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!
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.
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