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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.

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