! The chapter title is taken from the song 'In the Midnight Hour' by Wilson Pickett.

Translations:

Mon cher, vous avez l’air d’être fatigue. Ils vous travaillent trop dur au bureau: You look tired, dear. They are working you too hard at the office.

Chapter 5: something in the way she moves
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Chapter Five
something in the way she moves



Amazing image by enchantedx at TDA.



Zauberei Dorf, 1941

Madame la Douloureuse was a French consort of one of der Meister’s followers in France. Rumour said that she was beautiful yet cruel, with needle-sharp nails and a falsely sweet voice which lulled victims into a false sense of security before she sent them to their deaths. She had earned her nickname due to the legend that whoever she wanted dead, died, with the greatest amount of pain possible. This unsettling creature lived in a stately house in Zauberei Dorf, where she plotted with the other followers of der Meister of how to best extend the reach of terror to all corners of Europe.

The fact that Madame la Douleureuse was a woman was an object of contention among the citizens of Ada’s neighbourhood. Some nurtured a false hope that she might find her feminine tenderness and take pity on the wives and the children of magical Germany, while others used her gender to say nasty, even sexual things about the lady and whose bed she might be occupying to retain her power. Ada cared not for these things, not truly. She only for what Madame la Douleureuse had done to her mother.

Mrs. Treuherzig had begun to fall apart with fear and worry. Ada had thought that her mother would be pleased about the death of Gottschalk, the man who had killed her husband and father-in-law, though the girl did not dare to tell the fragile woman that her own little daughter had been the one to confront and kill the brutal man and to display his body in such an obvious way. Her mother had attended Beauxbaton, not Durmstrang, where dark things were never spoken about nor dark curses discussed, unlike the northern school. But the incident had only raised Mrs. Treuherzig’s fears about the dangers and the night-terrors of the city she had been born in, and she barely left her house unless the alternative was to starve. Ada found herself creeping out when her mother was asleep to fetch groceries and to whisper with the other inhabitants of the area.

So the worst was when the servants of Madame la Douleureuse came searching for a cleaner for the grand lady’s home. There were rumours that her staff disappeared, and that some became the subjects of magical tests when the lady had tired of them while others simply dropped dead from fear. The servants who came through the neighbourhood were broken folk, with tired, glassy stairs and lumbering walks, but they took a fancy to Mrs. Treuherzig as she poked her head out of her door when they passed by.

“You will come and clean, or she shall kill you,” they explained when Mrs. Treuherzig did not show up for her first day of her new employment. After that she went every day, and she would return, exhausted, her fingers sore and wrinkled and her knees weak and bent from the difficult work of the day.

Ada hated to see this forced labour for her poor mother, who was paid a mere pittance for her troubles. She offered to go in her mother’s place, but this would not be heard of.

“I do not know why they have chosen us, Ava,” her mother sobbed one day, her apron, which had once been so spotless and tidy, stained with dirt and tears. “I do not know what we have done… to offend God so deeply.”

But through her mother, Ada slowly learned the workings of the house of Madame la Douleureuse. She learned there were servants’ entryways which were used to smuggle food in and out. She learned there were secret dungeons beneath the castle, where rumour said the Madame supervised her gruesome experiments on the unlucky ones. These were brutal, terrible rumours, but Ada believed there was some truth in them.

And when her own mother did not return one night after her employment, Ada knows she has to act. She takes a dark cloak and pulled it up around her head to conceal her sand-coloured hair, and weaves in and out of the dark streets. Without deeply considering why, she hides a red ribbon, which had once hung in her hair, into her pocket. She creeps in through the tunnels, and Stunned a serving boy silently in the kitchens of the Madame’s house. Her duelling professor at Durmstrang would have been impressed.

Madame is careless, she thinks to herself, and there is a certain glee in the idea of it. As was Gottschalk – they are fat and sure of themselves, sure of the fear which they instil in my poor, lovely people. Perhaps der Meister is as careless as they. This was a fantasy which she clung to – to kill der Meister, to have him die by her hands was the greatest service she could imagine, though she knew to do so would be exceedingly difficult. Ada had not developed a taste for murder, not precisely - indeed, she was not sure if she truly saw what she had done to Gottschalk as murder, exactly. After all, the dreadful man was bound to have killed more innocents in the future: what Ada had done was really just a preventative measure.

She finds no sign of her mother, and the doors which might lead to those infernal cellars are locked by magic. Sighing, Ada decides she shall return for them later. After all, perhaps the enchantments are the sort which break when their caster has been killed. She tiptoes through the richly carpeted halls which cushion the sounds of her footsteps, and if the portraits in the rich paintings hanging on the walls see her shadow moving in the darkness, then they do not sound the alarm.

The grand bedroom is on the second-to-top floor of the house, and Ada knows it, for her mother had to carry the sheets and pillows and lovely clothes of the Madame to bring them to the laundry. Ada slips inside, silent as a ghost. The Madame is snoring, her curls outstretched across the white pillows – white and clean like Ada has not seen properly in months. Her wand is at her bedside, but Ada slips it out of her hand. For a moment, she hesitates. It is nearly too easy. She steps back and points her wand at the sleeping woman. She wakens her.

The Madame is appalled, and perhaps she is frightened – it is difficult to identify true terror in the disbelief of one who hardly believes in her own mortality - she was swollen with dark promises from der Meister.

But, Ada kills her with a spell, with a flash of green light which both thrills and exhilarates her – working swiftly, with hands which once so deftly tended magical plants in the greenhouses at school, Ada unthreads the ties from the Madame’s bosom of her nightdress, and weaves in the red ribbon she has brought instead. Thus, she makes her mark upon the white bosom of the woman, and, suspending her in the air with magic, she hovers the body towards the window and, with her brute, non-magical force, shoves her through the expensive, beautiful glass, the body tumbling down to the flowerbeds below, the only touches of light in a city turning grey and dark by the tumbling bombs and the pain of the people.

Ada tries to search for her mother, but first she must hide from the servants and der Meister’s men who are sleeping in the house, who wonder at the sound of flying spells and shattering glass. The morning light has begun to set in, and the people rise from their houses to stare behind the fence of the mansion, pointing and screaming at the broken, barely-clothed body of another of their tormentors. Somebody sees the red, the red-blood ribbon upon the chest, and he rejoices, and that night he dreams of red, red, the colour of death. It brings him hope. And he is not the only one.

**


London, July 11th, 2027

Emily has forgotten to remove her barkeep’s apron in the hurry of coming into the Ministry, and I watch her, still in my muddy leather shoes, as she scrubs her hands and pulls on a pair of gloves. It is dark here in the morgue, and very cool and quiet. Emily’s mentor, Necrowizard Pine, is already inside the examination chamber with the body, a frown creasing the two sides of his large, round face. He is slicing the dead woman’s dress off, looking at her chest.

“Are you… sure it’s alright if I come inside?” I ask Emily, shifting my weight between my feet. “Since… well, I’m a bloke?”

Emily rolls her eyes. “Of course, Louis, man up! You’re an Auror, the sight of an old dead lady’s body shouldn’t make you feel uncomfortable. She won’t thank you for being modest if you don’t figure out who killed her.” Images of a naked, dead lady haunting me until I solve her death dance in my head, and I nod.

“Alright. I’m all washed up. Want help buttoning your special robes?”

We move inside the chamber, though Necrowizard Pine does not glance up from his examination. He picks up his wand with a gloved hand and mutters a spell as Emily moves to his side, then tilts his head in the direction of his protégée.

“Well, Longbottom? Thoughts?”

“Possibly the Killing Curse,” Emily says, nibbling on her lip. “It’s most likely she was killed before being pushed out the window – but why?” She glances at me. “Once we get the information on who she was this and who might want to make an example of her, this will make more sense. Her arms and legs are broken, but that wouldn’t have killed her this cleanly – as there were people walking in the garden before Louis… erm, Auror Weasley got there, it seems the accident happened quite quickly.”

“Very good – you may make the first cut,” Pine says, handing a scalpel to Emily who grins, looking quite radiant. Feeling slightly queasy, I turn away towards the windows of the other chamber, and am startled to see Eugenie Bones tapping against the glass, her glasses perched up on her head. The room is filling with a slightly unpleasant smell which I prefer not to describe, so I let myself out of the chamber and close the door tightly behind me.

“Well, what do you have?” I ask her. Despite the circumstances, Bones looks lovely today – her pale cheeks have a bit of rose about them, as if she walked here quite quickly. After the discovery of the body at the Shining Gurdyroot, Bones was fast on the scene and set about with Proudfoot and Uncle Harry – disturbed from his day yet again – to poke around the place and interview the staff and witnesses, while I was sent back to the Ministry to corpse-sit until Emily and Pine were ready for the victim.

“Lots of things,” she says grimly. “We’ve been assigned this case as well, Weasley – oh, don’t make that piece. This is your kill… so to speak.” She allows herself a faint curl of her thin, pretty lips. “Besides, the investigatives are understaffed right now.”

“Two cases in one week, lucky me,” I say, feeling quite honoured yet also overwhelmed with the amount of work this will involve.

“Yes, and we have a date with your cousin in the archives, so let’s get going,” she says. Emily, bloody knife in hand, looks up at us through the window, and grins and waves with her full hand when she sees Bones. Necrowizard Pine purses his lips as a speck of red lands on his robes. “Aw, I miss Emily,” Bones says quietly. “But we can catch up later – leave her alone with her butchery.”

“You are disgusting.” I follow her up through the stairs. We pass Quentin Chang-Lu in the staircase, who flashes his perfect white teeth at Bones and I. “And I’m sure my cousin would love to have a date with you, Bones. You’re her type.” Perhaps Molly and I had always had a similar type – she had always agreed that Agathe was a rocket. Echoing from down the stairs, I hear Quentin chuckle.

“Yeah, whatever, mister.” She turns to look at me as she holds the door open, releasing us back into the atrium. “Oh, and this is quite interesting, Louis. The victim’s name – well, she only just got out from Azkaban and released into protective custody due to age about a week ago.”

“She came from the high security floor, yeah?”

Bones nods at me. “Her name was Dolores Umbridge. Have you heard of her?”

Not only was Umbridge featured in the updated edition of Hogwarts: A History, but we had learned about her as one of the chief bureaucrats of You-Know-Who’s regime during the second war. I knew she had been locked up after the war, but the fact that she was released was certainly news.

“There was an article in the paper,” Bones explains. “Some of the residents of The Shining Gurdyroot – ridiculous name, by the way – were complaining that she was allowed to stay there. Especially the Muggleborns.”

“That seems legitimate,” I say, thinking hard. I don’t remember my grandparents mentioning the issue, but then again I haven't really been to see them in a while. With a slight pang I think of Nana and how our plans today were canceled by the murder – I’ll have to go and see them soon once the excitement dies down. I wonder fleetingly if Nana and Grandad and the other residents will be sent to stay elsewhere for a little while during the investigation. After all, a murder on the grounds is a pretty traumatic event, no matter the corruption and crimes of the victim.

As we walk to the Ministry archives, Bones explains how she spent the morning speaking with the members of the magical rights organization who were suspects in killing Crouch – the group who argued that keeping somebody alive after they were Kissed is inhumane and cruel. She rolls her eyes, saying they are just as wacky as expected, but not particularly dangerous. The head organizer, in fact, claimed not to know about or condone Crouch’s death. Bones concludes that she’ll definitely keep an eye on them, but still thinks that the killer hasn’t yet been named as a suspect.

“Maybe your cousin will have something for us – she seemed quite excited when I spoke with her,” she says, rubbing her hands on her robes as if they’re damp with sweat. “Proudfoot is sending a team out to do some work on the Umbridge crime scene – we can discuss with them tomorrow as well as the Necrowizards.”

The Ministry archives are situated off of the atrium, behind an unobtrusive wooden door. Technically, any British with or wizard is permitted access to the archives, though they need to make an appointment and arrange for an archivist to assist them. My cousin Molly is perfect for the job, and I quite liked the idea of it myself – the archives hold records of policy and court decisions, international magical history ranging back to the middle ages, and copies of every letter sent out from the Ministry to rule breakers. In my second year of training, I was assigned to research and write an essay about my uncle Harry’s criminal record – he had several infractions as a student at school, including blowing up his aunt when he was thirteen.

My cousin Molly is a year older and a few inches shorter than myself, with thick hair which is currently coloured dark brown, though whether that’s her natural colour is quite unlikely and contested. She tends to Confund anyone who argues with her about her hair. The bane of her life are her very pale, translucent eyebrows and eyelashes, which always fade back to their invisible hue. She remedies this by colouring in her eyebrows and coating her entire lashes with dark mascara. She ended up in the hospital wing in my third year for trying to charm her eyebrows to a different colour and hitting herself in the eye instead – that was an interesting recovery.

As we enter, I spot Molly’s dark head sitting at one of the large tables, surrounded by books and piles of parchment, and chewing on a sugar quill. I lead Bones over to her, and Molly jumps up and gives me a hug.

“Louis! Thank god, I’ve been waiting for you lot.” She notices Bones then turns faintly pink. I notice that she’s been quite clumsy with her eyebrows today, and they’re darker than her hair, which has a striking and somewhat frightening effect. “Hi, Auror Bones, it’s lovely to see you again. Wow, I’m so pleased you two are here – I’ve been sitting on this information and with the new Umbridge case… well, you’re going to be very interested in hearing this.” She sits down. “Oh, and Victoire came by looking for you two – I suppose since Umbridge was partly under her jurisdiction she needs to sneak with you lot?”

Molly’s lip curls slightly as she mentions my sister. The two have had a bit of a hostile relationship which I think is partly based on Victoire having the combination of being very attractive (or so I’m told) and very successful, two attributes which Molly is convinced shouldn’t go together. “Why doesn’t she just eff off and be a model or some other bimbo job,” Molly muttered to me once when we were a little tipsy at a family dinner. I found this a little rude, as I love my sister and her brilliance has little to do with her appearance, but Molly is quite hard on herself so I chose not to reply.

Part of their rivalry rises from the fact that in Molly’s fifth year, her very first girlfriend made a comment about how Victoire was the most beautiful girl she’d ever seen, and my poor cousin didn’t take well to this. Molly is a girl with feminist leanings, so Victoire isn’t as hard on her as she is on blokes, housewives and anybody who argues with her social beliefs, but there’s definitely some tension. But frankly, Molly is pretty amazing. She’s been a mother figure to her twelve-year old sister Lucy since their mother, Auntie Audrey, died six years ago.

“Pleasure, Molly,” Bones says, sitting primly down in one of the chairs and crossing one of her long legs over the other. “Now, what have you got for us? She takes out a sheet of parchment from her satchel and fixes her vibrant gray eyes on my cousin.

“Well, I had this idea since I heard about the… unique circumstances of Crouch’s death,” Molly says. “And, well, the Umbridge case confirms it. The case was definitely a murder, yeah?”

“We believe so – the team is investigating right now, but judging by the wounds to the victim’s body and her frail state it seems most probable that there was some foul play involved.”

Molly whistles. “Look at you, Lou, with the professional Auror talk!” I give her a stern look. “Very well. Sorry. So, what I want to tell you two about today… is the sevenfold killer.” She widens her artificially darkened eyelids and bares her teeth. “Sound familiar?”

“No,” I say immediately. “Is this a historical killer, then?” I think back to my knowledge of the history of crime in England, which ranges from Jack the Ripper (a vampire who prowled the slums and brothels of London in the late nineteenth century) to the murderer of Arietta Silver, the case which made Bones’ reputation.

“Yes,” Molly says. “Okay. So, the sevenfold killer was a famous murderess in Germany during the Second World War – she lived in the wizarding quarter of Zauberei Dorf.” I nod – this explains why I never heard of her. “She was a really young girl – still underage when she was arrested, I think. But basically she killed seven really prominent and powerful members of Grindelwald’s followers in Zauberei Dorf – she was a real symbol of hope and glory for the oppressed wizards and witches, though there was some controversy with the sixth...”

“Interesting,” I murmur. Bones is silent, scribbling something on her parchment, and I can tell from the indent of her chin that she’s chewing on the inside of her lip.

“Yes,” Molly says. “She was known for a mark she would put on her… well, victims, technically, those these were pretty rotten people who were killers themselves. The mark…”

“…was a red ribbon which she left somewhere on their bodies,” Bones finishes, glancing at me.

“Exactly.” Molly looks approvingly at my partner. “So, when she killed the seventh… victim, somebody recognized her. The girl’s name was Ada Treuherzig, but they nicknamed her Ada Red. She was basically this really young, innocent-faced warrior who sort of turned into a martyr for the wizarding folk of the area.” She ruffles through a stack of parchment and pulls out one which has been marked by folding down the page. “The clues about Crouch’s death really line up, they make sense, see? The red ribbon on his chest. The first man Ada killed was this bloke called Gregore Gottschalk, and he was this really horrible, sadistic servant of Grindelwald who went around killing people and instilling fear and being really disgusting, so when she killed him she stuck his body up on the local church so it looked like, well, he’d been crucified.”

“Just like Crouch,” I say. Bones and Molly both nod. “But wait… you think Crouch and Umbridge’s deaths are connected, don’t you?”

“Aye, my clever cousin,” Molly says, her eyes twinkling. She points to another name on her parchment. “The second person Ada murdered was Madame la Douloureuse – this French witch who was very corrupt and sold out secrets of the French Ministry, and she was reportedly conducting experiments on her servants, though that was never proven. So Ada… she killed her by pushing her out a window. Again, in a very public place. You can see the links – Gottschalk and Crouch, both killers who made many enemies, crucified. Dolores Umbridge and Madame la Douloureuse – both female, corrupt politicians, pushed out the window.” She sits back and crosses her arms across her chest, looking pleased with herself.

“So… Molly, you think somebody is copying the crime of the sevenfold killer and… targeting prisoners? But why? Crouch and Umbridge weren’t going to hurt anybody, not anymore. She was really old and weak, and he was basically a breathing corpse.”

“Unless they’re just warming up,” Bones says quietly. She runs her fingers up and down her quill. “Weasley… erm, Molly, this is really clever, really, really good. Well done.” Molly grins, blushing a little beneath her too-dark brows. “Alright. So, we need to connect motive with means with knowledge.” Molly blinks at her, shifting out of her comfort zone. Investigating the case is not her specialty, after all - it should be mine.

“Right, Bones,” I say. “So – we should examine our current suspects for Crouch– Malfoy, Runcorn, the activist group – and see if we can link them with Umbridge. And if they have any prior expressed interest in Ada…in the sevenfold killer. And who could get inside the security ward and the Shining Gurdyroot, and into Azkaban.” I turn to Bones. “The man in the invisibility cloak – I’ll go and speak with my Uncle George today and ask to see his sales records.”

“Excellent. I’m going to start combing through the pasts of our suspects,” Bones says, giving me a small smile then turning to my cousin. “Molly… can you do some more research for us and see what you can learn about the third and fourth victims? Perhaps, if we can guess whom they might attack next, it will help us protect that person and find the killer.”

“Oh, of course,” Molly says, blushing again and looking up at Bones through her lashes.

Bones nods and excuses herself, gathering her notes beneath her arm and smartly marching out of the archives, her shoes clicking on the floor and her long, dark hair swinging vigorously in her wake. Molly and I watch her leave for a moment. Molly mentions something about being surprised that I didn’t hear about the sevenfold killer in third year History of Magic – apparently Professor Binns’ lectures had a bit more… life in them when he was talking about things he was alive for. I remind Molly that I only had Binns up until my second year, when he finally retired and agreed to step down for a more current Professor who would teach about the Second Wizarding War.

The door to the atrium shuts, bringing the sounds of people milling about with it.

“Damn, Lou, how does it feel to be partnered with the coolest, hottest Auror on the force?”

“She is as brilliant as she is beautiful,” I say in a mockingly chaste voice, and we both laugh. I tell Molly about the spider incident this morning and she tells me about how pleased she is that Lucy is home for the summer, and how she’s planning to bring her to the archives this week to forge her brain, as Molly says. We both laugh, and then a thought strikes me – a wild, ridiculous thought, but something which makes my heart beat a little quicker just the same. “Oi, Molly… what happened to Ava? Why did she stop at seven?”

Molly sighs, stroking the parchment in front of her with tender fingers. “She was caught and locked up in Nurmengard, Louis,” she says quietly. “When the forces came to rescue the prisoners there, she was already dead. Many, many people died at Nurmengard, you see – thousands, maybe.”

“Oh, alright,” I say. I think of the old, vile woman’s body being examined downstairs, and the red ribbon upon her chest. Something – an instinct, perhaps a little hopeful- tells me there is far more to this story.

**


Thoughts of the sevenfold killer haunt me right into the evening. I come home to find James curled up on the couch, a beer in his hand and his dark hair all mussed up in the back and his glasses – the ones he hates to wear because he says they make him look like a dweeb and like Albus, which are basically the same thing in his eyes – perched on the bridge of his nose.

“Hiya.”

“Hey. Fancy a brew?”

I nod and help myself to one of his beers from the fridge. After tapping the bottle cap with my wand, I settle onto the other side of the couch. We clink bottles, and I take a large sip, letting the bitter liquid swirl around in my mouth and leaving my tongue with its taste in that lasting way of the first sip.

“So, today was well intense,” I say, glancing at my cousin. “You did good, mate – with running and getting help and all. Thank you.”

He laughs, harshly. “Mate, I was shaking like a little baby. I just… I’ve never run so fucking fast in my life, I just wanted to get away from there. But it was like my voice wouldn’t work. I ran inside and Ms. Coffman – that lady we met in the atrium – was just getting into the lifts, and she saw something was wrong immediately and had the receptionist Floo for the Aurors and the Healers…I’m sorry.” This is a side to James which I rarely see, and which few have ever been privy to witness. It’s the same shameful yet hopeful tone of voice he takes on, and I know he’s waiting for me to comfort him. It’s the same way he acted when he found out he got a D on his Transfiguration N.E.W.T, or when he snogged a bloke on a night out last year but didn’t want people to assume he was gay.

“It’s alright,” I tell him, as I have done before, and take a large sip of my drink. In all the excitement of the day I’d nearly forgotten about being hungover, and about the horror of the spider incident. “You were great, honestly.”

“Thanks,” James says softly. We sit in silence for some companionable moments, and I think about the sevenfold killer – a girl, not even of age, who successfully killed important members of Grindelwald’s followers, a girl who died for her cause. I reckon she’s some sort of hero, but I can’t shake the rotten taste in my mouth that the copycat killer is far less noble, far less of a hero. Crouch and Umbridge were already destroyed when the copycat killed them. To strike at two defenceless people is very different from hurting those who are inflicting direct harm on others.

There must be some deeper motivation than just to punish the criminals of the war, I say inside my head, tapping my fingers against the cool mist on the bottle. An owl raps at the window, and James stands up to let the creature in, untying a letter from its leg and humming to himself – as usual, my reassuring words have helped lift him from his mood. The defences at Azkaban have been heightened, and the magical records in the area are being scrutinized.

“Letter for you, Lou,” James says, tossing the owl’s cargo onto my lap. The owl does look quite familiar, and James pets it gently, then chuckles. “Oi, look – the poor beast has some purple feathering. Looks like he’s been dipped in dye.”

“That’ll be Roxanne’s handiwork,” I say ruefully, recognizing the golden W insignia on the envelope. The young children of my uncle run wild, to his amusement and aunt Angelina's despair. “I’m surprised Uncle George didn’t send a dung bomb along with the owl.”

James laughs. “Do you fancy going for drinks with the girls later? We could pop by the Leaky Cauldron, see Emily…”

“She might not be back from the morgue yet, but I could go for a cheeky pint,” I say, deciding to forgive Lucretia for her role in the morning’s incident for the sake of a nice, relaxing snog… or better. She’ll be bound to forgive me – she’s that type of girl. I feel a faint pang of guilt in my stomach as I think of Victoire – ‘don’t be one of those prats, Louis,’ but quickly banish these thoughts. If Lucretia wanted something more from me, she could just say so.

Tearing open the envelope – my nails are far too short for this kind of thing – I quickly skim the note from Uncle George. He writes that his sales records of the last three months show only three of his Invisibility articles of clothing were sold in the last four months, which he attributes to they’re being one of the most expensive items in the shop. Once activated through being purchased, the invisibility enchantments only work for about a month, so it seems very unlikely that the mysterious, unregistered man who crept into Azkaban had was using a Weasley product. I grit my teeth, shoving the letter into the sofa cushions out of frustration. James raises his eyebrows but says nothing, whistling as he moves into his bedroom to pick out a clean shirt.

**


An hour later finds us seated at the Leaky Cauldron around a pitcher of beer with Lucretia and the Taryntula. To my disappointment, Emily is still at the Ministry, according to her mother, no doubt rejoicing in being allowed to hold the scalpel to confirm the cause of the latest victim’s death. I can’t help but smile a little at the gruesome yet strangely endearing thought of her cheerful, round-cheeked face hunched over a corpse.

“What are you smiling about, Louis?” Lucretia says quietly. She’s leaning her bare leg against mine, and her leg is wrapped round my lower leg to rest between my trainers. Her blond hair tickles my neck slightly as she leans her head against me.

“Honestly, nothing really. I’m just really tired.” I punctuate this with a coincidental yawn, and then snort slightly as James across the table follows suit without noticing. My cousin Rose told me once that people yawn when somebody else does because they empathize with that person, and it even works on dogs if the human and dog have a close bond. Uncle George was in the room when she explained that, which inspired him to create a line of yawn-inducing candies to use in order to prank people.

“Oh. Well, I just wanted to say that I’m really sorry about this morning. Like, it was all Taryn’s idea – she’s kind of pissed at you – and I thought it would be, well, funny.” She leans up and rests her chin on my shoulder, her breath tickling my cheek. It smells quite strongly of beer. “But I’m really sorry, I didn’t know you would scream like that.”

“Aw, it’s fine, lady,” I say, slowly putting an arm around her shoulders. She grins, and leans up to kiss me slowly and carefully on the mouth. I open my eyes halfway through the kiss and see James’ giving me the high-five from behind Lucretia’s blond head. I try not to think about the spider – the snogging is worth it.

Hardworking Auror boys do deserve some fun sometimes, after all.

The night carries on in a similar fashion. At one point I have one hand wrapped around my drink and the other propping my head up on the table as I fight to keep my heavy eyelids from slipping into place. I remember snogging Lucretia against a pole in the pub, her leg smooth against my hand, and James cat-calling in the background. I remember having some sort of conversation with Emily’s mum, Hannah, a really lovely woman who was tending bar that night, and the fleeting thought that she said something which seemed very important at the time, though it has escaped me by the morning. I remember Taryn jokingly threatening to spit in my face if I hurt Lucretia, then actually doing it anyway, and James throwing up on the walk back to the flat. We all had a good laugh about that.



Author's Note: Hello from England! I hope you all are still enjoying the story, thanks so much for reading! :) I updated a little early for this week as I have a couple other stories with deadlines to get into the queue. We're almost halfway through the story and I'd love to know what any readers are thinking so far about the mystery, the characters, anything really! :)

The chapter title is taken from the Beatles' amazing song 'Something.'

Chapter 6: ember in your name
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Chapter Six
ember in your name





Beautiful image by milominderbinder at TDA.


Nurmengard Prison, Germany, 1943

Ruth Kaufmann is not doing very well. She is ill, sick from the damp of the prison and the meager rations and water and her grief for those she had known and loved for those who had died on the other side of the fortress wall in the extermination station. Ada wishes she could comfort her friend. She longs to hold the frail hand, or to wipe the chilled sweat from the fevered face. When Ada looks at Ruth across the corridor she sees a girl who had once been healthy and lively growing more and more gaunt and skeletal by the day, and it hurts her like nothing else had during the last miserable year of surviving in her dismal cell.

The only thing which seems to steadily cheer Ruth up is Ada’s memories of her accomplishments as the sevenfold killer - though of course with that one exception which the old friends never spoke of. Ada had been surprised yet impressed by the bloodthirsty fervour in which Ruth had relished the tale of the death of Madame la Douloureuse, until Ada remembered with a hollow ache that Ruth, too, had lost people to that dreadful mansion. When Ruth seemed to grow tired of this story, Ada had moved onto the memory of how she targeted her next victim.

“I can’t believe you killed two people at once,” Ruth says. “And that you left them there, for everyone to see… it is just wondrous.” Her voice was full and thick with longing.

“Indeed – I suppose it was like giving the middle finger to der Meister and his beautiful government,” Ada says, making an obscene hand gesture and moving to the window so her friend can see. It is worth it to hear Ruth’s giggle chiming through the dark cell, though the old Ada Treuherzig, before she was the sevenfold killer, would never had done such a crude thing. She imagines her parents and grandfather looking down on her from Paradise and clicking their tongues. She thinks of them often – she wonders whether or not they are proud of her or not.

“Tell me the story again,” Ruth begs, coughing into her hands. By the sounds of things, she seems to wipe her hands on the bedclothes, spluttering slightly. Ada fears that Ruth may have caught one of the ravaging, quick-spreading diseases which travel like the dark through enclosed, cramped quarters such as these. It was only a wonder that Ada herself had not been stricken – God knew she had prayed for a quick death many times throughout her time at Nurmengard, though she sometimes changes her mind and begs Him to keep her alive, so that she might snub der Meister by surviving.

“Well, my initial intention was to target one of der Meister’s top dogs – that dreadful traitor, Herr Nacht.” Even his name feels like dirt in Ada’s mouth. Herr Nacht was the worst kind of politician, slick and snide-faced as they come. He had kept his position from the former magical government of the empire and somehow clung to his place by betraying his old colleagues and siding with der Meister, and his somber, pale face was usually found hovering behind der Meister’s tall, sly figure in promotional photographs and propaganda which were spread about the magical regions of the empire.

But the thing Ada hated most about Herr Nacht were the stories of what he did to young women whom were deemed to be traitors. He was married, yes, but he also had an appetite for young flesh, and such had been the fate of another girl Ada had gone to school with when the girl was only nineteen. The girl’s family had been loyal to der Meister, kind and honest folk who merely wished to protect themselves, and Herr Nacht had used and soiled the daughter like a possession and left her in shame, a fallen woman who had thought she would benefit greatly from being with the great man - possibly, she had even loved him. But Ada had seen the poor girl on the street – many hated her for her fidelity to the enemy, and Herr Nacht himself shunned the girl and her bastard child. Her family crept away, fearing for their safety, but the girl and the child stayed in Zauberei Dorf, hoping that the mighty man might acknowledge and provide for them. This was a terrible story, a terrible fate, and one Ada was very aware happened to many fearful young women, from many boastful wizards and soldiers. She had decided that the problem began with Herr Nacht, and his death would send a message.

“I am told that when he heard about the child, he laughed, and said the woman would be best to drown herself in the river like the… the…” Ada finds herself unable to complete the sentence – to speak ill of the honest dead was a sin she was not willing to touch, even when quoting somebody far worse than she. The river was known as the place where fallen women fled to end their suffering.

Ruth nods. Her golden hair is very thin and stringy now, and when the rare light shines in through the barred windows the sun seems to tangle itself in the thin frizz. They have not been brought food since the night before, nor has anybody come to take away the chamber pots, and the dank smell of human waste and unwashed bodies has become normal for the girls. Sometimes, Ada hears the sounds of the prisoners kept above her, and she wonders who they are: for though their corridor is empty, Nurmengard can hold hundreds. She wonders if any of her old professors are here, particularly the ones who were advocates for Muggleborn rights, or if the old German Minister for Magic or members of those fallen Ministries of the conquering Third Reich are being housed here.

“But you could not find Herr Nacht in the Ministry,” Ruth prodded, drawing Ada away from her senses. “Instead, you found the deputy Minister and his lackey-”

“Yes,” Ada says. “I was dressed as a cleaning woman – they never suspected me. And of course I knew who they were. The ironic part was that Herr Machtig was Herr Nacht’s competition for der Meister’s favour – it truly was the perfect set up. Herr Nacht got the silent blame, and he didn’t suspect that he would be targeted as well.”

“How funny it is, the divisions which exist between them,” Ruth says quietly. “You exploited a great flaw, my dear friend.”

“I did,” Ada says. She thinks of Herr Machtig and Herr Grosse – her third and her fourth kill. They had been the perfect distractions from her plan of destroying Herr Nacht – fate, truly, had put them in her path that night. She had killed them as swiftly and carefully as she had taken the lives of Gregore Gottschalk and Madame la Douloureuse, and she had left their bodies hanging from two conjured ropes from the great pillars of the German Ministry for Magic, swinging back and forth, their faces dumb and bloated.

This insult was too much for the secret police, and Ada’s pride, her desire for recognition for her deeds, would be her undoing. She shed the red ribbons upon her victims’ chests, and when the bodies were found the alarm was sounded for the mysterious killer who traveled in shadows and killed in such extraordinary ways. They started calling her the red ribbon killer.

There were rumors about Herr Machtig that Ada had not known when she killed him – whispers that he was under the Imperius Curse, that his true self was buried beneath the mechanical puppet, that she had killed a good man. There was some uproar from certain camps in the streets who claimed Machtig was a spy, and some of the more paranoid people who had rejoiced in the deaths of her first two victims had turned against her. Sitting in her cell, Ada wondered if, as she looked into his eyes and drew her wand against his throat, if there was a hint of something there – of the true man looking back out at her, if the gleam in his face was blankness from the curse, or emptiness from the crimes he had committed, or perhaps even a look of being grateful. Ada killed him all the same.

“If I had let him live, he would have kept hurting people, whether cursed or not,” she says quietly to Ruth. The name Erik hangs between them. Erik by the lake, his nose in a book, his crooked teeth nibbling at his thin lips, Erik sharing his cakes with Ruth, whose petite nose was smudged with chocolate. Erik’s light hair shining in the rare Northern winter sun. Erik’s wild laugh when her fingers moved lightly against his ribs, pushing her away , tugging on her plait. And only once, before they left the school for good, a graze of a kiss, his warm mouth against her own.

“I am sorry,” Ada whispers. There is one image she cannot bring to mind, though she knows it was true: Erik’s thin lips set in a stern grimace, his wand extended in a sharp salute, straightened elbow, der Meister’s badge glinting from his robes.

Wartime stripped people of their power of choice. Ada has never been sure if she can be counted among those whose actions could have been changed.

“I am sorry,” she whispers again. Erik’s still form upon the cobblestones of the town they had all loved, hands folded peacefully upon the red ribbon on his chest.

Ada curls the thin blanket up around her knees. There is no reply from Ruth.

**



July 14th, 2027, London

Three days have passed since that very, very long one when Umbridge’s body was discovered. Emily and the Necrowizard team confirm that the victim was dead before she was pushed out the window, although they cannot discern much else other than that her body was very feeble and her heart very weak.

Eugenie Bones and I have an interview with Albert Runcorn, one of our initial suspects for the Crouch murder due to his access to Azkaban the day Crouch’s body was found. The man is cold and unhelpful – it is clear that he knows we are investigating him for possible murder, and he complains that he has an election coming up and really has no reason for this pointless nonsense.

“I would not waste my time and sacrifice my freedom for the sake of destroying a worthless prisoner,” he says as we leave. Bones and I glance at one another as we pass from his office to the Department of International Affairs. I see Bones look down at her shoes – a most uncharacteristic gesture – as we pass by Theodore Nott, the candidate Runcorn is backing in the coming election. His pale, ratlike face seems to follow us as we step in front of the lifts, and I glance back over my shoulder.

“You really hate that bloke, don’t you?” I ask Bones as the lift door closes behind us. She shrugs, and again I get the feeling I am forgetting something important – the same feeling I had two nights ago at the Leaky Cauldron after speaking with Hannah Longbottom, Emily’s mum.

“I dislike a lot of people,” Bones replies, shuffling from foot to foot. She moves her glasses up on top of her head again. “That man… well, he’s a corrupt politician, and the son of a Death Eater. I know times have changed, and it’s not fair to blame the son for the sins of the father… all that. We are not our parents. But I do think it would be best to wait a generation or two before allowing great power to former pureblood supremacists.”

“I suppose that seems legitimate enough,” I say. “When I’ve finished writing up the report for the Runcorn interview, I was thinking of popping by the Shining Gurdyroot, say hello to my grandparents, perhaps examine the scene of the crime a bit. That alright with you?”

Bones gives me permission, saying that she’s going to spend the afternoon seeing if there’s any connection between Malfoy, our other original suspect, and Umbridge. If we can connect the motives to the victims and discover whether the suspect has a link with the sevenfold killer, wrapping up this case should be easy enough. The danger, of course, is if the killer has been misleading us all along. If so, if history repeats itself, then five more people are going to die.

I run into Molly in the atrium and ask her whether she’s learned anything from her research into Ada Treuherzig. Molly chatters excitedly about the third and fourth murders, explaining how Ada killed them nearly by accident.

“Maybe we could see if any particular wizards fit the criteria of the third and fourth victims?” she whispers, pulling me down to sit beside her on the ledge of the fountain in the atrium of the Ministry. I nod, and tell her this is a good direction to follow up on. She also is very excited to tell me she has a lead on somebody who could give us more intimate information about the sevenfold killer, though she doesn’t specify if this person is a scholar or another Auror. I nod and give her my official blessing to contact whom she might.

“I explained the whole theory to Uncle Harry, but he got very quiet and uncomfortable. You know how he feels… well, about things involving deaths and the number seven.”

“He should man up, he’s a freaking Auror,” Molly says, popping her chewing gum. I roll my eyes.

“Molls, I’m going to pop in round Grandad and Nana’s. Do you fancy coming with?”

My cousin considers for a moment, then shrugs. “I better not, I want to look at profiles of Ministry workers today, just in case the killer is planning to strike soon.” I give her the thumbs-up: this is excellent work ethic. “Also, I was wondering… your partner, Eugenie?”

“Bones,” I correct immediately, then blush. “She likes to be called Bones by people who don’t know her very well.”

“Whatever,” Molly says, laughing. “I was just wondering if…well, you know, she’s very cool, and really pretty. Is she single, and if so… does she like… well?”

“Girls?” I ask, a sinking feeling in my gut. The immediate instinct is to tell Molly no, of course not, and to back off, though I can’t quite make sense of those feelings. Merlin knows Bones has never shown any particular attraction to me – or to any witch or wizard, that I’ve seen. “Erm… I don’t know, Molly. Maybe owl Teddy and ask – they were in the same year, he might know more about who she dates… but she’s too busy to date anybody right now.”

“Alright, father,” Molly says, and smirks. She squeezes my arm. “I’m really excited about this case – is it a little bizarre that I’m almost excited to see who the killer targets next?” She whispers this last bit, eyes gleaming, and for a moment I am a little afraid of her.

“Yes, Molly, that is bizarre. And please don’t say things like that to any other Auror,” I tell her sternly.

“You know I’m only joshing.” Molly says, shrugging. “Also, you should know that Rose is angry with you for investigating her boyfriend’s father. She wanted me to tell you.”

“Wait… how do you about that?”

“I heard you and Bones talking in the archives, and I suppose Malfoy complained to his kid,” Molly says nonchalantly. “Rose said Scorpius – I didn’t even know they were dating, did you? – Scorpius is worried about his father’s safety. I’ve been looking at the profile of the sevenfold murders to see if he has reason to.”

“Hopefully it won’t get that far,” I tell her. “We’re going to catch this person – and that’s why we need you to keep your bloody mouth shut and keep doing research. Please. And yeah, I knew about Rose and little Malfoy – James was going on about it. Something about Malfoy having short legs.” Molly nods, and I roll my eyes as she bounces off in the direction of the archives. Clearly this case is meant to be a family affair, despite my best intentions.

My path through the atrium to the Apparating zone is interrupted by a couple people handing out fliers with the faces of the contenders for the upcoming Minister election. I scowl when I see the first one – a piece of green parchment with a photograph of Theodore Nott grimacing up from it, the stern, familiar face of Runcorn hovering behind him. I really need to update myself on the politics of the candidates, I think, somewhat guiltily. For an Auror trainee, my knowledge of political affairs is rather weak.

This self-reflection is interrupted when a huge, burly man in a suit steps in front of me. He looks very tight and uncomfortable, like a large gorilla who has been squeezed into clothing against his will, and his piggy little eyes and scowl reflect these sentiments. He shoves a piece of paper into my hand, muttering something about “vote Thicknesse, small fry,” then shoves me slightly out of the way to hand a flier to an approaching witch.

The man must be about my parents’ age, perhaps a little younger. The green badge of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is on his chest. Raising my eyebrows slightly, I stuff the other flier into my pocket and move away.

**



Nana presses a biscuit and cup of tea into my hands, before slowly settling down on the sofa beside me. The couch sags beneath her weight. Her gray hair is tied up in a tiny bun, and she’s wearing a flowery apron which I remember from my childhood over a neat set of robes. She smells like cinnamon and soap on old skin. Grandad came out and sat with us for lunch, but he’s having a lie-down in the bedroom in my grandparents’ flat at the Shining Gurdyroot.

“Louis, dear, it is such an honour for you to be working with Eugenie Bones,” Nana says, beaming at me. She has gained weight with the years, and rocks back in the sofa beside me, warm and round against my arm. “I don’t know how often your parents say it, but Grandad and I are so, so proud of you. And seeing the way you handled the issue this week…” She purses her lips. “Very well done, love.”

“Thanks,” I tell her, grinning and taking a nibble of the biscuit. It’s the dry, crumbly kind, which immediately trickles little scraps onto the front of my shirt. “I’m really enjoying it.”

After grilling me about my love life – on which I keep silent, as there is absolutely no way I’m telling my grandmother about Lucretia – Nana brings out some old photo albums. We laugh at a photograph of my grandparents, uncles, father and aunt as youngsters, waving, with the Egyptian pyramids in the background. My dad must be about my age, with long red hair hanging down his back and his familiar, large-toothed grin. Nana traces her fingers carefully over two identical faces in particular.

“George refuses to tell me who is who here, and it’s too small for me to figure it out,” she sighs. I smile. It’s so strange to see how there were once two of my uncle George, as frankly, one is often pretty overwhelming. We move through the album to an image of my Uncles Ron and Harry and my Aunt Hermione at the Quidditch world cup – the boys are sporting large shamrocks and have chocolate smeared on their faces, while Aunt Hermione’s bushy hair keeps getting in Ron’s tiny face, causing his photographic self to wrestle out of the way. Then there are pictures from my parents’ wedding day (“before the Death Eaters showed up, of course”) and Victoire’s baby pictures.

“She looks a lot like Ginny as a baby,” Nana says thoughtfully. “Whereas I believe Dominique takes after your mother’s side of the family.”

“Except in personality,” I comment. Dominique is a wildcard in that respect. “And I look like neither a Delacour nor a Weasley, I suppose.” I pretend to sigh dramatically.

Nana shrugs. “As for you, dear, I think I know who you take after.” She rises shakily to her feet and shuffles carefully across the room, bending so low over the bookshelf that I’m afraid she’s going to tip over, and wince, asking whether she needs a hand. She lives here with Grandad all the time, I remind myself. You can’t baby her just because you’re here once every two weeks.

This is an older photo album, one I haven’t seen before. Nana’s fingers trail over the pages, and she opens it to show me a grinning image of two little boys, not older than ten, with cheeky grins on their faces and wearing swimming trunks. The background is a creek where water flows over little rocks, deep enough to wade in.

“This one,” Nana says, and places her fingers lightly around the younger boy. I peer a little closer – he has a thin, angular face, hair which shines in the glow from the sun despite the black and white quality of the photograph, and dimples. “See – this was my brother Gideon, Louis. I’ve always thought you took after him. You have similar personalities in a way as well. Gid was very analytical… he was thoughtful, he noticed all of the little things. And…he had a bit of a sudden temper. He could be rash when the occasion called for it.” She pats my arm to let me know this isn’t a complaint. "He just lacked your sense of calm and control, on occasion."

“Gideon and Fabian were in the first Order of the Phoenix, weren’t they?” I ask, looking down at the smiling boys. If the brothers had lived, they would be over seventy. “Dad says he remembers them. I guess he was really young when they were killed, but he still remembers.”

Nana sighs, her eyes going slightly misty. I wonder how many times she has cried over these long ago brothers of hers. She turns the page – Gideon puffing out his chest in Gryffindor Quidditch robes. Fabian kissing the cheek of a pretty, round-faced woman. And finally, a picture of the first Order of the Phoenix.

“That was Alastor Moody – he was an Auror, of course you’ll know all about him,” Nana says. The scar-faced man’s artificial eye whirs inside the photograph. He seems to train its gaze on the rat-faced man standing beside him. I find the Prewett brothers immediately, and am struck, now that Nana has mentioned it, by the resemblance between Gideon and myself. She’s right – there’s something in our faces which is very similar, and I’m sure it would be all the more apparent in person.

“This was Dorcas Meadowes – she was a great witch, really lovely woman. She was killed by You-Know-Who himself.” Even years after the war, Nana feels more comfortable avoiding the Dark Lord’s true name. “And Benjy Fenwick. He was a schoolmate of your grandfather’s. “Dumbledore, of course.” My cousin Albus’ namesake twinkles back up at me, and I recognize him from my collection of Chocolate Frog cards – I’ve got about six of him from my years of collecting as a child.

A round, pale face framed by dark hair catches my eye. “Who is that, Nana?”

She follows my fingers. “That was Edgar Bones, Louis,” she says, smiling a little wistfully. “Funny you should pick him out of the group, as he’s the…well, I suppose the great-uncle of your partner, Eugenie.”

“Yeah? What happened to him?”

Nana sighs. “The Bones were essentially wiped out by You-Know-Who’s followers, dear. Edgar and his wife, his children and his parents were all killed a year before the war ended after a raid. It was truly horrible. And his sister and her husband – those would be Eugenie’s grandparents, were murdered a few months later, leaving little baby Susan – Eugenie’s mother, she was in your Uncle Ron’s year – to be raised by Amelia Bones. Amelia was the Head of Magical Law Enforcement for several years until she was killed at the beginning of the Second War. The Dark Lord killed her himself.”

“That is horrible,” I say, thinking of Bones – Eugenie, that is. She has mentioned her mother, Susan a couple of times – I know that she does something at St. Mungo’s and is friends with Emily’s mum, Hannah. Eugenie has never mentioned her father, though presumably she kept her mother’s last name for some particular reason. I calculate rapidly. Bones mentioned her mother got pregnant with her while she was still at Hogwarts – perhaps she lost contact with the father, or he was killed during the war. I find myself wishing Eugenie were here so I could hold her hand, or give her a hug – to grow up with so little family is something beyond my understanding. My own family lost a lot during the war, but Eugenie and her mother are the only ones left. I think of her – pushing her glasses up out of her eyes to perch on top of her head.

“You-Know-Who left very few of us unscarred,” Nana says. Her voice is very quiet as she looks down at the photograph. I take her brown-spotted hand and squeeze it gently.

**



July 15th, 2027

The next evening, though I have full intentions of spending the night poring over the Runcorn papers and coming up with hypotheses for motives, Emily Longbottom has other plans. I come home to find her curled up on the couch, wearing a blue dress and her legs stretched out on the coffee table, a glass of red wine held in her hands. The morning rain has receded, and a bright, cumbersome evening sun streams in through the windows, illuminating highways of light across the living area.

“Finally,” Emily says, swinging her legs off the table and curling them underneath her. “Where were you last night? I dropped by Molly and she had said that you left the Ministry hours ago – also, she’s really excited about this new lead on the case she has and she wants to speak with you. She's mental, I can't even talk to her when she's that excited. And Rose is pissed at you for suspecting her boyfriend’s dad.”

“I’ve heard,” I groan, dumping my papers on the table. “And I went round to see my grandparents at the Shining Gurdyroot. They were a little shaken up by the incident, but seemed happy enough.”

“Oh, my Dad went to visit my own grandparents too,” Emily says. “To see if they’re still settling in well. He goes every few days to check in. They’re on the top security floor, of course, though they have no clue about all the excitement. Did you see him there?”

I shake my head, grabbing an apple from the covered fruit bowl and going to rinse it in the sink. Emily takes another sip of wine, choking on it slightly and coughing, her cheeks turning a pretty shade of pink. I sink down on the sofa beside her and pat her on the back until she swats my hand away.

“Your lips and teeth are purple from the wine,” I tell her, moving my arm back to rest around her shoulders. She bares her stained teeth at me and takes another sip, this one flowing down a little more smoothly.

“Louis, remember how I wanted to tell you something the other day, when you were over at the pub? But then your family showed up and you lot left, and I’ve been stuck in the morgue since?”

“Oh, right. What’s up?” I grab her round, shiny ponytail at the root and shake it so the ends of her hair tickle her neck. Emily giggles.

“You are such a weirdo. Alright, well… just so you know, Quentin asked me out. And I said yes, and the rest of the apprentices are coming to the bar tonight, and you should come.”

I release my grip on her hair, moving my hand back to the couch. “Erm, you mean Quentin Chang-Lu? Mr. Perfect...perfect prefect Auror...?”

Emily blushes again, shrugging her shoulders up towards her ears. “We’ve been hanging out a little bit lately, and we went out to dinner and drinks a few nights ago,” she says. “And...things happened. He was always a decent mate, and he’s really good-looking, and… oh, what? Stop looking at me like that. It could be worse. I could be dating Mickey McLaggen. Or Ermengarde.”

“Those would be worse,” I allow. “But Quentin? I mean, where were you when he was chasing after all those older girls during our trainee years?” I sigh. “Look, blokes are only out for some action. I don’t want you to get treated like that.”

Emily flushes, pulling away from me. “Then maybe you shouldn’t treat girls like that either,” she says. “When was the last time you talked to Lucretia about something other than when your next shag is going to be? Well, I’m an adult and I can judge Quentin’s character for myself. He’s a good boy.”

“I reckon he is,” I say, putting as much venom into my voice as possible. Emily rolls her eyes, knuckles white around her glass.

“So are you going to come out with us tonight?”

“Since when is there an us?” I laugh scornfully, resisting the urge to yawn. Emily looks down. “Don’t you remember how the others looked down on us when we were passed over by the dark wizard catchers? How they think being a Necrowitch is a waste of your Auror training…Ermengarde’s eyes practically popped out, she was so intent on staring down her nose at you. And McLaggen big oily fucking face, his pimples were going to explode from self-pride…” This time I do yawn, giving Emily the chance to interrupt me.

“Enough, enough!” Emily covers her ears, then stands, placing her half-full glass of wine on the coffee table. Her voice rises. “Well, thanks for listening, I guess. You were just so understanding and lovely, Louis. Bloody thanks. I’m going to go out and… and go snog my gorgeous new boyfriend, with tongue. And get so drunk I feel like being sick into a body cavity. Just to make you happy. And you can have a beautiful time sitting here and being miserable and wishing you could snog Eugenie. But you won’t, because she’s way out of your league!” She pulls on her cardigan and scowls at me, hand on the doorknob.

“Who said I wanted to bloody snog Eugenie?” I growl back at her, my heart quickening against my ribs and my face heating up against my will. “I am insulted you would speak of a girl like her in such a crap way. She’s three times the witch you will ever be.” My eyes are squinting a little bit, and my body sinking into the couch. I know that if I weren't tired I would be a little more understanding, but something about Emily really irks me tonight.

To my irritation, Emily laughs cruelly at these words, but in such a way which makes me want to laugh at myself and apologize, say it was all a joke, give her a hug and give Quentin my blessing. But there’s something very obstinate in her face which makes me raise my eyebrows at the door, indicating she should leave.

“You’re just being pathetic,” Emily shoots back, and then slams the door behind her, her feet stomping on the stairs. I hear her curse and shout something about a cat in the stairwell – no doubt Mrs. Trickle from downstairs has left her front door open again.

As soon as Emily’s footsteps fade, I regret being so rude, but decide to patch things up in the morning. But instead of working on analyzing the case, I find myself stewing over her words. Do I really want to snog Eugenie Bones? And then – well, would she ever want to snog me? Fat chance of that, mate. Oi, lay off. You’re a good-looking guy, even if the Taryntula says you have arms like spaghetti and a chest like a scarecrow. I shake my head. Inner dialogue with myself never leads to anything.

“Are you talking to yourself again?” James asks, slinging a bag onto the table. He’s wearing his uniform robes from the restaurant, which are stained with what looks like alfredo sauce. He sits down on the sofa which Emily vacated before the night set in, tossing me a bag of Muggle crisps. I stretch out my stiff legs in front of me and move some papers off the sofa so he can do the same.

“Maybe. I’m just… not sure what I’m feeling… in terms of girls, yeah?”

“I’m with you,” my cousin says, shoving several crisps into his mouth. “Girls are just so… moody, you know? Taryn popped by work today and was complaining about how you didn’t walk Lucretia home the other night and so she had to do that first and come by ours later. She really dislikes you. She doesn’t think you’re ‘good enough’ for Lucretia.”

“Great. I’ll inform my bed to expect more spiders.”

James chortles, wiping salt off his face. “And I saw Alfie Peakes again – he’s hurt you didn’t owl him after our first encounter, but I said you’d been real busy with work. He wants to jam. He broke up with his boyfriend before coming back to London and says he’s in need of a new wingman. I volunteered myself, of course, but he says it’s just not the same.”

I grin. Alfie is always a laugh, though he can be a little shy. Hey, for all I can tell he’s a pretty good-looking guy who shouldn’t need a wingman, but to each his own.

“I’ll owl him tomorrow, as long as there are no more damned murders,” I tell James, and steal another crisp. I then proceed to tell him about the argument with Emily, to which he nods wisely and says that she shouldn’t be dating a bloke like Quentin Chang-Lu and she should be focusing on her work for the Aurors. Done and done.

I excuse myself to James after the crisp bag is finished and I feel a little better about everything. I gather up the last of my papers, knowing that even though James probably wouldn’t look, it’s technically illegal to leave information like this lying around for those not involved in the case to read. When I reach the door to my room, he calls me back.

“Oi, mate, you forgot this paper. It was wedged in the seat cushions.” He unravels the letter and glances at it. “Why are you asking Uncle George about the invisibility products?”

“It’s for the case – we’re trying to figure out who might have access to an invisibility cloak last week, but George hasn’t sold any in the allotted time frame,” I tell him, deciding this information is fairly innocent.

James laughs. “Well, there’s always my dad’s invisibility cloak,” he says, licking his fingers and then running them along the bottom of the crisp bag. “I asked if I could use it for a … thing last week, but he said he’d lent it to a friend.” He licks the salt off his fingers. “Goodnight, Louis.”

I spend the night pondering this thought, wondering if I am ridiculous for doubting my uncle. In the early hours of the morning I finally drift asleep, and in my dreams Quentin Chang-Lu and Emily are waltzing across the dead bodies of Grindelwald’s followers and Emily’s dress is as red as the ribbons of the sevenfold killer and Molly and Eugenie are cackling over a book like two hags from a fairytale and James is trying to braid the crisps into my hair and Dominique’s boyfriend Steak has a steak for a head and keeps dancing the Macarena.

And when I wake up, there’s an urgent owl waiting for me at my bedroom window. I open the letter with trembling, bleary fingers, and groan with suspense and dread – there has been another murder, and this time I have failed to protect two people.


Chapter 7: unchain my heart, let me be
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Chapter Seven
unchain my heart, let me be



Lovely image by milominderbinder at TDA.


Nurmengard Prison, 1945

Grindelwald has fallen. He is defeated, subdued, and the last of his quivering followers are being rounded up like cattle, even as they once permitted the cataloguing and destruction of their political enemies and those with Muggle blood. A foreign man called Gilbert LeJean had seen the great Master who had terrorized his own home of France, whose words were whispered and feared in Beauxbatons, humiliated and chained before those whom he had wronged. Gilbert did not consider himself a violent man, but how he longed to hit the cunning face, to blacken the treacherous eyes, to prove to those feared onlookers that der Meister, great wizard though he was, truly was no more than a common criminal.

The first order of business of the victorious troops is to liberate those who have been enslaved or imprisoned during der Meister’s regime. Peace in Europe had been declared, and many of Gilbert’s colleagues are moving with the American Muggles to the horrific internment camps of the east, sending home letters filled with shock and disgust at what has unfolded beneath the blind nose of the world. Finding Nurmengard is Gilbert’s own special assignment, but the prison’s location was a secret which der Meister and his defeated supporters guarded so closely. Gilbert had feared that by the time the name was revealed to them, word would have reached the guards there and the prisoners would be killed out of spite before the guards fled. He had heard of similar things happening across Europe, such as at Terezin outside of Prague, where the Nazis had thrown the ashes of the Jews into the river to attempt and hide the evidence of their terrible crime.

Gilbert is determined this will not be the fate of the prisoners at Nurmengard. He dreams of them, sometimes – of hollow-faced, grateful witches and wizards, light and dark hair alike, feeling human warmth again, weeping as they were reunited with their families. He is sure they can be brought to this, convinced they will hail him as a hero, a savior. Yet when he and his regiment of Frenchmen finally find the location of Nurmengard and break down the great gates, the scene is far more dismal.

The scene is a great stone fortress, with barred windows stretching to the sky and the smell of death and human waste spreading through the forlorn air. Cries of those who are alive and those who died linger in the bitter wind which moves through the cells and the corridors, tantalizing the inmates with the smells of the land which abandoned them. The guards, it seems, fled, leaving the prisoners to fend for themselves in their cells. There are dozens of the poor wretches, and Gilbert’s team sets to work at once. They will set up a nurse’s station in the boundaries of the prison until the former prisoners are well enough to Apparate, and will work on the rehabiitation process. The German Ministry and that of the former nations which made up the Third Reich are in tatters, in infancy, and Europe is being parceled up between the United States and the Soviet Union. The wizards and witches who so suffered here will be permitted to choose their new homes, and funds are being scraped and provided for by the rescuers. Gilbert wonders how many of the prisoners will choose to return to the houses where they once lived. He wonders how many are still there.

He is the first to find them: the two girls, locked in a corridor all their own, with paper-thin skin. They are both very thin and angular, more like wraiths than children. In the dark, they look very alike, but one girl is breathing and the other is cold and silent in death.

Gilbert puts his fingers to the dead girl’s papery throat, sighing when, as expected, he feels no heartbeat. She has been dead for perhaps two days, and already her body is beginning to tumble away. He decides that she has been wasting towards death for a long time: months, years, perhaps.

Ici, elle est morte,” he calls to his companions, and hears a heartbroken sob coming from the other cell, and then a feeble sound that might have been a scream. Frowning, Gilbert shields the dead girl’s face with her coarse blanket then travels back into the corridor. The girl in the other cell is standing in the centre of her little prison, her nails clenched and curled like claws, and she glares at the soldiers like a cornered wildcat.

"Non, non, ma petitite, nous sommes ici pour vous liberer, pour vous aidez,” Gilbert says soothingly in French. The girl cocks her head, but lowers her hands to her sides – perhaps she does not speak French fluently, but recognized something in his voice. He tries again, in the rusty German he has picked up over the months of negotiation and warfare. “We here to help you. Free. You are free,” he tells her, and her stern little face crumbles. He holds out his hand, opens his arms. Gilbert has a little daughter at home, and though he knows this girl is grown, he cannot help but be reminded of his own child. His face is streaked with dirt from plowing through the prison and the touch of her dead companion is on his hands, but as he holds out his arms she falls more than moves into them, and he holds her very gently, rocking her back and forth.

“Is she… she is dead?” she whispers through her tears. They track dark slides down her cheeks, muffling her voice. "Is it true?"

“I am so sorry, cheri. We were too late for her.” He pulls away, gently holding her hands and looking down into the solemn eyes. “My name is Gilbert LeJean. You call me Gilbert, oui? Your name?”

She pauses for a long moment, as if fighting to recall her name after all this time. When she speaks, her voice is firm and clear.

“My name is Ruth Kaufmann. I was born in Zauberei Dorf and I attended Durmstrang,” she says, eyes misty as if remembering a forgotten identity, or a stolen self. She looks pleadingly up at Gilbert. “My friend… she was Ada Treuherzig. She was a hero in Zauberei Dorf. They called her the sevenfold killer. She was Joan of Arc to them… to us.” She looks towards the slightly ajar cell door across the hall, then draws away from Gilbert. Tentatively, she steps outside of the cell for the first time in a lifetime, takes a deep breath, and glances into the other cell. Her eyes flash in the dim light as she turns back to Gilbert. “Please, Herr Gilbert… you must give her a proper burial, in the yard here of this place. You must make her a beautiful grave. People… they will know that Ada Treuherzig died here at Nurmengard.”

She looks over her shoulder, as if she will leave the shadows there behind.

**



London, July 16th 2027

I stand silently as the bodies are taken away. The Ministry is cold and dark, with only a few torches lit in the atrium. The bodies were found here, both of them, by the maintenance wizard who Floo-called Uncle Harry immediately upon the grisly discovery. Both were hanging by nooses in the air, and their necks are snapped, their faces bloated, yet I still recognized them. Both had red ribbons pinned neatly on their robes and green badges of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

“This is going to cause an uproar,” a deep voice says, breaking the heavy quiet. I glance over my shoulder to see the current Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, speaking with my Uncle Harry. He’s a tall black man with a shining bald head and a slow, heavy way of talking which has calmed the wizarding world since the defeat of Voldemort, and his resignation – especially in the light of such terrible events as this – is difficult to stomach. “Right here in the atrium… at the heart of wizarding Britain itself. Perhaps…” and here he lowers his voice. “Perhaps you should assign more experienced Aurors to the case, Potter? If you truly believe they are all connected.”

“We do believe they are connected, Minister.” Eugenie Bones’ voice rings out like a clear bell in the atrium cloaked in silence. “But Auror Weasley and I would be pleased to have more resources and assistance, if it is offered.”

I turn away from their conversation, seeing Emily Longbottom skimming across the atrium from the fireplaces. Her hair is a mess, as if she just rolled out of bed – hopefully not with Quentin, I think bitterly. She meets my eye and smiles shyly, before putting her hand on the shoulder of her mentor, Necrowizard Pine. They hurry off in the trail of the two corpses, but I'm pleased that Emily isn't holding a grudge after our little tiff.

The first victim was the burly, gorilla-like man who had handed me a flier yesterday when I was leaving the Ministry to get to the Shining Gurdyroot. Even in death, his eyes look swollen and mean. His name, I am told, was Gregory Goyle, and he was a schoolmate of Uncle Harry’s. The second man was the face on the flier which Goyle handed me, and he was a man called Pius Thicknesse, Goyle’s superior, who was one of the contenders for the Minister elections, running against Theodore Nott.

“I need a suspect, Weasley,” Proudfoot says quietly, causing me to startle. His low growl of a voice seems to materialize from the air. “This is taking too long – people are dying and the public is going to be upset. Washed up old criminals are one thing, but this…” He sighs, tapping his fingers together. “We found these on the bodies – be sure they are tested for fingermarks or traces of magic, not that there was any success with that the last time.” He hands me two red ribbons, protected in a sort of bubble where the strands move round and round.

“I am trying,” I tell him, trying not to let the exasperation show in my voice. The ribbons are so red. “Molly from the archives says she has a lead, and… and I need to speak with Harry.”

I glance back – he is still deep in conversation with the Minister and Bones, who looks over her shoulder and gives me a slight nod. I play the facts over and over again in my mind as I move slowly towards them. Goyle – a former Death Eater, who was pardoned after the war for claiming he was forced and threatened into being Marked by his father. And Thicknesse – the most famous case of Code Nine victims, who functioned as puppet Minister for Magic during the Death Eaters’ regime under the Imperius Curse. He was a hard man, a cold man, who, once the curse was lifted from him, resigned immediately from the Ministry and became an advocate for recovering curse victims and for former participants in the Dark Lord’s regime to redeem themselves and re-enter society.

And the information Molly gave me about the sevenfold killer’s third and fourth victims seems to align – Goyle, a nameless lackey who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Thicknesse, a political contender who was known to be placed under the Imperius Curse. The sevenfold killer’s victim’s status and loyalty had been contested, making his death very controversial for her supporters, yet Thicknesse was widely believed to have been innocent of all wrong-doing.

“It seems a mighty coincidence they were both walking in the atrium and were so easily killed,” Eugenie is saying. She is very pale, with dark circles under her eyes, and her glasses sitting up on top of her head. Her long, dark hair tumbles about her shoulders, though, and the glasses are very close to tipping off into its sleekness. Without thinking, I reach up and secure them. Eugenie blinks at me for a moment, then puts her hand up, taking the glasses off her head and toying with them in her hands.

Uncle Harry shakes his head. “No, the initial Necrowizard spells indicated that Thicknesse was killed in his office, and then dragged down here, while Goyle was actually killed at the other end of the hallway and brought here. Goyle was killed first, and no doubt hidden from the passersby while the killer waited for the Ministry to empty.” He sighs. “What sort of diabolical maniac are we coping with? I really can’t say.”

“But that doesn’t make sense,” I say out loud, brain pouring back over the papers Molly gave me. “The sevenfold killer saw the two men walking in the German Ministry, and killed them where they stood. And she left them there. This killer… if they are truly emulating the sevenfold killer like Molly said, then they’re going to great lengths to make it viable.” I turn to Eugenie, shaking my head. “In the story… the third and fourth victims were decoys so the seven- so Ada could get to Herr Nacht. She killed them on impulse. She wasn’t this calculated.”

Eugenie reaches up and rubs my back gently – a surprisingly familiar gesture. Her hand, even through my shirt, is very cold. “Louis, we’ll discuss all of this once the reports are back,” she says gently. “Did someone send an owl to Molly? I’ll do that now, yeah?”

I nod and, despite the situation, enjoy the feeling of her hand on my back.

“Uncle Harry,” I say, tearing my eyes away from Eugenie’s tall, thin form as she retreats. “I need to speak with you. It’s very important.”

Uncle Harry frowns and nods to the Minister, then leads me away from the group. We sit on the edge of the fountain, where only yesterday I sat with Molly to talk about how she fancied Eugenie and how Rose was angry with me. “What’s going on, Louis?”

“I just have a small question for you, Head Auror Potter,” I say, putting emphasis on his position. “I just need the name. Who did you lend your Invisibility cloak to?”

My uncle groans, shaking his head slightly. He rubs his temples with a hand for a moment, then sits up, taking a deep breath. And then –

“I suppose I’ve been counting down the minutes until you asked me that, Louis,” he says.

**



“Oi, Weasley!” Mickey McLaggen’s voice echoes across the Auror Department, causing several disgruntled heads to pop up and glare at me. “Hurry your ass up and explain this assignment to me – I haven’t got all day to wait around for you investigatives, have I!”

“Jolly well calm down, I’m coming,” I mutter to myself. I stumble a bit and the coffee I’m carrying spills up over the sides of the cup, scalding my hand for a moment. Cursing, I wipe the coffee-covered hand on my robes, take a sip of the hot liquid to try and keep it contained, and step up to Mickey’s cubicle.

“About bloody time!” he says, crossing his arms across his burly chest. Mickey is a bully, but a wicked clever one at that – he’s earned his place with the Aurors but he’s certainly stepped on a few toes in the process. He once made a girl in our training class cry, and she soon quit the program. “Better revel in this moment, Weasley, because God knows I won’t be taking orders from you any time soon.”

“Please stop talking,” I mutter. There’s no chair for me to sit on as Mickey has his feet up on the spare one, so I perch awkwardly on the side of the desk and explain to him the task ahead of him, accentuating the pauses with loud, gasping sips of coffee. “I need you to find somebody and bring him into custody for questioning. I can’t do it myself because…”

“Investigative Aurors don’t have those duties and rights,” Mickey cuts in, his small eyes glinting. He is very pale, like me, but also very sunburned despite this being early July in England of all places, and this gives him the look of always looking flustered and angry and making his blue eyes pop out in his dry, bright pink face.

“Exactly,” I say, and slide a piece of parchment towards him. “This is the man’s name, and the address where you should be able to find him.”

“Will he resist?”

I shrug. “Perhaps? He might be quite upset, possibly drop some important names. This isn’t going to be an easy one, mate.” Mickey glances at the name, his eyes widening slightly.

“Oi, Weasley, have you told…”

“No,” I say shortly. “ We are professionals, now. I expect to have the suspect in the questioning rooms within the hour. See to it, McLaggen.”

To my surprise, Mickey doesn’t object. He seems to recognize the gravity of the situation. As I leave his cubicle, one of the floating paper memos which float around the Ministry zooms up to me, tapping at my ear like an impatient owl. Swearing under my breath, I unfurl the memo – it’s from Molly, urging me to come down to the archives at my nearest convenience.

“Finally,” my cousin says as I arrive there. “Were the lifts slow or something? This is important, Lou – just because I’m your cousin doesn’t mean what I have to say isn’t valuable.”

“Oh, shut up,” I grumble. “This had better be good, Molls – today started off very badly, as you might know by now. Euge – Bones is dealing with the Prophet reporter now and trying to keep the press away from the morgue. People aren’t going to just ignore this, or forget. Four freaking people are dead.”

“I know, and I have somebody you might be able to speak with,” Molly says excitedly. “I did some poring through old immigration records, sent a couple of owls to the German Ministry. This was some difficult information to piece together, but I did it. I fucking did it.” She looks one moment away from patting herself on the back, and her ego in the face of her success when I’m hardly any closer to solving this case and just sent an order to put a very controversial suspect into custody is almost more than I can bear.

“Spit it out.”

“Alright. Well, my records show that Ada Treuherzig, the sevenfold killer, died in Nurmengard, correct? There’s a memorial and a grave there for her and everything, and people make pilgrimages there every year on the anniversary of her first kill. Well, not many people know this, but Ada had a friend from her school days who was kept in the same corridor as herself. She was rescued from Nurmengard a few days after Ada died by the invading peacemakers, and she moved to France to live with the family of one of the soldiers – his name was Gilbert LeJean. Her name was Ruth, Ruth Kaufmann, and she was a halfblood witch, and she survived.”

“Alright. And what does this have to do with anything? I have a suspect coming into custody who is looking very guilty right now…” And if he is guilty, then I might have to arrest the Head Auror and my own uncle for aiding and abetting, I think silently.

“Louis, Ruth Kaufmann is still alive,” Molly says, crossing her hands over one another, her fingers trembling a little. “She was the girl who knew and loved Ada the best in the last days of her life. She’ll be over a hundred by now, I reckon, but according to the British census records she’s still alive. And yes, I said British – because she moved to England nearly sixty years ago.”

“This woman...Ruth... lives here in England?” I echo. “So… she would have moved to England right before the first wizarding war.”

“Exactly. And she survived the two wars and the rise of the Dark Lord, after being interned – tortured, most likely, and seeing her best friend die – during World War Two. Can you imagine how frightening that must have been? How horrible? And the thing is, Louis… I almost feel bad telling you, because I know you have to follow up on this. And it might not end up well for Ruth, after she’s already been through so much pain. But it’s my duty to tell you.” Her eyes glint, and I suspect that she’s equally pleased with herself for figuring all of this out and wants praise for her wit and cleverness.

“Then tell me.”

“So, when Ruth came to England, she changed her name – Anglicized it, that’s what they say. Her name was Ruth Kaufmann – but she changed her name to Ruth Coffman. And I’ve met her – and I think you have too, with James. She lives at the Shining Gurdyroot.”

**



“This is an absolute disaster of a case,” Eugenie says, her voice muffled by her arms. She has her face folded into them and resting on the bar in front of her. After giving a vague statement to the journalists and being filled in on the events of the day – how I sent Mickey to bring in the suspect, and what Molly thinks about Ms. Coffman, the old lady whom James and I met the day Umbridge was killed – and reviewing the autopsy reports from the Necrowizards, we are both close to crumbling from exhaustion. My brain is incessantly pounding against the sides of my skull, and the dark circles under her eyes have grown more pronounced. Eugenie suggested we get away from the Ministry for an hour, so I brought her to the restaurant where James works for a quick drink, Pepperup potion and so we can discuss the case in a less institutional environment. This place smells like cheese and wine, and biting into a sauce-ridden piece of pizza is heavenly.

“I like the Silencing spells and how good at them you are,” Eugenie comments, twirling her fork around in her plate of spaghetti. From down the bar, where he’s serving a young couple who keep sneaking kisses, James glances at me and winks. I chose not to fill him in on the drama of the day, as the murders of the morning are supposed to be kept under wraps until the Auror office can produce an authoritative and comprehensive statement.

“Thanks – it’s an old spell my uncle Harry taught me,” I tell her, then wince, remembering his betrayal. I can barely face the thought of telling James how his father has been withholding information from us. Down the bar, I notice an owl fly in the open door and perch on the counter beside my cousin, who unties a letter, reads it hastily, then scribbles a quick reply. “And you’d think that by this point in time there would be rules about dirty animals like owls in eating establishments.”

“I got shat on three times during the many morning posts at Hogwarts,” Eugenie comments, smiling slightly and patting her sleek head of dark hair self-consciously. It looks a little greasy, and I suspect she didn’t have the time to shower this morning after we were called in so early. She takes a bite of spaghetti, slurping up a rogue noodle. “So, let’s talk business. We can’t ignore this forever, as nice as it is to get away.”

“Right. Well, what do you think about this Ruth Coffman theory?” I ask her, taking a sip of my beer. “Personally… I saw that old woman, and she looked pretty feeble. But sometimes magical ability and physical health do not directly correlate. Like that prisoner in Azkaban who is physically dying, but somehow regained his mental faculties and is doing small amounts of wandless magic, which is incredibly difficult.”

“Miraculous, indeed,” Eugenie mutters. She takes another large bite of her pasta, leaving me once again to do the talking.

“And she could have been putting it on. Although…well, she was just coming in from the garden, and the report said that Umbridge was most likely dead before she was pushed out the window, in imitation of the sevenfold killer. But they don’t have a specific window of time, and it’s possible that Coffman could have killed her, then gone down to make herself look innocent. There was probably time. But I’m not so sure. And she had a walker – it would have been difficult for her to navigate Azkaban in order to kill Crouch, since you can’t Apparate directly on the island. You have to take a boat out at least one hundred meters, then Apparate from there. Infiltrating the prison isn't impossible, but quite unlikely.”

“So you’re pursuing the idea that she could be the murderer?”

“That’s what Molly thinks, but I’m not convinced.” I bite my lip. “Same with the two today – Goyle and Thicknesse – though I really do believe that somebody is copying the patterns of the sevenfold killer, it feels very unlikely that person is Ruth. Unless she’s working with a partner, or offering advice and guidance to somebody.”

“Which leads us to the person who is waiting for us in the courtroom of the Ministry, probably terrified out of his wits,” Eugenie says. “I feel really uncomfortable about it, Louis, but we don’t really have a choice but to question him seriously. The evidence looks very bad.”

“I know. I feel terrible, but as soon as Uncle Harry confessed who he lent the cloak to, the pieces started to fit together.” I hold out my hand and tick off fingers. “Motive – check. Check check and check. Access – sadly, yes. Knowledge or connection to the sevenfold killer – well, possibly. I don’t know, he could have studied her in training – although clearly by my year we haven’t been learning about international serial killers, or maybe he just read about her later.”

“It’s horrible,” Eugenie agrees. “Also, I’m quite suspicious about Malfoy, so we shouldn’t forget about him just yet. He was known to have publicly supported Nott and Runcorn in politics and to have defamed Thicknesse in the past. So I’ve sent out orders to bring him in as well. It will make me feel better about… the other bloke. And we should keep an eye on Runcorn and Nott. It is a little too obvious, for them to off the competition, but it’s possible that they could have knowledge of the sevenfold killer and be using it all as a ruse. A cover-up to take out some old enemies. Because if this pattern continues, then I think Nott would be the equivalent of the killer’s seventh murder – Herr Nacht. He’s the political opponent, who had a reputation for lechery and abandoning his bastard children…I think there could be a link there.” She stabs a meatball with her fork, shoving it into her mouth and chewing slowly.

“I suppose. So he would be making it seem like he was a potential future victim. The perfect cover for innocence.” I nod. “Wow, you really have great insight into those Slytherin heads.”

Eugenie smiles around her meatball. James pops by and gives me a second beer before moving towards a table with a pet Kneazle who has somehow been allowed passage into the restaurant. While she’s incapacitated temporarily by her food, I decide this is a good chance to ask her about her family – it’s been on my mind all day since speaking with Nana, but we haven’t had a moment alone.

“Listen,” I say. “I don’t want to make you sad, or anything. But I want you to know that I found some things out, about your family, and what happened to them. Your aunts and your uncles, and how you and your mother are the last of the Bones. And… well, if you ever want to talk, I’m here for you. Even through all of this crazy work stuff… I’m here for you, Eugenie.”

She smiles, swallows, and turns her body to face me. Her eyes behind her glasses are very grey. “You’re the sweetest, Louis. I… I don’t talk about my family much. It was really hard for my mum, you see, especially with what happened with my dad. But thank you.”

“What happened with your dad?” I ask quietly. She looks down at her plate, and I tentatively stretch my hand and move it over her pale one where it is resting on her leg. She tenses for a moment, the her fingers seem to relax.

“My mum always hinted that he died in the war,” she says softly, and looks at me again. “But I recently found out that wasn’t true. He just… he used her, and he knows about me. But he never wanted anything to do with me. It’s just an impossible situation.”

“You don’t have to tell me who he is,” I tell her, and close my fingers around her hand, holding it gently. She smiles slowly, and in this moment she seems younger than I have ever known her. Gently, carefully, she turns her hand over, so that we are palm to palm, fingers entwined. The restaurant beyond our silencing spells seems to quiet, and she strokes my thumb for a moment, and all I can think of are her pale, pale grey eyes, her white forehead, her pretty lips.

But the moment shatters as somebody familiar moves into the door of the restauraunt, wand in her hand and her hair puffed up around her head in a halo of brown. Eugenie jerks her hand away from mine as we spin and stare as Emily Longbottom, still in her Necrowitch robes, storms inside the restaurant, dodging around an exiting patron. The Kneazle at the other table begins to bark.

I swallow as she marches up to me and holds her wand at my throat. Today is an evening of firsts, for in Emily’s face is an expression of pure hatred which I have never seen before on her pretty, round features.

"Emily, love, what's going on?" Eugenie says in alarm, stretching her arm towards her friend. But Emily dodges her touch and rounds on me, eyes on fire and hands on her hips.

“You absolute prat,” she says, voice low and dangerous. “I cannot… you… you had better give me a good reason for why you've sent Mickey McLaggen to arrest my father.”






Author's Note: SO MANY CLUES. Seriously, this chapter was super eventful, I was so excited to post it. If you have the time, I'd love to hear any reactions or theories you readers have about the story. Thanks for reading!

Translations

Ici, elle est morte:. This one over here is dead.

Non, non, ma petitite, nous sommes ici pour vous liberer, pour vous aidez.: No, no, my dear, we are here to free you, to help you.


Chapter 8: gone away, i watched you disappear
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Chapter Eight
gone away, I watched you disappear
 


Awesome image by milominderbinder at TDA.


A countryside manor outside Zauberei Dorf, 1944

“Hello, little girl,” the man says in perfect, polished German. It is not lost on her, the irony of their position. She has her arm wrapped around his neck, a silver knife, bought on the black market, is held to his throat, drawing a thin needle of blood from where it presses against his Adam’s apple. The knife is goblin-forged, a claim which she tested with the spells learned at school. No doubt it was looted from the home of a wealthy wizard or witch who did not have the right blood to survive and prosper in this new regime. Ada relishes this fact. How right, she thinks, that it shall kill one of its oppressors.

“I thought you might come for me,” he says. She has cornered him and his wand is across the room by his bedside table. “What is your name, little red ribbon girl?”

“My name is Ada,” she says, without thinking. His lip curls.

“Ada Red, then I should call you.”

He thought he was safe, Herr Nacht, here in his mansion and his fine rooms, his portraits and his tapestries. But she is the killer of the sinful and she creeps around doorways like a ghost moving through the dust. And his servants, who have played dumb for months, were willing to open the doors for the red ribbon dangling from her small, pale hand. They did not speak: the fearful must not speak with ghosts, but she is an avenging spirit, a messenger of God, sent to relieve them, and so silently they left the doors unlatched.

“Perhaps you should have prepared yourself better,” she whispers. A muscle twitches in his body, and she presses the knife a little closer to his skin. Something warm and wet trickles over her hand. “Don’t even try, or I’ll bloody your face up so bad they won’t be able to identify your corpse.” This is dark talk, deathly talk, and it feels foreign and alien on her tongue. She has never spoken to one of her victims before, not truly – the first five died silently in the dark, and she refuses to think of the sixth. He is truly a ghost and a shadow to her. In Herr Nacht’s bedchamber, the candles are flickering dangerously, and in the reflection of his dressing mirror she can see her own face, peeking from other his shoulder.

He is a dark man, with heavy black eyebrows dropping over his leathery face, and weedy shoulders. His dressing robe of gold and red is rough against her arm, and his eyes stare through the reflection to meet hers. She is so pale – she has never looked more like a ghost, and her hands are very small against the glinting dagger which captures the candlelight. For a moment, the killer looks at herself. She cannot associate the name Ada Treuherzig with that title, yet it is Ada’s face which peers back up at her.

“Perhaps you are not the killer I feared you were,” Nacht says in a low voice, and she sees that his hand is creeping upwards, towards her wrist. She must kill him now, and have it done with. Her wand is trapped in her pocket between her body and his chair, and she could not reach it before he could seize the knife and have it at her throat.

The little girl in the mirror stares back at her, and the candles fade within her eyes.

The next morning, the body of one of the most notorious politicians of der Meister’s regime is found floating facedown in the River Spree, several miles from his rural mansion home. His throat is cut, and the blood draining from his body soaks around his dressing gown, mixing with the weeds and the rushes.

“Ada Red, he called her,” the scullery maid whispers to her friend as she packs her things for the city. Der Meister's soldiers are marching for the servants, and so they are fleeing, hoping to fade into the crowds of frightened people in Berlin. “I was crouched outside the door. Her name is Ada, Ada Red. She is a messenger of God, and guided by his hand.”

Alone in a dark, abandoned cottage, the girl the countryside whispers of is fast asleep. She has killed seven people. Soon, the scullery maid will name her as Ada Treuherzig, and with the power of her name they shall find her, with their spells and their force. Her slyness is no match once they have uncovered her name. They will take her to Nurmengard, the killer of the seven sinful ones, and she will be memorialized as a martyr of the war, as Ava Red, the sevenfold killer.

**



London, July 18th 2027

Neville Longbottom looks exhausted, but his eyes dart around the room. I wonder if he’s looking for his daughter. But Emily has been taken off the case permanently, and banned from coming into the Ministry until the case is closed, even if her father is proven to be innocent. Which I dearly hope he is.

Professor Longbottom was such a great guy as a teacher at Hogwarts. He always offered extra help when I was working towards my N.E.W.Ts, and his clear enthusiasm for plants shone through and even made the lessons sort of interesting and useful. He was kind-hearted, and of course, the father of Emily, who is one of the nicest people I know, despite her mean hexing skills at the restaurant last night when she found Eugenie and I there. He’s sat in the suspect’s chair, and chains are draped casually around his ankles, in case he gets to his feet and tries to storm out or overwhelm one of the investigators. His face is grey and his eyes are heavy, and he’s wearing the same robes as he was yesterday when Mickey McLaggen and Savage brought him in.

Eugenie, Proudfoot, Uncle Harry and I all have our own section of the bench, and a guard wizard is standing by the door. As these are only preliminary interviews, Longbottom hasn’t yet been accused, and is spared the humiliation of the Wizemgamot for the time being. Glancing down the bench, I find my eyes wandering to Eugenie Bones. She has her legs folded up on the wooden chair, and her pale chin is tipped into her hands as she stares in front of her. Instead of her characteristic pose of having her glasses on top of her head, she’s put them down next to her pad of parchment. Her expression, as usual, is unreadable.

Behind my partner, Uncle Harry looks exhausted, and expressions of guilt and concern flitter across his face, judging from the way he can barely look at his old friend sitting in the prisoner’s chair. I’ve kept the information about the Invisibility cloak silent, out of respect for Harry and trusting that he is innocent in all of this, but now I can’t help but worry if this was a little naïve of me. He’s my favourite uncle, in some ways, and my mentor, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make mistakes like the rest of us.

“Professor Neville Longbottom,” Proudfoot intones, and the weary man straightens slightly, wiping his palms on his thighs. The Auror reads him his rights, and asks if he has provided for a lawyer. Longbottom replies that his wife is seeing to it, but as he is innocent he is comfortable asking questions without an attorney. True lawyers are new additions to the magical world, and quite hard to come by as there is no formal training beyond working in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and then being independently out for hire. A few lawyers went to Muggle training and offer themselves to both Muggles and magical folk, though the systems of law in the Ministry are very different and hardly overlap with the institutions of Muggle law.

“You say you are innocent, sir,” Proudfoot says, and his voice breaks for a moment. “And we would like to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. But the evidence of your guilt goes beyond a borrowed invisibility cloak. Could you please tell me what you were doing the afternoon and evening of July 3rd?”

“I…I was working at the pub with my wife,” Longbottom says quietly. “We served the lunch rush together. And then… I went to my friend Harry’s house to borrow his Invisibility cloak.” He glances nervously up at the bench. “I said I needed it to tend some plants which operate by sight, and which lash out when gardeners come to tend them. So being invisible… would help me keep the plants alive. I said that I’d just had them imported through… a source in London.” His voice is quite hoarse, and I wonder if anybody has thought to get the poor man a drink of water. “I knew Harry would say yes, because he doesn’t know much about plants.” He smiles weakly up at my uncle.

“Alright. And what was your relationship with the man called Barty Crouch?” Proudfoot asks, glancing down at a list in front of him.

Longbottom’s face stiffens. “Well, for one, he was the man who facilitated the return of the Dark Lord,” he says quietly. Eugenie and Harry are both staring at their hands, and I wonder if they know what he is obligated to say next. “And… Crouch was one of the Death Eaters who… who tortured my parents when I was a baby. Who made them…lose…” his voice trails off, too thick to speak. Harry nods at the surface in front of him.

“So, would you say you had a motive to kill Crouch for revenge?” Proudfoot asks.

Longbottom hesitates, then nods his head slowly. “I can see how it would look that way… but I didn’t go to Azkaban to kill him. I wasn’t even thinking about that git – he was already worse than dead. I went to Azkaban… well, there’s been this story in the Prophet. There’s this, this prisoner there, who regained his memories and his wits after a long period of instability. I wanted to see if the story was true, but I didn’t want to make a big fuss over it, to explain to people why I was there. So I took the Invisibility cloak and crept into Azkaban to see the man. Honest, I never went near Crouch’s cell.”

Proudfoot glances towards us. “Potter? Anything to add?”

“Sir, after the Crouch murder, I will admit I suspected Neville,” Harry says in a low, quick voice. “We had words about it, but he explained what had happened. His parents… it’s a very sensitive subject, very personal.”

“People are dying, Harry,” Proudfoot sighs. I remember the time I was at the Leaky Cauldron and saw Harry and Longbottom arguing, and if that’s the time he’s referring to. Proudfoot is clearly holding back words he wants to say to my uncle.

“How did you get onto the island without authorization, Longbottom?”

The prisoner smiles ruefully. “Why, old friend, have you really forgotten? I was an Auror myself, twenty-odd years ago, before I left to teach at Hogwarts. The prison’s defence spells need a certain counter-spell which I learned my second year as an apprentice Auror – meeting with the guard is just a formality for members of the force.”

“This is used to provide access for the Aurors to inspect the prison and possible corruption among the guards,” I say out loud, then bite my lip. But Proudfoot only nods, and writes something down on his parchment.

“Perhaps it is time to change the wards, sir,” Eugenie adds. Proudfoot ignores her as well.

The rest of the interview moves along smoothly. Longbottom claims he has never heard of the sevenfold killer until this week – History of Magic was never his strong-suit. He explains that while he had access to the high-security floor at the Shining Gurdyroot where Umbridge was being kept due to his parents being housed in the same department, a check of the records would show that he wasn’t there that day. A pale pink blush rises up in his stubbly cheeks when he confesses that he hated Gregory Goyle, the third victim, who had bullied him at Hogwarts, and Uncle Harry reluctantly nods in support of this.

“But I would never kill him,” Longbottom pleads. He shakes his head, and wiggles his foot, causing the chains to tighten around his ankles. “Look, Harry – we never liked the bloke, but…”

Throughout the interview, Eugenie takes dutiful notes in untidy, scribbled rows, her face stern and unreadable. I find myself glancing towards her when I should be concentrating on Longbottom – her dark hair brushing her shoulder, her glasses perched against the root of her high ponytail, her hand moving briskly across the page – the same hand which she turned over when she wrapped her fingers around mine before Emily interrupted the moment and hexed me, and then stormed out and has ignored me since.

At the end of the interview, Uncle Harry asks if I’ll see that Longbottom makes it back to the holding cells with the guard. I agree, glancing nervously at Proudfoot, who has his arms crossed against his chest, waiting for his fellow Head Auror to follow him back to the office. I wonder whether Uncle Harry might lose his job over withholding the information of Longbottom borrowing the cloak.

Eugenie trails after the two senior Aurors, nodding to me as she moves her glasses from on top of her head to rest on her nose. I turn to Longbottom and nod, smiling shakily. “Shall we, sir?”

“I know you’re only doing your job, Louis,” Longbottom says in a low, calming voice. It’s easy to ignore the circumstances and pretend we’re back in the greenhouses while he explains how to thwart a Venemous Tentacula. “And I’m pleased I’ve got you alone.”

I blink. “Erm… you are?” Is he going to kick me where it hurts most and make a run for it?

“Yes. I have something which you should hear, and I couldn’t speak about it in front of the others,” Longbottom says, then winces slightly, as if his tongue has curled up inside his mouth. Swallowing, he glances at the guard. I nod, and the wizard obediently steps back several paces. We walk slowly in the direction of the holding cells, a path which Longbottom must know well from his years on the Auror force from when he was a younger man bringing Death Eaters to trial and justice.

“What is it, sir?”

“I can’t tell you, not exactly,” Longbottom says, and shakes his head. “I’m sorry. But… when I was about your age, I found out some information which I – very foolishly, vowed to keep quiet. Forever. I can’t speak it, or write it, or tell anybody about it.” He sighs. “Never make a binding vow, Louis. I… believe me, I have cursed my younger self several times this past week.”

I shove my hands in my pockets, and toy with my wand. “So…you pulled me aside to tell me… that you can’t tell me something. Golly, that’s really helpful.”

To my surprise, Longbottom smiles slightly. “You sound like Emily,” he says. “Something which shouldn’t shock me too much, considering how much time she spends talking about you.” We have reached the cells, and we walk through to his, which is the first in the high-security section. I tap the door with my wand and mutter my name, and the door swings open. Longbottom steps inside, staring down at me as I lock the cell door behind him and gesture to the guard to come forward.

“We’re going to do all we can to find the culprit, Professor,” I find myself saying, and in this desperate moment I feel far less an Auror than a foolish little boy making vows he can’t keep. “I’m going to make sure you don’t rot in here if you’re innocent.” The word tingles on my tongue.

Longbottom rubs his stubbled chin with his hand, and smiles grimly at me. “Thank you, son,” he says. “And one more thing: if my daughter’s new boyfriend hurts her, make sure you give him the hexing he deserves. I won’t be able to do it from here, you see.”

“That, I can promise,” I tell him, and look him in the eyes for the first time today.

**



I leave the high-security section of the holding cells, running a hand through my unwashed hair. It feels stiff and greasy already. Sighing, I hoist the pile of paperwork up in my arms.

“Oi, Weasley!” Turning around, I see two Aurors moving towards me from down the corridor which leads to the temporary holding cells.

“Speak of the devil,” I groan. “Hiya, Quentin. McLaggen. Listen, it’s been a really busy day, and I’ve got loads of reading to do.” Not to mention a shower. No wonder Eugenie didn’t want to hang around after the Longbottom interview.

Quentin frowns. He has black hair and high cheekbones, and perfect teeth – apparently his Muggle father is a dentist. When he smiles and bares those teeth, a faint dimple creases the creamy skin of his left cheek. I once was complaining about the other Auror trainees in front of my cousins Rose and Lily and they set to giggling about how good-looking Quentin is, to my irritation. Now that he’s somehow decided he fancies Emily Longbottom and she fancies him back, my toleration of his irritating friendliness has never felt so sour.

“It’s a good thing you’re here, Louis. We need to tell you something.”

“Can it wait until, oh, tomorrow?”

McLaggen guffaws, baring his less-than-perfect set of chompers – he’s been missing two teeth since a Quidditch accident in his fifth year and refused to let the nurse grow them back. He nudges his mate. “Oi, Weasel really has no idea!”

“Idea of what?” I say, not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed that Quentin hasn’t yet being informed that his girlfriend’s father is a doorway away. Perhaps this means he hasn’t been to comfort Emily yet, leaving the door open for me to comfort and mend the bridges with her.

Quentin sighs. “You had better follow me, mate.” Shrugging, I follow him through a different set of doors which leads to the temporary holding cells. It’s far warmer in here, and large windows allow the Aurors on duty to keep an eye on the cells’ inhabitants. Through one window is a snoring wizard with what looks like mud – or worse – splattered all over his robes and intermingled in his scraggly beard.

“Got into a rumble with a mountain troll, then caught for flying under the influence of alcohol,” McLaggen says. He’s procured a sandwich from somewhere, and baloney is sticking out of his large lips. He chuckles. “Bloody legend, really.”

“Charming,” I sigh. “Look, lads…” My voice trails off as Quentin stops in front of a window, moving aside and shifting between his expensive shoes. McLaggen chuckles again, crunching down on lettuce.

Sitting on the grimy cell floor is a familiar red-topped girl, her long haired-head leaning against the cell wall, her scrawny legs sticking out in front of her. My sister Dominique is in London. And she’s been arrested.

**



“Don’t tell Victoire,” is the first thing my sister says to me as I let myself into her cell and stand in front of her, casting a shadow over her bare legs which I can now see are a little scratched and most definitely have not been shaved in at least a fortnight. “I made the boys promise not to tell anybody but you or Molly. I promised McLaggen I’d show him what’s ‘underneath my top’ if he didn’t tell anybody.”

“That is not okay. He can’t talk to you, or anybody, like that,” I tell her, hand clenching around my wand. The glass of the cell silences any sounds from the corridor, but I can see the oaf in question flailing his arms about like a gorilla, and Quentin throwing back his head in laughter.

“Not that it matters since you’re not wearing a bra. He probably saw all he needed to when dragging us in here,” a posh, accentuated southern voice says. I turn and glare at the second occupant of the cell. Despite the refinement of his accent, my sister's boyfriend Steak more closely resembles a reincarnation of Jesus with his bushy brown beard and beady eyes. He, like Dominique, is chained to the wall of the cell with a gauntlet around his wrist, and his shoulders are slumped over as he traces shapes in the fine layer of grime which covers the cell floor. I’m pretty sure I can see several leafs poking out of his bushy facial hair the colour of bark. He’s wearing some sort of colourless smock and loose trousers which bunch around his ankles and his feet, which are bare, with toenails that appear to have gone unclipped for some time now. I purse my lips.

“Please do not talk to my sister like that, Steak,” I say, wishing I knew his real name. The syllables of the nickname of Steak for a vegan activist and the intended irony passing through my mouth is almost enough to make me knock his perfectly straight teeth out then and there, but I remind myself that I am a mature adult and an Auror, and turn to my sister. “Love, where have you been all these months? And why the bloody hell are you here in this place?”

Dominique sighs, sticking out her lower lip. Then she pats the grubby floor next to her and looks up at me, pleadingly. I glance down at my clean, neat set of robes, but she has that expression which convinced me to held hide an injured bird in her closer for two weeks when she was ten and to help cover for her low marks in Transfiguration when she was sixteen. In the grand scheme of things, my sisters are my Achilles heel.

“Don’t tell him anything, babe, he’s the enemy-” Steak blurts out, but I wave my wand at him. He spits and pounds at his chest, face turning very red. Silencing him isn’t strictly ethical, but nobody is here to care besides Quentin and McLaggen, who have conjured up a table and are playing a game of Exploding Snap.

I sit down next to Dominique. She smells terrible, but rests her head on my shoulder where it fits perfectly. She’s fiddling with a hemp bracelet around her wrist, and I narrow my eyes at the spluttering Steak as I wait for her to talk. After a few minutes of sitting like this, and hoping the boys don’t pay attention to their prisoners again and call me out for being a sissy, Dominique takes a deep breath.

It seems that she and Steak were arrested when they moved into a tree in a certain section of a Lakes District forest which was scheduled to be pruned and diminished for the sake of building a new country retreat for tourists close to the Wordsworth cottage.

“We didn’t want to see all those lovely trees cut down,” she tells me, sniffling slightly. “Just for the sake of Muggle consumerism, you know? So Steak had the brilliant idea of a peaceful protest by living among the trees – so if they tried to cut them down, they’d kill us at the same time, so they couldn’t.”

“Dad is going to love this,” I mutter under my breath. I actually sort of mean it in more ways than one. Dad will disapprove on the surface but probably secretly be thrilled at his daughter's daring and activism. Dominique bumps my leg with her unshaven one.

“No, Lou, you are wrong. He will decimate me if he finds out. Which he won’t. Anyway, so it worked for a while. The Muggle construction workers were scratching their heads, trying to pay us off…” she scoffs, and across the room Steak silently bangs his fist into the floor in agreement, then winces and, to my disgust, sucks on his sore and gray-splattered fingers. “But you have to understand. There are beautiful creatures in those woods – animals the Ministry should be protecting. Tree sprites, they’re little creatures who look like twigs, and they’re ever so sweet. And there’s a colony of unicorns which have somehow made their way down south – I don’t think any of the local wizards know about them.” She sniffs again. “The unicorns are what got us arrested, in the end…”

“Oh God and Rowena, what did you do?”

“I… I simply…” she wipes her nose with the back of her hand, then settles her head back on my shoulder. “One of the unicorns let me sit on its back and we charged the Muggles. Nobody was hurt, of course – I would never have wanted that. But the Muggles were all frightened, and the Ministry found out, and those two… colleagues of yours brought me in early this morning.”

“You are honestly impossible,” I tell her. “Why exactly did you charge them with the unicorn?”

“So they’d think the forest was a mystical, lovely place, and not want to destroy it? Oh, I don’t know!” Dominique says. “But the Muggles… well, I’m sure they just thought the horn was an illusion, the way Muggles do, but it was a really horrific moment. People were shouting, crying – unicorns don’t like men, you see. The unicorns were acting quite beastly towards them.”

“Bloody fantastic. So you’re here for a breach of the Statute of Secrecy.”

“I suppose.” Dominique straightens, and I get a whiff of the smell of unwashed body. Great. A great continuation of a great day. “Listen, Lou, can you get us out of here? Please? I’ll straighten up, go home for a little while, make Mum happy – s’il vous plait, mon frère? Je nais personne d’autre pour m’aider.” She makes that face again – the pouting lip and the puppy-dog eyes. “Victoire will murder me, and she knows a lot of tricky hexes.”

I sigh. “I’ll get you out. Of course I will. But… you’re not allowed to disappear again. You’ll be staying at my flat, and James will keep an eye on you when I’m not there. Let me just settle it with the Office, yeah?” Brushing off my robes, I smile at her and wave my wand to remove the silencing charm from Steak.

“Thank you,” Dominique says softly. “And… I never thought I’d hear you say that. How James will keep an eye on anybody.”

“He certainly won’t be keeping an eye on me,” Steak mutters. He sticks his finger back in his mouth.

**



“The families are getting angry,” Eugenie says, her head in her hands. Her desk is strewn with lists and scribbles, and a half-eaten applecore is beginning to turn brown at the edges, forgotten in a nest of quills. “Goyle’s wife was in here earlier, shouting at Proudfoot when I got back this morning, and I’ve been getting owls from Thicknesse’s family with conspiracy theories. His son even accused his own mother – apparently they had a nasty divorce about ten years ago.” She shakes her head. “We have to catch this killer, this… imitation sevenfold killer. Maybe your cousin is right and we should speak with that old lady at the senior’s home.”

“I still think it’s too vague of a trail,” I tell her. “But alright. I’ll go by tomorrow and try to find her.”

“Excellent,” Eugenie says, then yawns. “I spoke with Malfoy down in the café, where he was nursing a cup of coffee. He looked like somebody had kicked his favourite dog or something, but it could be all an act.”

I frown. “You think he’s still a suspect?”

Eugenie shrugs. “I wouldn’t write him off.”

“Longbottom said something really strange to me as I was leaving,” I tell her. “And I was wondering… I think the murderer must be somebody quite high up in the Ministry – somebody who has access to information, like how to get into Azkaban without going through administration.” I bite my lip, not quite able to meet her eyes. “Maybe even an Auror, as much as I hate to say it. But Malfoy has contacts all over the Ministry – what if he went to visit his father in Azkaban, then came back later to finish the job with Crouch?”

Eugenie nods grimly, and moves her glasses up from her eyes to on top of her head. The noseband on the glasses snags on her tightly-pulled back hair, causing a chunk to come loose. She sighs, exasperated, then pulls out her ponytail so that it goes tumbling around her shoulders. Realizing I’m staring at her, I turn my eyes back to the parchment in front of me.

“It’s a theory, but we still have to consider if he would really want that badly to kill Thicknesse and Umbridge. What did Longbottom say?” she asks quietly, securing her hair elastic around her thin, pale wrist and slipping it back inside her sleeve.

I go to tell her, but hesitate – though Eugenie is one of the most trust-worthy, noble people I know, I can’t help but think that had Longbottom wanted the rest of the Aurors to know, he would have spoken up about his unspeakable promise in the interviewing room.

“Nothing. Just gave me permission to hex Emily’s boyfriend.”

Eugenie cracks a faint smile. “The Quentin kid? I met a couple Aurors like him when I was scheduled in Italy.” She smiles at me. “Emily is lucky to have a friend like you, despite the incident last night. I’m sure she’ll forgive you.” She pauses, and then secures her glasses from where they are tipping to the side and places them back in place, a clear window into her gray eyes. “Actually, Hannah was joking with my mum a few weeks back about how they thought you and Emily were going to fall in love one day. That’s how I first heard your name, actually.” She pauses, cheeks turning slightly pink

“Really?” I laugh, and then nudge her. “Well, no worries of that happening.” My heart beats a little faster at her blush.

“Yeah. I asked about you and they said you were an Auror, and I knew I was going to need a new partner – one with a good mind, and who was good at asking questions, and would be able to solve cases like this one. Who has a mind like mine.” She smiles at me, and in that moment, she is so very, very pretty.

“When did you get back from Italy?”

“Mid-June. So right before your examinations,” she says. “Mum wanted me to herself for a few days before I started back up here again. She gets… well, a little lonely. It’s just her, you see. My stepdad passed away when I was seven and she never remarried.”

“And what about your birth dad?” The words are out before I can stop them, and I instantly regret being so bold. “I’m really sorry, Eugenie… I know you don’t like to talk about…”

My voice trails off weakly, and I can hear both my sisters in my head chiding me for being so insensitive. But Eugenie smiles finally, and glances up at me.

“My father… he really isn’t a good guy,” she says quietly. “My mother conceived me at Hogwarts, remember? Well, those were very dark times, and she was lonely and easily misled. And this boy… he just took advantage of her, and left her with me, and didn’t want anything to do with us.”

“That’s awful,” I tell her quietly. My hand twitches towards hers, and I wonder if it would be too bold a move to close my fingers around hers again. Instead, I lean forward, so my forearms are resting on the desk, our heads, light and dark, very close together.

“My mother… she hated that anybody knew. She had her friends… well, nobody was allowed to speak his name. But I found out, just before I left for Italy. And… I guess I thought my father wouldn’t be as horrible as she said he was. But now that I know his name… he is, Louis. I used to make him out to be this, this hero, this amazing man who would come and make my mother smile again and take me to buy my first wand and be proud of me. But he disappointed me. Like Mum said.” She glances at me and laughs hastily. “I’m sorry. There are some things which Auror partners just shouldn’t know. If the lads from my training years could hear me, they’d say this is what happens when you let girls onto the Auror force.”

“Never say that,” I tell her earnestly, and this time I do reach for her hand, enclosing it in my fingers. She’s very cold. “You’re… you’re just amazing. There’s a reason why those losers never made it to apprentice. Your… your heart is what makes you strong.”

Eugenie smiles at this, and her hand squeezes around my own. Behind her glasses, her gray eyes are glinting. “What a very Louis thing to say,” she whispers.

The moment is interrupted by a shout.

Eugenie and I wrench apart, and run out of the cubicle. By the lifts, a man is standing, clutching at his throat. He has white blond hair slicked back in thin streaks from his large, pale forehead, and his eyes are bulging out of his face, which is very, very white. He steps forward, and as we watch, baffled, he sticks a finger in his mouth and vomits all over the marble floor. I grip Eugenie’s hand, confused, but she wrenches free and runs towards the man. The same Auror who shouted yells something about getting him to a Healer.

“It’s Malfoy!” somebody whispers, and I turn to see stern-faced Ermengarde, one of my fellow Auror apprentices, standing behind me.

“What do you reckon has happened to him?” her partner replies.

Eugenie and an Auror – Savage, I register – have reached Malfoy, and Savage’s wand is pointed at his throat, murmuring incantations. Eugenie does the same, and in a moment Malfoy is sick once again, a most undignified action for such a posh and highbrow man. Then he slumps over on his knees, onto his stomach, face lying in a pile of his own sick.

“He’s not breathing!” Savage shouts, and several others turn to lift Malfoy’s deadweight around. But not before I see something red, fluttering from his back. A red ribbon, clinging to his robes. The mark of the sevenfold killer.







Author's Note: Thanks to everyone for reading! The statement Achilles heel comes from Homer's Iliad. The chapter title is a line taken from the song 'Little Talks' by Of Monsters and Men.

s’il vous plait, mon frère? Je nais personne d’autre pour m’aider: Please, brother? I don't have anybody else to help me.


Chapter 9: everything that happened, everything you saw
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Chapter Nine
everything that happened, everything you saw



Beautiful image by milominderbinder at TDA.


Nurmengard Prison, 1945

Ada is tired. She is so tired of the darkness of her cell, of the paper-thin coverlet which itches her skin, of the sheen of sweat which chills her body in a rocking fever. She is weary with imagining the faces of the people whom she killed, of the silence of their bodies, of that obscure moment just after the kill was completed when she was alone with a corpse and unsure what to do with it. She is tired of the weight of her choice.

And Ruth – Ruth has been very quiet these past weeks, since their guards told her that her lover, Joachim, whose loyalty to der Meister had spared her life, was presumed dead when a government building in Zauberei Dorf was destroyed by Muggle bombs. Joachim is very likely dead, and Ada wonders if the other guards will choose to send Ruth to the death courtyard now that she has no protector. Her friend is wasting away with grief, so she may die herself before the guards can accelerate the job. Sometimes Ada calls to her, and tries to tell Ruth a story: of her time as Ada Red, the heroine of Zauberei Dorf, or to remind her of memories of their time at Durmstrang.

She tries again.

“Ruth, do you remember how we used to struggle over the classes which were taught in the other languages? I suppose that is one of the faults of accepting students from so many diverse countries. Do you remember the moment of sunset when the light seemed to tickle the mountains? And the coolness of the water of the lake – when Erik coaxed us in after Christmas, and our toes nearly turned blue and our throats were hoarse with laughter?”

There is no response – Ada curses herself for allowing Erik’s name to leave her lips. She stands on her toes, holding herself up by the bars on her door and peeks into Ruth’s cell. A pale foot protrudes from a leg that looks more like a bone than flesh on a once-beautiful girl. There is no movement, but Ruth could be sleeping, or ignoring her. Ada sighs. She will ask the guards when they bring the girls the daily rations whether Ruth is alright - perhaps they will take pity and answer this time. There is nothing else that can be done. She is trapped and useless.

Yet the guards do not come, not that night, not in the morning. Ruth does not stir, the bone-pale foot remaining in the same position, but for the first time in months Ada can hear the rumbling and calling of the poor wretches who are kept in the floors above her cell. They are crying out for food, for water. But the guards do not come to silence nor appease them.

So she sleeps, and she dreams of Herr Nacht and his dark-browed face in the mirror, and the trickle of blood down his neck. And when she awakens it is dark in the cell, and she traces the features of people she once knew on the wall, causing the tip of her finger to turn black as soot and little rivets of crumbling stone to trickle down towards the floor. She does not call out to Ruth anymore, for her throat is very dry, and her body very weak. She tries to tell herself a silent story: of princesses who crept across a lake of swans, but even her mind is slowing down. Her hands are weak and limp. She wonders if she will die here, after all, after all these months of defiantly clinging to life. She wonders if anybody out in the world beyond this hellish place remembers her name.

No sound comes from across the corridor.

Ada awakes to the sounds of men running through the aisles of the prison. Puzzled and weak, she draws her coverlet more tightly around her, and waits. Then they come – bursting into her cell, men in strange uniforms and with foreign voices and speaking very quickly. Somebody approaches her bed, a large, healthy man who fills out his uniform, and it is all Ada can do but to whimper into her pillow. She cannot defend herself against these soldiers. She is dehydrated and limp and weakened.

Elle est morte,” a voice calls in French, and she knows enough of the language to realize the terrible truth of these words, telling her that Ruth Kaufmann, her darling friend, is dead. She tries to scream but the sounds catch in her vocal cords. With hesitation, she pulls herself to sit on her bed, to stand shakily in front of it, and the soldiers back away from her. She glares at them, catching the light longingly of the corridor behind the open door.

But then a man comes forward. He is gentle and fatherly, and he speaks a little German. He tells her that they are there to rescue her, to bring home all the poor creatures in this god-forsaken place. He tells her that his name is Gilbert LeJean, and he rocks her back and forth like her grandfather might have when she was young and had a nightmare, his shirt smelling like smoke from his pipe.

Ruth is dead, the man confirms. And Ada knows she has a choice to make.

“My name is Ruth Kaufman,” Ada tells him. She is practiced in lying through her teeth. She says it – not quite on a whim, not merely as tribute for her dead friend’s memory. In this moment, the sevenfold killer chooses a new identity, a new life beyond the memories of the murdered. “Ruth,” she whispers to herself. “I am Ruth, and she is Ada. And Ada Treuherzig is dead. The sevenfold killer is dead.”

The soldiers bury Ruth’s body in the yard at Nurmengard, with a special monument which they magically carve out of the stones to commemorate the name of Ada Treuherzig. And in the coming years, people will make pilgrimages to the grave, and leave flowers and red ribbons, and commemorate the girl, one of so many, who lost her innocence so young, who died from heartbreak and sorrow. And Ada, or Ruth, as she is now called, will live a very long life. She will live through the cold war and the second wizarding war, and sometimes she will forget the past, for an hour, or only a blissful moment. But the shadows of the dead, of his kind eyes, of her soft smile, never let her rest for long. Ever the survivor, she is not yet broken down enough to die.

**


July 19th, 2027. London, UK

“So he’s not really dead, Louis?” Dominique asks. She’s sitting at the table in my flat, newly released from the holding cells into my temporary custody. Her red hair is wet from her shower – the first shower in a few weeks, judging by the smell of her and the grey footprints smudging the white ceramics of my shower– and coiled in a sagging, dripping bun on top of her head. She looks very young with her hair out of her eyes, and she has her bare feet perched up on the chair, is leaning her chin on her knees.

“No, Draco Malfoy got to the hospital in just the nick of time,” I tell her, slapping some mustard and lettuce onto a piece of bread. “Are you still eating tomatoes? This is a pretty boring sandwich.”

“Just no meat and you can put anything on there,” Dominique says generously, taking a sip of orange juice. “Man, I’ve missed real food. Living off nuts and herbs really isn’t very energizing. So he was poisoned? Malfoy.”

I secure a slice of tomato on top of her sandwich and cut off the crusts, then slide the plate across the table. Dominique smiles her thanks and takes a bite, dripping the liquid that hides in tomatoes down her chin.

“That’s what it looks like,” I tell her. “He was drinking coffee in the atrium café for an hour, so somebody could have slipped it into his drink. The Healers reckoned the poisoning was pretty recent.”

“And why did he come up to the Auror department?”

I shrug. “I guess the atrium was empty, and he wanted to cause a scene? Or panicked and stepped into the lift when he felt the symptoms coming on? Malfoy is rumoured to trade in illegal potions and dark objects, he should know about poison. In fact… I’m not sure I should be telling you this, but Proudfoot says the irony of the situation is that the poison probably came through one of Malfoy’s importers. The Aurors have had their eye on him for years but can't prove anything.”

“Ironic indeed,” my sister says, wiping her mouth on the large shirt which I’ve leant her.

“We might know more when the effects of the antidote have worn off. Right now he’s just been raving about corruption in the Auror department and Uncle Harry and treason and god knows what else. And that the killer is going to come and kill him in his sleep. Which is entirely possible, actually.”

“Sounds like a real buffoon. So does this mean he’s not a suspect anymore?”

I hesitate. Dominique has always been very good at calmly tricking people into divulging their secrets, especially men – Dad likes to joke that it’s her Veela blood coming out. Mum is the same way, though more French and loud, and Victoire just snarks at people until they're so frightened that they confess whatever she wants to know.

“I mean, is it absurd that Malfoy might have poisoned himself in order to clear his name from the other murders? Possibly. It’s crazy, but…from the stories I’ve heard about the bloke, he isn’t the most rational wizard. And judging from his son – Rose’s boyfriend, in case you didn’t meet him – Malfoy can’t be the brightest prophecy in the Hall.” Dominique frowns at my words. “Sorry, inside joke. And the poisoning fits with the story of the sevenfold killer – Ada was poised as a maid and slipped some poison from the black market into the drink of one of Grindelwald’s top financial managers who had been leaking information from the banks for years. So the story fits.”

Next is the boy soldier, and then the equivalent of Herr Nacht, I say silently. I have an inkling of who the new killer might target for the seventh at least, but am unsure with how to proceed with that information. Somehow, the seventh murder seems the most important. It was almost as if the killer had gotten sloppy with the fifth, and the sixth had, according to my research, been painted as an accident. Is that because they’re in a hurry to get to the seventh?

“Think they’ll return to finish the job with Malfoy?” Dominique asks. “And what about Professor Longbottom? Oh, I hated hearing about that. The poor man. Have you spoken to Emily yet?”

“I… I did send her an owl this morning before I went into work to bail you out,” I tell her. “And I ran into Victoire…you know what she’s like, she can smell a lie a league away.”

Dominique gives me a warning look. “I personally think that she knows Legilimency, so I hope you didn’t make too close of eye contact,” she says.

“She knows everything. I think she probably knows I lied to her, so say I didn’t warn you if she shows up here.”

“She’ll be pissed at you too, loser. Also, where the heck is James?”

“I think he went to sleep at Taryntula's – this crazy girl he’s shagging – and then something about meeting with Alfie for breakfast? Odd that he’s not back yet.”

“I thought Alfie was your friend.” Dominique tactfully ignores my nickname for James' girl. She has crumbs from the sandwich stuck to the side of her mouth and looks ridiculous. I decide not to tell her.

“Honestly, with all the complications between this horrible case and dealing with you, I haven’t had time,” I tell her.

The shower stops running in the other room and, to my horror, Steak emerges from the toilet room, completely in his birthday suit. He has a slight gut with a fine layer of hair surrounding his belly button, and before I cram my eyes closed and shelter them in the crook of my arm, I’ve already managed to take in everything.

“Babe, Louis isn’t comfortable with you being your natural self,” Dominique chides gently. “There’s clothes in his room that I laid out for you.”

“Uptight as hell,” Steak grumbles. “Real men, Louis, aren’t afraid to be natural and free in front of other people.”

“Just… put that away,” I say through gritted teeth, and peek out to see if the coast is clear. “Please, just leave. I don’t want you showing… all of that in front of my sister.”

“Nothing I haven’t seen be-”

“And you! Shut it!” I glare at her. “You owe me, miss. If it weren’t for me you’d still be stinking up that holding cell. I will never know how you talked me into bailing out that lunatic…erm, Steak of yours, but he has to go. I want him gone by tomorrow, but oh no… you are staying here. No more forests, no more lack of personal hygiene. Promise?”

“Promise,” she says, and squirts a worm of mustard onto her finger. Disgusted, I grab my bag.

“Behave while I’m at work, alright? No… funny business.” Dominique salutes me, then sticks out her yellow tongue. Rolling my eyes, I barrel down the stairs two at a time, relieved to get a break from Steak’s obnoxious and hairy presence. Just outside the front door of our building I run into James and, of all people, my mate Alfie Peakes.

When my former dormmate Alfie had announced to the Ravenclaw common room that he was gay in our third year, it didn’t occur to me to be surprised. I asked him if he ever watched me undressing and Alfie said he wasn’t into whiny nerds with chicken arms, and that was that.

I give him an enthusiastic hug, clapping him on the back.

“I have been trying to get a hold of you, mate,” Alfie says, grinning. He’s black, and his wild curls have been clipped since I last saw him. His teeth are as white and crooked as ever, and he’s gained muscle. “Jamie here tells me you’ve been crazy occupied with this case – with Thicknesses dead! What a plot twist!”

“It’s… something like that,” I tell him, laughing. “Look, guys, I’ve got to run off. But… perhaps in a couple of days, when and if things calm down at work, we can all go for drinks?” I grin at my old friend. “It’s kind of making me jealous to see you spending so much time with my annoying little cousin.”

“I’m right here,” James calls. During our reunion he has been tossing a little rubber ball against the bricks of the building, trying to see how many stories high he can throw it. From the window below my kitchen, one of Mrs. Trickle’s cats is staring out, a rapt expression on its furry face.

“We’ve got loads to talk about,” Alfie says, and wrinkles his nose. “I broke up with Hobbs – that bloke I wrote you about, with the nicest, biggest-”

“Okay, okay, no need to rehash those details,” I say loudly. “We have a deal – you don’t go into detail about your sexcapades, and I don’t bore you with the details of mine. In this case they’re mostly non-existent, however…” Eugenie’s pale, pretty face flashes across my mind, and I feel my face turning a little hot.

“That’s a lie, Louis. I told Peaksie about Lucretia,” James calls. He throws the ball into the air and rebounds it off his forehead.

“He’s a loon,” I tell Alfie. “Erm, yeah, Lucretia… just this blond girl I’ve been hanging out with a couple of times…”

“And shagging very loudly in your room...”

“Shut up!” I glare at my cousin, then turn back to Alfie, who is smirking, one eyebrow raised. “I do want to tell you about… a girl… nothing like that, what James just said. But… I need your advice about something. Erm, yeah.” I shift between my feet, avoiding James' unbelieving smirk.

“Sounds good, mate,” Alfie says warmly, clapping me on the back again. One of the differences between him and James is that Alfie knows when the time is right to tease and when it’s more appropriate to keep his trap shut. Waving goodbye to my cousin, I turn on the spot, imagining a large lobby with marble floors, flowerbeds outside the windows, and a fireplace.

As Alfie’s face in front of me blurs, I realize that I forgot to warn the guys about Dominique and more specifically Steak being upstairs. The thought disturbs my Apparition and I end up Splinching off a tiny slice of my arm, which is easily remedied with a quick Healing spell I learned in my first year of Auror training, but stains my white shirt with blood. I briefly consider popping up to Nana’s suite to see if she knows a spell to fix the stain, but settle for pulling my robes down over my sleeve instead.

The receptionist of the Shining Gurdyroot, who has been watching this whole ordeal with an amused expression on his pointed face, shows me to the conference room where Ms. Coffman – or Ruth Kaufmann, as Molly said she was once called – is waiting to meet with me. I let myself in, wiping my hands on my robes and making sure my wand is easily accessed in my pocket. Somehow, Molly’s warnings that perhaps Ms. Coffman is involved with the murderer rings again and again in my head.

“Auror Weasley,” the old woman says. Her eyes, like I remember them, are very clear and blue, and she has a pair of spectacles hanging around her neck on a glimmering silver chain. She’s sitting in an armchair by the window, with soft cushions to ease her curved spine, and her cane is leaning against the armrest.

“Ms. Coffman, thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” I say, pulling up another armchair to sit across from her. The wooden legs squeal unpleasantly on the floorboards, and I guiltily glance down, hoping I haven’t left a scrape.

“Vell, it vas not as if I had a choice,” the old woman says, the Central European accent persisting. Her voice is even and balanced, and I fidget, unsure whether this was a joke or not. “Vhat vould you like to ask me about, young man? I have lived a very long time. I have seen many people live and die. Yet I suspect you are here to ask me about one particular person I once knew.”

“Ms. Coffman, can you-”

“Please,” she cuts in. “You may call me Ruth, and I vill call you Louis. I vould like to help you, but we must speak candidly.”

“Ruth, then. Can you tell me… can you tell me about the sevenfold killer?”

She takes a deep breath, then drums her fingers together. She pulls her glasses up to cover her eyes, then lets them slip down around her neck again. Just when I am afraid that she is not going to answer me, the cracked lips open. She runs her tongue along the top of her bottom row of dentures, yellow and artificial.

“Of all the people alive, I know the most about the sevenfold killer. The first sevenfold killer,” she says quietly. “I knew her very well when we were girls, together. She was… very ordinary. Nobody would have suspected she could kill.”

“And nobody did,” I say. Ruth nods, and somewhere inside her body, a bone creaks.

“Yet with all of my memories, I am afraid I shall not be much help to you in solving this case. I can assure you – she, Ada, she was a young, naïve girl. She vas not a born killer, and many of her victories vere earned from courage and luck. Many people said she had the hand of God to guide her, but Ada knew this was not true.” The lines on Ruth’s face furrow in upon themselves, forming deep crevices in her skin. “But this new killer… they have planned everything perfectly. They have been two steps ahead.”

“How do you know all this?” I ask, sharply. “Has anybody come to see you, to talk about the case?”

“Vell, yes,” Ruth says, raising her very thin eyebrows at me. “Your cousin came by and had tea with me, and ve spoke much about the sevenfold. It was perhaps a veek ago, but I have been keeping up with the case since the first kill.”

“She never told me that,” I mutter, silently cursing Molly and her curiosity.

“There it is, the fact,” Ruth says. Her hand quivers as she reaches for a cup of water on the table, and, hesitating, I stand to help her. “I suspect she has informed you all about me, and I cannot blame her for that. I do not know anything about your copying killer, young man. But for a crime like this… there must be more than fascination with the sevenfold killer. There is a motive.”

“I agree. We’ve been trying to trace people to the victims, and why they might want to kill them,” I prompt her.

She hesitates for a moment, then uses a clawlike hand to bring back a tuft of white hair from hanging over her forehead. “I think…vell, vhat do I know. I am not a killer…but perhaps you should consider whether this new killer is targeting certain people. If they are preparing for one, great murder, if they have a particular… hatred for a person and want to cover up killing them.” She shakes her head. “I apologize. These are the illegible ramblings of an old woman.”

“No, you have a point,” I say. “I wonder… perhaps there is something about the seventh murder, which hasn’t happened yet? In the stories… with…Ada, was not that the ultimate kill?”

“I knew Ada Treuherzig,” Ruth says quietly. “I knew her very vell, as a girl, and we were imprisoned… in Nurmengard, together. I vatched her die, I was there. And if this killer is truly a scholar of the sevenfold… if she truly hopes to follow in Ada’s footsteps… then perhaps it is vorth considering, the significance of each murder.” Around her wrist, her little metal watch starts to sing. “Ah, it is time for my medication. I wish you luck, young man, but be warned. You may not like what you find.”

I nod and step away, grinding my shoe into a nick in the carpet. But Ruth raises a curled hand.

“One more thing,” she says quietly. “Louis, you must beware the sixth.” A shadow moves within her eyes, as if the shadow itself is longing to say more.

Musing over Ruth’s cryptic words, I take the time to stroll around the gardens of the Shining Gurdyroot before leaving via the gates in order to Apparate away just outside. I pause to register my departure with the sentry at the gate, who registers visitors who come in and out of the complex for the sake of security. I suspect they have tightened this up since Umbridge was murdered, and on a whim ask to see the entrance records for the date on which I found the body in the rosebush.

After showing the recordkeeper my Auror badge, he brings out the books. Of course, the Aurors who investigated the scene had access to this information and did not see anything suspicious, but something curious strikes me.

All of the records for the Shining Gurdyroot – whether the visitors enter through the gates or from the Floo fireplaces – are enchanted to appear in one another’s books. Directly above the names Louis Weasley, James Potter, Fleur Delacour-Weasley, William Weasley and Victoire Weasley is another name, one which I did not expect to have seen visiting at that hour. Something which strikes me as some sort of recording error, since the person in question was at the Leaky Cauldron right before I left for the retirement home.

A name in an uncharacteristically messy script. Emily Alice Longbottom.

It is not until an hour later, after I pop to the cafe for a sandwich and a coffee, and am on the doorsteps of my flat, that I realize something odd in Ruth’s words.

I vatched her die, I was there, Ruth said to me, her eyes clear from behind her glasses. And if this killer is truly a scholar of the sevenfold… if she truly hopes to follow in Ada’s footsteps…

Ruth had said ‘she.’ As if Ruth suspected who the killer was. As if she thought – or knew – that the killer was a girl.

Louis, you must beware the sixth.

**


At the flat, an owl is waiting for me – and being stroked and fed by Dominique – with a letter from Proudfoot explaining how he and the other Aurors have been working with Molly to figure out who the next victim will be. Malfoy is being guarded at the hospital, and he mentions that my uncle Ron has been called out of retirement to keep an eye on him – both to protect the bloke and be alert for clues of his guilt. A confession or clue could make or break many of our careers.

My cousins and company are still in attendance in the flat and the whole place smells like burnt cheese. Alfie and James are already pretty drunk – despite it being the middle of the day – and singing ballads about Irish wizards with arms around one another’s shoulders. To my disgust, Steak has also been invited to this little party, and is currently wearing a pair of my favourite loose trousers – with no pants on beneath them, by the looks of things – and Dominique is perched on his knee, her hands playing with the curls on the back of his shaggy head. When I come in she jumps away and escapes to the toilet, muttering something about how eating too many nachos and salsa upsets her stomach.

“I saw some lovely air freshener from the Diagon Alley apothecary in your toilet, Louis,” she says brightly. “They don’t have that in the woods!”

“Be sure it’s all natural products before using it, babe!” Steak calls after her, grinning. I pick at a few cheese-smothered chips and nibble at them, then spill salsa in my lap and sigh. I can’t win.

“You just can’t win,” James says, looking at me with pity. “We were going to play strip Exploding Snap, but then realized that none of us here are attracted to each other. And I have no desire to see my cousin wearing anything but a smock from head to toe, thanks very much. I invited Taryn and Lucretia over, but no owl yet in return. I’ve been telling Alfie about your crush on your partner. Sucks.”

My face heats up, and Alfie nods wisely. And infuriatingly.

“I do not fancy Eugenie,” I inform him. “Well, I mean, I fancy her – who wouldn’t, she’s brilliant and fit and cool, but-”

“She’s way out of your league anyway,” Steak says, cutting to the chase. He has crumbs in his beard.

“What do you even know? Do they get newspapers in the wilderness?”

“No, but I know who Eugenie Bones is after the Arietta Silver case,” Steak says rationally. “Arietta lived in my parents’ village in Yorkshire, so it was a nasty shock when she died.”

“Yeah, what happened with all of that?” Alfie asks. “I, personally, had never heard of Bones until I came back this week and she and Lou here were in the Prophet. I suppose she’s kind of attractive, for a girl.” He takes another sip of his bottle, and the foam lingers on his lips.

“Please don’t speak about her that way,” I growl at him. “She’s a classy woman, mate.” I'm only half trying to be funny.

He shrugs, leaning his curly head against James’ scrawny shoulder and closing his eyes slightly. Steak, however, has straightened, and tucks in the slight gut on his naked torso. His shirt –well, my shirt, technically- is piled on the floor beside him along with a deck of cards.

“Arietta was a lovely woman, really,” he says, and then belches. “When the Aurors came to find her murdered in her home, the whole village showed up to pay their respects and condolences. ‘Course, we didn’t know then that the killer was her own son.”

“Scandalous,” Alfie comments, crossing his legs and wrapping his ankles around one another like a human pretzel. James uses my friend’s shoulder to leverage himself up, muttering something about a piss, then realizes that Dominique is still in the bathroom and sits down again, crossing his legs in a rather similar way to Alfie.

“I’ll have to go in the sink if she doesn’t hurry up,” James mutters.

“I will tell your mother, and she will make you move back into Al’s room,” I inform him. “No girls will be allowed.”

“Fair play.” He slumps over.

“So the killer was her own son? Why? Was he… you know…”

“Mad as a hatter? Not sure, really. He popped by once in a while to the shop and spoke with me mum. He’s a few years older than us and lived in London. The thing was, Arietta was a regular humanitarian, and she was always bringing round these Muggle victims of wizard brutality, letting them stay in her house. Some say that her son just snapped, couldn’t stand to see his mum taking care of so many people, when she’d allegedly been a pretty rubbish mum to him, always running off to volunteer and work for others.”

“Yeah, what a terrible mum,” James mutters. “Wish mine had something else to occupy her than dropping in and involving herself here…”

“So Arietta’s son killed her, and Eugenie Bones caught him,” Steak concludes, then takes a large gulp of his own drink. “None of the other Aurors knew what to do, who it could be…”

“…but Eugenie knew. She got inside his head, she realized that the son hated his mother, resented her. She got into the killer’s head, and she understood,” I finish. “Perhaps that’s what I really need to do. Get inside the killer’s head.”

James and Alfie nod wisely.

“I’m going to go into the Ministry and see if I can catch up with Eugenie, tell her about the interview,” I tell them. “Please make sure not to rip up the neighbourhood too much, and that Dominique has enough toilet paper. James, you might have to pop to the supermarket to get some. Girls use more.”

“You are such a mother hen,” my cousin groans, releasing his head onto his knees.

As I move out of the flat, Ruth’s words ring true once again. She. If she truly hopes to follow in Ada’s footsteps.




Author’s Note: Thank you for reading! Many revelations in this chapter – I’d love to know what you all are thinking! The chapter title is from Dead Hearts by Stars.

Translations:

Elle est morte.: She is dead.


Chapter 10: no brighter light than the look in her eyes
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter Ten
no brighter light than the look in her eyes



Amazing image by milominderbinder at TDA.


Nurmengard Prison, Germany, 1942

The man who caught her had rotten teeth. She can still smell them, and his thick, dank breath as her wand flew out of her small hand. The first night in her lonely cell, no living soul to hear her cries for help, the smell of his decaying mouth lingers in her head.

Soon, though, she begins to realize the other smells. The cool scent of stone, moist and crusted with dirt. Her own body, rich with sweat and that peculiar smell of skin. The smell coming from the chamber pot. And on the slight breeze which penetrates through the high, magically impenetrable window, a hint of death.

Ada’s grandfather used to tell her stories about fairytales, reading to her from the Grimm brothers and recounting the gruesome tales until the little girl shrieked with excitement and hid her head under the covers. For the first few days here in Nurmengard, she imagines she is Rapunzel, trapped in her tower, lost yet not forgotten. She swells herself up with the sense of her own importance, her infamy. I am a martyr, she whispers to herself. I fought for what is right. Ada Red – I am practically a saint. She thinks of the men and women hiding red ribbons in their pockets, her name upon their lips. The thoughts make her proud, and she gorges on broth and paces the small circumference of her cell with her head held high. She imagines the faces of the people when she is finally released: she has heard they are calling her the sevenfold killer, for the seven people she killed. The words fill her with excitement, salty as blood.

But then the smells creep up with her. Guilt. Wrath. Loneliness. And she realizes that even if the world beyond Nurmengard has not forgotten her, whether or not they are hoping for her, she is alone here, and nobody will breach the defenses of Grindelwald’s greatest prison. Not unless some hero destroys der Meister, and the most ruthless let inconspicuous hit-witch is trapped here. She will not be able to kill der Meister. She will remain the sevenfold killer.

On the seventh day, when she has been here a week and the smells have invaded her so thoroughly that she does not notice them anymore, a group of der Meister’s enemies are brought to the prison. She hears them on the other side of the wall: women soothing children, wiping dirty faces, singing lullabies. She digs at a weak point in the wall until there is a small gap out of which she can see the yard beyond her cell, can perhaps squeeze two fingers through the damp stones. She can watch the people as they wait for death.

**


July 20th, 2027

I find Eugenie at her cubicle, accompanied by Emily Longbottom. Emily looks a mess: her hair is caught up in a sloppy pile on top of her head, and she has dark circles under her eyes. When we lock gazes, Emily scowls and stands up, muttering something to Eugenie and then walking past me towards the lifts.

“Fucking prick,” I catch her mutter under her breath. “No wonder you barely passed your Auror exams.” My hands tense, and I glare at her. Fighting with a friend is always the worst, and seeing Emily be so cold arouses the twin beasts of anger and hurt.

“At least my dad isn’t a criminal,” I shoot back at her. I don’t know why I say it, and Quentin Chang-Lu, who is sitting with his own partner, glances up, an outraged expression on his face. I hesitate. “Emily, I’m sorry – I don’t really think…”

“Go screw yourself,” Emily whispers, and her hand twitches towards her pocket. But a thin, cold arm settles around my shoulders, and I find myself being turned around and drawn away. Behind me, Emily’s footsteps and muttered swearwords move towards the lifts.

“Do not provoke her, Louis,” Eugenie chides. She pushes down on my shoulders, and reluctantly I inhabit the seat which Emily has just vacated in Eugenie’s office. “She’s upset, and hurting. We just had a talk, and she’s a little angry, but she knows that I did what I had to.” She pats my arm, and I itch to be closer to her. A warm feeling wells up inside my chest, a purring beast, yet at the same time I feel I can barely meet her eyes.

I’ve been telling Alfie about your crush on your partner. Sucks.

She’s way out of your league, anyway.

Eugenie says something about Malfoy causing a big fuss and being hexed by my Uncle Ron at St. Mungo’s, which really did not help the whole situation. Then she pulls out a sheet of parchment from her drawer and hands it to me. I glance over the letter, raising my eyebrows.

Draco –

Your inappropriate investments, considering our deals with the coming election, have not slid under my radar. I am very disappointed that after our long friendship and financial partnership, you have been willing to betray my trust. As a result, you no longer have my respect nor investment. Be careful.

-TN


“What is this?” I ask.

“A letter found in Malfoy’s things. Someone had bewitched the parchment to hide its true contents, I had to use several revelation spells to uncover this. It seems, from the records at Gringotts, that Malfoy had withdrawn his investment in Nott’s campaign for Minister of late, and that Nott was displeased with this.” Eugenie’s lip curls, as if she’s smelling something nasty.

“So you think it’s possible that Nott is the one behind this? Doesn’t that seem a little too obvious?”

“Perhaps. That’s what Malfoy said – he got so upset when the letter was revealed, he started a huge commotion at the hospital. Though I think your uncle was pretty pleased with himself for jinxing him into submission. He said he didn’t mean to cause him to vomit slugs.”

I can’t help but chuckle at Uncle Ron. “All accidental, naturally.”

“The other option is that Malfoy is trying to make himself look innocent in order to frame his old friend. I suppose it’s possible, so we’re keeping them both in custody.”

I snort, thinking of the cool, collected, dark-haired politician from the lift – his sneering lips, his calculated words. Eugenie seems to realize what I’m thinking, for she snorts.

“No, Nott will not be kept in the dingy holding cells like poor Neville. High-end politicians with big fortunes get more luxurious quarters. He’s under house arrest in his home just outside of London – it sits right next to the river Thames - until we gain more information. We sent McLaggen and Savage out there to ensure everything goes smoothly.”

“If it is them… well, I can’t believe these people could be willing to murder over money and politics,” I say quietly, stewing it over in my head. Somehow, I can’t quite imagine these hardened political men spending time researching the sevenfold killer. And one thing I am quite certain about: whoever the killer was, they respected Ada Treuherzig and what she had done. They wanted to follow in her footsteps, not to corrupt her legacy. Thinking of Nott and Malfoy, I cannot imagine them taking the care and effort to emulate a little girl who died over sixty years ago.

Eugenie is looking at me, her eyes clear and blue and undeterred by her glasses. She smiles at me, her hard features softening, and she looks down at her cheekbones, dark eyelashes fluttering against her pale skin. My lips part, almost involuntarily – our faces are very close together. I don’t know whether I should speak up or not, to cut through the warm tension between us, which makes my fingers curl in delight and fear.

“Eugenie, I…there is something which has been on my mind.” The words catch in my mouth, but she misunderstands.

“I know, Louis. I get it. Emily will… come around. She adores you, I’m sure of it. She’s as loyal as they come, especially for someone who is trying to make a living in analyzing the bruises on the organs of murder victims.” Her mouth twitches. “She’s one of the good ones.”

“Oh, right. Okay.” Emily is very far from my mind, Eugenie Bones. I look down at her delicate hand, hardly believing that she once let me hold it, before Emily came in and ruined everything at the restauraunt.

“So, I guess everything is under control, for now,” Eugenie says. “Malfoy and Nott are being watched, your cousin Molly is locking herself in the archives.” She raises a thin eyebrow, standing up and adjusting the skirt which is fitted neatly across her hips. I drag my eyes away from her legs poking out of the skirt – it’s sinfully tight. “She was acting really weird today…”

“She fancies you,” I blurt out, then wince. “Sorry. Did I just violate some sort of girl code? I mean…erm, if you fancy her back then you should totally go for it. I mean, we have lovely family parties, and nobody minds having Harry Potter as an uncle-in-law…”

Eugenie, of all things, giggles. She pauses, midway through my rambling, and then reaches for my elbows and pulls me gently to my feet. Face to face, our eyes are nearly at eye-level today. Gently, she places one ink-stained finger over my lips.

“Methinks the lad does protest too much,” Eugenie says quietly, then steps away, releasing my lips. My heart pounds against my chest. “And if I wanted all those things, I wouldn’t be getting them through Molly. You can be sure of that.” She smiles a little, but there is a faint pink blush creeping at her pale cheeks, a flush of blood on a porcelain stone face, as if she, too, is shocked by her own boldness. She steps back so she’s leaning against the wall, holding her folder of parchment in front of her, and instinctively I step forward as well so that our faces are very close together again.

“Who would you be going with, then?” I whisper. Outside Eugenie’s cubicle, Aurors are flowing past. A female voice is arguing loudly in the corridor.

“I’m not sure I’m ready to divulge that information,” Eugenie says. She has pulled her glasses back over her pale grey eyes, and her gaze darts between my own eyes, moving down to question my lips, then shifting back up. I lean forward slightly, and my chest brushes the folio between us, causing the parchment to rustle. Eugenie takes a slight inhale of breath, her eyes touching my mouth again, but just at that moment there is a swift rap on the cubicle window.

Startled, I turn to see my cousin Molly standing with her hands on her hips, strands of brown hair flying in disarrayed curls around her face. I back away from Eugenie, wanting to stay close to her, longing for the return of the tension of that moment when she could have kissed me, and I would have kissed her back. Eugenie’s face is a little pink still, but she does not look at me.

“Come in, Weasley. Louis was just leaving,” Eugenie says. “I got your memo that you had something to discuss.” She looks in my direction, but her eyes do not quite meet mine. “Auror, you may take the evening off, and I expect some paperwork in the morning.”

“No, Molly, you are interrupting,” I say curtly. “I have some information to divulge to Auror Bones, and you may wait in the corridor.”

“This is important, Louis, and I really don’t want to talk about it in front of you, since you probably won’t believe me anyway,” Molly snaps.

“Just one bloody minute, Molly.” My cousin glances at Eugenie, who nods, and, scowling, steps outside. I slide the cubicle door shut behind her and cross my elbows against my chest. “This is why I should not mix family and work.”

“She seemed like it was rather urgent,” Eugenie says quietly. Again, after our moment, she won’t look at me.

“Alright. Then I’ll keep this short.” I take a quick, deep breath, straightening my shoulders, and try to imagine what Dad or James would do in this situation. “I don’t want to ramble, but… I like you, Eugenie Bones. I really like you, a lot. And… I want us to see if… if maybe you feel the same way. Because I know you’re older, and my partner, and way out of my league, but… I can’t just limp along like this without knowing.” My face is burning hot by now. Eugenie stares at the floor for a few heartbeats.

“Louis…” her fingers trace a pattern on the desk in front of her. “There are things you don’t know about me. About my family, my past… I don’t think you want to get involved with that. I… I just don’t know what to say.” She smiles a little ruefully. “I guess I don’t get lost for words all that often, eh?”

“Rambling suits you,” I reply. Eugenie nibbles her lip, swaying between her feet. “Just… think about it, alright. Because I want to try. Heck, I have a bloody messed up family myself. Everybody has scars, Eugenie.” Daringly, hardly believing myself, I reach over and tuck a strand of dark hair which has fallen from her ponytail behind her delicate, shell-like ear. “I guess…I’ll let you talk to Molly. I have to think about the case.”

“Goodbye, Louis,” she says, and her white teeth peek out at me. I spin on my heel and leave the office, nodding to her as I walk towards the lifts. My heart, my fibers positively singing - Eugenie! Eugenie freaking Bones!

**


The good mood carries me through the lifts, across the atrium, into the street in front of my flat, and up the stairs to the third floor, right until I run into my Aunt Ginny on the landing. I expect her to be pleased, since after her last surprise visit we set up the flat so that nobody could Apparate directly inside of it like she wanted, but her face is very red, as if she’s just been shouting, and the hall still has that distinct smell of liquor which I know is coming from our flat.

“Ah, Lou-is, I was wondering where the responsible one was,” she says crisply. “Are you aware of what carnage my eldest spawn and my missing in action niece have been wreaking during this lovely daytime party?”

“Erm, nope, haven’t been home all day,” I lie, fighting laughter at the word ‘spawn.’ “But yeah, about the Dominique thing…”

“Domi-nick already offered to make me a hemp bracelet with anti-body odor spells so I can skip bathing for a few days,” Ginny says through her teeth. “I’m sure you won’t be able to top that offer.”

“Auntie Ginny, please. She’s going to come clean to Mum and Dad once we get her affairs sorted and get rid of her caveman boyfriend. Dominique is an adult – she’ll tell them when she’s ready.”

She sighs. “Well, I’ll give you two days to tell them, sweetie. Then expect the wrath of Phl- erm, Fleur descending upon this little oasis of the ‘mancave,’ as my son was drunkenly shouting at me when I came in twenty minutes ago.”

“Got it,” I say promptly, wondering what she was going to say before my mother’s name. Ah well, no matter. Eugenie Bones – she just might fancy me after all!

I take a moment to bask in this detail before letting myself in to a rather morose scene. The plates of food have been cleared up and are sitting in the sink – hopefully James didn’t make good on his promise to use it as a toilet – and all of the beer bottles are gone. All of them – even the ones which were full and which the foursome would have had no time to drink during my absence. Steak, Dominique and James are sitting on the couch – Steak’s head lolling back as he snores loudly, a bogey dangling from his nostril – and James looking like he’s about to cry.

“She took it all away,” he slurs at me. “All of it, Loooo-ee. With her wand.” He does an exaggerated swishing motion with a stick of pepperoni that he’s managed to salvage from Ginny’s cleaning rampage. “Loooo-ee, do you know where Vanished objects go? Can we… get the booze back?”

Alfie laughs loudly from where he’s sitting at the kitchen table, head resting peacefully on his palm. He points at the window: one of Mrs. Trickle’s cats has somehow managed to climb up from her window and is clawing plaintively at ours.

“I swear those ruddy things have Kneazle blood,” I mutter, patting Alfie’s curls as I pass by. Carefully, I maneuver the cat through the window, immediately coating my Ministry robes with orange fur.

“Meow,” the cat says reproachfully.

When I return from dropping the cat off at Mrs. Trickle’s, Dominique is ushering the boys into bed. To my displeasure, she’s elected to let her boyfriend stay in my bed, and settled James into his own with Alfie on the floor of James’ room in a sea of cushions which I conjure. They’re a little scratchy, and will probably dissolve since the spell wasn’t the strongest, but they’ll do until he’s sober enough to Apparate home.

“I reckon the party habits at uni have been wearing off on him. He wasn’t nearly so bad at Hogwarts,” I mutter to my sister as Alfie’s sleeping arm flails and hits me in the chest. My sister grabs a blanket from James’ bed and closes the door gently behind her.

“Want to make a fort?”

As kids growing up in a magical household, the forts were of epic proportions. Dad even once bewitched a mattress to float a few feet off the ground with a tent of blankets on top of it. We used to make shadow puppets that moved on their own accord and tell scary stories about Inferi and the vaults beneath Gringotts – something Victoire always has excelled at is scaring the pants off us younger siblings – and we would also make No Parents Allowed signs which we would hang outside of the forts.

We get to work. The end result is a little sloppy: after moving the couch out from the wall and draping a blanket over it, we attach the other end to the chairs and fence in the sides with other blankets. My hair brushes the makeshift ceiling when I sit up straight, and I conjure some more scratchy cushions to put about the sides. Dominique uses some temporary Sticking charms to ensure the blankets and cushions won’t collapse – a fact which reminds me unpleasantly of Barty Crouch’s limbs stuck up on the wall in Azkaban with a Sticking charm.

Dominique waves her wand to set the kettle boiling for herbal tea, and I’m impressed at her wandwork despite the fact that she spent a great deal of today drinking alcohol. Then again, my sister did always do well with practical work – it was reading and writing which was her weak point. She brings me a steaming cup as I sit in the fort, leaning against the back of the couch with my mismatched socks sticking out from beneath the blanket walls.

“I feel like Victoire should be here. It’s not the same without her,” Dominique says. She takes a sip of her tea. “She always made the best forts. Remember when she’d make a fort, and then you and I would be all jealous, and so she’d let us move into hers and build a new one, and then we’d want to be in the new one instead?” We both laugh. “But at the same time, I’m terrified of her storming in here and telling me off for disappearing again.”

“You know, it worries Mum and Dad a lot,” I tell her. “Especially Dad, I mean, Mum realizes you can take care of yourself, but Dad is a worrier.”

“He was pleased enough when you went into the Aurors.”

“Yeah, but… I guess because I’m a guy?” I shrug, and Dominique scoffs. “I guess it’s not really fair.”

“It would be a double standard coming from anybody but Dad,” she confirms. “He’s too sweet. He’s just a worrier, like you said. He would fight tooth and nail to make sure us daughters had the same access to danger as boys, then worry the whole way through it.” She changes the subject. “So, those girls you and James have been fooling around with came to hang out for a little while. They seemed pretty annoyed when they left. They were okay – maybe a little immature.”

I groan. “Lucretia and the Taryntula?” I tell her the story of how Aunt Ginny found James and Taryn sleeping on the floor of the kitchen, and how Taryn put an enlarged spider in my bed as revenge for not warning them. “It’s just evil, because one of my favorite things about this apartment is that it’s relatively spider free. My happy place. So she ruined that, bitch.”

Dominique shrugs. “Well, perhaps you should have warned them. I mean, that would be pretty humiliating. Steak’s parents are really posh and I wouldn’t even want to be seen in a bathing suit in front of them. I did feel a little sorry for Lucretia though. She was disappointed you weren’t here.”

“I have a job, I can’t just sit around and drink all the time. I have a career,” I say irritably. “And Lucretia… I mean, she’s good-looking and everything, but…”

“You don’t really respect or like her,” Dominique finishes. She sighs. “I feel sorry for how you’re treating her, Louis. Maybe you should stop using her for… well, you know what… and let her go find a new boyfriend who actually cares about her feelings. When was the last time you talked to her about something other than when she was coming over next to warm your bed?”

“Good point,” I say, squirming a little. My plan has been to let Lucretia down gently – by ignoring her owls – but Dominique is making me feel guilty. “So you think I should tell her I’ve moved on?”

“Yes. We had a nice talk when she was here earlier. She just needs to know so you won’t be leading her on any longer.”

“Alright, well it will be pretty awkward to ask her to hang out just to ditch her,” I say. Dominique shrugs – clearly this is not her problem anymore. “But Dommie, you know how earlier the lads were teasing me about fancying my partner, Eugenie?” I relay to her the events of the afternoon: how Molly interrupted a tense moment between us, how I could have kissed the most brilliant girl in Britain, if only I had been a little quicker. How Eugenie said that she had problems, and how I said I didn’t care.

My sister smiles and pats me gently on the cheek, like I’m still the chubby baby eating peas and she’s still the gap-toothed toddler with frizzy red braids. “That’s pretty darn adorable, Lou. I thought you seemed a little doe-eyed when you came in earlier. Poor Lucretia never stood a chance, huh?” I shrug, grinning down at my tea. “So what are you going to do next? I hope this crush of yours isn’t distracting you from solving the case.”

“It’s not, if anything it only makes me want to work harder, to impress her,” I say earnestly. “Honestly, Dommie, I’ve never felt this way about a girl before.”

“That’s what you said when you dated Agathe,” she says wryly. “New love always feels that way, but hey, if you’re happy then I’m happy for you. But now, I really think you should talk to Emily and patch things up. She was so lovely whenever I’ve seen her since you two started training together. I suppose that… erm, arresting her father threw a bit of a wrench into your friendship, but you should apologize and patch things up.”

“You’re right,” I say, but secretly I am toying with some information in my mind.

The invisibility cloak could have been used by a second member of the Longbottom family to return to Azkaban the night Barty Crouch was murdered. A registered or former Auror would know the proper spells to infiltrate the prison. Emily could easily have read about the sevenfold killer in the archives, or even in her year at Hogwarts. Her name was on the register for the Shining Gurdyroot the day Umbridge was killed, despite her giving me the impression that she was going to be helping her parents out in the pub all day. If Emily’s father could be traced to having grudges against the first five victims, then perhaps the daughter herself could be taking up her father’s cause, with or without his knowledge. How she might laugh, hunching over those bodies in the morgue, her Necrowitch badge on her robes and a scalpel in her hand!

But I shake my head. This is Emily, one of my closest friends. Hesitantly, I confirm my suspicions to Dominique, who shakes her head.

“You’re just angry with her because you’re in a fight, Louis. Don’t act rashly, or see things you wouldn’t if you weren’t upset with her. Just because you’re an Auror doesn’t mean you can tool with people’s lives like that.”

“You’re right,” I say. But really, I’m thinking over the words of Ruth Coffman from when I saw her today. If this killer is truly a scholar of the sevenfold… if she truly hopes to follow in Ada’s footsteps…She. She.

I decide that I need to speak with Ruth Coffman again.




Author's Note: This is it, folks. The last chapter before the metaphorical excrement hits the imaginary fan. For all of you who have stuck with this story until now, thank you - and I hope you don't hate me. The clues have all been sprinkled through the story, and some of you have come close to guessing the truth, and I can't wait to post the next chapter!

The chapter title comes from the song Sea of No Cares by Great Big Sea.




Chapter 11: in the dark, count mistakes
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Chapter Eleven
in the dark, count mistakes



Beautiful image by milominderbinder at TDA.


“Ada, Ada Treuherzig,” the blond boy says to her. “We have not seen one another since that final day at Durmstrang. I have so very much to tell you. How odd that we should meet like this.”

He wears the uniform of the servants of Der Meister. She has stumbled upon him here, where she never wished to find him, outside his master’s gates. He is pale in the moonlight and the glint of the triangular eye on his robes captures her gaze.

She draws her wand, reluctantly. Long days by the lake at their school, nights spent with their heads bent together over Transfiguration notes, the smell of his hair and the smoothness of his hand when he nervously held hers for the first time – these things can no longer mean anything. They are in the middle of a war.

He turns his wand on her, blue eyes shining with the echoes of the stars which seem to fade over Zauberei Dorf. Later, she says she had no choice.

**


The Shining Gurdyroot Senior’s Residence, Greater London, July 21st, 2027


The girl comes in the early morning – like Ada, she is accustomed to walking the paths of dawn, feel the sun warming the nightly chill from the air, that fresh feeling of a new day. When Ada was a young woman living in France, she often walked the streets at dawn. Her foster family, the LeJeans, worried for her safety, but Ada – or Ruth, as she was called – knew that little could hurt her. The war, the prison, the horrors had pulled away all in her which remained to be harmed. She could die any day and die without a care.

She is sitting in the lobby, slowly sipping from a china cup of tea, when a familiar voice emerges from the tapestry of hushed sounds. A scrape as a chair is tugged over, and a slight clink as the girl puts her wand on the table.

“I did not know you vould come here again,” Ada says to the girl. “Have you not two individuals to be taking care of?” She wonders if there is a hint of bitterness in her voice – that this girl can hide and do magic and maneuver in society, as innocent and unlikely as she once was, or if she is angry that the girl has corrupted her legacy in such a way. Even to Ada herself, her personality is split into severed sections. Perhaps, through killing, she truly did break her soul.

“I could not sleep for the entire night,” the girl says shakily, her usual confidence and bravado seeming to crumble. Ada wonders how this young woman behaves around the others, if she seems weak, as if Ada could touch her arm and she would tumble apart at the seams, divided into multiple pieces of a person. “Things are happening, too fast… something has changed, Ada.”

The girl first came to her over a month ago. She had done her research and learned that the last friend of the sevenfold killer was still alive. There was something in her voice, in her hopeful yet intelligent tone, which caused Ada to confide her secret, the truth about her name and her identity.

I was not born as Ruth Coffman, nor Ruth Kaufmann, she had whispered, feeling the soft, new carpet of the Shining Gurdyroot beneath her slippers. And the girl had smiled – her face had twisted in Ada’s milky gaze. And she had told the old woman she suspected as much from her research.

People like you and I, we are different, the girl had said. We are fighters. Martyrs, even.

Ada had not known how to explain to the girl that the sevenfold killer was not a hero, not really. That the faces of the murdered danced before her faces, and sometimes she dreamed of her grandfather, shaking his head sadly as he puffed on his pipe, disappointed at what his darling had become. The shadow of Erik lingered in the darkness of her blinding eyes. She was older, now, than her grandfather was when he died. She was over a hundred years old, but she could feel the little girl clawing away inside of her, trapped in a prison of her own remorse. Erik’s old laugh seemed to taunt her, frozen as he was, captured by choice.

Murder is a dark path, she had whispered, and in her words were the grimy, damp walls of her cell all those years ago. Ada is over a hundred years old, and she has been living as Ruth for decades and decades. Her eyes are wasting away, and her skin is dry and loose around her thin frame, her brittle bones which crack as she moves. Her hair is falling out in places, and she can no longer perform magic. Yet trapped inside her is the little girl she once was, the girl who lived in Nurmengard for years, who saw the real Ruth die there. Ada Treuherzig, the sevenfold killer, is trapped inside the withered body called Ruth Coffman. She is imprisoned, just as she always was.

But the new girl has failed. She has lost her will before she could complete the seven. She tells Ada how the fifth is still alive, in hospital, and how she has been plagued by doubts about the sixth throughout the past weeks. If he deserves to die or not. How she cannot bear to harm him – finally she settles on this answer, and trembles.

“I did it all for the seventh to die,” she says quietly. “I did this all so that I might see the light leave his eyes, cast his body into the river, punish him for all he has done. Yet… I suppose that in a perverse way, I wanted to honor him. To send him off fittingly to the land of hell or heaven, with pomp and circumstance. As part of the sevenfold.” She rubs at her eyes with her fingers, round and round.

“I give you permission to break the pattern – if permission is vhat you need, my child. But you have already gone so far down the path that I fear for you. You have broken the confines of your soul.” Ada sighs, holding the tips of her ribs deep inside her chest, feeling her heart pound feebly against them.

“What must you think of me,” the girl whispers, her head in her hands. She does not seem to hear the old woman. Dark hair hangs over her shoulder. When she raises her head, her face is very pale and her eyes very empty. It is like looking into the face of a corpse, and Ada is thankful for her poor eyesight. She is afraid of what she might see in the face of the girl. “Do you keep my secrets out of loyalty, or care? Or have I led you to believe that I would kill you if you told?”

“There are vorse things than death for the likes of me, child. But I lied for you,” Ada tells her, knotting her hands together in her lap. “The boy was completely confused. I don’t know vhy I did it.”

“Poor Louis,” the stranger sighs. “I… he makes this so much harder. I don’t want him as my enemy, never that. He and…”

“I do not want to hear their names,” the old woman says, with more thorn in her voice than intended. “I do not know why I helped you at all. You are not truly a sevenfold killer. You are working out of revenge, of wrath. You are killing to cover up your true betrayal, your true intent. Could you not have killed him whom you hate with simplicity?”

“No,” the stranger whispers. “Of course I could not –“

“You are foolish, then, for killing with such pomp and show,” Ada says, and there is a renewed anger in her voice. “You thought they would wear the red ribbons for you – that you could be a hero, and kill the man whom you hate most in the process…” Erik was the senseless death, but she cannot quite explain this to the girl. She cannot articulate her regret, not in her old, familiar German, not in the clunky English which tugs and twists her tongue.

There is movement as the flames across the atrium turn green – Ada catches the bright glint of color from the corner of her eye. Even eighty years later, color still delights her and captures her. Red, sometimes, makes her feel nauseous and uneasy, but blue is the color of the sky.

“I can’t be here,” the girl says. “The Aurors are here. I have to go. I must act before it is too late.”

Ada blinks, and a flash of pale skin as the girl flees around the corner. At the reception desk, a lanky young man in black robes is speaking earnestly with the staff on duty. Her eyes, dulled from those long years spent in the darkness of her cell, cannot make out his expression, but she recognizes the casual slope of his shoulders, his slightly awkward, poised way of holding his head. Louis Weasley is catching on, then.

She sets down her mug of tea, gazing at the empty chair facing her, the chair which the girl has vacated. Her thoughts are very quiet.

Louis Weasley steps forward and tells her, anxiety upon his thin face, that they are bringing her in for questioning at the Ministry. That they believe she is conspiring with a killer. That she will be dragged in, to another tiny cell, and held there until they decide her fate, weight the truth in her words. Louis does not say these things out loud, but she reads it in his stuttering words, as he wipes his palms on his robes and reaches forward to help her up.

They stand, his hands on her tiny elbows, where the skin sags down beneath the bone.

“I am sorry, Ruth,” he whispers. “But my cousin thinks you are somebody other than you are. We waited until the morning to come – I reckon it was the best we could do. If you cooperate, and are honest, then you have nothing to fear, and apologies will be made.”

Ada takes a deep breath, which pools then shatters in her withering lungs. She teeters slightly as Louis presses her cane into her hand, and he steadies her as she tips to the side. She wonders if the others in the atrium are staring at her, and if the girl got away in time.

She makes a decision. It is time for this to end.

“Louis Veasley, you are vasting your time here vith me,” she says quietly, so that only he can hear. “The girl you seek has panicked. She has deranged the order and gone to finish the job with the seventh. If you know her, if you know enough about the pattern, then you vill know where she is.”

Stunned, Louis takes a step back. His gaze seems to peel her face: she can feel it probing her skin, capturing her eyes for the truth.

“Very well,” he says. His hand slips his wand from his pocket. “Unc- Auror Potter, Auror Chang-Lu, please take Ms. Coffman into the Ministry. I…I need to check on something urgent.”

Ruth listens to the boy’s footsteps pound away in the silence of the atrium. The others are staring at her. Two other men approach her – one old, one young – and ask her if she is ready to proceed. She can tell they feel uncomfortable, uneasy. They think Louis and his cousin are wrong about her, that they are arresting a feeble old woman, helpless and innocent and most probably out of her wits. They are underestimating her, just as those other men did back in Zauberei Dorf, before she pressed the red ribbons upon their chests.

But these are good men, and they will take good care of her. Ada nods, shuffles forward. She will once again sit in a cell, and perhaps the girl trapped inside of her will find some peace.

As for her mirror self, the living, panicking girl who vanished mere moments ago – Ada cannot be sure of her fate.

**


London, July 21st, 2027

Ruth Coffman is full of surprises.

I hurry towards the Floo fireplaces at the Shining Gurdyroot, biting the inside of my lip and feeling heat well up inside my chest. My limbs feel slow and heavy, as if I were moving through water, or trapped in one of those nightmares where I run and run only to remain trapped in one place. Seizing a handful of Floo powder so earnestly that the pot wobbles on its perch, I throw the powder into the flames, shouting the name of a house.

Nothing happens – the heatless flames continue to crackle gently. They are very low, which sometimes negates the effectiveness of the Floo.

Incendio!” I say, and flames roar up again. I shove more powder into the fireplace, and nearly shout in frustration when the flames neglect to turn green. Perhaps the old bastard has a block on his fireplace – a paranoid decision which might cost him his life.

I cannot Apparate away while within the grounds of the Shining Gurdyroot, and, thinking quickly, throw a third handful of powder into the Floo. “The Ministry of Magic,” I enunciate clearly, and step inside the blue flames. The flashing of fireplaces, the rushing sensation, and I stumble out into the bright atrium, nearly running into a member of Magical Maintenance who is guiding a mop and bucket along with his wand like a conductor in an orchestra.

Spinning around, I once again try to get to the address through the flames. It is unsuccessful, and I swear, loudly. The wizard from Magical Maintenance frowns at me.

“This is not bloody happening, not now,” I mutter to myself, then run into one of the lifts, punching the button for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Thinking murderous thoughts towards the cool female voice who relays each floor, I shove into the Auror department, looking around frantically for somebody to help.

“Auror Savage! What are you doing here?” I cry out. The grizzled old Auror is sitting in his cubicle, wearing a rather rumpled pair of Auror robes. “You’re meant to be guarding Nott!”

“I was relieved from duty, wasn’t I,” Savage grumbles. “Unexpectedly, of course, but young McLaggen is still there, along with…”

“Auror Savage, listen to me. I think the killer is going to Nott’s home, and I need his address so I can Apparate there,” I say, very quickly. Savage frowns and sticks a finger in his ear.

“Say that again, boy?”

Gritting my teeth, feeling like I might wet my pants, I repeat the request and he, finally, gives me the address. It’s the same phrase I was shouting at the Shining Gurdyroot and again at the Floo downstairs: looks like the killer, if she’s there, might have sealed off Nott’s Floo, which I might have expected. She certainly has the knowledge to do so. Hastily, I tell Savage to quickly summon a team for backup and to come to Nott’s immediately, and he springs up, surprisingly spritely for an elder Auror on the brink of retirement. He does not stop me or demand to go with me as I run back towards the lifts and punch in the button for the lobby. A fine layer of sweat has gathered and is trickling down my back, causing my shirt to stick to my skin.

I run through the lobby, but am tripped by the Maintenance man’s mop as it dances along the floor. Sliding slightly across the floor and muttering an apology, I skate across the damp floor, feeling for my wand and relieved that I did not crush it in the fall. My knees are stinging a little and the palms of my hands are damp from the wet floors. After what feels like an eternity, I reach the section of the Ministry from which employees can Apparate. Repeating the address in my head like a mantra, I whirl around on the spot.

The scene is a large house in the countryside: I remember somebody saying it was just outside London – indeed, there is the Thames, brown and flowing. Praying that I am right in coming here, yet fearful of what – or whom – I will find inside, I pant up through the path to the house and let myself inside. The door is unlocked, but a house elf peeps out.

“Can Daisy help the young Auror, sir?” the elf asks, tips of her large, batlike ears trembling.

“I need to see Mr. Nott, immediately,” I say, more sternly than I usually would. The sweat has cooled into a light layer on my skin, and I take deep breaths as the house elf leads me up a grand set of spiral stairs. Despite my concentration, I take in the rich furnishings of the house – the portraits looking out from veils and plumed, pointed wizards’ hats, whispering from behind bejeweled hands. Only the richest wizards can afford historical portraits these days, and in a few of them I catch glimpses of the pale cheekbones and mouths in thin lines like Mr. Nott’s. The carpet is thick and rich beneath my feet, and the whole place smells of polish. As the house elf scurries to open the door for me, I notice that her hands and her smock are covered in dark stains – no doubt from using corrosive materials to clean the rich home.

“Daisy, you need to get downstairs, now,” I tell the little figure. “Some other Aurors are going to be arriving very shortly, and you need to get them here as fast as they can.” I pull my wand out of my pocket, wiping my hand on my robes before wrapping my fingers around its hilt. “Do not come back up here, no matter what. It might be dangerous for you.” The elf squeaks something, and the door closes again behind me.

This new room is a sort of study, with a desk covered in neat rolls of parchment. Books clad in leather line the walls – Molly would be in heaven here. But what catches my eye is Mickey McLaggen. He’s leaning, slumped against the wall, his legs stuck out in front of him and his mouth hanging open. I crouch down beside him, holding my hand in front of his face. Warm breath, slow but steady, tickles my hand – he appears to have been hit by a very strong Stunning spell.

Rennervate,” I whisper, and then stand up. I have no time to wait for McLaggen to come to his senses. Taking a deep breath, which moves through my body and into my cluttered head, I put my hand on the engraved doorknob and swing open the door to Nott’s bedroom.

Whenever I think back to this moment, I will see this room in shattered pieces. The red curtains on a four-poster bed. The burgundy carpet. The twinkling beacons of light echoing off the chandelier. Mr. Nott’s face: eyes bulging out, mouth hanging slack, a trickle of blood moving down his throat to the set of black robes. A red ribbon crushed in a pale, feminine hand.

And there she is, preserved in my memory in that moment when everything changed. Dark hair flying out of her ponytail. Clear eyes, her glasses fallen onto the floor. I do not know if she was wearing those glasses when she held the knife to his throat. Her pale hands, her round, white face, reflected in the mirror, her bloodless lips.

I point my wand at her heart. Slowly, I creep across the room. Our eyes fix on one another, and Nott groans and shifts in her grip. The pieces of the broken jigsaw fit themselves into place.

Mr. Nott, the Longbottoms, and my uncles and aunts were all in the same year at Hogwarts together.

“Well, Emily’s mum, Hannah, was actually there for my mother when she had me. My poor mother was a teen mum, you see. I was born a few months after the Battle of Hogwarts.”

Neville Longbottom was keeping a secret, something he had sworn – or been threatened – not to divulge.

“I can’t tell you, not exactly. I’m sorry. But… when I was about your age, I found out some information which I – very foolishly, vowed to keep quiet. Forever. I can’t speak it, or write it, or tell anybody about it.” He sighs. “Never make a binding vow, Louis. I… believe me, I have cursed my younger self several times this past week.”

There was a family who lost everything to the Death Eaters.

“The Bones were essentially wiped out by You-Know-Who’s followers, dear.”

To catch a killer, perhaps one must understand them.

“So Arietta’s son killed her, and Eugenie Bones caught him. None of the other Aurors knew what to do, who it could be…but Eugenie knew. She got inside his head, she realized that the son hated his mother, resented her. She got into the killer’s head, and she understood.”

Understand the meaning of her last words to me.

“Louis…there are things you don’t know about me. About my family, my past… I don’t think you want to get involved with that. I… I just don’t know what to say. I guess I don’t get lost for words all that often, eh?”

“Put the knife down, please,” I say gently. My wand hand is trembling. Her eyes are filled with ice. “Please, just put it down. Put it away. I don’t want to hurt you. Don’t force me to hurt you.”

She pauses, and Nott’s eyes swim inside his head. His neck is tilted forward to the ceiling.

“I know who he is, what he’s done to you,” I whisper. “I’m sorry, I am so, so sorry.” She looks like she has swallowed her heart. Her cheeks are gaunt with suppressed breath. “He... he is your father, isn’t he? He is your father, and he abandoned you before you were even born. He cursed those who knew so they couldn’t speak of it, not even to save themselves.” I step more closely to her. “And when you found out, you hated him. That’s how you knew. About Arietta Silver being killed by her son. You knew how he felt. And Ada… you knew how she felt, trapped in a cell, guilty and afraid and proud. You wanted to be like her.”

She has not yet spoken. Words hang between us: words which could have been whispered, spoken over hours, days. But I cannot admire her beauty, not anymore: she is as cornered as a frightened cat, and her pale hands are clenched and tight.

“I want to help you,” I whisper. I could almost reach out and touch her now. Softly, carefully, I tuck back a strand of hair from her cold, damp face, tuck it behind her ear like one might with a tired child. “Please, Eugenie, wonderful, lovely Eugenie. Let me help you.”

She looks up at me, and her eyes are pale, and, not knowing why I do it, I carefully crouch down, keeping her gaze trapped within my own. My fingers fumble on the carpet until I find her glasses from where they tumbled off her head. Her grip is loosening on Mr. Nott, the silver knife going slack, her wand abandoned on the floor. With care, I slide the glasses over her eyes, and she looks out at me through their frames.

The spell is broken. As Mr. Nott tumbles into unconsciousness, blood running down his neck, Eugenie Bones, the second sevenfold killer, falls into my arms, wraps her hands around my neck, eases her dark head upon my chest. Kneeling, I stroke her hair, whisper some false comfort, and carefully remove the knife from her pale hand – the hand I have admired so many times before.

And when the Aurors burst in: McLaggen raving and staggering, Proudfoot limping and stopping with shock, Emily Longbottom, who cries out and then begins to sob quietly, Uncle Harry striding forward, his wand pointed at Mr. Nott’s limp body, Eugenie does not move. Even when they try to pry her away from me, to take her wand, to tell her, in shocked, broken words that she must come to the Ministry, she does not look upon them, does not release her arms from around my neck.

“That’s what it looks like to see a person fall apart,” McLaggen comments, and Emily sends him a look that could kill. Her face is slick with tears for the friend we all admired.

“Louis, Louis, we have to take her in. We have to bring her to the Ministry,” somebody is saying in my ear, and, half-carrying the girl I thought was the most brilliant in Britain, I bring her through the mansion of her father, the house that was hers by birthright. The river Thames, where she intended to cast away his body, flows slowly along. I carry her pain and her madness inside of me, as if it were my burden to bear, as if she were an extension of my soul and my self.

And when I set her down in the dark cell in the maximum security section of the Ministry, she clings to my shirt. She is not crying: she has nothing to say. Outside her cell, Neville Longbottom and his daughter are being reunited, as she whispers the explanation in his ears. Proudfoot is stunned, rubbing his scarred forehead. Upstairs, the Auror department is in a shambles, but all that matters is the girl in my arms and the pain she is feeling. I sit upon the cot and rock her slowly back and forth in my arms, stroking her hair, her back, tracing patterns on her shoulders.

**


A few cells away, the old woman, the true Ada Treuherzig sits in her own cell, so similar and yet so different from the one where she lived in Nurmengard, the prisoner of der Meister, the martyr of the people. The Aurors are in a frenzy outside, and she can hear their muttered fears and grief.

The walls seem to close in upon her, and at last the seven faces of the seven she killed turn their backs, and the backs of their heads fade away. Instead, she sees her grandfather again, smoke mixing with his silver hair, lips curled around his pipe in a loving smile. She sees her mother and her father – arms around one another, her mother beaming like she used to before the war. And behind them, the faces of those who died at Nurmengard – the little boy with the red ribbon who demanded a fairytale through the chink in the wall, who died with the masses and was tossed into a crowded grave in the prison. He grins, his face scrubbed.

Hidden in a creeping shadow is a blond head and sloped shoulders, a wry grin unwrapping crooked teeth. Erik turns towards her again, separate from the others of the sevenfold. Yet she cannot quite make out his features – perhaps, for her to liberate herself, she cannot be permitted to see. Erik must forever remain a shade and a doubt. The sixth was meant to be the boy whom the girl loved.

Behind Ada’s family stands Ruth Kaufmann – the true Ruth, whose body was labeled as Ada Treuherzig and buried in the yard at Nurmengard, in view of the prison which was allotted to der Meister. Her hair is golden, in two plaits, and her skin is pink and healthy. And she reaches towards Ada, and folds her arms around her, the embrace they both longed for in those separate cells in Nurmengard.

And Ada, warm and smiling in the warmth of the shadow, knows that she is free at last.




Author’s Note: Well. There you have it. The chapter title is from You’ve Got Time by Regina Spektor. Special shout-out to red_headed_juliet for being the first to properly accuse Eugenie, and to everyone who speculated about her being suspicious and even trying to frame Emily. There were many sneaky clues: for example, the first letter of each chapter title spells out "Ada is Eugenie" and the names of both killers, as well as each of the pairs of victims, share similar meanings or etymology.

Did anyone else think it might have been her? Did anybody figure out that Nott was the seventh victim, or that he was Eugenie's father? Any guesses about who the sixth victim would have been?

Thanks for reading, and the final chapter will be up soon. You are brilliant for making it this far! ♥




Chapter 12: everything you touch, only dies
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Chapter Twelve
everything you touch, only dies



Amazingly stunning image by milominderbinder at TDA.



And time passes, and it floods.

“If only it had truly ended in Nurmengard,” Eugenie Bones says to me. She sits in her new cell, dressed in white robes. Her hair is tied in a messy ponytail and her eyes are half closed, skull tipped back against the wall.

For the first twenty-four hours of Eugenie’s imprisonment, I refuse to leave her. “She’s scared,” I tell the others. She’s lonely. She’s been alone and scared for so long.”

They tolerate this at first. Eugenie’s arrest is not merely a blight on the record of the Aurors’ integrity, but a personal shock to those who knew her well. At the end of the first day, Uncle Harry comes to the door. He can barely look at Eugenie.

“You have to come out, or we will force you out, Lou,” he says to me, shuffling back and forth. He clutches a folio of parchment as a buffer between us, or to give his hands something to do. He means business, though, and so I pry my fingers free of Eugenie’s pale hands. I do not turn to look at her as I step beyond the cell. Nobody understands why it hurts so badly to leave her.

When I am escorted home to the flat, James and Dominique and Victoire and my parents are all there. They are so worried about me that they forgot to fuss over Dominique’s return, though Victoire keeps a guarded eye on her as if making sure our middle sister can’t disappear again. Dominique wouldn’t dream of it, though, not when I need her here. That’s not what we do.

Mum forces me to eat something and drink some water. Then she draws me up a bath, like I am a toddler, and leaves me in there to wash. I keep my clothes on and twirl the hot water with my fingers. My clothes and skin smell like Eugenie, like fear. Dad comes in and sighs. He sits on the toilet seat and tries to talk to me: about illness and grief and betrayal. Good people do bad things, he says again and again. I saw it, we all saw it, during the war. At some point I make my way into my room and fall asleep. Images play again and again in my head: Mr. Nott’s bulging eyes, the blood on the dark robes, a silver knife glinting in the morning light as it stole through the curtains.

Ruth Coffman, or whoever she truly was, dies the day she is put into a cell at the Ministry. The Aurors find her shortly after, a slight smile on her pale, dry lips. There are no red ribbons at her death, only a handful of mourners from the Shining Gurdyroot who knew her as the quiet old lady Ruth Coffman. And Molly, and myself.

“She truly was a lovely lady. She did the right thing in the end,” Molly whispers. She links her arm through mine. “Did you come in Bones’ place, because… well…”

“She asked me to,” I tell her. The casket is closed, enclosing the old shell of a woman for the final time. Eugenie isn’t doing very well, but she will speak to me, and once or twice the old fire has reignited in her pale eyes. “Molly, you and I and…and Eugenie are the only ones who know what she did, the information she passed on. I think it is best we keep it that way. Especially from the press. Or just from anyone.”

My cousin nodded in agreement, freckles dancing on her wrinkled nose. She has suspicions about Ruth’s true identity – which she originally confided to Eugenie and eventually to me. But the old woman is dead and gone and there is nothing else to prove, no accusations to float through the air. Whether she was killer or victim does not matter anymore.

**


A month passes, and then another. My sisters are worried about me. But things are starting to come back into focus, now, and I return to the present.

“Don’t you think it’s time to move on from this…affair, and get back to the job you worked so hard for?” Victoire asks, looking down her long, pale nose. But her eyes are filled with pity, and she squeezes my shoulder gently as she walk past on the way to fill her glass of water.

“Maybe it’s time you started dating a new girl, Louis,” Dominique chimes in later. “You know, a girl who you can actually take out, and kiss, and laugh with. I really want that for you.”

Steak nods importantly, his arm draped around my sister’s shoulders.

“You don’t get it,” I say. “Bonds between Aurors aren’t like that. I can’t just get another girl.” Thoughts of Emily flit through my mind: one of the other people who loved Eugenie, who might be able to understand. But we have been unable to meet in our grief, unable to mend our friendship. Sometimes, across a busy room, there passes a look between us, but that is all.

Later, I go into the bathroom and sit on the toilet for a long, long time, staring at my hands, listening to the strains of anxious conversation floating in underneath the door. The toilet paper falls off its ring and rolls across the floor, leaving a long, white trail, and I amuse myself by trying to pull the roll back without unrolling it any farther. It’s a child’s game, but better than being out there with them.

“Doesn’t Louis realize that cow was using him?” Victoire hisses from outside the door. “She knew he was inexperienced, that he wasn’t the best of the crop, I bet you anything that’s why she asked to be partnered with him. And… she tricked him into fancying her. Did I ever tell you about the time she kissed Teddy at Hogwarts? And this dreadful theory about the sixth victim…” Her voice breaks, and she sniffs loudly. “I can’t even bring myself to…to…that bloody bitch.”

“You shouldn’t say those things, love,” Dominique says back. Her voice rises slightly, deliberately. “Nobody believes Molly about her theory with the sixth – it’s taking this whole thing too far. Louis is an amazing Auror, and I think Bones genuinely cares about him. You haven’t seen them together: it’s sort of sweet, how he’s so sweet to her.” A moment of silence, and then – “Ouch! But yes, erm, I agree, he definitely needs to break free, like I said before.” She lowers her voice again, and I have to strain to hear her next words. “You mustn’t speak about that in front of Louis – he can’t bear it.”

“Don’t look at me like that, Dommie,” Victoire hisses. She sighs, and the breath travels under the door. I pause in my raveling, and lean forward slightly to hear what she says. “You know I just want our little brother back.”

**


There is a trial, and Eugenie is chained to a chair, her dark head bowed as she faces the Wizemgamot. Magical cameras flashed in her face, documenting her stillness in the moving, breathing courtroom. James and Alfie come with me to sit among the spectators, and each one grips one of my wrists.

I’ll hex you right away if you try anything heroic, mate,” Alfie whispers when one of the Wizemgamot members asked a particularly prying question. His eyes are filled with pity.

The Wizemgamot don’t know what to do about Eugenie. Her lawyers are arguing for mental illness, which might spare her a lifetime sentence in Azkaban. When Eugenie is called upon to speak, her voice travels eloquently across the courtroom, where the son and killer of Arietta Silver had sat over a year ago to defend himself.

“Ms. Bones, did you steal your godfather’s borrowed invisibility cloak to sneak into Azkaban and kill Bartemius Crouch, Junior?”

“Yes. He tortured and killed my mother’s family when she was a little girl.”

“And did you pretend to be Emily Longbottom so that you could have access to the top security floor at the Shining Gurdyroot and kill Dolores Umbridge?”

“Yes. She was a wicked woman who caused many to suffer during the war.”

“Did you stay after hours at the Ministry of Magic, hiding Gregory Goyle’s body in a broom cupboard, and then kill Pius Thicknesse as he was leaving his office?”

“Yes. Goyle covered for my parents when they were sneaking around at Hogwarts. Thicknesse took over for my great-aunt, Amelia Bones, when the Death Eaters ruled the Ministry. He was present at her death.”

“Did you poison Draco Malfoy, and conspire to finish him when he was helpless in St. Mungo’s?”

“Yes. He helped my father abandon my mother and I when I was a baby. He helped seal her lips and those of her friends through the Unbreakable Vow. But they quarreled, Malfoy and Nott. I knew that killing him would make Nott look guilty.”

“Who was the sixth person you intended to kill?”

“I do not need to divulge that. I decided against that course of action long ago, I – I believe I would never have completed it.”

“And if you had your way, would Theodore Nott’s body have been found floating in the river on July twenty-first?”

“That is correct.”

Theodore Nott, who has recovered in hospital and withdrawn his candidacy for the Ministerial race in order to go abroad, is of course not in attendance at the trial of his daughter, but sitting with Mrs. Longbottom is a gray-haired woman with Eugenie’s sharp chin and regal way of holding up her head. Emily’s mum has an arm around Susan Bones, and the latter stares at her hands, hardly able to look at her daughter sitting proudly in the chair with the chains.

**


Three months after I found Eugenie in Nott’s room, she is still being held at the Ministry. A retrial has been scheduled, and Eugenie spends her time reading books. I’ve been temporarily taken off the Aurors due to personal circumstances – a euphemism, for they don’t trust me to be stable after my first case turned out so destructive. Formal visiting hours have been set up, and I try to visit Eugenie every few days, bringing her news from the outside – carefully cutting out any articles that mention her name in the Prophet, including a cruel political cartoon which ran in the Sunday edition – and telling her about my family, the weather, anything.

We never talk about what could have been.

“So, Alfie somehow talked James into going on a date with him – did I tell you about that, yet?” Eugnie smiles slightly and shakes her head. “And I came home to them snogging in the kitchen. Nobody is really surprised. I mean, James is like a puppy. He loves anyone and everyone, regardless of their gender.”

“What did Ha-erm, his parents say?”

“They think Alfie is a good influence because he’s my mate and a Ravenclaw. Also, if James is dating a bloke then he can’t get anybody pregnant,” I explain. I’m sitting on the visitor’s chair, and she’s perched on her little writing desk. The window in the cell doesn’t lead anywhere: it’s simply an illusion, reflecting a constructed scene of a country cottage with wildflowers stretching up towards the thatched roof. “Wrongly, of course, since Alfie is an awful influence. But they seem happy enough, if it continues, that is. When Taryntula found out, she came in the middle of the night and threw rotten Doxy eggs at our windows.”

Eugenie laughs, a rare, steady sound. Her pale eyes shine from beneath the lenses of her glasses. “That seems a little dramatic. Though, this is coming from the girl who murdered several people to orchestrate the dramatic killing of her own father.” She frowns, looking at the floor of the cell.

“Hey, hey, don’t think like that,” I tell her, sliding myself onto the desk beside her. My bum crunches a sheet of parchment, and moving it out of the way, I realize it’s the list of her victims and her would-be victims. I put it out of the way before I can see something dreadful, something so personal I could not ignore it. The secret of the sixth lingers between us. “You’re nowhere near as bonkers as the Taryntula, I promise.” I slide an arm around her delicate shoulders, carefully.

“Just a few murders under my belt,” she whispers, wiping her nose. “You know, I dream about them. Crouch and Umbridge, Goyle and Runcorn. Malfoy and… that man. I dream about…that person who was meant to be the sixth. The people I…and the people were going to.” Mist condenses on the lenses of her glasses.

“You’re going to get better,” I say, not knowing if it’s the truth, or if Eugenie Bones will only ever see the inside of a cell for the rest of her life. The move – from the Ministry to Azkaban – is surely coming. At least, then, she might get a glimpse of the sky.

“Ada never did,” she says. “Every time I went to see her, when we spoke about her life. They never stopped haunting her. She was never free.” I open my mouth to say something false and comforting, but she stops me. “Please, let’s not speak of it again. Tell me about Emily.”

“She’s trying to be supportive. She wants to come and see you, but I’m not sure if she’s quite ready yet. Her family sends their love.”

“That is sweet of them,” Eugenie says. A lock of dark hair falls in her face – she’s abandoned the customary ponytail of her Auror days. With her hair loose and dark around her pale face and blue circles under her eyes, she looks very young. “They are good people, to forgive.”

I haven’t yet told Emily that when I burst into that bedroom at Nott’s mansion, I almost expected it to be her. I almost hoped it would be her. There are some things which cannot be said, even to myself. My hand tightens around Eugenie’s shoulders.

“You are going to be alright,” I parrot. Her skin smells like stone. In some ways, we are only just learning to know one another, in this place of darkness and truth. Infatuation has faded into something harder and darker: reliance. Fear. Dread.

The cell door swings open: it’s Quentin, his wand in his hand, just in case he needs it. “Erm, Louis? Visiting hours are over. They’ve sent me to retrieve you.” He glances at the floor, the window, the bed. Anything but to see Eugenie’s shame.

I nod, untangling myself from her once again. She pulls her knees up to her chest, the desk creaking as I move my weight.

“I’ll be back,” I promise her, and she smiles without showing her teeth, eyes looking down below the frames of her glasses at her lap. I smooth a strand of dark hair behind her ear, hair moving swiftly through my fingers. I step away, walk backwards to the door, without turning my back.

As the door closes, Eugenie Bones looks very small, like a china doll whose pale cheeks are flushed with fear. She is no saint – she is no martyr. Her dreams are colored with the faces of her victims, the gauntness of their selves.

Nobody carries a red ribbon.

The End







Author's Note: And so ends my very first completed novel! It is so terrifying and amazing to finally post the final chapter and know that Louis' story is complete, even if the ending was a little unsatisfying. Huge thanks to all of you, who have read and/or left me incredible reviews: you've truly made this such a positive experience, especially red_headed_juliet and patronus_charm for all your lovely and dedicated thoughts on the story. If you have any reactions/questions/criticism, I would love to hear it. Thank you. ♥ And I will miss you, Sevenfold.

The chapter title is a lyric from the song 'Let Her Go' by Passenger.


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