in the dark, count mistakes
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“Ada, Ada Treuherzig,” the blond boy says to her. “We have not seen one another since that final day at Durmstrang. I have so very much to tell you. How odd that we should meet like this.”
He wears the uniform of the servants of Der Meister. She has stumbled upon him here, where she never wished to find him, outside his master’s gates. He is pale in the moonlight and the glint of the triangular eye on his robes captures her gaze.
She draws her wand, reluctantly. Long days by the lake at their school, nights spent with their heads bent together over Transfiguration notes, the smell of his hair and the smoothness of his hand when he nervously held hers for the first time – these things can no longer mean anything. They are in the middle of a war.
He turns his wand on her, blue eyes shining with the echoes of the stars which seem to fade over Zauberei Dorf. Later, she says she had no choice.
The Shining Gurdyroot Senior’s Residence, Greater London, July 21st, 2027
The girl comes in the early morning – like Ada, she is accustomed to walking the paths of dawn, feel the sun warming the nightly chill from the air, that fresh feeling of a new day. When Ada was a young woman living in France, she often walked the streets at dawn. Her foster family, the LeJeans, worried for her safety, but Ada – or Ruth, as she was called – knew that little could hurt her. The war, the prison, the horrors had pulled away all in her which remained to be harmed. She could die any day and die without a care.
She is sitting in the lobby, slowly sipping from a china cup of tea, when a familiar voice emerges from the tapestry of hushed sounds. A scrape as a chair is tugged over, and a slight clink as the girl puts her wand on the table.
“I did not know you vould come here again,” Ada says to the girl. “Have you not two individuals to be taking care of?” She wonders if there is a hint of bitterness in her voice – that this girl can hide and do magic and maneuver in society, as innocent and unlikely as she once was, or if she is angry that the girl has corrupted her legacy in such a way. Even to Ada herself, her personality is split into severed sections. Perhaps, through killing, she truly did break her soul.
“I could not sleep for the entire night,” the girl says shakily, her usual confidence and bravado seeming to crumble. Ada wonders how this young woman behaves around the others, if she seems weak, as if Ada could touch her arm and she would tumble apart at the seams, divided into multiple pieces of a person. “Things are happening, too fast… something has changed, Ada.”
The girl first came to her over a month ago. She had done her research and learned that the last friend of the sevenfold killer was still alive. There was something in her voice, in her hopeful yet intelligent tone, which caused Ada to confide her secret, the truth about her name and her identity.
I was not born as Ruth Coffman, nor Ruth Kaufmann, she had whispered, feeling the soft, new carpet of the Shining Gurdyroot beneath her slippers. And the girl had smiled – her face had twisted in Ada’s milky gaze. And she had told the old woman she suspected as much from her research.
People like you and I, we are different, the girl had said. We are fighters. Martyrs, even.
Ada had not known how to explain to the girl that the sevenfold killer was not a hero, not really. That the faces of the murdered danced before her faces, and sometimes she dreamed of her grandfather, shaking his head sadly as he puffed on his pipe, disappointed at what his darling had become. The shadow of Erik lingered in the darkness of her blinding eyes. She was older, now, than her grandfather was when he died. She was over a hundred years old, but she could feel the little girl clawing away inside of her, trapped in a prison of her own remorse. Erik’s old laugh seemed to taunt her, frozen as he was, captured by choice.
Murder is a dark path, she had whispered, and in her words were the grimy, damp walls of her cell all those years ago. Ada is over a hundred years old, and she has been living as Ruth for decades and decades. Her eyes are wasting away, and her skin is dry and loose around her thin frame, her brittle bones which crack as she moves. Her hair is falling out in places, and she can no longer perform magic. Yet trapped inside her is the little girl she once was, the girl who lived in Nurmengard for years, who saw the real Ruth die there. Ada Treuherzig, the sevenfold killer, is trapped inside the withered body called Ruth Coffman. She is imprisoned, just as she always was.
But the new girl has failed. She has lost her will before she could complete the seven. She tells Ada how the fifth is still alive, in hospital, and how she has been plagued by doubts about the sixth throughout the past weeks. If he deserves to die or not. How she cannot bear to harm him – finally she settles on this answer, and trembles.
“I did it all for the seventh to die,” she says quietly. “I did this all so that I might see the light leave his eyes, cast his body into the river, punish him for all he has done. Yet… I suppose that in a perverse way, I wanted to honor him. To send him off fittingly to the land of hell or heaven, with pomp and circumstance. As part of the sevenfold.” She rubs at her eyes with her fingers, round and round.
“I give you permission to break the pattern – if permission is vhat you need, my child. But you have already gone so far down the path that I fear for you. You have broken the confines of your soul.” Ada sighs, holding the tips of her ribs deep inside her chest, feeling her heart pound feebly against them.
“What must you think of me,” the girl whispers, her head in her hands. She does not seem to hear the old woman. Dark hair hangs over her shoulder. When she raises her head, her face is very pale and her eyes very empty. It is like looking into the face of a corpse, and Ada is thankful for her poor eyesight. She is afraid of what she might see in the face of the girl. “Do you keep my secrets out of loyalty, or care? Or have I led you to believe that I would kill you if you told?”
“There are vorse things than death for the likes of me, child. But I lied for you,” Ada tells her, knotting her hands together in her lap. “The boy was completely confused. I don’t know vhy I did it.”
“Poor Louis,” the stranger sighs. “I… he makes this so much harder. I don’t want him as my enemy, never that. He and…”
“I do not want to hear their names,” the old woman says, with more thorn in her voice than intended. “I do not know why I helped you at all. You are not truly a sevenfold killer. You are working out of revenge, of wrath. You are killing to cover up your true betrayal, your true intent. Could you not have killed him whom you hate with simplicity?”
“No,” the stranger whispers. “Of course I could not –“
“You are foolish, then, for killing with such pomp and show,” Ada says, and there is a renewed anger in her voice. “You thought they would wear the red ribbons for you – that you could be a hero, and kill the man whom you hate most in the process…” Erik was the senseless death, but she cannot quite explain this to the girl. She cannot articulate her regret, not in her old, familiar German, not in the clunky English which tugs and twists her tongue.
There is movement as the flames across the atrium turn green – Ada catches the bright glint of color from the corner of her eye. Even eighty years later, color still delights her and captures her. Red, sometimes, makes her feel nauseous and uneasy, but blue is the color of the sky.
“I can’t be here,” the girl says. “The Aurors are here. I have to go. I must act before it is too late.”
Ada blinks, and a flash of pale skin as the girl flees around the corner. At the reception desk, a lanky young man in black robes is speaking earnestly with the staff on duty. Her eyes, dulled from those long years spent in the darkness of her cell, cannot make out his expression, but she recognizes the casual slope of his shoulders, his slightly awkward, poised way of holding his head. Louis Weasley is catching on, then.
She sets down her mug of tea, gazing at the empty chair facing her, the chair which the girl has vacated. Her thoughts are very quiet.
Louis Weasley steps forward and tells her, anxiety upon his thin face, that they are bringing her in for questioning at the Ministry. That they believe she is conspiring with a killer. That she will be dragged in, to another tiny cell, and held there until they decide her fate, weight the truth in her words. Louis does not say these things out loud, but she reads it in his stuttering words, as he wipes his palms on his robes and reaches forward to help her up.
They stand, his hands on her tiny elbows, where the skin sags down beneath the bone.
“I am sorry, Ruth,” he whispers. “But my cousin thinks you are somebody other than you are. We waited until the morning to come – I reckon it was the best we could do. If you cooperate, and are honest, then you have nothing to fear, and apologies will be made.”
Ada takes a deep breath, which pools then shatters in her withering lungs. She teeters slightly as Louis presses her cane into her hand, and he steadies her as she tips to the side. She wonders if the others in the atrium are staring at her, and if the girl got away in time.
She makes a decision. It is time for this to end.
“Louis Veasley, you are vasting your time here vith me,” she says quietly, so that only he can hear. “The girl you seek has panicked. She has deranged the order and gone to finish the job with the seventh. If you know her, if you know enough about the pattern, then you vill know where she is.”
Stunned, Louis takes a step back. His gaze seems to peel her face: she can feel it probing her skin, capturing her eyes for the truth.
“Very well,” he says. His hand slips his wand from his pocket. “Unc- Auror Potter, Auror Chang-Lu, please take Ms. Coffman into the Ministry. I…I need to check on something urgent.”
Ruth listens to the boy’s footsteps pound away in the silence of the atrium. The others are staring at her. Two other men approach her – one old, one young – and ask her if she is ready to proceed. She can tell they feel uncomfortable, uneasy. They think Louis and his cousin are wrong about her, that they are arresting a feeble old woman, helpless and innocent and most probably out of her wits. They are underestimating her, just as those other men did back in Zauberei Dorf, before she pressed the red ribbons upon their chests.
But these are good men, and they will take good care of her. Ada nods, shuffles forward. She will once again sit in a cell, and perhaps the girl trapped inside of her will find some peace.
As for her mirror self, the living, panicking girl who vanished mere moments ago – Ada cannot be sure of her fate.
London, July 21st, 2027
Ruth Coffman is full of surprises.
I hurry towards the Floo fireplaces at the Shining Gurdyroot, biting the inside of my lip and feeling heat well up inside my chest. My limbs feel slow and heavy, as if I were moving through water, or trapped in one of those nightmares where I run and run only to remain trapped in one place. Seizing a handful of Floo powder so earnestly that the pot wobbles on its perch, I throw the powder into the flames, shouting the name of a house.
Nothing happens – the heatless flames continue to crackle gently. They are very low, which sometimes negates the effectiveness of the Floo.
“Incendio!” I say, and flames roar up again. I shove more powder into the fireplace, and nearly shout in frustration when the flames neglect to turn green. Perhaps the old bastard has a block on his fireplace – a paranoid decision which might cost him his life.
I cannot Apparate away while within the grounds of the Shining Gurdyroot, and, thinking quickly, throw a third handful of powder into the Floo. “The Ministry of Magic,” I enunciate clearly, and step inside the blue flames. The flashing of fireplaces, the rushing sensation, and I stumble out into the bright atrium, nearly running into a member of Magical Maintenance who is guiding a mop and bucket along with his wand like a conductor in an orchestra.
Spinning around, I once again try to get to the address through the flames. It is unsuccessful, and I swear, loudly. The wizard from Magical Maintenance frowns at me.
“This is not bloody happening, not now,” I mutter to myself, then run into one of the lifts, punching the button for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Thinking murderous thoughts towards the cool female voice who relays each floor, I shove into the Auror department, looking around frantically for somebody to help.
“Auror Savage! What are you doing here?” I cry out. The grizzled old Auror is sitting in his cubicle, wearing a rather rumpled pair of Auror robes. “You’re meant to be guarding Nott!”
“I was relieved from duty, wasn’t I,” Savage grumbles. “Unexpectedly, of course, but young McLaggen is still there, along with…”
“Auror Savage, listen to me. I think the killer is going to Nott’s home, and I need his address so I can Apparate there,” I say, very quickly. Savage frowns and sticks a finger in his ear.
“Say that again, boy?”
Gritting my teeth, feeling like I might wet my pants, I repeat the request and he, finally, gives me the address. It’s the same phrase I was shouting at the Shining Gurdyroot and again at the Floo downstairs: looks like the killer, if she’s there, might have sealed off Nott’s Floo, which I might have expected. She certainly has the knowledge to do so. Hastily, I tell Savage to quickly summon a team for backup and to come to Nott’s immediately, and he springs up, surprisingly spritely for an elder Auror on the brink of retirement. He does not stop me or demand to go with me as I run back towards the lifts and punch in the button for the lobby. A fine layer of sweat has gathered and is trickling down my back, causing my shirt to stick to my skin.
I run through the lobby, but am tripped by the Maintenance man’s mop as it dances along the floor. Sliding slightly across the floor and muttering an apology, I skate across the damp floor, feeling for my wand and relieved that I did not crush it in the fall. My knees are stinging a little and the palms of my hands are damp from the wet floors. After what feels like an eternity, I reach the section of the Ministry from which employees can Apparate. Repeating the address in my head like a mantra, I whirl around on the spot.
The scene is a large house in the countryside: I remember somebody saying it was just outside London – indeed, there is the Thames, brown and flowing. Praying that I am right in coming here, yet fearful of what – or whom – I will find inside, I pant up through the path to the house and let myself inside. The door is unlocked, but a house elf peeps out.
“Can Daisy help the young Auror, sir?” the elf asks, tips of her large, batlike ears trembling.
“I need to see Mr. Nott, immediately,” I say, more sternly than I usually would. The sweat has cooled into a light layer on my skin, and I take deep breaths as the house elf leads me up a grand set of spiral stairs. Despite my concentration, I take in the rich furnishings of the house – the portraits looking out from veils and plumed, pointed wizards’ hats, whispering from behind bejeweled hands. Only the richest wizards can afford historical portraits these days, and in a few of them I catch glimpses of the pale cheekbones and mouths in thin lines like Mr. Nott’s. The carpet is thick and rich beneath my feet, and the whole place smells of polish. As the house elf scurries to open the door for me, I notice that her hands and her smock are covered in dark stains – no doubt from using corrosive materials to clean the rich home.
“Daisy, you need to get downstairs, now,” I tell the little figure. “Some other Aurors are going to be arriving very shortly, and you need to get them here as fast as they can.” I pull my wand out of my pocket, wiping my hand on my robes before wrapping my fingers around its hilt. “Do not come back up here, no matter what. It might be dangerous for you.” The elf squeaks something, and the door closes again behind me.
This new room is a sort of study, with a desk covered in neat rolls of parchment. Books clad in leather line the walls – Molly would be in heaven here. But what catches my eye is Mickey McLaggen. He’s leaning, slumped against the wall, his legs stuck out in front of him and his mouth hanging open. I crouch down beside him, holding my hand in front of his face. Warm breath, slow but steady, tickles my hand – he appears to have been hit by a very strong Stunning spell.
“Rennervate,” I whisper, and then stand up. I have no time to wait for McLaggen to come to his senses. Taking a deep breath, which moves through my body and into my cluttered head, I put my hand on the engraved doorknob and swing open the door to Nott’s bedroom.
Whenever I think back to this moment, I will see this room in shattered pieces. The red curtains on a four-poster bed. The burgundy carpet. The twinkling beacons of light echoing off the chandelier. Mr. Nott’s face: eyes bulging out, mouth hanging slack, a trickle of blood moving down his throat to the set of black robes. A red ribbon crushed in a pale, feminine hand.
And there she is, preserved in my memory in that moment when everything changed. Dark hair flying out of her ponytail. Clear eyes, her glasses fallen onto the floor. I do not know if she was wearing those glasses when she held the knife to his throat. Her pale hands, her round, white face, reflected in the mirror, her bloodless lips.
I point my wand at her heart. Slowly, I creep across the room. Our eyes fix on one another, and Nott groans and shifts in her grip. The pieces of the broken jigsaw fit themselves into place.
Mr. Nott, the Longbottoms, and my uncles and aunts were all in the same year at Hogwarts together.
“Well, Emily’s mum, Hannah, was actually there for my mother when she had me. My poor mother was a teen mum, you see. I was born a few months after the Battle of Hogwarts.”
Neville Longbottom was keeping a secret, something he had sworn – or been threatened – not to divulge.
“I can’t tell you, not exactly. I’m sorry. But… when I was about your age, I found out some information which I – very foolishly, vowed to keep quiet. Forever. I can’t speak it, or write it, or tell anybody about it.” He sighs. “Never make a binding vow, Louis. I… believe me, I have cursed my younger self several times this past week.”
There was a family who lost everything to the Death Eaters.
“The Bones were essentially wiped out by You-Know-Who’s followers, dear.”
To catch a killer, perhaps one must understand them.
“So Arietta’s son killed her, and Eugenie Bones caught him. None of the other Aurors knew what to do, who it could be…but Eugenie knew. She got inside his head, she realized that the son hated his mother, resented her. She got into the killer’s head, and she understood.”
Understand the meaning of her last words to me.
“Louis…there are things you don’t know about me. About my family, my past… I don’t think you want to get involved with that. I… I just don’t know what to say. I guess I don’t get lost for words all that often, eh?”
“Put the knife down, please,” I say gently. My wand hand is trembling. Her eyes are filled with ice. “Please, just put it down. Put it away. I don’t want to hurt you. Don’t force me to hurt you.”
She pauses, and Nott’s eyes swim inside his head. His neck is tilted forward to the ceiling.
“I know who he is, what he’s done to you,” I whisper. “I’m sorry, I am so, so sorry.” She looks like she has swallowed her heart. Her cheeks are gaunt with suppressed breath. “He... he is your father, isn’t he? He is your father, and he abandoned you before you were even born. He cursed those who knew so they couldn’t speak of it, not even to save themselves.” I step more closely to her. “And when you found out, you hated him. That’s how you knew. About Arietta Silver being killed by her son. You knew how he felt. And Ada… you knew how she felt, trapped in a cell, guilty and afraid and proud. You wanted to be like her.”
She has not yet spoken. Words hang between us: words which could have been whispered, spoken over hours, days. But I cannot admire her beauty, not anymore: she is as cornered as a frightened cat, and her pale hands are clenched and tight.
“I want to help you,” I whisper. I could almost reach out and touch her now. Softly, carefully, I tuck back a strand of hair from her cold, damp face, tuck it behind her ear like one might with a tired child. “Please, Eugenie, wonderful, lovely Eugenie. Let me help you.”
She looks up at me, and her eyes are pale, and, not knowing why I do it, I carefully crouch down, keeping her gaze trapped within my own. My fingers fumble on the carpet until I find her glasses from where they tumbled off her head. Her grip is loosening on Mr. Nott, the silver knife going slack, her wand abandoned on the floor. With care, I slide the glasses over her eyes, and she looks out at me through their frames.
The spell is broken. As Mr. Nott tumbles into unconsciousness, blood running down his neck, Eugenie Bones, the second sevenfold killer, falls into my arms, wraps her hands around my neck, eases her dark head upon my chest. Kneeling, I stroke her hair, whisper some false comfort, and carefully remove the knife from her pale hand – the hand I have admired so many times before.
And when the Aurors burst in: McLaggen raving and staggering, Proudfoot limping and stopping with shock, Emily Longbottom, who cries out and then begins to sob quietly, Uncle Harry striding forward, his wand pointed at Mr. Nott’s limp body, Eugenie does not move. Even when they try to pry her away from me, to take her wand, to tell her, in shocked, broken words that she must come to the Ministry, she does not look upon them, does not release her arms from around my neck.
“That’s what it looks like to see a person fall apart,” McLaggen comments, and Emily sends him a look that could kill. Her face is slick with tears for the friend we all admired.
“Louis, Louis, we have to take her in. We have to bring her to the Ministry,” somebody is saying in my ear, and, half-carrying the girl I thought was the most brilliant in Britain, I bring her through the mansion of her father, the house that was hers by birthright. The river Thames, where she intended to cast away his body, flows slowly along. I carry her pain and her madness inside of me, as if it were my burden to bear, as if she were an extension of my soul and my self.
And when I set her down in the dark cell in the maximum security section of the Ministry, she clings to my shirt. She is not crying: she has nothing to say. Outside her cell, Neville Longbottom and his daughter are being reunited, as she whispers the explanation in his ears. Proudfoot is stunned, rubbing his scarred forehead. Upstairs, the Auror department is in a shambles, but all that matters is the girl in my arms and the pain she is feeling. I sit upon the cot and rock her slowly back and forth in my arms, stroking her hair, her back, tracing patterns on her shoulders.
A few cells away, the old woman, the true Ada Treuherzig sits in her own cell, so similar and yet so different from the one where she lived in Nurmengard, the prisoner of der Meister, the martyr of the people. The Aurors are in a frenzy outside, and she can hear their muttered fears and grief.
The walls seem to close in upon her, and at last the seven faces of the seven she killed turn their backs, and the backs of their heads fade away. Instead, she sees her grandfather again, smoke mixing with his silver hair, lips curled around his pipe in a loving smile. She sees her mother and her father – arms around one another, her mother beaming like she used to before the war. And behind them, the faces of those who died at Nurmengard – the little boy with the red ribbon who demanded a fairytale through the chink in the wall, who died with the masses and was tossed into a crowded grave in the prison. He grins, his face scrubbed.
Hidden in a creeping shadow is a blond head and sloped shoulders, a wry grin unwrapping crooked teeth. Erik turns towards her again, separate from the others of the sevenfold. Yet she cannot quite make out his features – perhaps, for her to liberate herself, she cannot be permitted to see. Erik must forever remain a shade and a doubt. The sixth was meant to be the boy whom the girl loved.
Behind Ada’s family stands Ruth Kaufmann – the true Ruth, whose body was labeled as Ada Treuherzig and buried in the yard at Nurmengard, in view of the prison which was allotted to der Meister. Her hair is golden, in two plaits, and her skin is pink and healthy. And she reaches towards Ada, and folds her arms around her, the embrace they both longed for in those separate cells in Nurmengard.
And Ada, warm and smiling in the warmth of the shadow, knows that she is free at last.
Author’s Note: Well. There you have it. The chapter title is from You’ve Got Time by Regina Spektor. Special shout-out to red_headed_juliet for being the first to properly accuse Eugenie, and to everyone who speculated about her being suspicious and even trying to frame Emily. There were many sneaky clues: for example, the first letter of each chapter title spells out "Ada is Eugenie" and the names of both killers, as well as each of the pairs of victims, share similar meanings or etymology.
Did anyone else think it might have been her? Did anybody figure out that Nott was the seventh victim, or that he was Eugenie's father? Any guesses about who the sixth victim would have been?
Thanks for reading, and the final chapter will be up soon. You are brilliant for making it this far! ♥
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