AoC 64

Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos

Year 3: The Blackest of Truths

Chapter 10: Mysteries and Impossibilities 

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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August 22, 1993 

Castello Zabini

10:21 AM

Harry did his best to look casual as he took his seat at the table that next morning at breakfast with his friends and the countess. It probably helped his case that any inconsistencies in his demeanour could very easily be chalked up to exhaustion. He didn’t sleep well in the best of times, but last night had been especially bad. The reality of what he had seen had seeped into him and corrupted his dreams like a fast-spreading parasite. He could not escape the sight of the groom’s corpse and his mind seemed to hyperfixate, no matter how hard Harry tried to ensure it avoided doing that exact thing. He had woken up more exhausted than he could remember being in a long time and he was sure it showed. There had been deep shadows under his eyes when he had glanced in the mirror that morning.

Antonia’s husband had been found the previous night. Harry had been made aware of it by one of the countess’s maids before bed. The woman had told him not to fret; the official story was that he had been very drunk and taken a horrible tumble that had resulted in a split skull and a horrendous loss of blood. Harry, of course, knew different — though he had said nothing so far. He remembered exactly how bloodless the death was. The man’s skin had not yet paled by the time Harry had seen him and there had not appeared to be so much as a hair out of place. The only oddity had been that strange substance; colourless and odourless dripping from the corner of his mouth. Harry suspected it must have been some kind of poison, though it was impossible to tell.

He resisted the urge to cast his eyes sideways towards Daphne. If he knew anyone who could perhaps have figured it out, it was her. She was a genius with potions the likes of which Hogwarts had not seen in decades. There were times when she still managed to impress him in spite of all he knew of her prowess. Perhaps if he told her, they could work together and deduce exactly what it had been. It might even lead them to the answer of how Antonia Zabini killed all of her husbands without so much as a trace, for now there was no doubt in Harry’s mind she was the murderous black widow much of the public claimed she was.

Yet he had not dared to tell Daphne, nor had he Charlotte or Tracey. He had spent much of the night awake and contemplating doing so. Even now the thought arose. He remembered sitting in the Speaker’s Den at the end of their second year and speaking of how there would no longer be any secrets between their group of friends and how he was done hiding things from them. Guilt tore at him; it felt like a hundred knives were shredding the inside of his stomach, but he held his tongue.

He did not dare tell them something like this. Not here, at the very least. Speaking of such things while still under the Zabini’s roof seemed suicidal. He personally had no desire to die, nor did any of his friends, as far as he knew. Daphne had already wound up hurt once because of her association with him — he was not about to let it happen a second time. He thought the Harry from months earlier might have told them had he trusted his friends as much as he did now, but that Harry had suffered from a habit of not thinking far enough ahead. It had been what led him into the Chamber of Secrets and it had been, in essence, what had allowed the sixteen-year-old incarnation of Riddle to gain a physical form once again. It was not a trap Harry wanted to fall into again. He needed to think ahead.

Blaise was one of his friends, too, Harry thought, watching as the boy languidly sipped from a cup of tea. Blaise had been included in that pact, but surely Harry could not tell him this. And what were the odds he did not already know? He had been elusive about the topic near the end of their first year, but there had been an undercurrent there. Harry would be surprised if Blaise did not at least know part of it. Telling him would surely only raise alarm bells and perhaps even put him on the Zabini family’s hit list.

And if truth was to be told, Harry was more worried about other things pertaining Blaise. Traumatic as last night might have been, it had not driven the vampire’s words from his mind. The way he had spoken as if everything involving him and the Zabinis had been a plan. Did that pact at the end of the year with Blaise even count for anything now? Had anything either of them ever said to each other meant anything, in the grand scheme of things? Was their friendship at all genuine, or was Harry being played for a fool by yet another master manipulator?

It was all infuriating and it made his head ache. A pain had been present behind his eyes for the majority of the night. It was a pulsing sort of pain that gave the illusion of relief before stabbing once again with sharpened blades hotter than a roaring fire. 

He felt a stare on him then and worried for a moment his contemplations had been too obvious, but both Zabinis seemed preoccupied with the food in front of them. Nobody at the table was saying much; it was a somber sort of atmosphere after what had happened the previous night.

The stare was Charlotte’s. Harry supposed he really ought not to have been so surprised. Of course the Legilimency prodigy who knew him as well as just about anybody would have realized something was off. She tilted her head and arched a delicate brow, but Harry only shook his own head in return. Not now, he thought clearly, dropping his shields for a moment as he met her eyes, hoping she would be able to read his thoughts without putting in the effort to do so.

Judging by the narrowing of her eyes, she had, and there was a certain intensity about her gaze. Her expression carried a certain amount of expectations and Harry knew now more than ever that eventually, he would need to tell his friends — minus Blaise — what he had seen and what it might mean for all of them.

Later, at Potter Manor… 


By Rita Skeeter

Both Charlus and James nearly spewed their pumpkin juice all over the table when they saw the bolded headline on the front page of that morning edition of the Daily Prophet. Peter was taking breakfast with them that morning, and only he managed to keep a relatively calm countenance.

“The hell is this?” James spluttered, picking up the parchment with clear indignance written all over his face. “I’m a damned Senior Auror! Why haven’t I heard a thing about this?”

Peter had his own edition and he had begun reading sooner than James. “The goblins only reported the break-in late last night after they completed inventory. It might be that the ministry is finding out at about the same time as the Prophet.”

“Bollocks to the goblins and the ministry,” grumbled James. “They about killed us the last time there was a break-in. Months and months of running around like chickens with our heads cut off all for nothing.”

“Can’t say I’m much looking forward to it, either,” said Peter. He looked stressed, Charlus noticed, much more so than usual. 

Charlus himself was as worried as his father, though for very different reasons. The last time there had been a major Gringotts break-in, it had been tied to Voldemort and, more specifically, the Philosopher’s Stone. That had led to the Dark Lady herself appearing at Hogwarts and very nearly regaining her full power. If the magnitude of this break-in was anything like the last, it could spell trouble the likes of which even Sirius Black was not capable of sparking.

Peter seemed to be done with his copy, so Charlus cleared his throat. “Can I read that, Uncle Pete?” Peter didn’t answer, but he passed the paper across the table to Charlus nevertheless, his expression impossible to read. James didn’t even seem to notice the interaction had taken place. He was transfixed on his own copy of the Prophet, and his expression looked horrified.

Charlus smoothed Peter’s copy out in front of him and looked down, preparing himself for the worst.

It appears that this is the summer of mysteries and impossibilities. First, Sirius Black is found missing and has presumably escaped from the inescapable Azkaban prison. Now — for the second time in three years — Gringotts, a place many thought was impregnable, has been successfully robbed!

Per the Gringotts Act (1865) the goblins control Gringotts bank, but they must report the affairs of said bank to the Ministry of Magic. Inventory is taken every night at the bank, but last night, the goblins came to an astonishing discovery.

It appears that an item was missing from a scarcely-used vault that is said by the goblins to be one of the more protected ones in the bank. When pressed for details about what was missing, a Gringotts spokesgoblin refused to comment, however, the goblin did reveal that the raided vault was the one assigned to holding many of the most important financial and familial documents drawn up by many of the country’s most prestigious families. 

This will doubtlessly lead to speculation of all sorts, but this reporter, for one, thinks that this can be directly tied to the recent escape of one Sirius Black.

The man has already done the impossible once this summer, so breaking into Gringotts seems right up his alley. Readers of this article will doubtlessly know that Black is descended from one of the country’s most powerful families, but that he forfeited all of the rights that honour provides him the moment he was sentenced to life in Azkaban.

Exactly what Black could have wanted in the vault remains a mystery, but perhaps he wanted to see documents pertaining to his family and see if there was any way he could regain power within Britain’s political structure or at least attain assets and resources he otherwise have had at his disposal.

It is a mystery that may never be solved, but if Sirius Black really is this active so soon, the wizarding populace of Magical Britain must remain cautious and vigilant while this deranged psychopath remains on the loose. 

There was a mention, too, of how some suspected Black was guilty of the horrible mutilations from earlier in the summer and a reference to one of those articles, but Charlus wasn’t interested in any of that.

If Black really was this active, Skeeter had one thing right. They needed to remain both cautious and vigilant, but Charlus in particular needed to be on guard. It was one thing for a deranged man to utter threats in a courtroom, but it was another thing altogether when the man routinely showed himself to be capable of feats far beyond what most people could ever dream of.

Charlus raised his stare to look at his godfather, who was watching him closely. “Do you think it’s true, Uncle Pete?”

Even James’s head rose from his own paper at this, but Peter did not immediately answer. He chewed on his lip and thought for a moment before he spoke. “I’m… not sure. It could be. Sirius has… abilities that might have made breaking into Gringotts easier than it would be for most people.”

“I don’t see what he’d want though,” said James. “What could have been in that vault that would interest him? He never gave a damn about his family and it’s not as though he could walk into the Wizengamot chambers and claim his lands and titles, even if he did find some kind of loophole.”

Peter shrugged. “I don’t know what’s in that vault. Maybe there were some secret documents from the Blacks he knew about. You know how it is with that family. You won’t find a shadier bunch no matter how long you try. Maybe there was something in there that might have been useful.”

“Any chance the goblins will tell the aurors or the detectives even if they won’t tell the Prophet?” asked Charlus.

“No,” said Peter. “The goblins are obligated to give an overview and be open with the ministry, but this falls under client confidentiality. They won’t disclose it unless the Head of House Black gives them formal permission to.”

James snorted at the thought. “I think Bellatrix would vomit at the idea of speaking to a goblin, let alone giving them permission to do anything.”

Peter nodded. “She’d probably sooner take a Killing Curse, yeah.”

“Wasn’t she a Death Eater?” asked Charlus. “I know she was never convicted, but you’ve said that you know some people who were who got off, even though you don’t have enough proof to get them locked up.”

“Oh, she was,” said James, his expression grim. “One of the worst of them. Some of the Order even thought she had something to do with the Longbottoms’ torture. Could never prove it though; she killed just about anyone who got close enough to see her face. Only reason we know for sure is that Dumbledore recognized her, but she escaped with Voldemort that night.”

“Do you think she could be helping Sirius? They’re cousins or something, aren’t they? And if they’re both Death Eaters… we know that Voldemort is still alive.”

James straightened so suddenly in his chair that it was like an electric shock had just rocketed through his body. Peter’s reaction was more subdued, but even he looked troubled. “You think Sirius might be working with Bellatrix to try and restore She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Names to her full power?”

“It’s possible, isn’t it?”

“It is,” said James grimly, setting down his cup of tea. “It’s just another reason why Sirius needs to be found and sent to Azkaban.”

“Or taken care of for good,” said Peter, “he’s broken out once…”

James’s eyes darkened. “So long as the bastard isn’t a problem anymore, I don’t care what happens to him.”

“On that, Prongs, we agree.”

Later that night, in Estonia… 

It was odd to be under a lake again, but different from what the man had seen before. The last time, he had still been at Hogwarts and the Black Lake’s water cast its dark, ghostly light upon the Slytherin common room. This was very different. 

The headquarters for the Resurging Republic of Hansa was under one of the many lakes located in Estonia, but one would not know it once inside. It felt as though they were in any other building above ground. Even the windows were enchanted to show picturesque views just like how he knew the ones at the British Ministry of Magic were as well.

He had been greeted by an employee as soon as he had arrived and been shown through the headquarters without a single word exchanged between the two of them. He liked that about this place already. People here seemed to understand subtlety and discreteness. They knew what their job was, too. They weren’t here to make a show of everything or make things difficult; they were here to do a job.

He knew they were nearing the office of the man he had come for once the number of aurors present began to swell rapidly. They were everywhere in this part of the building; their eyes followed him and his escort. His hand twitched irrationally towards his pocket. He meant no harm here and had nothing to fear, yet the presence of so many officials still put him on edge. If he was still in England, it would have been much worse.

They finally came to an ornate door guarded by two aurors and his escort said something to them in a language he could not understand before knocking upon the door and gesturing for him to enter. 

The room was richly decorated, but it had no window. The man thought this was odd; if he were such a high-ranking official, he would certainly have campaigned for one.

Even if he had not known the man was high-ranking, he would have given off that impression. Even beyond his regal features and well-styled brown hair, there was a certain, searching look about his eyes. It appeared as though they were evaluating everything and making calculations on the fly without pause. He looked like a man who would find himself in a position of power, and he was exactly the sort of man he had come to associate with.

“It is good to see you have come,” said Daniel Shafiq, folding his hands as he peered towards him. “Are you prepared to take the risks mentioned in our last bit of correspondence?”

“I am.”

Shafiq raised an eyebrow. “You do understand the risks, yes?” He nodded. “You understand that if any component goes wrong—“

“I understand as much as I can and I expect you’ll explain what I don’t already know.”

Shafiq smiled thinly. “Yes, I suppose that might be of some use. Please, take a seat. We have much to discuss.”

August 23, 1993

Weitts Manor 

11:33 AM

The entrance hall of Weitts Manor seemed blindingly bright after the dark and ominous halls of Castello Zabini. It was almost as though Harry had forgotten how much marble there was and how it cast the whole room in a pale sort of light. Then, of course, there was that damned message inscribed in a language he had tried and failed to translate more times than once.

Sigmund and Grace must have both been busy, but Adriana was waiting for all of them as they landed in a halo of blue light along with Daphne’s parents. Astoria was still absent, but Harry would find out later that day that she was set to be released from St. Mungo’s and cleared to attend Hogwarts on September 1st. Harry and Tracey both wound up on the floor. Daphne and Charlotte somehow managed to stay on their feet and there was a part of Harry that despised them for it. If magical travel wasn’t so damn efficient, Harry would never have bothered with it. Never had he been so nauseous as after travelling from Britain to Italy, then back again via portkey. Seeing the world blur past your eyes at speeds so fast your brain could not comprehend them and what you were seeing was one thing when it lasted for seconds. When it dragged on for minutes on end and seemed to increase the longer it stretched on, it was an entirely different sensation that Harry despised more than he could ever hope to put into words. 

Portkeys or not, Harry never thought he would be so grateful to see this place again. He couldn’t say it felt like a home to him — he doubted very much it ever would — but there was certainly a connection he did not feel in many other places. It spoke of many things to him, and it was a much-needed reprieve after the events that had transpired in Italy during and after Antonia Zabini’s wedding.

He was just relieved they had all made it back to Britain. Fear had lingered in the back of his mind ever since he’d seen the unlucky groom’s corpse. He was quite sure no one had seen him and that no one could possibly know he had been in the room with the dead man, but he could never be certain about anything these days, it seemed. If he was wrong and Blaise’s mother became aware of his suspicions and of what he had seen, it could have been very bad; not just for him, but for Blaise’s other visitors as well.

A great weight had lifted from his shoulders the second they had touched the portkey that would transfer them home. Once they were off the Zabini property, arranging some kind of accident or the like became exponentially more difficult. He had seen nothing in Antonia to make him suspect she knew anything, but Blaise had certainly picked up on the fact that Harry’s mentality had changed. He had always been perceptive — it was one of the things that made him such a great friend for Harry — but it was a right pain when that perceptiveness worked against Harry and what he was trying to accomplish. 

Earlier that morning, in Italy…

The heat was every bit as smouldering as it had been the day of Antonia Zabini’s wedding. All week, the sun had shone and the air had been thick with the moisture of humidity. Being right on the edge of a great body of water did occasionally summon a certain whispering wind, but it seemed as though such things were scarce in these parts. It had been a paradise in every sense of the word, yet Harry could not wait to leave.

Fortunately, he would not have to wait long. He and his friends were gathered on the sloping lawns outside the towering castle that served as Blaise’s ancestral home. Blaise was there with his mother, too, plus a number of the maids that manned the massive home and its grounds. Harry tried not to let his gaze flicker to Antonia. Any time he looked at her, he saw a different face. A male’s face — one with a strange liquid dripping from the corner of his mouth as his lifeless corpse grew cold before Harry’s very eyes.

Antonia was going through the motions and expressing all the necessary courtesies when Harry felt a light tap on his shoulder. He tensed for a split second before crushing the impulse and glancing to see who it was.

“Any chance you might be able to spare a minute to talk?” Blaise had never sounded so threatening to Harry, though his voice was perfectly polite and even… nervous? It wasn’t precisely the right word, but Harry could think of no other way to say it. Apprehensive, perhaps, but that was not quite right word either.

Harry could think of no way to avoid the inevitable situation, so he nodded and followed Blaise away from the others. He felt a stare on him as they walked; he thought it was either Daphne or Charlotte, but he did not glance back to check. He was too focused on the tall boy in front of him and exactly what he might want. 

Blaise said nothing until they had made it a good way down the grounds. Then, he turned to Harry. “Cast that charm of yours, would you? The privacy one that you’re sure no one has a workaround for?” Harry’s eyes narrowed as his body tensed. He summoned his wand from its holster with a flick of his wrist and cast Muffliato without so much as a word. He reholstered his wand, but his hand was ready to summon it again at a moments’ notice. He doubted Blaise would try anything and as far as either of them explicitly knew, their friendship was still very much intact, but Harry was taking no chances now.

“Something’s wrong,” Blaise said at once. “You can fool some of us, but not me. I know Charlotte’s noticed it too; I saw your guys’ little interaction at breakfast.” Blaise watched him very carefully as he tried to choose his next words. “What’s happened that has made you so paranoid? You’ve been on edge for most of the week, which is normal for you in a new environment, but nothing like since the wedding. Something happened — I want to know what it is.”

Harry’s heartbeat quickened. Blaise knew; there was no other reason he would ask the question in such a way. Not with his eyes watching so closely and every muscle in his body coiled so tight they looked fit to snap at any moment. Blaise was nervous, Harry could tell. Whether he was nervous that Harry had seen and might act on the information or because of some other reason, it was impossible to tell.

“Nothing’s happened here,” said Harry, “it’s Britain that has me stressed.”

Blaise narrowed his eyes. “Britain?”

“Gringotts. The prophet thinks Black might have had something to do with it.”

Blaise watched him very carefully. “And you agree with them?”

Harry shrugged. “How am I supposed to know? I know almost nothing about Black. If I broke out of Azkaban, the first thing I would be doing definitely wouldn’t be attracting a bunch of attention by breaking into the country’s major wizarding bank, but I’m also not in Azkaban and I’d like to think I’m reasonably sane.”

“Why are you so worried about Black?”

“Because people who should by all accounts want the blood of my brother have a really funny way of dragging me into everything and making my life a living hell?”

Blaise snorted and looked as though he had to bite down on a laugh. “I doubt Black will have anything to do with you. The only reason he seemed so murderous towards your brother was because of what happened that night with the Dark Lady.”

“He threw my mother’s life away without much pause. I’m not personally going to put wiping a family off the map past him.”

“That’s fair, I suppose. I would do what every adult is probably going to and tell you that everything will be perfectly safe at Hogwarts, but I’ve never been one for pointless placations and children’s tales. Somehow, I doubt you’re much of a fan, either, so I won’t bother.”

“How considerate of you.”

“Hey, I am a gentleman at my core. I live to serve.” Harry thought a day ago, the two of them might have laughed, but neither so much as cracked a smile. “Harry,” said Blaise, “no matter what you saw, I want you to know that… nothing was ever aimed towards you. There were never any bad intentions. It might have looked bad, but there is a reason for everything my family does. I hope that one day, I can tell you everything and that nothing my family has done has broken our trust. I hate this sappy nonsense, but you are my best friend, and I’ll be quite cross with my mother if she’s somehow gone off and ruined that by doing something nonsensical.”

Harry studied Blaise. “I’ll keep that all in mind,” he said. “I just need to sort out how I feel about some things over the rest of the summer.”

Blaise spread his hands. “Take all the time you need, my friend. As I said, I am a gentleman, after all.”


Back in the present…

It was all still a jumbled mess inside Harry’s mind. He never had been able to read Blaise and that had been personified perfectly by their final interaction before he departed from Italy. He wanted to believe him so desperately, but the vampire’s words still rang so true to him that they vibrated out through his very chest, carrying with them waves of doubt and worry that caused great aches to arise wherever they reached.

He shook his head and cleared his thoughts with some difficulty when he noticed that the others were moving. Judging by the direction Daphne was moving, they were all heading up to their rooms to get tidied up before lunch. Harry was grateful for the reprieve. He needed time to recompose himself and his thoughts. He would be ready to face them all by lunch, but he would cherish the solitude whilst it was luxury he could enjoy.

Or, at least, he would have had footsteps not followed him up the stairs and towards his room. “Any chance you’re willing to wait a bit until I have some things sorted?” Harry asked, not needing to glance back to know who was following him.

“I would rather not, personally,” said Charlotte. “I’ve never been the most patient person.”

“Take it as a learning experience.”

“I’m sure there will be plenty of time to learn later. Maybe with something less important than this.”

Harry sighed and allowed Charlotte to walk up beside him before resuming the trek towards his room. “What exactly is ‘this’?”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t be following you.” She looked at him expectantly as they ascended the stairs and came up to the manor’s second floor. “You tell me.”

“If this is about what happened at breakfast—”

“Of course it is. I haven’t seen you look like that since we were trying to work out who the Heir of Slytherin was. You do a good job of hiding your expression and the like, but you have a really specific look about you any time you’re stressed or worried about something that’s bothering you.”

“And I’m sure being a Legilimency prodigy doesn’t hurt, either.”

“I wasn’t legilimizing you, and your Occlumency is good enough that I can’t just push past your shields without putting in a solid amount of effort.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t get a general feel for my emotions. I know I can do it sometimes with people who know at least a little bit of Occlumency. It’s not perfect, but it’s helpful.”

“So what if it is? Okay, that just means I’m even more sure about what I already said, so there. Are you going to tell me what was bothering you now?”

Harry opened his mouth, but closed it just as quickly. He had been about to give Charlotte the same story about Black as he had given Blaise, but he instinctively knew she would not be fooled. She knew him better than Blaise did, ironically, even though the Italian had been a confidant of his for longer than Charlotte. She knew him on a more personal level — and she did have the whole Legilimency thing going for her. 

“I… would rather not tell you anything yet.” He held up a hand to forestall what he viewed as an inevitable interjection. “I am going to tell you,” he promised. “You, Daphne, and Tracey. Maybe even your group of friends, too, if they’re going to be spending more time with us this year.” He hesitated. “Well… I wouldn’t be telling them, exactly, just warning them about something in vague terms, but you and the others who were there in the Den will get the full story.”

“Except Zabini — you left him off of that list.”

“I did, yes.”

“So… something happened with him in Italy.”

“Nothing happened with Blaise. There were just… some circumstances. I promise, I’ll tell all of you eventually. I just… I need to work some things out, first. There are some things that I’m not sure about. I don’t know what to think about them and I need to sort that out. Once I do, I’ll tell all of you. And don’t worry, Miss Impatient,” he went on, “it will happen before we all go back to Hogwarts.”

“Prat,” said Charlotte, shoving him jokingly away. He was strangely proud that at least a few people could do that now and without any strong reaction rising as a result of it. He really had come a long way since the start of his first year.

“Thanks, Charlotte,” he said, all of a sudden serious. “I’m not trying to hide anything from you or the others. I meant what I said in the Den — no more secrets that could get anyone hurt.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she said, “I’m just making sure you keep your word, is all. You wouldn’t want to be known as dishonest, would you?”

“Me? The Parseltongue in Slytherin who everyone and their mother thought was the Heir for half of last year? I am the pinnacle of honesty and will hear no different.”

“Glad to see we’re on the same page. I’m always looking out for you and your reputation.” She flicked her eyes towards him. “I’m not trying to rush you, though,” she said, “if you need time, that’s fine. But I know you and I know this morning wasn’t normal. Just… don’t wait too long.”

“I won’t,” he promised, “not this time.”

That night, at Malfoy Manor…

  Nervous energy filled every square inch of the drawing room at Malfoy Manor. There was not a terribly large contingent gathered around the long table dominating the room, but most of those who were seemed to be holding their breath.

Peter Pettigrew was chief amongst them. He was probably the most nervous of anyone there. It was only natural after all he had gone through to help get them all here. If he had done all he had for nothing, he would be extremely cross. Especially if anyone somehow found out the part he had played. He couldn’t see how that could happen, but it would be most unfortunate for him if that somehow ever came to pass.

“Are we going to delay for the rest of the night,” asked Evan Rosier, “or was there a reason we all came?”

“I think you know the reason all too well, Rosier,” Crouch said coolly, his eyes narrowed.

“I thought I did as well, but an awful lot of nothing seems to be going on and I can make better uses of my time if that’s going to persist.”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” drawled Lucius Malfoy. “We would not be here if we’d spent the better part of our time locked in useless quarrels. Be patient and let Bellatrix collect herself. I’m sure she will make us aware of what we worked so hard for when she is ready.”

Peter turned his gaze back to Bellatrix and what he saw made him nervous. She was paler than he had ever seen her. She sat very near one of the few torches in the room and her face looked gaunt and ghostly in its light. There was something in her eyes that he had only heard others talk about. Perhaps he would have seen it during the Purity War had he been a front-line soldier, but that had never been what Peter was good at — thank Merlin for that.

She took a deep breath, but even that seemed to require a great deal of effort. Her hair tumbled into her face, but she did not reach up to move it. It was usually straight and stinky, but now it looked matted and unkempt. “We’ll lose all of it,” she said in barely more than a whisper and Peter’s heart skipped a beat. “If they find out… if they learn what we’ve done, we’ll lose all of it. It will all go to him… the brat will take everything from us.”

The room was deathly quiet as those gathered around the table exchanged concerned glances. Peter met Rosier’s eyes, but the man’s expression was as blank and difficult to read as ever. Peter might as well have tried to decide what the sound of a mountain might be feeling that day for all the success he had at reading Rosier’s thoughts or mood.

“And who, exactly, is this brat?” asked Lucius. “If the curtain does get pulled aside on our plan, it might help if we know who we would lose so much to.”

“The Potter brat,” sneered Bellatrix. “The halfblood swine… he will get all of it.”

“He won’t,” spat Nott. “No one will ever know. There’s no way they can ever find out. It’s over. No evidence exists and the only person who could prove it is dead. This whole thing is pointless.”

“Precautions are never pointless, Nott,” said Rosier. “You would do well to remember that.”

And that was one of many reasons why Peter was happy to never be on the front lines. Nott was very capable with a wand, and full of sadistic tricks, but there was a reason Evan Rosier was the Dark Lady’s general during the Purity War; and it had very little to do with his considerable prowess in magical combat.

“I hate to be the one harping on details,” Lucius cut in smoothly, “but ‘Potter brat’ doesn’t exactly narrow it down. There are two of them, as I’m sure you all well know.”

“She means the eldest,” said Peter, feeling all eyes in the room turn towards him. “It’s Harry she means; he’s the one it would all go to.”

Something flashed in Lucius’s eyes, but it was gone faster than it had appeared. “Well then,” he said in a voice so nonchalant they might as well have been discussing preparations for the next night’s dinner, “we best make sure he is in no position to receive a single knut of it.”

Author’s Endnote:

Barring the trial scene — which was genuinely one of the most difficult parts of this story I have written — this was the trickiest chapter of year 3 for me so far. I am happy to have it done and I am happy to have only one more chapter left to go for the summer. It ended up being longer than I had expected, but I am excited to get the major events of the year rolling.

Please read and review.

PS: The next password will be released for everyone in exactly two weeks. If you don’t want to wait, the NEXT EIGHT CHAPTERS ARE AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW TO ANYONE WHO SIGNS UP TO MY PATREON PAGE. Do go check that out if you’re interested.

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