Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
Chapter 4: The Surreptitious Shadows
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Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
Chapter 4: The Surreptitious Shadows
July 18, 1993
The dining room of Rosier Manor was smaller than the one Harry often lounged in alongside Charlotte, Adriana, and occasionally Grace and Sigmund. For what it lacked in size by comparison, it made up for in elegance. Everything was understated yet immaculate. There were no vibrant colours or eye-catching bits of architecture. Everything had been designed with the subtle touch of a well-practiced craftsman. Even Harry, who knew nothing about design or architecture, could appreciate the place’s beauty.
The sun outside was creeping lower in the sky. It cast its light openly through the dining room’s window. Patches of light scattered here and there about the room while long, dark shadows were beginning to rise up along the window’s opposite wall.
In the centre of the room was a table occupied by three. One was a small, raven-haired youth with intense green eyes that studied everything around him just as intently as they had the moment he had first entered the room some time ago. The other two both had golden-blonde hair and deep blue eyes to go with their soft features and deadly airs of cool confidence. Of the two, one was a teenage girl who had stayed mostly quiet throughout the conversation thus far. The other was a man who looked younger than he truly was, though he did not fool the boy sat before him.
Harry had researched the Rosier family long ago. There had been a time he had been suspicious of Calypso, as he had been of most who had supported Voldemort in the Purity War. He might not have been the Boy-Who-Lived, but sharing a surname with him doubtlessly had done him no favours with the Dark Lady’s old supporters. Evan Rosier — the older man sat across the table from him at this very moment — had been one of the Death Eaters who had claimed the Imperius Defence. Sirius Black had not named him as one of his victims, but Rosier had cited being placed under the curse by the Dark Lady herself. Whether there was any truth to that or not, Harry wasn’t sure. Calypso’s mother had died in a Death Eater raid and she had been no auror, so it was difficult to tell.
The girl at least had earned Harry’s trust over the past two years. She had defended him in his first year, stuck with him through the entire Heir of Slytherin debacle last winter, and even stood with him against all odds six weeks ago in the fabled Chamber of Secrets. That last one had been what had truly solidified Harry’s belief in their friendship. She had not been among the number who he had gathered in the Speaker’s Den to reveal most of his damning secrets to, but that would come in time.
Though that time was not going to be now, and it most certainly was not going to be in front of her father — the Lord of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Rosier.
He had not earned Harry’s trust the same way Calypso had, though they had spent the better part of an hour having what Harry considered to be a more than pleasant conversation about all manner of things: from Harry’s academic excellence, to his friendship with Calypso, to Quidditch, to the controversial alteration of the Hogwarts Charter, they had seemingly covered it all.
That’s what Harry had thought, at least, until Lord Rosier brought up the Heir of Slytherin fiasco and the damage it had wrought. Harry tread carefully through those murky waters.
It wasn’t as though he could tell the man who had truly been responsible, even if he wanted to. Emily Riddle’s involvement in the whole ordeal was protected by the oath he had sworn to the Unspeakables, as was that of Ares Black. That whole situation still left a bitter taste in Harry’s mouth. He felt as though all involved had practically been blackmailed into swearing the oath by the Department of Mysteries. Had he been given any alternative option that was even remotely favourable, he was sure he would have taken it. Anything not involving the loss of his memory would surely have been better than allowing Emily Riddle to walk free for all she had done.
He still wondered after Riddle and, to a lesser extent, Black. He had seen the Heir of Slytherin leaving Platform Nine and Three Quarters alongside Ares and her family, but he had heard nothing of her since. He could only imagine what she was doing now. An incarnation of the woman who had become Lady Voldemort allowed to roam free. Well, he hoped the Unspeakables at least had enough sense not to let her roam free, but placing her with a family who had been ready to willingly allow their daughter and heiress to die, simply to revive a later incarnation of Riddle herself did not exactly cause Harry’s hopes to soar high.
And then there was that heiress herself.
Harry was unsure whether or not he had ever truly known Ares Black. Emily Riddle had been the puppet master throughout the whole thing, and it was obvious she’d had both Harry and Ares dancing on strings through the year’s entirety. Yet something told him not everything he’d seen had been entirely Emily Riddle. He suspected he had at least seen glimpses of Ares, and he had liked what he saw. What was happening to her in that house with her sadistic parents and Riddle lurking about was something that did not bear thinking about. He would have to check in on her once they returned to Hogwarts. He doubted she would be harmed too grievously. She was the heiress of the Founding House of Black; her disappearance or physical deterioration would lead to questions he doubted Bellatrix Black or Barty Crouch Jr. would have any interest in answering.
He could not tell Lord Rosier any of this. Calypso had told the man all she could, which mostly consisted of the fight with the basilisk. Harry told the man, in vague terms, that the Heir of Slytherin had lured him into a trap and taken him down into the Chamber of Secrets. He told him he had no idea as to their motive for doing so. It was enough information to satisfy Lord Rosier, but it gave nothing of true significance away. The whole time, Harry was on guard for the brush of a Legilimency probe, but he never felt one. There was the off chance Rosier was just talented enough to slip one past his defences. Harry suspected the man may well be capable of breaching his shields, but he wasn’t sold on his ability to do so without detection.
“You have had quite the year, it seems,” Lord Rosier said, watching him intently as he spoke. “And all of this on top of your classes and practice with my daughter and her friends.”
‘And practices with Grace and Charlotte,’ Harry added internally, though he said nothing of the sort. “It was a stressful year, sir.”
“I imagine it was. Tell me, how are you recovering from it? All you have said is awful enough, especially for one of your age, but this isn’t even touching on the horrible incident involving Heiress Greengrass back in January. She is one of your better friends, is she not?”
“She is, sir. I’m… okay, I guess. It… was a hard first couple of weeks. My mind just kept going back to it and I couldn’t quite shake it all, but it’s getting easier as time goes along.” He resisted the urge to scowle. “I just wish I would have been able to fight the Heir off in the first place. I wouldn’t have been in that situation if I could have.”
Lord Rosier watched Harry very closely. “My daughter tells me you are the most talented student your age she has ever seen. Your grades in your first year seemed to indicate that. From what you have told me of your current level, I imagine they would have done the same in your second, had the exams not been called off. Tell me, Harry, how interested are you in learning combat magic?”
“Very interested, sir. Calypso, Cassius, Hestia, and Flora have been a great help. I’ve been trying to learn everything from them that I can.”
Grace was also among his instructors, but that was a hand he had no intention of showing. He hadn’t even told Calypso that, though he thought she may now suspect after the way the year had ended.
“Would you perhaps be amiable to another tutor over the summer?”
Harry’s brow furrowed. “I’ll take all the help I can get, sir,” he answered carefully. He thought he could see where this was going, but he was completely unsure as to why the conversation was heading in this direction.
Lord Rosier set down his glass of wine and pierced Harry with his blue-eyed stare. “I am considered a master of combat magic by many. I spent a number of years on the duelling circuit after Hogwarts and was taught in the art from a very young age by my father. A tradition that I have kept alive through my daughter, as I’m sure you know. Your friendship is something that means very much to her. That much I can tell, and I have gotten nothing but a good impression each time I have met you. In the future, I hope to form an alliance between our houses. You will one day take over the Potter family, after all. I would be willing to instruct you in this area of magic, but I will require a promise from you.”
“A promise, sir?”
“A promise that you will not only do as I instruct, but go above and beyond in your efforts to improve, and a promise that you will commit to this practice. I will not lie to you, I am a very strict taskmaster and I demand much from those I teach. Is this something you wish to pursue?”
A part of Harry was on edge. It seemed sudden for this man to offer him such an opportunity and his first instinct was to distrust him. He might have thought it his natural Legilimency had he not been sure the man likely boasted impressive psychic defences.
But what he said was true. If he did one day hope to strike up an alliance with House Potter, the offer made sense. And why wouldn’t he seek out the opportunity? With Harry’s ascent, many of the Neutral and Conservative families would have their best opportunity to align themselves with the Potter family they would ever see. An equal opportunity certainly had not presented itself in the past number of centuries, and Merlin only knew when a similar one might arise again. Rosier also wasn’t swearing Harry to secrecy, which was a point in his favour. It meant nothing was being hidden. If he somehow used this to harm Harry, there was nothing stopping the Potter heir from informing the rest of the world.
Very cautiously, Harry nodded. “Yes, sir. I think I’d like the opportunity.”
Later that night, in Hogsmeade…
The wind whispered softly. The lid of a dustbin drifted across the street, caught up in the breeze. It was a warm summer’s night despite the wind. The sun had long-since retracted its fingers of light back over the horizon, leaving the lands far below in relative darkness. No lights shone from any of the windows lining Hogsmeade’s Main Street. Most of the light observed from the street flowed from the many windows of a castle looming not far in the distance. Its black outline towered above all other things and it camouflaged easily with the velvety blackness of the night. From this distance, the glowing spheres of light shining through the windows seemed like distant, yellow-orange pinpricks.
A CRACK broke through the silence. It was louder than any gust of wind and it was the first thing to disturb the small town’s silence since the falling of night. The figure who appeared in the street blended in every bit as well as the high walls of the castle. If one looked out their window at this time of night, they would see nothing of him. He wore an overly large black cloak with a hood vast enough to cast his face into shadow.
He stood stock still for some time, as though he was unwilling to break his cover. Though he did eventually move. He moved swiftly and with a purpose, casting furtive glances to either side as he went. His hand was clasped tightly around the handle of a long, dark stick of wood, but it was up his sleeve and out of sight.
He veered off the main street and marched through an alleyway so dark that the air might well have been swallowing all light that came too near, like a vengeful Venus flytrap.
The darkness did not seem to disturb the man, who moved with a disturbing amount of ease until he reached a house not unlike any other. It was low-ceilinged and unremarkable, made from rough, aged stone. The house’s curtains were drawn and it had no distinguishing features, but the man beneath the cloak knew all too well this was the place he was looking for.
The long stick of wood slid smoothly from his sleeve with a deft and well-practiced motion. The lock clicked and the door swung forth with a simple flick of the implement. He could have smirked, or rolled his eyes. The fact so many people relied on simple Locking Charms was a truth he would never truly understand.
He crossed the threshold without hesitating longer than to ward the door more soundly than it had been before. The home had no upper level and he could see the bedrooms at the end of the corridor he stood at the mouth of.
A wave of magic emanated from the end of the figure’s wand. It flowed throughout the house and the man quickly became aware of three presences — just as he had planned. In the room at the end of the hall and to his right, he sensed two presences. In the room directly across from it, only one.
He made his way to the end of the hall and cast silencing spells on his shoes and on the door before gently sliding it open, closing it softly behind him, and warding it to ensure no sound would escape the most occupied of the two rooms. It would not do for the house’s only other occupant.
It was dimly-lit. There were torches on a bedside table, but they were extinguished and likely had been for some time. The bed in the room’s centre was covered in white sheets, beneath which slept a man and a woman.
Ropes shot from the man’s wand, tying both the man and the woman down to the bed. The man began to stir first, but it was already much too late.
The man’s chest parted like a child’s bag that had been cut down the middle, spilling its contents in an empty school hallway. Except in this case, the contents were gruesome and the hallway was a fine white sheet. Blood poured from the opening in the man’s chest like a fast-flowing river of thick, crimson water. It stained the cloth like dark red paint spilled on the first winter snow. Some of the blood flowed less smoothly, as it was weighed down with mutilated chunks of things the man did not care to identify. Last but not least, a swollen red muscle spilled from the cavity like a loosely tumbling textbook. It was webbed with deep veins that still pulsed with the pumping of blood that had not yet ceased, though the man knew it soon would.
The woman had stirred now, but she too was not nearly fast enough. She rose from the land of dreams just in time to see her husband’s blood covering her bedsheets before she too was hit with the same spell.
Minutes later, the man crept from the room, two of the three glass vials contained in the pocket of his cloak now occupied. The door across the hall was adorned with a banner emblazoned with the symbol synonymous with the Ballycastle Bats.
Once inside the room, the man had his suspicions confirmed. The figure lying prone in the bed was much smaller than either of the couple who must have been his parents. He had a mess of brown hair that fell across his forehead. He looked to be no older than eight or nine, though he somehow seemed even younger in sleep. The man felt a deep pang of guilt in the pit of his stomach. The pain of what he was about to do tore at him. He had done terrible things before, but never anything quite like this.
Yet it was necessary. It had to be done; his goals were the most important things to him, and he could let nothing get in the way of those desires.
The man aimed his wand straight toward the boy’s head. He braced himself, knowing that the oncoming shower of gore would make the removing of hearts look like a stroll along a tranquil river by comparison.
July 20, 1993
Harry staggered on his way out of the fireplace and back into the entrance hall of Weitts Manor. Today had been his first day practicing with Lord Rosier, and it had been unlike any other session he had ever partaken in. The man had not been exaggerating his prowess even a little bit, nor how much he would expect from Harry. The only lessons he could liken it too were the ones from Voldemort back in his first year, but those felt like forever ago. He had forgotten what training so intensely felt like. It was actually quite a nice feeling, though various parts of his body that were battered and bruised were currently shouting their vehement disagreements at him.
“Rough first day.”
“Afternoon to you as well,” Harry told Charlotte as he regained his footing a bit shakily and advanced into the home.
She knew where he had gone. All members of the Weitts family did; he was too paranoid not to tell them. Just because Lord Rosier’s rationale made perfect sense and Harry could see no reason the man would turn these practices against him, that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to take every available precaution.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she quipped back.
He shrugged. “Rough in the sense that it hurt like hell. It was actually fun, though. I enjoy the challenge, and combat magic is fun.”
“What was it like?”
“Demanding. He wasn’t kidding when he said he expected a lot.” He glanced around the entrance hall to ensure no one else was listening and lowered his voice. “The only time I’ve ever been taught like that was when Voldemort was teaching me while disguised as Hurst.”
“Do you think that means Rosier was a Death Eater, then? Maybe he’s just using her old methods of teaching?”
“I thought of that too, actually, but it’s hard to say. If Voldemort taught him personally, I don’t really see him using those techniques on me. Not unless he has some grand scheme that I’m just completely missing. Besides, from what I know of her, I don’t see Voldemort just teaching all of her followers. Maybe the most important ones, but who knows whether Rosier was or wasn’t one of them. For all we know, he really could have been under the Imperius Curse.”
“Why do I feel like a part of you doesn’t believe that?”
Harry’s expression darkened. “A part of me does think he served her, yeah. It adds up well, I admit. Trust me, I’m not discounting the possibility. For now though, Voldemort is as good as dead and Rosier is being helpful. If one or both of them become a problem… well, I’m not really sure what I’ll do, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
“That’s fair; just thought I’d share where my mind went.”
“No, I’m glad you did. I didn’t tell you guys all of that in the Speaker’s Den just for you to nod along with every plan or read I make. If anything, last year just proved that I have a habit of making a mess of things. Hopefully, more of you knowing how I make plans and the like will help me make less of them that don’t work.”
Charlotte stifled a giggle behind her hand. “You sound like you’re planning world domination, or something.”
“I’m planning to stay alive until my majority and to stop whatever the hell Pettigrew is trying to do if it really does involve me. I’m not sure how hard the second will be, but I think my first two years at Hogwarts have shown that the first one is going to be a lot harder than it should be.”
Charlotte smirked and draped an arm across Harry’s shoulders. He no longer flinched from the touch of people like Charlotte, Daphne, and Tracey. For those three, he didn’t even need to suppress the urge with Occlumency. It was the first time he had come to that realization, and it was a strangely liberating one to come to.
“Don’t worry, Harry, we’ll all protect you. You have nothing to fear with us around.”
“As I recall,” he drawled, playfully throwing off her arm, “you were unconscious while we dealt with the Heir of Slytherin.”
“And as I recall,” she countered, “you weren’t in much better shape, were you?”
He scrunched up his face. “Well, let’s just hope neither of us end up in any situations like that any time soon.”
She smiled brightly. “See, that’s all you had to say. On that, we can agree.”
July 22, 1993
While I appreciate the interest and dedication you’ve shown to improving yourself as a wizard, I’m afraid I won’t be able to offer you any instruction this summer. It turns out that being chosen as the next Hogwarts Headmaster on relatively short notice leads to a very heavy workload. Especially taking over the school after this last mess of a year it experienced.
We may not even be able to return to these lessons come September. I have an aggressive schedule this year. I would recommend you try and find someone just as capable to replace me. A guarantee would be miles better than anything I could offer you, I’m afraid.
Hope all is well and since I doubt I will write to you before the date arrives, I wish you an early happy birthday.
Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft Wizardry
Order of Merlin, First Class
Senior Member of the Dark Force Defence League
Charlus felt immense amounts of disappointment wash over him like a forceful tide. Through all of it, he could not help but notice — with a begrudging bit of amusement — that Lockhart had also been upgraded from an honorary member of the Dark Force Defence League to a Senior member just like that. If anyone had gained from the horrors which had befallen the school this past year, it was Gilderoy Lockhart.
Amused or not, the dominant emotion was most certainly disappointment.
He needed to improve; that much was painfully obvious. His first year had shown him as much, as had his duel with Harry, as well as the confrontation with the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets. Every time he had gotten himself into a major spot of trouble, it had quickly become evident he was not yet equipped with the tools to deal with that situation.
Yet under the tutelage of Gilderoy Lockhart, Charlus had really felt as though he had been making significant progress. His array of spells had swollen like a freshly acquired bruise, and his wandwork had improved in leaps and bounds. And it wasn’t just the practical side of casting magic, either. His decision making seemed sharper and more refined. It was still miles off of where it needed to be, but it was definitely improving.
Until now, that was. Now, it seemed as though he had lost the man almost single-handedly responsible for a great deal of that growth.
“Something the matter, Charlus?”
He did not jump at his father’s voice, but it was a close thing. It was one of the rare days during which James Potter enjoyed a day off. He was using that to eat with his son, at the moment, which happened scarcely. Less scarcely as of late, though. Since the summer before Charlus’s first year, his father and the rest of the aurors had been swamped with work. First, it had been investigating the Gringotts break-in. That investigation had lasted almost a full year before they had given it up. The following reprieve had not lasted long, for the Chamber of Secrets had soon drawn their collective attention. Really, these last six weeks had been the most Charlus had seen his father since he had begun his education at Hogwarts.
The boy himself had been so lost in thought, that he had almost forgotten his father was in the room at all, let alone close enough to notice any visible reactions. He tried to force his mind clear using the Occlumency techniques Lockhart had taught him. They were far from developed, but he was nearing the point where he would be able to actually begin repelling foreign presences from his thoughts. Lockhart had hoped to begin that instruction some time in the fall, but Merlin only knew now. If finding someone to teach him defensive magic was going to be difficult, Charlus suspected it would be next to impossible to find anyone both trusted enough and talented enough to teach him Occlumency.
“Just… a thing,” said Charlus.
James set down his fork. “It isn’t anything to do with anything that happened last year, is it?”
James’s eyes narrowed. “Not really?”
Charlus sighed. “I want to learn how to fight. I’ve wanted to for ages. Ever since everything that happened at the end of my first year. Last year, after the mess when I duelled Harry, Lockhart started teaching me. It was going really well and I was actually having a lot of fun with it, even though it was hard.” He fought hard against the sour expression which threatened to break out across his face. “He can’t teach me now though, because he’s Hogwarts Headmaster, and I’m not sure who else could. I really want to keep practicing, but I’m not sure I’ll ever find anyone as good at teaching this stuff than Lockhart.”
“Ah,” said James, looking lost as to how he should answer.
Charlus fixed him with a hopeful stare. “Could you find me someone, Dad?”
He did not dare ask about Occlumency. It was a legal grey area and he was far from certain how his father might react to the knowledge that he had been learning it. That was something he would just have to search out on his own and hope he was extremely lucky and found someone who could teach it. Combat magic seemed more doable. His father shouldn’t be against the idea of him learning it and being a Senior Auror, he surely had all kinds of connections that may help Charlus learn.
James frowned. “I’m… not sure I can. I wouldn’t trust many people to teach you that kind of magic. Most of the ones I would are aurors and busy. Not to mention I doubt they’d be able to teach you while you were at school.”
“But can you try?”
Charlus’s expression was more pleading than James had seen it in years. He could not help but wish he was unaware as to why this meant as much to his son as it did. Yet he knew. He knew what had transpired at the end of his first year, and he had a pretty good idea as to at least some of the details surrounding his second. The idea was one he did not like, but given the circumstances, he could hardly begrudge Charlus for the desire.
“I… suppose I can try.” There was a great deal of hesitation in James’s voice. He really couldn’t think of anyone who might be both able and well-suited to teach Charlus what he most wanted to learn, but he would at least try.
Charlus beamed, hardly daring to allow his hopes to rise too high. “Thanks, Dad. It means a lot.”
“Don’t mention it, Charlus,” said James as a few ideas did indeed flash through his mind. Most were dismissed instantly, but a flew clung on persistently, despite the fact one or two of them were so ludicrous, he ought never to have thought of them at all. “I’ll try and figure something out.
July 23, 1993
Sapphire-blue eyes shot open as a figure sat bolt upright in a bed, a terrible, high-pitched scream torn from her lungs with the might of a gale-force wind. A loud BANG emanated through the room as a dresser exploded into a hundred wooden splinters. A desk sailed across the room and slammed hard into the opposite wall. It flew with such little resistance one might have thought it an oddly shaped leaf caught up in a strong, autumn breeze.
The girl’s heart pounded with speed and force that resembled a sporadic performance from the drummer of a wild rock band more so than the functioning of an essential internal organ. A thin sheen of sweat clung to her like sparkling dew might cling to damp grass early on a summer’s morning.
Just when she thought she would die from the rate of it and that her heart could not possibly beat any faster, there came a sound like a cannon blast as the door to the room banged open and two figures charged through. They were both tall. One had brown hair, the other honey-blonde. One of them had the same eyes as the girl in the bed. Only upon seeing them did the girl’s heart rate slow down, and only upon seeing them did she allow the tears of confusion, panic, and relief to come tumbling from her eyes like rocks sliding down the face of a mountain in the midst of a destructive avalanche.
“Shh,” the woman was whispering into the girl’s ear. She had rushed across the room and wrapped her in her arms despite the man’s warning protestations. “Tori, it’s going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay. It’s over, we just need you to calm down, okay. Everything is going to be fine.”
Astoria Greengrass was not entirely sure whether or not she believed her mother, but it was easier to give in and let the emotions pour out of her than to protest, so she allowed herself to go limp in the embrace and allow Celia to support her through the entire ordeal.
A corridor or so away, a figure shimmered into being a few minutes later with a gasp.
Harry had heard the sounds from the room. Until now, he had been reasonably sure the room housing Astoria Greengrass had been enshrouded by Silencing and Privacy Wards. When he’d heard the loud banging from the room, that assumption had only served to raise his intrigue. The seeming collapse of the wards mixed with sounds like that were never not going to draw his attention.
And so he had cast a Notice-Me-Not Charm on himself for good measure, along with becoming invisible through the use of his ring; which he also used to hear every word spoken inside the room.
Not that it told him much.
Except for the fact that something was definitely wrong with Astoria, and that something was clearly much more severe than Harry had even realized.
That evening, at Black Manor…
Ares had been on the way down to dinner when a hand had landed on her shoulder. She nearly jumped out of her skin; an impulse that did not become any less dominant when she saw who had put their hand on her shoulder.
She had done as she’d promised and done her best to treat Riddle with complete and total fairness. She was actually impressed with how well she had done. Sure, she was more quiet around her than most anyone else, but she was introverted by nature so that was easy to pass off. Still, just because she treated her well didn’t mean Riddle did not still make her wary.
Especially when she could do things like that. Easily sneak up on Ares in her own home, seemingly without any effort and with the Black Heiress left with no chance of tracing her approach.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” said Riddle. “I just wanted to warn you.”
Ares looked up at her warily. “Warn me about what?”
She could have laughed aloud. “You think I’m not worried about—”
“Whether you’re worried about them or not has no relevance, Ares. You need to be much more on guard now than ever.”
This made her pause. “Why?”
“I’m not exactly sure.” It was painfully obvious how much that fact bothered Emily Riddle, but she pressed on nonetheless. “But they are both agitated. They have been for the last couple of weeks, but now more than ever. I can practically feel the stress flowing from both of them, even despite their Occlumency. Something about today is different. I’m not exactly sure what, but something has them more on edge than I have ever seen. Whether it relates to you or not, I’m not sure, but be extra cautious not to draw their ire at dinner.” She paused. “It… may be best if you spend the night with me. So long as we’re together, they won’t lash out at you.”
Ares did not love the idea of spending an entire night with the older girl, but something about her demeanour made her shiver. She seemed deathly serious, and Ares knew she was right about one thing, bitter though it made her. Her parents would never treat Emily with anything but the love and courtesy one might expect to be shown to a beloved princess. So long as Ares was with her, she was safe.
Safe from her parents, at the very least, but she trusted Riddle, to a degree. She shouldn’t; she knew that, but she did. Something inside her trusted Riddle much more deeply than it should. It was actually the existence of that part of her which inspired more wariness than Riddle herself.
Yet even without it, she was sure she would fear her parents more than Riddle. Emily Riddle had not raised her like a pig for slaughter. She had not remorselessly thrown her daughter onto the deep, twisting path that would lead to her own demise.
It was a low bar to set, but Riddle did at least clear it, so Ares nodded tightly and trailed in Emily’s wake as they made their way down towards the dining room together.
Late that night…
A boat bumped hard against rough, jagged rock and a procession of men staggered out of its cramped confines. Behind them, the sea churned violently, stretching out on all sides much further than the eye could see. The sky above was veiled with a thick layer of clouds, but it was a peaceful night in the heavens. The water still seemed to lash out at anything and everything with the violent vigour of a Tasmanian devil, so the men now standing on the jagged mass of rock could only imagine how turbulent their journey may have been had the heavens been less merciful and reigned a vengeful storm down upon them.
Had the island they stood on been smaller, they might have feared the waves would capsize it, or pull it under, but there was no fear of that. Despite the relative emptiness of the vast sea that seemed to stretch on forever, the island they stood on was by no means small.
Nor was it at all hospitable.
They stood on what might have been a beach at one time, but where sand would typically have been, only sharp rocks jutted out here and there. There did not seem to be more than a foot of flat land in any direction. Crevices seemed subtly strewn about the island like well-disguised land mines, and in other areas, the rocks rose from the Earth and made traversing the lands beneath them more perilous than one might expect.
Before them lay what must have passed as a path on this island. A twisty, marred mass of land that was marginally less impeded than any other. It led onwards before sloping up and rising up the face of a small, jagged mountain, atop which sat a black fortress more imposing than any natural obstacle that may stand in their path.
“Merlin,” muttered Kingsley Shacklebolt, having never seen the famous structure before now.
The man in the lead sniffed. “There’s a reason we only check on this infernal place once every thirteen years, Shacklebolt,” said Barty Crouch — the Minister for Magic. “If I had it my way, we would check more often, but thirteen is a powerful number. We dare not leave it any longer and few men are willing to come more frequently.” His face darkened. “And the guards likely don’t wish to see us any sooner than those years. Now, come. Let’s get our business over with and be gone.”
It took some time to climb the perilous path. The higher they climbed, the more they realized that the convenience had little to do with the path’s existence. The entrance to the fortress was not atop the mountain at all. Instead, it rested within the rock’s belly, and the only entrance was through a small crevice at the top of the winding path. It stood only wide enough for one wizard to pass through at a time and water streamed from its top, despite the fact the stream seemed to come from nowhere.
“Thief’s downfall,” said Crouch with a nod of approval. “Fitting that the only way to enter the fortress is through here.”
The enchanted water washed over all of them and revealed nothing, for none of them had anything to hide. All of them felt a sinister tingle on their skin wherever the droplets of water made contact, but it did nothing to them.
As it turned out, the Thief’s Downfall was only the first of many security checks, and it took them quite some time to enter the fortress itself.
When they did, a number of the men gasped as shivers wracked their bodies.
It was like they had stepped over a line that magically divided a smouldering dessert from the barren lands of a great, arctic tundra. Except there was no ice in sight and not even the barest hint of wind swept through the vast, dark hall they now stood in.
Yet all of them knew neither ice nor wind were responsible for the sudden and penetrating rush of cold.
The force responsible for that was all around them, though none of the things that comprised it drew too near to them. Figures taller than any man, completely covered and hooded by long, black cloaks, and surrounded by an air of darkness and despair that was impossible to replicate hovered all around them.
After a moment, one of the figures glided forward, though it only came close enough to hear the words spoken by the Minister for Magic.
“We are here for our obligatory scan of the prison. Lead on.”
The dementor gave no sign it heard nor understood except for turning its back on them and gliding slowly away. The procession followed after it at a distance, unwilling to draw closer than absolutely necessary.
Azkaban Prison was nestled in this vast fortress, though the tour did not take long. Most of the cells were on the lower levels and the corridors were all long, vast, and open. There were few turns or divides.
Barty Crouch’s face stayed impassive throughout the whole ordeal until they reached their final destination, nestled in the deepest, darkest corner of the fortress; not on its top floor, but in what resembled dungeons beneath the level which they had entered from.
The High Security Wing.
This wing was why Crouch had only brought aurors whom he knew to be at least somewhat versed in the art of Occlumency. The dark cloud of dementors here was so thick that they had to part to let the wizards pass. From inside the cells on either side of the hall, sounds could be heard. Moaning, scraping, tuneless humming, and even horrible screaming were among the cacophony of terror that floated to the visitors’ ears.
It was not the dementors nor the sounds of anguish that caused Crouch’s jaw to tighten. It was the memory of those behind the walls. The memories of what they had done and what their actions had wrought.
“I will see these prisoners,” Crouch demanded. “I will see every last one of them before I leave this premises.”
One after another, the cell doors were opened briefly. Every time, dementors surrounded the entrance and all of the aurors drew their wands.
Not that it mattered. These prisoners were chained and none made any attempt to escape; many were not even awake. Crouch felt a certain degree of sadistic pleasure at seeing each face here… until they reached the final cell.
It was at the end of the hall, and Crouch knew all too well who loomed inside. A spark lit in his eyes in anticipation and he pocketed his wand. He would let his guard hold this man at wand point. He did not trust himself to hold a wand around the monster inside.
Yet when the door of the cell opened, all wands fell limply to the sides of those who held them, for none could believe what they saw.
‘No,’ thought Crouch, ‘that’s not possible.’
The cell was small and squat, just like all the others. What made it different was that it seemed to be without an occupant. The chains which had once bound the cell’s intended prisoner were lying loosely on the floor, coated in aged rust.
No one said so much as a word, for not even Barty Crouch, the famed and esteemed war leader and Minister for Magic could imagine how in Merlin’s name Sirius Black had escaped from Azkaban Prison.
And so it begins. I will spoil nothing, but I will say right now that this did not happen in a fashion at all similar to canon, so try not to make too many assumptions. They will only lead to more confusion as the year goes on.
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