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Chapter 4 : La Rafle
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Sarah, Joseph and Deborah.
Heart-breaking CI by abendrot. @TDA
Paris, France, 16th of July 1942.
"Are there any Jews in here?"
The loud thundering on the door brutally drags the Ziegler family out of its already precarious sleep. Joseph hurries to open it, arriving face to face with a French policeman who looks irritated already. He gives Joseph one look, taking in the yellow star sown to the man's jumper, hastily thrown over a pair of too-short pyjamas, and his frown deepens.
"You have half an hour," he barks. "Twenty kilos luggage maximum, vite! And food to feed yourselves for two days!"
Joseph sighs as the door closes and the same instructions are repeated down the corridor. He has been expecting this, but not as rapidly, not as brutally. Simon, who has just walked in, has heard the entire exchange, and places a comforting hand on his father's shoulder.
"It'll be alright, Father. I'll help Esther and Sarah."
Joseph smiles sadly at his only son. "Thank you, Simon."
Simon narrowly misses walking into his mother when they cross each other in the narrow hallway. Deborah Ziegler is still in her night robe, tears filling her pale eyes. Impulsively, Simon reaches to her and pulls her into his arms, his mother's pregnant stomach complicating this task.
"Don't cry, Mama. They say they're taking us to a special territory east of Germany, a territory just for us. Pitchipoï." The word rolls off his tongue uneasily – it is a Yiddish term he has heard being thrown around by the elderly Jews who live on the floor below the Ziegler's, which he does not fully understand the meaning of.
Deborah wipes her eyes with the back of her hand, and tries to look resolved. "I'm just worried for the baby – I hope I'll deliver in suitable conditions."
"I'm sure you will. The Nazis are violent, but they aren't monsters." Simon kisses her cheek, then leaves and pushes his way into the tiny room he shares with his sisters.
"Esther! Sarah! Get up," he shakes them both urgently. "We're leaving."
While they drowsily emerge from their sleep, Simon takes his father's military backpack off the top of the wardrobe. They should be back soon, he considers: there is no point in packing winter clothes. A light cardigan should suffice.
There is not much to take, and the bag is quickly full. He leaves his sisters to dress in peace, and drops the bag next to the one his father has prepared already. Behind them, Deborah shuffles around the kitchen, collecting bread and the last of their boiled potatoes, a leftover of the night before.
"Can I take my teddy with me?" Sarah appears, her shirt hanging out of her skirt. For an eleven-year old, she is very small, and the lack of proper food is not doing her any good. She has gone back to behaving younger than she really is, having regular nightmares and wetting the bed. The only times where neither happens is when Simon lets her sleep in his bed along with Esther. They have no space, squished together like a flock of chicks, and Simon has not been able to have a full night of sleep in weeks, but this is a detail as long as his sisters make it through the night without the fear of what awaits them in the morning.
"Yes, but hurry up," Joseph tucks the shirt in. "And put your shoes on!"
Esther arrives at the same time, her hair brushed and braided. She has tied with a simple piece of string instead of the pretty silk bows she usually employs, indicating that she has understood the gravity of the situation.
"Here," Deborah places a bowl of milk in front of her daughter. "We don't know when you'll have some next."
Esther obediently empties the bowl, which is immediately refilled by her mother as Sarah reappears, her battered toy tucked in the crook of her arm.
"Father," Simon asks Joseph quietly, losing his calm as their departure becomes imminent, "don't you think it would be safer to Disapparate?"
"Certainly not. We are French citizens, I fought for my country during the Great War, and nothing will happen to us, I'm sure of it."
Despite the fact that he has given his mother the same arguments minutes ago, cold fingers of dread stroke Simon's spine, too late.
Joseph picks up one of the bags, hands the other to Simon. He holds out a hand for Sarah, Esther helping Deborah out, and they clumber down the stairs into the courtyard. The bowl of milk is left, still half-full, on the table, lone and forgotten.
Downstairs, it is chaos. There are gendarmes everywhere, blocking all the exits, and Simon's hand twitches toward his wand. Joseph sees it, and places a firm hand on his son's arm, stopping him.
"Mama, what's happening over there?" Esther points with her chin to a corner of the courtyard where a crowd has formed. Several women are wailing, keeping their children away. Simon cranes his neck, trying to see, but Deborah catches him by the ear and pulls his head down before he tells his sisters anything.
"Adèle Blanc, she lives on the sixth floor," she whispers urgently. "She didn't want to be taken away, and she didn't want her children to be either."
Simon's eyes widen as he realises how this woman chose to escape, but he is left no time to think about it. The entire Ziegler family is ushered onto one of the buses requisitioned especially for this occasion, and whisked away through the empty streets of Paris, which morning has only just begun to brush its pale colours onto.
He wakes up with a start, shivering under his thin blanket. The wood of his bunk digs into his shoulder blades still aching from the day before. Simon winces as his movement reopens the gash left by a Nazi who thought he wasn't working hard enough. He feels like a walking bruise these days, ever since he has seen Esther and Sarah again. He has not told them that their father is dead. Why increase their pain?
Joseph Ziegler has been wiped off the face of the Earth as silently as he came; son, soldier, husband, father, forgotten by all but four who soon will be dust and ashes too – and I'm not even sure Mama is still alive, Simon thinks bitterly.
For the first time in months, he lets his thoughts wander to his friends in Caen. Would he still be free if his family had not fled to Paris, thinking they'd be safer there? Would he be sleeping on a proper bed? Would his little brother been born alive instead of dead? Would he have dared kiss Johanna, like he'd wished to do for so long, but never had the guts to?
Johanna… She probably never even saw Simon as more than a friend. She was everything: intelligent, beautiful, strong. Nothing stood in her way, and Simon had never seen her cry: not when her father was called to the front, not when she'd been called the Nazis' prostitute.
Not even when he'd left.
Mornings are always busy in the little apartment in Caen. Johanna is brewing tea with the last of their tea leaves, Camille is cleaning the dishes with her wand, Astrid is counting rationing tickets. On the other side of the room, Jean skims over a newspaper angrily, spitting out an occasional comment on how corrupt the press is, while Xavier cleans his pistol with an oily rag.
Everything is quiet, a comfortable silence (for the first time in weeks) floating in the room, when an owl swoops onto the windowsill, waiting to be allowed access. Jean, distracted by the noise of ruffled feathers, rushes to the window and lets the owl in. He has barely detached the letter from the owl's leg that it has already disappeared back where it came from.
Jean paces back and forth, reading the letter attentively, while everyone else in the room turns to him expectantly. There is a collective groan as Jean's face falls slowly, his eyes progressing down the page.
Then he crumples the parchment and throws it to the floor as he stalks out of the room, furious.
After a moment where no one dares move, there is a scramble of limbs, and the four remaining people make a lunge for it, elbowing each other out of the way. Xavier falls flat on his face as Astrid sends a trip jinx his way, and drags Johanna down in the process. Both then proceed to crawl across the floor to get there first, until Camille whisks out her wand and declares accio letter.
"Right," she clears her throat loudly, barely hiding her amusement. "Cher Monsieur Marchais, after our latest meeting with your group it has come to our knowledge that some of your elements are very valuable assets, and in these respects we wish to see them integrate the Ministerial Squadron in Paris. Please transmit this information to Mademoiselle Alban, who is required to Apparate to the Ministry Headquarters in four days. Having searched through her antecedents, we consider that she will make a very suitable teacher, and, as it happens, the school we have arranged for her to attend also hosts a German military casern. Mademoiselle Alban will receive further information upon her arrival."
Astrid pales as she realises what the letter means: she is being sent directly into the wolf's mouth, launched head-first into a Nazi nest, and this prospect terrifies her.
Yet despite the risks, she also feels some happiness at the thought of being sent on a long-term mission. It has been too long since she has done something that reminds her of life before the war, and it is a relief to go back to teaching after two years of not doing so, the limited human contact she has had for the past few months not being enough for her socialite personality.
Constant vigilance, she decides, will be her new motto, however, even more so than before.
"The letter is signed Paul Goldberg, Ministre de la Magie," Camille concludes. "Do you need help to pack?"
Astrid shakes her head – what she needs now is time alone to order her thoughts. Something nags at the back of her head, and she cannot help but cringe as she remembers the feel of the Minister's lips resting on the back of her hand.
"The class you will be teaching has twenty-five students, aged six to twelve. The levels vary, of course, but you'll find that they're a fairly homogenous group," the principal smiles as Astrid lets her eyes trail around the bright room. "I wanted to thank you, you know, for accepting the job so promptly. The Academy seemed to say you were extremely competent, so it's a stroke of luck for us to have you this soon."
"What happened to the person before me?"
"Ah," Mme Gauthier's eyes darken. "She apparently had a communist background, can you imagine? It could have damaged the reputation of the school had I not informed the German of this fact."
Astrid's heart plummets in her chest, but she keeps up the cool demeanour her mother taught her to master.
"Indeed, it is a good thing you did." Her tone has a bitter edge, but the principal notices nothing, and smiles once more.
"I think we've seen everything. If you have any questions, you know where to find me." She is starting to leave when she stops in her tracks, quite suddenly. "If ever… There are shooting practices sometimes, the children are used to them. Under no circumstances are they allowed out of the classroom if one is to occur. You call the head of class to the front, and leave to judge of the situation yourself, but the children must stay inside."
"Of course," Astrid nods. "That is the same for the school where I last taught."
"Yes, I would suppose so, though the Jura is at the other end of the country."
Along with forged documents, the Ministry has given Astrid a history far from Caen, to make it more difficult for her to be traced. So far, it seems to be a working strategy, because no questions have been brought up that Astrid was not able to answer.
"I'll let you discover the classroom then," Mme Gauthier pats Astrid on the shoulder before exiting the room for good.
She will like this place despite the threat represented by her superior, she knows that already as she takes in the blackboard, the crisp notebooks, the familiar smell of ink, coal and paper. If she closes her eyes, she can almost forget the war for a minute.
Shouts in German from outside drag her back into reality, and she moves to the window to watch some of the manoeuvres taking place. One particular soldier attracts her attention: he is much taller than the others, and is obviously an authority figure, considering the way the other men follow his every drill.
Well, Astrid considers, at least I know who to kill if I want to make an impression.
A/N: This is going to be another long author's note, sorry about that.
The title of this chapter refers to Simon's flashback, and also happens to be the title of a movie directed by Roselyne Bosch that came out in 2010. If you have the time and a lot of tissues, I'd advise you to watch it.
On the 16th of July 1942, over 7000 French gendarmes and policemen arrested 13.152 Jews (essentially non-French and stateless), including 4.115 children. They were all deported, and less than one hundred survived. There will be a development of this in one of the coming chapters, but I just couldn't write everything here.
Pitchipoï is the nickname given to the imaginary place where the Jewish people thought they were being taken.
What did you think of this chapter? Of the characters fooling around like children? Of Astrid being sent to Paris, and working with someone who is obviously not a resistant?
Finally, I want to dedicate this chapter to Amanda and Kiana for nominating this story in the Ravenclaw Diadem Awards, and to Arithmancy_Wiz for seconding the nominations ♥
Cher Monsieur Marchais, Dear Mr Marchais.
Mademoiselle Alban. Miss Alban.
Ministre de la Magie. Minister of Magic.
La Rafle. The Roundup.
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