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 10, 1993
A Secret Passage on the Fourth Floor
There was still much about Emily Riddle that remained unknown to Ares. She was doing her best to piece the girl together, but it was proving difficult. Slowly, she could feel some of her trust returning, but she suspected it would have been a faster process if Riddle was not so difficult to read.
One thing she had learned for certain was that the Heiress of Slytherin was an especially proactive thinker who had no patience for the art of procrastination. Riddle had said less than two weeks ago that she planned to introduce Ares to Astoria Greengrass and the night had already come.
A year ago, perhaps she might have been anxious to meet someone new and presumably important, but now, Ares could not have been more at ease. Ares waited alone in the room hidden behind the floor-to-ceiling window. She was in one of the chairs nearest the fire and its warmth caressed her like smouldering fingers massaging her legs.
She knew very little about Astoria Greengrass outside of the publicly available information surrounding her family. Ares had very few friends at Hogwarts and as of yet, Astoria’s classmates were not amongst them. She knew that would need to change soon. Emily would ask it of her, at the very least, but Ares was enjoying her lack of social obligations while it lasted.
Greengrass was an unknown. She knew her sister well from spending time with her last year whilst controlled by Emily, but she had a feeling Astoria was unlike Daphne. Ares had been watching her for a number of days now and one of her first realizations was that the younger Greengrass failed to carry herself with the same poise and confidence constantly sported by her elder sister. There were even times when Astoria looked completely out of her depth. Times that immediately ceased any time Riddle came near her. If Ares had ever seen a soul devoured by a cause so fast, it was surely Astoria, who seemed to have been scooped up by Emily.
She had tried making inquisitions about Astoria’s studies, but people almost seemed… worried to speak about her. It was odd. Ares wondered if she must have been some sort of prodigy, but if that were true, she would have heard that much. Harry’s prowess had swiftly become public knowledge. Hers had as well, along with others like Charlotte Weitts — though both of them had a vaunted family reputation to lean upon.
Yet Ares could not think of what else Riddle could have meant when discussing Astoria with her the last time they had met in this room.
“Something different about the way she interacts with magic. There’s something off that I can’t quite gauge.”
Ares had no idea what that could mean. She supposed a natural Legilimens had odd magic. Otherwise… a Metamorphmagus? She doubted it — the Greengrasses had no recorded Metamorphs in their family history that Ares knew of — but she could think of nothing else that suited Riddle’s description.
Her thoughts were cut short when the mirror slid aside to admit her two companions for the night. It was like before. Astoria looked more confident walking alongside Riddle than Ares had ever seen her look alone. Small by comparison but with a smile on her lips and laughter in her eyes. That was another thing that separated the Greengrass sisters. Daphne wore an impassive visage as her armour whereas her sister displayed her emotions on her sleeve more often than she probably ought to have. Occlumency was something she had been taught to some degree, Ares was sure, but perhaps it had not come as easily to her as it had her sister.
“I believe introductions are in order,” Emily said with a smile. Astoria’s own had faltered for a moment, but it returned at her words. “Astoria, this is Ares Black. Heiress of the Founding House of Black and someone who I spent the summer with thanks to her parents’ hospitality. Ares, this is Astoria Greengrass. I believe we discussed my fondness for her some time ago.”
‘Fondness’ was certainly one word for it. They had spent far less time discussing fondness than they had discussing curiosity. Though Ares supposed fondness had entered the conversation in a way. Not Emily Riddle’s fondness for Astoria, but her fondness for learning abstract pieces of magic unbeknownst to most of the world. It was power she craved and she knew better than most that any bit of knowledge simply piled onto the admirable power base she sought to construct.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” said Ares, offering her hand and fending off any thoughts or doubts she might have.
Astoria hesitated for only a moment before her smile widened and she reached out to take her offered hand. ‘We’ve met before.”
“Probably,” Ares admitted. “I’ve met more people at gatherings than I can keep track of. I always find it’s safer to just introduce yourself again.”
Astoria frowned. “You sound like Daphne.”
“They are similar in some ways from what I’ve observed,” said Emily, smiling down at the both of them. “I’m quite fond of both of you, so I hope the two of you will get along just as well.”
Ares understood the assignment well enough. Emily could only devote so much time to Astoria whilst taking all of her classes and keeping up with all of her schemes. Ares was in a better position to further Emily’s initiative in regards to Ares and the eldest of the trio had tasked her to do just that.
October 11, 1993
That day had been one of the longest Charlus could ever remember. Snape had been particularly vicious that morning in Potions, but that had only added to the monotony of it all. He could have had Defence Against the Dark Arts all day or even Quidditch practice and still, Charlus suspected he would have wanted it over more than anything else in the world.
The day had started just like any other, but that had not lasted long. Any semblance of normality had been shattered the moment a familiar-looking owl had swooped down from the cloudy mass of grey and brown feathers to lay a letter in front of Charlus. The Boy-Who-Lived didn’t even need to look to know it was from his godfather — the reply he had been waiting for since sending out his own asking for advice on who Peter thought could have altered his memories.
Nothing had been more tempting than to tear the letter open there and then in the Great Hall, but Charlus composed himself. If his failures in the last two years had taught him anything, it was that he ought to improve his patience and put more thought into his actions. Opening any missive with information as sensitive as this in front of a hall of potential onlookers screamed of impulsive foolishness.
Never had classes dragged on quite like that day. Even during his breaks, Hermione had dragged both him and Ron down to the library to work on homework for the week. There had been nowhere Charlus wanted to be less in those moments, but there was no way he could think of to free himself from his friends.
He had contemplated whether or not to tell them about the letter he was sending his godfather, but Charlus had decided against it. Warning them of what had happened was the perfect amount of information, he decided. Not telling them hurt worse than any injury that had ever landed him in the hospital wing, but it made sense. If someone was targeting his friends and was willing to use Unforgivable Curses, it was best for those friends to be as protected as possible. Best for them to know they were in danger but not to know how close Charlus was to deducing the truth.
It was a remarkable step for him no matter how painful it was. A year ago, he surely would have told them everything and put them at higher risk, but after concluding whoever wiped his memories was likely the same person who had placed Ron under the Imperius Curse, Charlus had realized he was going to need to be a great deal more cautious going forward.
The second that dinner ended that evening, Charlus politely excused himself from his friends and hurried up to the dormitory. It only occurred to him halfway up to the tower that Dean, Neville, or Seamus may be lurking within but fortunately for Charlus, the dorm room appeared to be empty but for Neville’s toad, Trevor.
Charlus tore into the envelope with the fervour of a small child on the morning of Yule. His heart beat faster with every second that passed until, finally, he held the parchment in his hands and began to read.
That’s a major suspicion you have there. I don’t know your brother as well as you do, but I will say this. Everything I know about Harry tells me he knows Occlumency, and more of it than you. I’m not saying he is lying in the least, but just don’t discount his ability to lie that convincingly. There are sub skills in Occlumency that let a person control their own mind and guide their own emotions with complete ease. Harry could be using any of these to mask his real reactions and lie as convincingly as he would if he thought what he was saying was true. I think that technically, he could even convince himself they were true with Occlumency, but I highly doubt your brother is that skilled yet.
He is right about culprits, though. There aren’t many people who would be able to alter someone’s memories so skillfully. It would be well beyond my abilities and I don’t even think your father has any skill with that kind of magic. I’m not sure even I can give you a long list of suspects. It’s impossible to know how good anyone is with that kind of magic. Of course, Dumbledore could do it but he never would. There aren’t many others I can think of, but I will give you some food for thought.
We both know that She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is active in one way or another based on what happened at the end of your first year. It would make sense if one of her followers was responsible and there are plenty of them not in Azkaban.
Where this gets interesting is that not many of them have access to you on a regular basis, but one of them does. A man who Dumbledore vouched for but one his own men weren’t happy to let into their ranks. One who sees you at least twice a week and who is absolutely gifted with both dark magic and the Mind Arts.
I don’t want you to jump to any conclusions, but I would keep an eye on Snape. His profile fits all of this much too well for my liking and I know your father has never liked him being so close to you on a regular basis.
The parchment slid from numb fingers.
Charlus had never even considered Snape, but it absolutely fit.
Then, his mind put something else together.
Snape had been especially vicious that morning in Potions… less than one week after he had told Ron and Hermione about his suspicions regarding his altered memories.
Charlus felt his breaths coming faster, but he slowed them down. All this meant was that he would need to be even more careful what he told Ron and Hermione going forward. He could do this, but Charlus was going to need to get back to working on his Occlumency fast. None of his efforts would matter if Snape casually plucked them from his mind during their very next Potions lesson.
October 14, 1993
The Great Hall
SIRIUS BLACK CONTINUES TO EVADE AUTHORITIES!
By Rita Skeeter
All along the Slytherin table, eyes watched the Potter heir as his sharp gaze roamed over that morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet. Harry spared a glance for none of them, but he could feel their gazes upon him. Let them stare, he thought, he was hardly going to give them the satisfaction of fidgeting.
Nothing about the article was particularly interesting. It cited a number of reports that Sirius Black had been spotted all around the country, but not even Rita Skeeter could spin any of them into a plausible tale to cultivate the masses. The only speculation she had was months’ old — the possibility that Black had been involved in the mutilations, the Gringotts break-in, or both.
Those vicious and mysterious attacks had stopped some time ago. There had been none since the students arrived back at Hogwarts. Some thought this meant they could not possibly be connected to Black, but Harry was less sure. If Black really was after Charlus — or perhaps even both of them — his attention would be focused upon Hogwarts. Given the aurors and dementors, a breach of the castle would surely take some degree of meticulous planning. That kind of schedule didn’t exactly provide much time for what still seemed to be random mutilations, but it was impossible to tell as of yet.
Harry noticed that even his friends were watching him when he lifted his eyes from the paper. Blaise’s face alone was passive, but the others showed their concern in one way or the other. Tracey actually looked nervous. Bless Tracey. Harry adored the girl, but she was a different kind of Slytherin from the rest of them and was the easiest of their group to read.
He just frowned under the collective weight of their stares. “I suppose Skeeter’s getting desperate if this is all she has to latch onto.”
Harry made sure to speak louder than normal and in a voice meant to carry down the table. Let the older students watching him for weakness see that none existed here. Harry did not fear Sirius Black. There was a healthy amount of wariness he wished his brother shared, but no fear. He would never allow a man like Black to wield such debilitating power over him.
“Nothing interesting, then?” Blaise asked as though he wasn’t painfully aware of the front Harry was putting up for the sake of the onlookers.
He shrugged. “Not really. Just rehashing old news and giving attention to idiots who don’t deserve it. At this rate, half the country is going to say they’ve seen Sirius Black just so they make the Prophet’s front page.”
Blaise snorted, Ginny and Laine giggled, and the trio of Daphne, Tracey, and Charlotte all rolled their eyes in dramatic fashion. The rest of the table began to lose interest and the general chatter reignited all around them. Only then did Harry’s friends allow their hyperbolized facades to fall and only then did Harry flick his wand and cast a wordless iteration of the Muffliato Charm when he sensed that more serious questions were coming.
“Do you think Black is going to attack Hogwarts?” Laine asked as soon as the ward was in place.
Harry felt a prickle of annoyance prod at his psyche. All of his friends were looking at him for one reason or another. “I don’t understand why everyone seems to think I have the answers when it comes to Black.”
“You don’t know anything we don’t?” Harry had never seen Pansy pout so fiercely and that was saying a lot.
Harry thought back to his conversation over the summer with his father and came to a swift and sudden realization. It wasn’t that he hadn’t remembered the detail; it was that the detail seemed so unbelievable he had chosen to never even consider it until now.
James had made no mention of any secrecy oaths whilst discussing Sirius Black’s Animagus powers.
Harry glanced around the table. The Muffliato Charm had never failed him before and obviously had mysterious roots he knew nothing of, but trusting it for something as important as this seemed a fallacy.
“Nothing I’m going to tell you in the Great Hall,” Harry said at last. “I’ll arrange a night to meet up in the Den and then I’ll tell you.”
“Why has it taken you this long to tell us?” Laine asked.
Harry could only roll his own eyes in return. “Because a Gryffindor was so unbelievably idiotic that it apparently took me almost two months to process how bad a mistake he made.”
October 17, 1993
The Speaker’s Den
So far, this had actually been Harry’s quietest year at Hogwarts. It might not have been saying much, but it was true. There had been no midnight duels, no internal house rivalries, no disappearances, and no masquerading Dark Ladies.
Well… there was a masquerading dark lady, Harry supposed. Or, there was a lady masquerading who might turn into the epitome of a dark lady if certain events came to pass. That situation still made Harry’s head ache and he’d had almost two months to grow accustomed to it by now.
The oddest thing was that despite the relative quiet of the year, he had been using the Speaker’s Den more than ever before. So much so that organizing further meetings was becoming more and more difficult. The last thing he wanted was for one of the upper-year Slytherins to see what he was doing. Not only would it give away the location of a valuable room, but it would also jeopardize the secrecy of Harry’s Parseltongue ability. So far, he had been quite proud of his ability to keep that quiet to everyone he wished, but if someone saw them sneaking into the Den, that would all go up in smoke.
Not to mention that maybe masquerading dark lady. Harry knew that she had found the Speaker’s Den in her own time. Whether she had found out at the age she was now, Harry could not say. None of her notes were dated, nor did they discuss anything personal. She could have been eleven or seventeen and Harry doubted he could have told the difference — not with one as brilliant as Riddle. If anything worried him more than being caught out by one of the older students, it was Riddle taking notice of his activities and deciding to claim the Speaker’s Den for her own. Unless they did manage to orchestrate a devastating ambush, Harry feared he would be unable to stop her if that was what Riddle desired.
The idea of an ambush had been brought up to Calypso and she had been hesitant. The Carrows and Cassius seemed far more willing. Harry was giving it some time before he decided to just go ahead with the plan without Calypso’s approval. So long as it worked, she could hardly complain. If it didn’t… well, that boded even poorer for Calypso’s chances of upsetting Riddle in her bid for power and control.
That was to say nothing of Harry’s end of the bargain he had made with Lockhart. So far, he had no idea how to get close to Riddle. It was like he had feared. The information Lockhart wanted couldn’t be so easily acquired by eavesdropping and the like. Harry would need to get closer to Riddle than he wanted. This made the ambush even more difficult because he would need for it not to implicate him in the slightest, but even that felt out of reach. None of that was a concern at all until he figured out how he was going to get close to Riddle in the first place. That was going to be the real puzzle and as of yet, Harry had yet to fit a single piece into place.
Quiet year or not, Riddle was taking up far too many of Harry’s thoughts for his liking. Even this meeting was her doing, in a way. Harry hated the fact it felt as though his life revolved around Riddle. It was even worse when he considered last year. In a way, his life had been revolving around this form of Riddle for more than a year. That was to say nothing about why he had ended up on Privet Drive in the first place. That path could be followed much too far back for Harry’s taste.
He had promised his friends he would invite them into the Den and tell them all he knew about Sirius Black. It was a promise he planned to keep, but one that would have to wait. The meeting he was having tonight was one that had already been arranged when that promise had been met and for all of the reasons Harry had just pondered, he was wary of hosting meetings in this room too often.
“It’s odd to be in here but to have not been the one asking for the meeting,” Harry said with a thin smile. He suspected it may be the last fleeting moment of levity in this conversation if it had to do with what he thought it did.
Daphne’s lips teased a smile, but no more than that. “You did, in a way. This meeting wouldn’t exist if not for our last one.”
“I thought so,” Harry admitted. “I should warn you — you can ask me whatever you want, but there’s a very high chance I won’t be able to answer any of it.”
“I’m just… confused,” said Daphne.
Harry thought over his next words before speaking. “I’m… not surprised to hear that.”
“You told me that Astoria was hanging around with Emily Riddle.”
“I searched for Emily Riddle like I know you wanted me to.” Harry showed no reaction, only waited for his oldest friend to continue. “The only person I found named Emily Riddle was a prodigy who graduated almost fifty years ago after becoming Head Girl.”
“Riddle isn’t exactly a common name,” said Harry.
“It isn’t, but that Riddle doesn’t make any sense. I can’t find anything about her after she graduated from Hogwarts. It’s like she just disappeared off the face of the planet.”
Oh, if Daphne only knew…
That was a point, too. Harry really ought to tell his friends at some point that Emily Riddle had become Lady Voldemort. The problem with that idea was twofold.
The first problem was that Harry still remained somewhat unsure as to how far the confines of his secrecy oaths stretched. It would be quite anti-climatic if he went through the efforts to gather his most trusted friends in this room only for him to be unable to divulge anything on his mind.
The second issue was more pressing. Harry wanted the full story. Lockhart was a madman for sparing Riddle last June. Harry doubted anything in the world was going to change that no matter what became of Riddle. Whether she transformed into Voldemort once again or not, it had been a horrific decision from a pragmatic standpoint at the time.
One thing Harry did agree on with the professor was that Emily Riddle had changed. Harry had not seen the memories Lockhart had spoken of. There was always the possibility his then Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor was an unreliable narrator, but Harry somehow didn’t think so. Perhaps it was his natural Legilimency giving him passive signs or nudges, but Harry suspected everything Lockhart had said during his long tale was true.
Yet that raised the question — how exactly had Emily Riddle gone from fighting Grindelwald alongside Dumbledore to becoming even more feared than the dark lord she had duelled as a teen?
There were so many inconsistencies that failed to add up and Harry would be remiss if he presented only part of the story to his friends. Least of all when some of them still had dubious family allegiances. That was to say nothing of Pansy and Calypso. Harry had long-since doubted Lord Rosier’s claims of innocence and Pansy’s parents had openly escaped Azkaban via the Imperius Defence.
“I just don’t understand what you want me to do,” said Daphne. “Are you trying to warn me about Nigma? If so, why tell me about someone who was here fifty years ago. Are they related, or something?”
Harry thought hard and chewed his lip. Never had he sympathized so much with a house elf. If this was how Dobby had felt whilst trying to pass him information on Privet Drive, Harry took back every negative thought he had ever had about the especially eccentric creature.
“You’re on the right track if that’s the way you’re thinking,” Harry said after the pause. “They’re… related, but not the same way you are with Astoria or your parents.”
Daphne frowned. “Not family, then.” Harry could tell that had been Daphne’s guess. The air almost appeared to leave her for a moment before the gears in her mind began to slowly turn once more. Slowly, Harry saw a look of dawning comprehension come across her face before fading to be replaced by a scowl.
“I think you’ve broken me,” sighed Daphne. “I’m having the most ridiculous thoughts now when I try and piece it together.”
Harry met her gaze and tried to will her to understand via his stare alone. “If I discounted ridiculous answers, the end of last year would have gone very differently.”
Daphne’s eyes widened again, but there was hesitation lurking behind their sapphire light. “That can’t be,” she muttered, “that isn’t possible.”
“What do you think is impossible?” Harry asked. Hopefully, just her saying it out loud would cause the Greengrass heiress to fixate upon it.
“It… almost seems like you’re trying to tell me they’re the same person, but that’s… impossible.”
Harry kept his face impassive as he answered. “Look further into Riddle. Not just school records, but go through old Prophets and find any articles you can. The results might surprise you, but I have a feeling you’ll be… less uncertain.”
October 23, 1993
If there was one thing Emily was grateful for, it was that the Ministry of Magic had no reliable way of tracking apparition. Not when it was done near the home of witches and wizards, anyway. That had been a convenient boon to her over the summer holidays and it was something she had every intent to keep abusing until her seventeenth birthday on the final day of the year.
It was warmer here than it had been at Hogwarts. Even in the tunnel snaking under the castle and the path to the village, it was damp and crafty. Above, the air had been brisk and filled with the soft spray of rain whose droplets sent ice tendrils snaking down her back every time they touched her. The air here was still brisk, but far less frigid. It smelled fragrant as she drew closer to the manor, passing through the gates that had temporarily been left open.
The last time she had been here, Emily had served herself and her own curiosities. She remembered the way Draco Malfoy’s confidence had left his eyes, how fast his bravado had faded him in the face of fear and defeat. There was something satisfying about seeing people break the way Draco had. It was a phenomenon she had become enamored with back at the orphanage. She had seen it far less often than she would have liked since her rebirth in this age, but that had been a memory she would cherish, if admittedly not as much as the ones she had taken from the Malfoy heir.
Tonight was different. She was here per the request of another to field the request of a group she was vaguely aware of. For all intents and purposes, Emily was here to serve this evening.
That was, of course, not true and she trusted those here were clever enough to realize that. If they weren’t, that was hardly her problem.
This meeting had been scheduled for some time. Ever since she had met up with the man known as Mr. Bellona. He had told her that he and his group of associates had a request to make of her and Emily could do little more than wonder what that was. Perhaps she could have taken it from the man’s mind, but she saw no need. He meant her no harm and she doubted anyone here tonight would, either.
The others were already seated by the time Emily entered the room and took the chair nearest the table’s head. She recognized Lucius Malfoy at once, as well as Bellatrix and Barty. One of the men could only be Thomas Nott’s son. Emily had gone to school with him and this man bore a striking resemblance to the one who had once served in her inner circle back at Hogwarts. Evan Rosier was there, as well, but there was another. Emily watched him out of the corner of her eye and could tell he was doing the same. He was a fidgety man with watery blue eyes and a face that reminded her of a rat.
“Emily,” said Barty, snapping her from her observations, “we’re so glad you could join us tonight.”
“It’s my pleasure,” she said with a small smile before turning her eyes on the unknown man. “Pardon my curiosity, but I don’t believe we’ve met.”
His smile was sharper than a dagger, but Emily could feel the trepidation behind it. This man acted very well, but his Occlumency betrayed him when faced with one like her.
“We haven’t,” he said, “though it’s the strangest thing. It’s almost like I’ve met someone who looks just like you.”
“I would hope that I look younger,” Emily countered with a thin smile.
“You aged well,” the man said with that same smile.
“May I ask who you are since you seem to be so intimately familiar with my own identity?”
“Peter Pettigrew, at your service. I am the most loyal detective that the DMLE has to offer.”
This drew a more natural smile from Emily. She knew little of Peter Pettigrew but one thing she was certain of was that he had never been loyal to anyone in his life who wasn’t named Peter Pettigrew.
“It was actually Pettigrew who asked if you could be summoned here tonight,” Lucius Malfoy said from the head of the table.
That was interesting. This man seemed to lack the confidence said boldness would require. Unless he was foolish enough to believe she was merely a girl. If that was the case, Emily would need to find an available opportunity to silence those thoughts if she decided working with this group long-term would be to her advantage.
That was a big if. There was so little written about her future self that Emily was beginning to suspect she would never know what led her down the path to becoming Lady Voldemort. This dubious group of individuals was the best chance she had for now. If not herself, she could perhaps hope to learn what she had once stood for. Whether their alliance extended any further than that, only time would tell.
“Can I help you with anything, Mr. Pettigrew?” Emily asked, folding her hands in her lap and leaning forward slightly in her chair.
Pettigrew’s smile faded and a more serious expression spread across his face as he reached into the pocket of his robes and produced a simple vial with a thin, ebony strand of… something inside.
“I’m afraid this has less to do with helping me and more to do with helping Bellatrix,” Peter admitted with a sharp-edged grin.
Barty snorted. “As though you’re not just as worried as she is about what would happen if that particular truth got out.”
“Worried?” Pettigrew asked. “You mistake me, Barty. If that truth got out, I would be free of England by the time Rita Skeeer put a quill to parchment.” He turned back to Emily before any in the room could react. “Now, to answer your question, I have a feeling that you can.”
This was one of the hardest chapters I’ve written in a long time and I’m not quite sure why. I am quite fond of the last scene, though, and it does set up some major events coming very soon.
Please read and review.
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