Chapter 3 : La Faiseuse d'Anges
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Johanna crouches behind the wall chewed up by wisteria, watching a little old lady totter down the street, and a tiny smile creeps up her face as she marvels at Camille's potion-making skills: Astrid is unrecognisable with her white hair and knobbly knees.
At the other end of the road, inside the church, Xavier is standing in front of the crucifix, his face turned towards his feet, the perfect picture of a collected man. He too has taken Polyjuice potion, and now bears an identical resemblance to an Irish farmer, whose hair has been sent over by the English Ministry of Magic. He glances at his watch every few minutes, ready to run out if anything goes wrong. His job is to explode the building facing the church, giving Astrid time to Apparate to safety.
The church bells toll deeply six times, and Xavier gives a wary sigh, sitting back down in his wicker-padded chair. This time, he prays for real, hoping that everything goes according to plan.
"Excusez-moi, monsieur," Astrid chases after Jean's uncle as fast as her wrinkled legs allowed her to. "You've lost this!"
Wildly, she waves a chequered handkerchief – conjured beforehand by Jean who knows about his uncle's trinkets – over her head, continuing to call after the man who is supposed to have lost it. Finally, he stops, turns around, and smiles fondly at the old lady who cheerfully wobbles over to him.
"This fell out of your pocket, monsieur le Maire," she presses the cloth into his hands.
"Thank you," Henri shakes her gloved hands in his, before tucking the handkerchief away. "This was a present from my nephew, I would have hated to lose it."
Astrid's smile falters a little, but she nods in acknowledgement anyway. "I'm sorry to tell you this, monsieur le Maire, but you have a stain on your face," she informs him, lying easily. "Just next to your mouth." She taps the space next to her own upper lip, and drops her voice to a whisper. "It does not look very dignified."
Jean's uncle chuckles, retrieves the handkerchief Astrid has handed him previously from his coat pocket, and dabs at his face with a corner.
Astrid smiles again. "Good day, monsieur le Maire."
As she walks away, she slides her hand into her pocket, the now-empty glass vial cold even through her gloves.
Do not look back, she tells herself, walking steadily into the church. Once she has passed the sturdy oak doors, performed her genuflexion and sat down in the front row to pray, she allows herself a sigh of relief.
"Did it go all right?" Xavier mutters two chairs to her right.
Astrid gives an imperceptible nod, and out of the corner of her eye she sees Xavier exit. In three or four minutes, she will be able to leave as well.
Meanwhile, outside, Johanna has stood up from her hiding place, and is now following the mayor from a steady distance.
He arrives in front of his door, fumbles for his keys in his briefcase. The key is half inserted into the hole when suddenly the mayor crumples to the ground, the key clattering next to him against the dark cobblestones. Even from where she is, Johanna notices the blood that has begun to leak. A passing woman screams loudly at the sight.
Johanna hurries into an adjacent alley void of people, turns on her heel, and Disapparates, reminded of a very similar pool of blood – another time, another circumstance.
Caen, France, 1941.
She crouches over the toilet on the landing, throwing up violently, tears streaming from her eyes. There are no hesitations anymore: she is pregnant. The realisation of this fact makes Johanna retch again, heaving the limited contents of her stomach away in a stream of black bile.
She closes her eyes tightly, attempting to control her breath, and sits down on the floor, her back resting against the cool tile of the lavatory wall.
Her choice is made already: she cannot keep the creature growing inside her. Already, its conception makes Johanna tainted, and she refuses to be constantly reminded, with the child's growth, of the worst night of her life, where she lost all dignity as a human being.
How stupid it was to go out without a wand. Had she had it with her, she might have been able to defend herself, but without it, she didn't stand a chance against the drunken officer; and even in his inebriated state, he was still too strong for Johanna's fragile body.
She muffles a sob with her hands, trembling violently, and the jerking movement causes her to knock her head violently against the wall. She feels warm blood trickle down her skull through her hair, and suddenly she has an idea.
With as much courage as she can muster, she walks back to the flat she shares with her mother and brother, who are respectively queuing for groceries and at school. Hurriedly, she shifts through the drawer in which her mother keeps the household necessities until she finds what she is looking for: money for emergencies.
Tightly pulling her coat around her shaking body, she soars through the streets of Caen in a panicked haze, desperate to get this done with before curfew. Her footsteps lead her to a crumbling house tucked behind the Jardin des Plantes. She knows of its inhabitant, and of her reputation: Johanna is not the first woman to need help. She raps her knuckles against the glass pane, taking a deep breath. The elderly Muggle opens the door immediately, blood staining her apron, and looks at Johanna with a mixture of disapproval and pity.
"Can you pay?" Johanna nods. "Hurry inside then."
The corridor is dim, the only light coming from the open door at the far end, scarcely furnished with a solid wooden table, a few chairs. Rapidly, the other woman wipes the table clean, and unfolds a fresh sheet on top, smoothing out the wrinkles with the palm of her hand. Next to the table, on one of the chairs, a set of knitting needles glint alarmingly against a grey towel.
"Pack your bags," Jean greets Astrid as she crosses the threshold, her hair gradually regaining its silver sheen. "We've been required to go to the Ministry, the Portkey leaves in less than an hour."
"How long are we going?"
"Two days," Jean replies absentmindedly, busy hiding important documents in a hole in the wall. "Apparently, they've discovered something new that gives us the advantage." He draws out his wand and points it at the gaping concrete mouth. "Reparo." The chunks of plaster and paint fly back into place like a swarm of furious wasps. "Well, go!"
Camille and Johanna are already there, folding skirts and shirts into a common suitcase.
"I've put in your jumper and your tights," Johanna smiles at Astrid, "and some spare clothes too, as I figured you'd want some time to breathe after this afternoon's events."
Astrid beams at her and flops down on the only bed left free of the clutter, closing her eyes in delight as her head makes contact with the soft pillow. Camille snorts loudly at the sight as she slides her fingers into her gloves, checking for holes: her friend looks like a cat that has just eaten a particularly plump canary.
"I need to get rid of the vial of Veneno Sanguis, do you have it?" Xavier barges suddenly into the room.
He is greeted by a concert of female shrieks, and narrowly avoids the slipper Camille has tossed at his head.
"Fine, fine, I'll wait for it outside," he snaps the door shut behind him, the ghost of a smile lighting up his face as laughter follows him out.
Astrid rummages in her pocket without looking, and holds it out for Camille to take. "Here, you've got gloves on already."
She gingerly accepts it, grabbing the crystal stopper with two fingers, and marches out to the corridor where Xavier is pacing. She holds it up as he waves his wand in front of it, and it disappears into thin air with a quiet sizzle.
"I need you to get rid of these as well, now that I've manipulated that potion," she motions to the gloves she has just taken off, annoyed with the idea of throwing away an almost-new pair. Xavier repeats the wand movement wordlessly, then, with another flourish, conjures a new pair that he hands Camille. Their fingers touch briefly, imperceptibly.
She smiles. "Thank you."
"While you're busy, can you please eliminate my gloves as well?" Astrid's head appears in the gap of the ajar door, her hand sticking out as well, a pair of gloves dangling off her finger. Xavier nods, waves his wand, and Astrid retreats again to the shared room, Camille following her.
Xavier is left standing alone in the hallway.
Johanna's first thought as she makes contact with the marble floor of the Ministry of Magic is that she has not seen such opulence in a very long time. Expensive paintings hang off the walls – she is certain that she has spotted a Monet on her right – and the chandeliers are still being used, glinting in every direction, rippling like pennies as one would see them underwater: flickering, uncertain, temporary.
"Monsieur Goldberg vous attend," a secretary informs the group as they pause in the middle of the atrium. "Suivez-moi."
Johanna glances at her friends as they walk down the crimson-painted hallway to the minister's office: Jean, assured, as if he belongs here; Xavier, stone-faced, his fingers twitching around his wand in his pocket; Astrid, unreadable as often, who looks more like the wife of one of the officers than like someone who has committed murder little more than an hour ago; and Camille, who bears a look of pure contempt at the luxury in which these people live when others are dying of starvation.
The double-doors made of heavy oak are opened, and Paul Goldberg stands up, immediately going to Jean to shake his hand fiercely, clapping him on the back.
"Excellent travail, mon ami, excellent travail."
Jean smirks. "Merci, Monsieur le Ministre."
The Minister then turns to Astrid and bows, pressing his lips to the back of her hand with respect. "I have heard a lot about you, Mademoiselle. Jean says you are the most competent element of his team."
Astrid smiles politely, embarrassed, while next to her Camille looks thunderous, her eyes burning with anger. Xavier, too, looks furious, his jaw clenched and his hands balled into fists.
"Now," Goldberg releases Astrid's hand a moment too late for mere politeness, "you must all be wondering why you have been asked to come here. It has come to our attention that while you are fighting for the freedom of France, others persist in collaborating with the enemy; after three years of negotiation within our government and, since a year or so, with our liaison members in the United Kingdom, we have decided to use one of our best assets."
He claps his hands together, and the doors open again to a minuscule creature, all in knots and knobbles, with ashen skin dulled even more by two bright, obsidian eyes.
"A house elf?" Astrid questions disbelievingly, the only one to recognise it.
"A mountain elf, actually. Its family have been at the service of the Ministry for centuries. How much do you know about these creatures?"
"They're very rare beings," Camille starts hesitantly. "Found only in the Corsican massif, they result – according to popular legends – of the union between the sky and the mountains, are immensely loyal and this through generations, and they have a power far greater than most creatures."
"Precisely," Goldberg nods enthusiastically. "One of their capacities is the one to take away magic from wizards, and this is what we are going to use to our advantage."
"Pardon?" Johanna speaks up for the first time. "Do you mean that you will use this against people who do not work on our side?"
"That cannot possibly be legal."
"We are at war, Mademoiselle. Rules change."
Johanna opens her mouth again to speak, but Camille touches her hand briefly, silently advising against it. Satisfied, the Minister continues his explanations.
"All resistant units are progressively being informed of this new development, and, according to the location of each, we are giving out the names of the witches and wizards you should capture and bring back to us."
"Is this entirely experimental, or have some missions shown true results previously?" Jean enquires, reflecting on his gain of power if he is the first to manage such a thing.
"We have managed this before, and the files will be given to you so you have an idea on how the missions were completed. My secretary will give the files to you before you are directed to the rooms you have been attributed for the night."
The doors open again, an invitation for the group to leave. They all easily understand that this meeting also served as a warning: if they ever are to change their minds, no matter their previous actions, the punishment will apply to them as well.
"C'est quoi ces conneries?" Camille explodes to Jean once they reach the rooms they will be staying in for the night. Astrid, Johanna and Xavier are unpacking in their respective rooms. "How dare you say Astrid is the most competent element of us all? Even if she was, do you realise what that makes the rest of us look like? On top of everything else, Astrid didn't have a single mission to her active until today, which means that you lied about her!"
"Camille…" Jean warns in an undertone.
"Lying about Astrid and making her valued in the eyes of the Minister will not get her into your bed," Camille says darkly. "In his, perhaps, though I daresay she has more sense than that, but in yours certainly not."
"Enough! You will cease your insinuations immediately!" Jeans commands. Camille laughs bitterly, defiant.
"You can send me on missions, order me to commit murders or thefts, make me brew whichever potion you like because you cannot do so yourself, but you are incapable of stopping me from thinking as I wish."
Xavier is the last to walk into the room where everyone has converged for a meeting, and the tension is almost palpable, enveloping everyone in a thick blanket of discomfort and irritation.
He attempts to break the silence, or at least give himself an excuse to leave the room. "Can I look at the files we were given?"
"Of course," Jean summons them from the other end of the room with his wand, ignoring Camille sitting directly to his left.
There are six files in total, and each person takes one, leaving one unattended. Astrid is the first to finish reading, and seizes the remaining file from the centre of the table.
The first element to jump at her are the words stamped in red across the page: ELEMINATED. The notes are brief: refusal to speak… very resistant to pain… did not last until the end of the removal process… heart failure… probable previous cardiac deficiency…
She continues to skim over the words, a little more disgusted with each paragraph, and for the first time since she has decided to join the resistance, she doubts the rightfulness of her combat.
A/N: I am so sorry this has taken so long! This was a horribly difficult chapter to write, as you can imagine. Thanks to Arithmancy_Wiz and LovlyRita for coping with my questions about Johanna's flashback, and apologies to them because the original version was much, much worse than this was.
The title of this chapter, La Faiseuse d'Anges, literally means 'The Angel Maker', but was a term referring to women who illegally helped pregnant women abort -- abortion used to be forbidden by the law.
The next chapter will be exclusively about Simon and his family, and is entirely a flashback. I'm going to try to update a little faster this time!
What did you think of the small scene between Camille and Xavier? Anyone rooting for them? What about the Minister? Like him, dislike him? Removing magic from wizards who don't cooperate? What about Jean, lying for Astrid - do you think Camille is correct on this one?
Let me know your thoughts/theories/requests for future scenes/favourite quotes in a review! ♥
Excusez-moi, monsieur. Excuse me, sir.
Monsieur le Maire. Mr Mayor -- this doesn't real.
Monsieur Goldberg vous attend. Mr. Goldberg is waiting for you.
Suivez-moi. Follow me.
Excellent travail, mon ami, excellent travail. Excellent work, my friend, excellent work.
Merci, Monsieur le Ministre. Thank you, Minister.
C'est quoi ces conneries? What is this bullshit?
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