Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
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!
Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
August 25, 1993
Charlus had been in a right state since that morning. He had woken sleepily as ever, but all thoughts of rest vacated his mind the second he glanced towards the calendar hung about his wall.
It was August 25th — the day the Weasleys would be returning from Egypt.
He had scrambled to his feet almost at once and swifty dressed himself before racing out of his room and making a beeline for the stairs leading down to the manor’s first floor. He would floo straight to the Burrow and wait for the Weasleys to get back. He had been so sure of that, at the time, but his father had had other plans.
Earlier that morning, at Potter Manor…
“In a hurry, are we?” His father was waiting for Charlus at the dining room table. There were shadows under his eyes, Charlus could see. He must have hardly slept since the Gringotts break-in four days earlier. It made sense; since that first morning when Peter was over for breakfast, James had spent almost no time at home and had practically lived in his office at the Ministry of Magic. Charlus remembered exactly how ragged they had run him last time Gringotts’s security had been breached and suspected the same thing was happening now. Truthfully, Charlus was more than a little bit surprised to see his father today.
“A bit, yeah,” said Charlus, rushing off towards the floo.
“Charlus,” called James, “wait, please.” Charlus halted in mid-step. The last time his father had used that tone of voice had been when he had forbidden him from travelling to Egypt. “Come and sit down for a moment.”
“The Weasleys aren’t going to be home until later tonight, and you will not be leaving without me.”
Charlus felt his face flush with anger. “Why not?”
“Because there are things I need to make Molly and Arthur aware of. You and Ron, too. They… could be important.”
“Why don’t you just tell me now? I could tell Ron and you could—”
“No! Damnit, Charlus! I ask so little of you. Would it kill you to listen when I do?” Charlus’s skin grew still warmer, but this time he held his tongue. “I’ll be coming with you tonight as soon as the Weasleys are home. I’ve pulled more strings than I can count to get the day off and the department is not happy about it. I’m not sure who took the news worse, Director Bones or Mad-Eye. The old man wanted to kill me, but Bones has quite the glare.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “As soon as the Weasleys are home, we’ll head over, but no sooner.”
A suspicion had grown and blossomed in Charlus’s mind as his father spoke. “Does this have anything to do with Sirius Black? Not letting me go off on my own — even to the Burrow? Wanting to come with me? Whatever it is you’re going to tell all of us?”
James’s face was as grim as Charlus could ever remember. “Nowadays, Charlus, most things have at least something to do with Sirius Black.”
Back in the present…
He had been about ready to sneak off with the damn cloak by the time his father had finally informed him that it was time to head off to the Burrow. The battered old house with its perpetual sideways lean had never seemed so appealing to Charlus before. It looked more homely now than Potter Manor for how deeply he had been aching to see it again. The late summer sun had almost disappeared by now. There was little of its glow left to speak off but for a faint and distant splash of orange against the otherwise dimly-lit sky.
The Burrow had been a sight for sore eyes, but seeing his best friend again, waiting in the kitchen with the rest of his family, sent Charlus’s heart leaping up into his throat. It nearly spewed forth out of his mouth — that was at least how intense the feeling was. Charlus rushed forward in a blur of motion and the two of them had their arms around the other. There was much jostling and hard slapping of each other’s backs before the two boys broke apart. Charlus studied Ron very closely. Nothing about him seemed explicitly different, but Charlus thought he saw something foreign in his eyes. He wondered if that was how he looked to those who had once known him now. Ever since the end of first year, but especially over the summer since his most recent failure.
Charlus had meant to slip upstairs with Ron, but he knew at once it was not to be. The smell of a full and hardy meal was already wafting through the kitchen like enchanted vapour. It might as well have been enchanted for the impact it had on Charlus. Thoughts of retreating and reuniting with Ron were still very much there, but they became fainter all of a sudden as the tantalizing, salty smell of gravy drifted through the kitchen and the sizzling of cooking chicken played in Charlus’s ears like the sweetest melody ever composed.
The food was ready in minutes and any remaining annoyance at the delay in his plans fled before the food that took its place in the depths of Charlus’s stomach. The meat seemed to fall apart before his teeth ever threatened to slice through it and a heavenly taste spread throughout his mouth. Much as he had missed his best friend, Charlus was not altogether sure in that moment whether or not he had missed this even more.
The meal stretched on for some time, but even Charlus was not enchanted enough by the splendour of the food to miss the obvious note of tension in each and every bite taken around the table. It hung in the air like the moistened herald of a great and mighty storm. An apt analogy, for the dark cloud of what was to come hung over all of them.
When they somehow finished working their way through the massive collection of chicken, the pile of potatoes, the stacks of scones and the strawberry tart, Mrs. Weasley went about tidying the kitchen, but now the tension in the air became more noticeable. The twins had stopped cracking their famous jokes, Ginny looked even more nervous now than she had all those years ago when she had still had a crush on Charlus, and even Percy was sitting straighter than usual — Charlus would never have thought such a thing was possible. As for the Boy-Who-Lived himself, he was busy meeting the unnecessary, warning eye of his father. James clearly feared Charlus would try and slip off, but his worries were for naught. Charlus was much too curious to miss this meeting, even if it was not the reason he had desired to come here so very much.
Nobody seemed quite sure how to break the silence when it began to grow too long to bear. James had opened his mouth once but closed it just as quickly. Mrs. Weasley looked so tense that her jaw might have flown from her face like a broken elastic band if she had dared to open it at all. Mr. Weasley, for his part, was glancing from his wife to Ron, to James. Yet in the end, it was none of the adults that broke the silence.
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” said Ron, “can we get on with it, already?”
“Ronald!” exploded Mrs. Weasley. “Mind your manners!”
“No,” said James, “he’s right.” The Senior Auror turned his attention towards Ron, who all of a sudden appeared to become much less confident. “How are you feeling, Ron? I don’t imagine whatever happened in Egypt was pleasant.”
“I’m… uh, okay, I guess. I sort of just wish people would stop asking me how I was.”
The twins did their best to muffle matching snorts behind their napkins and even James managed a weak smile. “Won’t waste too much time with that, then. I’m glad you’re all right, but it’s important that we keep it that way.”
“You think whoever cursed Ron might try again,” guessed Mr. Weasley, looking grimmer than Charlus had ever seen him before.
“I would be surprised if they didn’t,” said James, “and I think I might know who did it.” The pause seemed to draw on forever as James looked first from Molly to Arthur, then to their youngest son, and finally to Charlus before he spoke. “I think Ron might have been put under the Imperius Curse by Black as a way of trying to get to Charlus.”
The sound of shattering glass battled for cacophonous supremacy against the scream of the woman who had dropped it. Mrs. Weasley was shrieking, but it was all an incoherent mess that Charlus could make neither heads nor tails of. It took some time to calm the woman down, and only then did Mr. Weasley speak.
“You think Black escaped Azkaban before this summer, then?”
“It would explain… some of what’s been going on.” Voldemort, Charlus thought. His father must have thought Voldemort’s rising power and activity had something to do with Black and his possible aid.
“But-but… how?” wailed Molly. “Nobody’s ever broken out of Azkaban! How did he do it? How did he get to our Ron whilst he was at Hogwarts? It had to be then! He never left the house between January or July and the healers didn’t think the curse was new.”
James looked as though he might be sick. “No one can speak of anything I’m about to say under any conditions whatsoever. I’ll make you all swear vows if needed.”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Mr. Weasley, looking sternly towards each of his children. “Go on, James.”
James took a deep, steadying. “Sirius… is an Animagus. A grim, to be more specific.” Shocked silence followed that proclamation.
“Merlin,” whispered Mr. Weasley while his wife held a hand over her heart and still appeared speechless. “The dementors may have never even sensed him.”
James nodded. “It explains how he got into Hogwarts, too. Nobody knew more passages of that place than us and our group of friends back in school.”
“You’ve told Moody and Bones about this, right?” Mr. Weasley asked.
James grimaced. “The ministry will never catch Sirius.” He held up a hand to forestall obvious interruptions coming from both Percy and Mrs. Weasley. “Look, I wish I was wrong, but I’m not. I know Sirius… well, I did, at least. I thought I knew him, but I do know how he goes about things like this. No aurors are going to be the ones who apprehend him unless he gets cocky and careless.” The grimace returned. “That might well happen, but it hasn’t yet.”
“So nothing can be done?”
“That’s not what I said.” James glanced from Charlus to Ron. “Black and I weren’t the only ones in our group at Hogwarts. Peter was the third, but not the last.”
“Remus,” remembered Mrs. Weasley. “I’ve always wondered what happened to him.”
“He’s on his way back to Britain,” James announced with a stony expression. “He’s coming back to help protect Charlus and to stop Sirius… by any means necessary.”
Left unsaid was all that statement entailed. The elder Weasleys, at least, knew of Remus Lupin’s true nature. If set loose against one he despised so utterly for their treacherous nature…
“That’s another reason you haven’t told the aurors, isn’t it?” Mr. Weasley asked grimly.
“It is,” said James. “Sirius knows all of the passages, but so does Remus, and he’ll be watching them night and day so long as he isn’t training Charlus at the time.” Charlus nearly fell from his chair. So this was what his father had been talking about in regards to training for the better part of a month. He really had been looking for someone and he had found one of his oldest friends — a man who Charlus knew surprisingly little about.
James turned towards Ron. “As I said at the start, I think Sirius might try something with Ron again, but Charlus and I are going to meet with Remus in the next few days and I plan to have him watch over Ron, too. I still don’t think it’s a bad idea for Ron to join Charlus in his extra lessons with Remus if you’ll allow him, Molly, Arthur?”
“I’m in,” said Ron, eyes ablaze with a light Charlus had never seen there before.
Mrs. Weasley opened her mouth to speak, but Mr. Weasley placed a hand on hers. “It’s all right, Molly,” he said. “Of course he can work with Remus, James. Anything to keep Ron safe.”
August 27, 1993
A gasp escaped from Remus the second the world came back into focus. Apparition had never been comfortable for him. It was unpleasant in the best of circumstances, but Remus’s wolf side had never liked the feeling of being confined. It set him on edge and caused stress to rise up and bubble within him. Many people harped on portkeys or the floo, but Remus would happily have taken either of those methods over apparition. Especially the trip he had just made — which had consisted of a large number of jumps via apparition all the way from Minnesota to London. It was a trip that had been made over several days and left him not only stressed and uncomfortable but also exhausted as well.
Yet he knew that apparition was the least of his worries. It had been nearly twelve years, yet Britain had a familiar sort of scene to it even in spite of the long absence. He had once sworn to never return, but the vow had been broken.
So many of his silent vows had been broken, and all of the violations centred around this infernal country. Bitterness stained his tongue liked the juice of a sour berry, but he ignored the best he could as he glanced around. His long cloak was torn at the hems and the late August breeze whistled straight through it. Fortunately, it had not grown cold yet in England. It did seem breezy enough for the streets to be deserted, nevertheless. It would have been quite ironic if Remus’s intro to a mission that would hinge largely upon stealth had begun with him being spotted by a muggle.
He scowled at the thought and cleared his mind of any and all doubts he had. He would catch Sirius before real damage was done. That would be the first major step on the path of redemption. Once that was done, he might finally be able to sleep again.
And it would be done — it had to be.
August 30, 1993
In the light of day, sunlight played off of the mountain peaks encircling the remains of what had once been a great and mighty temple. It had descended largely into ruin in the centuries and millennia since its construction, but the remnants of what had once been still gleamed in the daytime sunlight. It gave the ruins the false impression of vibrancy despite the years that had passed; the columns had prevailed through the ages and stood tall against the collapsing walls.
The night stripped all falsehoods and removed any delusions the ruins still had of being immaculate and grandiose; no dazzling beams of sunlight sparkled off of weathered marble, there was only all-encompassing blackness on all sides, reducing the monument to a pile of ancient rubble.
Dumbledore’s journey had been long and arduous. Very little of what stood in modern-day Greece was of any interest to him — not in the context of his current goals, at the very least. So he had needed to painstakingly scope out the country for the most relevant remnants of a world and culture that seemed long-forgotten. It was vexing, for certain, but a small mercy in many ways. If the secrets known to the Ancient Greeks had not been long buried, this journey would have gone a great deal faster. Yet if that were true, he suspected it would never be transpiring in the first place. If what he had come for was more widely known, the world in and of itself would be so very different that he may have never stood here at all.
He stood just outside the ring of ruins and peered at the towering mountains all around him. They looked like oddly-shaped shadows at this time of night, looming up and surrounding him on all sides like the beast from some child’s nightmare. The moon was out but far from full and every now and then, clouds danced across the sky and cast its vague light completely into shadow.
A dark wand slid from the sleeve of Dumbledore’s long, flowing cloak and swished gracefully through the air. Nothing visible transpired, but the old man nodded and muttered something in a language long lost. Slowly and carefully, he stepped over the lowest point of the ruins and into their centre. His nerves seemed to tingle as he moved now. What he had come for was here and close at hand — it was simply a matter of discovering it.
The remains loomed higher in some places than others and it was to one of the more complete portions remaining that Dumbledore strode. He ran his wand delicately over the crumbling stone and began to mutter once more before something faint began to glow on the stones like pale, glittering dust.
With a sharp twist of his wand, the column split down the middle and parted, revealing cracked stones beneath it that had likely once served as foundations of some sort. Dumbledore knelt and ignored the aches that arose in his knees and hips as he leant forward and squinted.
It was appropriate, Dumbledore thought, for a hidden entrance located in what remained of the Temple of Asclepius to be marked with Ancient Greek that translated roughly to life’s blood.
He touched his wand to the rune and muttered, but nothing happened. Only when he had drawn several droplets of blood from his palm did the rune begin to glow with a pale and shining light that encompassed the stones for a moment before they slid noiselessly aside. Light flowing from the tip of Dumbledore’s wand failed to penetrate the all-consuming blackness that stretched on far as the eye could see down the passage, but he could sense magic permeating the tunnel. It was positively blanketed in it, and that meant danger, surely.
Yet it did not stop the old man from sliding into the passage. Entering was a task in and of itself, but it opened up almost at once until he stood in a narrow tunnel that could have passed for the entrance to a more open cave or cavern. He wondered whether the latter might not actually be true. There were more than Spatial Expansion Charms on this tunnel. It was likely that any distance he traversed down here would not be reflective of any traditional measurements or conceptualizations. The Greeks and Egyptians had invented and expanded upon distance warping enchantments of all sorts. It would be remiss of him to expect anything but those same spells used to their fullest potential in a place like this.
The tunnel seemed to stretch on and on. He had expected it to sprawl much further than it seemed, but perhaps the opposite was true. It felt as though he had been walking for hours, but perhaps he had barely exited the circle of ruins. It was impossible to tell from his current position and the former Hogwarts Headmaster knew he could do little but trudge on.
The tunnel was so dark he would not have been able to see his own hand or wand held aloft had it not been the magical light he conjured. Even though it did not do much. It was swallowed down in the tunnel just as efficiently as it had been by its entrance. There was only a small circle of light around Dumbledore; all else was completely black. Not that it had mattered. Everything seemed to be exactly the same. The walls might have been carved from the same smooth stone duplicated over and over again for how similar and uniform it all looked.
The first sign of a change came when the stones began to appear rougher and rougher. The ones leading from whence he came could have been laid yesterday for how pristine they appeared, but these were different. They looked as though they had been taken from the jagged face of a sea-side cliff that had been ravaged by vengeful waves and wrothful storms for hundreds of years. The further he walked, the more and more cracks appeared in the walls. If not for magic, they would have collapsed long ago and buried this tunnel under untold amounts of rubble.
Dumbledore had just enough time to notice the next oddity before the trap was laid. Water was dripping from cracks in the ceiling and it was seeping so heavily through the walls that the floor ahead of him seemed blanketed by a long, singular puddle that had to be several inches deep.
Alas, water was not the only thing that was emerging from the cracks about the walls and ceiling.
It happened all at once. Long, heavy things fell from above fast as pouring rain. They made loud slapping sounds as they hit the floor and piled atop one another in the tunnel in front of Dumbledore. The light from the tip of his wand was so faint that he would never have known exactly what it was he was dealing with if not for one, minute detail.
The sound of dripping water was no more, or so it seemed. It was completely and totally drowned out by a horrible cacophony of loud and angry hissing. The violent whispers and bestial sounds came not only from the serpents carpeting the floor and slowly rising to rear up towards their new visitor but also from the very walls themselves. Dumbledore did not doubt that there were hundreds if not thousands more that would continue pouring through the cracks if he did not do something fast.
The light sparked out at the tip of his wand as he drew it back, only to be replaced by a long and flickering whip of glowing red fire. He brought his wand snapping forward and the whip lashed out, licking hungrily at the serpentine bodies dotting the floor. They ignited as easily as if they were made from dry parchment, but it seemed to have no effect. Now, Dumbledore was dealing with serpents wreathed in flickering flames that seemed to do them no harm. It seemed that he had inadvertently done more harm than good, and by the light of the fire he was beginning to notice that their immunity to flames was not the only inherently magical thing about them.
Dumbledore could hear his own heartbeat as if it belonged to the walls as time around him slowed, or so it seemed. No wizard had ever managed to bend time, as far as the old man knew. There had been countless attempts by both the Department of Mysteries and various other wizarding bodies around the world to create devices that would allow the traversing of time to become possible, but all known attempts had ended in disasters so horrific they were never spoken upon. Some of the greatest witches and wizards of all time had even tried their hand. It was said that both Salazar Slytherin and the Peverells had tried, but Dumbledore had researched all four of them extensively and was very certain that each and every one of them had failed.
Slowing time around him would have required some form of Chaos Magic that no one had ever discovered, but time was a tricky thing that could be measured in many ways. One did not need to slow time to get the benefits of longer pauses with which to think so long as they were proficient enough in the art of Occlumency. If one was sufficiently skilled, they could alter their own perception of time and slow it to a crawl.
He focused his attention on the snakes leering at him. They were each very large, but nothing like the basilisk that must have lurked in the Chamber of Secrets. Each of them probably measured in at about ten feet long and combined, they filled the corridor to bursting. What Albus needed to be concerned with was not their size, but their properties. There was poison dripping from their fangs. Dumbledore had never seen this before, but its stench filled the tunnel and burned. It was difficult not to splutter as he watched the sickening green liquid. He had slowed time just as some of it dripped from the fangs up the front-most serpent into the flame and caught. It was difficult to tell with time nearly frozen, but he guessed it was highly combustible and that he may well have to deal with a firestorm if he did not act quickly.
Not that it would do him any good with the snakes’ immunity to fire; even that conjured and intensified via magic. He could try a mass Cutting Curse, a Pinball Stunner, or even a mass banishment, but he knew none would work. The Cutting Curse would only kill so many at a time and vanishing them all would be just as time-consuming. Much as he was fond of his own modification to the Stunner, it would surely glance harmlessly off the creature’s scales if the enchanted fire had not been enough.
There was, of course, Fiendfyre. That would reduce them all to smoke and ashes, no matter what kind of protections their scales carried, but even he did not dare invoke Chaos Magic of such a nature in a space as small and confined as the tunnel. No one could be certain of their mastery over such things to that kind of degree. It would take a very high level of perfection and one mistake would cost him his life.
There were other things. A summoned sonic blast would do the trick most other times, but he would need to protect himself from it first, at which point the snakes would be upon him. He could conjure up all sorts of beasts of his own, but they would be outmatched by whatever enchantments and poison the serpents were wielding and even he could not conjure them as fast as the serpents were coming through the wall.
Another heartbeat gone… past six beats and this trick became extremely dangerous. Albus had always envied Grindelwald’s prowess in the Mind Arts. He could dilate more effectively and create a long pause between heartbeats. Gifted Occlumens though he was, Albus had always leant more towards Legilimency, but even then, he had never been the foremost expert in the art.
His eyes roamed over the corridor. It was clear to him now that no direct assault or subversion of any kind would be of any use. He was going to need to get more creative and use what was around him.
And that was when he noticed it.
Droplets of water were present halfway from the cracks on the wall to the floor. He diverted one of his open streams of thought to call up the image of the surrounding landscape as his primary thought stream continued to focus on ways he might get out of the situation he had found himself in. There was a lake, he remembered, though it was some distance from what remained of the Temple of Asclepius. If the distance had been warped in the way he originally thought, however… well, he had to try.
The incantation left his tongue as soon as Dumbledore dropped his dilation, but his wand did not stop moving. Before his rather ambitious Switching Spell took effect, Dumbledore had conjured a stone wall between him and the snakes. He had considered this option, too, but alone, it would not have enabled him to advance further as he needed to do. Tied with his newest idea…
He nearly fell to his knees when the Switching Spell took effect. All the oxygen on the other side of the wall vanished in a single heartbeat and was replaced with the water from the lake above them. It slammed against his conjured wall and Albus had little choice but to reinforce it the best he could as he waited and waited. Beads of sweat dripped down his face for without his enchantments, the wall would have crumbled to gravel in seconds from the force of rushing water. It was taking a great deal of effort to hold it together, but he did for several minutes before finally, he raised his wand once more.
He felt the spell take effect and only then did he vanish the wall in front of him — knowing now that he had switched the oxygen and air back again — but still, he kept his wand raised. He was almost certain the serpents would not be protected against drowning, but one must always stay vigilant.
Mercifully, his assumption was proven correct, and Dumbledore strode pensively over the carpet of serpentine corpses and continued his trek down the long, perilous tunnel.
August 31, 1993
The Leaky Cauldron
Harry and his friends really couldn’t have asked for a better day to peruse around Diagon Alley. The sun was shining bright, but the smouldering heat of Italy could not be felt. Harry did not at all miss the sweltering humidity that seemed to pull sweat straight from his very pores.
The day had been a long one, but not at all unenjoyable. Harry, Charlotte, Daphne, and Tracey had met up with Pansy and Laine. They had even spent some time with Harry’s older contingent of friends before they went off on their separate paths. Though not before Calypso had mentioned something about meeting Harry on the train.
It didn’t take him long to ponder why. Third-year had arrived — sixth, for Calypso — and Grace was gone. The metaphorical throne was now vacant and the prefect’s plan to seize power within the house of serpents would be underway beginning that very next day. Between the Chamber of Secrets, the drama with his family, his suspicions about Pettigrew, and everything else, Harry had almost forgotten about Calypso and her schemes. It had faded so far into the background that he had stopped giving it thought long ago.
It would certainly make the year interesting. Now that Grace was gone, there would undoubtedly be a power vacuum of sorts. Selwyn would doubtlessly be a contender and Merlin, did Harry hope that bastard would end up embarrassed yet again — if not on a spike. Jugson, too, might make a bid for the crown. If Flint had still been around, he surely would have tried, but he had graduated at the end of second year and was off doing Merlin knows what now. Many had expected him to join the ranks of professional Quidditch but it did not seem as though that was a route he had taken. Harry actually hadn’t heard anything of him since his graduation, which was strange.
Thinking upon other contenders made him realize just how little attention he had paid the upper years. He had been so concentrated on so many other things, yet it still bothered him that he was still blissfully unaware of those in his house who were the most dangerous. Perhaps he would use Calypso’s campaign as an excuse to remedy that oversight.
All should have been well, but Harry found enjoying the day difficult; even despite the shopping, socializing, and the scintillating prospect of a new school year on the horizon. His mind was firmly looking ahead and not at all in the present, for this day held other, less pleasant engagements for him.
He had received a letter just days earlier from his father. That had not been a welcome missive to begin with, but it grew still worse when the man had asked for a meeting with Harry. He had been inclined to turn down the invitation, but Adriana had advised him against that course of action and he had very reluctantly accepted. Though he technically had the right to demand her or Sigmund’s presence since the Weitts family were now his legal guardians, he elected not to. His father would never have agreed to the terms and frankly, he didn’t feel that his relationship was close enough with either of them to justify the request. If things went much worse than he was expecting, there was always the emergency portkey that would take him straight back to Weitts Manor.
He dreaded this meeting, for its timing was most suspicious. It would have been unwelcome at the best of times, but on the dawn of a new school year, something seemed off. It seemed significant, yet Harry was utterly unaware of what kind of significance the meeting could have.
His thoughts were on his portkey as he regretfully parted ways with his friends and made his way towards the shabby pub known as the Leaky Cauldron. Why the Lord of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Potter insisted on meeting there, of all places, Harry had no idea.
The pub’s low lighting was less jarring now that the sun was well and truly on its way out of sight, but it was still a dingy place that set Harry to blinking quite rapidly. His eyes scanned around for his father and brother, but instead the toothless barman — Tom, his name had been when Harry last saw him that first day in Diagon Alley — approached him first and led out of the main lobby and towards a shabby-looking parlour that was evidently made for private use. The private quarters at the Three Broomsticks were nicer for certain, but this reminded Harry of the last time he had met his father there.
Eyes roamed over him the second he stepped into the room and he knew at once they belonged to Charlus. Merlin… that was an entire dilemma, wasn’t it? He had spent his summer thinking on so many other things that Harry still had no idea how he felt about this twin brother. The best course of action here was not to meet his brother’s eyes; Harry focused his attention instead upon the room’s other occupant.
“Father,” he greeted in a curt but polite tone of voice.
“Harry,” said James, sounding very tired. “Sit down, if you wouldn’t mind. Tom, would you mind bringing us some butterbeers?”
“Right away, Lord Potter, sir; right away.”
Not a single word was said until the man returned with their drinks and departed the room. James removed his wand and waved it towards the door. Harry could feel the magic take effect. His eyes watched James’s wand as it worked and he thought he saw the faint wand movement required to cast the Muffliato Charm. Another mystery that had fallen to the wayside. Perhaps one day, he would learn why that spell seemed such a big deal.
“Uh… thanks for coming, Harry.” Harry nodded, saying nothing. “I wanted to warn you about a couple of things this year at Hogwarts.”
His eyes narrowed. “Warn me?”
“Uh… yes, warn you. It… might be an interesting year.”
Harry sighed, all patience gone. “Respectfully, Father, you don’t need to spare my feelings. Voldemort tried to come back in my first year, and I ended up in the Chamber of Secrets in my second. At this point, I’m sort of resigned to an ‘interesting’ year.” James winced and Harry thought he saw Charlus hide something that might have been a smirk. Whether it was at his expense or at his joke, Harry couldn’t tell for sure, but he suspected the latter. It did nothing to improve his mood. “This is about Black, isn’t it?”
He did not fail to notice the tension in every inch of Charlus’s body. That was interesting, if unsurprising. His brother had almost certainly grown up taught to hate Sirius Black above all but Voldemort herself. It was no surprise that he looked so wound up merely at the mention of the name, though his self-control left much to be desired. Harry thought back on the last two years and wondered whether or not Charlus might actually be foolish enough to think he could take the Dark Lady’s most dangerous lieutenant captive on his own. It was an amusing thought, in theory, but it would be much less so if it actually came to fruition. Harry wasn’t sure he would ever like Charlus — especially not after the Dark Arts drama last year, no matter what the Boy-Who-Lived said about it now — but he did not wish for his twin to be pulverized by a psychopathic mass murderer, either.
“I said this to Charlus a few days ago,” said James, “but I think most things coming up are going to at least have something to do with Black.”
“Do the aurors have any leads on him?”
James shook his head. “None, but there are some things you should know. Charlus knows most of it already, but not all. I was hoping I could change one of them, so I held off telling him.” His brother’s head whipped around, but his father paid it no heed. “Did you know that I was good friends with Sirius Black at school?”
“I didn’t,” answered Harry. James had told him some stories the first time they had met, but Black’s name had never arisen. Perhaps he was one of his unnamed companions on some of those tales; it was certainly an interesting wrinkle to be made aware of.
James grimaced. “I’m not proud to say it, but he was one of my three best friends.” The information was hardly a surprise to Harry. If his father was so blinded by that scheming rat, Pettigrew, it was quite in character for him to have fallen for the same ploy during his Hogwarts years. “There’s… something you should know about Black.”
“There’s probably more than one thing I should know about Black if you’re sharing, but go on.”
Harry could see that James was dreading his next words even before they came, so he braced himself for anything — or, at least, he thought he had. “He’s an Animagus; a grim, specifically. That’s almost definitely how he escaped Azkaban and I think that’s how he’s been getting into Hogwarts.”
“Animagus, yes. Utter nightmare, I know, but not what I was asking about. Getting into Hogwarts?”
James winced. “Uh… it’s a long story.”
Harry mimed the checking of a watch. “All my things are packed for tomorrow, so I have time.”
“Ron got put under the Imperius Curse,” blurted Charlus. “He ran into some kind of ward in Egypt that exposed it. Dad thinks Black is the one who did it.”
That was… a development. Weasley’s behaviour during the previous school year had been strange, but Harry really hadn’t thought anything of it. It had been but a minor inconvenience, except for the Polyjuice incident. But the Imperius Curse on a twelve-year-old… there would need to be a very definite motive for that…
“You think he was trying to use Ron to get to Charlus?” Harry asked James, who nodded with visible reluctance. “And I’m guessing you think he might either come after me too, or try and do something similar to me?” James nodded again. On the exterior, Harry was completely calm. Inside, he was much more worried. Not so much about Black coming after him. That had been a possibility he had considered before; though the knowledge that he was an Animagus who could breach Hogwarts and its protections was troubling to say the very least. The idea of the Imperius Curse, however, was one he really had not considered and it put him very much on edge.
“Right… so there may or may not be a psychopath loyal to Voldemort who may or may not want to kill me. If he doesn’t want to kill me, he might want to put me under the power of an unforgivable curse to get at Charlus. Do I have all of that right?” James nodded once more. If not for the trial earlier in the summer, it might have been among the most pained Harry had ever seen him. “Right, then, is there anything else I should know?”
“Is that it?” Charlus asked incredulously. “Just… is there anything else I need to know?”
Whether or not Charlus knew a thing about Occlumency, Harry had no idea. If he did, he suspected his tone might be very different. That reaction most certainly would not have been ‘it’ without the use of the mind art Harry had been studying now for a year and a half.
Of course, he said none of this, only shrugged. “I don’t see all that much I can do about it. I can be as careful as possible and make sure I don’t get caught out alone. Worrying about it isn’t going to change anything.” His brother still looked utterly dumbstruck, but Harry had, by now, shifted his attention back onto his father. He opened his mouth to re-ask his question, but James was faster.
“I don’t think you’ll be duelling Sirius Black anytime soon, but there is something you might be able to do?”
Harry arched an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“I’ve invited an old friend of mine back to England. He’s going to be tutoring Charlus and even Ron in defensive magic. You could—”
“I appreciate the offer, but I’m going to pass. I already have more than one tutor and I don’t let people I don’t trust instruct me.” That was a half-truth at best. He didn’t trust Evan Rosier in the slightest, but he did trust the man was not about to do anything immediately threatening, if only for his daughter’s sake. Harry did trust Calypso, which was just barely enough on the account of her father being, sans Voldemort herself, the best instructor he had ever had in regards to combat magic, with respect to Grace.
James looked as though he might argue, but he didn’t, so Harry pressed on. “Is there anything else you need to tell me?” he asked again.
“There is, actually — you and Charlus both.” The Boy-Who-Lived leant forward at that, obviously intrigued, but Harry noticed James looked every bit as troubled as he had before revealing Black’s status as an Animagus and knew at once that, whatever this was, it wasn’t going to be good.
“The ministry and the Wizengamot discussed all sorts of ways of keeping Black away from Hogwarts. It’s no mystery he’ll want to go after Charlus; he said as much himself during his trial.”
“There will be aurors at the school again, then?”
“Not… exactly.” It sounded like the words were causing James physical pain, yet Harry hadn’t the foggiest of ideas where his father was going with this. “You know that the bit in the charter about occupying forces was repealed?”
He nodded. “If the Headmaster permits it and the proposal is passed by the Wizengamot, an outside force can occupy Hogwarts.”
“Right, well… the ministry is going to be taking advantage of that this year, just not with aurors. I’d… really hoped we could get the bill shut down in the Wizengamot, but it somehow passed. Crouch was not happy and Dumbledore was even less so. If he was still Headmaster…” James trailed off.
“The ministry is taking advantage of the charter,” Harry prompted.
“Right… they’ve deployed a troop of dementors from Azkaban. They’ll be guarding over Hogwarts this year.”
Dementors… it was a term Harry had read before and Blaise had mentioned them, but he had never seen nor thought on them independently. Demons of darkness that could suck one’s soul out through their mouth did not sound at all pleasant to be around, though. Not that it explained why James was telling him and Charlus…
Dread filled Harry’s stomach faster than the butterbeer he had been drinking. “You think they’ll bother Charlus and I more, don’t you?”
“I think they’ll go after you and Charlus more. The thing you have to understand about dementors is that they don’t distinguish one wizard from another. Sure, they’ll know Black and he’ll be their priority, but they don’t have morals. If they find people who might be more affected by them than others…”
“How do you defend against them?” Harry asked. “Fire?”
“That… won’t work.”
Harry frowned; it was a relatively common defence for creatures of darkness and malevolence. “How then?”
“There’s only one charm that can do it, as far as we know. It’s called the Patronus Charm, but it’s post-N.E.W.T level magic. I only know a few aurors who can cast it reliably.”
Well, Harry thought sometime later when he exited the meeting with James in considerably lower spirits than he had even expected, it appeared as though he had a new goal this year.
Meanwhile, at Malfoy Manor…
It was the first time Emily had ever been to Malfoy Manor. Its splendour was magnificent to behold and she had little doubt many hailed it as the greatest of the ancient manors still standing in Britain. Personally, she preferred the Black’s ancestral family home. It had less flare, but it was more to her tastes. Dark, ominous, and subtle — at least by comparison. Where Malfoy Manor screamed of ostentatious wealth and the influence that granted, Black Manor whispered quietly and seductively about all things power. It was difficult to explain, but the home appealed to her mightily, even if she would likely never consider it her home.
Tonight was also the first time she had met Lord and Lady Malfoy. Both of them were polite as ever and chose their words with such caution that they might have been standing trial for high treason. It was apparently Lord Malfoy who had once owned the diary that had restored her to life. She wondered how that had come about. When thinking about her future self, very little made sense. She could not see how or why many of her choices had been made, as a great number of them seemed foolish and irrational. Even in saying that, trusting a horcrux in the hands of a man who seemed little more than a servant seemed… unwise. It did not at all seem like something she would do under any circumstances she could imagine.
She mentally shook herself as she took to her feet once dinner had concluded. There were just too many unanswered questions that she could not yet hope to answer. Reminiscing on them at every waking moment was a waste of valuable time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere.
Draco had been the first to leave the table. He was off to Beauxbatons tomorrow and still needed to pack. Ares made to follow Emily, but a quick glance pulled her up short. It was not a threatening look Emily shot the younger girl’s way, but its meaning was easy enough to decipher and Ares slinked off into another room as Emily continued her own trek.
She did not need magic to find him; her natural Legilimency did that all on its own. It was childishly easy, really. Even the wards on his door were minimal. She supposed the only thing she had to worry about were house elves watching, but they did not trouble her. She doubted anyone in the house would do anything even if they did know what she was doing, and if she felt an elf’s presence, she could deal with them easily enough.
The blond inside jumped when his door opened and whirled; he didn’t even have his wand in his hand. “Good evening, Draco.”
Draco squinted at her. His parents had been vague about who she was, but they had made her importance clear. “Good evening,” Draco answered with less certainty than she. “Can I help you?”
“As a matter of fact,” said Emily, stepping inside and closing the door, “you can.” She roamed her eyes over him, watching for any visible reactions to her next question. “I would like to know everything there is to find out about Harry Potter.”
The tense would have been painfully obvious even if she had not been watching for it. “What do you want to know?”
The answer was simple, but it took him off guard. “Why are you so interested?” he asked.
“My reasons are not your concern. Only your answers.”
A flush of anger rose in his cheeks. “Who are you, exactly? Father says you’re important, but nobody has ever given me orders.”
“Do you not recognize me?” Emily asked, a twisted smile playing at the corners of her lips. “Has your Father not described me vividly enough?”
Draco looked every bit as confused as he had been upset a moment earlier. “I… what?”
She made a tsk tsk sound before smiling for real. “Disappointing. I would have thought one of Lady Voldemort’s most loyal followers might have educated his son about his future mistress.”
Draco’s eyes went wide as saucers and the bit of colour that remained in his pale skin left him almost at once. He might have died and become a ghost for how pale he suddenly looked. “You-you can’t be her!”
“Can’t I?” Emily asked, taking a step forward. “I think you will soon learn that I very much can be. I think I’ll show you right before I take what I need. It won’t matter; you won’t be remembering any of this one way or the other.”
Draco tried to scramble out of the way, perhaps even to grab his wand, but Emily flicked her hand towards him and he was thrown hard against the wall. She did not know many wandless spells, but she had put a great amount of time and effort into mastering the Banishing Hex wandless lay. She might have been concerned had she not been so certain the room was blanketed in Silencing Charms.
Draco’s chest rose and fell with great, wracking breaths as he tried to regain the air that had been knocked from his body. By the time he managed to sit up with his head and back against the wall, Emily was already swooping down on him. She had her wand in one hand, which she used to immobilize him before sliding long, pale fingers under his chin and tilting his eyes up before pressing her wand to his forehead.
This might actually be my favourite chapter of the summer, even though the one before last was definitely the most eventful. Something about this one just speaks to me, as I am quite fond of a couple of the scenes. I do hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
Next chapter, the journey to Hogwarts, and then the year will begin earnest.
Please read and review.
PS: FROM NOW ON, CHAPTER PASSWORDS WILL BE RELEASED ON A WEEKLY SCHEDULE FOR DISCORD MEMBERS EVERY FRIDAY! THE NEXT SEVEN CHAPTERS ARE AVAILABLE FOR PATRONS! Sign up to my Patreon page if you’re interested.
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.