Jack set the small piece of paper down and stared at it, thinking if he stared hard enough, the words might change. His cousin, Takeshi, was embedded in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion and had been fighting his way through Italy and Germany. Takeshi had a reputation in Sacramento for being a bit of a trickster, a fun-loving sort who enjoyed a good joke, even at his own expense. If anyone – Muggle or magical – crossed a line with Takeshi, they'd find out soon enough, as Takeshi didn't mind using his wand or fists to express his displeasure. Sometimes, people despaired of ever making Takeshi shut up long enough to get a word in edgewise, once he got on a roll with a story or joke. And Takeshi had a story for everything. So when the note appeared on Jack's desk, the chicken scratch that passed for penmanship with Takeshi clearly visible, his heart leapt with no small joy that his favorite cousin was still alive. He was more than a little startled to see a few lines: Come to the following coordinates. ASAP. Bring someone who can get into corners without being noticed. Just… be prepared, Jack. It's… I can't even describe it. Don't think I ever will. Makes Topaz look like a fucking resort.
The words blurred under Jack's intense scrutiny. He made as if to crumple the paper, but carefully refolded it along its lines and tucked it into his pocket. He wandered through the warren of battered metal desks until he came to his immediate superior. 'Major Tompkins?' he ventured.
Jack's fellow wizard glanced up, head wreathed with clouds of smoke. 'Hah?'
'Sir, I've received a message from a reputable source. They'd like me and someone of my choosing to investigate something in Germany.'
Tompkins shifted a half-smoked cigar to his other hand and jabbed a blunt finger at a map of Germany. 'Where?'
Jack lightly touched an area in southern Germany. 'There. Near Munich.'
Tompkins sighed heavily. 'Yeah. You should go. We've been hearin' some things trickling out of Poland that'll make your hair curl. More in the past few weeks since we found some of those…' The older man's throat bobbed as he swallowed heavily to stem a tide of nausea. 'Camps.' He nodded once and turned his attention to Jack. 'Take that English witch with you. The shape-shifter.'
'You mean the Scottish Animagus,' Jack corrected, mentally seething that someone as dense as Stuart Tompkins was in a position of authority. 'Sir.'
'Whatever. I'll clear it with her superiors today. I want the two of you and oh, might as well take Lt. Davis with you. Extra wand. Can't hurt to have some help.' He scrabbled in a desk drawer for a slip of paper. 'What's her name again? That witch?'
Jack bit back a sigh. 'Sub-Leader Minerva McGonagall.' His eyes narrowed slightly at Tompkins' blank expression and slowly spelled Minerva's name, watching as the man wrote it down with an untidy scrawl. Tompkins pinched the paper between his fingers and lurched to his feet. He crossed the room to a particularly scarred wooden desk, opened the top left drawer, and dropped the paper into it. He closed the drawer and tapped it twice in rapid succession with his wand. Jack fingers beat a nervous tattoo against the side of his leg, as he anxiously awaited the arrival of the reply from Edward Hawley, Minerva's superior at Windsor.
Tompkins grunted as he drew on the cigar and blew a lazy series of smoke rings in Jack's direction. 'Starin' at that desk ain't gonna make Hawley reply any faster,' he said sardonically. He chewed the end of his cigar. 'What regiment's your source in?'
Jack only briefly hesitated. 'The 522nd,' he replied.
Tompkins moved the cigar to the other side of his mouth. 'Ain't they with the 442nd?' Jack eyed the older wizard, searching carefully for any hint of condescension about the all-Japanese regiment. He found nothing, other than casual interest.
Tompkins removed the cigar from his mouth and tapped the ash into a charmed ashtray on his desk. 'Good group,' he commented. 'Don't hold nothin' back.' He leaned back in his creaky wooden chair. 'How well do you know your source?'
Jack cast a glance at the desk. 'Well enough to know he isn't lying or exaggerating.'
Tompkins examined the lit end of the cigar for a moment. 'Son, if half of what we've heard the past coupla weeks is true, you can be damn sure he ain't exaggeratin'.' He motioned with his free hand toward Jack's desk. 'Why don't you start figurin' out what you might find there in the way of Dark magic and how to reverse it?' Jack gave a short nod and spun on his heel, all but marching back to his desk. He unscrewed the cap of an ordinary Muggle fountain pen, and began to make a list of every curse and its countercurse that could possibly have been used, if at all. Part of Jack desperately wanted to believe it had all been a result of Dark magic. He was all too aware of the peculiar moral blind spot people developed when it came to a group they viewed as outsiders or otherwise foreign in culture or ethnicity.
Edward Hawley approached Minerva, standing a discreet distance from the royal family's dining room. 'Miss McGonagall, if I might have a word?' he asked in a low voice. Minerva cast a doubtful eye at the door of the dining room, but followed Hawley several yards down the corridor, keeping her eyes and ears trained behind her. Hawley coughed lightly. 'You're to go home immediately.'
Perplexed, Minerva's brows drew together in a frown. 'Have I done something wrong, sir?' She wondered if there would be consequences for her advice to the Princess Elizabeth some months ago. The young lady had joined the ATS and had done quite well so far.
'No, nothing at all,' Hawley assured her. 'It's only that you've been, ah, requested to attend to some matter on the Continent.' His eyes narrowed slightly, the only outward sign of his disapproval at a lone witch traveling in the company of wizards, and Americans at that. 'You're to go with the Americans.' He sniffed a little. 'It's highly irregular,' Hawley added with a slight moue. 'However, you've been specifically requested. Well, your unique talents have been requested, shall we say.'
'Yes, sir.' Minerva paused. 'Which Americans, sir?'
'That Hashimoto chap,' Hawley told Minerva. He glanced at his wristwatch. 'You should go straightaway. They'll want to leave first thing in the morning.'
Minerva uneasily eyed the entrance to the dining room. 'But my post…'
Hawley flapped a hand. 'It's been covered.' He took a few steps down the corridor to take Minerva's place, but stopped and turned back to her. 'Consider it an object lesson,' he suggested pensively. 'If the rumors turn out to be true,' he began with a weary shake of his head. 'Well, the parallels between what was going on over there and the way some of our kind view Muggles and Muggle-borns.' His brow creased and he looked as if he were going to say more, but Hawley just nodded in Minerva's direction. 'Good evening, Miss McGonagall. I expect to see you here Thursday morning, bright and early,' he said by way of dismissal. Minerva quickly strode through the corridors until she came to her small room and swiftly threw her belongings into the small case she carried between London and Windsor and spurred by the irregularity of her orders, Disapparated back to London, going against protocol at using visible forms of magic in the palace.
Minerva carefully measured her daily ration of tea leaves into a teapot and flicked her wand over it, sending boiling water cascading into the teapot. She placed the lid on it and set it aside to steep. Jack had been sitting at the tiny table when she returned to the flat, scowling at a creased and stained slip of paper. She had hurriedly bathed, changed into civilian clothes, and padded into the kitchen twenty minutes later. Jack hadn't moved a muscle. Minerva said nothing, but continued to put a few odds and ends together for her tea, biding her time. Jack normally didn't mind sharing his thoughts on a regular basis, but he hadn't even mentioned anything about their mission in the morning. The best tactic Minerva had was to wait patiently and feign disinterest. She carefully scraped a bit of butter over a couple of slices of toast, and added a handful of dried apples, with a fervent wish for summer to arrive with its gifts of fresh fruit. Minerva poured the tea into a cup and began to sip it, without so much as glancing at Jack.
'I got a message from my cousin Takeshi,' he said softly. 'His battalion just liberated one of those camps we heard about.' Jack moodily twirled his wand between his fingers. 'It doesn't look good,' he said with a look of revulsion on his face.
'What d'ye mean it doesna look good?'
Jack knuckled his left eye. A headache had been blossoming just behind it all day, and it threatened to spread to the other side as well. He'd spent the better part of his day trying not to imagine his friend Jan in one of those camps. 'It's nothing we didn't already know about,' he said heavily. 'They just want us to make sure there aren't any remnants of Dark magic or Dark wizards lurking in these places.' He raked his hands through his hair. 'It's so much worse than anyone could ever imagine,' he said in a low voice. 'We had no idea how widespread it was…' He looked up at Minerva, face slightly pale. 'Takeshi said he could never in his wildest dreams think anything as bad as this.' He visibly shuddered. 'Said we'd have to see it to believe it…'
Minerva rolled the edge of a dried apple between her thumb and forefinger. 'Why do ye need me?'
Jack ran his thumb under the ridge of his brow, searching for the small depression in his skull and pressed the ball of his thumb into it. 'Your Animagus form is innocuous. Who's going to question a cat, nosing around?' He peered at Minerva around the side of his hand. 'How well can you detect Dark magic?'
'Better than most,' Minerva replied with only a hint of smugness.
'Even in your Animagus form?' Jack fired back.
Minerva sipped her tea and nodded. Deep inside the walls of Windsor, Hawley had tested her abilities to detect Dark magic, both in and out of her Animagus form, each time casting only the most minor Dark hexes on spiders he'd collected. He'd done so with such a look of loathing on his face, that Minerva had been surprised he hadn't vomited on his shoes each time he uttered the spell. She set her cup down and slowly spun it around in the saucer. 'It has a smell, ye ken?' she told him. 'I canna smell it as a human,' she relented, 'but as a wee cheetie, it fills my senses.'
Jack stared at her in fascination. 'What's it smell like?' he breathed.
Minerva meditatively gazed into her tea. A small crease deepened between her eyebrows. 'Death,' she said shortly. 'It smells like death.'
'This way,' Jack muttered. Minerva followed, trailing a bit behind Reggie, taking in the lovely wooded expanse. It seemed impossible that such a heinous act could have occurred in such an enchanting setting. She surreptitiously rubbed her bottom, soothing away the ache that had formed in the wake of the bouncing trip in the Jeep. The trees thinned and a bare, desolate clearing came into view, surrounded by guard towers and rows upon rows of barbed wire. Minerva stopped, mouth falling open slightly. Scores of people sat listlessly, some standing with their hands wrapped around the fence, gazing lethargically at them.
A cluster of soldiers stood near the gate, speaking in low voices. One broke apart from the group and loped to the edge of the woods to where Minerva, Reggie, and Jack stood waiting. A burly, stocky man threw his arms enthusiastically around Jack, embracing him, pounding Jack's back heartily a few times. Jack returned the greeting. 'Takeshi, you son of a bitch!'
The two men broke apart and Minerva could see a faint family resemblance in the shape of their eyes and mouths. Takeshi was a head shorter than Jack, with a faint smile that peeped on the edge of his face, even after seeing battle. Jack lightly punched Takeshi in the arm. 'Reg, Min, this is my cousin, Takeshi Yasutake. My dad is his mom's younger brother. Takeshi, this is Reginald Davis and Minerva McGonagall. They're going to help with the investigation.'
Takeshi exhaled with relief. 'Good. I'm useless at detecting Dark magic, and that place could be thick with it for all I know.' He stared appraisingly at the clearing. 'It isn't pretty in there,' he cautioned. 'We're still sorting through the bodies, but hell, they're still dropping like flies.' He shifted restlessly from foot to foot. 'Don't feed 'em,' he advised. 'Whatever you do, don't feed 'em.'
'Why the hell not?' Reggie blurted in indignation.
'Hadn't had a decent meal in years,' Takeshi muttered. 'Talked to a couple that know English and they said before they got shipped to these camps, they barely had any food at all. When they came to these places, it was even worse. Mostly a cup of something supposed to be coffee or tea and a little bread for breakfast, and soup for lunch and dinner, except it was mostly water. Hard labor during the day.' He scratched the back of his head absently. 'Dunno how they lasted as long as they did.' He shot Jack, Reggie, and Minerva stern looks. 'Doc says you'll make 'em sick if you feed 'em. Not that we're starving them, but Doc said they hadn't had real food in so long, their stomachs can't handle it.' Jack nodded slowly. Takeshi gestured at the gate. 'Let me know what you find before you go.'
Jack glanced at Minerva. 'Are you ready?' Minerva took a deep breath and nodded. 'Reg and I will look among the prisoners to see if any of them are wizards. If there are any, they might be able to tell us if the Germans used Dark wizards and witches. We'll split up, so I want both of you to be careful. Don't take any unnecessary risks.'
Minerva didn't reply, but reached out with one hand and straightened the collar of Jack's shirt, gone slightly askew from the Portkey. She transformed and trotted through the gates, adroitly avoiding the puddles, whilst weaving between Jack and Reggie's feet. 'Damn it, girl,' Reggie growled. 'If you make me fall in the mud…' He trailed off, an unspoken threat hanging in the air. The tip of Minerva's tail waved impudently as she dashed forward.
The stench hit her like a brick wall. The effluvia of unwashed flesh, terror, starvation, and hopelessness. The overwhelming reek of death clogged her nose. Minerva stopped and sneezed several times. She tested the air, attempting to separate the scent of death from Dark magic. Dark magic had a bitter, metallic tang under the smell of death. It was only death just now, she reasoned. Of course, the sheer amount of dead and dying men around her would have been quite enough to mask the underlying aftertaste of Dark magic. Minerva cautiously minced toward a still figure, nose stretched out, and whiskers twitching. Had she not known the camp housed only men, it might have been difficult to tell if the person was a man or a woman, emaciated as it was. Minerva gently sniffed the outstretched fingers, then rubbed her face against the man's hand. He was unresponsive, so she did it once more. It was then that she noticed the series of numbers on his left forearm. Minerva warily prodded the six numbers that had been tattooed in blue ink, unsure of what she expected to happen. There was no predicting what sort of charm had been set into the tattoo. She'd never heard of any such thing, but a tattoo was such an innocuous thing. No one would ever think to look for Dark magic there. Minerva's ears flicked in annoyance at the constant buzzing sounds and she glanced toward the source of the noise. Flies clustered in the man's nostrils and in the corners of his eyes. Eyes that stared sightlessly at the sky and the pale sunshine that filtered through the clouds. Minerva recoiled at the sound of boots stepping behind her, but it was only Jack. He crouched down next to her and began to stroke her back in a soothing manner. Minerva longed to jump into his arms for just a moment, but she batted his hand away and loped down the path, nose twitching as she attempted to separate the scent of death and dying from Dark magic.
Takeshi stood next to Jack, gazing at the wreckage of humanity before them. 'There but for the grace of God go we,' he muttered. 'Until yesterday, I thought Topaz was a fucking hellhole. He made a small gesture to an emaciated man. 'I was wrong.'
Jack scratched his head. 'Jesus, Takeshi. Topaz is only a few steps above this.'
Takeshi shook his head violently. 'The housing might've been substandard, but we had a roof over our heads.' He held up a hand to forestall the words forming on Jack's lips. 'We weren't starved. We weren't guinea pigs for disgusting medical experiments. We weren't murdered. I'm not saying that Topaz or any of the internment camps are paradise on Earth. But God, Jack, they're nothing compared to this.'
Jack snorted and kicked at a lump of mud. 'So… what? You're just going to say it's okay because our family wasn't deliberately starved, tortured, and murdered?'
Takeshi shifted his feet and scanned the horizon. 'Hell, no. What they did to us was wrong.' He turned to face Jack. 'I'm not smart like you and I don't know the right words. Yeah, there's things about this situation and ours that are the same. Lots of the people over here were just put in prisons for no other reason than their last names, just like us. Some of those guys in there were Germans,' he said, gesturing toward the camp. 'I've heard from some other wizards that lots of the prisoners were Germans. Anybody they didn't like. Toss 'em behind barbed wire and treat 'em worse than we'd do a stray dog.' Takeshi shivered slightly. 'But, Jack, nobody wanted to systematically wipe us off the face of the earth. Not like this.'
'Forgive and forget,' Jack countered cynically.
Takeshi shook his head. 'No,' he replied quietly, the lines of his face settling into a solemn expression that Jack had never seen before. 'Maybe one day, I can forgive. But forget? Not as long as I live, man. Not as long as I live.'
Reggie dropped a knapsack next to Jack's feet and folded himself to the damp sand. 'There's food in there,' he muttered. 'Got it from the mess,' he added, glancing at the knapsack, lips curling in distaste at the idea of food at this particular moment.
'What's in it?' Jack asked.
'Just sandwiches,' Reggie replied tiredly. 'And a Thermos of coffee.' Jack grunted and dug out a sandwich, passing it to Minerva.
She took it robotically, staring straight ahead. The waxed paper crinkled as she mechanically unwrapped the sandwich. Without thinking, she took a bite. The vision of all those wasted bodies rose before her eyes and the bread stuck in her throat. She had to take several gulps of the lukewarm coffee before the wodge of bread dislodged itself. Methodically, she rewrapped the sandwich and reached for the knapsack. 'Not verra hungry just now,' she coughed, stuffing the sandwich into the knapsack. Jack and Reggie followed suit and the three of them stared out at the surf crashing on the shore.
'Strange,' Jack murmured. 'How peaceful it is here compared to where we just were.' Tears stung his eyes and he unashamedly dashed away the few that trickled down his cheeks with the back of his hand. He quickly cast a spell to render their words unintelligible to passersby and glanced at Reggie and Minerva. 'What did you find?'
'Not a damn thing,' Reggie huffed. 'If there was Dark magic in making this, they either lifted the charms when they bugged out or it was the kind that maybe die with the caster.' He shrugged. 'No Muggle-repelling charms, either. It just doesn't make sense.'
'What doesna make sense?' Minerva inquired.
Reggie drew idle spirals in the sand. 'If there ain't a Muggle repelling charm on that thing back there, how in the name of God did the folks in that village not know it was there?' His jaw tightened. 'That's what some of the guys with Takeshi tol' me. The villagers claimed they had no idea the camp was here.'
'Preposterous,' Minerva snorted.
Jack leaned back on his elbows. 'Dunno about that,' he interjected. 'People see what they want to see. Turn away from something that they don't want to deal with. Choose to ignore it, instead of acknowledge it. We all do it.' He swallowed against the tide of nausea in his throat. 'Doesn't excuse it.' He craned his head to look at Minerva. 'Min?'
'I couldna tell,' she admitted, with a defeated slump to her shoulders. 'It was difficult to smell anything underneath all those poor dead men. I thought I might have detected something, but it was faint. Verra, verra faint. As if it was a weak charm to begin with, or it had been removed some time ago.'
'No wizards,' Jack told them. 'Most of them probably got out or managed to hide themselves I'd imagine. I put a Muggle-repelling charm on myself, and walked through like I was the Invisible Man.' He shook his head. 'I've known there was something going on months, and I still can't believe people were able to do this without an enormous network of witches and wizards to hide their tracks.'
Reggie chewed the inside of his cheek. 'Like ya said. Folks choose what they wanna see.'
Minerva drew her knees to her chest. 'Look at our kind,' she said softly, gazing at the sea. 'How some despise Muggle-borns strictly because of their parents.' Her eyes narrowed slightly. 'We've got our own problems,' she admitted reluctantly. 'There's a wizard from somewhere on the Continent that would love nothing more than to rule over Muggles.' She frowned, unable to recall the man's name. She hadn't quite paid much attention to the matter while she was in school, and all her attention for the past two years had been absorbed by the Muggle war. 'How many of us here have turned the other way because we dinna want to see it? To acknowledge people we called friends or family are capable of willfully killing a person they don't even view as human?' She sighed heavily and tucked an errant lock of hair behind her ear. 'It isn't a thing limited to Muggles.'
A/N: Kaufering IV, the camp in this chapter, was a sub-camp of Dachau. It was liberated by 522nd Filed Artillery Battalion of the 442nd Infantry Regiment. If you've ever seen the miniseries Band of Brothers, the liberation of the camp is detailed in the episode, 'Why We Fight'.
Auschwitz had been liberated in January of 1945, and Majdanek was liberated in July of 1944, The other well-known camps – Dachau, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen (where Anne and Margot Frank died), Ravensbrück, Mauthausen, and Theresienstadt – were liberated in the waning days of the war, less than a month before Germany surrendered. Theresienstadt was actually liberated on V-E Day.
There are interviews with JKR where she says it's no coincidence that Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald in 1945. It was a deliberate parallel on her part to the situation in Germany.