Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
Chapter 3: The Hatching of Schemes
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter universe. All recognizable characters, plots and settings are the exclusive property of J.K Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
Acknowledgement: Thank you as always to my editor Fezzik, as well as my other betas Luq707, Athena Hope, Yoshi89, and Raven0900 for their incredible work on this story.
Self-Promotion: I have a discord server where you can chat and read all of my chapters early. If you would like to join, simply copy the link on my profile. If you would like to dive further into the AoCverse, you can check out the story’s ever-expanding web presence by following the other links on my profile. You can do likewise to follow me on Twitter for live updates and to check out my website.
If you enjoy this story and would like to support me directly, I now have a P*T*E*N page! You are by no means obligated to support me, but for those generous enough to do so, you will be receiving Patron-exclusive benefits and getting chapters even earlier than Discord!
Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
Chapter 3: The Hatching of Schemes
July 4, 1993
The Three Broomsticks
James practically collapsed into his chair in the room he, Peter, and Albus had reserved for the aftermath of the trial days in advance. Regardless of the trial’s outcome, James had possessed no doubts he would need a drink by its conclusion. Neither Peter nor Albus had seemed to think much differently on the matter, so they had booked this room in hopes that their drinks would be to a victory.
A part of James had known the hopes of that happening were slim to none.
He knew he was in the wrong on everything. Sending Harry to the Dursleys really had been one of the worst mistakes he had ever made. Not retrieving him in the years which followed had been a pathetic act of cowardice, and sending him back after the fiasco in his first year had been yet another mistake.
Albus’s rationale on the latter had made sense to him at the time. The prophecy seemed to dictate that one of the Potter twins would betray the other, resulting in one half of them dying at the other’s hand. With the tensions between them so high, Albus had thought at the time that keeping them apart was their best option. It would hopefully allow the rift between them to close, thereby conveniently skirting around the possibility of that schism taking place at all.
But in hindsight, James knew it had been a massive mistake.
Harry had never looked at him the same way after that day, nor had he addressed him with anything except for an air of detachment that James privately thought was even worse than his ire. Bitterness could be overcome and one’s loyalty could be won back — his relationship with Lily had served as living proof of that. One thing he had a hard time seeing his son get over was cold indifference, and it was a dark, depressing thought which just compiled onto his dark, depressing day.
“Are you alright, James?”
James had to force himself to meet his old headmaster’s eyes. “I… not really,” he admitted.
“There was little to be done,” said Dumbledore. “Not after he acquired the authorization to use a pensieve. I had hoped we would collectively be able to get out of the mess we now find ourselves in, but this wonderful thing we call life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without its many adversities.”
James had to try hard not to wince. He thought he could have done without this particular adversity.
“Sorry, James,” said Peter, looking down at the floor. “It’s all my fault. I should have called her on the leading question.”
“I doubt it would have mattered in the end,” Dumbledore reassured him.
“Maybe not, but it could have at least swayed the tide. I… I panicked. I thought it was a leading question, but I wasn’t sure. I’m no solicitor, even though I did my best. I didn’t want to put in a faulty objection; Merlin only knows how damaging that would have been to our chances.”
“It’s not your fault, Peter.” James’s posture had straightened for the first time since entering the room. Unlike what his general demeanour had indicated for most of the day, James finally looked like the brave Senior Auror he was. “It’s not your fault that I’m as thick as a brick. It was all my fault. You’re right, you’re not a solicitor. I just trusted you more than any of them, so I thought we’d give it a shot. Thanks for trying, at least.”
Peter smiled a watery smile, rubbing at his eyes as he nodded minutely.
James sighed deeply before pouring himself a glass of the already present fire whiskey and draining it in one go. “Well, we know I’m basically stuck in hell for a bit, but what about you, Albus?”
Dumbledore just raised an eyebrow. “What about me, exactly?”
“Well… you aren’t the Chief Warlock or the Headmaster of Hogwarts anymore.” Peter muttered something unintelligible about blasphemy under his breath. It took a reasonable amount of restraint for James not to follow suit. “What are you going to do now that you don’t have those positions?”
Albus smiled thinly. “Worry not for me, James. Worry for yourself and all this trial may bring down upon you. I was always going to concede my position as Chief Warlock today. I admittedly had not planned to lose it so… forcefully, but I had no intentions of filling that position for at least the upcoming months.”
“No, I did not. You see, in light of what happened at the end of this past school year, I made some arrangements for myself when I realized my presence would no longer be mandated at Hogwarts. It is my intention to spend much of this next year travelling. I think it will be a most enlightening experience and there is much I hope to learn. My desire is to take some productive things from my travels.”
James couldn’t help but think Dumbledore was hinting at something that he himself was missing, but he wasn’t entirely sure what that was. Certainly, the old man had plans for his expedition beyond just wandering aimlessly around the globe. James decided not to press him on it. Dumbledore had rarely ever had a plan be anything but successful and, at the moment, James was far more interested with the glass of fire whiskey which sat before him.
Later that day, at Weitts Manor…
The Weitts and Greengrass families threw a sort of celebration following Harry’s victory in the trials which had found both his father and former headmaster guilty on all charges. The festivities weren’t boisterous, but they were enjoyable nonetheless. Even the Greengrass family managed to look not nearly as tense as they had seemed to Harry for the past two or so weeks. Astoria — the family’s youngest — was still nowhere to be seen, but Harry took a small bit of pleasure in the sight of Daphne looking free for the first time since arriving at the manor.
Tracey came over for much of the day, which had been nice as Harry and Daphne had scarcely seen her since their departure from Hogwarts. She hadn’t been able to stay terribly long on such short notice but it had been a grand time, regardless. They still hadn’t seen Blaise, who had scarcely responded to letters since arriving back home in Italy. In the boy’s defence, he had warned all three of his closest friends that might well be the case, but it was still mildly disheartening nonetheless. Blaise provided something for the group that none of the others did, and he was a metaphorical breath of fresh air.
After dinner, Harry retreated to his room and just sat on his bed, peering out the window with a vacant expression.
It really had been a long day.
Watching all of the most important people in Magical Britain see his worst memories had been an emotionally exhausting experience, as had reciting some of the things he’d said while being examined by Tate. It had all been necessary — and he regretted none of it — but that didn’t change the fact it had been extremely taxing.
And that wasn’t even speaking on what had happened after the trial.
Lord Weitts just strolling into the courtroom had been something Harry could never have expected. The way he had ruthlessly torn into Dumbledore had been something else altogether. He had never seen the former Chief Warlock lose so decisively in anything. Even when he had essentially been evicted from Hogwarts, he had still gotten the last word in. Giaus had shut him down so completely, it had been difficult to believe.
And the exact words he had said… Harry couldn’t help but trace them back to a tall, pale, teenage girl whom he had sought to kill almost exactly a month ago.
“Was burying the fact you ruined the life of one child not enough? Or is it two before now? There is of course the one that ended fatally for the person involved, and there is also the one that ended fatally for the families of so many gathered in this very room.”
Harry had no idea what the first part meant, but he had a guess at the second. Dumbledore had done something horrible to Emily Riddle. It potentially explained any number of things and it also rationalized her hatred of the man, even at sixteen.
What it didn’t explain is why the two of them had fought alongside one another in the Battle of Katalysator, but Harry had long-since decided that was a mystery he just didn’t presently have the capabilities of solving.
The sky had grown dark outside since he had taken his seat on the bed. The softly glowing, late-day sun had been replaced by bright, twinkling stars, standing out starkly against the vast canvas of night sky they rested upon.
Harry was so lost in thought that he hardly even heard his door swing open. He glanced over his shoulder nonetheless, allowing his hand to twitch towards his wand, but it was only Grace.
“I was wondering where I might find you,” she said.
“Here or the library are both usually pretty safe guesses.”
“They are, but I wasn’t sure what state of mind you would be in today. That’s why I thought here might be my best guess. You have horrible habits when your mind is in a less than ideal space.”
“I’ve been told.” He remembered a number of conversations with Daphne since his arrival at Hogwarts, and he wondered if he and Grace were about to share in one not too dissimilar from any of those.
“I’m not going to tell you to fix them. Different people’s minds work in different ways, and I can see exactly why you react the way you do. It just made this the most natural first spot to look in. You like to be alone with your thoughts. I’ll leave if you’d like, I just wanted to check in on you. Not only because of today, but just because we really haven’t spoken much since the start of summer.”
“We haven’t, no.” There was a pause between them before Harry finally relented. “I… don’t really know what to think now. Just… a lot happened today. I’m not sure any of it is bad, it was just a lot. I’m sort of just trying to process everything and get over the fact that now, everyone in the magical world is going to know things about me that I wish they didn’t.”
“I thought that might be part of the problem. I don’t envy it, but I think you’ll find that it won’t be a huge factor in your life. This country is fickle, as I’m sure you’ve realized. They’ll find something else to latch onto soon enough and it will be over. At Hogwarts, I doubt you’ll need to worry much. Most of the Gryffindors won’t want to bring it up, because it would make some people who plenty of them idolize look moronic. The only people who will likely bring it up in Slytherin are those who want to tear you down. I doubt I need to tell you that when dealing with some of those people, that is probably the least of your worries.”
He nodded pensively. “I’m just not sure what to think of it all, really.”
“Nothing,” answered Grace. “It will all be a footnote in the past before long. The important thing is that you won, which was obviously the goal. The other things don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I know they seem like they do now, because you have a tendency to overthink things, but they don’t, in the grand scheme of things.”
He wasn’t entirely sure that was unconditionally true. Whatever scheme Pettigrew had been furthering was almost definitely going to be significant to him in the future. Anything pertaining to Emily Riddle was also worth watching for Harry. But of course, Grace couldn’t possibly know any of that, and it wasn’t really bad advice, from the very little Harry knew about giving advice in the first place.
“Any ideas how to stop overthinking things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, then? I’m not really good at letting my mind move on, if you haven’t noticed.”
Grace’s lips twitched. “By now, I would hope that you realize I’m at least observant enough to notice something like that. Honestly, it varies depending on the person. From what I know of you and from what I’ve heard or seen from times like this, I think one of your best methods is probably by just letting yourself get distracted.”
Harry almost rolled his eyes. “Well, yes, that has worked pretty well in the past, but what exactly can distract me from this? That’s honestly the biggest thing I’m struggling with.”
Grace smiled. “Well, I’ve been pretty busy, so we haven’t got a whole lot of practice in. What do you say to a double tonight? We’ll start with duelling and then end with Occlumency?”
Harry didn’t think it was possible for him to smile after everything that had basically reduced his mind to mush, but that proclamation had somehow allowed it to become possible once more.
An hour or so later, at the home of Peter Pettigrew…
A lock clicked and a door swung open, admitting a slightly tipsy Peter Pettigrew into his home. He stumbled through the door and only by bracing himself against the wall did he not end up flat on his face. He had spent a long day with James, staying even after Albus had left to begin preparing for whatever expedition he had planned. He didn’t mind spending time with James, but the man was a menace while drunk. He could also drink most men — Peter included — under the table with complete and total ease. Peter almost never left his drinking sessions with James anything short of plastered, and that just wouldn’t do tonight. Not when the groundwork had been so effectively laid.
Striding across the near pitch-black room, Peter rummaged in a cupboard — knocking several glasses loudly to the floor in the process — and removed from it a vial of clear liquid. He tilted his head back and downed the potion in one go. All at once, he could feel the effects of the alcohol ebbing out of his system. Sobriety potions were surprisingly common among men in the wizarding world. Potions had actually been Peter’s best subject at Hogwarts and for a time, he had considered making a career out of it. He’d learned to brew the potion at Hogwarts and, during his later years, had actually made a considerable amount of money selling them to the school’s general populace.
Only when all of the liquid had been consumed could he think clearly again, and it was then he decided to reflect upon all that had happened today.
Both trials had played out exactly how he had hoped; Dumbledore’s had even gone better than expected. The Weitts family showing an interest in Harry Potter could prove to be problematic, but it was a concession that Peter was willing to make. His only real concern over the day was that not contesting Tate’s leading questions might have been too obvious. Seeing as he had yet to be called out on it, he was fairly sure he had pulled it off.
The first steps had been taken, but it would all be for nothing if they didn’t have a leader to rally around. Many had once thought Charlus Potter to be that leader, but Peter didn’t think so. He genuinely cared for Charlus so if he could bring the Boy-Who-Lived on his side, he happily would. He was no future Dark Lord, though. Perhaps his twin, but Peter didn’t like betting on possibilities. He only liked betting on sureties.
The only surety they would have was if their leader was once again resurrected. Of the former inner circle, Peter was relatively sure he was the only one who definitively knew — via Charlus’s explanation of what had happened at the end of his first year — that the Dark Lady was not dead.
Which gave him an interesting opportunity, and only now did he think it might be time to act upon it.
For that, he would need a plan; a plan he would much rather have some input on.
Humming a soft tune under his breath, Peter went bustling around once more, looking for a very special, very specific mirror.
July 5, 1993
JAMES POTTER AND ALBUS DUMBLEDORE GUILTY OF ALL CHARGES! DUMBLEDORE NO LONGER CHIEF WARLOCK!
By Rita Skeeter
Charlus had spent the past number of days at the Burrow. His father and godfather were, of course, set to stand on trial that past day and staying at the Burrow overnight had just been the easiest solution. He had heard the outcome of the trial yesterday, but seeing it emblazoned upon the front page of that morning’s Daily Prophet was another thing altogether.
The prophet spoke of not only allegations, but actual memories put forth by his brother. Memories that depicted cases of not only neglect, but active abuse. Charlus had suspected it had been bad for some time now, but he had never guessed it was as horrid as this article depicted.
His brother had lived in a broom cupboard while he, the famed Boy-Who-Lived, had been ailed by people bowing to him in the streets. His brother had been forced to work like a house elf and been banned from asking any questions while he, the most famous wizarding child in the world, carelessly played Quidditch and basically wasted the free access he had to the Potter family library.
It was sickening. All of it was sickening.
As he read on, Charlus couldn’t even buy into his father’s defence. He had seemed down after their first year, but he hadn’t been a different person. He didn’t understand the psychology behind trials, but he wondered what his Uncle Pete had been doing. To Charlus, this just read as if his father was some sort of unstable lunatic. Of course, that was exactly what Rita Skeeter had been heavily implying in the last few speculative paragraphs, but still…
He wanted to feel bad for his father, but he couldn’t. He could see now exactly why Harry had been so furious towards him early in their first year. How he had been so cold on the train and during that first lesson in Snape’s dank, dark dungeon.
Yet his brother despised him too.
It wasn’t even as though Charlus could tell Harry how right he was about everything, or ask him how he was doing. He wasn’t sure Harry would ever want anything to do with him again and now, that thought bothered him more than he’d ever thought it could.
It was all just turmoil inside of his mind. He loved his father, but he could hardly believe what he had subjected his brother to.
And Dumbledore no longer being Chief Warlock? What would become of the Wizengamot without the greatest of their kind at its helm. Surely it wouldn’t fall completely into the hands of the Conservatives, who would doubtlessly run their nation into the ground and bring forth everything his victory over Voldemort had prevented?
Charlus sat mostly in silence while the Weasleys went through the paper. They left him to his thoughts, though the front-page headline did make for quite the awkward atmosphere in the Burrow’s kitchen that morning.
Until they got deeper into the paper and stumbled across something interesting.
“Hey, mum, dad, look at this!”
It was Ginny who had spoken. The mood surrounding her at the Burrow hadn’t changed much. Fred and George made wise cracks about her sorting, but everyone knew they were just that — jokes. She spoke with Percy more than she might have prior to her first year at Hogwarts, and her parents didn’t treat her any differently.
The sole exception was Ron.
His odd hatred towards Slytherin hadn’t seemed to have wavered, even despite the other, legitimate improvements he had made during his forced isolation at the Burrow. None of the Weasleys could figure out where this odd hatred had come from, as they would all vehemently swear it hadn’t been there before. A dislike, sure, but a hatred?
Regardless, it was her keen eye that spotted what she considered to be of interest.
“What is it, dear?” asked Molly, setting down the final plate of food before she took a seat beside her daughter.
“It’s a galleon draw, mum! You just send a letter to the prophet with your name on it and that you want to enter. The winner gets seven-hundred galleons!”
Molly pursed her lips together. “Ginny, dear, the probability of winning those things is almost none; don’t be ridiculous.”
“Almost isn’t nothing, though. Somebody wins it, so why not us? What’s the worst that can happen? You waste ten seconds of your life writing your name down on paper?”
This was the only new thing about Ginny that had taken her parents aback. A year ago, she would never have dared push either of them in this way. Spending time with Harry Potter and Charlotte Weitts among others had shown her exactly how far her parents were from intimidating, so she was now pushing.
Besides, if she was sorted into Slytherin and possessed such notable ambition, she might as well put it to good use.
“It can’t hurt,” put in George. “I reckon Ginnikins has a point, mum.”
“Don’t call me that!” Ginny snapped.
“Sure thing, Ginevra, dear,” piped up Fred.
Ginny glared at him, but her mother ignored the whole ordeal. “Well… I guess it couldn’t hurt. What do you think, Arthur?”
Arthur shrugged. “Do as you like, dear. I’ve got to run off to work in a few minutes, so I need to go get changed.”
Molly sighed as she waved her wand and summoned a spare bit of parchment. “I guess it can’t hurt,” she decided, writing down both hers and Arthur’s name in a slightly shaky handwriting.
Ginny smiled; perhaps there were some good things about Slytherin after all.
July 7, 1993
Harry had settled into a sort of routine at Weitts Manor. He would wake up in the morning, go downstairs and into the family library, and read until one of the elves popped in to inform him that the family was having breakfast if he would like to join them.
This morning was no different, and it was the best he had felt in some time. The few days leading up to the trial had been exceedingly stressful, and the days after had been filled with deep, worrying thoughts. Largely pertaining to both Peter Pettigrew and Emily Riddle. He still had no idea what was going on with the latter. The last time he had seen her, she had been standing alongside Bellatrix Black and Barty Crouch Jr. Not quite the execution Harry had been hoping for.
The practice with Grace had helped though and slowly, the thoughts began to retreat into the back of his mind, which gave Harry the liberty of free thought once more. Not that they didn’t lurk — because they most certainly did — but they no longer dominated his psyche at all hours of the day; both waking and sleeping.
When he entered the dining room, he did his customary check of the table and once more confirmed that Astoria still wasn’t present. The Greengrasses were back to looking mildly worried. Harry had a feeling Daphne looked for both her sister and, to a much lesser extent, him. She had approached him after the trial, but their conversation had been brief. Harry had assured her he was fine and that his mind would move on. She accepted his take on the situation easily enough and simply offered to talk if he ever needed it.
“You have mail,” Adriana told him as soon as he had taken a seat.
He just raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
She slid an envelope across the table which he opened deftly, reading over the missive quickly; a missive which only caused both of his brows to raise still further.
First of all, best of luck with the upcoming trial. It will definitely have happened already by the time you get this letter, but I thought you might appreciate the sentiment either way. This is being sent from quite a long way away, so the owl might take a while to find you. That’s actually one of the reasons I haven’t been sending letters and probably won’t bother with them much. I’m in Italy all summer, which is actually the main reason why I’m writing to you in the first place.
My mother has taken on a seventh husband. They’ll be getting married on the eighth of August. I was less than excited for the festivities, so mother decided to allow me to invite my friends. Daphne, Tracey, and yourself have all been invited. If you accept, my family will arrange the portkeys and all the rest. My mother insists you respond quickly, since she is apparently buckling under the stress of the preparations.
I’ll cut this off here but all jokes aside, I do hope to see you. You would probably be portkeying over sometime around the fifth and staying for a week or so. It would at least give us all time to relax and catch up.
Hope all is well; Daphne and Tracey will be getting their invitations soon.
That… had not been the bit of correspondence Harry had been expecting. Not that he had been expecting any particular bit of correspondence, but that definitely wasn’t it. Blaise was just one of those people who, even after not hearing from him since arriving at Weitts Manor for the summer holidays, Harry didn’t worry about. It was never anything less than reasonable to assume that Blaise was off doing something; likely with his mother in Italy.
If Harry had laid out a list of expected bits of mail though, this wouldn’t have been on it.
Blaise had made no mention of it while at Hogwarts, which struck Harry as odd. It was family business, so perhaps he had just kept it to himself, but there didn’t seem to be a reason to do so. Not that it really mattered. That was by far the thing that was concerning Harry less out of the two immediate thoughts which had sprang into his mind.
The thought which had him far more concerned was Blaise’s mother herself.
She had married six times and on each occasion, her husbands had wound up dead. It had come up before with Blaise, but he hadn’t commented one way or the other. It was impossible to prove, from what it seemed, but that seemed like far too much of a coincidence. If Harry was going to be spending time in a home with this woman, it was something he would like closure on.
Not that he wasn’t going to accept either way. He absolutely was, he just wanted to know exactly how many precautions he should take. He’d never been able to travel outside of Britain before, and the thought excited him greatly. He also simply liked and missed Blaise, so that was a motivator in and of itself.
Something about this also just screamed of intrigue in a way that Harry couldn’t quite quantify. The whole thing seemed wholly unnatural and absurdly spontaneous, which, from his experience, usually indicated that there was more at play.
He glanced to the side to see Daphne peering speculatively towards him. The expression he returned indicated that he would tell her later. It wasn’t quite the conversation to hold at the breakfast table right that moment, but he did ask for a piece of parchment, which was promptly delivered to him by a house elf. He wouldn’t respond to Blaise yet. He had no doubts at all they would grant the request, but the Weitts family were technically his guardians and would therefore need to approve the trip.
He had a different letter to write. He doubted even she would have a definitive answer, but if Harry wanted the closest thing to the actual truth regarding one of the wizarding world’s most heated bits of gossip, he knew who to ask.
I got an interesting bit of mail today and it sparked my interest in something I hadn’t really cared much about before. I was wondering if you might have an opinion on it, one way or the other…
July 9, 1993
The Minister’s Office
By this time of the evening, most normal officials had left the premises belonging to the Ministry of Magic. Most of the exceptions were those who held especially tedious jobs that hinged largely on preposterous portions of paperwork, or those whose department had been caught in the middle of an unexpected increase in workload. Very few members of Magical Britain’s government could claim they were still routinely in its headquarters by a quarter to nine on most evenings.
Bartemius Crouch was not most people.
He was, for one thing, the Minister for Magic. He was also notorious for his brutal work ethic and the idea of going home before everything had been completed and he had gotten ahead on the next day’s work made him nauseous.
Which was how, at this time of night, he was almost never not in his office; situated high in the building, with one window looking out over a magically conjured, stunning view, and the other overlooking the ministry’s atrium.
It was on this night that he received a missive which almost made him groan aloud — something which was very out of character for him. It hadn’t been all that long since he had last received a letter marked with the crossed wands and veiled background associated with the Department of Mysteries. Hopefully this time, its contents would be closer to the variety which could be categorized as innocuous.
It was very far from innocuous, but it was significant in a different way. It had nothing to do with the Chamber of Secrets or anything associated with him, but it filled Crouch with just as much dread as he had felt on that night.
July 10, 1993
Charlotte’s wand soared from her hand after a fairly one-sided duel against Harry. She had been improving, but not as quickly as Harry. She was also ridiculously prideful and during this particular duel, she had specifically asked for Harry to use his newfound ability to cast nonverbally. That had led to a lopsided trouncing that Charlotte did not look happy about.
“I really need to learn spell deflection,” she decided. “I’m not all that great at dodging and shields don’t really work against someone like you. Anyone with that kind of casting speed will just sort of burn straight through them.”
Harry couldn’t really deny anything she had said, so he just nodded. “Once you get good enough at Transfiguration, there are also conjurations. I haven’t gotten there myself yet though, so I can’t exactly teach it to you.”
“Is that something you’re going to try and do this year?”
“It’s on my list, yeah. Most of them are N.E.W.T level Transfigurations, so it’ll be difficult, but not impossible. I’m far enough ahead in the subject that I think it’s doable with a lot of work.”
“It must be nice to just be able to memorize everything on the first read through. I know it doesn’t mean you can actually cast the magic, but I imagine it helps you get ahead.”
“It does, yeah.”
A slightly awkward silence then stretched between them. Charlotte had given Harry the perfect opening to bring something up that had been bothering him ever since the trial, but he was trying to find the right words to do so. For her part, she could tell something had begun to bother him; though his Occlumency was now at a point where she couldn’t just glean his surface thoughts passively. She would still absolutely be able to breach his mind, but it would take reasonable effort on her part.
“Oh, just say it,” said Charlotte. “Whatever you’re going to say, just come out with it.”
Harry’s lips twitched right before he sighed. “This just summarizes the problem I was about to bring up, really.”
“I made a good start in the Speaker’s Den at the end of the year, but I need to start communicating more clearly with you guys. There was… a thing I didn’t like during your examination by Tate.”
Charlotte scrunched up her face and was silent for a moment. “What was it?”
“You mentioned my memory as a way of proving that James hadn’t told me anything about the world. I… would have rather that hadn’t gotten out.”
“Bugger,” said Charlotte. “Merlin, I’m sorry, Harry; I hadn’t even thought of it like that. It seems so normal to me now after knowing you for a while that I forgot how big of a deal that was the first time I met you. I had just wanted to make sure Pettigrew couldn’t cast doubt on anything I said. The best way I could think of doing that was by bringing up the memory. Merlin, I messed that up. I was too focused on the goal and didn’t actually think of the consequences.”
“It’s fine,” said Harry. “Trust me, I understand. That’s… sort of a thing of mine. I realized at the end of this last year that it’s probably my biggest weakness. I focus so much on what I want to accomplish that I don’t actually think of the details.” He paused to choose his next words carefully, knowing that he would have to talk around the oath imposed upon him by the Unspeakables. “My goal was to discover who the Heir of Slytherin was and to catch them. That was all I wanted. The problem is, I focused so hard on the first step — finding out who they were — that I never actually considered what would happen when I did find out. That’s how I got dragged down into the chamber in the first place.”
“Well, we can work on it together then,” Charlotte said with a nervous-looking smile. “I’m… not usually super open about things I’m not good at.”
“I’m not usually super open in general, so I think it balances out.”
Both of them laughed and agreed to watch each other closely and hold the other to a high standard in regards to that particular weakness they each possessed before, after a few more minutes’ break, they went back to duelling.
July 11, 1993
Emily’s eyes intently watched the fireplace which Barty and Bellatrix had just vanished through. They had told her they would be gone for several hours and asked her to watch Ares. She had agreed, not that there would be much watching to do. Ares had avoided her ever since her return from Hogwarts.
Emily felt oddly conflicted about that.
Spending ten months in another’s head had an odd sort of effect. She found herself oddly liking Ares in a way she had very few people in her life. More than anything though, she could sympathize with Ares. Parents who were willing to let their daughter die for a cause were people who weren’t worth the oxygen they took, in Emily’s opinion. Of course, having the favour of the Black Lady as well as the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation was beneficial, so she hadn’t said this aloud.
Nonetheless, she sympathized with Ares on a personal level. She hated her parents more than she could describe and even she could see that Ares had, in some ways, had it far worse. Her upbringing had been a million times more favourable than Emily’s, but at least her own parents had only abandoned her. They hadn’t actively attempted to lead her to her own death. She shuddered at the thought; both of being led that way by a parent and of the thing itself. Not that any adult could have manipulated her so easily. She was far above such manipulations, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t sympathize with those who were not.
It was odd now to think coherently once more. While under the power of the diary, that hadn’t been possible. The compulsion had forced her to pursue regaining a body at any costs. Any actions she performed seemed right to her, no matter what, even though she regretted a few of them now looking back on it.
She felt the presence long before it reached the room. She was the most talented Natural Legilimens that she’d ever heard of. Even while reading accounts of others, Emily had found no one who could compare to her natural prowess in that particular art. The ritual she had performed on the solstice made this even more true.
Well… sort of.
Rituals didn’t just give infinitely. The one she had performed was actually one of a special set of seven. One could choose seven rituals from a larger set which enhanced one far more than most normal rituals would. This was one she had chosen, but even this set didn’t just give without take. Her Legilimency senses had opened up to a ludicrous degree. She could sense things that should be impossible to sense, even for the most prodigious practitioners of the Mind Arts.
That was the plus side.
The downside was that, by making her Legilimency naturally more ‘powerful’, she had also made it far more volatile. It was now nearly impossible to turn off. There had been a point many years ago with progressing naturally where that had been a problem, but this made that look like nothing by comparison. She wasn’t sure she would ever manage to curb it this time, but she didn’t really mind. More problematic was the fact that now, it was much more difficult to guide her probes in a controlled fashion. She had gone out on expeditions to Diagon Alley and into muggle London to practice. She was getting the hang of it, but it would take more time before she was nearly as confident in her control as she had been. Legilimency worked in different ways from most magics, so the Trace didn’t pick it up.
She silently fumed once more that the Unspeakables had been unwilling to lift the Trace from her. Not that it really mattered. Because of the ridiculous way Hogwarts took admissions, she would be turning seventeen in December, despite only entering her sixth year.
Well, seventeen going by years she had actually lived. Not even remotely close to seventeen measuring by how long it had been since she was born.
That was another thing that made her head spin in this new world. That and all the things she had missed in those fifty years and was now trying to catch up on.
Nevertheless, she could feel Ares Black coming long before she entered the room. When she did, she practically froze at the sight of Emily.
“Oh,” she said, “I’ll go—”
“Stay.” Emily’s voice came out harsher than she had meant. It was how she might have addressed one of her followers at school; a tone that screamed of power and authority. It wasn’t exactly what she had been going for with Ares — someone who seemed legitimately terrified of her for perfectly valid reasons and someone who she doubted was at all loyal to her. “I want to talk,” she said in a gentler tone. “There are things I think should be cleared up between the two of us.”
Ares nodded with a completely blank expression and took a seat at the nearby dining room table. Emily did likewise and studied her young companion closely. Ares’s mask was impressive for one her age, as was her Occlumency. It was miles away from being able to block Emily’s Legilimency, but she didn’t use it. She was getting some feedback from it, but she didn’t actively look into Ares’s mind. That was not what she was trying to accomplish here.
“I completely understand that you don’t trust me and probably hate me,” she started. “You are perfectly justified in both and I do not and will never blame you for it. If somebody had put me through what I did to you, I would make it my life’s mission to eliminate that person from the face of the Earth. If that is the mindset you take, I respect and understand that. I advise against it because — though I actually like you, as I will get to in a moment — I would not let you do that to me. There is no one in the world I would allow to do such a thing, and respectfully, you do not want that fight on your hands.”
There was a long pause during which Ares just stared pensively at Emily. Finally, she opened her mouth to speak and, in what was a very rare occasion for the former Slytherin prefect, Emily Riddle found herself completely surprised by what Ares said next.
“I don’t hate you.”
“You should,” said Emily, recovering quickly from her surprise.
“I know.” Ares’s voice was quiet — little more than a whisper, even — and it sounded almost afraid. “I want to. Everything I have ever been taught says I should hate you. Everything about how my mind works says I should hate you, but I don’t.”
Despite herself, Emily now had to forcefully resist looking into the young girl’s mind. Psychology was a topic that she found intensely interesting, and she wondered exactly what could have invoked such an unorthodox response from the Black Heiress.
“May I ask what inspired that particular reaction in you?”
“I… understand you.”
“I could feel the compulsion every time you took me over. I know that not everything you did was because you wanted to, and I know about some of your thoughts. I… know the way you feel about my parents. I know the way you felt about pulling children into the fight. I can see that you’re not a good person, but I wouldn’t say I am, either. Not as bad as you, but not good. But… I don’t think you’re evil. I know who you’re supposed to become and I can kind of see why that could happen, but… I’m actually kind of confused. I just… I know I don’t know you, but I don’t really see why you would do what she did. I just see so many better ways you could go about it and from what I can tell, you don’t care about blood supremacy at all.”
That really was the crux of it, wasn’t it?
Emily couldn’t even figure out how or why she had one day become the monster known as Lady Voldemort. She hadn’t even been toying around with the name at the time of her imprisonment in the diary. If memory served her correctly, she had never even considered the name.
And that was the least of her worries.
Ares was right — she did not care about blood supremacy. She almost wrinkled her nose at the memories of snobbish purebloods trying to bully the supposed muggleborn Emily Riddle during her first few weeks at Hogwarts. They had all learned quickly enough how poor of an idea that was, but it didn’t change the principle of the thing.
She highly doubted her opinions on that subject would ever change and she personally didn’t see a world in which she would fight for the ideal.
This issue could be explained away pretty easily.
Pretending to buy into blood supremacy in order to attract support was absolutely something she could imagine herself doing if the situation ever called for it.
But that left another problem.
If she hadn’t started what had later been coined as ‘the Purity War’ over blood supremacy, what had her actual goal been?
She had a vague idea, but even that didn’t make sense. If that was her goal, she wondered whether or not her future self might have gone insane somewhere along the way. Everything that she knew about Voldemort’s side of the war screamed of being counterproductive to the only goal she could come up with.
It all just made no sense to her.
“But that’s part of the problem,” Ares continued. “I just… I obviously don’t trust you, and I don’t understand you. I don’t see how you could have become her, which makes me think I’m missing something.” She actually wrinkled her nose. “I don’t like missing things and it makes me trust you even less. Not to mention that even though I know a Compulsion Charm was involved, I don’t know what you really think of me or what you might have planned for me.”
“Allow me to clear that up then,” said Emily. “You are one of the few people I have ever met who I can confidently say I at least have the potential to like. You remind me somewhat of myself at the same age. Quiet, drawn in, confident, and calculating. Yet at the same time, there are similarities in how our parents viewed us. I never forgave my parents for that and I never will. So naturally, I do not think kindly of yours either, which largely contributes to the reasons why I could potentially like you once I have learned more about you as a person.
“As for plans… I have no plans for you, Ares. My plans are far wider than a child, no matter how important you are in the world. Would your loyalty be ideal? Yes. Would you normally be the exact type of person who I twist and wrap around my finger? You would, but I know manipulation isn’t the best way forward with you. I am trying a blunt approach, because I don’t want this to continue.
“So, I am going to offer you an exchange of sorts.”
“Yes, an exchange.”
“What… what could I possibly give you that you don’t have already? Money, I guess, but mother would happily give it to you if you asked.”
Ares’s voice took on a bitter inflection at the end. Emily couldn’t blame her, nor could she deny the fact. Bellatrix had practically fawned over her ever since the Unspeakables had decreed she would be passed into the guardianship of Bellatrix Black and Barty Crouch Jr. for the brief time before she became a legal adult at the year’s end.
“I want a clean slate. I want to start over with you, as though we have never met before.”
“That’s… asking a lot.”
“You haven’t heard what I’m offering yet.”
“In return, you have my word that I will do my best to protect you from your parents. Your mother, in particular.”
Ares actually gaped at her for what must have been ten or so seconds before she gained the composure to close her mouth. “Why?”
Emily’s lips twitched. “Because you just so happen to play perfectly into one of my fatal flaws without even trying to.”
That cryptic answer did nothing to assure Ares, but very hesitantly, she held out her hand. “I… I agree to try and treat you like we’ve just met. I… make no promises I will be completely successful.”
Emily smiled. “In time, I am confident you will view me in a better light than even that.”
Meanwhile, at Malfoy Manor…
A large manor dominated much of a vast, lush bit of land. It was a stunning sight, especially because for miles around it there was nothing but open, empty fields. Despite its majesty, no muggles would be stumbling across such a place. If they did, they surely would have thought they had been thrown back into some sort of utopian representation of Victorian England.
The manor itself was made of tasteful dark stone and stood three stories high, towering over all around it. Many of its windows were curtained, but bits of light could be seen streaming out through a scarce few of its large, glass windows. Around the home, gardens the likes of which wouldn’t have looked out of place on Mount Olympus stretched around the home’s permitre. Dazzling, vibrant flowers of every variety seemed to stand proudly at attention, and a large, ostentatious fountain out front of the house only added to the scene of tranquillity.
Further from the home, hedges stretched out down the long, cobblestone drive. They formed a loose perimeter around the property but out front, they flanked the drive, almost like its own form of natural security. Juxtaposing their imposing image, peacocks rested atop these hedges, dotted sporadically as they preened, slept, or simply observed their land.
At the end of the long drive, the hedges stretched on, but another structure indicated the ward line. A set of towering, wrought iron gates which looked to an outsider as though they may be the first impediment on a path that might lead to an impenetrable fortress.
It was quite the scene; a mixture of tranquil and imposing.
A scene that was somewhat shattered by a loud CRACK that sent many of the peacocks scampering off the hedges.
A man had appeared before the wrought iron gates. He wore a long, black travelling cloak with the hood pulled up. It was too dark to make out his face, but if that hadn’t been the case, one would have been able to decipher rat-like features and watery blue eyes.
The man withdrew a wand from the pocket of his cloak and tapped it against his cloak. The portion covering his left arm immediately became transparent, and Peter held the arm up, showing off to the gate the skull tattoo which depicted a serpentine tongue protruding from its mouth.
The gate seemed to morph into smoke right before his very eyes, admitting him forward to walk the long path up to the manor’s immaculate front entrance.
Peter wasn’t thrown by the scene. It had been many years since he had attended a meeting at Malfoy Manor, and never had he done so with the status he now wielded, but there were no nerves about something as innocuous as that. His nerves were centred on something far more important. Something that apparently had even Lord Lucius Malfoy worried.
The previous night, at the home of Peter Pettigrew…
Peter had been relaxing after a long day’s work when a most peculiar and unusual occurrence took place.
A soft, bluish glow began emanating from somewhere in his home. It shone straight through the wall where it was hidden and Peter knew at once what it was.
He rushed over to it and tapped the wall with his wand, prompting it to slide aside and reveal a number of ornate mirrors with names printed on their backs. One of them was clearly the source of the bluish glow, and Peter only just saw the name on its back before he snatched it up and promptly activated it with a muttered “Walpurgis.”
The name on the back was Mr. Themis.
The face which appeared in the mirror a moment later was aristocratic. It had stormy grey eyes and long, luscious locks of a platinum blond colour. It was the last person who any would assume to be coordinating with Peter Pettigrew; who was by all accounts relatively unimportant sans his position as a top DMLE detective and his close relationship to James Potter.
“Malfoy. What… can I do for you tonight?”
“Nothing tonight, I am afraid. I have been informed through my contacts as the ministry that there has been… a development. One that deeply involves not just you, but all the rest of us who met on the night of Samhain 1981.”
Peter’s eyes practically bulged out of his head as he remembered the meeting in question. Coincidentally, it was the last time he had been in Lucius Malfoy’s lavish home.
“I won’t be going over the details tonight. Meet myself and the rest of who is left from that night at my home tomorrow. I trust you at least remember the most basic way of gaining entrance.”
And just like that, he was gone, leaving a now panicked Peter Pettigrew to ponder what this could mean if his general suspicion was right.
The answers were many, but the theme was unanimous.
Nothing good for him.
Back in the present…
Peter had become so lost in his own worries that he hardly realized he’d reached the front entrance of the manor. He repeated the same trick he had on the gate before charming his cloak back to normal and walking inside.
There was already a figure waiting for him.
“Ah, Narcissa,” said Peter, inclining his head politely.
“Pettigrew,” she greeted stiffly. “They’re waiting for you in the usual place. Nothing has changed.”
He nodded and marched off in the room’s direction. It didn’t take him long to reach it. The door — like many in this home — was made of rich, dark oak. Peter knocked seven times, then paused, then knocked six.
“Enter.” called the languid voice of Lucius Malfoy. Peter pushed the door open and stepped inside.
The room was long and dark. It could have been bright in the day but presently, it wouldn’t have mattered. Its massive windows were veiled by heavy, dark curtains. The only light in the room came from a softly crackling fireplace and a number of torches floating entrancingly above the room’s most recognizable feature — its long, clothed table at which meetings had frequently been held up until almost twelve years earlier.
“Join us, Pettigrew,” called Lucius, gesturing to the nearest open spot. The man himself sat at the head of the table, with Bellatrix and Bartemius on either side of him. Across from them were Evan Rosier and Tiberius Nott, and it was the former who Peter took a seat beside.
It was a surreal feeling to be in this room again with what was left of the Dark Lady’s inner circle. Most of the others were locked away, rotting in Azkaban prison until she inevitably returned once more, but all who sat in this room were the luckiest among them.
“We have a problem, Pettigrew,” said Lucius, piercing him with a calculating, grey-eyed stare. “A very serious problem that could mean ruin for all of us if it is allowed to persist.” He leant slowly forward with a gleam in his eyes. “A problem which, most fortunately, you seem uniquely qualified to solve.”
I know I am leaving a lot of things unanswered right now, but it is the time of year during which plot threads must be introduced before I can eventually tie them up later. All will be answered in time, as it always is.
Please read and review.
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.