The Ministry was in chaos.
First, two trainees failed to show up to boot camp. That would occasionally happen, but when they didn't show up for the second day, and their wands arrived by owl post to Auror Amar Tiwari, the uncle of one of the boys, it set off an extensive search. After the owl's flight was traced, the young men were found shoeless and shirtless in the hills outside of Hogsmeade. They had been slowly making their way back to the wizarding town, but walking back to back while tied up was no easy task. The only reason they hadn't frozen in the cold and snow was a warming charm cast on them.
The black rope that was binding them together was intangible so that it couldn't be pulled, torn, or bitten by the two boys. It also resisted many attempts to be dispelled until a Senior Auror showed up and performed some kind of advanced counterspell that worked on dark magic to dispose of it. All the while, they were both telling the story of how they almost caught The Grim of Azkaban and then got saved, caught, tested, and released by Sirius Black.
They were immediately rushed off to be debriefed and retold the story to their superiors over and over until they were eventually just dosed with veritaserum to confirm that it was true. No one could believe it still, so an Unspeakable was summoned to check them for memory charms, but they both came back clean. Who was Black hunting? Who could have betrayed him to such a degree? The answer that most people seemed to accept came from the man that caught him, Bartemius Crouch.
He had forced himself into the interrogation of the boys and listened to their tale before saying to all the people speculating on what the hell was going on, "The one thing you are forgetting is that Black is insane. It's in his blood, and darkness is in his soul. Most of you didn't know his parents, but they were crazy too, both of them, and first cousins besides. That spawn of incest that is Sirius Black is probably crazier than snidget in a kneazel farm even before he was in Azkaban. We know he's after Potter; anyone who saw his cell at Azkaban could tell you that. My best guess is that he thinks the boy's father betrayed him for not joining him with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and he's putting his vengeance on the man's son now."
That seemed to make sense to everyone, and Crouch took a half day to go home. On the way out, he heard people retelling his explanation with slight variations.
"Crazier than a Niffler hoarding Leprechaun gold…"
"Madder than a Hippogriff trying to debate with a Jarvey…"
"Jumpier than a crate of expired chocolate frogs."
He rolled his eyes as he made his way to the fireplaces and took the floo back to his manor house. It was always quiet there, so his footsteps echoed as he made his way through the hallways to his secret office. Behind a bookcase was a whiskey-tasting room, in total disuse since he had fallen off the track to be the next Minister of Magic. There was a giant globe in the center of the room, which he opened to reveal an old dusty set of bottles. He picked up an empty one and spoke in a voice that sounded like nails on a chalkboard.
One of the best passwords to use would always be one that no one bothered to speak the language. Since becoming the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, he would waste time going through language rituals for anything he could think of, from Dutch to Mermish, the latter of which is what he had put most of his passwords in now. The screeching from his voice released a visible vibration from the bottle. As they reached the other side of the room, a set of stairs sunk into the floor near his desk, going down into a secret room.
"Winky!" he called, and an elf popped into the room wearing a pink pillowcase.
"Bring the boy to my office," he instructed her. "Then serve dinner there as well." The little elf nodded and vanished with a pop while Crouch descended the stairs into the room below.
Candles flickered to life as he entered the small room. The room's far wall from the stairs had a desk in front of a wall with a mosaic of different sizes and types of safes. Some were steel with combination locks, others copper with symbolic runes on concentric rings that needed to be rotated. For some reason, there was even one that looked made of old wood bearing a blue footprint of a bear.
There was the sound of footsteps as the elf, Winky, came down the stairs into the office. The footsteps could not be coming from someone as small as she, and when the elf arrived at a small table to the side of the room, Bartemius approached. He reached into the air and pulled a silvery sheet out of thin air, which revealed a young man standing there.
He looked like he was in his late 20s though he was emotionless. His shoulders were slack, and his head tilted slightly to the side with a vacant look in his eyes like he had been staring at the sun for too long. Bartemius looked at him with sadness that slowly morphed into anger as he drew his wand, which had an ethereal glow at the tip.
"Sit down," he commanded. The young man immediately complied, pulling out a chair from the table.
Two plates of food appeared at the table. Bartemius pulled out the other chair and sat down. A glass of wine appeared before him, and water in front of the younger man.
"Eat your dinner," he commanded. His guest started eating from the plate in slow, methodical motions.
They ate in silence except for Bartemius telling the other man to drink some water or clean his mouth now and then, which he immediately did. When their plates were clean, the elf reappeared to take their dishes and vanished.
Bartemius picked up his glowing wand and said, "Now, you will tell me again everything about Sirius Black."
There was a touch of resistance on his face before his features relaxed, and he responded, "Bella's cousin. He was always the one to go to at school if you wanted revenge on someone. He called them 'pranks,' but more often than not, they had bits of dark magic in whatever he planned. He was Potter's best friend. I heard they were inseparable from their very first day. How that could have happened, I will never understand."
The resistance in his face returned and his mouth shut before his features relaxed, then tensed again.
Bartemius looked annoyed and twisted his wand, so it glowed brighter, "No one cares about that. Tell me about when he was a Death Eater. He was You-Know-Who's right hand."
The young man's features tightened in anger, "Bella was the Master's favorite. Others thought they were, but she was his right hand. She told me that they would spend eternity together, that she would bring me along and be the family I never had… Father."
"I have no son," said his father firmly. "If it weren't for your mother's dying wish, you would be spending eternity with the Lestrange bitch… in Azkaban."
"Better than here," his son said defiantly.
"Whether you think so or not, Sirius Black was the You-Know-Who's right hand. I need to know everything about him before he kills Harry Potter."
Even with the vacant look in his eyes, the boy's smile became predatory and opened on the corner to show just a bit of his teeth.
"Truly? That traitor, Karkarov, always said that the boy needed to die for our Master to return. Maybe Black was playing the long game. Bella always said I would be a good actor, but maybe Sirius was even better."
"No more stories! Where would Sirius go? Where would he be hiding?"
The boy's face went slack again as his father's wand grew brighter.
"Bella said that the Blacks stole a townhouse in muggle London and put all sorts of dark protections on it. She couldn't tell me where, but I would look for the city's gloomiest, nastiest, grimmest place. The dark magic from that house would infect everything around it."
"That will be investigated," Bartemius said gruffly and walked to the desk near all the safes to write down this information.
There was silence as Bartemius stared into the vacant eyes of his son. The light on the tip of his wand dimmed slightly during that time.
"Now, tell me, what does the Herald of the Dark Lord do? What is their function?"
The boy's eyebrows wrinkled in confusion, "I don't know."
"Liar!" the older man yelled. "His right hand is the Herald. Sirius Black is the Herald."
His son's shoulders gave a slight shrug before going slack again, "I have never heard of the Herald of the Dark Lord."
Bartemius growled a bit, then stood up and approached the wall of safes. From near the ceiling, slightly to the side, he pulled one down that was made of solid black stone. He carried it to the table and sat it down. Once there, he twisted the entire thing twice to the right and three times to the left, then placed his thumb and index finger on two corners which caused a diamond to reveal itself on the top of the box. He pushed the pinky of his free hand onto the gem until it drew blood.
Keeping his thumb and index finger on the corners, he reached his hand with the bloody pinky through the side of the box and pulled out a glowing white orb on a wooden base. A tiny bit of life returned to the boy's eyes as he gazed upon the glowing orb. At the bottom was written:
PL to BCS
September 27, 1981
Sirius Black? Dark Lord? Harry Potter?
The personification of Death? Others?
"This is a prophecy," he told the young man whose eyes were fixated on the ball. "It was given to me before the death of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It speaks of… I will let you hear it."
He tapped on the orb with his wand, and a ghostly image of a woman appeared. She had blue eyes and long blonde hair floating around her like she was underwater. Her voice echoed as she spoke.
Soon the Herald of the Dark Lord will be set on his journey.
Son of Darkness, Son of Insanity, Son of Incest.
The journey of The Son will begin on the night a great man dies.
The Son, his right hand, will embrace the darkness on a quest for vengeance.
Hunting the One-Who-Lived, death will be his shadow as The Son wades through a sacrifice of blood and souls.
Every life that is taken will grant him strength and power.
By casting away his final chance at love, he will become the most powerful of the Dark Lord's servants and a guide for death itself.
The image faded away into nothingness, leaving both men staring at the spot where the spectral woman had been over the glowing orb. The older of the two stared at the younger as he was processing what he had just seen. After nearly five minutes, a smile crept across his face, but as the light returned to his eyes, Bartemius's wand lit up, his son's posture softened, and the haze returned to his eyes.
"You know what it means?" he prompted the boy.
In an even tone, he replied, "It means you were right. Sirius Black is the right hand of the Dark Lord. Not was… IS." The smile came back to his face, "My Master is alive. He has not perished as we thought, and Black will Herald his return. He will kill the Boy-Who-Lived and usher in a new age of darkness. I can't wait for Bella to hear. Today is a day for celebration."
Bartemius looked terrified but filled with the resolve for what needed to be done. He had been right to lock up Sirius Black without a trial. Who knows what he could have pulled to be released, like Malfoy and many others, had he been given a chance? It was fortunate that he was completely insane and was not targeting any others and just focusing his wrath only on Harry Potter, but he needed to die before he could kill the boy and bring back You-Know-Who. He knew what must be done, even if he had to do it himself. The dementors weren't helping, the Aurors were useless, and even Fudge, who knew what was at stake, couldn't do anything alone. Only he had what it took to fix the problem once and for all.
"Winky!" he called for his elf as he threw the invisibility cloak over his son, sitting in his chair.
The elf popped in.
"Did the Master and his guest have a good dinner?" she asked, knowing that if she addressed Barty as his son, she would be punished.
Ignoring the question, he replied, "Take the boy upstairs. Make sure he has a bath, washes his hair, and brushes his teeth before he sleeps."
"Yes, Master," Winky replied, reaching up to take the invisible hand of the young man and lead him out of the room.
Bartemius knew what he needed to do. Harry Potter was at Hogwarts. Sirius Black would be coming to kill him. He also needed to be there to keep that from happening and to kill the man when he arrived.