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Sevenfold by Lululuna
Chapter 6 : ember in your name
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4


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Chapter Six
ember in your name





Beautiful image by milominderbinder at TDA.


Nurmengard Prison, Germany, 1943

Ruth Kaufmann is not doing very well. She is ill, sick from the damp of the prison and the meager rations and water and her grief for those she had known and loved for those who had died on the other side of the fortress wall in the extermination station. Ada wishes she could comfort her friend. She longs to hold the frail hand, or to wipe the chilled sweat from the fevered face. When Ada looks at Ruth across the corridor she sees a girl who had once been healthy and lively growing more and more gaunt and skeletal by the day, and it hurts her like nothing else had during the last miserable year of surviving in her dismal cell.

The only thing which seems to steadily cheer Ruth up is Ada’s memories of her accomplishments as the sevenfold killer - though of course with that one exception which the old friends never spoke of. Ada had been surprised yet impressed by the bloodthirsty fervour in which Ruth had relished the tale of the death of Madame la Douloureuse, until Ada remembered with a hollow ache that Ruth, too, had lost people to that dreadful mansion. When Ruth seemed to grow tired of this story, Ada had moved onto the memory of how she targeted her next victim.

“I can’t believe you killed two people at once,” Ruth says. “And that you left them there, for everyone to see… it is just wondrous.” Her voice was full and thick with longing.

“Indeed – I suppose it was like giving the middle finger to der Meister and his beautiful government,” Ada says, making an obscene hand gesture and moving to the window so her friend can see. It is worth it to hear Ruth’s giggle chiming through the dark cell, though the old Ada Treuherzig, before she was the sevenfold killer, would never had done such a crude thing. She imagines her parents and grandfather looking down on her from Paradise and clicking their tongues. She thinks of them often – she wonders whether or not they are proud of her or not.

“Tell me the story again,” Ruth begs, coughing into her hands. By the sounds of things, she seems to wipe her hands on the bedclothes, spluttering slightly. Ada fears that Ruth may have caught one of the ravaging, quick-spreading diseases which travel like the dark through enclosed, cramped quarters such as these. It was only a wonder that Ada herself had not been stricken – God knew she had prayed for a quick death many times throughout her time at Nurmengard, though she sometimes changes her mind and begs Him to keep her alive, so that she might snub der Meister by surviving.

“Well, my initial intention was to target one of der Meister’s top dogs – that dreadful traitor, Herr Nacht.” Even his name feels like dirt in Ada’s mouth. Herr Nacht was the worst kind of politician, slick and snide-faced as they come. He had kept his position from the former magical government of the empire and somehow clung to his place by betraying his old colleagues and siding with der Meister, and his somber, pale face was usually found hovering behind der Meister’s tall, sly figure in promotional photographs and propaganda which were spread about the magical regions of the empire.

But the thing Ada hated most about Herr Nacht were the stories of what he did to young women whom were deemed to be traitors. He was married, yes, but he also had an appetite for young flesh, and such had been the fate of another girl Ada had gone to school with when the girl was only nineteen. The girl’s family had been loyal to der Meister, kind and honest folk who merely wished to protect themselves, and Herr Nacht had used and soiled the daughter like a possession and left her in shame, a fallen woman who had thought she would benefit greatly from being with the great man - possibly, she had even loved him. But Ada had seen the poor girl on the street – many hated her for her fidelity to the enemy, and Herr Nacht himself shunned the girl and her bastard child. Her family crept away, fearing for their safety, but the girl and the child stayed in Zauberei Dorf, hoping that the mighty man might acknowledge and provide for them. This was a terrible story, a terrible fate, and one Ada was very aware happened to many fearful young women, from many boastful wizards and soldiers. She had decided that the problem began with Herr Nacht, and his death would send a message.

“I am told that when he heard about the child, he laughed, and said the woman would be best to drown herself in the river like the… the…” Ada finds herself unable to complete the sentence – to speak ill of the honest dead was a sin she was not willing to touch, even when quoting somebody far worse than she. The river was known as the place where fallen women fled to end their suffering.

Ruth nods. Her golden hair is very thin and stringy now, and when the rare light shines in through the barred windows the sun seems to tangle itself in the thin frizz. They have not been brought food since the night before, nor has anybody come to take away the chamber pots, and the dank smell of human waste and unwashed bodies has become normal for the girls. Sometimes, Ada hears the sounds of the prisoners kept above her, and she wonders who they are: for though their corridor is empty, Nurmengard can hold hundreds. She wonders if any of her old professors are here, particularly the ones who were advocates for Muggleborn rights, or if the old German Minister for Magic or members of those fallen Ministries of the conquering Third Reich are being housed here.

“But you could not find Herr Nacht in the Ministry,” Ruth prodded, drawing Ada away from her senses. “Instead, you found the deputy Minister and his lackey-”

“Yes,” Ada says. “I was dressed as a cleaning woman – they never suspected me. And of course I knew who they were. The ironic part was that Herr Machtig was Herr Nacht’s competition for der Meister’s favour – it truly was the perfect set up. Herr Nacht got the silent blame, and he didn’t suspect that he would be targeted as well.”

“How funny it is, the divisions which exist between them,” Ruth says quietly. “You exploited a great flaw, my dear friend.”

“I did,” Ada says. She thinks of Herr Machtig and Herr Grosse – her third and her fourth kill. They had been the perfect distractions from her plan of destroying Herr Nacht – fate, truly, had put them in her path that night. She had killed them as swiftly and carefully as she had taken the lives of Gregore Gottschalk and Madame la Douloureuse, and she had left their bodies hanging from two conjured ropes from the great pillars of the German Ministry for Magic, swinging back and forth, their faces dumb and bloated.

This insult was too much for the secret police, and Ada’s pride, her desire for recognition for her deeds, would be her undoing. She shed the red ribbons upon her victims’ chests, and when the bodies were found the alarm was sounded for the mysterious killer who traveled in shadows and killed in such extraordinary ways. They started calling her the red ribbon killer.

There were rumors about Herr Machtig that Ada had not known when she killed him – whispers that he was under the Imperius Curse, that his true self was buried beneath the mechanical puppet, that she had killed a good man. There was some uproar from certain camps in the streets who claimed Machtig was a spy, and some of the more paranoid people who had rejoiced in the deaths of her first two victims had turned against her. Sitting in her cell, Ada wondered if, as she looked into his eyes and drew her wand against his throat, if there was a hint of something there – of the true man looking back out at her, if the gleam in his face was blankness from the curse, or emptiness from the crimes he had committed, or perhaps even a look of being grateful. Ada killed him all the same.

“If I had let him live, he would have kept hurting people, whether cursed or not,” she says quietly to Ruth. The name Erik hangs between them. Erik by the lake, his nose in a book, his crooked teeth nibbling at his thin lips, Erik sharing his cakes with Ruth, whose petite nose was smudged with chocolate. Erik’s light hair shining in the rare Northern winter sun. Erik’s wild laugh when her fingers moved lightly against his ribs, pushing her away , tugging on her plait. And only once, before they left the school for good, a graze of a kiss, his warm mouth against her own.

“I am sorry,” Ada whispers. There is one image she cannot bring to mind, though she knows it was true: Erik’s thin lips set in a stern grimace, his wand extended in a sharp salute, straightened elbow, der Meister’s badge glinting from his robes.

Wartime stripped people of their power of choice. Ada has never been sure if she can be counted among those whose actions could have been changed.

“I am sorry,” she whispers again. Erik’s still form upon the cobblestones of the town they had all loved, hands folded peacefully upon the red ribbon on his chest.

Ada curls the thin blanket up around her knees. There is no reply from Ruth.

**



July 14th, 2027, London

Three days have passed since that very, very long one when Umbridge’s body was discovered. Emily and the Necrowizard team confirm that the victim was dead before she was pushed out the window, although they cannot discern much else other than that her body was very feeble and her heart very weak.

Eugenie Bones and I have an interview with Albert Runcorn, one of our initial suspects for the Crouch murder due to his access to Azkaban the day Crouch’s body was found. The man is cold and unhelpful – it is clear that he knows we are investigating him for possible murder, and he complains that he has an election coming up and really has no reason for this pointless nonsense.

“I would not waste my time and sacrifice my freedom for the sake of destroying a worthless prisoner,” he says as we leave. Bones and I glance at one another as we pass from his office to the Department of International Affairs. I see Bones look down at her shoes – a most uncharacteristic gesture – as we pass by Theodore Nott, the candidate Runcorn is backing in the coming election. His pale, ratlike face seems to follow us as we step in front of the lifts, and I glance back over my shoulder.

“You really hate that bloke, don’t you?” I ask Bones as the lift door closes behind us. She shrugs, and again I get the feeling I am forgetting something important – the same feeling I had two nights ago at the Leaky Cauldron after speaking with Hannah Longbottom, Emily’s mum.

“I dislike a lot of people,” Bones replies, shuffling from foot to foot. She moves her glasses up on top of her head again. “That man… well, he’s a corrupt politician, and the son of a Death Eater. I know times have changed, and it’s not fair to blame the son for the sins of the father… all that. We are not our parents. But I do think it would be best to wait a generation or two before allowing great power to former pureblood supremacists.”

“I suppose that seems legitimate enough,” I say. “When I’ve finished writing up the report for the Runcorn interview, I was thinking of popping by the Shining Gurdyroot, say hello to my grandparents, perhaps examine the scene of the crime a bit. That alright with you?”

Bones gives me permission, saying that she’s going to spend the afternoon seeing if there’s any connection between Malfoy, our other original suspect, and Umbridge. If we can connect the motives to the victims and discover whether the suspect has a link with the sevenfold killer, wrapping up this case should be easy enough. The danger, of course, is if the killer has been misleading us all along. If so, if history repeats itself, then five more people are going to die.

I run into Molly in the atrium and ask her whether she’s learned anything from her research into Ada Treuherzig. Molly chatters excitedly about the third and fourth murders, explaining how Ada killed them nearly by accident.

“Maybe we could see if any particular wizards fit the criteria of the third and fourth victims?” she whispers, pulling me down to sit beside her on the ledge of the fountain in the atrium of the Ministry. I nod, and tell her this is a good direction to follow up on. She also is very excited to tell me she has a lead on somebody who could give us more intimate information about the sevenfold killer, though she doesn’t specify if this person is a scholar or another Auror. I nod and give her my official blessing to contact whom she might.

“I explained the whole theory to Uncle Harry, but he got very quiet and uncomfortable. You know how he feels… well, about things involving deaths and the number seven.”

“He should man up, he’s a freaking Auror,” Molly says, popping her chewing gum. I roll my eyes.

“Molls, I’m going to pop in round Grandad and Nana’s. Do you fancy coming with?”

My cousin considers for a moment, then shrugs. “I better not, I want to look at profiles of Ministry workers today, just in case the killer is planning to strike soon.” I give her the thumbs-up: this is excellent work ethic. “Also, I was wondering… your partner, Eugenie?”

“Bones,” I correct immediately, then blush. “She likes to be called Bones by people who don’t know her very well.”

“Whatever,” Molly says, laughing. “I was just wondering if…well, you know, she’s very cool, and really pretty. Is she single, and if so… does she like… well?”

“Girls?” I ask, a sinking feeling in my gut. The immediate instinct is to tell Molly no, of course not, and to back off, though I can’t quite make sense of those feelings. Merlin knows Bones has never shown any particular attraction to me – or to any witch or wizard, that I’ve seen. “Erm… I don’t know, Molly. Maybe owl Teddy and ask – they were in the same year, he might know more about who she dates… but she’s too busy to date anybody right now.”

“Alright, father,” Molly says, and smirks. She squeezes my arm. “I’m really excited about this case – is it a little bizarre that I’m almost excited to see who the killer targets next?” She whispers this last bit, eyes gleaming, and for a moment I am a little afraid of her.

“Yes, Molly, that is bizarre. And please don’t say things like that to any other Auror,” I tell her sternly.

“You know I’m only joshing.” Molly says, shrugging. “Also, you should know that Rose is angry with you for investigating her boyfriend’s father. She wanted me to tell you.”

“Wait… how do you about that?”

“I heard you and Bones talking in the archives, and I suppose Malfoy complained to his kid,” Molly says nonchalantly. “Rose said Scorpius – I didn’t even know they were dating, did you? – Scorpius is worried about his father’s safety. I’ve been looking at the profile of the sevenfold murders to see if he has reason to.”

“Hopefully it won’t get that far,” I tell her. “We’re going to catch this person – and that’s why we need you to keep your bloody mouth shut and keep doing research. Please. And yeah, I knew about Rose and little Malfoy – James was going on about it. Something about Malfoy having short legs.” Molly nods, and I roll my eyes as she bounces off in the direction of the archives. Clearly this case is meant to be a family affair, despite my best intentions.

My path through the atrium to the Apparating zone is interrupted by a couple people handing out fliers with the faces of the contenders for the upcoming Minister election. I scowl when I see the first one – a piece of green parchment with a photograph of Theodore Nott grimacing up from it, the stern, familiar face of Runcorn hovering behind him. I really need to update myself on the politics of the candidates, I think, somewhat guiltily. For an Auror trainee, my knowledge of political affairs is rather weak.

This self-reflection is interrupted when a huge, burly man in a suit steps in front of me. He looks very tight and uncomfortable, like a large gorilla who has been squeezed into clothing against his will, and his piggy little eyes and scowl reflect these sentiments. He shoves a piece of paper into my hand, muttering something about “vote Thicknesse, small fry,” then shoves me slightly out of the way to hand a flier to an approaching witch.

The man must be about my parents’ age, perhaps a little younger. The green badge of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is on his chest. Raising my eyebrows slightly, I stuff the other flier into my pocket and move away.

**



Nana presses a biscuit and cup of tea into my hands, before slowly settling down on the sofa beside me. The couch sags beneath her weight. Her gray hair is tied up in a tiny bun, and she’s wearing a flowery apron which I remember from my childhood over a neat set of robes. She smells like cinnamon and soap on old skin. Grandad came out and sat with us for lunch, but he’s having a lie-down in the bedroom in my grandparents’ flat at the Shining Gurdyroot.

“Louis, dear, it is such an honour for you to be working with Eugenie Bones,” Nana says, beaming at me. She has gained weight with the years, and rocks back in the sofa beside me, warm and round against my arm. “I don’t know how often your parents say it, but Grandad and I are so, so proud of you. And seeing the way you handled the issue this week…” She purses her lips. “Very well done, love.”

“Thanks,” I tell her, grinning and taking a nibble of the biscuit. It’s the dry, crumbly kind, which immediately trickles little scraps onto the front of my shirt. “I’m really enjoying it.”

After grilling me about my love life – on which I keep silent, as there is absolutely no way I’m telling my grandmother about Lucretia – Nana brings out some old photo albums. We laugh at a photograph of my grandparents, uncles, father and aunt as youngsters, waving, with the Egyptian pyramids in the background. My dad must be about my age, with long red hair hanging down his back and his familiar, large-toothed grin. Nana traces her fingers carefully over two identical faces in particular.

“George refuses to tell me who is who here, and it’s too small for me to figure it out,” she sighs. I smile. It’s so strange to see how there were once two of my uncle George, as frankly, one is often pretty overwhelming. We move through the album to an image of my Uncles Ron and Harry and my Aunt Hermione at the Quidditch world cup – the boys are sporting large shamrocks and have chocolate smeared on their faces, while Aunt Hermione’s bushy hair keeps getting in Ron’s tiny face, causing his photographic self to wrestle out of the way. Then there are pictures from my parents’ wedding day (“before the Death Eaters showed up, of course”) and Victoire’s baby pictures.

“She looks a lot like Ginny as a baby,” Nana says thoughtfully. “Whereas I believe Dominique takes after your mother’s side of the family.”

“Except in personality,” I comment. Dominique is a wildcard in that respect. “And I look like neither a Delacour nor a Weasley, I suppose.” I pretend to sigh dramatically.

Nana shrugs. “As for you, dear, I think I know who you take after.” She rises shakily to her feet and shuffles carefully across the room, bending so low over the bookshelf that I’m afraid she’s going to tip over, and wince, asking whether she needs a hand. She lives here with Grandad all the time, I remind myself. You can’t baby her just because you’re here once every two weeks.

This is an older photo album, one I haven’t seen before. Nana’s fingers trail over the pages, and she opens it to show me a grinning image of two little boys, not older than ten, with cheeky grins on their faces and wearing swimming trunks. The background is a creek where water flows over little rocks, deep enough to wade in.

“This one,” Nana says, and places her fingers lightly around the younger boy. I peer a little closer – he has a thin, angular face, hair which shines in the glow from the sun despite the black and white quality of the photograph, and dimples. “See – this was my brother Gideon, Louis. I’ve always thought you took after him. You have similar personalities in a way as well. Gid was very analytical… he was thoughtful, he noticed all of the little things. And…he had a bit of a sudden temper. He could be rash when the occasion called for it.” She pats my arm to let me know this isn’t a complaint. "He just lacked your sense of calm and control, on occasion."

“Gideon and Fabian were in the first Order of the Phoenix, weren’t they?” I ask, looking down at the smiling boys. If the brothers had lived, they would be over seventy. “Dad says he remembers them. I guess he was really young when they were killed, but he still remembers.”

Nana sighs, her eyes going slightly misty. I wonder how many times she has cried over these long ago brothers of hers. She turns the page – Gideon puffing out his chest in Gryffindor Quidditch robes. Fabian kissing the cheek of a pretty, round-faced woman. And finally, a picture of the first Order of the Phoenix.

“That was Alastor Moody – he was an Auror, of course you’ll know all about him,” Nana says. The scar-faced man’s artificial eye whirs inside the photograph. He seems to train its gaze on the rat-faced man standing beside him. I find the Prewett brothers immediately, and am struck, now that Nana has mentioned it, by the resemblance between Gideon and myself. She’s right – there’s something in our faces which is very similar, and I’m sure it would be all the more apparent in person.

“This was Dorcas Meadowes – she was a great witch, really lovely woman. She was killed by You-Know-Who himself.” Even years after the war, Nana feels more comfortable avoiding the Dark Lord’s true name. “And Benjy Fenwick. He was a schoolmate of your grandfather’s. “Dumbledore, of course.” My cousin Albus’ namesake twinkles back up at me, and I recognize him from my collection of Chocolate Frog cards – I’ve got about six of him from my years of collecting as a child.

A round, pale face framed by dark hair catches my eye. “Who is that, Nana?”

She follows my fingers. “That was Edgar Bones, Louis,” she says, smiling a little wistfully. “Funny you should pick him out of the group, as he’s the…well, I suppose the great-uncle of your partner, Eugenie.”

“Yeah? What happened to him?”

Nana sighs. “The Bones were essentially wiped out by You-Know-Who’s followers, dear. Edgar and his wife, his children and his parents were all killed a year before the war ended after a raid. It was truly horrible. And his sister and her husband – those would be Eugenie’s grandparents, were murdered a few months later, leaving little baby Susan – Eugenie’s mother, she was in your Uncle Ron’s year – to be raised by Amelia Bones. Amelia was the Head of Magical Law Enforcement for several years until she was killed at the beginning of the Second War. The Dark Lord killed her himself.”

“That is horrible,” I say, thinking of Bones – Eugenie, that is. She has mentioned her mother, Susan a couple of times – I know that she does something at St. Mungo’s and is friends with Emily’s mum, Hannah. Eugenie has never mentioned her father, though presumably she kept her mother’s last name for some particular reason. I calculate rapidly. Bones mentioned her mother got pregnant with her while she was still at Hogwarts – perhaps she lost contact with the father, or he was killed during the war. I find myself wishing Eugenie were here so I could hold her hand, or give her a hug – to grow up with so little family is something beyond my understanding. My own family lost a lot during the war, but Eugenie and her mother are the only ones left. I think of her – pushing her glasses up out of her eyes to perch on top of her head.

“You-Know-Who left very few of us unscarred,” Nana says. Her voice is very quiet as she looks down at the photograph. I take her brown-spotted hand and squeeze it gently.

**



July 15th, 2027

The next evening, though I have full intentions of spending the night poring over the Runcorn papers and coming up with hypotheses for motives, Emily Longbottom has other plans. I come home to find her curled up on the couch, wearing a blue dress and her legs stretched out on the coffee table, a glass of red wine held in her hands. The morning rain has receded, and a bright, cumbersome evening sun streams in through the windows, illuminating highways of light across the living area.

“Finally,” Emily says, swinging her legs off the table and curling them underneath her. “Where were you last night? I dropped by Molly and she had said that you left the Ministry hours ago – also, she’s really excited about this new lead on the case she has and she wants to speak with you. She's mental, I can't even talk to her when she's that excited. And Rose is pissed at you for suspecting her boyfriend’s dad.”

“I’ve heard,” I groan, dumping my papers on the table. “And I went round to see my grandparents at the Shining Gurdyroot. They were a little shaken up by the incident, but seemed happy enough.”

“Oh, my Dad went to visit my own grandparents too,” Emily says. “To see if they’re still settling in well. He goes every few days to check in. They’re on the top security floor, of course, though they have no clue about all the excitement. Did you see him there?”

I shake my head, grabbing an apple from the covered fruit bowl and going to rinse it in the sink. Emily takes another sip of wine, choking on it slightly and coughing, her cheeks turning a pretty shade of pink. I sink down on the sofa beside her and pat her on the back until she swats my hand away.

“Your lips and teeth are purple from the wine,” I tell her, moving my arm back to rest around her shoulders. She bares her stained teeth at me and takes another sip, this one flowing down a little more smoothly.

“Louis, remember how I wanted to tell you something the other day, when you were over at the pub? But then your family showed up and you lot left, and I’ve been stuck in the morgue since?”

“Oh, right. What’s up?” I grab her round, shiny ponytail at the root and shake it so the ends of her hair tickle her neck. Emily giggles.

“You are such a weirdo. Alright, well… just so you know, Quentin asked me out. And I said yes, and the rest of the apprentices are coming to the bar tonight, and you should come.”

I release my grip on her hair, moving my hand back to the couch. “Erm, you mean Quentin Chang-Lu? Mr. Perfect...perfect prefect Auror...?”

Emily blushes again, shrugging her shoulders up towards her ears. “We’ve been hanging out a little bit lately, and we went out to dinner and drinks a few nights ago,” she says. “And...things happened. He was always a decent mate, and he’s really good-looking, and… oh, what? Stop looking at me like that. It could be worse. I could be dating Mickey McLaggen. Or Ermengarde.”

“Those would be worse,” I allow. “But Quentin? I mean, where were you when he was chasing after all those older girls during our trainee years?” I sigh. “Look, blokes are only out for some action. I don’t want you to get treated like that.”

Emily flushes, pulling away from me. “Then maybe you shouldn’t treat girls like that either,” she says. “When was the last time you talked to Lucretia about something other than when your next shag is going to be? Well, I’m an adult and I can judge Quentin’s character for myself. He’s a good boy.”

“I reckon he is,” I say, putting as much venom into my voice as possible. Emily rolls her eyes, knuckles white around her glass.

“So are you going to come out with us tonight?”

“Since when is there an us?” I laugh scornfully, resisting the urge to yawn. Emily looks down. “Don’t you remember how the others looked down on us when we were passed over by the dark wizard catchers? How they think being a Necrowitch is a waste of your Auror training…Ermengarde’s eyes practically popped out, she was so intent on staring down her nose at you. And McLaggen big oily fucking face, his pimples were going to explode from self-pride…” This time I do yawn, giving Emily the chance to interrupt me.

“Enough, enough!” Emily covers her ears, then stands, placing her half-full glass of wine on the coffee table. Her voice rises. “Well, thanks for listening, I guess. You were just so understanding and lovely, Louis. Bloody thanks. I’m going to go out and… and go snog my gorgeous new boyfriend, with tongue. And get so drunk I feel like being sick into a body cavity. Just to make you happy. And you can have a beautiful time sitting here and being miserable and wishing you could snog Eugenie. But you won’t, because she’s way out of your league!” She pulls on her cardigan and scowls at me, hand on the doorknob.

“Who said I wanted to bloody snog Eugenie?” I growl back at her, my heart quickening against my ribs and my face heating up against my will. “I am insulted you would speak of a girl like her in such a crap way. She’s three times the witch you will ever be.” My eyes are squinting a little bit, and my body sinking into the couch. I know that if I weren't tired I would be a little more understanding, but something about Emily really irks me tonight.

To my irritation, Emily laughs cruelly at these words, but in such a way which makes me want to laugh at myself and apologize, say it was all a joke, give her a hug and give Quentin my blessing. But there’s something very obstinate in her face which makes me raise my eyebrows at the door, indicating she should leave.

“You’re just being pathetic,” Emily shoots back, and then slams the door behind her, her feet stomping on the stairs. I hear her curse and shout something about a cat in the stairwell – no doubt Mrs. Trickle from downstairs has left her front door open again.

As soon as Emily’s footsteps fade, I regret being so rude, but decide to patch things up in the morning. But instead of working on analyzing the case, I find myself stewing over her words. Do I really want to snog Eugenie Bones? And then – well, would she ever want to snog me? Fat chance of that, mate. Oi, lay off. You’re a good-looking guy, even if the Taryntula says you have arms like spaghetti and a chest like a scarecrow. I shake my head. Inner dialogue with myself never leads to anything.

“Are you talking to yourself again?” James asks, slinging a bag onto the table. He’s wearing his uniform robes from the restaurant, which are stained with what looks like alfredo sauce. He sits down on the sofa which Emily vacated before the night set in, tossing me a bag of Muggle crisps. I stretch out my stiff legs in front of me and move some papers off the sofa so he can do the same.

“Maybe. I’m just… not sure what I’m feeling… in terms of girls, yeah?”

“I’m with you,” my cousin says, shoving several crisps into his mouth. “Girls are just so… moody, you know? Taryn popped by work today and was complaining about how you didn’t walk Lucretia home the other night and so she had to do that first and come by ours later. She really dislikes you. She doesn’t think you’re ‘good enough’ for Lucretia.”

“Great. I’ll inform my bed to expect more spiders.”

James chortles, wiping salt off his face. “And I saw Alfie Peakes again – he’s hurt you didn’t owl him after our first encounter, but I said you’d been real busy with work. He wants to jam. He broke up with his boyfriend before coming back to London and says he’s in need of a new wingman. I volunteered myself, of course, but he says it’s just not the same.”

I grin. Alfie is always a laugh, though he can be a little shy. Hey, for all I can tell he’s a pretty good-looking guy who shouldn’t need a wingman, but to each his own.

“I’ll owl him tomorrow, as long as there are no more damned murders,” I tell James, and steal another crisp. I then proceed to tell him about the argument with Emily, to which he nods wisely and says that she shouldn’t be dating a bloke like Quentin Chang-Lu and she should be focusing on her work for the Aurors. Done and done.

I excuse myself to James after the crisp bag is finished and I feel a little better about everything. I gather up the last of my papers, knowing that even though James probably wouldn’t look, it’s technically illegal to leave information like this lying around for those not involved in the case to read. When I reach the door to my room, he calls me back.

“Oi, mate, you forgot this paper. It was wedged in the seat cushions.” He unravels the letter and glances at it. “Why are you asking Uncle George about the invisibility products?”

“It’s for the case – we’re trying to figure out who might have access to an invisibility cloak last week, but George hasn’t sold any in the allotted time frame,” I tell him, deciding this information is fairly innocent.

James laughs. “Well, there’s always my dad’s invisibility cloak,” he says, licking his fingers and then running them along the bottom of the crisp bag. “I asked if I could use it for a … thing last week, but he said he’d lent it to a friend.” He licks the salt off his fingers. “Goodnight, Louis.”

I spend the night pondering this thought, wondering if I am ridiculous for doubting my uncle. In the early hours of the morning I finally drift asleep, and in my dreams Quentin Chang-Lu and Emily are waltzing across the dead bodies of Grindelwald’s followers and Emily’s dress is as red as the ribbons of the sevenfold killer and Molly and Eugenie are cackling over a book like two hags from a fairytale and James is trying to braid the crisps into my hair and Dominique’s boyfriend Steak has a steak for a head and keeps dancing the Macarena.

And when I wake up, there’s an urgent owl waiting for me at my bedroom window. I open the letter with trembling, bleary fingers, and groan with suspense and dread – there has been another murder, and this time I have failed to protect two people.


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