Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
Chapter 7: Webs and Widows
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Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
Chapter 7: Webs and Widows
August 7, 1993
Harry had grown accustomed to many things in the magical world. The magic, the confections, the clothing, the customs, and even the politics, to a certain extent. What he had not yet grown accustomed to was the travel, and he was unsure whether or not he ever would.
His feet slammed forcefully into a hard stone floor and he was sent sprawling. He had never taken a portkey quite like that. He had been spinning for what felt like ages, though he suspected it had been much less time. Still far longer than he had ever spent travelling before. The organs inside his stomach seemed to have been freed of their confines and let loose. It had felt like they were enjoying their freedom and jumping about with the carelessness and the haste of hyper children. They had seemed to slam against the walls of his stomach like the ammunition fired from ancient siege weapons.
He scrambled back up to his feet and had to put in a conscious effort not to scowl. He dusted himself off, though doing so was needless. There had not been a spot of dust on the floor Harry had crash landed on. When he looked around the immaculate hall in which he had landed, he suddenly doubted whether or not there were any specs of dust at all.
The hall had a much darker look than Weitts Manor. Everything was made from dark stone and rich wood, whereas Weitts Manor sometimes seemed as though it had been constructed entirely of shiny white marble. The Weitts family home gleamed in the sunlight of day, but wherever he had landed now screamed its prestige in a different way. It was more ominous and imposing. It was not designed to be welcoming, Harry knew, it was designed to put its visitors on edge.
When he had first read that the address was ‘Castello Zabini’ he had wondered whether Blaise had been having him on. He knew of no magical castles, so he had thought it a jape or an odd name for a manor home.
Now that he stood in what must have been the place’s entrance hall, he knew all at once that Blaise had been telling the truth and that the name was no hyperbole, nor was it in any way misdirection. The ceiling loomed very far above and the room was lit only by ancient torches in brackets that looked as old as the castle itself. There were towering windows of stained glass that filtered the light from outside. It let enough through to tinge the room with its brightness, but most of it was obscured by the specially constructed glass.
“A pleasure to see you again, my friend.” Harry glanced up and to his right. Blaise was waiting there, a smirk on his lips and his hands in his pockets. “I see you’ve spent the summer putting the necessary effort into becoming the most graceful member of our little group.”
Harry did scowl this time, but there was no venom in the expression. To his dismay, Charlotte appeared to have landed with no issues and stood near Blaise with a small smile of her own. “I think I’m the best of us in enough things. I’ll leave the appearances to the rest of you lot whilst I deal with what’s actually important.”
Blaise quirked an eyebrow. “Are you implying appearances aren’t important, Harry? Careful,” he said, his lips curving upwards. “I wouldn’t tell that to my mother. I doubt she would like it all that much.”
That was the wildcard of this trip. Antonia Zabini had a reputation that preceded her. Some major newspapers in Italy had gone as far as to call her ‘the Black Widow’. Harry thought it needless, but he supposed names such as it grabbed the readers’ attention. If it sold headlines, he doubted the publications cared how garish it looked on a paper or how melodramatic it sounded whilst read aloud.
He had wondered about Blaise’s mother when the invitation first arrived. He had known about her since late in his first year when she had come up in a conversation held within the Speaker’s Den, but he had never much cared. He cared about Blaise in the short-term, not his family. He had worried about his allegiances during the months he had spent considering whether or not to tell him and the others about Voldemort, his ability to speak with snakes, and all the rest, but Salazar’s Sanction made that worry much less pressing than it would be otherwise.
He also just liked Blaise, which was a great deal more than he could say for most people. He was one of the only people who could make Harry think on a deeper level. It had been Blaise who had helped him come to his realization regarding Pettigrew whilst in the Den over the winter break. He wasn’t sure he would ever have come to his conclusion about Pettigrew if it hadn’t been for his friend. He was also just one of the most enjoyable people Harry knew to be around. His dry humour, biting sarcasm, and never-ceasing wit were things Harry enjoyed more than he was comfortable with and Blaise had stuck with him through everything this past year.
When the invitation to his mother’s wedding had arrived, however, he found himself unable to continue ignoring all of the rumours about her. He was done taking undue risks. They had gotten him into too much trouble far too often. If he was going to travel to a different country and stay in the home of a woman he had never met, he was at least going to find out all about her he could.
Which was annoyingly little. Even Pansy had been unable to unearth much about the Countess Zabini. All of her previous six husbands had died of mysterious circumstances, as was well known, but proving her part in their deaths had never been possible. She had acquired a great deal of wealth from each of them, but Pansy didn’t think Blaise’s mother was a gold digger of any sorts. The Zabinis had been exceedingly wealthy long before Antonia was born, she had written. They had no need for her to risk prison for some gold.
What Harry had found more interesting was what Pansy had uncovered about her husbands. There weren’t many patterns between them, but there was one that Harry found particularly odd. All of them had ties to some of the ancient families living in the United Kingdom. But she had not picked houses that wielded great deals of power. She had chosen the last vestiges of old and dying families that had largely fallen out of favour as the years had drawn on. Harry found this especially strange because the Zabini family had never had known ties to England before Blaise had begun attending Hogwarts. As far as he knew, Countess Zabini had never so much as stepped a foot anywhere within the United Kingdom, let alone England itself.
“Will we be meeting her tonight?” he asked Blaise, showing none of what was going on inside his head.
“Not tonight, no,” said Blaise. “You’ll meet her tomorrow night at dinner. She’s out for the night and wants to make sure you and the others are debriefed on some things before you meet her.”
Harry noticed the way Blaise’s tone had changed. It no longer dripped with his normal silky confidence. It was firmer yet flatter and sounded well-polished and well-rehearsed. It just sounded… more artificial than Blaise’s voice had ever sounded.
The fire erupted behind him and Harry knew that either Daphne or Tracey must have arrived. He stepped out of the way and actually felt a touch of annoyance when Daphne stepped gracefully out of the fire, hardly faltering. Yet the tinge of annoyance wasn’t enough to discourage thoughts of all that this trip could entail and of his growing suspicions surrounding Blaise’s mother.
Later that night, in Big Falls, Minnesota
The sun was setting in the sky far above. Its rays shone through cracks in the dense foliage as it lowered in the sky, casting pools of light here and there about the forest’s clustered floor. Plants were everywhere; dotted as numerously in the forest as freshly fallen leaves in the midst of autumn.
The trees loomed tall on all sides and their branches twisted and conjoined with one another as though they were a towering group of children with linked arms. They cast long shadows as the sun set, but they shielded any beneath them from its scoulding rays for most of the day.
The forest was thick wherever one looked, but the trees eventually parted if one explored far enough. They revealed a lush green clearing that sloped steadily up a long, uneven hill. Atop it sat a small building that was too big to be called a shack or a hut, but too small to truly be called a house. It was made entirely from wood and when this forest found itself coated in snow during the year’s colder months, smoke would often billow up from the place’s chimney.
From his spot on the building’s front step with a book in hand, a weathered-looking man looked up from his reading when he sensed something far above. The shadow of a bird could be seen as it circled the clearing. His eyebrows knit together as an owl began to circle lower and lower. The man’s frown caused the lines of his face to somehow deepen. It made him look as though he had aged ten years simply by frowning.
It had been a very long time since anyone had written to him. They had tried for a while, all those years ago, but he had not been in the mood to receive letters. Their owls had all been sent back, well-fed but empty-taloned. He had considered writing over the years. A couple of things had popped up here and there many moons ago when he had still gotten the odd edition of his former home’s paper sent to him via owl, but he had ceased that practice long ago. It only caused his chest to pang with grief and his stomach to twist itself into tight and painful knots. Whether they were tied with guilt or longing, he could not say.
His hand twitched as the owl landed in front of him. It looked young and strong, well-kept and clearly well-fed. This man knew instinctually that it had flown a long way, but it hardly looked weathered by its travels.
It held out its leg to him and the man hesitated. He would never write a reply, he knew, so was it really worth taking the letter? Surely it would only cause him more pain and anguish. He had done well at mostly ridding himself of those emotions in the past number of years.
Yet he reached for the letter all the same. He knew he shouldn’t, knew it would cause him pain much worse than that which he felt once every month, but the knowledge did not stop his hand from extending. His very skin seemed to tingle with anticipation even before it touched the parchment. His hands shook as he removed the letter from the owl and unravelled the scroll of parchment.
His heart leapt into his throat with so much force when he saw the familiar-looking writing that he thought it might rocket straight out of his mouth. Its path would hardly have been impeded, for he was gaping now. He wasn’t sure what he had expected from the moment it had been clear the owl was coming for him, but this had not been it.
His shaking intensified when he began to read, but it lessened with every passing word until he finished. He was still as a statue by the time he set the letter down on the grass beside him. Every muscle seemed to be coiled tight as an iron chain and his pulse seemed to beat with the force of a thunderclap. He could hear blood pumping in his ears, but he was sure his face had lost all of its colour.
This… had not been what he had expected at all. If he would have written a list of a hundred things anyone from his old life may have written about, this would never have even been a thought that crossed his mind.
And yet he knew he would answer. He might have sat there for more than an hour contemplating if he should write and what to say, but upon later reflection, the man had known from the moment he had read the letter that he was going to respond. And as he summoned a quill from the building behind him with a wave of his wand, he knew that only one response was appropriate for such a letter.
August 8, 1993
Harry felt as though every muscle in his body had tightened and contracted as he sat in one of the many dining halls at Castello Zabini and awaited Blaise’s mother to make her grand entrance. He was seated at an immaculately set table with Blaise, Daphne, Tracey, and Charlotte as they waited.
Harry’s mind was occluded to the best of his abilities and he was doing all he could to open his Legilimency senses, as Charlotte had called it. It basically just meant he focused hard on everything around him as he tried to project magic outwards. It took some getting used to, and he wasn’t as good at it as she was, but it was a work in progress. That could really just be a summary of his abilities with Legilimency in general but they were coming along.
He glanced one last time around the room before the countess stepped through the door. It was massive and one of the only in the castle he had seen thus far with windows not done in stained glass. The sun was lowering in the sky outside and its rays shone through the glass unimpeded. It cast bright spots on the wall and sent long, dark shadows flickering across the walls and floor as its light reflected and sparkled off the cutlery spread out all across the table.
The door to the dining room opened almost noiselessly. No door creaked in this castle; Harry was sure the house elves saw to that every day. Harry would never have thought of such a precaution, but it was a good way to achieve subtlety, he thought. If the Zabinis were so set on it, it explained how Blaise seemed able to move around as quietly as a shadow and pop up at will as suddenly as any of the Hogwarts ghosts.
His mother walked through the door holding the arm of the man she was to marry that next day. The man was very tall and thick set. He was middle-aged and his face had the look of one who had once been in excellent shape but had let themselves go. He was far from out of shape, but Harry suspected he had once been much fitter than he was now. He had short black hair and warm brown eyes. There was a certain amount of kindness in his face that seemed to blend strangely with his otherwise gruff appearance.
Countess Zabini, by contrast, was all elegance and grace as she swept forward. She wore a dark gown that made every inch of her body stand out in vivid detail. Harry thought she looked like one of those muggle models, but she didn’t seem to need to try. There was a sort of natural-feel to her as she moved towards them. Her skin was dark and mixed with her smile, she gave off a warm and inviting vibe to all. But Harry was not fooled. Her face may have been a perfect mask, but there was far too much intelligence behind those eyes. The impulse to try and use Legilimency arose for a second, but it was crushed faster than it had risen. A woman like Antonia Zabini would absolutely know Occlumency. Blaise knew at least that form of the Mind Arts and he was sure his mother was miles ahead of him. He double-checked his own Occlumency one final time. If this woman knew Legilimency, it would not have surprised him.
Her fiancé pulled out her chair and she sat, casting her dark eyes around the table. Harry met them head on while monitoring his mind, but he felt no intrusion as she examined him. Her expression gave away nothing but the hair on the back of his neck still stood on end as she stared at him. There was something deeply unsettling about her gaze and he could not help but feel there was something more that he was missing.
“Welcome to our family home.” She spoke English well, though there was definitely a trace of Italian in her voice. Her accent was not terribly heavy but it was there, even if she was easily understood. “This castle has stood for centuries and it has been our ancestral family home all the while. I hope you have all enjoyed both it and your stay in Italy very much so far.”
They all thanked her for her hospitality, though Harry did so automatically. That last sentence had made him remember all that had happened earlier in the day. His stay in Italy had been… eventful so far.
Earlier that day…
The day had dawned warm and bright. Humidity was heavy in the air, but the Slytherins were not subjected to the elements for long. They had stepped outside of the castle and swiftly been met by two large wizards wearing hooded cloaks. Blaise told them they were escorts, but Harry suspected bodyguards would have been more apt. Given the limited amount of information he knew about the Zabini family, he could understand why.
The Zabinis had been the most powerful family in Magical Italy for about five centuries. They had sprung up from what seemed to be nowhere near the end of the fifteenth century to fill much of the void left behind by Iago the Illusory. Little was known about the man, hence how he had earned the title. He had essentially ruled over Magical Italy for a time after Egbert the Egregious had disappeared. He had fled from England after toppling Emeric the Evil, who had been the worst dark lord the British isles had ever seen at that time. Egbert had gained much favour in Britain for freeing them of his tyranny. Yet the man had fled to Italy. Most suspected he must have made powerful enemies when he had captured Emeric, though no one really knew why he had defected and why he had chosen Italy as his new home.
Egbert had been well-liked, even in Italy. News of his deeds had spread far and wide and the Italians had given him more power and influence than the man had known what to do with. He had been loved in his position, for a time, but the power was said to have gone to his head. His decisions became more and more rash. Many despised him, but others supported his actions. They said that firm and decisive action was what the country required, and nobody could dispute that Egbert’s actions were most certainly both of those things in great measure.
The magical sector of the country had been on the break of civil war as the fifteenth century was coming to a close. Wars had been tearing the nation apart and some said that had been what drove Egbert to madness. He had been a good war-time leader once, but he became more and more ruthless, his actions growing more radical by the day.
Until one day he had been found dead in his own bed chambers in 1494, soon before the fall of Naples. Iago had been his right hand at one point, but he had aligned himself with the French in order to seize power. It was believed that he had poisoned his one-time ruler, though the exact cause of death was not strictly known. Iago had taken Egbert’s place at the helm of the country soon after his death. The man’s last name had been lost to time — another reason for the title he wore after death.
He held his power for five short years until 1499, when Louis the twelfth conspired to seize the power that Iago had held as a sort of regency. Iago had stood firm for a time, but one morning, his servants had been unable to find him. He had never been seen again, hence the Illusory title. Some thought he had been assassinated whilst others claimed he had fled. No one had ever known the truth, but Naples had fallen completely into Louis’s control soon after Iago’s disappearance.
There had been a sort of power vacuum among many of Italy’s top families in both the magical and muggle sectors after the event. The Statute of Secrecy may not have been in place for another several hundred years but there was still some divide between the two sectors.
The Zabinis rose from the void with more wealth than anyone could explain. They helped to heal many of the gaping wounds in the country and had gained power and favour over time until they were the undisputed most powerful family in Magical Italy.
With this history and notoriety came enemies, Harry was sure. If it was anyone else, he might have questioned bodyguards but he felt that Antonia Zabini was more than justified for sending them off with Blaise.
The four Slytherins rode in a black limousine for about thirty minutes into Salerno where they had taken a floo connection to Pisa. It was then, when Harry stepped out of the floo, that he saw him.
Blaise had said they would find new escorts waiting for them in Pisa while the current set waited for them back in Salerno. There were two of them again, though Harry had eyes for only one of them.
The man was tall and paper-thin. His skin was as pale as milk and his eyes as black as tunnels. The skin seemed even brighter, for the room they had stepped into was dimly lit and he wore all black. It painted an even more vivid contrast, but it was not the colour of his skin that Harry cared about.
He had seen this man… no, this creature before.
He had ventured into Knockturn Alley during his first day in the magical world and strode into a shabby, low-ceilinged building in which his eyesight had been fixed through the use of what he now knew to be a ritual. He remembered suspecting the man conducting the ritual had been a vampire. Harry still was not entirely positive he had been right, but he was positive of one thing.
This was the same man, or creature, who had fixed his eyes so very long ago.
Back in the present…
Harry had to consciously occlude so as to not frown in thought. That had taken far too much of his thoughts today. Was the man, or vampire, or whatever he was just well paid to watch over the children that day, or was there a closer link between him and House Zabini? If the latter was true, had the Zabinis known about the ritual even before he had arrived at Hogwarts? He had thought back to his first interactions with Blaise and tried to remember anything suspicious. He could recall every word they had ever shared, but nothing had seemed artificial or out of the ordinary. Yet still…
“…this is my husband-to-be,” Blaise’s mother was saying. Harry shook himself from his thoughts and refocused on the conversation as Countess Zabini introduced her husband-to-be as a member of Britain’s Ancient House of Smith. Harry remembered a Hufflepuff at Hogwarts with the same name and wondered if this man had any relation to him, though he supposed that, in the end, it mattered naught.
Judging by everything that had transpired today and all the suspicions he now had, he would have much bigger things to ponder over during his stay in Italy.
August 13, 1993
Utensils clinked as they were set down on the table for the final time that night. Charlus had finished his meal some time ago, but he had waited for the man across from him to do likewise. His father was working late, but his godfather had decided to come over and enjoy the hospitality of the manor and the food courtesy of the elves since he had been off much earlier than James.
It was the first time Charlus had seen Peter since his birthday gala almost two weeks ago. He had been working even longer than James most nights; this one was a rarity. He and all the other detectives the DMLE had on their payroll had been working night and day to try and track down Sirius Black and to explain how in Merlin’s name he had escaped from Azkaban prison.
“How’s the search going?” Charlus asked as thoughts of Black invaded his mind. He had done better at keeping them at bay over the past week or so, but they were still every bit as persistent as that mousy-haired first year boy who hadn’t known how to take no as an answer and who always scuttled around the castle, camera in hand. “Have you guys found him? Do you know how he escaped?”
Peter took a small sip of wine. “It bothers you, doesn’t it?”
“What bothers me?”
“The fact that Sirius is out.”
Charlus’s eyes hardened as his expression darkened. “Of course it bothers me! If it wasn’t for him, my mother…” his voice trailed off.
“Might still be alive,” Peter finished. “If it wasn’t for Sirius, a lot of people might still be alive. He did terrible things and I don’t blame you for worrying; I just wish you wouldn’t.”
“How could I not—”
“You could have faith in the DMLE. We do get paid to hunt these bastards for a reason.”
“But he escaped from Azkaban,” Charlus argued. “If Azkaban couldn’t hold him, what good is the DMLE going to do?”
“All we can,” said Peter. “Trust me, if Black left any traces, we’ll find them. I’m actually off to Azkaban on Sunday night with a few other detectives to scope out the area and see if we can find anything.”
Charlus shivered. He had heard of the foul creatures that guarded Azkaban. Tall, cloaked figures with no faces who could suck a person’s soul out through their mouth and take away every happy thought they had ever had.
“How… how does that work?” he asked.
“How does what work?”
“You going… there. Don’t the dementors hate wizards?”
“Oh, they love wizards.” Peter’s lips twisted into a sharp and cruel grin. “They love wizards the same way wizards love pigs. They don’t cause us any real trouble and are excellently delicious when their time comes.”
Charlus had to suppress another shiver. “Then how are you going to the island? Wouldn’t they affect you just like they do the prisoners?”
“Oh, they will,” said Peter, “but someone has to do it. This is bigger than a few wizards feeling miserable for a couple of days after coming home. This is for the entire country — there is a lot riding on this investigation.” He eyed his godson. “I don’t need to tell you. I see it in your eyes any time you think of him — you know exactly why Sirius needs to be stopped.”
And he did. He had dreamed of it often since the man had escaped from Azkaban. He had dreamed of how he would corner him, tear the wand from his hand, and do what the Ministry of Magic should have done twelve long years ago. A man like that should never have been allowed to continue living. If the ministry was so set on having him visit with dementors, they should have let the beasts have their fill.
“But the dementors,” he said again.
“Don’t worry about the dementors, sport. You don’t think we’ve planned for this?” Peter tried to wink at him, but Charlus could tell it was halfhearted. No matter what his godfather said, he would not be fooling Charlus — he knew he wasn’t looking forward to this particular operation. “And besides,” Peter continued, “they’ll affect me less than the others.”
Charlus scratched at the back of his neck as he peered at his godfather through wide, curious eyes. “Why would they affect you less?”
“Dementors don’t affect animals the same way they do people.”
Charlus almost shot from his chair. “Wait, what?! But Black—”
“Is an Animagus, yes,” said Peter. “You don’t need to worry about Sirius using his Animagus form to escape the cell. The highest security prisoners are chained to the cell wall. Those chains will stop any Animagus from shifting into their animal form.”
Air left Charlus’s lungs as he let out a long and relieved breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. “But you’ll be able to transform on the island?”
Peter chuckled. “We’re the good guys, sport. We won’t be wearing chains.”
“You will catch him, won’t you?” Even Charlus could tell that his voice sounded desperate and pleading, but he couldn’t will himself to care. He wanted Black captured or dead more than he could ever remember wanting anything else in all of his life. “You’ll make sure he doesn’t get away with what he’s done?”
Peter watched Charlus very carefully. “I’ll do my best, sport,” he said after a pause. “It’s my job to make sure that people get what they deserve.”
Meanwhile, at Black Manor…
There was no sound in the room but the crackling of the fire. It was the only light in the room, save for a few lowly-lit lanterns dotted throughout.
Emily sat in a comfortable, high-backed chair across from the Lady of House Black. Both women had completely blank expressions as they peered towards one another, but Emily wasn’t fooled.
Bellatrix was uneasy around her. Not because she feared her, but because she was unsure of her. She was the mistress she had once served but she wasn’t, all at once. A future version of herself had instructed Bellatrix to bring her forth, yet things had not played out the way Bellatrix might have expected them to.
The two of them had not spoken alone since Emily had arrived at the manor. They had only spoken seriously in the presence of Bellatrix’s husband, but the man was absent now. He had been absent more often lately. Emily wondered if it had anything to do with Sirius Black’s escape from Azkaban.
She had thought a great deal on that since it had happened. If Black had been loyal to her future self, he could perhaps be of use to her. She wished the blasted Trace didn’t exist. She would have tracked him if it had. She was confident she could have found him and if she had, the man might have served as exactly the type of ally she needed, but she would have to wait. Perhaps at Hogwarts she could sneak out to find him, or perhaps he might still be free next summer. She would be seventeen by then, so the Trace would be of no consequence.
“You wanted to speak with me, Mrs. Black?”
Bellatrix smiled. “I’ve been wanting to speak with you for quite some time, actually. I’ve just been busier than expected.” She watched Emily closely. “You haven’t had any trouble integrating after… arriving here?”
“I haven’t,” said Emily. “The most difficult part has been catching up on fifty years of events and history, but your family’s library has been very helpful.” History had been the thing the library had helped her least with, in truth, but it had been how she had been catching herself up. There just so happened to be many far more interesting books dotted on the shelves throughout the vast and ancient room.
Bellatrix’s smile spoke of knowing, but Emily worried not. She suspected Bellatrix had advised her to use the library in the hopes that she would explore its more… obscure sections.
“I’m glad,” she said, “if there’s anything you need help with, you only need to let Barty or I know.”
“I will, Mrs. Black,” Emily said with a smile. “You’ve been very helpful so far. I’m not sure how I will ever repay you.”
That was the crux of it, she knew. Bellatrix wanted something from her and didn’t know how to ask. It was painfully obvious even without Legilimency, but that sense was practically screaming the truth at her, even if she didn’t know what the woman planned to ask.
Bellatrix tapped her fingers against her knee. “You never need to repay me, dear. I’m only doing as I was commanded.” She leant forward, eyes dancing. “If you felt the need though… there is one thing you could do for me?”
“What is it? I’m sure I would be willing to accommodate it any way I can.”
“Well,” said Bellatrix, practically shaking with excitement now, “I was wondering whether or not you might be willing to keep tabs on someone for me this year…”
August 14, 1993
Ron was thankful to be out of the sun, but it was no warmer inside the Great Pyramids than it had been outside in the smouldering hot dessert. The sun seemed to ignite the sand under his feet and heat had risen from it in waves. It had felt as though it was consuming him, but inside the ancient pyramids was an entirely different kind of heat.
It was a stuffy sort of heat that made it hard to breathe. The air was thick and musty. It felt as though a breeze had not blown through the ancient hall of the pyramid since the day it had been built more than three-thousand years earlier.
It was dark inside, which was a nice contrast to the outdoors, where the sun always seemed to be shining at full blast. Ancient torches were hung here and there about the walls, but their escorts carried lit wands as well. They were all under Muggle Repelling Charms so that they could receive their own tour of the pyramids whilst any muggles present traipsed about on their own and completely failed to notice the wizards or their magically glowing wands.
The torches grew more and more scarce the further and further they descended into the maze of corridors and tombs. Hieroglyphics splattered the walls and tombs like weather graphite. The drawings were crude and so aged that in some cases, Ron could not decipher what the ancient Egyptians had been attempting to depict, but even those drawings somehow added to the ancient feel of this place.
The same feeling he had felt on that first day was back now. His skin tingled; it was like hundreds of needles had all been stuck into the pressure points all over his limbs. Tingling stabs of numbness ran up his arms and legs and he could feel his limbs begin to quake. His hair stood on end as sweat began to drip down his forehead.
He had never quite managed to realize exactly what had sparked this feeling on the first day. He had asked Bill about it vaguely. His older brother was working in Egypt and had taken the time his family would be in the area off to help them tour around, but the man hadn’t had an answer for him. He had hypothesized that maybe Ron was a touch more sensitive to magic than most. The entire country was practically coated with magic of all varieties, Bill told them. Ancient wards and curses, the likes of which most witches and wizards would never dream of, covered many of the more interesting buildings that had stood for millennia. There were all sorts of other charms placed haphazardly across the desserts, too. Powerful, illusion-based magic to fend potential thieves away from long-since found treasures were the choice of many ancient Egyptians, Bill had said.
Ron found Egypt fascinating. It was a welcome change after his months of monotony spent at the Burrow. He wished Charlus was here with him, Hermione, too, but he was happy to be free of what he had considered to be his prison for many months.
Yet something about this place was setting him on edge. The feeling of unease was even stronger than it had been that first day at the place where his family had landed. It intensified still as the darkness thickened and seemed to do its best to swallow them.
They had come upon a tomb more ancient and immaculate than any that had come before it. “Be careful with this one,” Bill told them. “There are all sorts of wards covering it. None of us are hostile, so we should be fine. Just approach slowly; avoid any sudden movements and step where I step.”
Magical light blazed into existence from nowhere as they drew near. It must have been a built-in enchantment tied to the tomb, Ron thought. It was an impressive bit of magic, and bloody useful, too. He wouldn’t mind a similar enchantment inside the curtains of his bed at Hogwarts. Maybe one that summoned light into being every time he sat up and plunged him back into darkness every time he laid his head back down upon his pillow.
Ron was following the twins, who walked one in front of the other, following the exact footsteps his brother had shown them. They were lined up in order of their age, so only Ginny was behind Ron.
“Ron,” she asked him in a whisper, “are you all right?”
Ron nodded minutely; he didn’t trust himself to speak, nor did he wish to shake his head any more than he had to. The feeling of unease had grown so strong that he feared he might be sick. His stomach was tied in tense knots and the acid inside of it seemed to be churning and lapping up against his body’s walls like turbulent waves against the rocky surface of a barren island. There was another feeling, too, one he had not felt until he neared the tomb. A feeling of intense and violent dislike that he could not explain. He wanted to hit someone, he wanted to violate this tomb and set the whole stinking pyramid ablaze…
George stepped across the point at which Bill said they could walk more freely and Ron made to do likewise when a horrible scream was ripped from his lungs. He had not meant to scream — later, he wouldn’t even remember doing it. A great pain had exploded behind his eyes and his head felt as though it had split open all at once. White light flooded his vision. It was pulsing behind his eyes so brightly that he feared he might go blind if it didn’t cease soon. His body had fallen to the floor and was twitching and convulsing as though he had been bitten by the most poisonous of servants.
His family was screaming, but he heard nothing. All he could feel was pain and all he could see was blinding white light and soon, he could see and feel nothing at all.
Later that night, somewhere in an English forest…
The air had cooled now that the sun had gone down. A soft wind whispered through the forest and the leaves and branches rustled occasionally as a small animal of one kind or another scurried across the forest’s floor.
The trees swayed gently in the wind as their branches seemed to dance along with its rhythm, but there was a clearing in the centre of the woods in which no trees stood at all. Well, they had a number of days ago, but the man standing in the clearing’s centre had cleared them out since then. He had needed a place for tonight and had come here. It would serve his purposes.
He staggered and almost fell as he reached up for his hood. Blood was splattered about the clearing in complex shapes. It was still dripping from a gash on the man’s arm, but he worried he wouldn’t have the strength to close it if he tried. Better to let it bleed for now than to have the spell fail.
When he lowered his hood, the moonlight streaming down from far above cast his face into sharp relief. He had dark, narrow eyes set upon a chiseled face. His hair, black as the night around him, had grown longer in the past few months than he had ever worn it before, though it still could not quite reach his shoulders.
He shrugged off his cloak and allowed it to drift down towards the ground. He stripped out of his robes and undergarments, too, and had barely the strength to move them from inside the circle of blood he had constructed. His breath was heavy and ragged by the time he entered back into the centre of the circle and he looked down at his feet one more time before beginning his work for the night.
His blood seemed a strange colour in the moonlight, but it was far from the most gruesome thing in the clearing. There were several human hearts strewn around him and as many brains to match. The hearts had long-since ceased beating, but the man could still remember the way they had tried to pump blood for the seconds after they had been wrenched for their owner’s chests. The brains were even more unremarkable now. It was odd to look at them and think of how powerful they were and all they could do. Tonight, though, they would be powerful in a different way, used for an entirely different purpose.
The man knelt, naked as the day he had been born and placed the tip of his wand to the nearest rune of blood. He closed his eyes and focused. All at once, the runes began to glow with a ghostly green light, and the naked man knelt in the centre of the clearing let out a horrible, agonized scream.
A shorter chapter than the last, but definitely eventful. Probably the most eventful of year 3 so far, even if all that happened is not yet apparent. Worldbuilding is also fun, so there was some of that as well 🙂
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