Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
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Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
October 2, 1993
Harry had spent the evening duelling with his older set of friends. He now duelled Calypso as often as he could. The duels were getting slightly closer, though the skill gap still seemed wider than a gaping chasm. Harry could now beat Cassius without much effort. Flora posed him little difficulty whilst Hestia was the most even with him. Calypso still loomed above them all, but Harry was determined to beat her. He was going to need to beat her. What with Riddle on the prowle, Peter Pettigrew plotting whatever it was he had up his sleeve, and Sirius Black on the loose with murderous intentions.
Harry wondered what it must be like to be normal. Most students in the castle didn’t need to worry about things so complicated. What must it be like to stress over tests and exams? Better yet — what must it be like to be a child at all?
That was something that had been robbed from him the second Voldemort had struck down his parents. It wasn’t a matter he pondered on often, but it came up every now and then whilst he considered the treacherous trials that sprawled out before him. It was one thing to go about them every day, but it was another to consider them in their entirety. They seemed ominous; a shadowy mountain impossible to climb. Pulling himself up one hand after the other was the only way to go about it. When he stopped and looked down like he was now, doubt began to seep through.
What if he could beat Calypso? What good would it really do him? Whatever Pettigrew had planned was unlikely to be thwarted by something as simple as martial might. Pettigrew was sharper than a dagger and could strike just as swiftly and with even less noise. Harry’s best hope of dealing with him was Charlus. If the Boy-Who-Lived could prove his suspicion right about Pettigrew and that damned book, then Harry might be able to take action against him. Potentially in the legal arena with the help of Veronica Tate. If Charlus couldn’t prove it… well, then things got much messier.
Even that was only one enemy. Harry doubted Pettigrew himself had altered Charlus’s memory, which meant he had allies. If he was taken down and sent to Azkaban, it would probably just mean Harry had even more shadowy assailants to combat. That was saying nothing of Riddle, who worried him almost as much as Pettigrew. The second she made a move against him or his friends, she would probably seem even more threatening.
That was when Harry remembered something else and almost cursed aloud. This Friday was the date he had agreed to meet Lockhart. The Headmaster had sworn to tell him how Voldemort still survived. Harry was anticipating that conversation, but it meant something else, too. If he wanted that information, he was going to really need to start working his way closer to Riddle. Lockhart was unlikely to be satisfied with bits of information gathered via eavesdropping, which meant Harry would need to put himself at even greater risk.
What good would duelling do against that? If he beat Calypso, he was still probably miles behind Riddle and that was to say nothing of her brilliance. She had played the whole school last year and she was but one enemy.
It all seemed impossible as he stood in that corridor. If not for Occlumency, Harry was sure he’d have broken down right there. He might have anyway, but something jolted him from his paranoia before it could pull him under its treacherous surface and drown him in its destructive depths.
Harry’s ring alerted him to the presence before it could draw too near. His mind blanked with a thought and his breath caught, allowing him to vanish into thin air as a tall boy with dark skin, hair, and eyes walked out from around the next corridor.
Blaise Zabini turned his head from one side to the other before allowing his lips to curve upwards into an amused-looking smirk. “You can reveal yourself, Harry. I know you’re there.”
Harry shimmered back into existence but his fingers flexed, ready to summon his wand at any moment.
This was yet another thing he hated about this year. Blaise had once been among his best friends and now, Harry was unsure what to think of him and his ilk. It would have made things so much easier to have Blaise alongside him, but his trust in the boy had faltered after what he’d seen at his home over the summer holidays.
“What are you doing lurking around in the dungeons?” Harry asked Blaise.
“I could ask you the same thing,” the other boy returned.
“You could, but I think you know the answer already.”
Blaise’s smirk widened. “Do you?”
Harry tilted his head. “Not many people come through this corridor. How long have you been mapping my path back up to the common room?”
“I haven’t exactly.” Harry just raised an eyebrow. “You practice with that lot once a week, but they’re down here more often. Tracking your path is hard with that damned ring. I’ve been tracking theirs instead and just assumed they didn’t switch rooms on Saturdays.”
“Why go through the effort? If you wanted to meet with me so badly, you could have asked.”
Blaise’s smirk died all at once as his lips fell. “Could I?” he asked. There was no bitterness in his voice, but Harry could see it in his eyes. It was strange and didn’t suit him; Blaise so rarely displayed his emotions outwardly like this.
“I’d have believed you until the summer.”
The tension in the corridor thickened. Harry felt no one near them, but this was not a conversation he wanted overheard. Scowling, he gestured for Blaise to follow him. Neither of them spoke until they entered the nearest abandoned classroom, at which point Harry began warding the room with every spell he knew of, finishing with the Muffliato Charm whose mystique still evaded him.
Blaise was still watching him when Harry turned to face him and there was judgement in those dark eyes of his.
Harry sighed. “What is it you want, Blaise? We’ve been dancing around the point for months.”
“Which is exactly the problem. I’m sick of it. We’ve always had our secrets, but neither of us ever judged the other. Nowadays, I can hardly look at you without seeing that blank look on your face you get any time you’re hiding something.”
“Rich of you to accuse someone else of hiding things.”
Blaise’s eyes flashed. “Do you really think those secrets are mine to keep?”
“Does it matter?” Harry asked. “If a secret is dangerous, does it matter whose it is?”
“Yes,” Blaise answered at once, “it tells you who you can trust and who you can’t.”
“That’s where we disagree, Blaise. I don’t know if I can trust you anymore.”
“What’s changed? Was it Smith? Do you think you’re going to be the next person around my family to just drop dead?”
“I doubt it. I’m a bit young for your mother to marry and kill off.” Harry expected some kind of reaction from Blaise, but there was none. His expression did not so much as waver. “So you don’t deny that your mother’s killed all of her husbands?”
“I’ve never once denied that my mother’s done anything. I just haven’t confirmed it, and I won’t now, either.”
“But you know the answer, don’t you? You know what she’s after.”
“I know what my mother’s goals are, yes. And no, I can’t share them with you whether I want to or not.”
Oaths, thought Harry, or else binding magical contracts of some sort. Knowing the Zabinis, they were probably as strict as they could get. Harry might have found a way to circumvent the oaths imposed by the Department of Mysteries, but that protected secret was broader and its veil had more holes. Harry suspected this one wouldn’t be leaked so easily.
“And you wonder why I don’t trust you.”
“I wonder what you saw this summer that made you change your mind.”
Harry met his stare now, making a conscious effort to maintain a blank visage as he did so. “You want to know what I saw?” Blaise nodded. “Swear to me that you’ll tell or hint nothing of what I’m about to tell you I saw to anyone. You will inform no one at all in any way that I saw it.” Blaise thought for a moment before nodding and taking the vow. It was the best wording Harry could come up with on the fly. The Speaker’s Den would have been a better option, but they were some ways from the Slytherin common despite being in the dungeons. “I saw Smith’s dead body. It was slumped across the floor with some kind of liquid dripping from his mouth.” His stare was still unwavering. “I don’t suppose you can tell me what kind of poison your mother used, can you?”
To Blaise’s credit, he appeared completely unfazed despite Harry knowing such a thing was surely impossible. “It wasn’t poison,” he said after a moment.
Harry just arched an eyebrow. “And you expect me to just believe that?”
“No. I’m not lying, but that doesn’t change the fact you’d be an idiot if you did.”
“What was it if not poison?”
“Nothing that I can tell you about.”
“What about the vampire, then?” Blaise flinched. It was so minute a gesture it was almost invisible. Harry doubted he would ever have noticed had he not been watching so intently. Blaise was masterful at masking such motions, but even he had slipped at that. Harry took it as confirmation of exactly how much the boy had been hiding.
‘What about him?”
“You knew about the eye ritual before I ever got to Hogwarts. You were told I would be in Slytherin. He knew I would be at the wedding. Why?” Blaise said nothing; he just continued to stare back at Harry. “Was any of it real?”
“What do you mean?” Uncertainty had crept into Blaise’s voice for the first time. It was stranger than his flinch.
“Any of this. Were we ever really friends—”
“We still are—”
“Then why are you keeping so many secrets? I came clean in the Den last June and you all know why I kept mine. Can you at least tell me that? If nothing else, can I at least know why you’re keeping secrets?”
Blaise stood blankly in place. Harry was beginning to turn towards the door by the time he answered. “It all has to do with my mother’s end goal.”
“So what? Should I expect to end up dead, then?”
“No. She has no interest in marrying or killing you. You’re not part of the plan in that way.”
Had Blaise meant to word his answer in such a way? It implied his mother was indeed guilty but he had said nothing of it. Merlin, oaths were awful; Harry was going to put the truth about what he had seen under Salazar’s Sanction the next time he and Blaise wound up alone in the Speaker’s Den, whenever the hell that was. It was likely Blaise would already have passed anything he could along to his mother by then, but that was the only secrecy oath Harry trusted. It had never failed before and he had a sneaking suspicion it never would.
“So what? We just keep being friends while I wait to be used however your mother plans to use me—”
“No.” The force with which Blaise spoke took Harry so aback that his tirade died on his tongue. “I’m going to speak with my mother over the winter holidays. I’m going to make her tell you everything she can this summer. You have my word.”
“And until then?”
“I suppose I’ll work to regain the trust I never personally lost.”
“Nothing personal, Blaise. I like you and I hope this all works out, but I don’t love your odds of patching this one up until I know what the hell is going on.”
Blaise’s eyes danced with amusement for the first time since entering the abandoned classroom. “Fortunately for the both of us, I don’t plan to leave it to chance.”
Meanwhile, in a different abandoned classroom on the seventh floor…
Telling Ron and Hermione about his meeting with Harry from the previous day had been difficult, but telling them all about the suspected missing memories was another thing altogether. Charlus got a few words in before realizing he had no idea how to explain any of it, so he just began rattling off everything. How the two of them understood a word of what he said, Charlus would never know.
He took a deep breath by the time he was done. He had spoken so fast and with so few intermissions it felt as though he had been submerged under water and starved of oxygen.
Charlus was not the only one affected by the rant. Ron had grown pale as milk and there was something wild behind his eyes that looked poised to break free and savage the first person it laid eyes upon. Hermione was less visibly frazzled, but her bottom lip trembled as she thought.
“You really think someone stole your memories?” she asked after a time.
“Nothing else makes sense.”
Ron and Hermione exchanged looks. “You’re sure he’s telling the truth?” asked Hermione.
Charlus thought about it for a moment before nodding. Harry had his flaws, but his twin had never lied to him before and he suspected this time was no different.
“I don’t think he is, no. The timeline doesn’t really work like he said.” Charlus frowned. “I don’t think anyone’s that good an actor, either. Not even him.”
“That’s just… a serious assumption to make.”
Ron tapped a finger against his forehead. “Uh, hi, remember this?”
Hermione flushed. “Well, yes, but what is the probability that both of you had your minds altered in the same year?”
“I think the fact they happened so close together actually makes it more likely,” Charlus argued. “My Uncle Pete always says that coincidences usually don’t exist during investigations.”
Ron’s eyes widened. “So you think the same wanker who did this to me got you too?”
Charlus frowned. “I actually hadn’t thought of it that way. I figured they were connected, but didn’t think about the same person. But… maybe. Thing is, I don’t think that would be easy to do.”
“What?” asked Ron. “Wipe memories?”
“No. That one isn’t that hard; a bunch of people at the ministry know how to do it, even they aren’t obliviators. I mean the replacing memories bit.”
“I’ve never heard of that,” said Hermione. “The Memory Charm is used all the time like you said, but… I don’t even know how you would do that.”
“Legilimency,” Charlus said without thinking.
“What?” asked Hermione. “Did you just make that up?”
“No,” said Ron. “It’s mind magic. It lets you read minds or something.”
Hermione gaped at him. “How on earth do you know that?”
Ron shrugged. “Some bloke used it on me over the summer to test for things after I ran into the ward.”
Hermione’s lips pulled into a thin line. “Mind reading? Witches and wizards can read minds and we weren’t told of this?”
“It’s not exactly mind reading,” Charlus supplied. “It’s… memories. You can use it to see another person’s memories.” He frowned. “I think you can read thoughts too, but it isn’t exactly mind reading. It’s… complicated.”
“That sounds awfully like mind reading to me,” said Hermione. “How is it we weren’t told about this? This poses a major risk. Who can do it?”
“Not many people,” Charlus assured her. “I don’t even think Dad can.”
“Well, that’s some relief, I suppose. Is there any way to defend against it?”
“Occlumency, yeah. I was learning it last year with Lockhart, but that’s stopped now that he’s headmaster.”
“You knew about this and didn’t tell us?” Hermione looked furious. Spittle flew from her mouth as she spat at Charlus, who only blushed in return.
“I had a lot on my mind,” he defended. “Anyway, there really aren’t many people who can do it. It’s rare and we’re off-topic now.”
Hermione crossed her arms as her lips pouted outwards, but Ron refocused faster. “Do you have any idea who did it? Screwed with your memories, I mean.”
“I wish,” Charlus answered with a scowl. “I’d do anything to know. Not just because of Harry. It’s just… Merlin, if they did get both of us, they’re out of control.”
“How do you plan to figure out who did it?” Hermione asked with a frown. “It seems like there’s no leads at all, nowhere to start.”
Charlus wanted to deny it, wanted to say he had some sort of plan, but he would be lying. He had stayed up late the past night trying to figure out exactly that, but he’d had no success. The only route he could think to take was to somehow find out who could feasibly have done it in the first place based on magical capabilities. The problem was, doing that was nearly impossible. He doubted people were just going to answer him if he asked them about their affinities or lack thereof with the Mind Arts.
Not for the first time at Hogwarts, Charlus truly appreciated what it was his uncle did. His father had always had his admiration as a kid. Charlus had said from a young age that he wanted to be an auror once he retired from professional Quidditch. They were the best of the best and he was the Boy-Who-Lived; the conqueror of Lady Voldemort and the victor of the Purity War. He had once viewed it as both his duty and his dream, but he had never put much thought into Peter’s career.
The first time he had was back during his first year when they were searching for answers about the Philosopher’s Stone. Last year had been even worse. If Charlus had his godfather’s deductive genius, perhaps he would have avoided making an arse of himself and his friends in the Slytherin common room with that hair-brained polyjuice nonsense.
Charlus came up short just when he tried to vocalize his thoughts. He was, unfortunately, not Peter Pettigrew and would likely never have the ability to put puzzles together his godfather had.
What he did have was almost as good — a direct line of communication with the man himself. If anyone could put this mystery together, it would be his Uncle Pete.
October 8, 1993
The Headmaster’s Office
The last time Harry had been in the headmaster’s office, it had been unbelievably tense. Come to think of it, that had been the case most times Harry had been here. From Dumbledore sending him back to Privet Drive in his first year, to almost expelling him in his second, all the way to his last meeting with Lockhart; Harry had no fond memories of this bedazzling room.
“How have you enjoyed your first month back in class?” Lockhart asked when Harry took a seat across from him.
Harry was grateful Lockhart was here and not Dumbledore. There were many he would have preferred over Lockhart, but at least he no longer had to suppress the urge to strangle the Headmaster with his beard any time he looked at him. That had grown especially vexing any time he was in a room with Dumbledore last year.
Just because Harry didn’t feel the need to strange Lockhart didn’t mean he wanted to engage in small talk of any kind with him, but he did his best to maintain composure as he met those blue eyes. Those had to be what he hated most about Lockhart. He was different from Dumbledore in so many ways — this agreement would certainly have never taken place under Dumbledore’s watch — but those eyes reminded Harry of the old bastard any time he saw them.
“It’s been fine. I’ve had a lot on my mind with Black on the loose and all the rest, but it’s been nice any time I could get my head away from all of that.”
Lockhart smiled, but it was far removed from the expression that had adorned Witch Weekly’s five times. There was no joy in this smile; just a cold sort of humour. “I think that might be the most strongly the two of us have ever agreed on anything.”
Harry felt the sudden urge to curl his lip in a way Snape would have been proud of, but he resisted the urge. “I’m not sure if that’s something I’m proud of or not.”
“Pride has nothing to do with it,” said Lockhart. “The second I can get the dementors off the grounds, the better.”
Dementors… Merlin, Harry had almost forgotten about those. The Patronus Charm had been in the back of his mind throughout the year, but he had been so occupied by other things that it was a pursuit he had yet to truly commit any real time to. Thus far, Harry had just avoided straying too near the edge of the grounds. That was where the dementors dwelled, just outside the gates, standing vigil with the statues depicting a pair of fearsome winged boars. The creatures had been barred from entering the grounds so long as Black remained spotted, so they had been of little concern since the train ride. Harry still planned to return to the Patronus Charm, but he would likely have his hands full dealing with Riddle and attaining whatever information Lockhart wanted once this meeting concluded.
“No signs of Black, then?” Harry asked.
Lockhart didn’t look amused. “You should know better than most how awful anyone at this castle is when it comes to keeping secrets. If Black had been found, I have no doubt you, of all people, would know about it.”
Harry did spend a disturbing amount of time scanning the Marauder’s Map. Most often, he was looking for Riddle, but he did scan the secret passages and the edges of the ground on the off chance Black might appear. What exactly he would do if that day came, Harry was unsure. It was Charlus who was more cornered with Black. It was a good thing Harry had the map and not his twin. If Black ever did appear on it whilst it was in Charlus’s possession, the Boy-Who-Lived would surely run off and get himself killed.
Or, perhaps he would run off and be miraculously saved. Harry thought that both he and Charlus had an odd affinity for doing that. The thought just made him sick. This year would be when everything changed; no one would need to save him by the time it was at its end.
“I can still hope,” Harry said after a pause.
“I gave up on that a long time ago,” said Lockhart. “Why hope when you can act instead?”
Harry’s eye twitched. “For someone so set on acting, you do a lot of talking.”
Lockhart actually chuckled at that. “For someone in Slytherin and of your stature, you do very little of it.”
“We had an agreement, Headmaster.”
“We did. One you never formally agreed to.”
“What is it you want to know about Riddle? You want me to watch her — fine. What is it I’m supposed to learn and report back to you?”
“Her intentions, if possible. Any hints about them should be passed along as well. I think the both of us detest how the Department of Mysteries handled this mess and I think we both agree that she should be monitored and stopped if she shows signs of becoming Voldemort.”
“So you want me to act as a warning signal?”
“Something like that, yes. We’ll meet… say, once a month unless new developments spring up. Come to me right away if they do. No need to write a letter of warning; I’ll prioritize this over whatever mountain of paperwork I’m nose deep in that week.”
Harry nodded, taking care to keep his expression blank. It was a monstrous task for anyone, let alone him. Yet he was uniquely suited for the job. His Occlumency was miles ahead of almost anyone at Hogwarts and Riddle was interested in him. She at least had been last year. So long as she didn’t smite him on sight for being a part of the resistance against her plots the year previous, Harry probably had a better chance of pulling this off than anyone else he could think of, sans one.
“Headmaster,” he said slowly, “why ask me to watch Riddle and not ask Black?”
“She was the one Riddle possessed last year. She would know her best and they seem to spend time together. She just seems like she’s in the best position to be successful.”
“She also seems to be in the best position to betray me. Think, Potter. Her mother was a Death Eater whether she was caught or not. Her father was sent to Azkaban for torturing the Longbottom into insanity — if he really is her father at all.”
Harry frowned. “If?”
Lockhart waved a hand. “Plenty think she’s Crouch’s and that he and Black conceived Ares as the result of an affair, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, her loyalty is questionable even ignoring the fact Riddle spent a year inside her head. Merlin only knows what she twisted.”
There was truth to that. It was one of the reasons Harry had not simply allowed Ares to retake her place in his group of friends. She was one he planned to watch in case Riddle had indeed managed to permanently alter anything. The moment when Ares had wanted Riddle spared at the end of last year potentially spoke volumes. She must have then been suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome at the very least. That was assuming Riddle hadn’t done anything far darker than they yet realized.
It made sense. Harry didn’t like it, but it did make sense. Why was it the people he disliked had to be intelligent? It would have been so much easier had they all been simple-minded idiots who bent to whims via the powers of basic manipulation.
“Fair enough,” he admitted. “So to be clear, if I agree to watch Riddle and report back to you, you’ll tell me how Voldemort survived Samhain 1981?”
Lockhart nodded, though Harry could not help but notice his expression had turned grim. “I will, but you will be signing this first.” He opened one of the drawers of his desk and withdrew what could only be a contract of some kind. Harry’s brow knit together. He was going to refuse and demand a solicitor look it over, but it was really quite simple and had only one condition — it just made sure to cover that condition from every angle imaginable.
Harry would be able to share absolutely nothing of what he learned from this conversation with Lockhart.
“That looks fine,” Harry said after a minute of reading. “I’ll have an oath from you in return.”
Lockhart frowned. “An oath?”
“An oath that you will tell me what you said you would once I sign a contract. One that also proves whatever you’re going to say is true.”
Harry knew the flaw in this oath. It could not force Lockhart to tell the truth — only what the Hogwarts Headmaster believed was true. It mattered very little. That was all Harry would get in this case, oath or not, so he would be making sure he got at least that.
Lockhart nodded slowly and repeated Harry’s prepared oath before Harry signed the contract and the two of them sat back in their chairs, eyes locked.
“You’re up,” Harry prompted just as his heart began to beat more fiercely.
This was information that could one day save him. Voldemort had been lenient at the end of his first year but after Harry had helped Charlus vanquish her once more, he doubted she ever would be if the Dark Lady tried something similar again. It was important to know everything he could about Voldemort; especially with her most feared Lieutenant’s on the loose and with so many of her followers having never been punished.
Lockhart sighed. “I am, I suppose, and this will take some explaining.”
“No time like the present.”
Lockhart appeared to chew on his words. “Tell me, Harry, what do you know about Soul Magic?”
Soul Magic… the term was next to alien. “Isn’t Homenum Revelio said to touch the soul? That’s how some people think it distinguishes humans and non-humans?”
“That’s hardly a theory at this point. Most in the know take that as common gospel.”
“That, then,” said Harry.
A horrible thought slithered its way inside Harry’s mind as icy tendrils of dread crept their way up his spine. “Riddle’s ritual last year was based on Soul Magic, wasn’t it?”
“The same one that returned her to life, yes.” Lockhart took a moment. “There are spells that touch the soul, but not many. The most well-known is Homenum Revelio, but there’s another. One so foul it’s deemed to be Unforgivable.”
“Avada Kedavra,” Harry muttered; it was the only one of the trio that made sense.
“The Killing Curse, yes. Most people don’t realize that the biggest reason for its blanket ban is because of its impact on the soul.”
“I had always imagined that was the instantly killing people bit.”
Lockhart scowled. “Plenty of curses instantly kill. A Cutting Curse to your throat would have the same impact. So would a Bone Exploding curse to the skull. One to boil your blood would do the job almost as fast.”
Harry’s face contorted. “You make your point.”
“Homenum Revelio touches the soul; the Killing Curse destroys it and leaves nothing behind.” Now it was Lockhart’s turn to make a face. “Even the dementors’ kiss leaves behind remnants; just not enough for the person kissed to really be human anymore.”
“Truly.” Lockhart’s fingers drummed on the desk that had once belonged to Dumbledore. “The soul is connected very deeply to life. If we lose it, there’s no living. Most theorize that we die, our soul moves on. Whether we go with it or not is what’s up for debate.”
“I sense that you’re building up to something.”
“I am. So long as enough of the soul remains, you can survive anything.”
“But then by all rights, Voldemort should be dead. The Killing Curse rebounded.”
“By all laws of nature, she should be. She broke those laws.” There was a ferocity in Lockhart’s voice Harry had never heard before. The tendrils running up his spine thickened as he fought against shivers. “The Killing Curse doesn’t just destroy the soul of the victim, but it damages the caster’s. It’s the ultimate act of evil. It creates… a rip.”
Harry’s stomach twisted at the thought. “A… rip?”
“A rip, yes. There is… a type of magic that I won’t name that’s also said to interact with souls. A… creation of this magic is something called a horcrux.”
Harry tested the word on his tongue. “A horcrux?”
“A horcrux, yes. A container that holds broken shards of a dark magician’s soul. Shards that were torn off by supplementing some sort of twisted ritual on top of the use of the Killing Curse.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “So… unless we find and destroy Voldemort’s horcrux, she’s… what? Immortal?”
“That’s about the right of it, except for one thing.” Harry sensed a death blow before it came, but nothing could have prepared him for Lockhart’s next words. “We’ve already destroyed multiple horcruxes and it’s the belief of the Department of Mysteries that Voldemort still lives.”
Somewhere in Estonia…
The man felt his body shudder against the cold stone floor as deep, wavering breaths wracked his body. His vision swam before his eyes as he tried not to succumb to the pull of unconsciousness.
“Another complete,” said a smooth voice from nearby he had heard often over the past two or so months.
“How many more?” the shaking man asked, trying and failing to clamber to his feet.
“Not many,” said his companion. “The bulk of them are done. It will, of course, be your responsibility to ensure the enhancements translate into practical ability.”
The room was only just coming into focus and he was still unable to see the other’s expression.
“Soon,” was all he said, but it was all the trembling man needed to hear. Soon, it would be others who trembled.
I know these chapters have gotten shorter and shorter as the year goes on, but I do want to fix the pacing as much as possible. There’s only so much I can do on that front after experimenting with it so much in year 2, but chapters of this sort of length up to a bit longer work best, I think. I could have shown the rest of the horcrux conversation, for instance, but I felt no need. I’m being a bit more utilitarian with the pacing going forward, though it will still be expansive due to how much I have in play.
Please read and review.
PS: The next password will be revealed next week. THE NEXT THREE CHAPTERS ARE AVAILABLE FOR PATRONS RIGHT NOW AND I WILL BE POSTING TWO MORE ON PATREON NEXT WEEK! If you would like to read all of those chapters early, sign up to my Patreon page.
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