everything that happened, everything you saw
Beautiful image by milominderbinder at TDA.
Nurmengard Prison, 1945
Ada is tired. She is so tired of the darkness of her cell, of the paper-thin coverlet which itches her skin, of the sheen of sweat which chills her body in a rocking fever. She is weary with imagining the faces of the people whom she killed, of the silence of their bodies, of that obscure moment just after the kill was completed when she was alone with a corpse and unsure what to do with it. She is tired of the weight of her choice.
And Ruth – Ruth has been very quiet these past weeks, since their guards told her that her lover, Joachim, whose loyalty to der Meister had spared her life, was presumed dead when a government building in Zauberei Dorf was destroyed by Muggle bombs. Joachim is very likely dead, and Ada wonders if the other guards will choose to send Ruth to the death courtyard now that she has no protector. Her friend is wasting away with grief, so she may die herself before the guards can accelerate the job. Sometimes Ada calls to her, and tries to tell Ruth a story: of her time as Ada Red, the heroine of Zauberei Dorf, or to remind her of memories of their time at Durmstrang.
She tries again.
“Ruth, do you remember how we used to struggle over the classes which were taught in the other languages? I suppose that is one of the faults of accepting students from so many diverse countries. Do you remember the moment of sunset when the light seemed to tickle the mountains? And the coolness of the water of the lake – when Erik coaxed us in after Christmas, and our toes nearly turned blue and our throats were hoarse with laughter?”
There is no response – Ada curses herself for allowing Erik’s name to leave her lips. She stands on her toes, holding herself up by the bars on her door and peeks into Ruth’s cell. A pale foot protrudes from a leg that looks more like a bone than flesh on a once-beautiful girl. There is no movement, but Ruth could be sleeping, or ignoring her. Ada sighs. She will ask the guards when they bring the girls the daily rations whether Ruth is alright - perhaps they will take pity and answer this time. There is nothing else that can be done. She is trapped and useless.
Yet the guards do not come, not that night, not in the morning. Ruth does not stir, the bone-pale foot remaining in the same position, but for the first time in months Ada can hear the rumbling and calling of the poor wretches who are kept in the floors above her cell. They are crying out for food, for water. But the guards do not come to silence nor appease them.
So she sleeps, and she dreams of Herr Nacht and his dark-browed face in the mirror, and the trickle of blood down his neck. And when she awakens it is dark in the cell, and she traces the features of people she once knew on the wall, causing the tip of her finger to turn black as soot and little rivets of crumbling stone to trickle down towards the floor. She does not call out to Ruth anymore, for her throat is very dry, and her body very weak. She tries to tell herself a silent story: of princesses who crept across a lake of swans, but even her mind is slowing down. Her hands are weak and limp. She wonders if she will die here, after all, after all these months of defiantly clinging to life. She wonders if anybody out in the world beyond this hellish place remembers her name.
No sound comes from across the corridor.
Ada awakes to the sounds of men running through the aisles of the prison. Puzzled and weak, she draws her coverlet more tightly around her, and waits. Then they come – bursting into her cell, men in strange uniforms and with foreign voices and speaking very quickly. Somebody approaches her bed, a large, healthy man who fills out his uniform, and it is all Ada can do but to whimper into her pillow. She cannot defend herself against these soldiers. She is dehydrated and limp and weakened.
“Elle est morte,” a voice calls in French, and she knows enough of the language to realize the terrible truth of these words, telling her that Ruth Kaufmann, her darling friend, is dead. She tries to scream but the sounds catch in her vocal cords. With hesitation, she pulls herself to sit on her bed, to stand shakily in front of it, and the soldiers back away from her. She glares at them, catching the light longingly of the corridor behind the open door.
But then a man comes forward. He is gentle and fatherly, and he speaks a little German. He tells her that they are there to rescue her, to bring home all the poor creatures in this god-forsaken place. He tells her that his name is Gilbert LeJean, and he rocks her back and forth like her grandfather might have when she was young and had a nightmare, his shirt smelling like smoke from his pipe.
Ruth is dead, the man confirms. And Ada knows she has a choice to make.
“My name is Ruth Kaufman,” Ada tells him. She is practiced in lying through her teeth. She says it – not quite on a whim, not merely as tribute for her dead friend’s memory. In this moment, the sevenfold killer chooses a new identity, a new life beyond the memories of the murdered. “Ruth,” she whispers to herself. “I am Ruth, and she is Ada. And Ada Treuherzig is dead. The sevenfold killer is dead.”
The soldiers bury Ruth’s body in the yard at Nurmengard, with a special monument which they magically carve out of the stones to commemorate the name of Ada Treuherzig. And in the coming years, people will make pilgrimages to the grave, and leave flowers and red ribbons, and commemorate the girl, one of so many, who lost her innocence so young, who died from heartbreak and sorrow. And Ada, or Ruth, as she is now called, will live a very long life. She will live through the cold war and the second wizarding war, and sometimes she will forget the past, for an hour, or only a blissful moment. But the shadows of the dead, of his kind eyes, of her soft smile, never let her rest for long. Ever the survivor, she is not yet broken down enough to die.
July 19th, 2027. London, UK
“So he’s not really dead, Louis?” Dominique asks. She’s sitting at the table in my flat, newly released from the holding cells into my temporary custody. Her red hair is wet from her shower – the first shower in a few weeks, judging by the smell of her and the grey footprints smudging the white ceramics of my shower– and coiled in a sagging, dripping bun on top of her head. She looks very young with her hair out of her eyes, and she has her bare feet perched up on the chair, is leaning her chin on her knees.
“No, Draco Malfoy got to the hospital in just the nick of time,” I tell her, slapping some mustard and lettuce onto a piece of bread. “Are you still eating tomatoes? This is a pretty boring sandwich.”
“Just no meat and you can put anything on there,” Dominique says generously, taking a sip of orange juice. “Man, I’ve missed real food. Living off nuts and herbs really isn’t very energizing. So he was poisoned? Malfoy.”
I secure a slice of tomato on top of her sandwich and cut off the crusts, then slide the plate across the table. Dominique smiles her thanks and takes a bite, dripping the liquid that hides in tomatoes down her chin.
“That’s what it looks like,” I tell her. “He was drinking coffee in the atrium café for an hour, so somebody could have slipped it into his drink. The Healers reckoned the poisoning was pretty recent.”
“And why did he come up to the Auror department?”
I shrug. “I guess the atrium was empty, and he wanted to cause a scene? Or panicked and stepped into the lift when he felt the symptoms coming on? Malfoy is rumoured to trade in illegal potions and dark objects, he should know about poison. In fact… I’m not sure I should be telling you this, but Proudfoot says the irony of the situation is that the poison probably came through one of Malfoy’s importers. The Aurors have had their eye on him for years but can't prove anything.”
“Ironic indeed,” my sister says, wiping her mouth on the large shirt which I’ve leant her.
“We might know more when the effects of the antidote have worn off. Right now he’s just been raving about corruption in the Auror department and Uncle Harry and treason and god knows what else. And that the killer is going to come and kill him in his sleep. Which is entirely possible, actually.”
“Sounds like a real buffoon. So does this mean he’s not a suspect anymore?”
I hesitate. Dominique has always been very good at calmly tricking people into divulging their secrets, especially men – Dad likes to joke that it’s her Veela blood coming out. Mum is the same way, though more French and loud, and Victoire just snarks at people until they're so frightened that they confess whatever she wants to know.
“I mean, is it absurd that Malfoy might have poisoned himself in order to clear his name from the other murders? Possibly. It’s crazy, but…from the stories I’ve heard about the bloke, he isn’t the most rational wizard. And judging from his son – Rose’s boyfriend, in case you didn’t meet him – Malfoy can’t be the brightest prophecy in the Hall.” Dominique frowns at my words. “Sorry, inside joke. And the poisoning fits with the story of the sevenfold killer – Ada was poised as a maid and slipped some poison from the black market into the drink of one of Grindelwald’s top financial managers who had been leaking information from the banks for years. So the story fits.”
Next is the boy soldier, and then the equivalent of Herr Nacht, I say silently. I have an inkling of who the new killer might target for the seventh at least, but am unsure with how to proceed with that information. Somehow, the seventh murder seems the most important. It was almost as if the killer had gotten sloppy with the fifth, and the sixth had, according to my research, been painted as an accident. Is that because they’re in a hurry to get to the seventh?
“Think they’ll return to finish the job with Malfoy?” Dominique asks. “And what about Professor Longbottom? Oh, I hated hearing about that. The poor man. Have you spoken to Emily yet?”
“I… I did send her an owl this morning before I went into work to bail you out,” I tell her. “And I ran into Victoire…you know what she’s like, she can smell a lie a league away.”
Dominique gives me a warning look. “I personally think that she knows Legilimency, so I hope you didn’t make too close of eye contact,” she says.
“She knows everything. I think she probably knows I lied to her, so say I didn’t warn you if she shows up here.”
“She’ll be pissed at you too, loser. Also, where the heck is James?”
“I think he went to sleep at Taryntula's – this crazy girl he’s shagging – and then something about meeting with Alfie for breakfast? Odd that he’s not back yet.”
“I thought Alfie was your friend.” Dominique tactfully ignores my nickname for James' girl. She has crumbs from the sandwich stuck to the side of her mouth and looks ridiculous. I decide not to tell her.
“Honestly, with all the complications between this horrible case and dealing with you, I haven’t had time,” I tell her.
The shower stops running in the other room and, to my horror, Steak emerges from the toilet room, completely in his birthday suit. He has a slight gut with a fine layer of hair surrounding his belly button, and before I cram my eyes closed and shelter them in the crook of my arm, I’ve already managed to take in everything.
“Babe, Louis isn’t comfortable with you being your natural self,” Dominique chides gently. “There’s clothes in his room that I laid out for you.”
“Uptight as hell,” Steak grumbles. “Real men, Louis, aren’t afraid to be natural and free in front of other people.”
“Just… put that away,” I say through gritted teeth, and peek out to see if the coast is clear. “Please, just leave. I don’t want you showing… all of that in front of my sister.”
“Nothing I haven’t seen be-”
“And you! Shut it!” I glare at her. “You owe me, miss. If it weren’t for me you’d still be stinking up that holding cell. I will never know how you talked me into bailing out that lunatic…erm, Steak of yours, but he has to go. I want him gone by tomorrow, but oh no… you are staying here. No more forests, no more lack of personal hygiene. Promise?”
“Promise,” she says, and squirts a worm of mustard onto her finger. Disgusted, I grab my bag.
“Behave while I’m at work, alright? No… funny business.” Dominique salutes me, then sticks out her yellow tongue. Rolling my eyes, I barrel down the stairs two at a time, relieved to get a break from Steak’s obnoxious and hairy presence. Just outside the front door of our building I run into James and, of all people, my mate Alfie Peakes.
When my former dormmate Alfie had announced to the Ravenclaw common room that he was gay in our third year, it didn’t occur to me to be surprised. I asked him if he ever watched me undressing and Alfie said he wasn’t into whiny nerds with chicken arms, and that was that.
I give him an enthusiastic hug, clapping him on the back.
“I have been trying to get a hold of you, mate,” Alfie says, grinning. He’s black, and his wild curls have been clipped since I last saw him. His teeth are as white and crooked as ever, and he’s gained muscle. “Jamie here tells me you’ve been crazy occupied with this case – with Thicknesses dead! What a plot twist!”
“It’s… something like that,” I tell him, laughing. “Look, guys, I’ve got to run off. But… perhaps in a couple of days, when and if things calm down at work, we can all go for drinks?” I grin at my old friend. “It’s kind of making me jealous to see you spending so much time with my annoying little cousin.”
“I’m right here,” James calls. During our reunion he has been tossing a little rubber ball against the bricks of the building, trying to see how many stories high he can throw it. From the window below my kitchen, one of Mrs. Trickle’s cats is staring out, a rapt expression on its furry face.
“We’ve got loads to talk about,” Alfie says, and wrinkles his nose. “I broke up with Hobbs – that bloke I wrote you about, with the nicest, biggest-”
“Okay, okay, no need to rehash those details,” I say loudly. “We have a deal – you don’t go into detail about your sexcapades, and I don’t bore you with the details of mine. In this case they’re mostly non-existent, however…” Eugenie’s pale, pretty face flashes across my mind, and I feel my face turning a little hot.
“That’s a lie, Louis. I told Peaksie about Lucretia,” James calls. He throws the ball into the air and rebounds it off his forehead.
“He’s a loon,” I tell Alfie. “Erm, yeah, Lucretia… just this blond girl I’ve been hanging out with a couple of times…”
“And shagging very loudly in your room...”
“Shut up!” I glare at my cousin, then turn back to Alfie, who is smirking, one eyebrow raised. “I do want to tell you about… a girl… nothing like that, what James just said. But… I need your advice about something. Erm, yeah.” I shift between my feet, avoiding James' unbelieving smirk.
“Sounds good, mate,” Alfie says warmly, clapping me on the back again. One of the differences between him and James is that Alfie knows when the time is right to tease and when it’s more appropriate to keep his trap shut. Waving goodbye to my cousin, I turn on the spot, imagining a large lobby with marble floors, flowerbeds outside the windows, and a fireplace.
As Alfie’s face in front of me blurs, I realize that I forgot to warn the guys about Dominique and more specifically Steak being upstairs. The thought disturbs my Apparition and I end up Splinching off a tiny slice of my arm, which is easily remedied with a quick Healing spell I learned in my first year of Auror training, but stains my white shirt with blood. I briefly consider popping up to Nana’s suite to see if she knows a spell to fix the stain, but settle for pulling my robes down over my sleeve instead.
The receptionist of the Shining Gurdyroot, who has been watching this whole ordeal with an amused expression on his pointed face, shows me to the conference room where Ms. Coffman – or Ruth Kaufmann, as Molly said she was once called – is waiting to meet with me. I let myself in, wiping my hands on my robes and making sure my wand is easily accessed in my pocket. Somehow, Molly’s warnings that perhaps Ms. Coffman is involved with the murderer rings again and again in my head.
“Auror Weasley,” the old woman says. Her eyes, like I remember them, are very clear and blue, and she has a pair of spectacles hanging around her neck on a glimmering silver chain. She’s sitting in an armchair by the window, with soft cushions to ease her curved spine, and her cane is leaning against the armrest.
“Ms. Coffman, thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” I say, pulling up another armchair to sit across from her. The wooden legs squeal unpleasantly on the floorboards, and I guiltily glance down, hoping I haven’t left a scrape.
“Vell, it vas not as if I had a choice,” the old woman says, the Central European accent persisting. Her voice is even and balanced, and I fidget, unsure whether this was a joke or not. “Vhat vould you like to ask me about, young man? I have lived a very long time. I have seen many people live and die. Yet I suspect you are here to ask me about one particular person I once knew.”
“Ms. Coffman, can you-”
“Please,” she cuts in. “You may call me Ruth, and I vill call you Louis. I vould like to help you, but we must speak candidly.”
“Ruth, then. Can you tell me… can you tell me about the sevenfold killer?”
She takes a deep breath, then drums her fingers together. She pulls her glasses up to cover her eyes, then lets them slip down around her neck again. Just when I am afraid that she is not going to answer me, the cracked lips open. She runs her tongue along the top of her bottom row of dentures, yellow and artificial.
“Of all the people alive, I know the most about the sevenfold killer. The first sevenfold killer,” she says quietly. “I knew her very well when we were girls, together. She was… very ordinary. Nobody would have suspected she could kill.”
“And nobody did,” I say. Ruth nods, and somewhere inside her body, a bone creaks.
“Yet with all of my memories, I am afraid I shall not be much help to you in solving this case. I can assure you – she, Ada, she was a young, naïve girl. She vas not a born killer, and many of her victories vere earned from courage and luck. Many people said she had the hand of God to guide her, but Ada knew this was not true.” The lines on Ruth’s face furrow in upon themselves, forming deep crevices in her skin. “But this new killer… they have planned everything perfectly. They have been two steps ahead.”
“How do you know all this?” I ask, sharply. “Has anybody come to see you, to talk about the case?”
“Vell, yes,” Ruth says, raising her very thin eyebrows at me. “Your cousin came by and had tea with me, and ve spoke much about the sevenfold. It was perhaps a veek ago, but I have been keeping up with the case since the first kill.”
“She never told me that,” I mutter, silently cursing Molly and her curiosity.
“There it is, the fact,” Ruth says. Her hand quivers as she reaches for a cup of water on the table, and, hesitating, I stand to help her. “I suspect she has informed you all about me, and I cannot blame her for that. I do not know anything about your copying killer, young man. But for a crime like this… there must be more than fascination with the sevenfold killer. There is a motive.”
“I agree. We’ve been trying to trace people to the victims, and why they might want to kill them,” I prompt her.
She hesitates for a moment, then uses a clawlike hand to bring back a tuft of white hair from hanging over her forehead. “I think…vell, vhat do I know. I am not a killer…but perhaps you should consider whether this new killer is targeting certain people. If they are preparing for one, great murder, if they have a particular… hatred for a person and want to cover up killing them.” She shakes her head. “I apologize. These are the illegible ramblings of an old woman.”
“No, you have a point,” I say. “I wonder… perhaps there is something about the seventh murder, which hasn’t happened yet? In the stories… with…Ada, was not that the ultimate kill?”
“I knew Ada Treuherzig,” Ruth says quietly. “I knew her very vell, as a girl, and we were imprisoned… in Nurmengard, together. I vatched her die, I was there. And if this killer is truly a scholar of the sevenfold… if she truly hopes to follow in Ada’s footsteps… then perhaps it is vorth considering, the significance of each murder.” Around her wrist, her little metal watch starts to sing. “Ah, it is time for my medication. I wish you luck, young man, but be warned. You may not like what you find.”
I nod and step away, grinding my shoe into a nick in the carpet. But Ruth raises a curled hand.
“One more thing,” she says quietly. “Louis, you must beware the sixth.” A shadow moves within her eyes, as if the shadow itself is longing to say more.
Musing over Ruth’s cryptic words, I take the time to stroll around the gardens of the Shining Gurdyroot before leaving via the gates in order to Apparate away just outside. I pause to register my departure with the sentry at the gate, who registers visitors who come in and out of the complex for the sake of security. I suspect they have tightened this up since Umbridge was murdered, and on a whim ask to see the entrance records for the date on which I found the body in the rosebush.
After showing the recordkeeper my Auror badge, he brings out the books. Of course, the Aurors who investigated the scene had access to this information and did not see anything suspicious, but something curious strikes me.
All of the records for the Shining Gurdyroot – whether the visitors enter through the gates or from the Floo fireplaces – are enchanted to appear in one another’s books. Directly above the names Louis Weasley, James Potter, Fleur Delacour-Weasley, William Weasley and Victoire Weasley is another name, one which I did not expect to have seen visiting at that hour. Something which strikes me as some sort of recording error, since the person in question was at the Leaky Cauldron right before I left for the retirement home.
A name in an uncharacteristically messy script. Emily Alice Longbottom.
It is not until an hour later, after I pop to the cafe for a sandwich and a coffee, and am on the doorsteps of my flat, that I realize something odd in Ruth’s words.
I vatched her die, I was there, Ruth said to me, her eyes clear from behind her glasses. And if this killer is truly a scholar of the sevenfold… if she truly hopes to follow in Ada’s footsteps…
Ruth had said ‘she.’ As if Ruth suspected who the killer was. As if she thought – or knew – that the killer was a girl.
Louis, you must beware the sixth.
At the flat, an owl is waiting for me – and being stroked and fed by Dominique – with a letter from Proudfoot explaining how he and the other Aurors have been working with Molly to figure out who the next victim will be. Malfoy is being guarded at the hospital, and he mentions that my uncle Ron has been called out of retirement to keep an eye on him – both to protect the bloke and be alert for clues of his guilt. A confession or clue could make or break many of our careers.
My cousins and company are still in attendance in the flat and the whole place smells like burnt cheese. Alfie and James are already pretty drunk – despite it being the middle of the day – and singing ballads about Irish wizards with arms around one another’s shoulders. To my disgust, Steak has also been invited to this little party, and is currently wearing a pair of my favourite loose trousers – with no pants on beneath them, by the looks of things – and Dominique is perched on his knee, her hands playing with the curls on the back of his shaggy head. When I come in she jumps away and escapes to the toilet, muttering something about how eating too many nachos and salsa upsets her stomach.
“I saw some lovely air freshener from the Diagon Alley apothecary in your toilet, Louis,” she says brightly. “They don’t have that in the woods!”
“Be sure it’s all natural products before using it, babe!” Steak calls after her, grinning. I pick at a few cheese-smothered chips and nibble at them, then spill salsa in my lap and sigh. I can’t win.
“You just can’t win,” James says, looking at me with pity. “We were going to play strip Exploding Snap, but then realized that none of us here are attracted to each other. And I have no desire to see my cousin wearing anything but a smock from head to toe, thanks very much. I invited Taryn and Lucretia over, but no owl yet in return. I’ve been telling Alfie about your crush on your partner. Sucks.”
My face heats up, and Alfie nods wisely. And infuriatingly.
“I do not fancy Eugenie,” I inform him. “Well, I mean, I fancy her – who wouldn’t, she’s brilliant and fit and cool, but-”
“She’s way out of your league anyway,” Steak says, cutting to the chase. He has crumbs in his beard.
“What do you even know? Do they get newspapers in the wilderness?”
“No, but I know who Eugenie Bones is after the Arietta Silver case,” Steak says rationally. “Arietta lived in my parents’ village in Yorkshire, so it was a nasty shock when she died.”
“Yeah, what happened with all of that?” Alfie asks. “I, personally, had never heard of Bones until I came back this week and she and Lou here were in the Prophet. I suppose she’s kind of attractive, for a girl.” He takes another sip of his bottle, and the foam lingers on his lips.
“Please don’t speak about her that way,” I growl at him. “She’s a classy woman, mate.” I'm only half trying to be funny.
He shrugs, leaning his curly head against James’ scrawny shoulder and closing his eyes slightly. Steak, however, has straightened, and tucks in the slight gut on his naked torso. His shirt –well, my shirt, technically- is piled on the floor beside him along with a deck of cards.
“Arietta was a lovely woman, really,” he says, and then belches. “When the Aurors came to find her murdered in her home, the whole village showed up to pay their respects and condolences. ‘Course, we didn’t know then that the killer was her own son.”
“Scandalous,” Alfie comments, crossing his legs and wrapping his ankles around one another like a human pretzel. James uses my friend’s shoulder to leverage himself up, muttering something about a piss, then realizes that Dominique is still in the bathroom and sits down again, crossing his legs in a rather similar way to Alfie.
“I’ll have to go in the sink if she doesn’t hurry up,” James mutters.
“I will tell your mother, and she will make you move back into Al’s room,” I inform him. “No girls will be allowed.”
“Fair play.” He slumps over.
“So the killer was her own son? Why? Was he… you know…”
“Mad as a hatter? Not sure, really. He popped by once in a while to the shop and spoke with me mum. He’s a few years older than us and lived in London. The thing was, Arietta was a regular humanitarian, and she was always bringing round these Muggle victims of wizard brutality, letting them stay in her house. Some say that her son just snapped, couldn’t stand to see his mum taking care of so many people, when she’d allegedly been a pretty rubbish mum to him, always running off to volunteer and work for others.”
“Yeah, what a terrible mum,” James mutters. “Wish mine had something else to occupy her than dropping in and involving herself here…”
“So Arietta’s son killed her, and Eugenie Bones caught him,” Steak concludes, then takes a large gulp of his own drink. “None of the other Aurors knew what to do, who it could be…”
“…but Eugenie knew. She got inside his head, she realized that the son hated his mother, resented her. She got into the killer’s head, and she understood,” I finish. “Perhaps that’s what I really need to do. Get inside the killer’s head.”
James and Alfie nod wisely.
“I’m going to go into the Ministry and see if I can catch up with Eugenie, tell her about the interview,” I tell them. “Please make sure not to rip up the neighbourhood too much, and that Dominique has enough toilet paper. James, you might have to pop to the supermarket to get some. Girls use more.”
“You are such a mother hen,” my cousin groans, releasing his head onto his knees.
As I move out of the flat, Ruth’s words ring true once again. She. If she truly hopes to follow in Ada’s footsteps.
Author’s Note: Thank you for reading! Many revelations in this chapter – I’d love to know what you all are thinking! The chapter title is from Dead Hearts by Stars.
Elle est morte.: She is dead.
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