Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
Chapter 23: Samhain Gets Sirius
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter universe. All recognizable characters, plots, and settings are the exclusive property of J.K Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to my editor Athena Hope as well as my other betas 3CP, Fezzik, Luq707, Raven, Regress, and Yoshi89 for their incredible work on this story.
Self-Promotion: I have a Discord server where you can chat and read all of my chapters early. The next FOUR chapters are currently available to anyone who joins. If you would like to join, simply copy the link on my profile. You can do likewise to follow the ACI100 Twitter account — @ACI_100 — for live updates and to check out my official website.
If you enjoy this story and would like to support me directly, I now have a P*T*E*N page! You are by no means obligated to support me, but for those generous enough to do so, you will be receiving Patron-exclusive benefits and getting chapters even earlier than Discord! The next EIGHT chapters are currently available to those who sign up. The link to do so can be found on my profile
Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos
Year 3: The Blackest of Truths
Chapter 23: Samhain Gets Sirius
October 30, 1993
The Black Lake
Charlus had given Harry no shortage of reasons to loathe him in the past number of years. Harry was actually proud of himself for not viewing him in a similar light to Dumbledore. The old man was a malicious twat, Charlus was just an idiot. One could be grown out of in circumstances allowed, the other was unlikely to change. Near the top of that long list of reasons why Harry’s irritation at his brother may shift towards anger was the fact that the Boy-Who-Lived kept making Harry meet him at ungodly hours of the morning. Harry’s schedule was full enough as it was; the mornings were some of the only times he could count on being free to do as he wished.
Light was poking out over the horizon by the time Harry neared the lake, but a layer of fog hung heavily in the air, curling up from the grass in tendrils made from mist. Harry had heard some older Slytherins say astronomers had predicted today as one of the last that would be blessed by warmth before the sharp cold enveloped them until spring. Perhaps that was true, but the nights had grown frigid already and the air still bit at Harry’s skin and made his teeth chatter despite his best efforts.
Charlus looked unperturbed when Harry reached the edge of the Black Lake. Harry wondered if it was because his brother had spent so much time flying against cold winds. He realized upon some thought how little he knew about Charlus’s upbringing, but the assumption felt right. It was the exact sort of thing his twin would want to do and for some reason, Harry had a difficult time imagining James Potter denying Charlus of an opportunity to fly. The skies could be positively bone-chilling when the winds were strong. Years of flying against that might have hardened Charlus, for Harry could not think of a time he had seen his brother cringe against the cold.
“If you make a habit of this each month that continues into the winter and don’t change the meeting time,” said Harry, “I might go back to punching you in the face.”
Charlus actually chuckled. It was a strange sound after how long the two of them had spent at each others’ throws in one way or another. It was probably how it always should have been if not for Dumbledore’s meddling and James’s incompetence. Harry fought a grimace. Being around Charlus always raised dark and cynical thoughts. He was a reminder of too many things Harry found distasteful. It was one of the many reasons Harry suspected they would never be more than friendly acquaintances, but that would be better than however they had spent the better part of the past year.
“Knowing Wood, he’ll make this our practice time when winter comes around. He’ll call it building character or some other nonsense.”
Harry offered a thin smile. “That one does seem a bit fanatical, yes.”
Charlus snorted. “Fanatacal’s a nice way of putting it.”
“What would you call him then?”
“Off his rocker,” Charlus answered without missing a beat.
“I wouldn’t tell him that in person,” Harry warned. “If he’s anything like Flint, he’d make you pay for it.”
“Luckily for us, he isn’t like Flint. Our house doesn’t make a habit of giving broomsticks to trolls.”
Harry kept smiling, but probably not for the reasons Charlus suspected. The thought of Marcus Flint as some bumbling troll had always amused Harry. The boy had been far from academically brilliant, but he had actually been quite talented in the areas he cared about, and the fact so much of the school thought him a lackwit showed exactly how far from that he had been. No one who had seen him duel could call him a lackwit, though some of his maneuvering did leave his critical thinking up for questioning.
“Maybe you lot should start considering it,” Harry returned. “Whatever you’re doing now, it wasn’t enough last November.”
Charlus scowled. “You were lucky I had a bludger trying to kill me.”
“If you’ll remember, little brother, you weren’t the only one.” Harry gestured towards his right arm and raised an eyebrow, daring to Charlus to offer further rebukes. He gave none.
“We’ll see who’s bantering in a couple of weeks.” Merlin, that was right. Their two houses were set to face off on the Quidditch pitch in less than two weeks’ time. There was so much else on Harry’s mind, Quidditch had faded to the background when he wasn’t actively riding his Nimbus 2001.
“I guess we will,” Harry agreed, locking eyes with his younger twin. Harry had grown in the past number of months. Charlus was still taller, but not by nearly as much as he had once been. “What was it you wanted? You mentioned something about a favour in your letter.”
“Yeah, but first, you remember that thing you asked me to look into?”
Harry raised an eyebrow again. “You can speak freely, you know. I’ll be able to tell you if anyone else gets close.”
Harry shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. Anyway, yes, I remember.”
“Yeah, well, I did some looking into that. I… uh, asked for a bit of advice from someone I trust.”
Harry’s heart sank at his brother’s words. He thought he knew what that last bit meant. “Pettigrew?”
Charlus nodded. It was difficult to tell in the low light of early morning, but Harry thought he might have been blushing. “With him being my godfather and the DMLE’s top detective, I thought it made sense.”
Bollocks! Harry’s hope had been that Charlus would suspect Pettigrew after some consideration. The exact opposite had happened. Now, Pettigrew would know that someone was onto him, and Harry suspected there was a high chance he would realize Charlus had not been the one to come to the conclusion. He sighed internally. Why was it the best laid plans were always disrupted by the simplist of problems?
Though all was not lost yet. The way Charlus spoke indicated that Pettigrew had given some kind of answer. Of course, whatever he had said would be a misdirection, but it might give Harry some insight into the way he thought. Or, at the very least, what he wanted Charlus to believe. It was actually odd. Harry would have suspected Pettigrew might have tried to turn the brothers against each other again, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Harry doubted this conversation would be happening if that had been his goal. Perhaps he feared going to that particular well again.
“What did he think?” Harry asked, keeping his voice and expression under control as to give nothing away.
“Well, he thought it might be Snape.”
Harry almost choked. “Snape?”
“Well, yeah. He was a Death Eater, once.”
Harry kept his expression impassive. “I thought Dumbledore trusted Snape. He vouched for him during the Purity War, didn’t he?”
Charlus nodded, though Harry could tell he did so reluctantly. “Well, yeah, but Dumbledore isn’t perfect.”
Harry mock gasped. “What is this blasphemy I hear? One of Dumbledore’s little followers admitting he has faults.”
Charlus looked away. “I’ve never said he didn’t have faults,” he said tensely. “I was livid after reading about the trial.”
That sobered Harry for one reason or another. The sentiment ought to have meant nothing, but it touched him and Harry found himself annoyed by that fact before the emotion was shoved aside. “Sorry,” he said, “bad joke.”
Charlus held up a hand. “I get it.” He winced. “I’d probably make all kinds of them if I was in your spot.”
“Regardless,” said Harry, “I wouldn’t have expected you to be suspicious of someone who he trusted so much.”
Charlus shuffled from foot to foot. “Uncle Pete says that whoever got to Ron and I, they must have access to us inside of Hogwarts.” Or be able to get in unnoticed, Harry thought, but he said nothing. Pettigrew’s diversion was something he was genuinely interested in. “Snape has that, plus he’s one of the only master legilimentes Uncle Pete knows. He says he could probably have invaded my mind the whole time and I wouldn’t have noticed a thing.”
Harry mentally cursed Pettigrew yet again. The man was annoyingly sharp and none of his points could be considered invalid. Selective, yes, but not foolish. All of that was true about Snape, he was just ignoring the fact that Snape had no motive. Now that Harry thought about it, quite the opposite was true.
“Why would Snape want to alter your memories and put Weasley under the Imperius Curse?”
Charlus continued his restless shuffling. “Merlin only knows. He was a Death Eater, like I said. We both know that Voldemort’s getting stronger. Maybe they’re in contact, or something. Maybe he’s just taking it out on me. The greasy git’s always hated me.”
Harry frowned. The second point was childish and had no logic behind it for Harry to deconstruct. Dissuading Charlus of that belief was actually going to be more difficult than the one that could easily be picked apart.
“If Snape was working with Voldemort, why was he helping Dumbledore back in first year? Do you not remember their talk in the forest.”
Charlus’s eyes widened for a moment; it was clearly a point that had gone unconsidered. “I… hadn’t thought about that.” He ran a hand through his hair in a manner disturbingly similar to the way Harry occasionally did the same. “He could have been lying,” Charlus answered at last.
Harry was skeptical. “You think he could have lied to Dumbledore’s face?”
“Well, he knows the Mind Arts.”
“There’s more to lying than the Mind Arts, Charlus. I think Dumbledore’s a git and I don’t care to argue over it, but he is a genius. Lying to him for years about which side you’re on…” Harry shook his head. “I’m just not sure I buy it.”
“But you admit it’s possible?”
Harry grimaced. “Possible? Yes, of course it’s possible.”
“Well, there you—”
“Grindelwald breaking out of Nurmengard tomorrow and starting another wizarding war is also possible, as is your Pettigrew being the traitor.”
“What!?” Charlus exploded. “Uncle Pete would never—”
“Of course not,” said Harry. Frustration weighed heavily upon him. It was no surprise how resistant Charlus was to the idea that Pettigrew could be a traitor, but it was still a blow. Somehow, Harry would need to ensure Charlus found undeniable evidence and he wasn’t sure that was something he could arrange to happen. “I said possible, not likely.”
Harry half expected Charlus to continue his tirade, but he didn’t. The Boy-Who-Lived actually looked thoughtful. “You’re comparing them, aren’t you?” he asked. “You’re not gonna say something’s impossible just in case you’re wrong, but you don’t think there’s a very good chance Snape is the traitor.”
“Pretty much, yeah,” said Harry. “I think Snape’s a slimeball, don’t get me wrong. He’s a slime ball who doesn’t cost me points or detention so I don’t especially care, but he’s still a slimeball. But no, I don’t think he’s a traitor. Given everything that’s happened, it would genuinely surprise me if I was wrong.”
That was actually saying a great deal. Harry thought that after last year and all that had happened, very little would truly surprise him now. The only thing so far this school year that had truly done it was the agreement with Lockhart. That had been unexpected, as had the horrible secret it had revealed.
The sun had risen some, and now Harry was sure Charlus was scowling. “Fine,” he said. “I still think it could be Snape, but I’ll keep looking.”
“Somehow,” said Harry, “I have a feeling this is where that favour is going to come in.”
“I want you to teach me Occlumency.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “You want me to do what?”
“I know that you know Occlumency. You’re too damn controlled not to.”
Harry kept his face impassive, but there was no reason to lie. “I never said I didn’t.”
Charlus nodded. “Hermione mentioned something from the end of first year that makes me think you know Legilimency, too.”
Harry shrugged. “I’m naturally talented at it. That isn’t the same thing as knowing it.” This was, of course, a lie, but it hadn’t been the night he had legilimized Hermione Granger.
Charlus waved a hand. “All I’ll need is light probes, I think. That doesn’t take much skill from what I’ve heard. You could do it. I’ll give you something in return. I don’t know what, but—”
“Sorry, Charlus, but no.”
His brother’s face fell. “Why not?”
So many reasons.
Charlus had just begun trusting Harry again. No matter what Harry felt about him, that trust could be valuable and the past had proven it could be easily lost. Knowledge of exactly how easily Harry could deceive Charlus might be enough to destroy it for a third time, and that was something Harry was unwilling to risk.
Though in truth, it had little to do with Charlus. He simply allowed people like Pettigrew and Dumbledore far too much sway over him and Charlus told their likes more than Harry was comfortable with. The last thing he wanted was for either or both of them to realize exactly how proficient with the Mind Arts he had become.
“I’m not qualified to teach anyone about the Mind Arts,” said Harry. “I’m not far enough along myself and I’d rather not teach you wrong. Besides, you can probably find someone better.”
Charlus was scowling. “I’m not sure I can. My teacher last year was Lockhart, but he doesn’t have time anymore .”
“I’m sure you’ll find someone,” Harry said with a forced smile. “Let me know who that is when you do find them, yeah?”
Charlus nodded, eyes cast downwards, muscles wrought with tension.
It was the best outcome Harry could hope for. Charlus could be as upset with the situation as he wanted so long as that anger had no effect on Harry. Not to mention the fact that Harry would be very interested to see who Charlus found to instruct him. He had a feeling Charlus would find someone, but Merlin only knew who. Things like this would usually mean little, but if the past two years had taught Harry anything, it was that intel on as many people as possible could turn out to be of use in the most unexpected of times.
October 31, 1993
The Third Floor
The statue of a humped-back witch opened on the third floor, admitting a tall man wrapped in a black travelling cloak, hood pulled up. His figure was lithe and walked with confident steps, throwing glances to either side as he moved. There was, of course, little need for such gestures. Part of him had expected to be trailed or spotted, but there appeared to be nothing. A pinprick of suspicion prodded at the corner of his mind, but he shoved it aside. He had been told to expect Lupin, but he was nowhere to be seen. The hooded man closed his eyes and extended his senses outwards, reaching with probing fingers of magic that came up empty.
That settled it. If Remus Lupin was lurking somewhere nearby, that would have found him. No one alive could stand against Legilimency like that. Accomplished practitioners of Occlumency could be detected from half a house away — as had been discovered months ago.
The man nodded after one final glance to either side and began moving further into the castle. Sounds reached his ears not long later and instead of turning away from them, he walked towards the source of the noise. Tonight’s mission was not about precision or stealth. It was about fulfilling his own goals whilst reasonably satisfying most of the others’ objectives.
The sounds were coming from a group of six students. None of them appeared older than thirteen, but the man did not spend much time looking. They had all fallen in a flash of silver light until one of them stirred after a wave of the man’s wand.
The girl climbed shakily to her feet, strands of blonde hair strewn haphazardly across her forehead. None of that mattered. All that was important was the glazed set of eyes that indicated the spell had taken hold.
“You will find a professor as soon as possible and tell them that you spotted and fled from Sirius Black, who appeared to be heading up the marble staircase.”
The girl turned on her heel and left. Only now did the man raise his wand and cast a Disillusionment Charm powerful enough to obscure him completely and without fail. That trick had taken annoyingly long to master, but throughout the early stages of his expedition he could not quite shake the feeling that he was being watched, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Minutes later, inside a room in the dungeons…
Harry had been very determined that this year, nothing horrible would happen to him on Samhain. It had been a point of his to ensure that was the case and originally, he had gone as far as to plan no expeditions whatsoever that day from the common room. Harry had gone as far as to consider skipping meals altogether or else to stockpile food from the kitchens in advance.
That had all been before Charlotte had reminded him that Sundays was the day they practiced.
Harry had contemplated arguing, but it would do no good. That girl was like a storm. When she wanted her way, there was no stopping her. It was best to just go along and wait for everything to blow over before going about your life as usual. Plus, it wasn’t exactly like Harry would have a compelling argument. What would he have said? He was superstitious? That he was afraid of a simple day of the year? None of that would have stood and even if that was untrue, Harry would have felt like a fool for speaking it.
So they had met in the same room as always and practiced. It was Charlotte’s turn to learn, so today was duelling. Charlotte really was improving despite losing constantly to Harry. As they decided a break was in order, Harry pondered asking Calypso whether or not she would allow Charlotte into their practices. It would clear up Harry’s schedule every second Sunday since there would be no need for their own private duelling lessons, plus in that group, Charlotte would have a wider range of opponents and an easier time making progress.
Harry knew from experience how discouraging it could be losing over and over again to someone who was just much better than you. If he had his way, the gap between the two of them would continue to grow wider, not close. Charlotte would, of course, have her own things to say on that matter, but Harry was confident in his ability to keep ahead. It would be quite some time before Charlotte competed with, let alone beat, either of the Carrow twins, but Cassius? He would probably thrash her now, but how long would that last? How quickly would someone as competitive as Charlotte improve if she had a more achievable goal before her?
“You look thoughtful,” said Charlotte.
Harry nodded. “Just thinking about ways to speed things up a bit. Preferably ones that clear up my schedule.”
“You do seem busy this year.”
“You don’t know the half of it. This each Sunday, meeting with Calypso, Cassius, and the Carrows each Saturday, Quidditch, classes, extracurricular studies…”
Harry let the thought trail off. Even that list wasn’t accounting for his plans involving Riddle or the power struggle in the house. Harry hadn’t managed to explore much of the castle this year, either. He had tried telling himself that the need had passed since he now possessed the Marauder’s Map, but an insistent part of him had argued. The map was ignorant about the Chamber of Secrets and the Speaker’s Den. There were likely other things hidden from it that Harry planned to find. Soon, he would also begin travelling to Rosier Manor and practicing with Lord Rosier again. That had been an unexpected perk of his agreement with Lockhart and it was one he planned to use as much as possible. There was just so much to do…
“You’re worse than Grace was, and that’s saying a lot.”
“And I’m only a third year,” Harry muttered. “Merlin only knows how bad this might all get by the time I’m a seventh year. I can only imagine if I get named a prefect and—”
Harry jumped about a foot in the air and whirled to face the source of that thunderous voice before realizing it had not come from a person, but from all around him.
“That’s not good,” Charlotte muttered, “the last time someone did a Sonorus announcement like that, you had just been taken down to the Chamber of Secrets.”
“ALL STUDENTS ARE TO REPORT TO THE GREAT HALL IMMEDIATELY. THERE HAS BEEN A BREACH IN THE CASTLE’S DEFENCES. PLEASE MAKE HASTE!”
“Black,” Harry cursed, resummoning his wand with a flick of his wrist. Charlotte had paled, though her expression was determined. Harry stared her down. “You will stay behind me.”
“That’s stupid!” Charlotte argued. “You’re one of the two people he might actually want. If we come across him—”
“He would probably kill you just as quickly as he’d kill me. He had no qualms about blasting a street full of muggles to bits just for existing. Do you think he’d spare you any more care?” Charlotte had no answer and Harry could see it in her eyes. “Stay behind me,” he repeated, “but keep your senses open. I’ll be paying attention to my ring, but it’s been fooled before by Dumbledore. If anyone can replicate that, it will be Black.”
“And if we do run into him?” Charlotte asked.
Harry’s expression hardened. “We’ll cross that bridge if we get there.”
Minutes later, on the Quidditch pitch…
Charlus was the first to realize that something was wrong. He was circling high in the sky in his pursuit of the golden snitch, the others rocketing around somewhere beneath him like crimson blurs. Charlus was the first to see the figure leave the castle and briskly make their way towards the pitch. He could do no more than frown. It was clear they were making their way to the pitch, but that was odd. No one interrupted Quidditch practices without a very good reason. It was currently impossible to guess what that reason could be because for now, the figure was too far away for Charlus to make out anything distinct.
Pain lanced up Charlus’s arm as a bludger slammed into his shoulder with enough force to send him lurching forward. He recovered the grip on his broom and swerved to avoid a second, glaring down at the Weasley twins, who smiled enigmatically up at him until the figure entered the stadium and raised its wand.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Everyone paused and glanced down. It appeared that Charlus was the only one who had seen the figure coming and it had taken three blasts from their wand to get the Gryffindors’ attention. They all reluctantly swooped down to see that the person who had interrupted them was actually their Head of House.
“Professor,” said Oliver Wood, cleverly perturbed, “what’s going on? You don’t make a habit of interrupting practices.”
“Nor do I plan to, Oliver, but something more important than Quidditch has happened up at the castle. Come; you will have time to change into more comfortable clothing once the threat is contained.”
Part of Charlus expected Wood to object, but he didn’t. He frowned and followed, glancing around at all of his teammates. McGonagall was a known Quidditch fanatic in her own right. If she was interrupting a practice just weeks before they were set to play their most heated rivals, something was afoot.
“Threat, professor?” asked Katie Bell, exchanging looks with Alicia Spinet and Angelina Johnson.
McGonagall nodded curtly, eyes still forward. “Yes, Miss Bell. I would personally think that Sirius Black breaching the castle qualifies as a threat.”
Numbness. That was the first thing that slammed into Charlus, like a veil of fog blanketing his brain so completely that it could no longer decipher what emotion it was supposed to feel. Charlus processed exactly what their professor had just said.
“Yes, Miss Bell. I would personally think that Sirius Black breaching the castle qualifies as a threat.”
The fog gave way, overrun and dispersed by a reddish mist that clouded Charlus’s vision and the sound of rushing blood filled his ears.
Sirius Black was here, in the castle, on the anniversary of the night his mother had died.
Charlus’s body moved without thought. His broom was hefted in an instant and in another, he was mounted and kicking up off the ground. People were screaming behind him, but Charlus couldn’t hear them. All he could hear was his own heart beating furiously as he soared towards the castle. He would never make it fast enough on foot. Tonight, there was no time to waste.
Soon after, in the dungeons…
Remus had tailed the hooded figure ever since it had emerged on the third floor. Being a werewolf near the end of his monthly cycle did come with a few perks. The Disillusionment Charm they had used was the best Remus had ever seen; not once had it slipped during their trip down to the dungeon. What the figure had not been counting on was Remus’s tracking instincts and heightened sense of smell. He didn’t need to see them so long as he could smell them. Something about the scent was off. Sirius had alway smelled harsher and less refined. The scent smelled too sweet, but Remus shoved that aside. Sirius would doubtlessly have planned for anything. It wasn’t even impossible that he had some kind of intel informing him that Remus would be lurking somewhere in the castle. In either case, masking his scent would not have been difficult and Remus could think of no other would who act as carelessly as Sirius had today.
Not intervening when he had used the Imperius Curse had been among the most difficult things Remus had ever done. Watching children be cursed was difficult enough, but hearing that voice again after so many years almost caused something inside of Remus to snap. It had taken a number of calming breaths to gain control of himself once more. He wanted to make Sirius hurt, yet he had to watch first. The second his path had veered away from the marble staircase leading up towards the Gryffindor common room, Remus knew something was more complicated than either he or James had planned. Sirius placing the Imperius Curse on young Hannah Abbott had only confirmed as much.
Now they were in the dungeons. Remus had raised his wand and prepared to strike near the stone steps leading down from the Entrance Hall, but it had proved unnecessary. A large group of Slytherins led by their prefects were marched up the stairs, but Sirius — still under the guise of his Disillusionment Charm — made no move to strike any of them down. Remus had been even more confused for a moment. This behaviour was far removed from that of the man who had blasted an entire street apart all to kill Marline Mackinnon. Yet as Remus passed the group of Slytherins — also disillusioned and with his scent and sounds masked — he noticed what Sirius had likely spotted some time before.
Harry was absent from the group.
That made Remus’s heartbeat quicken. Was it Harry Sirius was after? It must be if he was moving down towards the dungeons. Charlus was out playing Quidditch, but Sirius should not have known that. The Gryffindor practice times were deliberately inconsistent this year and only passed along to the professors on the day of each. If Sirius somehow knew that Charlus was out practicing, that might explain his priorities, but Remus failed to see how it was possible.
That voice inside his head was right. Far too much of the past twelve years had been spent pondering about motives and all that had happened was Remus tumbling into a deep pit of depression and despair. That man had to be gone tonight. Whether it was Harry or Charlus that Sirius was after, Remus would not fail like he had last time. Not again, not ever.
Sirius stopped in the centre of a corridor, watching down the hall as he twirled his wand through his fingers. It took Remus a moment to wonder why he had stopped, then it hit him. A scent coming from a ways down the corridor — two scents. There were students approaching. Via process of elimination, there were pretty good odds that one of them was Harry.
Remus’s heart beat faster. They were still quite a ways down the corridor and this one stretched on for ages. Sirius must have used Homenum Revelio but if that was true, why had he not yet turned towards Remus?
It mattered not; this was a threat that had to be contained before Harry and whoever was with him arrived.
“Good evening, Sirius.”
Remus let his enchantments fall and watched as Sirius whirled to face him. He must not have used Homenum Revelio because, for a moment, he looked shocked. “Lupin.”
“Did Azkaban rob you of your courtesies, or did they never exist to begin with? How much of what I knew was a lie, Sirius?” The man said nothing, so Remus scowled and levelled his wand towards the intruder. “At least lower your hood and let me look into your eyes before we finish this. One last favour for old time’s sake.”
Remus expected some kind of jibe in return but instead, Sirius reached up and lowered his hood as requested. The face underneath was not what Remus had expected. His mind had constructed a skeletal visage for Sirius with pale waxy skin and crazed wild eyes. That was what he would expect from anyone who had spent years with the dementors, but it was not the visage that greeted him. There was complete lucidity behind those eyes and he looked as healthy as he had the last time Remus had seen him. Merlin, Sirius appeared to have hardly aged a day.
Remus was so distracted by the man’s face that he almost failed to notice his wand move. Remus side-stepped a spray of curses and lifted his own wand, sending a tendril of fire swirling towards Sirius’s leg. Remus’s eyes widened when his opponent made no move to defend against the fire. He just let it eat at the hem of his robes as he continued his assault and backed Remus down the corridor.
His eyes narrowed. What Remus kept forgetting was that this man was not the boy he remembered from school. This was a man who had been trained by Voldemort and hardened by Azkaban, whether his visage showed it or not. Sirius had always been vain and was probably using glamours of some sort to disguise what he actually looked like, but he couldn’t hide the damage to his mind. Remus was dealing with a lunatic who had been trained in the darkest of arts. There was no more dangerous foe.
His eyes narrowed and his expression hardened. One way or another, there would be clarity soon.
Further down the corridor…
Harry’s ring alerted him to the presences before the fighting began, and Charlotte grabbed his arm a second or so later. It was only seconds after that the sound of conflict sparked up ahead. That could be a problem. They had passed the easiest passage past this corridor some time ago and without doubling back, the only way to the Great Hall was forward.
“Wait here!” Harry whispered to Charlotte, drawing in a breath and vanishing. Only when his ring concealed him completely did he edge forward to see what was waiting up ahead.
It was as he had feared. Sirius Black looked almost identical to how he had been depicted in a photograph more than a decade earlier. The biggest difference was that his hair had grown wild as he moved and fought, flowing around his head like a vengeful tempest made from clouds of ebony. Harry recognized the one duelling him, too. His father had apparently done one thing right — Remus Lupin could fight and appeared more than willing. He had not aged as well as Sirius. The man standing before him looked a far cry from the pictures Harry had seen in old papers whilst researching the man.
Black batted aside a stray spell and shot something silver into the air. Harry’s eyes widened. It was the same spell Riddle had used in the common room. Unlike Harry, Lupin appeared ready for it. He threw himself to the floor and raised his wand, conjuring a glowing dome of magic around him as the silvery spell exploded in the air. Harry’s ears rang but he was too far away to be affected directly.
What did affect him was the surge of light that flew towards him. His eyes widened. Black had not moved his wand. There had been no casting of any detection spells, so how had he known Harry lurked there? Perhaps he was a master Legilimens like Charlotte?
It mattered very little, so Harry just stepped aside and released the breath he was holding. Invisibility would be a boon, but Harry could not hold his breath forever and he was now trapped in a fight he didn’t want.
Harry dodged three more curses and flattened himself against the floor, avoiding a fourth. He slashed his wand towards Black and sent forth a school of ravens, breaks bearded towards Black’s throat. The man waved his wand and reduced the bursts to a dark grey mist, but it gave Harry time to leap to his feet and go on the offensive. The Bone-Breaker flew first from his wand, followed by the Lacero curse and a string of others. Harry’s gritted his teeth. Black’s defence was perfect, his movements almost lazy. This was like that night in the corridor all over again; the night Riddle had bested Harry without effort and dragged him down to the Chamber of Secrets.
If Black wanted to play this game, that was fine by Harry, but the gloves came off. Magic he had only read about entered his mind as he raised his wand. Bat this one away, you bastard!
Black spun away from Harry before he could strike, defending himself from an onslaught of magic Lupin had fired towards him. Harry considered striking at Black’s back but decided against it. Being overly aggressive had cost him too often in the past. This was not a fight he wanted. Instead he turned, drawing in a breath and becoming invisible once again as he ran towards Charlotte, who waited for him with wide eyes.
“The passage, we’ll—” Charlotte grabbed Harry by the collar and forced both of them to the floor as three dark-coloured curses streamed overhead. Harry cursed. Black had forced Lupin back, having conjured a pack of wolves made entirely from stone that had risen from the floor and formed an army at his command. He was using the distraction to stroll towards Harry and Charlotte, wand out. The message was clear — Harry was not going to just walk away, regardless of what he or Lupin planned.
Harry’s first instinct was to run, but he fought it down. It would do no good. Black was probably at least as fast as he was and faster than Charlotte. One or both of them would be caught in the fray and it would end poorly for whichever it was. Here, at least, Harry could ensure one of their safety and fight Black with numbers on his side. If the confrontation would happen regardless, Harry was determined to have it with the odds in his favour.
“Go!” Harry hissed, pointing behind them.
“What?” asked Charlotte.
“You know the passage! Double back and use it. It should take you out ahead of the fighting. Get to the Great Hall and tell Lockhart that Black is in the dungeons.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Charlotte asked as Harry deflected a spell and returned fire. “You can’t fight him!”
“I doubt he’s going to give me the choice. Just go, Charlotte!”
She hesitated, but Harry gave her no option. He considered for a moment before sliding the ring from his finger as Lupin re-engaged Black. “Take it!”
“It’s controlled by your breath. The sensory enchantments won’t be of any use to you with your Legilimency doing it anyway, but you’ll be invisible as long as you can hold your breath.”
“Take it and go!”
He was being pigheadedly Gryffindor and he knew it, but something in his voice convinced her. She took the ring and leaned towards him, kissing him on the cheek after a moment of hesitation. If not for Occlumency and all that was transpiring, Harry might have frozen. It was not a romantic gesture — more one to pass along unspoken words of support and well wishes — but still it took him aback. Sometimes, he forgot just how bold Charlotte could be.
Another curse sailed close and Harry whirled to deflect it, advancing towards Black with emerald eyes burning. Lupin was on his feet behind the man, limping but with his wand at the ready. He and Harry locked eyes and Lupin nodded. Lupin had duelled several times and lost each one. Harry had no hope of beating Black either, but together, with a mad rush, they stood a chance.
At that same moment, in the Entrance Hall…
Charlus’s hair whipped back in the wind as the great oak doors loomed near. He held onto his broomstick with one hand as he reached for his wand with the other, pointing them towards the door and shouting the incantation for them to open. His words were lost in the wind but the magic must have understood, for the doors parted and Charlus soared through them a moment later.
Flying through the castle’s doors and through the Entrance Hall was reckless, but just. Charlus had to get to Black! This ended tonight!
A problem arose that Charlus hadn’t considered. Hogwarts was massive and he had no idea where Sirius Black had gone. His impulses told him to look on the seventh floor where the Gryffindor common room was located, but something held him back. It was fortune it did, for a thunderous sound came from the dungeons, whatever caused it shaking the stones beneath Charlus’s feet.
He repositioned the grip on his broomstick and meant to kick off, but for some reason, his hands were shaking. Charlus frowned and wondered why, but it hit him a moment later; his body had just sensed it before his mind.
Indescribable cold gripped his entire body so violently that Charlus’s mind went blank. Why was he here? Surely nothing could be worth bearing this unimaginable cold?
Then, he remembered. Black — he had to get to Sirius Black, but Merlin, he couldn’t keep hold of his broom handle and his fingers had gone numb.
The doors behind him opened again, but this time, they did so more quietly. Charlus spun his broom slowly in the air, dread rising within him as a suspicion was proven correct.
Four hooded figures taller than any man stood in the doorway. Their cloaks were blacker than night and the light flickering from nearby torches seemed drawn into the fabric where it died, never to emerge again. That was how Charlus felt, but with the cold. It had pulled him in and now, he found shaking it impossible.
No! he thought. Black! I have to get to Black!
Those weren’t the only words playing inside Charlus’s head. A woman’s screaming filled his ears, horrible sounds that were slowly becoming more and more clear. What had been indecipherable screaming a moment earlier was suddenly clear words, the sound of Lily begging Voldemort for Charlus’s life.
Yes, but who’s fault was that?
That thought must have been Charlus’s last that was rational, for he found himself unable to answer his own question. What was it she was screaming about? Did it matter? Surely nothing mattered when everything was so hopeless and cold. The broomstick Charlus had been gripping a moment before meant nothing, nor did the sensation of falling or the sound of a door slamming open from nearby.
Back in the dungeons…
Harry panted as he and Lupin circled Black. He was good; the best duellist Harry had ever seen. He fought like a surging rainstorm — never had Harry seen anyone cast so fast and so relentlessly. He and Lupin had done well early on and scored a number of marks. One of Black’s legs was dragging and there were several tears in his cloak that dripped blood, but still, the man fought on.
One would think those injuries would slow Black down, but it was Harry and Lupin who were flagging. It was becoming more difficult to cast curses and Harry’s muscles were beginning to ache. This had been a long duel filled with constant movements. Normally, this was fine. One’s opponent was usually just as stored, so the movements slowed to a manageable pace on both sides.
The problem was that Sirius Black seemed inhuman. His movements had not slowed and he was using magic just as powerful and elaborate as when the duel began. It was like none of this had taxed him at all, injuries aside. It was becoming difficult even for Harry to exploit Black’s limp because by now, he wasn’t moving much better despite having sustained no injuries. Lupin was in worse shape. His wand arm was mangled and held limply at his side, his weapon carried in his offhand as he limped just as heavily as Black, a patch of skin torn so completely from his face that Harry could see the hint of pale bone protruding out from just below his right eye.
A still silence fell over the corridor as Black defended another volley and sent Lupin sprawling before whirling towards Harry. This duel would have ended long ago had Black just killed them, but that seemed not to be his goal. He just kept knocking Lupin aside before focusing on Harry but any time he did, the spells he used appeared non-lethal. There were a number Harry hadn’t recognized and had simply dodged, but he had a feeling none of them would have killed him and he found that odd.
He defended Black’s volley well until the stone beneath his feet softened and he sank several inches. Then, something hit his shoulder with enough force for something beneath his skin to shift and break. Harry cried out and fell to his knees. It was his off arm that was affected but the pain was still immense.
Lupin must have made it to his feet because Harry could hear sounds. Impacts of some kind, over and over again. He frowned. Was one of them using poorly aimed Blasting Curses? Or had Black had finally had enough and was bludgeoning Lupin to death?
No, neither was right; the sounds were growing clearer as Harry’s body began to tremble.
With a titanic effort, Harry forced himself to his feet, ignoring the way his legs trembled beneath him. Those sounds and that cold could only mean one thing and sure enough, Harry could see the storm of black figures gliding down the stone steps, hoods pulled up and grey, scabbed hands reaching forward.
Harry clamped down hard on his Occlumency but instinctively knew it wouldn’t be enough. Harry reconsidered his earlier assessments about running, but before he could, an odd movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention. Black had taken an odd step and went sprawling. Lupin raised his wand for the kill, but Black managed to scramble up, eyes wide. His stare was not focused on Lupin or Harry; no, his wild eyes were watching the dementors behind his former friend.
“Lupin!” Harry called, voice wavering. “Behind you!” Lupin spun to face the figures and Black took his opportunity. He spun to face Harry and slashed his wand so fast it blurred. Harry was sent soaring backwards through the air and had only enough time to see Black bolting away from the dementors before all breath left his lungs and blackness invaded his sight, all feeling leaving him as he wondered what had happened.
This chapter was originally going to have another two or three scenes, but I realized how long that would end up being and refrained. Those will actually end up spaced out through a few chapters now, but the aftermath of this chaos will, of course, be the focal point of the next chapter.
Please read and review.
PS: The next password will be released next week. THE NEXT FOUR CHAPTERS ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FOR PATRONS AND THEY WILL BE RECEIVING CHAPTER 81 IN THE NEXT 48 HOURS. If you would like to read those chapters early, feel free to sign up to my Patreon page.
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.