Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
Chapter 12: Looming Shadows
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.
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September 1, 1993
The morning of September 1st dawned at Black Manor and as Ares awoke from her slumber, she couldn’t help but muse on the differences between this one and the last. The day had come, but the skies did not reflect the vibrant feelings of excitement felt by many witches and wizards throughout the country. They were overcast and a dull grey. There seemed no promise of a coming storm, but nor was there any sign of bright light or anything to break the uniform normality which blanketed Great Britain from far above.
The sky outside was not the only stark juxtaposition to this day one year earlier. One year ago today, Ares had been set to depart for her first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She had been more nervous that day than any that had come before. If not for the force that possessed her for much of her first year, she didn’t doubt that it would still rank as the most nervous she had ever been. Unfortunately, that title went to the day she had lost control of her body in the Chamber of Secrets for what she had thought would be the final time.
There had been so many unknowns. Going from a sheltered childhood marked by isolation to the bustling halls of Hogwarts castle had been one of the most daunting prospects to Ares. She had left home full of apprehension even though she had never known exactly how horrific her first year would be. She had been given the diary by then, but she had never had any idea what the monstrous book could do. Even without it, the prospect of leaving home had been one she dreaded for years and years. She remembered all too well the sorrow wrought as she watched the train pull away from King’s Cross station and speed into the shadowy expanses of the unknown.
This year was different.
Fear of the unknown was one thing, but it was a great deal less potent than the fear she dealt with in every passing moment at Black Manor. Riddle’s warnings in moments of especially high tension had been helpful, but it hadn’t been enough to dissuade the worry that lingered at the corner of Ares’s mind and seemed poised to strike at any moment. Her parents had shown themselves all too willing to do anything they had to do to further their own cause. If they had thought Ares was expendable then, surely nothing had changed. Her escape from the Chamber of Secrets might have only painted a larger target on her back. Her mother, in particular, certainly did not seem like the type to leave loose ends hanging — not even ones that were sworn to secrecy by the Department of Mysteries.
Every day she spent at Black Manor weighed on her. Her shoulders felt poised to give out at any moment under the relentless weight of it all. It was said that expectations were often worse than the thing itself. She expected a horrible number of things to happen whether they were rational or not. It was like she was blanketed in dread, but blankets could be thrown off at any moment. Really, she was swaddled in it, unable to move, and leaving for Hogwarts later that morning would be the reprieve she had so desperately desired for the past two months.
Her anticipation swelled as the morning aged, but she could not escape the feeling that something was undoubtedly about to go wrong. She had almost made it through her final hours at the family manor before something of interest finally happened.
“Ares, stay behind after we finish breakfast, please. I want a word.” Ares cast her eyes furtively around the room, but there was no escape. Her father was already at work, though she was unsure if he would have been any help.
Emily Riddle looked as impassive as ever sipping her morning tea. She made it clear that this summer that she would help Ares, but she was not about to go out of her way to directly oppose the Head of House Black. That left her all alone to deal with her mother, and she could not help but think this was the moment she had been dreading ever since escaping from Salazar’s fabled chamber.
Riddle’s footsteps echoed louder than they ought to have as she exited the dining room sometime later. Or perhaps that was just Ares’s perception of the ordeal. Maybe it wasn’t even Riddle’s footsteps at all, but her own racing heartbeat ringing in her ears as if great claps of thunder were sounding deep inside her skull.
Large, dark curtains were drawn across the room’s windows. If not for prior knowledge, Ares would never have known whether it was the dead of night or the break of day.
Bellatrix did not rise from her chair, but Ares did notice the shift once her mother’s eldest ward vacated the room. Tension filled every inch of her and there was a strange intensity in her eyes that Ares had never seen before. It did not look entirely natural; almost as though something behind those dark windows had been altered, or perhaps even damaged beyond repair.
“You look nervous,” said Bellatrix. “I trust that you’ll carry yourself with more dignity at Hogwarts.” Her voice was sharp; its cut stung long after the sound of her words died in the still air of the room. Ares nodded curtly, not daring to break eye contact; the last thing she wanted to do in her mother’s presence was to show such obvious weakness. “Good. It would be unbecoming of you.” Some of the tension left her body, though the look in her eyes remained. “Besides, you have no reason to be nervous.”
The room was large and drafty, but Ares thought the shiver that ran up her spine had little to do with the cold. There had been undertones in that last sentence that were impossible to miss.
“Did you want to tell me something, Mother?” Ares asked with considerable trepidation.
“I would hardly have kept you behind if I didn’t,” said Bellatrix. “You will write to me three times a week this year.” Ares blinked rapidly as though suddenly waking from a long and vivid dream. That had most certainly not been what she had expected. “You will represent our family with the expected decorum,” she continued, “and you will follow any instructions my letters might carry.”
Ares nodded. “Yes, Mother.”
“Good,” cooed Bellatrix, “your first instruction is to mend your friendship with Harry Potter. I expect at least a paragraph about the boy each week.”
Ares felt her face pale, but still, she did not look away. It seemed an impossible request after how last year had ended, but she didn’t dare to disobey her mother when she was in this mood. The light behind her stare was more than intense now; it was flickering manically like a roaring fire. Its heat was painful, but it was impossible to look away from. Ares did not know what it meant but she had the strangest feeling that if she failed to do as her mother asked, whatever brought forth that light would engulf her in its metaphorical flames.
About an hour later, on Platform Nine and Three Quarters…
Harry had been bubbling with excitement like the child he had not been in many years since the moment he had woken that morning. There was something about Hogwarts that was special to him. He loved Weitts Manor and his trust in the family slowly swelled with every passing day, but Hogwarts felt more like home to him than anywhere despite all that had happened there. There was trepidation with returning — especially after the discussion with his twin and his father pertaining to Sirius Black — but many storms had been weathered within the castle’s stone walls; this would just have to be handled the same way.
Even being on the platform again made his skin tingle. So many witches and wizards bustling about in their flowing robes and billowing cloaks. Not even the dreariness of the sky above could dampen Harry’s mood as he stood alongside Charlotte and her parents, waiting for the Greengrasses to arrive.
“Everyone is so nervous,” Charlotte said quietly from his side. “Can you feel it?”
Harry narrowed his eyes and focused on all he knew about Legilimency, doing his best to extend those senses outwards. He did feel it then; something tense and unpleasant lurking at the corner of his mind.
“When I focus on it,” he answered. “I’m actually more than happy with not just feeling it by standing here. Believe it or not, I’m in a good mood.”
Charlotte’s lips twitched. “I think most Hogwarts students are in a good mood, but I’m glad. You’ve seemed off since Italy and you still never told all of us what’s happening like you said you would.”
Harry winced. “I’m actually sorry about that. I really was planning to do it in Diagon Alley, but my father decided to ruin those plans by asking me to actually speak with him.” Harry made a show of scrunching up his face.
“How dare he?” Charlotte asked with a thin smile. “I’m not upset with you, Harry, it’s just nice to see whatever’s been bothering you let up a bit. It’s a worry of some kind. Something has you stressed — I know you said it was Black a few weeks ago, but it seems a long time to worry over a Gringotts break-in that doesn’t really relate to you.”
Natural Legilimency was a right pain when it didn’t work in Harry’s favour. He knew Charlotte could not passively look through his shields by now, but her senses were always open and she did occasionally glean nonspecific bits of his mood when it was especially strong or volatile.
“You’ll know soon,” he said, “I promise. At Hogwarts; I just need to find a way to organize it.”
She was giving him a questioning look at this, but his attention was elsewhere. Four figures were striding towards them, and it was the first time Harry had seen the shortest of them since the girl had arrived at Weitts Manor on the night of the summer solstice.
“Astoria!” Charlotte stepped forward and pulled the younger girl into her arms. They did not look only one year apart. Charlotte was quite tall for her age whereas Astoria did not share her sister’s and mother’s long and slender figure. They were talking to each other in low voices that Harry could not make out. The thought of a Super Sensory Charm crossed his mind for a fleeting moment, but he crushed the impulse just as quickly. There was such a thing as human decency in some circumstances, even if paranoia was going to make using it a right pain this year, he suspected.
Some time later, on the Hogwarts Express…
Charlus did not know how to feel about the relief swelling inside him as the Hogwarts Express pulled out of Platform Nine and Three Quarters and sped away from King’s Cross station. His first year had ended in a confrontation between himself, his brother, and Lady Voldemort. His second year had been a little better, but he still didn’t know exactly what had happened in the Chamber of Secrets. One would look at his history and assume he was quaking at the very thought of the ancient castle, but it really was much the opposite and he was not entirely sure that fact did not warrant professional help.
For as perilous as Hogwarts had proven over the past two years, it was a known entity and one that Charlus felt comfortable dealing with. What he was very much fed up with was all of the mysterious happenings of the summer months.
Sirius Black escaping from Azkaban would have been the event of the century if not for the campaigns of Voldemort and Grindelwald. Yet, it had competition as the most eventful thing that had happened in the summer. Another break-in at Gringotts Bank, plus Ron falling prey to wards that proved he had been under the Imperius Curse, his father’s revelations about the madman he had once called a friend — it just went on, and on, and on, without end.
He remembered all the bravado roaring in his chest as he stepped on the Hogwarts Express for the first time two years ago. He would have envied all of this then, for he was still so young and blanketed in the comfort of naivety. Now he was not so sure he wouldn’t be opposed to a calm and quiet year at Hogwarts.
He would have been comfortable with that obscurity, but the thought of Sirius Black still sent him into a frenzy. Not even his father’s most recent intervention had done anything to stall the raging fire inside his chest any time he thought of the man who had sold his family to Voldemort.
August 27, 1993
The Leaky Cauldron
The Leaky Cauldron was a small and shabby place that Charlus was not sure he enjoyed. He had been mobbed here too many times, and memories of that were much less pleasant now than they had been years earlier. Now it brought forth much anxiety. The purpose for which he was here on this day certainly played a part in that, as did the memories that came forth as he blinked the low light from his eyes and tried to adjust to the sudden influx of relative darkness.
“Lord Potter,” murmured the toothless barman, “can I get ya anythin’, sir?”
“Just the room I booked and three butterbeers, Tom,” James answered with a cheerful smile and an easy air about him, but Charlus knew he was nervous. He was even more nervous than the Boy-Who-Lived if Charlus assumed correctly.
He had heard much of Remus Lupin over the years. Not in any great detail as talking about those days pained his father greatly, but James had spoken bits and pieces. Lupin had always been a man Charlus wanted to meet, but the opportunity had never arisen. He had vanished after the fall of Voldemort with about as much warning as an exploding rune cluster. Charlus had not heard of any going-ons pertaining to the man since the end of the Purity War, let alone having the chance to meet him. All he had heard were things spoken in the past tense, so he was nervous to meet the man at last.
Yet not nearly as nervous as his father. Charlus could understand. It had felt strange not seeing Ron for weeks — he hadn’t seen Hermione since their second year had ended and it was driving him mad. He could not imagine what it felt like to reunite with someone after almost twelve years. For all James knew, Remus Lupin could be an entirely different person or hold very different views about James, Sirius, Peter, and any number of other things.
His father looked much like a man being marched somewhere unpleasant until they neared the door, at which point he appeared to make a concerted effort to ready himself for the meeting. Tom knocked sharply on the door three times before opening it, admitting the Potters through, and floating the butterbears that trailed them over and onto the room’s lone table with a swish of his wand.
The man who Charlus had heard so much about was waiting for them inside, and the Boy-Who-Lived could not help but be… disappointed.
He shouldn’t be, really. His father had never hid the fact that Lupin was a werewolf. Charlus knew exactly what that meant within wizarding society. He suspected it caused the man great struggles and hardships, but to see a man who had been idealized over and over in myth-like tales sitting before him and appearing so unremarkable… it was jarring.
The man’s hair had been brown according to his father’s stories, but there was almost as much grey now as anything else and it looked especially gruff. The lines in his face were deep and Charlus could hardly believe he had attended Hogwarts at the same time as James. His father most often looked as though he had hardly aged a year since the war had ended; this man looked as though he had lived several lifetimes.
His eyes were still bright despite the rest of him, however. When the two of them walked through the door, the man’s gaze lifted and landed first on James, then on Charlus. He saw something in that stare that was hard to place, let alone describe.
“James,” said Lupin after a long pause, “and… Charlus.” It sounded like he was chewing on chalk. Charlus’s name sounded so alien on his tongue. It was like he had struggled through each syllable with painstaking difficulty.
“Remus,” said James, finally allowing a smile to cross his face. “Merlin, where have you been?”
Lupin sighed deeply and gestured for the Potters to sit. “Here, there, and everywhere,” he said. “I suppose I should have written books about it all. If I had, I might be next in line for the headmaster’s job.”
James smiled and it looked as though he fought a laugh. Charlus too allowed his lips to curve upwards, but there was more going on inside his head. People often liked making jokes out of Lockhart’s rise to the position of Headmaster. Most viewed it as much too swift whereas others were just upset the post was no longer filled by Dumbledore. While he shared the latter sentiment himself, he knew of Lockhart’s capabilities more than most. He had grown in leaps and bounds under the man’s tutelage and he had also been a large part in saving him in the Chamber of Secrets. He felt oddly annoyed any time people took aim at Lockhart, though he did his best not to show it on this particular occasion.
“Seriously though, Remus, how are you fairing? It’s been… well, twelve years.”
“I’ll be better once Sirius has been dealt with. Until then, I suppose the stress will cling onto me.” He looked towards Charlus once again, but this time, his expression softened. “You two do look so alike. It’s uncanny.” Lupin leant forward and held out a hand. “Remus Lupin, a pleasure to properly meet you, Charlus.”
“Uh, you too, sir.”
“Remus will do,” the man said as they shook. The man looked back towards James. “Have you managed to raise a decent one, James? You’d have never been caught dead saying sir when we were at school.”
“He gets into more than enough trouble, Remus, don’t doubt that.”
The man took a long sip of butterbeer and only when he set it down did he lean forward. “Well then,” he said, “I suppose we ought to start on a plan for how to make sure he gets in as little trouble as possible this year.”
Back in the present…
It was Remus’s job this year to keep Charlus out of perilous situations to the best of the man’s ability. He was to tutor Charlus the best he could, but his first and foremost objective was to apprehend Sirius Black once again.
Lupin was… interesting. He was well-spoken, but Charlus had left the meeting with the strangest feeling the man had been quite curt. Perhaps it was just the nerves associated with meeting his one-time best friend and his son for the first time in over a decade, but something about the man’s demeanour had felt off. Charlus suspected his brother could have worked it out. Harry had put together many things more skillfully than him in the past and he seemed better with people. His face twisted into a scowl at the thought. That was a whole other situation he was going to have to eventually deal with this year.
“Are you all right, Charlus?” It was nice hearing Hermione’s voice again, but did she really need to be so perceptive?
“I’m fine,” said Charlus, “just tired. Slept like hell last night and it’s catching up to me, is all.” It wasn’t even a lie; it just wasn’t the relevant truth.
“Is it about Sirius Black?”
“Hermione… not right now, yeah? We can talk about Black at some point, but let’s at least get into the castle first. With my luck, the wanker will show up and kill everyone on the train just because we talked about him.”
Hermione punched him on the arm as Ron snorted and fought back his laughter. “That’s not funny!” Hermione insisted.
‘No’, thought Charlus, ‘if it were funny, it would have been a joke.’
Meanwhile, in a different compartment…
It almost felt strange to Harry for his entire group of friends to all be together again. He sat in a compartment with Daphne, Charlotte, Tracey, Blaise, Pansy, Laine, and Ginny. He glanced towards each of them as the train pulled out of Platform Nine and Three Quarters.
Harry had expected Daphne to look lighter than he had seen her since Astoria’s mysterious mishap on the night of the solstice, but she did not. She looked even tenser, if anything, though it was clear she was doing her best to mask the fact altogether. Tracey looked the same as ever and was chattering away with Laine at about a hundred miles a minute as Charlotte engaged Ginny in conversation. The redhead had come a long way in the last year, but moments of her unsureness still shone through. Their compartment was tightly packed, and the youngest Weasley had offered to sit on a trunk to make more room for the others upon entering at what seemed to Harry like the last possible moment before the train was set to leave.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Charlotte had said, whipping out her own wand and levitating Ginny’s trunk up off the floor before the other girl could do so much as move. “Sit down,” she’d continued with a smile and a roll of her eyes, patting the seat beside her and prompting a very red-faced Ginny to move forward.
Harry could sympathize with her, to an extent. He had never lacked confidence within Slytherin House the way she did, but he understood being an outsider all too well and knew that it wasn’t easy. The way her brother, Ron, had treated her last year probably hadn’t helped matters, nor had the twins’ relentless assault on Slytherin House early in the school year before they had been petrified.
Harry’s eyes lingered on Ginny even when he felt the stare upon him. He knew Blaise was looking at him, inspecting him, still more than likely trying to deduce what had happened the night of his mother’s seventh wedding. Harry did not glance back at him. Blaise surely couldn’t penetrate his Occlumency, but the boy had proven time and time again he did not need Legilimency to make connections that most people would never have considered.
“How was your summer, Harry?”
The question caught him off guard, but he recovered quickly and was grateful for Pansy’s sudden intervention. “Well enough, I suppose. It would be nice if the ministry could figure out exactly what it’s doing, but I guess that might be too much to ask for.”
“If the ministry could figure out what it was doing half the time,” said Laine, “the butterfly effects would probably make the country unrecognizable.”
Harry raised a challenging eyebrow. “I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I’m not entirely opposed to this idea.”
“Ah, come on, old chap,” said Blaise. “If things were too different, you might not have made your father look like a complete idiot in front of the whole country.” Harry kept his eyebrows raised; he was sure Blaise understood there were things about that trial he would much rather nobody had ever seen. “Hey,” the other boy said, throwing up his hands, “it’s all about the silver linings.”
He wondered darkly whether Blaise had learned that from his mother after so many of her husbands had gone missing in Blaise’s younger years. She would have needed to tell him something and that seemed exactly like the noncommittal sort of thing a parent in that position might dismissively tell their young and curious child.
“We also might not have this Black mess,” Pansy cut in. “Honestly, how they let a man escape from Azkaban, get across the sea, and somehow have no idea where he’s got off to makes no sense to me at all.”
Harry felt something twinge in his mind and glanced out of the corner of his eye and off to his right. Ginny had fidgeted in a very strange way once Black had been brought up. Harry focused on the mental senses he knew he had as he thought on the matter. His father had mentioned something about Ron taking the same tutoring as Charlus. Perhaps he had told the Weasleys some or all of what he had told Harry about Sirius Black. The fact James held his son and heir on equal standing with a second-year girl he likely had very little to do with was rather telling, in Harry’s opinion, but he allowed his mind to move on.
“They’ll catch him eventually though, won’t they?” Ginny was asking. “Surely he can’t escape forever?”
Daphne smiled, but there was no mirth in the expression. “They say Black was the Dark Lady’s lieutenant. There’s a reason she is considered the most dangerous dark magician of all time. If she’s taught Black, they might not. They certainly never came close to apprehending her.”
That was a thought Harry had not considered. He remembered Hurst and the mysterious journey that could only be linked to whatever remained of Voldemort. He thought back on all the progress he had made because of both of them and wondered exactly how much Black could have learned from her in person over a number of years without her holding anything back. It was a terrifying prospect and it did little to improve the paranoia that seemed to have him on guard at all times of the day and night, all of his positive emotions surrounded.
It seemed as though it was going to be an interesting year once again, and Harry was more resentful for that fact than he could ever hope to explain.
Several hours later…
The day aged like warm milk left out to curdle. The skies opened several hours into their trip and rain pattered against the tracks and surrounding lands like a thousand hurried footsteps always on their heels. There was still no sign of a true storm, but the dreariness only grew more and more intense as the train sped through vast fields and past dense and dark expanses of trees.
Harry’s older set of friends had appeared soon after the trolly lady asked whether any of them wanted to purchase sweets. They had chatted for some time before Calypso had politely asked Harry for a word, at which point he had stood, knowing exactly what this was about before he had even taken a step towards her.
Some time earlier…
Harry took a seat in a different compartment and looked from Calypso, to Cassius, to the Carrows. The twins were as impassive as ever. Calypso looked calm and composed, but he did not miss the excitement dancing in her eyes, nor the way Cassius was wired so tightly that one might think he was set to don the Slytherin robes and play in the Quidditch Cup finals.
“This is about the deal we made last year, then?” Harry asked. “Now that Grace is gone, you want to try and take her position?”
“Glad to know you follow,” said Calypso. “Yes, that’s the point of this and it won’t take long. I just had some things I wanted to go over.”
“You want me to start rallying the younger years to your side while you focus on the older ones like we talked about?”
She nodded. “I do, but be careful about it. I don’t see anyone who can stop us from going through with this, but there are a few upper years who could make your life hell along the way.”
“He’s the top one on my list, yes.”
“Be careful with that one, Calypso. I’ve… dealt with him in the past. He’s an extremely skilled duellist and knows some kind of blood magic. He also has a working brain, which is more than I can say for a lot of the other idiots who might try and take Grace’s spot.”
“I don’t plan on underestimating anyone. Just because I believe I’m the best in the house and that no one should be able to stop this from working, doesn’t mean I think it’s impossible.”
Calypso wasn’t so much the one he was worried about. Both of the Carrows were quiet, but they practically oozed confidence at all hours of the day. They were the exact type of people Harry could envision underestimating someone like Daniel Selwyn. Harry would not. Not after he had nearly trapped Grace with the blood ward and conjured that manic fire that she had needed to battle with the air itself. He was not to be taken lightly and now that Grace was gone, Harry doubted he would be leaving him alone for long. The man held a grudge; that much he had made very clear last year.
“Just checking,” said Harry, glancing meaningfully towards each of them in turn before sitting back and looking expectantly towards Calypso.
“I don’t plan to make a move any time soon. This will probably go on for ages since, other than Selwyn and I, everyone else seems evenly matched.”
“Let them destroy each other,” added Cassius, “then come in and pick up the scraps.”
“While we build our own support bases, but yes.”
“What if Selwyn moves faster than you expect?” asked Harry. “What if he gets control of the house before we’re ready to move?”
Calypso smiled thinly. “Then I suppose it comes down to my wand against his.”
Back in the present…
He had gotten some strange looks upon returning to his original compartment, but he had given nothing away. The less his friends were involved in his schemes with Calypso and the others, the better. Selwyn had shown in the past he was willing to use those his enemies cared about in order to draw them in or hurt them. Harry did not want to risk anything more than he already was, and losing Daphne for so long last year had been painful enough.
The chatter continued and conjoined with the pattering of raindrops to form a soothing backdrop as the train chugged on towards Hogwarts castle. Darkness began to roll in like swift-moving storm clouds outside and Harry thought then that he may be able to close his eyes and fall asleep if he so desired.
All thoughts and prospects of such peaceful things were dashed when the train gave a sudden lurch and began to slow much faster than was natural. Harry sat up at once, as did all the others in his compartment. They were a dead stop within moments and he and Blaise were the first two to the window.
“Can you see anything?” Blaise asked him in a whisper. “I know your sight in the dark is sharper than mine.”
Another detail Blaise knew about Harry that he had been withholding. He had known about the ritual all along, which was no surprise, but he may even have known more than Harry did.
Yet now was no time to become hung up on such things. “Nothing,” he muttered. “It’s weird, actually. My night vision is unusually good; but I can’t see ten feet outside the window.”
Somebody lit their wand from behind Harry and stepped around him. Only then did he realize it was Charlotte, but the conjured beams seemed to be swallowed by what seemed like impenetrable darkness outside.
Something that sounded like a door slammed from outside their compartment. “I think someone just got on the train.” It was Ginny who spoke, but her voice was as quiet and timid as the first night she had joined Slytherin House.
Harry tensed. The necklace from Grace he wore emitted darkness not too dissimilar from that which blanketed the air outside. She said it was family magic, but that meant creating effects like it was possible. There was a wizard on the loose with the potential capabilities of doing such things, and he had a very good reason for wanting to be on the express.
Harry spun towards the door and was prepared to reinforce the charms already set upon it, but it was too late. It opened noiselessly and with no resistance before he could fire a spell. The most horrible figure Harry had ever seen glided over the threshold without a care in the world.
It was taller than any man ought to have been, but Harry was not at all certain this was a man. Its cloak fell all the way to the floor and slithered across it like some twisted, ebony serpent. Its hood obscured whatever lurked beneath and cast what should have been its face in the same unmovable shadow that still lurked outside the train.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Harry asked even as he noticed everyone else in his compartment draw back.
The figure did not answer. Instead, it took a long, rattling breath and Harry’s own caught in his chest and stabbed at him as if it had solidified into a jagged chip of ice and been driven hard into his very heart. He staggered back as the cold hit him all at once. He was trembling not from fear, but from cold as the creature advanced towards him. It made no sound as it moved and Harry could see mist rising all around it as its icy aura clashed with the stuffy heat of the compartment. Had their compartment been warm? It seemed an age ago; Harry was not sure he had ever been warm before and he was certain it would never happen again.
He tried to raise his wand but his arm would not move. He had been turned into a statue of ice, he was sure; it was the only logical conclusion. Somebody was even calling his name in great despair, but then the voice changed into someone else’s.
“Please, not my children! Take me, kill me instead, but spare them!”
Panic left the woman’s voice and hatred and contempt replaced it. The voice itself began to change. Harry did not recognize the first, but he knew this one all too well. He had thought the speaker was dead, but perhaps he was as dead as his mother’s sister now. Statues of ice were not alive, after all.
It was no longer just voices, though they too persisted. Ropes bound him as the faces of Draco Malfoy, Andrew Macnair, Theodore Nott, and Daniel Selwyn swam above him through a haze of mist and despair. Their faces began to morph and twist, but it was over by then and blackness had swallowed Harry’s vision whole.
The next thing Harry felt was a mix of warm and cold. The latter still gripped him like an icy vice and he was still shaking all over, but there was something warm and pleasant on his face. His eyelids felt weighed down and opening them felt like an insurmountable task, but he managed it. Only then did he realize Daphne was kneeling over him, gently brushing strands of his raven hair out of his face. She saw his eyes open and felt him tense, but her expression eased him and Harry did all he could to stay still. Occlumency was something he was trying to get a grip on once more, but once he had it, he suppressed all feelings of unease and let her press her warm palm against his forehead. Even he knew it was clammy with cold sweat. It was the first time he remembered finding someone else’s touch so pleasant. It was just… warm. Anything for warmth right now, Merlin.
There was more commotion nearby and he tilted his head in order to see it. What he saw made no sense. Charlus was sprawled out beside him. He was being roused by an older-looking man with greying hair that Harry had seen once before. He had been one the aurors who had investigated the dragon incident at the end of his first year. Dawlish, he recalled, Senior Auror John Dawlish. But how in Merlin’s name had Charlus wound up in his compartment and lying beside him? It had taken Harry a moment to put together exactly how he had ended up on the floor already. He did not remember fainting, but the dots were not difficult to connect.
“What happened?” he asked in a voice quiet enough for only Daphne to hear.
“You fainted,” she confirmed in that same whisper. “Harry, are you okay? Do you need—”
“I’m fine,” he said, pushing back from her and stumbling when he tried to take his feet. “What… what was—”
“A dementor,” said Daphne, “one of the guards of Azkaban. They must be lurking around hoping that Sirius Black shows up.”
Soon after, at Hogwarts Castle…
Everything following the dementor’s assault was hazy. Dawlish had briefly explained that the dementor had entered the train looking for Sirius Black but stumbled upon Harry’s compartment. His friends had filled in the rest. Harry had tried to confront the dementor, but that had not lasted long. He had seized up, began to shake, and then collapsed. Daphne had gotten shakily to her feet to try and do something, but the Boy-Who-Lived had burst through their compartment door before she could move. He was soon crumpled on the floor just like his brother, but then something larger and silver had charged through the door followed by John Dawlish. Only then had the dementor retreated.
Harry could hardly bear looking at his friends now. He had been so foolish. He knew of dementors and had read all about them. Yet he had not recognized the creature, for never in his wildest dreams would he have ever expected to meet one. They had been confined to Azkaban for centuries and the idea that they weren’t now terrified him; for he had never felt anything like their power before.
He realized later that even if he had realized the creature was a dementor, it would have done him no good. He knew of them, but he had no idea how one was supposed to combat them. They could not be killed, so perhaps there was a spell similar to the one used to fight off a boggart. Perhaps the silver spell Dawlish had supposedly used to drive the creature off. He would need to look into that as soon as possible.
The cold rain outside sent him shivering once more as they rode the carriages up to the castle. Warming Charms and his travelling cloak did little to combat the chills and it was not until Professor McGonagall led both he and Charlus into the hospital wing that they finally began to recede after he ate — of all things — a block of warm, Honeydukes chocolate.
The twins were held in the hospital wing for some time. Harry worried they would miss the feast, but Madam Pomfrey assured them they would not when she ushered them out.
He faltered in mid-step before glancing towards Charlus. He contemplated not responding; the last real interaction they had had, Harry had sent Charlus sprawling with a hard punch to the nose. Something in his brother’s eyes made Harry not, however, so he decided that this once, he would be merciful.
“What did you hear when the dementor came into your compartment?”
Harry looked at him strangely. “Hear?” he asked, ensuring his face stayed blank. “I didn’t hear anything. It was just… the cold and the emotions. It just hit me all at once.”
Charlus nodded, but Harry suspected he knew what his brother had heard. That first voice inside his head had been one he did not recognize, but it was not difficult to piece together who it belonged to.
The hall was mercifully warm and bright with the light of a thousand floating candles. Madam Pomfrey had not lied; it appeared the sorting ceremony was still taking place. Harry did not so much as even glance at the first years as he strode across the hall and moved towards the Slytherin table. He noticed at once that nobody occupied the seats nearest the middle of the Slytherin table. It was where Grace, Rhea, and their friends had always occupied. Harry moved past Calypso, Cassius, and the Carrows with a polite nod and took a seat with his younger set of friends.
Pansy opened her mouth and asked him something, but he never heard, for Professor McGonagall’s next words smashed him over the head like a flaming war hammer.
No… surely not.
His eyes flashed towards the sound of McGonagall’s face and his heart suddenly stopped beating, if only for a second.
It was her. She towered above the first years and stood some inches taller than McGonagall herself. The candle light danced off of her pale skin as she moved towards the stool, immaculate robes flowing around her as she took her seat.
This could not be. What the fuck were the Unspeakables playing at? Protecting her was one thing — Harry despised it but he understood there may be invaluable information to learn from such a decision. Sending her to the home of Bellatrix Black had been a stretch, but this? This was utter madness! To send the student responsible for the Chamber of Secrets back to Hogwarts on its own would have been foolish. To do so knowing that student had, in another form, eventually become the most feared magician of all time was complete and utter lunacy.
Harry’s friends were trying to rouse him, but he ignored all of them as he stared openly towards the girl whose name had barely been altered. The Department of Mysteries had not even tried all that hard to hide their heresy… this was madness.
And then, the hat dared to speak, and Harry’s year became infinitely more complicated with the passing of its three spoken syllables.
It feels good to be back at Hogwarts and to have all of the summer setup out of the way. Next chapter will be another transitional chapter by my own admission, but here’s hoping things speed up after that.
Also, it should be noted the dementors work a tiny bit differently than they did in canon. This will be unnoticeable with almost every character they ever interact with, but there was a hint of it in the scene with Harry. It really won’t have any major impacts on the story and will be explained later.
Please read and review.
P.S. The next password will be posted in one week. THE NEXT SIX CHAPTERS ARE AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW FOR ANYONE WHO SIGNS UP TO MY PATREON PAGE! Feel free to sign up if you want to read them early.
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