AoC 59

Ashes of Chaos

Year 3: The Blackest of Truths

Chapter 5: Shockwaves and Schemes

By ACI100

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.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to my editor Fezzik, as well as my other betas Athena Hope, Luq707, Mr. 3CP, Raven, Regress, and Yoshi89 for their incredible work on this story.

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Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos

By ACI100

Year 3: The Blackest of Truths 

Chapter 5: Shockwaves and Schemes

July 24, 1993

Weitts Manor 

8:23 AM

When Harry first entered the dining room that Saturday morning, he knew at once that something was wrong. The atmosphere was thicker and more suffocating than the most acrid of smoke and all at the table seemed tenser than wrought iron rods. He studied all of their faces carefully as he slowly plodded towards his seat, but he could not immediately glean what had them all in such a mood. He thought it was possibly something to do with Astoria. Even though Harry knew she was now awake, she was still not at breakfast. 

Just before taking his seat, he realized that likely wasn’t the case. Almost all at the table were clutching copies of the Daily Prophet, and those who weren’t seemed to be reading it over the shoulders of those who had copies in hand. Harry did not have a copy of his own, but Daphne did, so he leant over her shoulder to read. As tense as the room may have been, he could never have guessed the true magnitude of the situation which had brought such tension forth.


By Rita Skeeter

The moment was brief, but Harry lost complete control over his Occlumency, if only for a second.

Sirius Black had escaped from Azkaban?

He did not know much of the island, but he was painstakingly aware of its reputation. It was said to be the most fortified prison in the world. The only standing counterpart with the potential to rival it was Nurmengard, and that fortress held only one prisoner. Azkaban was said to be inescapable and somewhere in the far north; surrounded on all sides by endless expanses of rough, turbulent sea. If any were to somehow free themselves from their cell, crossing the ocean and returning to humanity was said to be completely impossible.

That was saying nothing of the creatures who guarded the island.

Dementors, they were called. Harry knew little of them, but he knew they were feared above most other things. They had come up in a conversation with Blaise and Charlotte whilst discussing Hagrid’s temporary sentence after he had been hauled off by Crouch back in March. They had told him the creatures were completely impervious to almost all forms of magic; that they emanate a sense of dread so powerful that it cripples most around them; and that, if provoked, they were capable of sucking a human’s soul straight from their body. Blaise had also mentioned how tense the relationship was between dementors and the ministry. They were cruel beasts, he had said, and they served the ministry only because they provided them with prey in the form of their captives.

Creatures like that would not be at all willing to ever let a prisoner slip through their fingers. That and the sea alone should have done it, but Harry was sure Azkaban likely had other precautions to prevent escapes; let alone the actual infrastructure of the place itself. It was almost unfathomable to imagine that anyone could ever escape from such a place.

And then there was the identity of the escapee to consider. 

Sirius Black was the most notorious of Voldemort’s Death Eaters. After her fall, he had sat the most infamous trial of the past several centuries. During said trial, he had admitted to the bewitching of some of the most notable names in the country; not to mention about a dozen counts of murder and the betrayal of Lily and James Potter.

Harry had spent quite some time reading up on Sirius Black. He did come from the same family as a girl whom he had thought to be a friend for many months. A family that was perhaps the most powerful in the country, and one that was closely tied to his own through marriage. The fact Black had been partially responsible for the death of his mother and the ten years of hell he had spent on Privet Drive had only caused the potentially poisonous dose of curiosity in his stomach to boil more insistently until he could ignore it no longer.

Sirius had been next in line to inherit the Black lordship; a title that had gone to Bellatrix out of necessity to avoid the house’s extinction when he was sent to Azkaban and his brother had been pronounced dead. The reports of his trial had written about how Sirius Black had laughed openly at Crouch and mocked Dumbledore, promising the return and vengeance of the Dark Lady. He would be the first to feel her wrath, he had said. Well, first after the Potter brat, of course.

His escape made Harry uneasy. He knew that Voldemort had attempted to regain power during his first year and he suspected the Death Eaters were more active than they had been for many years. If he was right, his brother’s godfather was among them. Men like Lucius Malfoy and even Evan Rosier were possibly involved as well.

Voldemort had offered to spare Harry in his first year. She had even offered to train him, but he doubted that opportunity would be offered up again. Especially not after he had defied her so openly and especially not after how that confrontation had ended. If she found out about how he had essentially tried to oppose an alternate version of herself during this last year, he suspected any future meeting between the two of them would be even less pleasant.

He had no desire to see Voldemort return. Her regime of blood supremacist nonsense was not one he condoned, nor was it a cause he wanted to see at all furthered. Above even that, he feared what her return would mean for him. Not only would she be an impenetrable shadow that seemed to loom around each and every corner, but he imagined life in Slytherin would become exponentially more difficult. Seeing as he had already had a number of close calls with students like Selwyn, Macnair, and Malfoy — before he had transferred to Beauxbatons — that was not a reality he wanted.

Sirius Black’s sudden escape was worrying. It could possibly tie into his suspicions regarding the Death Eaters. Hell, Pettigrew had been friends with Black at school, as well as Harry’s father. The slimy detective of the DMLE could have something to do with it, for all Harry knew. He personally didn’t think the man capable of masterminding an escape from Azkaban, but Merlin only knew of the things he was unaware of.

He felt eyes on him as he pretended to read Skeeter’s article. Really, his mind was pondering all that this could mean. He had not yet come anywhere near mastering the technique Grace had told him about some time ago — the one about creating multiple fully-functioning streams of thought. It was still outside of the realm of possibility, though he was edging closer with every passing day and week.

He looked up from the paper after what he felt to be an appropriate period of time had passed. Everyone gathered at the table was much too subtle to give away they were looking at him unless they actually wanted him to know. Which meant both Daphne and Charlotte made it extremely obvious, whilst all the adults did an admirable job of hiding the fact they had just been observing him. Harry absently wondered which camp Grace would fall in if she had been present that morning, but it mattered not. Especially not in the face of the revelations the paper had just revealed.

Harry wondered whether those watching him feared he may be affected by the man’s escape. It was true it worried him, but there really was nothing he could do. In a rare moment of accurate self-reflection, Harry realized how far he had come in the nearly two years since he had entered the magical world. When he had first appeared at Hogwarts, he was not nearly as careful and he played much more offensively. He still leant in that direction, but he was more cautious and more modulated now. Back then, the impulse to try and do something about Black may have arisen.

But not now.

If this last year had taught him anything, it was that, still, he was not nearly careful enough. He had learned about the dangers of overconfidence and of not thinking more than one or two steps ahead. 

These were things he had vowed to master this year, habits he had vowed to break. And so he forced his Occlumency back into place and allowed his mind to move on from the entire fiasco surrounding Sirius Black; at least for now.

Meanwhile, at Potter Manor…

It was as though an erumpent’s horn had exploded inside the dining hall of Potter Manor. Both the lord and his son sat in stiff-jawed silence as each of them stared at their respective copy of the Daily Prophet.

Charlus felt numb. He had heard the name Sirius Black repeated for many years on end. He could not remember hearing it for the first time. He simply remembered knowing of the man and all he had done. He knew that Black had been his father’s best friend at Hogwarts for many years. The way his father told it, Black had begun to shift towards darkness near the end of their Hogwarts years. His Uncle Pete, in particular, seemed to believe it had been during their sixth year. 

Charlus cared little for the relationship his father had once shared with the most notorious of Lady Voldemort’s Death Eaters. He cared about what had come after those school years.

He had grown up hating the name Sirius Black just as he had grown up despising Lady Voldemort. Conceptually, he knew and understood all that Black had done. He was well aware of the impact the man’s actions had had on his life, but it had always been little more than understanding. 

He had been in Azkaban and as far as Charlus knew, he would remain there and rot for the rest of his life. That had been an outcome Charlus was more than satisfied with, so he had mostly tried not to think of Sirius Black and the evil associated with his name. He was simply another monster from the past who he would never meet. That dull sort of detachment was easier to deal with than the alternative; which Charlus suspected would have been something akin to righteous hatred. 

Yet that blissful reality had just been shattered.

Sirius Black had escaped from Azkaban. It was noted that he may well have drowned in the sea and that they couldn’t imagine how he could possibly have gotten across. 

That was the line included in the official statement provided by the Ministry of Magic, at least. Rita Skeeter had shared a more worrying opinion. Charlus despised the woman and he had for years, but he regretfully was forced to admit that her cold, logical conclusion seemed altogether more likely in his opinion. 

If Sirius Black truly is a man skilled enough to thwart the dementors and escape from the deepest depths of Azkaban’s most secure holding area without immediately alerting the authorities, is it really all that difficult to believe that same man would be able to cross the ocean? If he had what must have been a master plan in place, surely he would have accounted for the expanse of water he would later need to cross?

Loathe as Charlus may have been to admit it, Skeeter made an annoyingly convincing argument. Black would have needed to be a fool to not account for the ocean outside Azkaban’s walls, and Charlus knew he was no fool. Not only from his miraculous escape from a prison deemed to be inescapable, but also from the few times his father had truly opened up about the man who had been set to become Lord of the Founding House of Black.

His father enjoyed speaking of his escapades at Hogwarts, but he did not much enjoy speaking of some of the people who he had alongside with him during those times. Of the three best friends James had once had, only Peter remained close to him. Sirius Black was, of course, in Azkaban and the other was apparently a man named Remus Lupin. Charlus’s father spoke barely more about Lupin than he did Black — perhaps even less. He knew the man had been studious, a prefect, and somewhat quiet. He knew that they had remained close up until their graduation and that something about the war had driven them apart. He was also not daft enough not to realize that his father was sad, maybe even depressed about the whole situation. Something had happened that he had never spoken on.

Black was brought up a bit more often, though not in any more detail. He knew he had been cunning and witty, and that he had been his father’s primary partner in crime. 

He knew from those accounts that Black was clever and far from a fool, and he had no doubt that the man had somehow made it across the great sea. The question remained whether or not he had come back to Britain or whether he might have sought a new and fresh start elsewhere.

Charlus got what he thought may have been his answer when he looked up and studied his father. The man’s face was pale as milk and as bloodless as any ghost. His hazel eyes suddenly seemed somehow as dark as Snape’s. The look was one Charlus had only ever seen on very rare occasions. Those were the times when his father had spoken seriously about Voldemort and, in particular, the prospect that she may one day rise again. 

But there was something different about his expression now. There was less biting anger and more… more of something that Charlus could not identify.

He opened his mouth to speak, but he was never given the opportunity to finish. James’s glass began to rattle. He set it down hard enough for his tea to slosh out over the table cloth, but he paid the dampened linen no heed. 

James was sweeping from the hall before Charlus could speak so much as a word, let alone decide how he felt.

He thought the answer might be angry, for he could feel something hot and unpleasant bubbling in the pit of his stomach like some sort of violently churning fire, but he still felt relatively numb and unsure.

The only fully-formed thought he had as he stared at his father’s vacated chair was that the vibrant, near-blinding rays of sun streaming merrily and ironically through the large glass window were like the fingers of some cruel and ill-humoured deity — poking and prodding at the bear and seeing if it could elicit a reaction it found amusing. 

It was typical of Charlus’s life, really.

Minutes later, at the Burrow…

Ginny did not know how to react to the news. She had grown up hearing all the same things about Sirius Black as all of her brothers, yet it did not seem to affect her the same way as it had them. There was nothing she could do about it and Black had always seemed a distant footnote in the country’s history. Now that he had escaped, she didn’t know how she was supposed to feel, so she looked around the room and carefully studied each of her family members in turn.

Molly had let out a high-pitched cry when she read the front-page headline plastered prominently on that morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet. The jaw-dropping news had left her clutching at her heart as she shook in her chair. Her children had been concerned, but they had hoped it to be merely an overreaction. Yet, when all of them read the same article, none of them reacted in ways all that different. 

Ron sat numbly, stiff as a stone statue and with a vacant sort of look in his eyes. Ginny silently wondered whether or not Black’s escape might actually help her youngest brother get over whatever had him so steadfastly set against Slytherin House. It was an odd habit he had seemed to develop quite suddenly. Maybe now that he was reminded of the fact that Voldemort’s most infamous servant had been a Gryffindor, he would begin to think on the matter of houses and bias with a degree of rational clarity.

Percy fidgeted madly as he tried to pretend the news had not phased him. Arthur broke the glass he was holding and swiftly made an excuse to leave the table. Not even Fred or George had a quip capable of lightening the mood. It seemed that neither of them had any quips at all, which was extremely odd and out of character. Ginny could scarcely remember a time when her twin brothers had been this shocked into silence. 

She may not have been sure how to react, but she liked none of the examples set by those around her, so she cleared her throat. “Mum, can I have the paper if you’re done with the article? I want to check the Quidditch scores.”

She received a number of strange looks from her brothers, but her mother relented, handing her the Prophet with a shaking hand. It was not at all unusual for Ginny to snatch the morning post to see that past day’s Quidditch scores. She actually was interested, even today, though she would be lying if she said it was much more than a distraction.

That’s what she had thought, anyway.

While flipping through the pages, something caught her eye and she paused. Her first instinct was to let out a squeak not unlike the one her mother had allowed to escape upon seeing the news of Sirius Black’s mysterious escape. She crushed the urge. A year in Slytherin had taught her to modulate herself more carefully than that. It also was just not the time for such reactions. With everyone in the kitchen so tense and on edge, one of them might have drawn their wand prepared for to-the-death combat had she let out any such exclamation.

“Mum!” she said instead, gesturing hurriedly for her mother to take back the paper. “Look at this, mum! We won!”

There were no thoughts of any victory in Molly’s mind as she stared blankly towards her youngest daughter. “Won what?”

“The galleon draw, mum! We won! Here, look!”

Ginny waited no longer, instead thrusting the paper forcefully into her mother’s still-shaking hands. Molly looked confused until she saw the first page, at which point her jaw fell loosely open and her eyes widened like the jaws of some hungry beast. It was clear that she had forgotten all about the galleon draw Ginny had convinced her to enter earlier in the summer. 

Many of her brothers seemed to have forgotten as well, but not the twins. Their eyes had sharpened at once and they had been the first to stand and rush to their mother’s side to read the article over her shoulder. Ron and Percy followed at a more sedate pace, though they too were eager to read.

As Ginny watched smiles of genuine glee break out on all of their faces, she could not help but steal a look at her youngest brother and allow a small smile to play across her lips. If not for Slytherin and the confidence it had given her, it was unlikely her family would ever have considered entering the draw. 

Sometimes, irony really was a beautiful thing when it wasn’t too busy making one’s life a living hell.

Several hours later, at the Ministry of Magic…

The building housing the magical government of Great Britain was in an uproar the morning after Sirius Black’s reported escape from Azkaban prison. Robed figures rushed here and there, scampering this way and that with the haste and uncertainty one might expect of a beheaded chicken. Even behind the closed doors belonging to the offices of important and dignified men and women, the rooms were not a great deal more organized.

High above the atrium swarming with the worried and uncertain, was situated the most ostentatious and dignified office of all. Even it was not spared from the morning’s surge of chaos. 

The man who the office was meant for was currently not present. The large, well-varnished desk stood as normal, though the ornate chair behind it sat as vacant as a barren, undiscovered rock far out at sea. 

Others were present, however — six men and a woman. The woman was pacing with the purpose and tenacity of a wild lion. Her monocle bobbed on her brow, but she paid it no heed. Standing in one of the room’s corners was a battered man who seemed to have more scars than greying hairs, which was saying a great deal. He was still at the moment, but every time he moved, one could hear the dull thump of his wooden leg — a token of his valiant service to the ministry during the Purity War. 

The other five men chose to sit in their seats facing the empty chair behind the desk. One of them was tall, well-muscled, and dark-skinned. His countenance was as unreadable as the rocky face of a mountain, though every one of his muscles was as tense and unyielding as an iron chain. Two seats to his right sat a plain-looking man with dark features and sharp eyes. To his right sat the most composed of the bunch; a younger looking wizard with pale features, straw-coloured hair, and a golden watch upon his wrist. To the dark-skinned man’s left sat an auburn-haired man who looked exceedingly nervous, and the final seat — the one between the dark-eyed man and his well-muscled counterpart — was filled by a thin man with elegant glasses that sat a touch askew and hair as black as night, which was more tousled than usual.

None of them spoke so much as a word as they waited and waited. After what felt like forever, the door slammed open and in stepped a stern-looking man who looked more exhausted than any had seen him in many years.

“We will begin at once,” said Barty Crouch Sr, the Minister for Magic, as he took a seat behind his desk and gestured for Madam Bones and Head Auror Moody to do the same. The Head of the DMLE complied at once, but Moody shook his head. His magical, electric-blue eye stayed fixated upon the door and his gnarled fingers kept curling and uncurling, clearly ready to summon his wand at a moment’s notice. “Amelia,” said Crouch, “your report, please.”

“There isn’t much to say, Minister. You were there yourself and spent some hours searching the prison. I think there is no reason to think Black is still on the island. If he was, I doubt he would have been free. The dementors were not happy with his escape, from what I’ve heard. They would have made it their mission to find him. Notices have gone out all over the country and I have deployed aurors to all feasible places at which Black could have resurfaced from the ocean on our shores. Nothing has turned up so far, but Alastor and I will have our men continue to search.”

Crouch nodded stiffly and turned to the man to Kingsley Shacklebolt’s left. “What of the dementors and their reactions, Justin?”

Justin Abbott — Lord of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Abbott and Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures cleared his throat nervously. “They’ve been tight-lipped, sir. The limited information my department has gotten out of them isn’t promising. They’re unsure of when Black escaped.”

“How can they possibly be unsure?” It was Senior Auror James Potter, his eyes flashing with an intensity that most present had never seen there before.

“Well, they don’t have eyes, so that doesn’t help. The best we know, dementors seem to sense us as little more than prey. Could be that they just have so much of it there, they missed it.”

“They bring the prisoners food, do they not?”

“They do,” said Amelia Bones, “though it’s impossible to say how careless dementors may be.”

“Or,” growled Moody from his corner, “how loyal.”

“What is this, Alastor?” asked the Minister.

“They served her in the last war, not us. Black was her most valuable follower if he’s to be believed. Maybe they know exactly when the mutt got out and just aren’t tellin’.”

“We have no reason to believe the dementors are anything but loyal,” put in Lord Abbott.

“Except for the fact you can’t explain how in the high hell they didn’t notice the most feared prisoner on the damned island sneaking out from right under their non-existent noses, eh.”

Justin Abbott had no answer for that, nor, it seemed, did anyone else.

The Minister for Magic looked furious and downright thunderous. “We shouldn’t waste too much time.” It was Shacklebolt who spoke, his deep, calming voice having the desired effect. “Whether the dementors are loyal or not doesn’t matter now. We can keep a closer eye on them, but I don’t see what we’ll do if they’re not. Black is our primary concern. We need to find him and figure out how he escaped. It’s the only way we’ll ever solve this problem.”

“Shacklebolt has the right of it,” said Amelia, turning to the Minister. “I recommend deploying detectives to Azkaban as soon as possible. If the dementors don’t know or won’t talk, let our best men have a crack at the island.”

Crouch took a deep, calming breath, still clearly dissatisfied with the present turn of events. “Very well. Deploy whomever you’d like and keep me up to date of all developments as soon as they reach you.” Crouch turned to his son — Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation — who had thus far not said so much as a word. “What of the international response to this mess?”

“It’s too early to say, I’m afraid,” said the younger Crouch. “No owls have yet reached us and the floo calls haven’t started pouring in quite yet. I don’t imagine it will do any of our relations any favours, but it will be manageable so long as it’s framed in a certain light.”

“Frame it however you’d like, but I will not have insolence on the part of those horrid beasts costing us major alliances around the globe.”

“I will do my best, Minister.”

“Do we have any ideas as to Black’s motives?” asked Dawlish. “Will he even return to Britain? Or will he go looking for what he probably thinks is left of She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?”

“I think Black made his goals pretty obvious in that trial.” There was poison in his former friend’s surname as James spoke, enough of it to kill a small horse. “Besides, Sirius was never the type to go looking around and waiting on the beck and call of others.”

Moody’s mouth twisted into a cruel grin. “So he won’t wait for her to get power, eh? He’ll go straight for ‘the Potter brat’, then?” He drew crude air quotes around the name Sirius had given Charlus at the conclusion of his trial.

James’s face set in a hard mask. “He’ll try.”

July 25, 1993

The Department of Mysteries

12:06 AM

The ancient gong had sounded at midnight, signalling the start of this emergency gathering of the Department of Mysteries. The roll call had been taken and now all was silent. The chamber was tense and those gathered waited.

“I doubt I need to tell any of you why we are all here,” said Saul Croaker. “The Ministry of Magic does seem to be taking action regarding the escape of Sirius Black, but it would be negligent on our part if we did not conduct our own inquiries and investigations.”

“Do we mean to send our own men onto the island?”

“As of now, we mean to do nothing, but it is certainly the course of action I think most advisable.”

Records cleared their throat to draw the attention of the others. “I would remind you that the ministry, via the treaty signed centuries ago, is only allowed to deploy men to Azkaban once every thirteen years, unless there are exceptional circumstances at play.”

“I would certainly think the escape of a madman would qualify as an exceptional circumstance,” said Soul.

“Of course,” agreed Records, “but the ministry is already set to deploy detectives and aurors. They are negotiating the terms as we speak. I don’t think it likely we will get the same acceptance, even as a body of the ministry. Not when our department doesn’t seem to be the one chosen to handle such affairs.”

“Not with Crouch in charge,” intoned Blood. “He distrusts us nearly as much as those who claimed the Imperius Defence.” 

What went unsaid was that, for all they knew, any one of them could be among the number who had been acquitted of Death Eater-associated crimes via the Imperius Defence. None of them knew the identities of their counterparts, after all. The lone exception was Saul Croaker and, to a lesser extent, Records.

“You will hear no opposition from me on the front that it will be difficult to gain access to the prison,” said Croaker. “You will also hear little opposition to any ideas put forth, no matter how… radical they may be.”

“Are you suggesting some sort of breach of the island?” asked Morality, scandalized.

Croaker’s lips curved into a smile. Somehow, being the only one in the room whose face could be seen seemed to add to the effect. “Of course not, that would be foolish. I had a different sort of idea in mind. Though I confess, I’m not entirely sure how we would execute such a scheme.”

“What exactly did you have in mind?” asked Soul. None could see his face, but many in the room could practically hear the widening of the man’s eyes.

“Something more subtle,” said Croaker. “We need access to that island and a party is being deployed by the Ministry of Magic. Do the maths.”

The gathered figures caught on one after another, slowly nodding in agreement. In most cases, at least. Morality was as stoic as ever and the posture displayed by Records was not that one that screamed of being pleased.

“Now here’s the real question,” said Creatures, “why do we think we will be more successful than the DMLE’s top detectives? At Hogwarts, it was different. They were aurors; trained for combat and reconnaissance but not deep investigative work.”

“I might have some ideas, if you’ll hear me.”

Most in the room had to do doubletakes to make sure they had all seen correctly. Mundane was not one of the normal contributors — least of all to conversations of this sort of manner or magnitude. The nature of his branch was extremely multi-faceted, but it was rooted primarily in the muggle world.

“Do you, Mundane?” asked Croaker, sounding a mix of skeptical and interested.

“I do,” the figure said with a touch of excitement in his voice. “You see, the muggles have these wondrous investigative techniques that I think could be a hit. All I would need was to get access to the prison.”

Soul snorted. “No mere feat, I might add.”

“Silence, Soul,” snapped Croaker, an odd gleam in his eyes. “I will hear Mundane speak before they are so casually dismissed.”

And so Mundane spoke.

That evening, at Black Manor…

Utensils clinked softly in the dining hall of Black Manor as those at the table finished up that evening’s dinner. Conversation had been scarce but polite. If Ares had not already been on edge and forewarned by Riddle, she might have thought all was normal. Her parents rarely spoke to her much as it was and tonight really wasn’t all that different. Being forewarned did mean she was watching much more carefully, however. This allowed her to spot things she may have missed on most other occasions. Things that let her know exactly how far from normal the situation truly was.

Her parents hid most things very well, and their tension on this night was no exception, but Ares could just manage to see it. The way her father stabbed just as little bit more forcefully at his food, the way her mother kept stifling yawns behind a hand, and the vague traces of shadows under both of their eyes were the most obvious tells. 

Ares knew exactly what had them on edge — it was, after all, the same thing that had the rest of the nation so tense and worried. What was different about her parents was that Ares, though very much unsure as to the exact cause of their mood, was pretty sure it had nothing to do with fearing Sirius Black’s evil and his Death Eater connections. It was not exactly a difficult assumption to come to, nor was it radical or creative. 

What was a touch more so had been what Emily had hinted at less than an hour ago, just minutes before their dinner was set to be served.

About an hour earlier…

Ares had been just about ready to go down to the dining hall for dinner when there came a soft knock on her bedroom door. She bid the would-be visitor entrance and recognized Riddle at once. 

“Emily,” she said carefully. Not calling her Riddle had taken a great degree of self-control, and saying her name without any hints of fear or wariness had been nearly as difficult.

“Good evening, Ares. I wondered if I might talk to you for a moment before we go down to dinner.”

“If you’d like.”

“Your parents’ mood has gotten worse.”

Ares nodded slowly. “It has, yes. I’ve been keeping a closer eye on them than normal.” She scowled. “I’m not sure what has them so on edge.”

Emily rose a brow. “Aren’t you? Everybody in the country seems quite bothered by recent events.”

“Yes, but not everybody in the country were Death Eaters so loyal they were willing to kill their own daughter, are they?” Riddle seemed to have no answer to that. “I’m not sure why Black escaping bothers my parents so much. They should be happy, if anything. The stress doesn’t really make sense to me.”

Emily studied her very carefully. “How sure can I be that anything I tell you will never leave this room without my expressed permission?”

It was among the most serious tones Ares had ever heard her speak with. “Do… do you know something that I don’t?”

The hint of a smile played at the corners of the older girl’s lips. “I know more things you don’t than you probably know things at all, but that’s entirely beside the point.” Ares blushed, but Riddle did not so much as pause. “I know nothing about what I want to tell you, but I have suspicions. Between the two of us, you would do well to listen to them; they’re almost always right.”

The confidence Riddle spoke with was shocking for a girl of only sixteen. Ares might have scoffed or turned her nose up at such confidence. From anyone else of the same age, she would have thought such sentiments little more than self-centred delusions.

But this was Emily Riddle. She’d had the whole of Hogwarts on strings and dancing to her tune for the entirety of the last year. She had masterminded everything with ruthless efficiency and startling degrees of perfection until that final night, when she had run into circumstances impossible to foresee. If anyone she knew had the right to strut and speak with such confidence, it was this girl.

“What’s your suspicion?”

“Those weren’t the terms I put forth,” Riddle reminded her. “Swear to me nothing I say will ever leave this room without my expressed permission.”

“I swear it; I promise.”

Emily peered deep into her eyes. Ares felt no touch of Legilimency, but she knew that Riddle was likely so skilled in the art, the point was practically moot.

“I will trust you,” she decided, “don’t make me regret it.” 

Riddle held out her hand and a wand flew into her palm. Ares wasn’t even sure whether she had a holster, or whether the spell had been cast wandlessly. She knew such a thing was possible, just extremely rare. When it came to Riddle — who was now silently weaving her wand through the air in intricate patterns, casting what Ares suspected to be complex and powerful privacy wards on her door — she wouldn’t put it past her. 

“I very much doubt the fact your parents fear Black for what he is claimed to be,” Riddle began. “More likely, they fear Black for things the public doesn’t know.”

Ares furrowed her brow. “Like what?”

“Do you remember how tense they were in the days leading up to Sirius Black’s escape from Azkaban?”

Ares’s eyes widened as she looked around the room as though they might be under watch. “Are you… are you saying you think my parents helped him escape?”

“I am saying nothing. I do not make assumptions I am not almost completely certain are correct. That is one possible reason. Another is that for whatever reason, they don’t want Black out of Azkaban.”

“But why wouldn’t they? He was supposed to be your… I mean, the Dark Lady’s lieutenant.” 

“It could be any number of things. Perhaps they have a plan that Black’s escape has complicated, or maybe the man himself might do that. Maybe there was tension within Lady Voldemort’s inner ranks that the public is unaware of.” She shrugged. “Or perhaps Black was somehow falsely imprisoned.”

“He confessed during trial.”

“I don’t think it is a likely reason, Ares. I’m just offering up what I think are the reasons that would be most convincing and that would trouble your parents the most.”

Ares wanted to deny it. She wanted to say Riddle was radical, delusional, or mad, but she couldn’t. She could not deny that the older girl’s logic made sense, much as the thought worried her. It almost definitely meant her parents were brewing something sinister. The last time they had done that, she had almost died.

“Why are you telling me this?” she asked Riddle after a long moment of silence.

Riddle’s stare was unnerving. It was more intense than any gaze she had ever been fixed with before. “We’ve been over the fact that I harbour something resembling a liking for you. I also think that you deserve to know what your parents may or may not be doing, given the history we are dealing with.” Her eyes gleamed. “And of course, I am curious to see what you do with the information.”

Back in the present…

She had been out the door again before Ares could get in so much as another word, dispelling the privacy wards with a wave of her wand as she went.

Now, Ares could not help but watch her parents more carefully than ever whilst simultaneously trying to appear as though she was doing nothing of the sort, pondering on Emily Riddle’s parting words, and ignoring the envelope their house elf had delivered. It had apparently come via owl scarcely minutes ago.

“And of course, I am curious to see what you do with the information.”

Do? What on Earth could she do? She had no power over her parents and had no idea what it even was that they were doing. Did that mean Riddle thought whatever they were scheming involved her? Did this all mean she was in grave danger once more? And if she was, what could possibly save her this time around?

Hours later, at Potter Manor…

James swayed unsteadily in his seat as yet another gulp of fire whiskey went down. He felt the heat travel down his throat and felt the pleasant burn in his chest. It was like the region had swelled and expanded for a moment before it began to recede once more. There was a small part of him that was worried about how every time in this last year a stressful situation arose, it seemed as though he turned to alcohol, but he pushed it away easily enough. It had been an exceptionally hard year. He personally thought himself more than justified to indulge every now and then.

For the last nearly two days in particular, he had needed the liquid courage. 

The man who had betrayed him and his wife was free once more. He had needed to exert a great deal of self-restraint not to go chasing after Sirius himself. If the DMLE found him, he would be the first man volunteering to serve on the front lines, but nothing had arisen thus far. He was worried he may know why and it troubled him deeply.

“Should we tell them, Wormy?”

Peter blinked at him from across the table. James noticed his glass was much less empty than his own. He seemed to remember reaching for the bottle many more times than Peter as well, though perhaps that was only his imagination. 

“Tell them what, James?” his friend asked.

“Tell them about Sirius. What’f the reason he got outta Azkaban was because he changed to Padfoot.” 

He was definitely slurring his speech now, but Peter clearly got the idea. “James… you know what that would mean, don’t you?” James searched his mind for an answer, but one did not immediately present itself. Peter sighed. “James, if we told them that Sirius was an illegal animagus, we would then have to explain how we knew that. I’m not sure a lie would get us through this one, either. I don’t see them not doing their due diligence on something as serious as this case.”

James burped loudly and chuckled much more quietly. “Ha, serious,” he said to himself, chuckling a bit more before becoming much more composed. “But what if that’s how he’s not getting caught? What if that’s how he got out and what if that stops him from getting caught?”

“I’m sure he’ll be found,” said Peter. “Give it some time. If he still isn’t caught months from now, maybe we can think about it. But you know what it would mean if we revealed ourselves as illegal animagi. Especially you as a Senior Auror. The scandal would be horrendous.”

James knew Peter was right, but it did not sit easy with him. If Sirius roamed free for too long, he could be a threat to his sons. Charlus, in particular, whom he had threatened during his trial all those years ago.

James took another deep gulp of fire whiskey, draining the rest of his cup. He refilled it once more and drank again. “I won’t let ‘im,” he said with a noticeable slur.

Peter frowned. “Won’t let him do what exactly?”

“Hurt Charlus.” Peter’s eyes widened at that. “He’ll never fuckin’ touch him,” James vowed. “I’ll find the son of a bitch myself before I let him touch either of my sons.”

“I doubt you’ll have to worry about your other son,” said Peter. “Black will probably see him as a potential recruit.”

“Harry’d never—”

“I’m not saying he would.” Peter sounded uneasy to James. It was as though he was trying to convince himself more than him. “But you can see why Sirius would think that, don’t you? With all that’s happened surrounding him?”

James had to reluctantly nod, but not before taking another sip of whiskey. He made to refill his glass but spilled everywhere and cursed. He looked away from Peter and down towards the alcohol now flowing down his front. The look in his friend’s eyes right before he had looked away, just seconds after he had spilled had been… strange.

Yet James’s drunk mind moved on quickly as he had the much less drunk Peter vanish the alcohol from his shirt — vanishing things while drunk tended to have the nasty potential of going sour. 

“Speaking of Charlus,” said Peter, “what do you have planned this year for the tyke’s birthday?”

James’s eyes lit up at once and he clung to the conversational shift like a drowning man might a life vest. All thoughts of Peter’s strange expression were completely forgotten and they would stay that way when he awoke the next morning.

Back at Black Manor…

Finally away from her daughter, her ward, and even her husband, Bellatrix Black removed the letter from the pocket of her robes. Her hands were most definitely not shaking as she opened it, holding her breath and praying for the answer she sought…

A growl of pure frustration was torn from her lungs a moment later. She hurled the envelope across the room and drew her wand. It was gone in a burst of bright hot flames less than a second later. Bellatrix could feel the murderous fury bubbling up inside of her, but she reached for her Occlumency and forced it down with a great degree of difficulty.

That murderous anger could be useful later, depending on how things proceeded, but it was no good to her now. 

For now, she needed rational thought and she needed a plan. And for that plan, she would need help.

With a wave of her wand, an ornate mirror soared towards her from across the room and she caught it deftly and with a determined expression upon her face.

Author’s Endnote:

We are most definitely still in the setup phase of year 3 and largely, we will be for some time. I apologize if the pace is slow, but I am working with a copious number of plot threads and I need to make sure they are handled correctly. Also, if you haven’t noticed yet, I will just marginally spoil the surprise. These chapters are extremely heavy in the department of foreshadowing, so I will be interested to see what you all pick up.

Please read and review.

NOTE FOR DISCORD MEMBERS: Feel free to leave recommendations for the chapter title in AoC chat. Make sure to ping myself or Athena. If I decide to take any of your suggestions, I’ll shoutout the person whose idea got used.

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