AoC 63

Ashes of Chaos

Year 3: The Blackest of Truths

Chapter 9: Widowed Weddings

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.

Self-Promotion: I have a discord server where you can chat and read all of my chapters early. If you would like to join, simply copy the link on my profile. If you would like to dive further into the AoCverse, you can check out the story’s ever-expanding web presence by following the other links on my profile. You can do likewise to follow me on Twitter for live updates and to check out my website.

If you enjoy this story and would like to support me directly, I now have a P*T*E*N page! You are by no means obligated to support me, but for those generous enough to do so, you will be receiving Patron-exclusive benefits and getting chapters even earlier than Discord!

August 21, 1993

Costello Zabini

1:00 PM

The day had dawned bright and full. The sun hung in the sky like an ethereal torch in its bracket and beamed its glow down upon the earth below. Harry had known hot and humid days growing up on Privet Drive, but nothing like this. It was a different kind of heat altogether. The air was thicker than he was accustomed to and his days spent in Italy had not yet allowed him to acclimate fully. Air seemed scarce, though it was all around him. It felt as though he was breathing through a muggle snorkel. Droplets of water seemed to cling to him, and he could not help but wish for a nonexistent breeze. 

“I don’t know how you stand it,” he told Blaise as they made their way down the path sloping down expansive lawns and leading to the large area sectioned off to be used to host the wedding between Antonia Zabini and her new husband-to-be. 

Blaise shrugged. “I don’t know how you stand the damn cold.”

Harry arched an eyebrow. “You deal with it every winter at Hogwarts.”

“Correction — I hide inside every winter at Hogwarts until we have Herbology.”

“At which point you use so many Warming Charms that your cloak starts to smoke.” 

Blaise glared. “That was one time, Potter, one time.”

“Well, Italy has one thing going for it, I guess. I don’t think I can damage my clothes by casting Cooling Charms.”

Blaise snorted. “If you give yourself frostbite or pneumonia, I’m never going to let you live it down.”

“Blame whoever decided to have the wedding on one of the hottest days of the summer.”

Blaise smirked. “I’ve heard a lot of men glorify my mother, but I don’t think any of them have implied she has the ability to change the weather on a whim. That, my friend, is a new one.”

“Maybe I’ll inquire about her interest after husband number seven bites the dust.” Harry wondered for half a heart beat whether he had gone too far, as Blaise looked surprised — something which did not happen often. Instead, he threw back his head and laughed more uproariously than Harry could ever remember.

“It took me a year and a half to do it,” he said, clasping Harry on the shoulder as they neared the gilded gates that had been erected and now led into the wedding venue, “but I’ve finally managed to corrupt you.” 

Blaise reached a hand up towards his face and meant to wipe away an imaginary tear, but Daphne turned and slapped him before he could. He stumbled back, cursing colourfully in Italian. Harry couldn’t understand a word of it, but he was decent enough at reading body language to realize Daphne’s joking slap had prompted Blaise to poke himself in the eye whilst trying to method act.

“Monstrous creature, you are,” he mock spat at her once he had regained his composure. 

Daphne smiled sweetly. “If you were going to wipe your eyes, I thought I might as well give you something to cry about.” 

Blaise glanced from Harry to Daphne. “I’ve corrupted both of you,” he said with a wicked grin. “I’ve done better than I thought.”

“Or maybe we’re just playing it up to amuse you,” Daphne suggested. “It’s been a while; absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.”

“If that was true, Greengrass, I’d have missed you much more come June.” She made to slap him again, but Blaise ducked deftly out of the way this time around.

They had entered the venue proper now. Seats were arranged in rows on either side of an immaculate aisle leading up to a crystal dais where Blaise’s mother and her new husband would swear their vows and make their marriage official. If Pansy was to be believed, Harry wondered how long this marriage would last. 

She seemed to think that Lady Zabini was trying to get some sort of a foothold in British politics. It was the only logical explanation she could come up with for why the woman had married only British nobles. As for why they all kept dying… they clearly hadn’t advanced her as much as they wanted, Pansy seemed to think. Harry was less confident in the idea. If she wanted to advance her stance in politics, it made no sense why she had married lords of ancient houses that had largely fallen out of favour. It would have been much more logical to try and find an available lord of higher stature. If the woman’s track record was anything to judge by, it wouldn’t have been a task at all difficult for her to complete.

Harry, Blaise, Daphne, Tracey, and Charlotte all took seats in the front row. Many witches and wizards had already been seated by the time the five of them took their own spots. It really was a beautiful day despite the heat. The sky was as blue as a painted canvas. Harry still wished for a breeze, but it was a less pressing desire here with makeshift walls rising up to enclose the area.

Lady Zabini had spared no expense. The venue was every bit as stunning as the day that bathed it in its light. Harry hoped that whatever the woman’s purpose might have been, it paid well. If she spent this much gold on each wedding she had, she may need to reconsider her future ambitions.

Their row had been one of the few untouched by anyone else until a party of men made their way by them and took seats to Harry’s immediate left. One of them stood out to Harry for his plain attire, if for no other reason. Almost everyone in the crowd seemed to have done their utmost to look presentable and all of them were adorned in some form of dress robes or the like, but this man was different. His robes were a plain black and Harry did not think the look suited him. It made his skin seem even paler in the afternoon sunlight, which was saying a great deal considering how unnaturally bloodless the man looked. 

Harry tried not to stare, but when he looked away, he felt the man’s gaze upon him. It felt different — he could sense its presence without need for natural Legilimency or anything of the sort. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end despite the smothering heat all around them and they did not seem to desire lying back at rest. 

Harry waited some time for the man to look away, but when he didn’t, he finally glanced over to his left and met the man’s eyes, getting a good look at his face for the first time. Suddenly, his black robes and unnaturally pale appearance made a great deal more sense as he recognized him from the trip days earlier and from his first ever visit to Diagon Alley.

“Hello, Mister Potter. It is so very nice to see you again.”

Meanwhile, at Gringotts in London…

Two men had appeared not far outside of Gringotts, but only one of them was visible to any who deigned to look upon them. The one who was visible wore a hooded black cloak that cast his face into shadow. One could see it if they looked closely enough, but any who spared him only a passing glance would find their eyes sliding right over it and fail to register exactly what the man looked like.

The man himself cast his eyes swiftly about the street around him before strolling forward and entering the bank itself. It had been quite some time since he had been to Gringotts, but it had changed very little. The goblins who manned the counters were still as surly and unpleasant-looking as ever, and the vexing gaggle of witches and wizards alike were every bit as restless and impatient as the man remembered. 

He was quite impatient himself today, though that may have been easily chalked up to a great deal of nervous energy drifting aimlessly around inside him, waiting to be let out. It was as though it was a racing horse being held back, waiting for the moment that it knew was fast-approaching. His foot tapped against the floor until the line before him thinned and he finally stepped up to the counter. 

The goblin who sat in a chair atop its elevated platform did not so much as look down at him for at least ten seconds. “Can I help you?”

“I would like to visit the Black family vault.”

The goblin’s head looked up sharply and inspected him. His heart raced as he waited for the creature’s judgement to be passed. “Do you happen to be carrying the Black family key?”

“I am.” He reached a hand into the pocket of his cloak and removed it. The goblin took it with what appeared to be a tremendous amount of skepticism and examined it very closely. The pause stretched on for what felt like forever. A thin stream of sweat began to trickle down the man’s face as he waited. It was hot both outside and inside the bank, but he somehow suspected his body’s reaction had little to do with the heat pressing in on all sides.

“The key seems in order,” said the goblin, “I will have one of my colleagues take you down to the vault.”

He waited for another number of minutes before an older-looking goblin strode forward to meet him. He too inspected him closely, giving the man a good chance to inspect him right back. Scars lined his face, with weathered, leathery skin that looked as though it had seen a great many days. Again, his heart raced. At any moment, this could all go up in smoke. He could not see nor hear the invisible man who still stood behind him, but he could sense him move. It did not appear the goblin could, for he merely grunted, turned, and began to walk towards one of the many doors leading off the main atrium. The man had not been told to follow, but he took the meaning easily enough.

The wave of heat broke the second he stepped through the door behind the goblin. The creature didn’t seem to notice when his foot held it open for just a moment too long. He had whistled for one of the carts and the man took this chance to glance around and ensure they were alone. The ability to sense magic was one he did not have, but he knew that by now, his silent companion would have cast wards on the door behind him, and he too slipped his wand from its pocket, though he had a very different purpose for doing so.

The cart took its time to come and by now, even the goblin was grumbling about the delay. He had spent so much time and energy grumbling, in fact, that he did not notice the wand pointed directly at him until he made to turn towards the wizard whom he was tasked with guiding.


Back in Italy…

The thing’s voice was so soft and quiet, it could easily have been mistaken for the wind whistling gently through the makeshift pavilion that had been constructed for the occasion. Just the sound of the voice made Harry’s skin crawl. It had featured in many nightmares since that first day in the magical world. Horrible dreams in which his eyes burnt or rotted straight out of his skull from the unbearable pain he had felt during what he could only call a ritual. Dreams in which the pricks of pain he had felt all over his body had actually been poisoned daggers and the only reason he didn’t feel them was because they had overloaded his nerve system long ago. There were other dreams, too, but many of them did not warrant mentioning.

“Good to see you again, too, I suppose,” Harry said, clearing his thoughts of those visions and feelings; focusing on the conversation and the wedding going on around him. They were far from the only two speaking as the crowd waited for the wedding to begin. There was a general drone of voices like the muffled beating of some great and mighty drum.

A smile played at the corners of the man’s pale lips, but it never blossomed into being upon his face. “Good is certainly one word for it, yes. I wondered whether I may one day see you here.”

Something about that sentiment seemed… wrong. Harry couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, but something — perhaps whatever innate sense linked him to Legilimency — seemed to tingle beneath his skin with the truth of it. Why would the man, or vampire, or whatever he was, wonder whether or not he would see Harry at the home of the Zabinis? Before Blaise, none of them had ever even attended Hogwarts. Assuming Harry would ever even come into contact with Blaise seemed like a stretch to him prior to their first year. Perhaps if the creature meant after they had already met, but Harry did not get that impression and even if he did, that raised the very real question of how he had come to have known Harry and Blaise were friends in the first place.

Soft music began to play, heralding the wedding’s start, but Harry paid it no mind. He was much too focused on the task in front of him. He turned his eyes forward for the sake of courtesy, but they were unseeing. They saw only the rampant thoughts swirling inside his mind like fast-moving clouds riding the current of a mighty wind. 

It was a shame he didn’t know more of the wedding guests. If he had, it might have allowed him to gauge exactly how close one needed to be with the Zabinis to receive an invitation. The pale figure was here, if nothing else, so that did perhaps indicate some form of interaction with Blaise’s mother. Vampires were scarce in England and the Smiths had no known connection to them, so he was sure the creature was Antonia’s guess. 

There was, of course, the possibility that the guest wasn’t a vampire at all, but Harry doubted it. His paleness was unnatural and there appeared to be perpetual shadows pooling beneath his eyes, which were as black as a moonless sky at the stroke of midnight. There was something about them, too… something unnatural. An intensity Harry had never seen replicated by a human, especially not whilst gazing at him with what appeared to be casual interest.

But how close was this creature to the countess and was it at all possible she would have told him about Harry’s relationship with her son? She somehow didn’t seem to Harry like the sharing type, but perhaps he simply was not close enough to gauge, and perhaps he had just misjudged her altogether. He wouldn’t exactly have been the first male to do so.

Yet something about the whole thing still made every muscle within him coil tight. The sight of him put Harry in a sort of fight or flight state of mind, but he didn’t think it had anything to do with the vampire’s nature. He suspected it pertained much more directly to the thoughts that were now swimming inside of his head.

“That’s… a strange thing to wonder, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“Is it?” the vampire asked. “I didn’t think of it that way. You are quite famous, Mister Potter, even among my kind.”

“Your kind?”

That twisted half smirk again. “My kind, yes. I know that you know of us and I know that you have recognized me correctly. I see no reason to pretend otherwise.”

That confirmed that suspicion, at the very least. Not that it actually helped Harry get anywhere on his path to understanding exactly what this creature’s deal was, but it was one box checked out of what felt like an endless list of questions.

Harry allowed himself to focus on the present for just a moment. Blaise sat directly to his right. He was sure his friend heard every word, but he was doing a remarkable job of pretending otherwise. On his right, Daphne, Tracey, and Charlotte had all shot at least one glance in Harry’s direction, though none of them appeared to be eavesdropping. Of the three, Harry thought it likely Charlotte had some sort of spell going to do just that, though he couldn’t be certain without checking.

He had elected not to wear his holster to the wedding, but sliding his wand from his sleeve into his palm was still a deft and easy motion he went through without alerting anyone to its happening. 

‘Muffliato,’ he thought, and magic rose up all around him. Blaise tilted his head, obviously recognizing the unnatural ringing in his ears any time he tried to tune into Harry’s conversation, but he made no mention of it. 

The vampire too must have noticed, for he arched a single eyebrow. “I prefer to be on the safe side,” Harry explained, his eyes flicking involuntarily towards Blaise.

The vampire actually chuckled this time. “There is no need to be so coy. I understand the need for subtlety well enough — do you not remember what I was doing during our first meeting.”

“I would rather not chance it, if it’s all the same.”

“Oh, I do not speak against your measures, only your perceived need to explain them and their justifications.” Now it was his turn to glance in Blaise’s directions. “One of which sits directly to your right, if I am not mistaken.”

“That depends,” said Harry. “How close are you with the countess?”

The vampire shrugged. “Close enough to share gossip every now and then, but evidently not close enough to draw her eye like the man up on stage.” Harry had to suppress a snort as he focused his attention forward once more. The groom was standing atop the crystal dais and waiting for Antonia to walk up the aisle. Harry wondered how practiced all of this must feel to a woman who had now done it a grand total of six times.

“I’m guessing you and the countess getting along isn’t anything new?”

The creature chuckled again. “The relationship I have shared with the countess’s family predates generations of your family. It stems from an agreement that grows older and older even as we speak. To you, it would seem as though it was formed an eternity ago.”

Harry’s mind raced as a different song drifted through the hot air inside the pavilion. Antonia was coming up the aisle in a flowing white gown that seemed to ripple and reflect a number of other, vibrant colours in the sunlight. Harry aimlessly wondered whether it was enchanted, but his thoughts were mostly elsewhere. 

An ‘agreement that predated generations of his family.’ It did not sound like a simple friendship, though he really shouldn’t have been surprised. He was doubtful that vampires ever had true friendships, and he was about as sure of the fact in regards to the countess. She seemed so… cold. Not in an unwelcoming way, nor even a noticeable one. It was just… a feeling, like the sensation that hung in the air hours before a raging storm ravaged the lands one walked upon.

The vampire also just seemed much too forthcoming. Harry had the strange impression he had yet to lie, but he could not fathom why he was being so open with a boy whom he had hardly ever spoken with.

Not to say that Harry wouldn’t be taking advantage of every second of the creature’s generosity while he still could.

“That’s all interesting and it does a decent enough job of explaining why you’re here.” Harry actually took the time to tilt his head towards the vampire. Everyone else’s attention was latched onto the bride ascending the dais, so surely he would not be seen being so discourteous. “What it doesn’t explain is why you wondered whether or not I would be here specifically.”

“Ah, yes, the question indeed.” Pale fingers drummed against velvety black robes as the creature seemed to contemplate his next words. “Perhaps I misspoke,” he said as the vows began up on the dais. “Perhaps what I should have said was that I wondered when you would be here.”

Alarm bells rang with the force of booming thunder inside Harry’s head as his eyes narrowed. There was obvious amusement dancing in the creature’s dark eyes, but there was something else, too. Something Harry had no trouble placing, as he had seen it almost every time he looked into a mirror for the better part of a decade, though why exactly it was so prominent in the vampire’s expression, he had no idea.

It was bitterness — an immense amount of it, if Harry was judging correctly. 

It made no sense to him. There was a piece of this puzzle he was missing and he suspected that piece would allow everything else to connect and slide perfectly into place. A veil seemed to cloud his vision from seeing what was truly at play and it irked him more than he could ever hope to articulate. He thought the creature knew it, too, for the bitterness was gone swiftly enough and amusement became the only emotion dancing in the thing’s eyes as the bride and groom leant towards each other to symbolize their union in front of all gathered to see them linked in marriage.

The vampire bent his head towards  Harry’s ear despite the Muffliato Charm being active just before everyone took to their feet and went their separate ways. “To answer the question you are much too worried to ask, I knew you would be here just as I knew you would be in Knockturn Alley all that time ago.” His breath whispered against Harry’s skin, but that was not what made him tense. “And,” the vampire went on, “just as Blaise Zabini knew you would be in Slytherin House before you ever stepped foot inside Hogwarts castle.” The creature got to his feet before Harry could get in another word. “Do with the information what you will, but I thought you might like to know of it.”

Down in the depths of Gringotts bank…

The ride down the sloping tunnels started off just the same as ever. There was not another soul in sight, but still the hooded man’s companion did not dare remove his concealing enchantments. His silence did break on a number of occasions, however, most being every time they took an especially sharp or perilous turn. He was clearly not a fan of the Gringotts carts, not that he could blame him. They had never been his cup of tea, either, but some sacrifices had to be made.

The ride down into the depths of the bank ceased being normal the second the sound of rushing water met their ears. His heart began to quicken as the sound grew louder. This was where everything would get much more complicated.

The Thief’s Downfall was an enchantment they had been aware of long before they had committed to this plot of theirs. It had, in fact, almost been the wrench that undid every single one of their plans. Time had not been of any use in circumventing the enchantment. All of the research they and their co-conspirators had conducted had yielded no way around Thief’s Downfall. No magical shield would stop it and something physical like an umbrella would do little more. Water rained down with such intensity that a drop would inevitably soak through. Any enchantments placed upon the object would be undone as soon as the water touched it, and one drop would be all it took to sound the alarms if any alterations were detected.

They had contemplated for some time how their ploy could ever work. The Imperius Curse would be detected, as well as broken, and the alarm would be sounded. There was no two ways about it and once the bank sounded the alarm, escaping with their desired target would be next to impossible. So much time had been spent arguing over potential escape strategies that there had been a brief period of time in which the man and his group of companions had almost called off the plan altogether.

Until the man who currently accompanied him and broached a point so obvious that none of them had even considered it. 

“Homenum Revelio,” the man muttered, and he felt the wave of magic spread out from his wand. It detected only the man in the cart with him — goblins were of no worry so long as humans weren’t around. They would have no other reasons to be in these caverns at this time of day. All they had learned about Gringotts indicated that their maintenance and the like was done long after the bank had closed its doors for the night.

“On three,” the man told his companion as the waterfall came into sight as they took a hairpin turn at break-neck speeds. The water pounded against the tracks and rose in great sprays to splash against both walls. “One, two, three!”

Both men raised their wands at the same moment and the goblin suddenly stiffened just as a man with straw-coloured hair materialized into being just behind the man in the hooded cloak. With both the Disillusionment Charm and the Imperius Curse lifted, the cart passed under the waterfall with no disturbance whatsoever. 

The goblin spluttered as water sprayed from his nose. He spun to face the two wizards and his eyes bulged. The hooded man could see a sort of lever on the side of the cart that the goblin was reaching for, but the creature was too slow.


Some time later, in Cairo, Egypt…

Ron had woken up from his extended slumber with the worst headache he had ever felt in all of his life. Fred and George had hit him in the head with stray bludgers more than once growing up, but this put all of those instances to shame. It was less a blunt impact and more like a scalding flame licking hungrily against the inside of his skull. The pain was behind his eyes and it was maddening. Not even a potion meant to relieve its grip upon him made it fade completely, but it did dull it enough for him to sit up without wishing whatever the hell had knocked him out had just done him in and gotten the damn thing over with.

That was another thing… how he had gotten here. The last thing Ron remembered was standing outside one of Egypt’s great pyramids. The heat had been so dry that his throat felt like sandpaper if even sandpaper could thirst for plentiful amounts of water. The sun had been draining, sapping the life out of him, or so it seemed, but he had been excited to see inside the pyramids. Bill had told them all enough about the place’s splendor for Ron’s hopes to rise unrealistically high.

He really ought to stop doing that. Any time he seemed to have hopes too high for the situation at hand, reality seemed to smack him across the face with the force of the world’s strongest Bludgeoning Hex. Last time, it was Polyjuice Potion. He’d had such high expectations for how that night would go, but it had ended in complete and utter disaster. Every moment of that night had played over and over again inside his mind and he had thought for a long time he’d have liked nothing more than for the memories to cease their replaying.

Now, he was less sure that was what he really wanted. Not being able to remember something that was clearly major was… hard to explain. It felt… hollow, like a part of you was missing or something of the sort, but hollowness did not make your heart beat just a touch faster every time you thought about its presence.

He tried to remember what had happened after standing outside the pyramid, but nothing came to him. The events his family recited sounded like a story or something they had made up. It was like they were speaking about a different person altogether. It was the strangest thing to hear about something that had happened to you and remember none of it. The strangest thing to hear about how you had slumped to the floor without having any recollection of your body lying against the stones. Ron did not like it — not one bit.

What he liked much less were the implications of what had happened. 

“I can’t be under the Imperius Curse!” he had protested. “I’d remember if someone—” but his father had been shaking his head before Ron had finished speaking.

“Not if the person cursing you had a brain,” he said. “Think about it, Ron. If you were to put someone under the Imperius Curse, would you not order them to forget it had happened?”

“But… the ward… you said it broke the curse.”

“Breaking the curse doesn’t mean you get back the memories.” Bill spoke this time and his voice was rough. Ron could tell he was not the first person his brother had met who had suffered from magic-inflicted memory loss. “It’s not pleasant, to take someone’s memories. It would be an Unforgivable if a lot of people had their way—”

“We need the charm to uphold the—”

“International Statute of Secrecy,” the twins chorused as one.

“Yes,” said Fred, “thank you, Percy, now kindly shut the hell up and let Bill finish.” Ron suddenly realized why some people had made the joke about Weasleys blushing as red as their hair. Merlin… Percy’s skin must have felt as though it was ablaze. 

Bill might have smiled at another time, but he didn’t now. “The Memory Charm is nearly impossible to reverse. By using the Imperius to wipe memories, whatever bastard did this basically used one.”

“Almost?” asked Ron. “Only almost? So we’re going to fix this, right? I’m going to get my memories back and we’re going to find who did this?”

Bill and Ron’s father exchanged a look. “Ron,” Arthur began, and his son knew the answer to his question from the tone of that first word alone. “Memory charms… they’re really not to be trifled with. There are only a few people alive capable of reversing one if it’s cast well… and even that’s mostly theory. Reversing it… it wouldn’t be pleasant. It would do more damage than good.”

Dread clamped around Ron’s heart. At a different time, he might have wondered how his father knew so much about magic that seemed so obscure, but his thoughts were firmly on other things. Thoughts of how he would never get those memories back and thoughts of how whomever had cursed him would walk free.

And, worse, the fear that the bastard behind it would strike again.

That night, at Black Manor…

Bellatrix paced back and forth across her entrance hall and waited… just as she had been waiting all day. She could not remember a time she had been so nervous — certainly not since the Dark Lady’s defeat, at the very least — and it was beginning to eat at her like some ever-present acid. The plan they had all laid out was risky, at best, and foolish at worst. She had advocated for it to go forward due to the haste with which its objective had to be obtained, but that did not mean she lacked reservations about how the day’s events might have progressed. She just hoped it had went off without a hitch — or as close to as anything like what had happened today could get.

Ares had been ordered to her room and forbidden to leave — it would not do for her to understand what had been done and its results if the worst had come to pass. She had seen the way her daughter had cast a bitter glance towards the young dark lady, but she had not relented. Who was she to order an incarnation of the woman she had once followed? She could picture the bitterness in her daughter’s eyes if she ever tried to explain, but it caused her no pain. There were things more important than family — no matter what her grandfather had preached for all those years growing up. She had pledged herself to the Dark Lady’s service years ago and that was what mattered above all other things. Everything else was secondary and could be sacrificed at a whim if it was for the advancement of the Dark Lady’s plans. One day, if Bellatrix was especially fortunate, her daughter might even grow up and understand that.

Her feet ached as she turned to pace another length of the hall. She had been at it for hours and she moved around less now than she had all those years ago. She would need to become nimble once more before their group’s leader rose again. If her desires were to be fulfilled, Bellatrix would need to become the woman she had once been.

But first, she had to know what was in the damned will.

It was as though some great force had heard her pleas at long last, for she felt the ward’s breached just as a halo of blue light appeared in the hall’s centre and her husband nearly toppled to the floor after materializing from nowhere.

Bellatrix rushed to him at once. He appeared unhurt, but it was not him who her eyes were looking for. “Where is it?” she asked, her voice several octaves higher than usual and a good deal less modulated. It shook with a sort of deranged obsession that her husband had not heard in many years.

If he was at all surprised by her reaction, he gave no impression of it. He simply reached a hand into the pocket of his robes and produced a thick envelope filled with a number of thick and official-looking parchments.

Bellatrix read them, right there in the centre of the hall. All of the important bits, at least, and her eyes grew wider and wider with every passing paragraph. Her heart was beating faster now than it had been whilst waiting upon her husband’s return. This could not be right. The bastard… he couldn’t have… there was no way. If this was ever to reach the public’s eyes…

She tore every last page to shreds and threw them upon the floor. She knew all too well there would be replicas in case something like this happened, but she didn’t care. She needed them gone — she needed them destroyed. Her wand appeared from nowhere and a mighty gout of black fire engulfed the parchments. Its flames roared loud with the rage and terror that welled up inside their conjurer and they soared so high they nearly brushed the ceiling. Bellatrix’s breath was coming in great gasps and for a moment, Barty Crouch Jr. worried she might not be able to quench the fire she had started.

But then, with a high, terrible scream, Bellatrix slashed her wand through the air and the flames died; though not before their conjurer fell to her knees as her body became racked by mad, terrible sobs.

“He’ll never have it,” Barty heard her mutter, though her voice sounded strangely far away. “Any of it… I’ll kill him before he sees any of it.”

Meanwhile, back at Costello Zabini…

Harry had felt lost ever since the conversation he had shared with the vampire.

Was it all a lie?

Blaise had been the first to approach him at Hogwarts even though he had not been the first person Harry had chosen to befriend. He had found it strange at the time but had reminisced on it little since.

But this…

Why would Blaise and his mother be so interested in him? What was it they could possibly want with Harry? He was hardly an appropriate age for Antonia to marry and he could see no other reason. The Potters were powerful, but not the most prestigious family in the country. Even if they were, he was only the heir and his father was as available as Harry. If they really didn’t want James, they might have been better off going for the Boy-Who-Lived even in spite of him not being the heir apparent. 

It just made no sense to Harry. The vampire had been alert, it sounded, and he had passed along something to the Zabinis that had piqued their interest, but what?

And Blaise… what did this mean for them? He was one of Harry’s best friends and had been for so long, but now, the integrity of their friendship seemed so frayed. It all felt fake now, but that didn’t seem right. Blaise had counseled him so wisely in the Speaker’s Den back in December when they had spoken about his brother and Pettigrew. Why would he have been so helpful if he had been manipulating Harry the whole time? Hell, him being expelled from Hogwarts might even have helped whatever scheme his family might have devised. If he elected to go to Beauxbatons, it would have put him much closer to their base of power.

Yet Blaise had reassured Harry and he had been a great help regarding Pettigrew and many other things. Too many things clashed and contradicted for there to be any viable solution.

He let out a grunt of frustration even as he looked out over the lush lawns and sprawling sea beyond them from the beautiful balcony attached to his room that overlooked the family’s grounds. It felt wrong for him to be tense and on edge in such a peaceful and tranquil place, but there was just so much on his mind.

His other friends, too… what was he to do about that? Did he tell them about Blaise and how the boy might have ulterior motives of his own? Did he hold onto the information until he was more sure? Did he dare confront Blaise himself, or would that only lead to finding himself in a more precarious position than ever before?

Harry thought for a time that these contemplations might ever end, but something strange disrupted his train of thought and brought his mind sharply back into focus on everything around him.

The ring upon his finger alerted him to presences within a range near enough to detect. It was not a conscious thing, but Harry’s mind was never not aware of how many people dwelled nearby. Well… except for the one instance back in first year when Dumbledore had somehow fooled the artifact, but nothing of the sort had happened ever since.

There had been two people not far from Harry, but he had felt something… new from the ring. It not only alerted him to presences, but it indicated to him roughly where they were. If someone moved out of the ring’s range, awareness of them dissipated slowly as they moved away, but this was something different altogether.

The presence simply vanished in the blink of an eye and Harry instinctively knew that could mean only one thing.

The other presence — which had been right beside the first — was retreating swiftly and would be out of Harry’s detected range at any moment. He focused hard on the ring to make sure he was not misreading anything before making the decision to go ghost.

In a single breath, he faded from sight. He was already wearing the noiseless shoes Blaise had gifted him some time ago, so he took the trek at a short sprint and came upon a room nestled in the shadowed corner of a long and dark corridor not far from where he, Daphne, Tracey, and Charlotte were staying.

He not only tuned into the ring’s magic once more before entering the room, but he also cast a wordless Homenum Revelio Charm of his own before he pushed inside. 

It was somehow not what he had expected.

He had known he would find death inside, but never had he imagined death would look so peaceful. There was no blood, or gore, or any sign of pain at all. Antonia’s now-former husband simply lay sprawled on the floor without moving. He could have been sleeping from his position on the floor if not for the fact that no breath seemed to leave his lungs. 

It struck him like an iron-clad fist. It was like all the air had been driven from his body as the breath caught in his throat. Never had he been so close to death and never had it struck him so hard. An irrational mist seemed to cling to the corners of his mind and try to take refuge there, but Harry just barely had enough rational thought left to focus hard on Occlumency, clear his thoughts and temporarily suppress any emotion that might be an impediment. He was running short on time and Merlin only knew what would happen if he was caught here. All of these things could be worked through later.

The only oddity was something Harry could not help but focus on. He did one final check for other presences before he approached and knelt to verify what his senses told him from afar.

A clear liquid dribbled from the corner of the dead man’s mouth and dripped against the floor. The droplets were minuscule but in the silence following death and its swift and sudden strike, every single one of them might as well have been a thunder clap. Harry leant forward and sniffed, but he could detect nothing from them. He wished for Daphne’s knowledge of potions in that moment. He knew no poison so discrete, but he was sure it existed. It had to, for this made no sense otherwise.

No presence was threatening to approach yet, but it was not a circumstance Harry was willing to risk. He stuck both hands in the pockets of his robes and searched for anything he might use to bottle some of the clear liquid, but he found nothing. He cast one last look towards the dead man upon the floor before leaving the room and abandoning the corpse to the mercy of whomever came next. His memory would have to suffice, for Harry had every plan of looking into every colourless, odourless potion he could find — even if all the research was the death of him. 

This could be no one’s work but Antonia Zabini’s, and she had rapidly risen on the list of people who Harry needed to know absolutely everything about he possibly could.

It was a disturbingly long list, he reflected as he made his way back towards his room. So odd that a thirteen-year-old boy should have so many deadly enemies.

Author’s Endnote:

I have been looking forward to this chapter for a very long time, so I do hope it wound up being at least half as interesting as it sounded in my head. The Zabini plot isn’t one that’s going to get resolved in the next chapter, but seeing as it had been going on for basically the entire story, I did need to further it at some point 🙂

Please read and review.

PS: The next password will be released for Discord members in two weeks. If you don’t want to wait, the NEXT SIX CHAPTERS ARE AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW FOR ANYONE SIGNS UP TO MY PATREON PAGE!

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

%d bloggers like this: