AoC 60

Ashes of Chaos

Year 3: The Blackest of Truths

Chapter 6: Of Schemes and Shadows

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 editors, Athena Hope and Fezzik, as well as my other betas 3CP, Luq707, Raven, Regress, and Yoshi89 for their incredible work on this story.

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July 30, 1993

Weitts Manor 

9:47 PM

The day had dawned bright and cloudless with copious amounts of sunlight streaming down. There had not been so much as a break in the weather and it had lit the world like some sort of vibrant utopia. 

Harry was grateful for it, and he was grateful for not being quite as surprised this year as he had been last when he’d walked into the dining room that morning to see all of his friends — minus Blaise, who was still in Italy — gathered and ready to wish him a preemptive happy birthday. He remembered the shock that had greeted him the previous year. It had slammed into him like a wall of pure concussive force. He had not known what to think; he had never received so much as a gift or anything of the sort on his birthday for the previous decade. It had been one thing to receive gifts on Yule, but having people celebrate a day that was completely and uniquely his had been a different experience altogether.

He was more prepared this time around. He smiled easily at all of them, though that was not to say his stomach and chest did not writhe in all sorts of strange ways when he stepped across the room’s threshold. Just because he knew what to expect did not make it any less impactful. The emotions still surged forth and submerged him like a helpless surfer buried under titanic waves of water. He could have suppressed it with Occlumency, but he had no desire to do any such thing. Unfamiliar though it was, it was a pleasant feeling; he just knew it would be a long time before he grew accustomed to it.

The entire Weitts family was there, as were all of the Greengrasses, minus Astoria who was still at St. Mungo’s. Tracey was there, too, along with Calypso, Cassius, and the Carrow twins. It was a larger crowd than had been at the manor the previous year, but Harry was grateful for it, if a touch uncomfortable. The occasions on which his younger and older groups of friends interacted were scarce. He wasn’t entirely sure how that dynamic would play out over the course of the day, but he hoped for the best. 

It turned out he had nothing to fear. He did wish Blaise was there. He thought the boy’s dry wit would have blended quite brilliantly with the Carrows, who seemed at least to get on quite well with Daphne. That was saying a great deal, for Hestia and Flora did not get along with most people at all. It was strange sometimes to contrast them with Calypso. Harry wondered how the three had become friends. Calypso wasn’t necessarily the type of person to go around and make friends with everyone she passed, but charisma wafted from her as though it was over-applied perfume. Where the Carrows turned people away, Calypso drew them in as if her skin was magnetic.

It was nice to see Cassius, too. The final few weeks of term had seemed to pass in a blur not too dissimilar from the way the world spun and contorted when one travelled via portkey. He had hung around Cassius here and there, but this was the first time Harry had really looked at him since seeing him bound and petrified in the Chamber of Secrets as magic’s eerie light lit the runes strewn about the room with an unholy light.

The day was one of unorganized chaos, which suited Harry just fine. They went from games, to Quidditch, to spell practice, to just lounging near the water, and onto all sorts of other things. Dusk was falling before any of them knew it and the sun was pulling its light back with it over the horizon. The sky seemed to bleed lurid orange light as the star lowered in the sky. It was like that metaphorical blood had seeped into the water, staining it a similar orange as it shone and sparked in the day’s dying light. 

The dinner that night was as delectable as Harry could have hoped for. All of his favourites were there, along with things he had never heard of. Everything was cooked to perfection. The meats seemed to melt on his tongue, sending their perfected flavours flowing through his mouth with ease and the vegetables and other confections were prepared just as perfectly. The desserts made Harry’s tongue sting in desire of more, but his stomach could not keep up with his taste buds and eventually, the splendid meal came to a close.

Presents were paraded out next. Most of his gifts this year were smaller things, but Harry was almost happy about that. He wanted to remember this day not for the gifts, but for all they had made of it. It was all fine and good to have artifacts like his ring that he treasured so deeply. He treasured those sorts of things, but in a different way. His liking for them was utilitarian in nature, born from foresight and pragmatism. That feeling stimulated his mind and sent his thoughts reeling, but it could not match the satisfying warmth that spread outwards from his chest at the more personal memories. It was like the feeling one got when standing before a blazing fire after being subjected to bitter and ruthless cold.

The guests began to filter out after the gifts had been given. Cassius was the first to leave, with the Carrows not far behind. Calypso lingered for some time longer, but she too was gone in what felt like no time at all. Tracey was going to stay the night and all the others had been here from the start. Harry knew they were ready to retreat to one of the rooms upstairs and just relax together, but he also knew all too well what was to come next — even if Daphne and Tracey did not. He thought Charlotte might have known and Grace was most certainly aware. The looks she cast his way every now and then throughout dinner was indication enough of that.

He ushered his friends upstairs and said he would follow in short order. Whether that was true or not, he didn’t know. He had no idea how long this meeting would take and he worried what state it might leave him in.

Grace stood without a word and Harry followed her just as quietly. “There’s no need to look so nervous,” she told him.

Harry shrugged. “I’m not nervous, exactly. More… anxious.”

“Grandfather likes you. That’s more than I can say for just about anyone else, so you’re already off to a better start than most.”

“Do you have any idea what we’re talking about?” He was actually curious as to how she might answer and he thought it would give him an evaluation of Giaus and how closely he had held their last meeting’s contents to his chest.

“I have no idea. I haven’t asked, but I know full well Grandfather wouldn’t tell me if I did.”

She was shortening her stride and coming to a halt, and Harry wasn’t sure why until she pressed her hand against a wall. He heard nothing, but he saw blood begin to trickle from her palm. The wall slid away before he could think too deeply on it, revealing an entirely new corridor with three doors on either side. She led him to its end and gestured towards the door on the right. 

“Good luck, Harry. Relax, you have nothing to worry about.”

That was easy for her to say, he thought as he raised his hand and knocked three times on the well-polished wood of the door. The voice from inside permitted him entry almost before his third knock sounded.

The room looked larger than it had any right to be. Harry suspected a Spatial-Expansion Charm must have been in use. It was dark and lit only by several spheres of magical light floating around the large, polished desk that the Lord of House Weitts currently lounged behind. His white hair at a ghostly tint to it as the magical light cast it and his face into sharp relief. Every aged line stood out under its scrutiny. His eyes were the same as ever — the same damn eyes that stared out at him from the face of every member of the Weitts family, sans Sigmund.

“It is good to see you again.” The man’s voice was conversational. It betrayed none of the nervousness that was rising in the pit of Harry’s stomach like a muggle elevator. He envied the fact, desired nothing more than to be so calm, but Giaus Weitts was one of the few men who set him on edge each and every time they met. He might have thought it was some sort of natural Legilimency sense had he not been so certain that the man’s Occlumency was miles ahead of his own Legilimency. “Take a seat, Heir Potter, we have much to discuss.”

Harry took the offered chair in a swift movement, though his eyes never left the other man’s face. “I am pleased the summer has played out so favourably for you,” the man continued. “The trial had me quite concerned. The British Ministry of Magic does have a funny way of making the simplest situations needlessly complicated.”

“I… appreciate the way you stepped in, sir. It was… unexpected.”

Giaus smiled thinly. “I had a vested interest in that trial. Beyond your involvement, I have a long history with Albus Dumbledore.”

“You don’t like him?” It was an understatement, Harry suspected, but ‘hate’ seemed the type of word that a man like Giaus Weitts would take issue with.

“What an interesting question.” He seemed to truly think about it as he clasped his hands in front of him on the desk. “I would not go as far as to say I dislike Albus Dumbledore. I know things about him that would make other men cringe away from his very presence, but I have no hatred for him. I do not exert energy on such feelings; it is of no use and only wasteful.” There was something dangerous in his eyes; the same gleam an apex predator might get before pouncing on an unsuspecting bit of prey. “I simply take issue with the way men flock around him. They preach about greatness that was born on lies and falsehoods. I was not going to allow such a warped perception of events that are so very different to taint the trial. Justice must be served, and all the rest.” That thin smile was back, though it had an odd edge to it now. “And I confess, I am interested in you, as we have discussed at some length already.”

And there it was — the reason they were sitting in the room in the first place. Part of Harry had known this meeting was coming ever since their last on New Year’s Eve, but he had put very little thought into it as of late. He had been going through quite enough; what with the Chamber of Secrets being opened, the Heir of Slytherin targeting him from the shadows, and a number of his friends disappearing without so much as a trace. It had been an extremely long and arduous year. 

“Like I said, I’m grateful, sir, I just didn’t expect it.”

“Life would be such a boring game if we anticipated each and every one of its moves to come. Though if you wish to play it well, it is something you must improve upon in the years to come.” 

Silence stretched between them for the first time. It seemed to fill the room to a breaking point; Harry fancied it would blow out the windows at any moment, for surely it could not be contained in a single room. It was everywhere, as overwhelming and oppressive as any weight could ever be.

“Is that what you want me to do going forward, Lord Weitts? You want me to look at things and anticipate them more than I have been doing?”

“I think it is our duty to try, but fate is a cruel mistress and she does seem to enjoy preying on you, in particular. Such… notable circumstances you find yourself in at such a young age. Anticipation comes with time and the world has a funny way of rendering it every bit as useless as most of the men who lined the stands on the day of your trial. What I want from you is an answer to the question I asked you that frigid December night.”

“The Light, the Dark, or the Grey,” Harry quoted. “You asked me which I would support if I was a Lord like Grindelwald.”

“I did indeed. You have had much on your plate ever since, but I am curious how much time you have been able to put into such a matter?”

“Not as much as I would have liked,” Harry admitted. “It’s… been a long year, like you said. And it’s… complicated. I’m not sure I have one answer that would always apply.”

“Explain?” Giaus did not sound impatient nor even taken aback. Just curious and mildly amused.

“Well, the Light, the Dark, and the Grey are really just the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the Neutrals. I know you said that a true Lord works outside of the Wizengamot’s scope, but you would still have to deal with them. Any cause you support would still be opposed by whichever side disagreed with what you were doing and vice versa.”

“They would.” Giaus was using the same voice he had; he was waiting for more.

“So, it would depend on who’s involved with each faction. Whichever faction is most aligned with my goals is probably the one I would pick. I would also think about who was in the others, though. If I was outnumbered, maybe I would have a better chance of joining the faction with the majority of the votes and convincing some of its members to support my cause.”

“If I may interject,” said Giaus, “this is all very well, and I do not disagree with anything that you have said, but you are missing the wider scope of the question.”

“Am I?”

“You are. You told me that the Light, the Grey, and the Dark are simply the Liberals, the Neutrals, and the Conservatives, but this is not true. They are the champions of their respective ideologies, but it is the ideologies I am most interested in. You have proven so far that you have a mind more functional than most — this is something that I knew already. You have given me nothing new thus far. I wish to know how you think, Harry Potter.”

Harry ran a hand through his hair as his foot began to tap restlessly against the floor. He contemplated crushing the impulses with Occlumency but thought better of it. Giaus seemed exactly the type to grow wary if it seemed like he was making too much; it was exactly what Harry would have felt in his place, at the very least.

“I… agree with bits of each of them.”

“Go on.”

“Well, I don’t think there’s any point to blood supremacy. I’m the best in my year and I’m a halfblood. Granger is one of the best, too, and she’s a muggleborn. Then you have pureblood idiots like Crabbe and Goyle who hardly know which end of the wand shoots pretty colours. It’s also just… not efficient. Why are we starting wars to kill our own people? It’s just slowing everything down.”

“An impressively utilitarian stance for one so young. You are a Slytherin indeed; one who has grown up much faster than they had any right to.” A far away look came about his face for a moment. Harry wondered whether he was thinking of the children of Katalysator. He imagined a great many of them — Lockhart’s father chief amongst them — must have grown up much faster than every day children. “I think your view is apt, though you should know that many will likely never share it.”

“I know,” said Harry. “The last major war in the country was fought over it; I don’t expect it to disappear any time soon.”

Giaus studied him. “You think it is that black and white?”

Harry tilted his head. “I’m… not sure what you’re asking.”

“The Purity War, as they call it. You believe that the woman known as Lady Voldemort waged the war over the purity of blood?”

“I… that’s what everyone says. That’s the propaganda that was being spread. All of her supporters were trying to pass all sorts of anti-muggle and anti-muggleborn laws in the Wizengamot and she was massacring them. It… seems kind of obvious.”

“How interesting it is that geniuses or those with the potential to become them are often completely incapable of understanding how the mind’s of their peers function. Tell me, Heir Potter, if you wanted to champion such a controversial cause, would you parade it so openly and antagonize so many?”

Harry felt as though he had been hit by the most powerful Bludgeoning Curse the world had ever seen. The air was driven from his lungs as swiftly as a speeding arrow. Merlin, that particular flaw in his mind had been glaringly obvious these past few months.

“Lord Weitts,” Harry asked, taking great caution to keep his voice as calm and polite as possible; trying for all the world to sound like his entire perspective had not just been obliterated in one, decisive strike. “Do you have… any advice on how to think more… long-term?”

The man sat back in his chair. “Elaborate.”

“I… made a mistake at the end of last year. I had a goal that I had hyper-focused on, but I completely ignored a glaring logistic about that goal that basically made achieving it completely and totally pointless. It… got me into a bit of a hot spot.” He supposed being trapped, bound, and almost used in some sort of wicked ritual could be counted as a ‘hot spot’. “Now this. I… never actually thought of it like that. I just looked at the information and analyzed it. I never actually thought of why it might not be accurate.”

“You think of things in a manner that is clinical and singular. You think one step at a time. You see a goal that must be achieved and you put everything into it. Am I understanding correctly? You do similar things for beliefs such as the one you held?” He nodded. “It is a clinical way of thinking. You are convinced you have the answer once one presents itself to you. It signifies possible overconfidence and a general disregard for external variables that are not in your control.

“What you must understand is that you cannot control everyone and every action, much as you may wish it was not true. You must think from more than one perspective. To you, it may appear as though every action Lady Voldemort took at the height of her power was to soldier a particular cause. Yet to her, this may be exactly what she wished to achieve. I am not entirely sure what it is you speak of when discussing your hyper-fixation from the end of the school year, but I imagine it was something very similar. You took the available information and disregarded its implications and possibilities. You think in fashions far too linear.

“Consider what those you are analyzing may think. Understand the people, not just the decisions. Do not judge one’s choices, judge one’s justifications. Do not look at a desired outcome, look at what may stem from said outcome and evaluate whether that outcome is still the one you most desire.” He smiled. “It all circles back to the point I made about geniuses. The funny thing is that they have a nasty tendency to assume they are always correct. Yet most often, they contest each other by nature. When there is more than one master at play, it is foolish for all parties to assume they are correct when fundamentally, it can only be true for one of the parties in many situations.”

Harry allowed himself one deep breath — it was as much a break in composure as he would show the man. It was enough to show that he was human, but not enough to show just how shaken he was by the sudden paradigm shift. 

This changed things. The decision he had made at the end of his first year when down in the chamber with Voldemort had been entirely devised on the principle of blood supremacy and his beliefs that she had been championing it. Many of the beliefs he had formed about his society’s history had been founded on that same, fundamental assumption.

And that was only scratching the surface. It went much deeper than how he felt about Voldemort. It was a glaring example of exactly how his patterns of thought had been flawed — the second he had received in as many months. It signified that changes had to be made, and he now had at least a vague idea on where and how to start.

“Now,” said Giaus, “where were we?”

“Ideologies, sir,” Harry remembered. “I was explaining why I disagree with blood supremacy.” He paused, still wrestling with the possible truth of what he must say next. “Even if Voldemort wasn’t fighting for blood supremacy, that doesn’t change how I feel about the cause.”

“Nor should it,” said Giaus. “The actions of most men and women matter very little in the grand scheme of things. It is said that history is written by the victors, but that is not entirely true. History is written by the victor, then rewritten by those hundreds of years later. It is written in a way that fits their narrative at that given moment in time. Lady Voldemort, as immensely powerful as she may have been, is simply a blip in history, much like the rest of us. I simply enjoy inspiring critical thinking. It is… most interesting to watch patterns of thought implode and start anew.”

Harry felt a flush of red threaten to rise to his face, but he suppressed it. “Right, that’s one of my problems with the Dark. That and it’s just… too extreme. Things are taken too far. It’s just… hard to explain.”

“You lean away from sides supporting extremism, then?”

“I do, yeah. That’s… sort of true for the Light too, I guess. I agree with their stances on some things, but not others. I think that you should be able to marry whomever you’d like to marry and I think you should be able to be the Minister for Magic no matter who your parents were. But I also don’t think all of the old family names are worthless. I think if you helped to build a country, you should have a say in how that country is run. I think that the way the Light pushes for equality isn’t always right. It should be fair, not equal.”

Giaus’s lips twitched. “Fairness versus equality, the time-old debate. Tell me, who is it that gets to judge what is fair and what is unjust?”

Harry searched for an answer every bit as hard as he had searched for the Heir of Slytherin, but once again, he came up empty. “It… depends on the situation. It… probably shouldn’t be one person.”

“More than likely, it should not.” He waited.

Harry hesitated — he was now about to speak on the faction and group of ideals that Giaus’s family supported. “I… just don’t understand the Grey. I don’t understand what they stand for. Sometimes, they support the Light, and sometimes, they support the Dark.”

“And that is the crux of it. You have spoken of your opposition to extremism — that is the Grey. There is no universal answer. You cannot apply a single set of ideals to each and every situation. The world is not static; it is not a single canvas we can look at and evaluate the same way each and every day. It is like the surface of a great ocean. It ripples and flows and as it changes, the reflection in its surface can be read and deciphered in many different ways depending on from which angle you examine it.”

Harry sat in silence, mulling it over. “That… seems to be the one I agree with most, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be the one I support.”

“And why is that?” There was something in Giaus’s eyes and a look about his expression Harry had not seen there before. He could not identify it, nor did he know if it spelled good or bad things to come.

“Can I speak freely, Lord Weitts?”

“I would be insulted if you did anything but.”

“In some situations, it wouldn’t be about what ideals I agree with. It would be about what is most convenient for me.”

The man laughed for the first time. It was a cold laugh, but not cruel. It seemed to emanate a soft chill, lowering the temperature of the room by a degree or two as it flowed through its air. 

Giaus leant forward with a gleam in his eye. “And that, Harry Potter, is the Grey summarized in one, succinct sentence.” He smirked. “After all, we may be the smallest of the three parties, but it is our vote that determines most trials. I hope you don’t think that positioning is unintentional.”

Harry shook his head, the traces of a smirk beginning to play on his own lips. “Of course not, Lord Weitts.”

Giaus stood abruptly and offered Harry his hand. “A pleasure to get to know you, Harry Potter. I am satisfied with what I have seen. I will allow things to continue as they have been progressing.”

He was gone from the room without another word. Harry thought he would be passing on more time with Daphne and Tracey that night. His thoughts were reeling and his head was pounding; he needed some kind of headache cure and a comfortable pillow.

July 31, 1993

Cairo, Egypt 

10:24 AM

Ron could feel the change in the air the second he stopped spinning. He was sent sprawling, much like the rest of his family. Only Ginny and the twins managed to remain on their feet, and they looked every bit as dishevelled as the rest of them. For as many times as he had taken portkeys in his life, he had never used one to travel across continents. The spinning had persisted for longer than ever before and the blur of colours and vague objects had become almost unbearable.

Bile rose in the back of his throat, but he managed to fight it down with some effort. Percy was not quite as successful. He was not the only traveller who emptied the contents of their stomach, either. They had arrived at a designated arrival point for those travelling to Cairo via an authorized international portkey. Many around them were reacting even more violently than Percy. Ron wondered silently whether one boy who could not have been older than ten would ever cease spewing his bodily fluids all over the sandy ground before him.

It was hot, but not in the way Ron was used to. Summers in England could become brutally warm, but the air dripped with humidity. It was hard to breathe sometimes, it felt like, as though the precipitation in the air was invading his lungs. Egypt was different. The air seemed to sting his skin, its heat pressing down upon him from all sides. It was a dry, desert heat that caused a raw prickling sensation at the back of his throat. He wasn’t sure whether it was better or worse than England, but he was happy to be here nevertheless.

His life had become quite dull ever since his parents had followed through on their threats of removing him from Hogwarts. He would be returning in September, and he found himself counting down the days. Professor McGonagall had sent his work to him via owl and urged him and his parents to write the school for assistance at any time. It had been miserable. There had been no Charlus or Hermione to help him, nor teachers who carefully explained the course’s content. He had horribly bombed the first couple of tests he had taken before the realization had set in.

If he wanted to actually pass his classes and remain in the same year as his friends, he was going to have to actually study. It had been a terrifying thought at first, but it turned out not to be so bad. There were all sorts of fun things to do with Charms and it even gave him an excuse to use magic whilst at the Burrow. 

He might have gotten over the forced studying, but what he had not overcome was the heavy weight of boredom that seemed to try and crush him under its mass every passing second of every passing day. It was maddening. Not being able to see Charlus, or Hermione, or even the twins and the rest of his family.

And Merlin, had that been a nightmare. He had been removed from Hogwarts not long after Fred and George had gone missing. It had been the hardest and most painful thing he had ever done — waiting at home with his mother and father and hoping they would return. He had wanted nothing better than to be back at Hogwarts and do something; just like how he, Charlus, and Hermione had done something about the Philosopher’s Stone back in their first year.

Summer had eventually dawned and Ron had been relieved. It allowed him the ability to actually see his friends. It had been odd the first time he had seen Charlus after all those months. They had clicked at once, as Ron knew they would, but it had been strange speaking to anyone who weren’t his mother or his father.

Cairo was still a nice break. It was a wonder to see so much that was new after gazing upon the barren and familiar setting he had grown up in each and every day. The sprawling sand on all sides might as well have been a utopian oasis to him; there was no hallucinations needed to bring forth such an image.

He was looking forward to this trip, though he regretted the timing. It would be the first time in as long as he could remember that he would miss his best mate’s birthday. Lord Potter always made an event out of it and the Weasleys were always invited. He was gutted to miss it, especially after being unable to see Charlus for so long. He wasn’t sure whether it would have been worth missing this trip for, but he hadn’t thought on the matter. He had considered asking his parents to delay for all of three seconds before dismissing the idea. His mother had only just started to treat him normally again; he didn’t want to squander that precious respite he had awaited for so long.

Almost everything felt right, minus missing Charlus’s birthday. The air seemed to fill him to bursting with hope and excitement and the heat felt little more than pleasant. He was looking forward to this trip, even if something had seemed to send his skin crawling up his arms. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and goose flesh rose all along his arms. It was like something was tingling within him, but he couldn’t understand why.

He shrugged — international portkeys were tricky things, it must just have been a side effect. He wasn’t going to let something so small and inconsequential ruin a trip he had looked forward to so much.

That afternoon, at Potter Manor 

A soft gust of wind swept across the well-kept grounds of Potter Manor. It made the cloth of the table Harry was sitting at flap in the wind and beat lightly before settling back down. It was the final day of the month, which meant it was the annual birthday gala for his brother, the Boy-Who-Lived.

Harry really had wanted to avoid coming this year. He had come in the last hopes of salvaging the relationship he had with his father, but that hope seemed all but gone now. He feared any chance of that had been crushed the moment he had placed the legal papers in front of James Potter in the private room they had occupied in the Three Broomsticks.

He did not regret it, but it was an alliance that would have been beneficial. There was much he could have gained from having the lord of his house on good terms with him. He wasn’t worried, per se — being the heir did grant him large amounts of protection in almost every area imaginable — but his father’s approval was a weapon he would never wield. Not that any weapon would have been worth allowing the man custody over him. Not while he was so closely aligned with Dumbledore, at the very least. James Potter was a fool who his eldest son thought meant well but had absolutely no common sense or independent thought. Albus Dumbledore, in Harry’s opinion, was a manipulative old bastard who could rot in hell with all of the other overconfident pricks who had tried to meddle in things they should have left alone.

He glanced up the table as he thought this and spied the man himself. Dumbledore might have been ousted from his position at the head of the Wizengamot, but he still put in the necessary formal appearances. He was still the Supreme Mugwumps of the ICW and he still held a close relationship with House Potter. All but its estranged heir. It was no surprise he was here. What was surprising to Harry was that many of the figures gathered in the Potter’s grounds were eyeing the old man with looks of suspicion and content. It would not have been surprising in most other places, but this was an event attended mostly by the most stark of Liberal supporters. To see Dumbledore’s own people look upon him in such a way was not something Harry had expected. Though he liked it, he even took a sort of sadistic pleasure in it, it caused his heart to beat faster and for warm energy to flow through his veins like blood. It was fuel to him and a more than welcome surprise.

If last year’s gala had been awkward between Harry and James, then the former was unsure of how to classify this one. James still seemed to be trying to gain Harry’s affection and Harry just didn’t care anymore. There would never be a chance of reconciliation so long as he allowed people like Pettigrew and Dumbledore to guide him around so destructively. And to think Harry had thought a glimmer of hope existed when James had once promised he would never return to Privet Drive…

The final course disappeared in a fashion reminiscent of each and every Hogwarts feast. Potter Manor was well-staffed enough by house elves that the transitions between courses and the like were just as seamless as any meal at Hogwarts — though there were less mouths to feed.

It was a hot summer’s day. The sun beat down and the air was thick with humidity. It seemed to hang there, wrapping around the throats of any subjected to its wrath and trying to squeeze the energy from their body and the air from their lungs. It was like a vengeful boa constrictor comprised purely of precipitation.

Harry stood with all the rest when the tables began sliding out of the way. Some would dance, but it wasn’t quite the scene. Really, those dancing would be those inebriated enough to have no more sense of social dignity, or those who had never had it and just wanted some sort of stimulation that Harry had no understanding of. More people would move among each other. Some would catch up, but more would politic — Harry wasn’t actually sure which of these options appealed to him less. All he knew was that he wanted to avoid James and Charlus Potter at all costs.

It seemed that the forces of nature sought to disrupt his plans, for he could see Charlus bustling through the crowd and Harry was quite sure his twin was making a beeline for him. It was not an interaction he was looking forward to. He just… hadn’t thought about Charlus. There had been far too many things going on all at once. Everything with the Chamber of Secrets and the stress that followed, reuniting with Daphne and Cassius, and then of course there had been the trial. 

He didn’t know how to feel about his twin. Charlus was not a bad person, he was just a hopeless idiot, much like his father. Harry had thought at one point he might turn out differently than James so long as he could avoid allowing Dumbledore and Pettigrew to pull his strings like some helpless puppet. That had been before the Boy-Who-Lived had made up some fabricated nonsense about Harry teaching him the Dark Arts. The Potter heir still didn’t understand that. Perhaps Pettigrew had talked him into it, or perhaps Charlus had really just been that spiteful. If the former was true, Pettigrew must have instructed or perhaps even swore him to stay quiet about it. If the latter was true, then maybe the Gryffindor was just too prideful to admit he was telling tales.

But something about the whole situation just felt… wrong. Charlus had seemed so genuine the day Harry had shattered his glasses and sent him sprawling. He had sounded honest when he’d pleaded for forgiveness and sworn he actually remembered everything he had told Dumbledore. But that wasn’t possible. None of that had happened, Harry was at least sure of that, but he didn’t think Charlus was that good a liar. 

Ugh! It was completely and undeniably infuriating; it was the puzzle that had bothered him the most as this day had approached. It had even temporarily surpassed the mystery of what the hell the incarnation of Emily Riddle he had fought against in the Chamber was doing now and where she might be. In the care of Bellatrix Black and Barty Crouch Jr, it seemed, but that hardly narrowed it down.

“Harry, might I have a word?”

The voice did not belong to Charlus. He was still trying and largely failing to make his way unimpeded through the crowd. Far too many people wanted to stop him, pester him, speak with him, even just touch him or be close to him. It made Harry sick; they were all little more than aimless wasps drifting towards an innocuous fire. He would have been grateful for the mob despite his disgust had it been any other man who had asked him the question.

Peter Pettigrew’s face was exactly how he had remembered it. He remembered the way it had stayed so calm and composed during the trial. During the trial in which Harry was sure he had betrayed his father. Dumbledore might have been manipulating James for what he thought was the greater good or whatever such nonsense, but Harry held no delusions about Pettigrew. The man must have been a Death Eater or something similar. He was not only trying to get Harry disinherited, but he was trying to undermine his father and, by extension, Dumbledore. How the two goals tied together when the latter had actually ended up benefiting Harry, he had no idea, but he was sure he was right.

“I hadn’t expected you to want to talk with me, Peter.”

Pettigrew looked abashed. “Listen, Harry, I’m sorry about how everything has gone with James. He can be an idiot sometimes; I’ve told you that from the beginning. I’m sorry for the trial, too. I don’t agree with what James did to you, I just want you to know that. But he’s my best friend, I couldn’t not help him.”

Pettigrew had a warped sort of idea of helping, Harry thought. Not that it would have mattered. James could have had the best solicitor on the planet and Harry doubted it would have mattered. Once the pensieve memories had been shown, it had been all academic.

“I get it, Peter. I wish it hadn’t been such a public trial and I wish James and I could have just agreed, but it’s over. I don’t blame you for supporting your friend.” He just blamed Peter for all sorts of other, far more sinister things. “There are no hard feelings, or anything.”

Peter smiled. “Splendid. I just wanted to make sure you knew where my head was at on the whole thing. Dangerous things, misconceptions. They can really poison relationships, and I would never want that to happen between us.”

Harry actually thought Pettigrew was being honest. A poisoned relationship with his best friend’s heir would reflect quite negatively upon him. A few drops of poison in Harry’s next glass of pumpkin juice… that was a different matter altogether.

“How are you handling everything that happened last year?” Pettigrew asked him. “I know it took a toll on Charlus, and I imagine it hit you even harder. You’re good friends with the Greengrass heiress, aren’t you?”

“I am, yes. I’m friends with Cassius Warrington, too. He’s another one of the victims who disappeared before being rescued.”

“Funny business, that,” Peter remarked. “Interesting how you go missing one night, then the hostages show up the next and you’re given an award for special services to the school.”

Harry kept his face impassive. “Strange coincidence, that.”

Peter chuckled. “Harry, Harry, the first rule of being a detective is that there are no coincidences. Only some people who are better at covering them up than others.” He grinned. “Between the two of us, Dumbledore might be the greatest wizard alive, but that man is about as subtle as the gavel he’s been banging on podiums for the past Merlin knows how long.”

On that, at least, they could agree. “I didn’t do much. I was just in the right place at the right time.” He looked away, feigning a blush. “Well, the wrong place, really. I just got lucky.”

Peter’s eyes gleamed. “Yes, you Potters have a funny way of doing that.”

Charlus hated people. He hated people almost as much as he hated the monotone drone of Binns each and every time he stepped into the History of Magic classroom. It infuriated him to no end how he couldn’t even move ten feet without being accosted by strangers young and old. People who he never met wanted to just be near him and Charlus just wished the lot of them would go and jump in the nearest lake. Being the Boy-Who-Lived had its perks, but by Merlin was it exhausting sometimes. It was supposed to be his birthday, for Merlin’s sake. It was supposed to be a day that he actually enjoyed

Not that there had been many of those since Sirius Black had broken out of Azkaban. Even today was not untouched; far from it, even. Aurors and HIT wizards alike stood around the grounds’ perimeter. All of them were tense and on guard — it was as though they thought Black was going to show up at Potter Manor and start killing everyone in sight. He supposed the man had betrayed his father, but he had escaped Azkaban. That had to take some brains, so surely he wasn’t stupid enough to launch a lone assault on one of the most heavily-warded homes in Magical Britain. Not unless the hell hole that was Azkaban prison had driven him completely and inarguably insane.

“Tired of the hoards of admirers, are we?”

It was a voice Charlus had heard before, but not one he recognized. He had given up on trying to reach his brother some time ago and had decided he would just do it later when the number of people between them was far fewer. He was out of the main din of people now, standing in the shadow of an old oak tree whose branches swayed gently in the light but persistent breeze. It was much hotter the further one got from the Cooling Charms placed all around the congregation of tables. Further out on the grounds, the heat was stifling, the air so thick it was like breathing through a Bubble-Head Charm. Charlus was grateful for the tree and its shade, though he envied the shadow of him it cast. It could move unobstructed through as many pestering people as it so pleased.

The man was slightly hunched and seemed to perpetually lean to one side. Charlus knew why; the man’s leg had been mangled by an accident at a Samhain gala during his first year. His mane-like crop of hair was greying and his face was lined with the signs of his age. Charlus was sure he looked older than he was, but he knew the man had been well distinguished during the Purity War.

“It’s all right, sir. I just… need a break sometimes.”

Scrimgeour smiled. “I understand just fine. I think your adoring public sometimes forgets that you’re still only a child.”

The words stung, but Charlus knew the man hadn’t meant them to hit him in such a way. “I just wish they would give me a break.”

“We wish for many things, Mister Potter.” Scrimgeour gestured crudely down towards his leg. “I wish this hadn’t happened every day I wake up. Not working for the DMLE is fraying my nerves. I’m going to be as deranged as Moody if it keeps up, but I wasn’t going to keep working for them. Not when I know I’ll never be the Chief Auror that I was. If I had to work every day knowing that I was less than what I once was, I’d make Moody’s battered old mind look like the perfect bill of health.”

“Uh… sorry about your leg, sir. Did you ever figure out who summoned the snake?”

“We never did.” There was a note of bitterness in Scrimgeour’s voice. The lines in his face seemed to have etched themselves even deeper in the past number of seconds and his voice was as hard as steel. “Most have as good as given up. What with the Weitts family not allowing anyone to look into a damn thing.” He spat on the ground to his right. “The bastard better hope they stay anonymous.”

Charlus remembered the pain of being wronged. Back when he had thought Harry had taught him the Dark Arts in a way that had led to him snapping at the Duelling Club meeting… he had been livid. He suspected Scrimgeour must have been feeling that, but several times worse. He felt for the man; and to have it happen at the jaws of a snake, of all things.

“I hope you catch him, sir.”

“As do I, Mister Potter, as do I.” Scrimgeour shook his head slowly as if to clear it. “Enough about me and my issues, Merlin knows I have enough of them. I’m sorry about your brother and his… descension from the rest of your family. That trial was messy and it didn’t make anyone look anything but a right bunch of fools.”

“Thank you, sir. That’s… been hard too. I… want to talk to Harry, but I don’t know what to say.”

Scrimgeour hummed. “What is he like?”

Charlus scrunched up his face. Now that he thought about it, he knew a depressingly limited amount of information about his twin brother. “Uh… he’s the smartest kid in our year, he really likes duelling, and he can be a sarcastic prat — even when he likes you.”

Scrimgeour’s lips twitched. “Not all that much to work with, eh?”

Charlus cast his gaze down towards the ground. “Not really.”

“Is he social? Does he have many friends?”

“Uh… a few. Greengrass, Davis, Zabini, Rosier, Warrington, the Carrows.” 

Charlus’s voice almost died in his throat. It was the first time in ages he had properly thought on Harry’s group of friends. His twin was more popular than he was… how was that possible? He was the Boy-Who-Lived and all the rest? Well, he supposed more people must like him, but he didn’t have as many ‘friends’. It was a strange thought that made him more uncomfortable than it probably should have.

“A social lad, then.”

“I guess? He’s… quiet. I actually don’t know how he has as many friends as he does. He’s really quiet in Potions. It’s the only class I have with him.”

Scrimgeour tapped his fingers on a gnarled branch of the tree, his head tilted and his brow furrowed. “Sounds to me like the lad has charisma but that he keeps to himself. Seems like people come naturally to him but he doesn’t have time for the ones he doesn’t care about.” Charlus nodded, frowning. “What’s your relationship with him like?”

“Not good,” Charlus admitted. “The last time we properly talked, he tried to punch a hole in my damn face.” He grimaced. “Didn’t do too bad a job, either.”

Scrimgeour chuckled. “There’s nothing quite like brotherly love, hm? Well, it sounds to me like your brother might do better with a more passive approach.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you don’t want to get punched in the face a second time, might be best if you let him figure things out in his head. If he’s quiet, he probably doesn’t want to be bothered. If he thinks it’s important, he’ll come to you. Reminds me of myself. People can go bugger off, as far as I’m concerned. I just make time for the ones I like or the ones who are useful.”

When their conversation had ended minutes later, Charlus could not help but have a strange feeling he fell into the latter category on Scrimgeour’s metaphorical list of people and what they meant to him.

August 2, 1993

Athens, Greece

10:43 AM

Birds chirped softly on branches high above. A soft breeze swept across the land, causing the luscious green grass to bristle and stand on end. It was a warm day. Clouds hung in the sky, but they parted far enough to allow rays of sunlight to shine sporadically through their veil. All was peaceful and tranquil; not a soul loomed within miles of this particular hilltop.

Until a WOOSH filled the air and a plume of fire seemed to spout from the very ground itself. The fire swirled and crackled as though laughing merrily at the state of the day, but it was gone just as fast.

Standing in its place was a tall, thin man with long silvery hair and a beard to match. Blue eyes shone curiously behind half-moon spectacles as he cast his gaze all around. The brilliant bird on his shoulder did likewise as it allowed a note of pure and total harmony to escape from it, sweeping over the land like another soft gust of wind.

The man stood atop a high hill overlooking much of the city. One of the world’s oldest and greatest cities sprawled out before him. He could see modern architecture dotted here and there, though the remnants of what had once been were sprinkled throughout the lands as well. 

He nodded, his eyes remaining on the latter clusters of buildings. “It is a start,” he muttered, running a slow hand through his long, silvery beard. “It is a start.” There was another flash of fire, and the old man was gone.

August 6, 1993 

Weitts Manor

8:30 AM

Harry had awoken that morning and immediately looked across the room. He had a calendar hung on one of the walls and his eyes found the current date quickly. It was the 6th of August. Tomorrow, he, Daphne, and Tracey would be departing for Italy. They would stay for nine days; long enough to observe Blaise’s mother marrying her seventh husband and long enough to see much of what the country had to offer, according to Blaise.

It was odd to think that Harry would be waking up in another country two days from now. Having never travelled before, the thought was as foreign to Harry as any bit of magic he had ever seen. Never had he imagined he would have the opportunity to travel to such a place, let alone with friends alongside him. It was a warm and pleasant thought and not a bad way to wake up, all things told.

He spent some time reading before shoving the book away when he saw that time was ticking by. He had agreed to make the best of his final day in England before departing for Blaise’s family home. He was going to head into Diagon Alley with Daphne, Charlotte, and Tracey. Calypso had said that she, Cassius, and the Carrows may meet them there later in the day, too. It would be a nice way to spend his final day; Harry had always liked Diagon Alley — it had a special kind of meaning to him.

He glanced down at the watch on his wrist as he stepped out of the room. Around its exterior, brilliant stars were situated in positions not unlike the numbers on a typical grandfather clock. In its centre, planets slowly orbited an illustrated sun. Most of them simply stayed in their orbit all the time, but two of them broke the designation to float out of line, much closer to the stars dotted around the clock’s perimeter. 

The watch glowed softly as Saturn shifted to align with a star that was, to muggles, in place of where one might expect the number eight to rest. In unison, Pluto aligned with the bottommost star. 

They would be leaving for Diagon Alley in half an hour’s time. It was enough for Harry to check to see if the elder of the two Weitts sisters wanted to join them. He was sure she could floo Rhea or one of her other friends and see if they too wanted to meet up. 

He had scarcely seen Grace all summer outside of the times she helped him practice duelling and Occlumency. She was often gone before he woke up and she almost always returned to the manor late at night. Harry had no idea what on Earth she was doing. He had never asked her because every time her sister tread too close to the topic, Grace tended to get evasive. He remembered the way she had fled the manor early one morning last summer and asked him to keep it to himself. He remembered the way one of her letters had burst into flames earlier in the year during one of their lessons and when she had done… something with a wall transfigured into a mirror.

They were all odd instances and Harry was sure they were all somehow connected, but he didn’t see what in Merlin’s name they could possibly all mean or have in common. Her parents absolutely knew she was gone for hours a day this summer and they seemed not to care. Whether they knew or not, Harry was unsure. He supposed Grace was an adult, so it didn’t really matter, but at least Adriana struck him as the type to be hyper-aware of what her children were up to.

He knocked several times on her bedroom door and was permitted to enter once a few long moments had passed. She was sitting at her desk writing something on a piece of parchment. There was a different sheet of it beside her and an envelope beside that. Harry’s eyes drifted to the latter. It looked… familiar, but Grace had pushed it out of his sight before he could get a good look at it. 

“Sorry if I’m interrupting something,” said Harry. “Charlotte, Daphne, and I are just heading into Diagon Alley. I just thought I’d see if you wanted to come along.”

“How long do you all plan on being there?” Harry noticed for the first time this summer how tired the older girl looked. He hadn’t been this close to her often, but the weariness showed in her eyes.

“Most of the day, I think. There isn’t exactly a set time; I think we’re sort of just going to come back whenever we get bored.”

“I might pop in later with a friend or two, then. I’m buried under paperwork, at the moment, but I should have most of it done by this afternoon.” She grimaced. “I hope I do, anyway.”

“Can I… ask what it is you’re doing?”

Grace sighed. “What I’ve been doing all summer and what I’m doing right now aren’t exactly the same thing. They fall under the same umbrella and are related, but they’re not the same. It’s complicated and I can’t really say more than that.”

Harry had his own secrets, he knew that damn well. As he left Grace’s room, however, he reflected that there was just something about the Weitts family. They made him and maybe even someone like Blaise look like an open book by comparison.

That night, at Malfoy Manor…

Torches flickered in the lowly-lit drawing room. They cast the faces of those at the table into sharp relief and may their eyes shine with a ghostly sort of light. The crackling of a fire could be heard behind them. Its flames sent pleasant waves of heat spreading throughout the room, but it did nothing to cool the palpable atmosphere felt by all seated at the long, oak table in the room’s centre.

“You think it possible that if this… information comes to light, it could undermine your political position?” Lucius Malfoy spoke carefully, seeming to choose every word with great caution. His eyes were narrow but intent, watching the woman sat across from him the same way one might study something minuscule and complex; as though he was worried he might miss the most minute of details.

“I’m not worried, Lucius,” said Bellatrix Black, “I’m almost certain of it. I know my cousin; I know what he would have done.”

“We can do nothing until we are completely certain.” Rosier’s voice was a stark contrast to that of Bellatrix. The woman’s was strained and brittle, as though it might break at any moment. Even the woman’s eyes looked a touch mad, whereas everything about Evan Rosier was the perfect picture of complete and total composure.

“I know—”

“You suspect, Black, they are not the same thing. What you would have us do is more risk than it is worth unless we are one-hundred percent certain. The boy is well-positioned and not exactly in our line of fire. Overextending ourselves to eliminate the threat his existence poses would be a great risk in and of itself. It is a risk I am not willing to take unless we know beyond any doubt that your suspicions are correct.”

“Well,” said the man beside Bellatrix as his golden watch gleamed as the torchlight shimmered and danced across its well-kept surface. “There’s always one way to find out.”

“Have you lost your wits, Crouch?” asked Nott. “Don’t be a fool! What you’re suggesting—”

“Is plausible,” said Rosier, tapping his fingers softly on his knee. “Difficult, but feasible. It was done before—”

“Yes, and we don’t know how—”

“And they didn’t have the likes of me to plan such an event.” Rosier turned to his left, looking upon the watery-eyed man sat beside him who had yet to speak so much as a word. “What do you say, Arimanius? Do you think you’re up for the challenge?”

Peter Pettigrew sat back and stroked his chin as he glanced around the room. “I want nothing to do with any of this,” he said, “but I’m sure I could be convinced…”

Author’s Endnote:

These early chapters are always amusing to write due to the sheer amount of foreshadowing put into each of them. Amazingly enough, part of that last scene will actually pay off soon. I know, incredible, foreshadowing by me that you won’t have to wait hundred of thousands of words to see come into fruition 🙂

Please read and review.

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