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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."

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