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another bend in the road

Chapter Text

 “A Portkey,” Cedric said, bewildered. “The Cup is a Portkey.”

 “Apparently.”

 Cedric laughed, but it had a very hollow sound. “This task just keeps going?”

 Harry looked away from the glow of the Triwizard Cup, which had landed some feet away from them. Their new surroundings were an open space, unlike the encroaching maze, but somehow just as dark and gloomy. Maybe darker and gloomier. They were in a graveyard that had the slight overgrowth of a near-forgotten place. Though there was a small church sitting behind a large yew tree nearby, Harry was arrested rather by a hill in the distance, where the shadow of a tall manor home stood alone against the night sky.

 “I don’t think this is part of the task,” Harry said uncertainly.

 All was strangely silent and still, as though they were waiting for something. Harry had never been here before, but something about it felt familiar even so. It felt as though he knew this graveyard somehow. Even worse: it felt as though this graveyard knew him.

 “But only the Headmaster can make a Portkey or Apparate on Hogwarts grounds,” Cedric said, but he too frowned at their eerie surroundings. “The mountains are all gone. It’s too flat here.”

 “We’re not at Hogwarts anymore,” Harry said, and it sounded true. “We might not even be in Scotland anymore.”

 “But why-?”

 Sharp pain burned through Harry’s forehead and he interrupted Cedric with a cry of pain. His injured leg gave out underneath him and he hit the cool grass heavily, but he barely felt it. His head felt like it was splitting apart at the scar.

 “Harry? Harry, what’s wrong?” Cedric cried, dropping down beside him. “Is it your leg? Is it a spell?”

 Harry tried to find words, but the pain seemed to burn them away.

 “We’ll get you b-” Cedric paused, then called out, “Who’s there?”

 Someone was here? Harry lifted his head and squinted in the direction of Cedric’s question. Doing so sent a new knife of pain through his skull, but he saw a stout, hooded figure picking their way through the headstones towards them. The figure had a bundle of blankets in one arm and the other gripping what looked like an uncommonly pale wand.

 “Who are you?” Cedric demanded, his wand shaking where he’d raised it. His other hand was a warm weight on Harry’s shoulder. “Can you help us? My friend needs help!”

 But the hooded figure said nothing as they came closer, raising their wand in turn at them.

 “Stop there! I said stop.”

 But the figure still didn’t stop, neither did the pain, and from the blankets in the figure’s arms rose a high, thin voice that haunted Harry’s worst dreams. He retched with pain and fear. Hearing that voice with his own ears made his chest feel hollow and cold.

 “Kill the spare,” it said.

 Harry felt Cedric’s hand clutch the back of his shirt.

 But here the figure stopped, about fifteen feet away from them, and did not cast the spell. The pale wand even seemed to waver – back and forth, back and forth.

 Harry tried to push himself up, to grab Cedric and run, but his leg gave out again, and he fell into Cedric, who had belatedly fumbled to help him. They tripped over each other. Cedric’s wand broke the standoff first as Harry fell into him.

 But still the figure didn’t move and didn’t cast. Back and forth went the pale wand, over the tangle of Harry and Cedric. The pause was so long that the voice rose up from the blankets again, furious.

 “Wormtail… kill the spare…”

 “My lord, they’re too close,” Peter Pettigrew said, trembling. “I might hit the wrong boy.”

 Harry grabbed the front of Cedric’s shirt. “We have to leave,” he gasped.

 He didn’t know what was going to happen, but he knew that it couldn’t happen. Voldemort had been waiting a long time for this, so Harry had to stop it. They had to get away. Harry pulled at Cedric’s shirt, directionless and desperate, prepared to crawl.

 “Cedric… Cedric…”

 Cedric stared back at Harry, wide-eyed and equally urgent.

 “Then separate them, Wormtail.”

 Cedric glanced away, towards the Cup, and Harry could see the shine of it in his eye. But it was too far away, Harry understood with dread, even if it was an escape. It was out of reach and no spell could be cast in time, because the pale wand in Peter Pettigrew’s hand no longer wavered. There was nothing between them and whatever was coming.

 Then Cedric’s hands dug into Harry’s shirt like a lifeline, one hand on his back and the wanded other over his heart. Harry looked back at him with desperate inevitability.

 “Hold on to me,” Cedric said.

 And then Cedric pulled them together and the space around them stretched, then squished, then swirled. Time itself seemed to bend for a second. It was like a Portkey except not. Cedric was yanked away and pulled Harry with him into the swirl. The last thing that Harry heart was the beginning of a shrill, outraged scream.

 

~

 

 When the world untwisted, they fell to the ground and Harry fell apart. It was like the burning from his scar had spread out to the rest of his body. He had a pins and needles feeling all over. His stomach rolled and his throat seemed to be trying to turn inside out. All Harry could do was hold on to Cedric, who felt like the only thing holding him together.

 “Oh, hell! Harry, are you alright? I’m so sorry,” Cedric was saying, holding him tightly in turn. “Breathe, just… focus on breathing. Oh, hell, what are you supposed to do again? Are you missing anything? Oh, please don’t be missing anything.”

 Harry peered at Cedric through teary eyes. “What?”

 “You’re not Splinched, right?”

 “What…?”

 “Splinched,” Cedric repeated, as though this meant something.

 “I don’t know what that is,” Harry said, then leaned away from Cedric and threw up.

 When Harry stopped retching, which took several minutes, the burning pain throughout his body seemed to have faded to little more than a lingering memory. His scar still burned slightly, though, and his face was still hot with embarrassment. He felt filthy, but also so much better for throwing up, as though his body had convinced itself that was what had been causing the pain. Harry released Cedric’s shirt, took a deep breath, and sat up slowly.

 Obviously they weren’t in the graveyard any longer.

 How many miles they have travelled this time, Harry didn’t know, but there were still no familiar mountains holding up the night sky. Harry didn’t recognize this place at all. They were somewhere in the countryside, having landed in the grass just off a dirt road, in front of the gate of a comfortable two-story house with all dark windows. There were no mysterious figures and no gloom from which any traitors or murderers could creep out here.

 For all Harry knew, they could have been the only two people in the world.

 When Harry looked back at Cedric, who had also released him, he saw that Cedric was counting his fingers. Not his own fingers, but Harry’s fingers. As though Cedric needed to make certain that Harry had all ten digits.

 “…Sorry,” Cedric said. “I’ve next to no practice at that.”

 “What happened? What… what did you do?”

 “Er, I Apparated. I got my license earlier this year – well, last year, when I turned seventeen,” Cedric answered, before it was his turn to squint confusedly at Harry. “You… know what Apparition is, right, Harry? I’d heard that you were raised by Muggles, but…”

 “I know what Apparition is,” Harry said defensively.

 At least, he knew that wizards teleported about somehow. Ron and Hermione had both mentioned it before, while talking about Percy stressing over the exam or Sirius Black breaking into the castle.

 “I just didn’t know you could take other people with you when you did.”

 “I don’t have much practice at that,” Cedric confessed. “And you’re not supposed to Apparate when you’re too not young – not often, at least. You’re not… solid enough yet… or something. I don’t know. It’s not good for you somehow. But I didn’t know what else to do, as soon as I realized that really wasn’t just another part of the task.”

 Harry shook his head grimly. “No, it was Voldemort.”

 Cedric stared at him. “…Sorry, what?”

 “Voldemort,” Harry repeated. “He’s not dead. He’s never been dead. He’s just been without a proper body since he tried to kill me.” He rubbed at his heated scar and then ran a hand through his hair, repeatedly. “I knew that he was planning something. I knew he had to be involved somehow in all this, but I didn’t know how or why.”

 “…Alright,” Cedric said faintly.

 “He was in the bundle of blankets,” Harry explained. “He was the voice giving orders to kill. He doesn’t have a real body right now. I recognized him – them – that’s how I knew we had to leave.”

 “You… recognized him from when you were a baby?”

 “No, I have these dreams…” Harry began, before he realized how that might sound. “I’ve met him more recently than that. In first year, he was here at the school, possessing Quirrell like some sort of parasite on the back of his head. He was trying to get the Philosopher’s Stone from the forbidden third-floor corridor.”

 Cedric’s face was worryingly without recognition.

 “I hear him when I get too close to dementors too,” Harry said, feeling like he was in a one-sided argument now. He moved on. “Where did you take us?”

 Cedric gave Harry one last concerned look, but then turned to the house and gestured helplessly. “Oh, uh, my house. We’re at my house. I didn’t know if Apparating would even work, but I figured if we weren't at Hogwarts anymore… then it probably would? This is where I have the most practice at picturing, so… welcome?”

 Harry looked at the house with the dark windows again. It wasn’t nearly so interesting or appealing as the Burrow, but it had its own tidy and homey look once he peered past the darkness, with the sort of natural growth and brightly painted features that would horrify any resident of Privet Drive. He’d never bothered to think about what sort of house the Diggories might have before, but his first thought now what that he might have imagined a house very like this one.

 “Thanks,” Harry said, looking at Cedric. “Really… thanks. You… you definitely saved us.”

 Voldemort was so angry right now, Harry knew.

 “I’m just glad it worked,” Cedric said, standing up and offering his hand.

 Harry took Cedric’s help and stood up carefully. It was hard to tell whose hands were shaking more between them. Harry kept as much weight as he could off his injured leg. There was blood all down his trouser leg and Harry still hissed with pain when he tried to get a better look at what the spider’s pincers had done.

 “My parents are at the Tournament,” Cedric said worriedly. “I can get us inside the house, but… we ought to get someone, shouldn’t we? We need to tell someone what happened. And between that Portkey and my Apparating… no one will know where we’ve gone.”

 “Right now, I could think that’s a good thing,” Harry said grimly.

 Cedric looked at him quizzically.

 “Someone had to turn that Cup into a Portkey that’d send us straight to Voldemort, right?” Harry explained. “Probably the same person who put my name into the Goblet of Fire and started all this mess. Probably the same person who vanished Mr. Crouch. They don’t know where we are right now either… whoever they are.”

 “Right,” Cedric said understandingly. “And… you don’t have any idea who that might be?”

 Harry gave him a look.

 “Right, of course not. It could be anyone, couldn’t it? Maybe it was someone was Durmstrang? I heard… well, I heard that Karkaroff used to be a Death Eater…? Dad said to watch out for him and all those Durmstrang kids.”

 “Karkaroff did used to be a Death Eater,” Harry said, “but he seemed worried about his Dark Mark getting stronger. Fudge thinks Madame Maxime might have disappeared Mr. Crouch.”

 “Why? Oh, because of the… giant thing. That’s stupid,” Cedric said firmly. Then his voice turned uncertain again as he said, “It’s probably someone from Durmstrang. I didn’t want to assume anything, but then… Viktor just seemed so nice, you know? He was really nice.” Cedric made that hollow laugh again. “Then he proved me wrong there.”

 Cedric’s hands were shaking at his sides. The Unforgiveable Curse that Krum had used on Cedric in pursuit of eternal glory had been a shock to Harry as well. He still didn’t know what had happened to Fleur. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to forget Cedric’s screaming.

 “He did seem nice,” Harry agreed quietly.

 Nothing about this year seemed to make sense. Even if the Tournament had just been Hogwarts students, it probably would have felt like there was no one he could trust. As it was, it felt like they’d invited enemies into their midst just to make it worse.

 “…Yeah,” Cedric said. “Let’s… let’s go inside?”

 Cedric fetched a key from a hiding spot in the garden and helped Harry inside. The inside of the Diggory house was tidy and homey, with more colourful quilts and comfy embroidered pillows than Harry thought anyone would rightly know what to do with. Cedric let him down on a sofa and Harry sank into what felt like a foot of cushion before he could object that he wasn’t clean enough to be on the good furniture at the moment.

 “I’ll get the healing kit,” Cedric said, flicking on a lamp painted with rabbits.

 Well, at least the sofa was brown. Harry tried to keep his injured leg off it as much as possible.

 When Cedric returned, it was with another pair of trousers as well as his family’s healing kit. He showed Harry how to clean, apply poultice to, and bandage his injury from the spider in the maze, since Harry insisted on doing it by himself, and then turned around so Harry could work and change. They then tended to all their other scratches and Cedric even had another poultice that was supposed to prevent bruises.

 “I got into a lot of scrapes as a kid,” Cedric explained, smiling a little at the memory. “There wasn’t much else to do out here as an only child but have your own adventures, you know? I broke a broom on a tree once and I didn’t even have the excuse of it being the Whomping Willow. Mum and Dad made me responsible for making these potions.”  

 Harry smiled back, though it still hurt a little to remember his broken Nimbus 2000. “Yeah?”

 “Yeah. I was braver back then, I think,” Cedric said quietly.

 Harry didn’t know what to say to that. Cedric’s hands were still shaking slightly, enough that he’d dripped poultice on the sofa covers, but something in the set of Cedric’s jaw had made Harry hesitate to offer help. Was there anything to treat the Cruciatus Curse?

 “We should probably get checked by Madam Pomfrey anyway, just to make sure, when we get back to Hogwarts,” Cedric said finally. “Or we could go to Saint Mungo’s, probably? Would it be a good idea to go to Saint Mungo’s, do you think? Or should we just stay here and try to send a letter to someone? And get hauled off to the Hospital Wing later?”

 “I don’t know. Is… is there any way that Voldemort could follow us here?”

 Cedric’s head snapped around. “What?”

 Harry looked back at him, his old, bloodied trousers folded in his lap. “Can anyone follow Apparating? Can that happen? Or can that not happen? I know it’s not allowed at Hogwarts, but… is there any way for him to know where we are right now?”

 Harry hoped not.

 “I… it could happen, maybe? I know the Ministry can do it, a bit, track Apparition. I think criminals Apparate a lot of times in a row to throw off Aurors and stuff, but I don’t know if just anyone could track it…”

 “He could,” Harry said. “Probably.”

 Harry had seen too many strange things now to underestimate what Voldemort was capable of doing. He remembered the wraithlike face on the back of a head, the memory of a boy in a diary, and the rat who was really a man. There was so much magic that was so far beyond Harry and right now they were so far from even the tenuous safety of Hogwarts. Harry couldn’t trust what Voldemort and his people might be capable of doing out here.

 Magic was so wonderful until it wasn’t.

 Sometimes it felt like it was all Harry could do not to be literally eaten alive.

 “You… do you think we should leave?” Cedric said uncertainly. “I thought you were worried we couldn’t trust anyone at Hogwarts.”

 “Well, there are some people we can trust,” Harry argued, though trustworthiness didn’t automatically mean anyone could actually do anything. “Like Dumbledore… or McGonagall… or Professor Moody maybe. He used to catch Dark wizards, right?”

 “He did, but he’s a bit…” Cedric made a face. “I’d trust Professor Sprout with my life, but if that was really You-Know-Who who just tried to have me killed… I think Dumbledore is our best bet.”

 “The only one You-Know-Who ever feared,” Harry agreed.

 “Yeah. We have to let someone know where we are. Do… do you think they’ve realized we’re missing yet? I can’t remember how they were supposed to know that we’d won. How long will it be before they start looking for us? I mean, my parents are going to be worried sick when I don’t come out of that maze.”

 Harry wondered what Ron, Hermione, Bill, and Mrs. Weasley would think when they realized he’d gone missing. They were all still waiting for him in the stands.

 What would Sirius think when Harry didn’t come out of the maze? His godfather had been sending him daily letters for weeks now and promised to remain close for the Third Task. He’d been urging Harry just to focus on surviving the Third Task, before they could all focus on whatever Voldemort might be plotting; what would he think when he realized that Harry was missing and the Third Task had been a part of Voldemort’s plot all along?

 “How can we make sure to make it to the headmaster?” Cedric wondered. “Should we try to make it to Hogwarts on our own or…?”

 “Can we… Can we not Apparate again?” Harry’s stomach turned just at the thought.

 “To Hogsmeade or something? Yeah, no, let’s not,” Cedric agreed with a grimace. “I don’t know if I could even do that again… and it’s probably not good for you either. Did you know they almost made seventeen-year-olds Side-Along Apparating with minors illegal? We’d probably Splinch.”

 Harry still didn’t know what that was, but he assumed it was bad.

 Cedric looked around the living room, settling on the fireplace. “My dad is allergic to Floo powder,” he said apologetically. “We don’t keep any in the house.”

 “That’s alright. I don’t like travelling by Floo. What about the Knight Bus?”

 “All of my pocket change is at school and my parents don’t leave money lying around the house. My Mum has a pet niffler.” Cedric looked around, as though expecting to spot this animal. “He’s… I don’t know where he is… probably sleeping under her bed. The Bursar’s really old. Are we… would it even be safe to take a bus? Is that too public?”

 “What else can we do?”

 “Just go to the Ministry? But… I guess someone managed to vanish Mr. Crouch… and he used to be the head of the D.M.L.E.,” Cedric said thoughtfully. “We could… go to someone else’s house? My dad’s owl is probably still at school too… or maybe at his office. The Weasleys live nearby, right? You’re friends with them.”

 “They’re all at the Tournament or work. No one is home.”

 “Oh.”

 They sat in a dim and awkward silence. Some part of Harry wanted nothing more than to stay here on this sofa and never get up again, rather than go back out into the night, but the threat of Voldemort somehow following them was stuck in his mind. He rubbed at his scar, which prickled now and still remembered the blistering pain of before. Peter Pettigrew had nearly killed Cedric already. Maybe someone at Hogwarts was working for Voldemort, but… they couldn’t just stay here either. Nowhere was really safe, but at least Hogwarts had Dumbledore and Harry’s friends.

 “Do you know anyone else nearby?” Harry asked. “Anyone else you trust? Who might have an owl or Floo powder or something you could borrow?”

 Cedric frowned at first, but then Harry saw an idea come into Cedric’s head. He seemed uncertain about his idea, though, and it took him nearly a minute to give it any voice.

 “There is… someone…” he began. 

 

Chapter Text

 Harry didn’t have a better plan, so they went with Cedric’s idea. Cedric went to go have a real look for his dad’s owl first, on the off-chance the bird was here instead of at Hogwarts or the Ministry, but all he managed to uncover was his mum’s pet niffler.

 Cedric brought the niffler downstairs for some reason and introduced him to Harry. Harry had seen nifflers relatively recently due to Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class on them, but he still found their resemblance to both ducks and moles a little odd. This niffler was the size of a cat, big for a niffler, and its dark blue fur was greying at the edges. Cedric urged him to give the niffler a pat.

 “The Bursar doesn’t mind,” Cedric assured him. “Just don’t take his monocle.”

 The sleepy old niffler was holding a gold-rimmed monocle and he made a quiet prrh sound when Harry petted his head. Cedric scratched its belly, then deposited the Bursar on the sofa, where the niffler plucked at the shiny embroidery in one of the sofa cushions and then promptly fell asleep.

 “I checked if he’d managed to pickpocket any of our guests for spare change, but I didn’t have any luck. So, I guess we’re headed out after all. Should we… pack up anything, do you think? Do you want something to eat? Anything to drink? Because I’m parched. Do you think we’ve got time for a drink or should we run for it?”

 “I hope so, because I can’t really run at the moment.”

 Cedric looked where Harry’s bandages were hidden under his borrowed trousers. “Right. I can make you a crutch, if you like?” He snapped his fingers. “Oh, I’ve got a spare broom in the back shed!”

 He ran out of the house and then came back with an older Cleansweep, which was sluggish, especially compared to Harry’s brilliant Firebolt, but functional. It floated. Unfortunately, the Diggories only had the one broomstick, since Cedric’s own broomstick was also still at school. Harry felt awkward flying while Cedric would have to walk, but Cedric told him it was fine, promised to Transfigure him a crutch if the Cleansweep sputtered out, and then handed him a water bottle and a bag for his bloodied trousers.

 Cedric scratched the Bursar’s belly in farewell, then paused. “If… if the person who attacked us in the graveyard followed us here,” he said uncertainly, “what do you think they’ll do to my house?”

 “I…” Harry thought about it and found he didn’t like thinking about it.

 Cedric looked down at the sleeping niffler, then announced, “I’m taking the Bursar with us.”

 Harry rubbed his scar, which was still prickling. “Um, alright.”

 He supposed that, in a similar situation, he wouldn’t leave Hedwig behind.

 So, Cedric fetched another bag, some food, and a blanket. He put the food in the bag, then the blanket, and then the niffler with the monocle on top. Bursar’s confused snout popped over the edge of the bag, but otherwise the niffler didn’t react to the prospect of being on the run from Dark wizards. Cedric slung the bag carefully over his shoulder, then handed the Bursar a treat.

 “Prrh,” said the happy Bursar.

 They left the Diggory house and set off down the dirt path by the light of Cedric’s wand. Harry had his own wand at the ready too, though since he was not seventeen like Cedric, he didn’t know if he’d be allowed to use magic out here.

 It was hard not to jump at every shadow as they walked and floated along (and Harry had been right: it was awkward to float next to Cedric like this). Even when Harry’s eyes adjusted to the dark, there was always more to misinterpret as a possible threat. If it had been any other night, any other situation, Harry might have even said it was nice. But Harry remembered the dread from the graveyard and it seemed to follow him now, stepping just out of sight every time he gave in to the urge to look over his shoulder.

 Cedric seemed just as watchful and kept almost annoyingly close. Harry almost snapped that he didn’t need any more help, but then… then he remembered what had saved Cedric’s life in the graveyard. He remembered how Cedric had then saved his life: grabbing on to him and then Apparating them both away. Harry didn’t feel like snapping after that.

 In fact, he decided that he was grateful for Cedric’s closeness. If they stayed close together, it felt, if they grabbed each other tight and didn’t let go, then maybe they could live through this.

 “So…” Cedric said eventually. “You-Know-Who is alive.”

 Harry glanced at him. “Yeah.”

 Cedric looked surprised just saying it, like he still couldn’t believe it. He had one hand under his arm, petting the Bursar in the bag slung over his shoulder. The old niffler made a happy prrh sound and then wriggled so his belly was more readily available.

 “How did he survive?” Cedric asked.

 “I don’t know.”

 “…Was he really possessing Professor Quirrell?”

 “Ye-es,” Harry said slowly, looking at Cedric again. “He was after the Philosopher’s Stone, which was hidden on the forbidden third-floor corridor.”

 “Yeah, you said that, but… why was the Philosopher’s Stone at Hogwarts?” Cedric looked increasingly confused. “The real Philosopher’s Stone? Made by Nicolas Flamel?”

 “To protect it. Gringotts wasn’t safe enough.”

 “Gringotts…?”

 “There was that break-in, remember?”

 Cedric’s face screwed up, but there was no obvious recognition there.

 Harry gave up and shrugged, looking away to the night around them. “Voldemort wanted it to restore his body or something, but… I got in his way, I guess. He didn’t get his hands on the Stone a few years ago, so he had to come up with something else. I think that whatever we dropped into might’ve been his something else.”

 “…What happened to Quirrell?”

 “He kind of… died trying to get the Stone,” Harry said shortly, not wanting to talk about or describe what had happened in front of the Mirror of Erised. “Dumbledore awarded me and my friends points for this in front of the entire school. What did you think happened to Quirrell?”

 “I thought… the word was that he’d had a nervous breakdown and attacked a student,” Cedric said helplessly. “I think someone only found out eavesdropping on the teachers. We – well, my friends – thought maybe he’d thought the student he’d attacked was that vampire after him or something. Everybody said he got kind of nervous at the end there. Extra nervous, I mean. But he was possessed? By You-Know-Who? Alright… alright then.”

 Harry stared at Cedric and wondered if that was what the whole school thought.

 “Look, I’m in Hufflepuff; I don’t really care about the House Cup,” Cedric said defensively. “I’ve never won it. Not once. It was just nice to have someone break Slytherin’s winning streak.”

 “That’s… fair?” Harry supposed he could understand that.

 Cedric was quiet for a while, then asked, “I don’t suppose you also know what was really happening the year before last, do you? With the petrifications? Because everyone was saying that Slytherin’s monster was running around the school and that you were the Heir of Slytherin, which sounded like complete rubbish, except… well… people were being petrified? I didn’t think that you were the Heir of Slytherin or anything, it’s just… we never did get a proper explanation for that.”

 “It wasn’t exactly running around the school,” Harry said cautiously. “It was a basilisk, moving through the school using the pipes.”

 “A basilisk?!” Cedric repeated, then said, “Ow, hell, Bursar! No!”

 Cedric’s disbelief, loud in the night, had disturbed the Bursar. The niffler had gone a little wide-eyed, his fur standing on end, and grabbed onto Cedric’s hand very tightly. It took Cedric nearly a minute of soothing to get the niffler to stop strangling his fingers. Even then, the niffler wasn’t content to go back in the bag, and climbed up Cedric’s sleeve to sit on his shoulder and tried to use Cedric’s hair as a hand-hold. Cedric winced, head at an odd angle, and tried to extract the Bursar again.

 “I swear that Mum spoils him rotten,” Cedric said, more hushed. “A basilisk? Really? I thought basilisks killed people instantly with their gaze! Or… was it young? Because supposedly it takes a while for basilisks to get really dangerous, but… I didn’t know they could petrify people.”

 “It only petrifies people if they see a reflection of its eyes. A lot of people got really lucky, only seeing the basilisk in puddles of water or through a camera or through a ghost,” Harry explained. “And it was pretty dangerous: it was a thousand years old.”

 Cedric’s eyes widened. “Oh, hell, that’s old.”

 “Yeah, it was enormous. It was, like, at least thirty or forty feet long,” Harry said, floating along without holding on to his broom for a moment to try and demonstrate the sheer mass of it. “It could have swallowed me whole. I thought it was fifty feet, but… I was twelve? And not even five feet tall, so… it looked fifty feet long. I’d be dead if Dumbledore’s phoenix didn’t take its eyes out.”

 “Wow,” Cedric said, stunned. “That’s… I can’t believe no one died.”

 It had been so close. It had been so horrifyingly, excruciatingly close. Harry had never asked Ginny about whether she still thought about the Chamber of Secrets, but sometimes… in his dreams… his veins were on fire with the venom and Fawkes never came to save him. He’d been so scared, but also so angry and so determined to take Tom Riddle with him if he had to die.

 Cedric managed to get the Bursar’s little paws out of his hair and held the niffler in his arms like a baby instead, which the Bursar seemed to accept with a little belly-scratching again. “So… I’m going to go ahead and guess that you weren’t the one who ‘opened the Chamber of Secrets’ and all that, but… I heard that you’re a Parselmouth?”

 Harry remembered Rita Skeeter’s most recent article and felt a little miserable about all the other things that Cedric might have heard about him. At least Cedric looked curious rather than afraid or disgusted.

 “…Yeah?”

 “This is going to sound awful, but… are you an Heir of Slytherin?”

 “What? No!”

 Cedric looked incredibly relieved, then perhaps somewhat ashamed. “Sorry, it’s just… how do you speak Parseltongue, then? Because I heard that only the descendants of Salazar Slytherin can speak to snakes, at least here in Britain. Do you know who did open the Chamber of Secrets?”

 Harry decided to keep Ginny’s name out of it. He understood that, even though it hadn’t been Ginny’s fault that anything bad happened, it still might not look good for the Weasleys.

 “It was Voldemort, but… not the same You-Know-Who. See, Voldemort’s real name is Tom Marvolo Riddle. He was the one who first opened the Chamber of Secrets fifty years ago, back when he was a student, and murdered Moaning Myrtle. And when he was a teenager, he took a part of himself and put it in a diary, so that one day one of his followers – Lucius Malfoy – could give the diary to a student. Then the diary could possess someone to finish the job.”

 Cedric made a face a bit like a fish. “Were… were you possessed?”

 “No, not me. I speak Parseltongue because of something weird that happened when Voldemort tried to kill me as a baby, and because I do, I could help stop the diary from killing again. I could even hear the basilisk in the walls of the school sometimes, although I didn’t know that it was Slytherin’s monster at first.”

 “Oh,” Cedric said.

 “…What did everyone else think happened?” Harry asked warily.

 “I… I don’t really know? I think the gist of it is that it was something being done by a random student that got really out of hand? They caught the person who was doing it, everyone who was petrified was cured by Pomfrey and Sprout, and then… that was it? I think most people assumed that it was some seventh-year, since no one could figure out who’d been expelled.”

 “Right,” Harry said, glad to have kept Ginny out of it. “Alright.”

 “But… there was actually a monster? Like, a real Slytherin’s monster? A basilisk?”

 “Yeah, it’s probably still down there in the Chamber.”

 “…It’s still there?”

 “Well, it’s dead now, but yeah. I don’t think anyone moved it. Only Parselmouths can get into the Chamber of Secrets and I definitely haven’t gone back there.”

 “Oh, good,” Cedric said.

 He looked a little out-of-sorts, though, enough that he’d stopped rubbing the Bursar’s belly. The niffler’s head popped up again and he made an inquiring prrh sound. Cedric came out of his daze at this and began petting the Bursar again, even going so far as to rock the niffler in his arms slightly.

 “Sorry, wait… Merlin… let me get this totally clear,” Cedric said, taking a deep breath. “The Heir of Slytherin was You-Know-Who all along… and his real name is Tom M-something Riddle? And someone was being possessed by a teenage version of You-Know-Who who’d been put into a diary fifty years ago to… get rid of all the Muggleborns in the school and all that rot?”

 “Ye-es.”

 “That’s not… that’s not normal.”

 “I hope not.”

 “No, I mean, really, none of that is. I’ve never heard of a cursed object like that before,” Cedric said. “Well, I’ve heard stuff, but… that’s the sort of thing that only appears in stories, you know?”

 “Well, it is Voldemort,” Harry said, rubbing his scar again. “I’ve sort of… this Tournament is sort of just more proof that there’s no way to expect what he’ll do next or the lengths he’ll go to get it done. Why would he make the Triwizard Cup a Portkey? If he had someone in the school, then… why’d he wait that long? Why’d he have someone put me in the Tournament? For a laugh?”

 “I don’t really want to imagine You-Know-Who having a laugh, so I hope not,” Cedric said. “But… if he is the one who put your name in the Goblet of Fire, then… look, you know part of the reason why the Triwizard Tournament was banned, right?”

 “Yeah, people died.”

 “Well, yes, because of that. But there’s a lot of magic in big events, you know? Gathering all these people together, then making champions perform rare and dangerous tasks. I was talking to Professor Vector about it just the other day: there can be a lot of magic in sacrifice, you know? Headmasters have used the power of the Triwizard Cup for themselves before and… Dumbledore would never do that, but…”

 “Voldemort would,” Harry finished.

 “Well, I haven’t met him, but he did try to have me killed, so… yeah, I think he might.”

 “Maybe he really was doing something to get his body back. I dunno why’d he want to kidnap me for that, though, and I don’t really want to know. How’d he even know I’d make it this far in the Tournament? Anything could have happened in that maze.”

 “I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it either. Merlin! I can’t believe that You-Know-Who has been alive all this time! And at the school and no one knew about it?”

 “Dumbledore knew,” Harry said. “I told him after it happened.”

 Cedric looked aghast and then thoughtful. “Well… no wonder he kept it quiet, I guess? Maybe he only told the Ministry. I know my parents would’ve been in a panic if they knew You-Know-Who had been possessing the D.A.D.A. teacher in my third year. You’re not about to tell me that You-Know-Who was hanging around the school in some shape or form last year too, are you?”

 Harry huffed. “No, I didn’t see him at all last year. No wraiths and no memories. Good thing too, because I don’t know that I could’ve handled him on top of the dementors.”

 “And Sirius Black,” Cedric said sympathetically.

 Now it was Harry’s turn to make a face and Cedric noticed, pausing in the petting so that even the Bursar made an inquiring sound. The old niffler looked between Harry and Cedric, his monocle in his paws, and then he reached up to pull Cedric’s hand back to his belly.

 “Oh, sorry, Bursar,” Cedric said, but he was still looking at Harry curiously.

 “Look,” Harry began slowly, “I know this is going to sound a bit nuts…”

 “Harry, at this point, just go for it. Against my better judgement, I really, really doubt it can get weirder than Quirrell being possessed by You-Know-Who and thousand-year-old basilisks in the pipes and this whole mad Tournament.”

 Harry took a deep breath, then said in a rush, “Sirius Black is innocent.”

 Cedric stared at him and even stopped walking for a moment, though he didn’t stop petting the Bursar. He didn’t fall behind at all, since Harry’s borrowed Cleansweep was sluggish and Cedric had long legs, but he was surprised enough to stop for a few seconds.

 “He’s what? But… he was in Azkaban for twelve years and he’s innocent?!”

 “Prrh?” said the Bursar.

 Harry almost couldn’t believe Cedric was taking him at his word like this. It felt like he’d been waiting years to tell someone about all this and to talk about his wrongfully imprisoned godfather to someone besides Ron and Hermione. Snape’s lies and Fudge’s disbelief still make Harry’s fists clench if he thought about the injustice of it all for too long.

 “Yeah, no one has any idea! See, everyone thought Sirius was the Secret-Keeper for my parents when they were in hiding, but he was the decoy. The Secret-Keeper was really Peter Pettigrew and he was the one who sold my parents out to Voldemort. And when Sirius heard what Pettigrew had done, he went after him! But when Sirius cornered him, Pettigrew turned around and shouted that Sirius was the traitor!”

 “Merlin! And then… but was Black still the one to kill him and blow up that street?”

 “No, he’s completely innocent! Pettigrew was the one who blew up the street and killed all those Muggles! And he also cut off his pinky finger to fake his death… and then he transformed into a rat and disappeared into the sewers!”

 “He was an Animagus?”

 “Yeah, like McGonagall! Only he was an illegal Animagus that no one knew about. So, when the Aurors showed up, they found Sirius and Pettigrew’s finger and a bunch of dead Muggles… and I think Sirius was too upset to defend himself and the Ministry didn’t want to listen to him anyway. So they threw him in Azkaban for thirteen murders that he never committed!”

 Cedric looked dumbfounded. “But… why did he come to the school last year? Didn’t he attack the painting guarding Gryffindor Tower? I heard people complaining about the replacement and then the security trolls for months! And didn’t he attack a student too?”

 “He wasn’t after a student! He’d found out through a photo in the newspaper, which he got off the Minister, that Pettigrew was hiding at Hogwarts in his rat form!” Harry explained excitedly. “So he broke out of Azkaban to get his revenge on Pettigrew and to protect me! He’s my godfather, you know. Sirius, I mean, not Pettigrew.”

 “He is? I… Did you meet him? You must’ve met him to know all this!”

 “I did meet him. He finally caught Pettigrew at the end of the year, and me and my friends were there to see it, but then… something got in the way and Pettigrew escaped. And then Professor Snape told everyone that Sirius Confunded us! So no one believed us when we told them that Peter Pettigrew was alive and that Sirius Black had been innocent all along.”

 When Harry looked at Cedric again, Cedric had a face like hearing people thought Harry had been Confunded was… not reassuring to him. He didn’t look totally disbelieving, just… uncertain.

 “Snape hates my godfather. They’ve hated each other since school and he didn’t want to listen to any explanations; he wanted to believe Sirius was a dangerous criminal and to get Sirius Kissed,” Harry insisted. “Sirius really is innocent. He writes me letters! And he came to Hogsmeade to visit me earlier this year, even though he’s still on the run.”

 Cedric relaxed a little, though he still looked like his world had been set on its head. “And he can’t… he can’t tell anyone he’s innocent, can he? The Minister ordered that he be Kissed on sight!”

 Harry nodded, his hands clenching around the broomstick under him. “The only proof is Peter Pettigrew being alive. We saw him tonight… he was that hooded figure in the graveyard… the one holding Voldemort and the wand. When he ran away a second time, at the end of last year, he went to go join Voldemort again.”

 “I thought… didn’t that voice call him… what was it? Worm-something?”

 “Wormtail,” Harry supplied, and scowled. “It’s a nickname, based on his Animagus form. You know… a worm tail… a tail that looks like a worm… because he’s a rat.”

 Understanding bloomed across Cedric’s face. “Oh.”

 “Yeah. Dunno why Voldemort is calling him that now too. For a laugh, maybe?”

 “Wormtail,” Cedric repeated, stunned.

 Harry couldn’t believe that Cedric hadn’t known any of this. Not that Sirius was innocent and that Ginny had been the one to open the Chamber of Secrets, but other stuff about Harry’s earlier years at Hogwarts. It seemed strange now that no one had talked to Harry about Quirrell. No one had mentioned Lockhart or the basilisk to him either. Some part of Harry knew that people would probably panic, but… really, no one had known at all?

 “Professor Lupin was there when Sirius caught Pettigrew,” Harry said. “He could tell you what happened. They were all friends when they were at school. And Dumbledore knows that Sirius is innocent, but the Minister didn’t want to hear it. I… Dumbledore knew about Quirrell and the basilisk too, but I don’t know if anyone else could tell you about those things. I mean, besides my friends. Ron and Hermione were there for pretty much all of it.”

 Cedric still looked like his world had been turned upside down and inside out, but he gently transferred the Bursar back to the bag over his shoulder. The niffler’s snout popped back out, but he seemed content to sit there again for now.

 “I’ll have to ask the headmaster the next time I see him,” Cedric said, a little jokingly.

 Harry pursed his lips in understanding, because he didn’t see Dumbledore all that often, come to think of it. Before this year with the Tournament, he’d occasionally seen the headmaster in the halls and been treated to a wave, but Dumbledore missed the most meals in the Great Hall of any staff member besides Hagrid. The easiest way to see him was maybe begging the mercy of the gargoyle that guarded the headmaster’s office.

 “…So… he’s back, then. He’s really back,” Cedric said quietly.

 “He’s trying,” Harry answered grimly. “He didn’t succeed today, though; whatever he wanted to do, you got us away from it just in time. But he’s not going to stop trying, so we’ve got to keep on being careful. Pettigrew’s not the only one helping him.”

 “Are you sure? I mean, if Pettigrew can turn into a rat and sneak into the school…”

 That was a good point, but Harry shook his head. “No, there’s… there’s someone else. I have dreams sometimes about Voldemort. I know that there’s someone else involved.”

 Cedric accepted this. “It’s probably Krum or Karkaroff,” he said.

 Harry thought about Karkaroff’s secret Dark Mark and Krum’s unexpected Unforgiveable Curse. Could Karkaroff’s fear be an act like Krum’s kindness had been? Could it have been Krum who had vanished Mr. Crouch after all? It made some sense that Voldemort’s other servant be the Durmstrang headmaster or champion, and yet… Harry couldn’t know for certain. Something didn’t seem to add up.

 “Probably,” he agreed. 

 

Chapter Text

 Eventually they had crossed all the necessary hills and reached the home of the person Cedric had said they could probably trust to help them. Cedric had said this person would probably let him use their fireplace or an owl, at least. And, Cedric had added reluctantly, probably no one would ever expect them to come to this person for help.

 Harry stopped the sluggish Cleansweep and floated next to Cedric in front of a broken down gate, which had several colourful hand-painted signs unevenly affixed to the fence. “EDITOR of THE QUIBBLER” said one sign. “PICK your own MISTLETOE” offered another. “THE CRYPTIC CABINET OF CURIOSITIES meets on the FIRST WANING CRESCENT of EVERY MONTH” declared a third.

 Beyond this gate was a small bridge over a babbling stream, then the path zigzagged up a hill, at the top of which sat a house of the like Harry had never seen before. It was far stranger than the Diggory house. It was even stranger the Burrow, which at least looked like it might have once been an ordinary house before various magical additions. The house that sat at the top of the hill was dark, tall, and cylindrical – a castle tower just sitting in the middle of the countryside. It almost looked like something from a fairy tale; there could be no doubt that someone magical lived here.

 The lights were on in several windows. Someone was home.

 Cedric sighed and swung open the front gate, so Harry could float through. “After you. Look, he’s… he’s a bit weird. Alright, he’s a lot weird and I don’t really know him all that well, but he’s a good person, very kind, and… nice in his own way. We’ve been distant neighbours all my life.”

 They climbed the zigzagging path, which was lined by rocks, some of which were nearly as tall as Cedric, to create a garden partly organized in giant steps. Harry couldn’t make out the plants or their signs in the dark, but many of them squirmed or shivered in that familiar, magical way. He was most fascinated by the plant that had crawled up the side of the tower, which bore orange, radish-shaped fruit that floated up instead of hanging down.

 “We don’t see each other all that often… even less since his wife passed away. Though he and his daughter keep bringing my family these blood pies, actually,” Cedric went on. “Every December, at least. We have no bloody idea why.”

 “…Like ‘blood pudding’?” Harry asked.

 Cedric grimaced and said, “No.”

 When they reached the front porch, which was bookended by two old crab apple trees, Harry stepped carefully off the sluggish Cleansweep. Cedric helped him up the steps and onto the welcome mat. The front door was thick and even blacker than the rest of the house, studded with iron nails, with an iron doorknocker shaped like an eagle’s head.

 “Just… let me do the talking?” Cedric said.

 Harry gestured for Cedric to go for it. He was fully prepared to stand back on his one good leg, wand at the ready, and just watch whatever was about to happen. Cedric knocked and Harry tightened his grip on his wand, as they heard a faint thump inside and then footsteps coming for the door. Harry saw a shadow break the line of light at the base of the door. They heard the person on the other side scrabble with locks for nearly a minute.

 It felt like the longest minute of Harry’s life.

 Finally, the door swung open, revealing a man who was just as odd as his house. He might have been somewhere in his forties or even fifties; he was not particularly tall, with tangled white-blond hair that reached his shoulders, and he had purple carrots dangling from his earlobes. He was dressed in blue robes that didn’t cover his hairy knees, had a knitted rainbow blanket wrapped around his shoulders like a cape, and he was only wearing one sock. He also had a pale face and protuberant eyes that gave him a surprised look, even before he looked up from his coin-purse and registered the two grimy boys on his doorstep.

 “…You’re not selling biscuits, are you?” he said dubiously.

 “No, sorry,” Cedric said politely. “Hi, Mr. Lovegood! My friend and I have gotten a bit lost. Can we come in and use your owl to let our headmaster know where we are?”

 The man squinted at him.

 Cedric raised the light of his wand up to his face. “It’s Cedric Diggory, Mr. Lovegood, from over the way? You know… Amos Diggory and Mabel Kirke’s son?” He moved the wand a little towards Harry. “This is my friend, Harry Potter. We’re supposed to be at school, but we got lost.”

 The man leaned even closer, still dubious, and the niffler in the bag over Cedric’s shoulder took immediate advantage. The Bursar lunged forward and grabbed the gold hanging from a chain around the man’s neck and yanked. The man stumbled forward at the strength of the little creature, barely managing to catch himself on the doorway.

 “Bursar, no!” Cedric cried. “Oh, hell. Sir, I’m sorry.”

 The man, bent nearly in half, was essentially eye-to-eye with the old niffler half-hanging out of Cedric’s bag. Mr. Lovegood and the Bursar stared at each other for several seconds. The Bursar gave Mr. Lovegood’s necklace, a symbol which resembled a triangular eye, another hopeful tug.

 “Bursar, no, you little burglar, you need to give that back,” Cedric pleaded, trying to pull the necklace out of the niffler’s paws and the niffler back into his bag. “That belongs to Mr. Lovegood, you can’t have it. You’ve got plenty of jewellery at home. Mr. Lovegood, I’m so sorry. I know it’s really, really rude to bring a niffler into your home, but-”

 “NONSENSE!” Mr. Lovegood cried, bursting into a wide smile. “So this is the infamous Bursar! A niffler distinguished with age! Mabel mentions him nearly every time we see one another at the market! It is a pleasure, my good sir!”

 Mr. Lovegood raised his free hand to his necklace, which the Bursar tried to pull protectively away, and shook the old niffler’s paws. Then he pulled a golden galleon from his coin-purse, which immediately captured the Bursar’s attention. Mr. Lovegood dropped the coin-purse in his robe pocket and then held the galleon out towards the Bursar, just out of the niffler’s reach, and put his other hand on the necklace in preparation. When the gleam of the galleon became too much for the poor Bursar and the niffler lunged for the shiny coin, Mr. Lovegood gave up the galleon and yanked the necklace away.

 “Sir,” Cedric said desperately, as the Bursar rolled around the bag at his shoulder, chortling over his new prize. “Now we have to get him to give up the galleon.” 

 “Oh, don’t bother,” Mr. Lovegood said brightly, straightening and dropping his necklace down the front of his robes. “It’s a delight to see such a vibrant elderly specimen of the sapphire duck-snouted delinquent! I was just editing a guest article by a professional organizer who swears by the Niffler method! Now is the perfect opportunity to test the effectiveness of her seven-and-a-half steps plan! How fortunate!”

 Harry looked confusedly from Mr. Lovegood to Cedric, to see if anything that had been said had made any sense to Cedric. Cedric’s smile had a rather frozen quality to it and when he spoke he sounded a bit distant.

 “Nifflers aren’t very good organizers, sir. At… at all.”

 “Yes, it’s what makes the method such a fascinating proposition!”

 Cedric stared at the man for a few seconds, before he said, “Sir, we’re very lost right now and we need to let our headmaster know where we are.”

 “Hmm, you are quite out of your way, aren’t you?” Mr. Lovegood looked at his own doormat and made a strangely judgemental expression, before he looked up and said, “I suppose it’s only polite to invite you in. It would be terribly remiss of me to leave lost children on the doorstep. Come in, the both of you! Oh, I remember how easy it is to get lost when you’re young!”

 He turned around and made his way back into the house, as though expecting them to follow. Harry exchanged a look with Cedric, who was wearing a helpless grimace and gestured for Harry to go on in. Harry limped over the doorstep, with Cedric following and shutting the front door behind them.

 There was only one room to the ground floor, they found – a perfectly circular and dimly lit kitchen, in which the stove, sinks, and cupboards were all slightly curved to fit the walls. In the centre of the room was a spiral, wrought-iron staircase to take one farther up the tower. Though it was a large room, it was quite filled with trinkets and books, and every surface was brightly painted with strange flowers, insects, and birds, so the room felt almost overwhelmingly crowded.

 Cedric looked a little horrified as he eyed a glass dragonfly ornament with partly sparkly wings. “Oh… boy…” he breathed, and held the bag over his shoulder a little more tightly as he pushed down an interested snout with his other hand.

 “It’s quite easy to get lost when you’re older, too, but… I find it’s more gradual and much easier to stay lost out of stubbornness then!” Mr. Lovegood said. “I remember as a young boy, taking a wrong turn down the road and ending up three countries away before I knew it! They really ought to have put up signs! How is anyone supposed to know they’ve gone too far out on the pond before they’re a good way into Guernsey?”

 Harry and Cedric stood around awkwardly as Mr. Lovegood fluttered around his kitchen, looking for cups. So far, Mr. Lovegood had collected three ceramic mugs, two porcelain tea cups, a glass pint, and a champagne flute. Mr. Lovegood added a wine glass to his collection and looked up at them.

 “Can I get you boys anything to drink?” he asked, and looked particularly hard at Cedric.

 “We’ve got a water bottle… but, er, more water is fine, sir,” Cedric said politely.

 “Hmm,” Mr. Lovegood said suspiciously. “You wouldn’t… prefer to drink… wine?”

 “No, I’m… I’m seventeen, sir.”

 “Hmmmm.” Mr. Lovegood turned his gaze onto Harry next.

 “Water’s great,” Harry said immediately, with absolutely no intention of drinking it.

 But Mr. Lovegood kept squinting at him. “My word…” he said finally, waggling a finger. “You wouldn’t happen to be the Harry Potter, would you? I can tell by that scar that you might be.”

 Harry rubbed his prickling scar a little defensively. Was it a little stuffy in here or was it just him? He hoped Mr. Lovegood hadn’t been reading Rita Skeeter.

 “Mr. Lovegood, I already introduced him,” Cedric intervened. “Harry, this is Xenophilius Lovegood. He runs a magazine called the Quibbler – I don’t suppose you’ve heard of it? And he’s got a daughter, Luna, in… what is it, sir? Third year now?”

 Mr. Lovegood beamed. “Oh, yes! In Ravenclaw, too! Bright as a sunbeam, my plumkin!”

 “I don’t see her around the school nearly as often as I like,” Cedric agreed, pushing the Bursar’s snout back into the bag again. “I went on a few rambles in the woods with her, sometimes, after… when she was nine-ish? I’m sorry to barge in unexpectedly like this after so long, sir, but we didn’t know where else to go. My parents are at the school right now and they’ll be worried sick.”

 “Oh, no trouble! No trouble! We wouldn’t want to worry the parents! I don’t know what sort of wrackspurts I’d get if I didn’t know where my daughter had gone!” Mr. Lovegood fluttered away from his cups and peered out the window over the sink. “Our owl, you said? Our owl may be at Hogwarts with Luna. Are you sure that you wouldn’t prefer the Floo? I know I’ve got a tin of powder around here somewhere…”

 The relief through the both of them was bone-melting. Harry wanted to sag to the floor and he saw his own exhaustion echoed in Cedric.

 “Floo is perfect, sir.”

 Harry and Cedric sat down at the dining table while Mr. Lovegood ran upstairs for his tin of Floo powder, their bags on the laps and the broomstick leaning against the table. Harry found a small stack of magazines at his place, the cover of which read The Quibbler in bright, bolt letters, advertised in a sub-header as “The Wizarding World’s Alternative Voice”. Harry browsed the articles being advertised within.

 “THE TELEPATHIC KNEAZLE THAT LIVES IN MY WASHROOM,” proclaimed one feature article. 

 “THE IMPORTANCE OF FOLLOWING THESE NINE LAWS WHEN DEALING WITH MAGICAL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (POST-EXPERIMENT REVISION),” said another. 

 “WEIRD SISTERS BAND USING MIND-CONTROL MAGIC ON OUR YOUTH???” offered a third.

 Harry looked at Cedric.

 Cedric winced and said, “Yeah, I know, but I’ve never met kinder people?”

 While they waited, Cedric started a game of tug’o-war with the Bursar’s new galleon, to keep the old niffler entertained. Harry slumped over the dining table and watched amused as Cedric make mock growls back at the Bursar. He could almost forget that they were sort of on the run from Voldemort right now, hanging out in Mr. Lovegood’s kitchen like this.

 “AHA!” came Mr. Lovegood’s triumphant cry, from higher up the tower. He came down the staircase brandishing a biscuit tin and a flier. “Excellent news, boys! I uncovered the Hogwarts contact information sheet for parents and guardians!”

 “The what?” Harry repeated.

 “Oh, I should’ve thought to bring that,” Cedric said.

 Mr. Lovegood dropped the flier on the dining table, opened the biscuit tin, and pulled a handful of Floo powder out as he walked across the room, and tossed the powder into the small fireplace on the other side of the room. Upon contact, the powder turned the small orange flames into a keen lime green, and Mr. Lovegood said loudly and clearly, “Hogwarts Staff Floo Room!”

 “Oh, Mr. Lovegood!” Cedric interrupted, before the man could stick his head into the fireplace. “Could you… not tell anyone except Headmaster Dumbledore where we are? We, um, the school’s been having some trouble with security lately, what with the Triwizard Tournament and all, and… well… it might not be safe…

 “Ah, since the disappearance of Mr. Crouch,” Mr. Lovegood said knowingly, and tapped his nose. “The Ministry’s tried to hush it up, but there’s more to it than they’d like us to know, isn’t there? The Quibbler covered this in its most recent article; we believe the truth may be that someone from his past may have taken revenge for all the heinous crimes that Mr. Crouch committed as Head of the D.M.L.E. and then later his most hideous deeds as the Head of International Magical Cooperation…” 

 “I would love to read all about it, sir. It’s all very mysterious. So, if you could just ask to speak to Headmaster Dumbledore in private? Or Professors McGonagall or Sprout? We’d really appreciate it.”

 Mr. Lovegood gave them a long and thoughtful look, enough to make Harry wonder if the man really was as barmy as he seemed or seeing something the rest of them weren’t in a good way.

 “Hmm,” Mr. Lovegood said finally. “How clandestine.”

 Then Mr. Lovegood stuck his head in the fireplace and asked whoever was on the other end to fetch Albus Dumbledore immediately. By the squeaky voice that replied, it seemed like a house elf had answered the Floo call. The house elf said that the headmaster wasn’t available at the moment and instead brought in Professor Sinistra, the serene Astronomy teacher, who’d been marking final assignments in the staff room adjacent. Sinistra couldn’t see Harry and Cedric, who were partially hidden by the spiral wrought-iron staircase and didn’t speak up to let her know they were there. She tried to coax the issue out of Mr. Lovegood, but to no avail.

 “No, the matter absolutely cannot wait!” Mr. Lovegood assured her valiantly. “And I cannot speak to anyone else on the matter! Except perhaps Professors McGonagall or Sprout! It is a matter, perhaps, of life and death!”

 Once Sinistra left, Mr. Lovegood turned to Harry and Cedric and said shrewdly, “Pardon me for the assumption, but all this secrecy is extraordinarily exciting for a simple case of getting lost.”

 “Well, we had some… help,” Cedric admitted.

 “I thought so,” Mr. Lovegood said. “Triwizard Champions the two of you, weren’t you? Did you know that the Triwizard Tournament is being run by the Ministry as a distraction from their failures to renegotiate their dealings with the Gringotts goblins and the North Sea merfolk?”

 “Really?” Cedric said politely.

 Mr. Lovegood nodded. “At least, that’s Fudge’s motivation,” he said, and then elaborated on the theory. It seemed to involve everything from angry mermaids attacking the Azkaban ferries to a sinister leprechaun conspiracy to make everyone forget about the existence of all other Irish magical creatures. Mr. Lovegood’s stories had too many tangents for Harry to keep up.

 Cedric managed to make polite listening noises, at least, until a familiar voice came out of the fire.

 “Mr. Lovegood? This is Professor McGonagall, the deputy headmistress.”

 “Ah, hello again, professor!”

 Harry had expected McGonagall or Sprout, given that Dumbledore was probably still down at the Third Task, perhaps still watching the maze from which Harry and Cedric had long-since disappeared. McGonagall seemed rather out-of-sorts, but Harry couldn’t tell if that was because she knew they were missing or because of Mr. Lovegood. She was altogether very unimpressed by Mr. Lovegood’s unmoving request that the room be emptied of all other persons before he utter another word on his matter of great importance. Nevertheless, she complied.

“The room is emptied and the door is such for your privacy, Mr. Lovegood,” McGonagall assured him shortly. “Now what is so urgent that it cannot wait?”

 “One moment, please!” Mr. Lovegood told her brightly.

 Then he stepped back and waved them forward. Cedric stood immediately and placed his bag on Harry’s lap for safekeeping. Harry stared nonplussed at the niffler in his lap now and the Bursar blinked back at him.

 “Watch him, will you, Harry?” Cedric whispered.

 “How?” Harry whispered back.

 “I think he’s pretty worn out by now, just… play with him until he falls asleep again,” Cedric said, and crossed the room to crouch down in front of the fireplace and Professor McGonagall’s unimpressed expression. “Hi, Professor McGonagall?”

 McGonagall’s expression changed immediately. “Mister Diggory!”

 “Yeah, it’s me,” Cedric answered tiredly. “I, uh, don’t know if you already knew this, but… Harry and I aren’t at Hogwarts anymore? I’m alright and Harry’s alright too. But the Triwizard Cup was a Portkey and it took us to some graveyard, where we were attacked by someone who tried to kill me. Harry said it was You-Know-Who? I Apparated us out of there and now we’re… sort of stuck out here at Mr. Lovegood’s house.”

 McGonagall stared at him, then took a moment to compose herself after a spiel like that, and she was still a little wide-eyed as she said, “Well! I’m relieved that you and Mister Potter are safe.”

 Harry was cautiously petting the Bursar, who was holding on tightly to his monocle and Mr. Lovegood’s galleon. Playing with Cedric seemed to have finally tired the Bursar out. The old niffler was nodding off to sleep in Harry’s lap, a surprisingly solid weight with very soft fur, surprisingly comfortable exactly where he was. The Bursar reached out with a lazy paw towards Harry’s glasses, which Harry realized were reflecting the dim light of the room, and then yawned.

 It made Harry yawn too.

 “We didn’t come back right away because we think that whoever put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire is probably the same person who turned the Triwizard Cup into a Portkey… and maybe the same person who vanished Mr. Crouch,” Cedric was explaining. “They’re probably working for You-Know-Who too? We don’t know if we can trust anyone.”

 “Oh, someone’s been stealing boomslang skin and lacewing flies from Snape’s supplies,” Harry remembered, at the thought that it really could be anyone. “They could be using Polyjuice!”

 Cedric’s mouth dropped open, but then he turned back to the fire. “Professor, did you hear that? We were thinking that it could be Krum because… well… he used the Cruciatus Curse on me in the maze. You can check his wand! But maybe he’s got an accomplice!”

 McGonagall needed to compose herself all over again at that. “I can hear you quite clearly, Mister Diggory. Rest assured that I will go straight to Professor Dumbledore on this matter and no one else. I am afraid that the fireplaces of Hogwarts cannot be made travel-accessible without him, since security has increased. I will send Professor Sinistra for him immediately!”

 She stepped away for a moment to do just that, and when she returned she said, “The headmaster will be here momentarily. However, we may have to further intrude on Mr. Lovegood’s hospitality and send a staff member to enable a full connection through the Floo Network.”

 “I don’t think this fireplace is big enough to travel through, professor,” Cedric said.

 “Well, then we will have to send someone over to fetch you.”

 Harry and Cedric looked to their host, who was watching Cedric rather avidly and scribbling madly into a notebook, while dictating in a mutter to a quill scratching on another notebook. It took Mr. Lovegood several seconds to realize that Harry and Cedric were expecting something of him by looking at him as they were.

 “Sir, they might have to send someone over.”

 “Oh, of course! Of course! The more to interview, the merrier, I’m sure!”

 “…Mr. Lovegood says that’s fine, professor.”

 “Put him on again, if you would, Mister Diggory. I would like to have a word with him.”

 Cedric took a step back and looked expectantly to Mr. Lovegood, then had to extract Mr. Lovegood from whatever he was writing. Mr. Lovegood dropped his notebook on a side table, then desperately scratched a few last words down before he let Cedric politely pull him back to the fireplace and Professor McGonagall.

 “Lost, eh?” Mr. Lovegood said to Cedric.

 Cedric looked a little embarrassed, but persistently said, “It seemed like something we ought to tell Headmaster Dumbledore first. Calling the Ministry might not have worked out.”

 “You think that I would told you to call the Aurors first?” Mr. Lovegood clucked his tongue, then patted Cedric on the shoulder. “It is apparent that you have let your subscription to the Quibbler slip, my young fellow! Or have your parents not been sending their copies along? Don’t worry! I shall have Luna deliver to you all the issues you have so clearly missed.”

 “Thanks, Mr. Lovegood,” Cedric said. “Please go talk to Professor McGonagall now.”

 When Cedric came back to the dining table, Harry showed him the Bursar, snoring with his belly up to the ceiling. Harry also whispered, “We’re going to have a Quibbler article about us, aren’t we?”

 Cedric’s smile turned into a grimace. “Probably,” he agreed. “Sorry.”

 “Well,” Harry said, with optimism that was only… slightly forced. “People already think I’m mad, attention-seeking, and dating my best friend. He can’t do much worse than Rita Skeeter, right?”

 “Hopefully,” Cedric said. 

 

Chapter Text

 At first they watched, alert and sympathetic, as Professor McGonagall began impressing upon Mr. Lovegood the seriousness of the situation and demanding the technical specifications of his fireplace. But Harry ended up just petting the dozing Bursar, since Cedric hadn’t taken the old niffler back, because he couldn’t follow half of it. He hadn’t known it mattered who’d installed your Floo connection; he didn’t know how the Floo Network or its security worked.

 The conversation went on and on until the deep timbre of Albus Dumbledore’s voice came from the fireplace, which got Harry’s attention again immediately. Cedric helped Harry set the Bursar’s bag aside and then over to the fireplace. Dumbledore looked very old and tired in the flames, but the old headmaster’s expression became greatly relieved when they assured him they were both alright.

Dumbledore sent McGonagall off again to manage the Triwizard Tournament in his absence, bidding her to put poor Professors Snape and Sprout out of their misery, though not to tell anyone yet that Harry and Cedric had been found. Once the room was empty again, he looked thoughtfully between Harry and Cedric, and he spoke:

 “An ill feeling came upon me when the silence within the maze went on for too long. We had expected that one of you would find your way through the maze nearly an hour ago, yet the staff members circling the maze have reported no sparks nor any other signs of our remaining champions. Yet all my worst suspicions of something amiss could not have predicted this.”

 Dumbledore met their eyes evenly and he said sincerely, “I cannot convey my gratitude that you have worked together to so brilliantly and bravely escaped to safety from a danger that you should never have faced. Hogwarts could not ask for greater champions.”

 Harry and Cedric exchanged a gratified look. They weren’t at Hogwarts yet, but that Dumbledore knew where they were made it seem as though they were halfway there.

 “But the danger has not passed entirely,” Dumbledore continued solemnly. “I must ask that you now tell me everything that has happened to you both since entering the maze, for your wellbeing and the clues that you may now unknowingly possess. I feel that we are closer than ever to uncovering the culprit behind the mysteries that have plagued our school this long year.”

 So Harry and Cedric quickly told him of all the obstacles they had faced in the Third Task. Most notably, Harry told him about Fleur’s scream, then Cedric described Krum’s unforgivable attack and Harry coming through the hedge to save him, and they looked to Dumbledore expectantly.

 “I am pleased to inform you that Miss Delacour has been recovered and treated by Madam Pomfrey – she is with her parents and well. However, the blame may not be so simply laid with Mister Krum, who cannot well remember most of his time in the maze. Madam Pomfrey suspects that Mister Krum may have been under the influence of a mind-altering spell. My fellow headmaster, Igor Karkaroff, is furious and complaining stridently to all who will listen.”

 The relief at knowing Fleur was alright was immediately upended by the shock this new revelation. First Viktor Krum was revealed to be evil? Now he was revealed to not be evil after all? Harry looked wide-eyed at Cedric, who appeared as though his world had flipped yet again.  

 “Mister Diggory, I cannot express sufficient apologies for what you have suffered tonight,” Dumbledore said solemnly. “I do not ask you to forgive Mister Krum, but to keep in mind the possibility that he has been sorely used tonight to further this confounding plot.”

 “Could it be Karkaroff?” Harry blurted. “Could Karkaroff have done something to Krum?”

 “It is possible, but, I think, too obvious an answer,” Dumbledore said. “You have my deepest respect, Mister Diggory, for sending up red sparks for someone who had committed an unforgiveable crime against you. What happened after you continued when no reasonable person could have blamed you for forfeiting the task?”

 They told Dumbledore about the end of the maze, about the spider and their decision to share the glory, then the Triwizard Cup being a Portkey. Then they told him about the graveyard, about Peter Pettigrew picking his way through the headstones and the voice from the bundle, and Cedric Apparating them both away. After telling it, Harry realized how little there was to tell and how quickly it had all happened.

 Still, at the end of it all, Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully. An orange hand rose up out of the fire to stroke his flickering beard as he said, “I believe we may have to take Professor McGonagall’s suggestion and take further advantage of Mr. Lovegood’s hospitality, perhaps until such a time that the culprit behind this kidnapping has apprehended. Mister Diggory’s quick thinking has given us opportunity to lay a trap for them.”

 “Sir, my parents…” Cedric began.

 “Shall be taken aside later tonight by Professor Sprout,” Dumbledore assured him. “We will not have your loved ones worry any longer than is necessary for either of you. Now, if you would pull Mr. Lovegood from what I am sure is forming as a most fascinating article, I would like to make some arrangements with him.”

 

 ~

 

 Madam Pomfrey appeared on Mr. Lovegood’s doorstep a mere half-hour later, after the end of the Floo call had left the fireplace dark and cold. She had two enormous leather bags in hand and was clucking unhappily about “all this secrecy and sneaking around”. She also had a few things to say about how the Triwizard Tournament had better not show its sorry face at her school ever again, if the Ministry of Magic knew what was good for them.

 Which made Mr. Lovegood laugh very hard.

 Mr. Lovegood was ultimately far too arrested by his writing to mind Madam Pomfrey’s presence at all, or to complain when she pulled two cots out of one of her bags and set them up in his kitchen. Madam Pomfrey pulled out mattresses and sheets and pillows and pyjamas. All Mr. Lovegood did was take five minutes to make it up the stairs, stopping every other step to focus on his scribbling.

 “Good job on these, Diggory,” Madam Pomfrey said, visibly if reluctantly impressed, when she inspected them for injuries and found out that Cedric had made use of his family’s healing kit. “You may have a future as a healer ahead of you. Very good job on these.”

 Then she fed Cedric a potion meant to soothe the aftereffects of a Cruciatus Curse and set up a working showing stall in the middle of Mr. Lovegood’s kitchen. It was a little awkward, even with the opaque shower curtain protecting their privacy, but Harry felt like an entirely different person once he was blissfully clean and dressed in warm Hospital Wing pyjamas. His scar still burned some, stinging on and off, but he was exhausted, and he and Cedric couldn’t help but yawn every time the other one of them did.

 But Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t let them sleep quite yet. She cracked open the other bag she’d brought with her and, courtesy of the Hogwarts kitchens, pulled out a small feast. Harry got the feeling that he and Cedric were supposed to eat or else. Harry almost said that he couldn’t possibly eat, but he was actually ravenous, and he ate until he felt like he could burst. Cedric did too, but he also made sure to leave food out for the Bursar when the old niffler woke up. 

 Afterwards, Madam Pomfrey fed them each a cup of hot chocolate and gave Harry a purple potion that was meant to ward off dreams. Cedric couldn’t take it because it might mix badly with the potion he’d taken for the Cruciatus Curse, but he assured Madam Pomfrey that was alright.

 Later, Harry wouldn’t even remember falling asleep.

 

~

 

 Harry felt as though he was at once on fire and drowning. He was blistering, bubbling, and yet under the weight of a great, choking purple sea. The thick waters kept trying to push him back down into the darkness, but a white-hot rope held him fast and kept trying to pull him up to the surface, where burning voices pleaded and argued. Harry couldn’t move his limbs to swim towards them or away.

 “-my Lord, it is not my fault! The other boy should not have been there-”

 

“-my loyal servant shall procure the boy whom you lost even though he was delivered directly-”

 

“-my Lord, I am sorry, I am sorry, I am so sorry, please don’t-”     

“-don’t-”

 

 The purple sea was a terrible weight on his chest… in his chest… it squeezed his lungs and filled them through so he could not breathe. Something about the voices was familiar. Something about these voices was important, he knew, but he could barely hear them over his own struggle.

 

  “-incompetence will have me spend perhaps months longer in this degrading form-!”

 

“-nothing to me! Nothing at all! Another witch or wizard – any wizard – the thing could be done-”

 

“-waited for the boy and I will have no other-!”

 

 “-the hour grows so late, my Lord. We have the cup and still there has been no sign from-”

 

 “-go! But await no honours when you return-”

 

  Just as Harry thought could not bear being torn between two places any longer, the fiery rope pulled harder than ever. He broke the surface of the purple sea with a grasp and tumbled fully into the world above the water. It was dark and silent here. Shrouded. The heat settled around him as he was held in a stifling grip, still unable to move his pathetic imitations of limbs.

 

“It is ready, Master.”

 

 “Now…” said a voice, cold from his throat.

 

 The shroud pulled away and an unsteady gait carried him forward, towards a beacon in the darkness that glittered like a thousand churning, broken shards of glass under light. To be held above the round light was blinding. Sparks danced over the surface and one leaped up to burn into his skin, the long bite of a wicked substance, and he hissed with the pain of it.

 And then he was falling. The sparks swallowed him down into this new white-hot sea and Harry screamed with the excruciating pain of being broken apart. The frail body hit the bottom with a gentle thud, but it was melting, and Harry thrashed uselessly to get away. Again, he was on fire and drowning, but a hundred times worse than before. No scrap of him was spared from the sparks. He wanted to drown… to die… to escape this terrible agony.

 “Harry?”

 Then the sea changed. The diamonds shattered and their remains joined and stretched and became smooth, curving pieces that scraped hideously against each other in the fire. The world became a vivid, poisonous-looking blue full of clicking sculpture.

 A scream pierced the fiery sea, there was a sickening splash, and then the waters changed again… into a brilliant, burning red. Where the red and blue met, new shapes formed, curving around the clicking white pieces and pulling them together. Even when there was no more room, new shapes kept forming, sucking up the sea, writhing over one another like living creatures.

 It went on and on and on until Harry thought he would go mad from it. He could not breathe at all. Why hadn’t he yet drowned? What was going wrong that the sea would not let him drown?

 And then there was a

drop.

 

 And the dying sea turned, instantly, a blinding white.

 

“Harry! Madam Pomfrey, what’s wrong with him-?”

 

 The next thing he knew, the world was black, and he heaved in a breath. The air was hot and wet. His lungs felt raw, like he had never breathed before now. Each breath felt like a revelation. He stood, slowly, and it felt like he had never stood before now either.

 Someone was sobbing wretchedly. It was not him. The yet lingering pain, the fire settling in his veins, was practically welcome. To feel again after so long was powerful.

 Wormtail's punishment had barely begun. 

 He opened his eyes. New eyes, as raw as the rest of him, the reformed pieces of that pathetic body. The world was dark, yet white with steam, which billowing so thickly that he could see nothing through the sea of it. He raised a hand and slowly the wet limb came into focus… but even as the mist began to clear the arm remained unnaturally pale… unnaturally long and thin… the skin was whiter than bone.

“Robe me,” he commanded.

 

 “HARRY! WAKE UP!”

 

~

 

 Harry opened his eyes again. He lay flat on his back, breathing as though he had been running, sweating as though he had been running for his life, and his scar burned beneath his fingers as though someone had been trying it tear his head open from the inside.

 Harry looked around him, but without his glasses, he could only make out vague shapes of people hovering over and around him. There were three of them, two closer than the others, one closer still. The closest one was the easiest one to make out: an older boy, looking away from him. Harry reached out to the boy, grabbing his hand, and the boy’s head snapped around.

 “He’s back,” Harry gasped. “Lord Voldemort, he’s back.”

 

~

 

 “I was this close to calling Saint Mungo’s, Potter,” Madam Pomfrey informed him.

 Harry was sitting up on his cot in Mr. Lovegood’s kitchen, his glasses returned to his face (the Bursar had taken them from their makeshift nightstand) and his wand to his hand. Madam Pomfrey had been able to find nothing wrong with him or his scar, which was still slightly painful, and seemed to have taken it as a personal offense that she couldn’t even give him something for his pain. She had also apparently nearly emptied her healer’s bag, trying to wake him from his dream, and was having trouble stuffing everything back inside.

 Cedric was standing at the end of Harry’s cot, wearing the same Hospital Wing pyjamas and holding his own wand tightly. Mr. Lovegood, unchanged down to the rainbow knit blanket he wore like a cape, was sitting at the bottom of the spiral, wrought-iron staircase. Madam Pomfrey had already been awake, but Harry’s screaming had woken up everyone else in the house.

 Well, everyone except the Bursar, who had also already been awake. The old niffler was sitting on Mr. Lovegood’s dining table, next to a small pile of stolen goods – shiny ornaments, loose coins (including his one galleon), buttons, glasses, nails and paperclips, and cutlery. The Bursar watched them all carefully, clutching at his golden monocle.

 “I’ve only seen Seers react like that to Dreamless Sleep before!” Madam Pomfrey went on unhappily, repeating herself for perhaps the third time. “Potter, you don’t have any Seers in your family history, do you?”

 “I wouldn’t know,” Harry answered shortly.  

 He felt disgusting and cold with the truth of what he had seen. Lord Voldemort had ruined any chance of Harry knowing his family and now he was back. No matter how anyone here hedged, Harry knew what he had seen had been far more than just a nightmare. How foolish he’d been! How arrogant to think that Voldemort had needed him to regain a body tonight!

 Madam Pomfrey paused in her work. “My apologies, Mister Potter, that was thoughtless of me,” she said, and then she stuffed her last privacy curtain back into her bag. “If I’d had any idea you might have that reaction to Dreamless Sleep, I would never have given it to you.”

 “…Madam, why would Seers react badly to Dreamless Sleep?” Cedric asked, with hesitant curiosity.

 “There are some levels of visions that even Dreamless Sleep can’t protect from,” Madam Pomfrey answered. “It can be more difficult to wake people under Dreamless Sleep. Powerful and natural seers can become trapped in prophetic visions, and some wizards just don’t react well to it. You ought to know by now that there’s no one potion that suits all, Diggory.”

 “Does that… does that mean that what Harry saw was true? Or maybe will be true?”

 “Even the best Seers can have difficulty sorting between what has happened, what is happening, or what might happen!” Mr. Lovegood intervened thoughtfully. “And the imagination is a powerful thing! But a wizard needs only their own conviction to act in answer. What proof do any of us have that Harry Potter’s vision is untrue?”

 Harry’s hands clenched in his lap, before he lifted his chin. “I know what I saw – what I felt. I have to tell Professor Dumbledore that he’s back.”

 “The headmaster may be very busy at the moment,” Madam Pomfrey said. “We haven’t received his notice that the school has been made safe for you again. I will send a message along to him right this minute if you truly believe it necessary, of course, but you still shan’t see the headmaster until morning at the earliest.”

 Cedric checked his watch. “It’s just after three in the morning now, Madam Pomfrey.”

 “Until the sun is up,” Madam Pomfrey corrected, “and Professor Dumbledore is ready for you. I will have neither of you galivanting off into danger on my watch.”

 “But shouldn’t he know right away? That Voldemort might already be back?”

 “I will send along your message, Potter,” Madam Pomfrey assured him. “In the meantime, you must stay here and get as much rest as you can. No more Dreamless Sleep for you, I think.”

 Harry was fairly certain he was never going to sleep ever again, but Madam Pomfrey was immoveable. Harry refused her offer to shower again and lay back on the cot without removing his glasses or letting go of his wand. Madam Pomfrey thankfully let him be in favour of sorting the contents of her healer’s bag, then stepping outside to send Harry’s message along to Dumbledore somehow, and Mr. Lovegood soon rose to return upstairs. Cedric gave Harry one last concerned look before he went to pull the Bursar from his ill-gotten gains.

 “Come on, you little burglar,” Cedric murmured, and scooped the old niffler into his arms, picking up the golden galleon too. Cedric gave the wriggling Bursar the galleon to placate him and came back over to the cots, where uncertainly placed the niffler on Harry’s cot.

 The Bursar immediately tried to leave, presumable to go back to his stolen pile, but he seemed nervous about the drop to the floor and Cedric headed him off at every turn. Harry sat up and shuffled a little out of the way, so the Bursar had a little more room.

 “He can’t climb like he used to,” Cedric said, as though this explained anything. “Well, he can climb up still. Down is harder. And he can’t seem to figure out Mr. Lovegood’s stairs.”

 Cedric gingerly sat on the end of Harry’s cot, heading off another of the Bursar’s attempts to look over the edge. The Bursar make a very grumpy sound, almost like a growl, and shuffled over Harry’s lap. Harry gave the niffler a careful pat, but the Bursar didn’t even seem to notice as he peered over that edge and slowly began to let himself off it, until he finally fell to the floor with a hefty plonk, and could waddle underneath the cot back to the dining table.

 “Sorry, should I’ve stopped him?”  

 “No,” Cedric assured him. “It’s fine. I’ll have to pull him out of there in the morning again anyway.”

 Harry watched the Bursar shuffle up a chair. “Probably.”

 They sat in silence as the old niffler worked his way up on top of the dining table again, return the golden galleon to its place in the hoard. The Bursar then snuffled in circles around the stolen goods, making sure that no one else had seen fit to pilfer his shiny buttons or gleaming teaspoons in his absence. Once he was satisfied, the Bursar made another growly prrh sound in Cedric’s direction, who just waved at him.

 “…Do you think my parents are still at Hogwarts? Or do you think they’ve gone home and noticed that someone’s been in?” Cedric said finally. “People can’t still be sitting out there on the pitch, waiting for us to stumble out of the maze. I know Quidditch games go on for ages sometimes, but… what do you think they’ve been told?”

 Harry shrugged and answered flatly, “Dunno. Maybe they all think we’re really bad at mazes.”

 Cedric laughed quietly. “That’s kind of embarrassing, don’t you think? My mates’ll give me hell for that, picturing me wandering around that awful maze overnight. They’ve got to know something has gone wrong.”

 “They ought to,” Harry agreed.

 Even before Voldemort had come into it, the Triwizard Tournament was dangerous. Maybe Cedric and his mates didn’t know what had really gone on with the Philosopher’s Stone or the Chamber of Secrets, but they at least had to be worried about the dangers of the maze. Would Ron and Hermione think it was just the Third Task? Or would they notice the worry of the teachers and figure out something more was wrong?

 “I just… if your dream was real…” Cedric began slowly, “then no one’s got any idea that You-Know-Who is alive and back. You-Know-Who isn’t dead and no one’s got any idea.”

 Harry sighed and pulled up his knees, crossing his arms around them. He could feel the icy fear of his nightmare spread again at the thought: Voldemort was back. Somewhere out in the night, probably still in that terrible graveyard, Voldemort had a body of his own again.

 “Yeah.”

 Cedric put his head in his hands. “I… I only remember the parties, you know? Older students remembered the war, because everyone lost someone, but… I was four… all I remember is how happy people were when he died. What… what are they all going to think when he’s back? I just keep thinking of what people’s faces are going to be like when they hear…”

 Harry curled further in on himself. He didn’t know and didn’t want to imagine it. He didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news either. He didn’t want Voldemort to be back just as much as anyone else.

 “…Sorry,” Cedric said awkwardly, standing again. “I should… I should let you sleep, shouldn’t I? Good night. Oh, uh, should I… that’s kind of inappropriate under the circumstances…?”

 “Good night,” Harry echoed emptily.

 “…Right.”

 But it was undeniable, at least to Harry, that the Dark Lord Voldemort had risen again. 

 

Chapter Text

Harry woke in the morning feeling unrested and uneasy. Light peeked through the windows of Mr. Lovegood’s kitchen and birdsong came from branches of the crab-apple trees outside. As though it was any other ordinary morning – as though, just several hours earlier, hundreds of miles away, the Dark Lord Voldemort hadn’t finally returned.

He sat up, adjusted his bent glasses, and looked around. Madam Pomfrey was missing and so were her bags, though the cots still remained, with Cedric Diggory still asleep on the other. The Bursar was snoring softly on the dining table next his burgled hoard of junk, which had grown rather impressively in size over the course of the night, cuddling his monocle and the galleon like stuffed animals. Mr. Lovegood was fluttering around his kitchen, preparing tea and breakfast, simultaneously waving his wand like a conductor as he directed the Bursar’s stolen goods back to their proper places.

Harry blinked as he fully registered the change in Mr. Lovegood. Their host was now dressed in a very smart mauve suit – almost business-like – paired with an indigo half-cape and gleaming knee-high boots. His white-blond hair had been brushed and tied back. He… still had the purple carrots dangling from his ears, though, and the golden triangular-eye necklace on his chest.

“Ah, good morning, Harry Potter,” Mr. Lovegood said quietly, beaming across the room, when he noticed Harry was awake. “Would you care to wake Cedric? Breakfast is nearly ready. And I have some new garlic tea that I’ve been quite anxious to try!”

Determined not to face such a prospect without company, Harry reached out beside him and desperately shook Cedric’s shoulder. Cedric woke easily enough, though it seemed to take him a few seconds to remember where he was and what was happening, and he didn’t even have bedhead. Cedric’s hair looked unfairly fantastic, whereas Harry tried to flatten his own with the usual success (which was to say: none).

“Madam Pomfrey left you changes of clothes just over there, boys,” Mr. Lovegood said.

The privacy curtain around the shower was still there, even if Madam Pomfrey’s portable shower was not, and Cedric waved Harry’s towards it for first go at changing. Harry took the clothes, which appeared to be a plain, clean Hogwarts uniform, and went gladly. His leg was a little stiff, but it didn’t do much more than twinge to walk on it.

“Sir, where’s Madam Pomfrey?” Cedric asked.

“She was called back to Hogwarts quite urgently! I’m afraid that she wouldn’t tell me why, no matter how politely I inquired. She tasked me with keeping an eye on you, but I believe she might not have trusted my capabilities, because there’s been elves in regularly through the night. One of them said he was good friends with Harry Potter, actually.”

“Dobby?” Harry realized. He finished changing quickly and popped out from behind the curtain. “Dobby’s been by?”

“Yes, charming fellow! But he was replaced by a Miss Penny later on through the night, and she wouldn’t say why the switch had been made either,” Mr. Lovegood reported slyly. “It’s all been excruciatingly fascinating. On her last visit, Miss Penny left a message saying that we can expect Professor Dumbledore along to collect you around nine o’clock.”

Cedric checked his watch as he passed Harry for the privacy curtain. “It’s eight-forty now!”

“So, it is!” Mr. Lovegood agreed cheerfully.

When they were finished changing, Mr. Lovegood bid them to leave their pyjamas on the cots, expecting that all would be collected later. Cedric painstakingly tried to move the Bursar off the table without waking him, but failed miserably. The old niffler was immediately distressed at what was happened to his ill-gotten gains and wriggled fiercely in Cedric’s arms, so much so that Mr. Lovegood took another golden galleon from his pocket to distract the Bursar while everything finished putting itself away.

“Sir,” Cedric said helplessly, looking down at the miffed niffler now protectively clutching two galleons and his monocle. “Please stop throwing money at the problem. It’s going to be so much trouble to get these off him, though I swear I’ll be sure to pay you back later if I don’t manage.”

Mr. Lovegood waved his free hand carelessly, as his waved breakfast carefully onto the dining table with his wand. “Oh, it’s no trouble! It’s the price one expects to pay for the pleasure of hosting the cobalt flat-footed crook! Whenever you can pay them back is quite fine, if you must.”

They sat down to breakfast and it was, as far as Harry’s broad experiences with breakfasts went, fine. Mr. Lovegood had prepared for them a crab-apple oatmeal. Harry got away with not touching his cup of pungent garlic tea, a drink which he hadn’t known existed until this morning, but Mr. Lovegood stared so expectantly at Cedric that Cedric defeatedly drank the entire cup.

Harry couldn’t help but snicker at the way Cedric shuddered. Cedric couldn’t even manage to glare at him properly for it. Cedric grinned back instead and Harry actually forgot, for a moment, that everything was different now and not for the better.

When Cedric’s watch read five-to-nine, there was a knock at the door.

Cedric and Harry sat very still at the dining table as Mr. Lovegood went to go answer it. Mr. Lovegood didn’t open up immediately, but rather peered out a strange telescope-like device next to the door and then knocked back twice. The person on the other side of the door knocked again, differently to before, and only then did Mr. Lovegood smile and swing the door open.

“Good morning, Professor!”

“And a good morning to you, Xenophilius,” came the deep warmth of Albus Dumbledore’s voice. “May I compliment you on the colour of your robes today? I must admit that I have always enjoyed your accomplished opinion on my own wardrobe in your articles-”

However Dumbledore finished that sentence, Harry didn’t hear it, because a hairy snout poked its way past Mr. Lovegood and was shortly followed by the rest of the head of a large black dog.

As soon as the dog caught sight of Harry at the dining table, it shoved its full body past Mr. Lovegood and Harry gladly slid off his chair to meet his godfather. Tail wagging fiercely, Sirius crashed into Harry, and Harry’s arms went around him and Harry’s hands into his thick fur. The smell of Sirius wasn’t precisely good, but it also wasn’t nearly so wretched as before, and Harry happily accepted the canine bulk and the wet nose that snuffled affectionately through his hair.

The Bursar, who had been eating in Cedric’s arms, cried out in surprise at the sight of the huge black dog and scrambled up onto Cedric’s shoulders. Cedric fumbled to make sure that the old niffler didn’t fall as he stood quickly, taking his own few hasty steps away from the apparent Grim.

“Ah, yes,” Dumbledore said as he swept inside. “I had promised to walk a good friend’s dog this morning. Xenophilius, I hope you do not mind that I took the opportunity to multitask.”

Mr. Lovegood looked noticeably paler and his eyes were remarkably wide as he took in the dog in his kitchen, but he also didn’t look very frightened. “My word,” he said wondrously, “could that be… the Grim? The portent of death?”

“The resemblance is uncanny,” Dumbledore agreed. “However, given that I have had the pleasure of his company before and suffered no ill effects, I believe that the resemblance may simply be a rather frightening coincidence. Do not be afraid, Cedric. Snuffles here, though excited to see Harry again, is extremely well-behaved.”

Sirius pulled back out of Harry’s arms to offer Mr. Lovegood and Cedric a charming canine grin, sitting down beside Harry and thumping his tail to emphasize his friendliness and good behaviour. Sirius then turned that grin on Harry; if Harry had possessed any doubt that this wasn’t his godfather, that doubt would have vanished at the familiar brightness of those grey eyes. Harry grinned back and ran his hands down Sirius’ back one last time before pulling away.

“...Does he do interviews?” Mr. Lovegood asked Dumbledore curiously.

“Ah, I cannot make that decision, Xenophilius. You will have to ask Snuffles himself later.”

As Harry sat in his chair again, he looked properly at Albus Dumbledore. Though Polyjuice might have been able to copy the long white beard and the craggy face with the crooked nose, Harry had trouble believing that any potion could match the particular fond blue of Dumbledore’s eyes. The headmaster stood tall and smiling as Mr. Lovegood warily closed the door behind him, and looked just as wizardly as ever in dress too, which wasn’t at all out of place in the odd Lovegood house. Dumbledore wore embroidered dull gold robes, matching slippers (with tall crimson socks), and a matching hat that had no brim and a soft conical cap. He wore a modest pair of half-moon glasses and only a few rings as jewellery today, instead of any of the fancy parures he might don for special occasions, and he held a small red purse alongside his wand.

It was such a fantastic relief to see him again, especially looking so very himself.

“Good morning, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “Good morning, Cedric.”

“Good morning,” Harry echoed.

“...Good morning, sir,” Cedric said, belated, as he comforted the alarmed Bursar.

The Bursar seemed to be having a one-sided staring match with Sirius, who was sitting comfortingly and relaxed next to Harry’s chair, pointedly not looking at Cedric or the Bursar. Still, the old niffler’s grey-blue fur was all on end and his grip on Cedric’s hair was very tight. Cedric winced as he tried to coax the Bursar down from his shoulder to no success.

“I see you are still enjoying your morning tea, Xenophilius. May I join you?”

And so Albus Dumbledore sat down to breakfast with them and was given his own cup of garlic tea, which he accepted graciously. Cedric slowly sat back down, the niffler still on his shoulder, but Mr. Lovegood puttered away again in search of his notebooks.

Sirius put his head on Harry’s leg and Harry scratched his ear gratefully. He wished that his godfather could be human for this and by the look that Sirius gave him, Harry suspected that Sirius wished he could be human now too. But even if Cedric now knew that Sirius Black was innocent, it was quite a large leap to suddenly introduce them, and there was still Mr. Lovegood and his Quibbler to contend with.

Dumbledore steepled his hands on the table in front of him and began gently, “First, allow me to congratulate the both of you on your victory. Hogwarts is ecstatic to have its two champions be the ones to win the Cup and is quite prepared to celebrate when you return. The Triwizard Tournament allows three schools the opportunity to come together and create something greater than ourselves, yet the competition it can foster in the pursuit of eternal glory is fierce. To work together and choose to share the glory between you… I could not be prouder of either of you.”

He looked between them. “However, I imagine the reward you currently seek is to know what has transpired in your absence, which is why I have first come to speak with you. The culprit has been caught...” Dumbledore held up a hand before either of them could ask questions and continued, “...and it is long story that you deserve to hear in its entirety.”

Harry and Cedric exchanged uncertain looks as Dumbledore lowered his hand again. They were glad to have won the Tournament - at least, Harry was glad to have it all over with and Dumbledore’s commendation - but their victory was indeed overshadowed by what had immediately followed. Even their timely escape was now overshadowed by Harry’s earlier nightmare.

“...Sir,” Harry said. “Did… did Madam Pomfrey tell you that I had… well… this dream?”

“That Lord Voldemort had regained a body?” Dumbledore nodded solemnly. “Yes, she did, and it is most fortunate that you sent this message, because that factors into our sorry story as well. Let me begin with when we last spoke: when I had already begun to form a plan to catch the one who had been manipulating us for so long. Who, I asked myself, had the opportunity to meddle with the Triwizard Cup between when it left my care and when you took it? I knew that how I laid our trap was crucial… and, at Harry’s insight that Polyjuice might be in use, that I must watch every reaction closely.”

Dumbledore moved his long fingers slightly as he spoke, to emphasize his words, and Harry noticed out of the corner of his eye that the rings on his fingers had attracted the attention of the nervous niffler on Cedric’s shoulder. The Bursar didn’t do anything, but he appeared to be listening as intently as the rest of them. They were all enthralled.

“I announced to the school that the two of you had taken the Cup together and, having narrowly escaped unexpected dangers without harm, were currently recovering and would return the next day, and as I sent the audience off to bed, I had Professors Sprout take the Diggories and the Weasleys aside. I did not disclose any current whereabouts to anyone save those who asked specifically… and to each person I gave a different answer.”

Harry was on the edge of his seat. “And?”

“It was Alastor Moody who, against my request that he secure the maze, sought to find you,” Dumbledore answered. “Or rather: the person we had all believed to be Alastor Moody.”

“Someone took down and Polyjuiced into Professor Moody?” Cedric said disbelievingly.

“I am afraid that it is far worse than that, for Alastor Moody never even arrived to teach at Hogwarts this year. Since the very beginning, an exceedingly clever and talented actor has been playing the part of Alastor Moody for us, fooling even myself until the very end. It was he who entered Harry’s name into the Goblet of Fire and assured Harry would be chosen, so that he might, at the end of three difficult tasks, take the powerful artefact of the Triwizard Cup and be transported into the long-planned resurrection of Lord Voldemort.”

Harry and Cedric stared agape at Dumbledore. Harry’s mind raced for every time he had seen or spoken to Professor Moody - or rather: the person he had thought was Professor Moody - but there were too many incidences over the course of a long and stressful year to possibly re-examine them all. It didn’t help to be told that it had never been Mad-Eye Moody. Harry had taken advice from… he had trusted… someone who had never been real.

“Professor Snape and myself apprehended the imposter when he sought to break into my office, supposedly on my orders,” Dumbledore went on. “From there, we interrogated him with the use of Veritaserum and searched the office we had given him, where in his trunk we discovered a great deal of empty bottles that had indeed once contained Polyjuice… as well as the real Alastor Moody, imprisoned these long months to continue the ruse.”

“...In his trunk?” Cedric repeated.

“You can’t take the necessary Polyjuice ingredients from dead people,” Harry informed him, recalling that fact from his exploits of second-year. “The imposter would’ve needed to keep the real Moody alive to keep pretending, wouldn’t he?”

Dumbledore nodded again. “Exactly correct, Harry. We recovered Alastor, whose weakened health has now been placed in the care of our Madam Pomfrey, from her elf assistants, as he refuses to be relocated to Saint Mungo’s until this affair has concluded fully. The culprit is currently being held at Hogwarts, under the close watch of Professors Snape and Flitwick, until such a time as the Aurors and Minister can also hear his full story.”

“Who was it?” Harry demanded.

“A man we had all thought dead: Bartemius Crouch Junior.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open. “Crouch’s son? I thought he died in Azkaban!”

“As did I,” Dumbledore answered.

“Sorry, I… I don’t know who that is?” Cedric said confusedly. “Mr. Crouch had a son?”

Dumbledore nodded. “Yes. As I said: this story is long, but it is one you both deserve to know.” He looked to Cedric and said, “After the defeat of Lord Voldemort thirteen years ago, many of his most loyal followers refused to believe that their leader was dead and committed terrible crimes in search of information on his whereabouts. One of these followers was Crouch’s own son, who claimed that he had merely fallen in with the wrong crowd and been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. To the shock of many, Crouch threw his own son in Azkaban where, we all believed, the young Barty Crouch Junior shortly died.”

“But… he didn’t… he escaped?” Harry said. “How?”

“With, rather ironically, the help of his father. Ananke Crouch was dying and could not bear to have her son suffer in Azkaban, and so persuaded her husband to rescue young Barty as a last favour to herself. The Crouches visited Azkaban and, with the help of Polyjuice Potion, mother and son took on each other’s appearances. Ananke Crouch drank the potion until the very end and, when she passed away, was buried under the appearance of her son.”

“But… what happened to Crouch’s son? Has he been… free all this time?”

“Removed from Azkaban, but not free. Though Mr. Crouch honoured his wife’s dying wish, he could not bear nor afford to let his son go. For the next ten years, Mr. Crouch kept his son imprisoned in his own home, under an invisibility cloak and the Imperius Curse, under the care of a house elf I believe you are acquainted with.”

“Winky!” Harry realized.

Dumbledore nodded. “The very same.”

Cedric looked aghast, like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing but also couldn’t disbelieve Albus Dumbledore himself. “How could anyone do that? And to his own son?!”

“There are some people in this world, I am afraid, who are far more deeply concerned with what they feel they are obligated to do than what is right,” Dumbledore said solemnly, placing both his hands on the table. “In the particular case of Mr. Crouch, if his crime had been discovered, he would have faced time in Azkaban himself, among those he had sent there personally. He also could not let a dangerous criminal roam free, even if it was his own son.”

Harry and Cedric were silent as they contemplated the horror of this story. Sirius’ sympathetic head pressed more firmly against Harry’s side and Harry let himself keep a steadying grip on Sirius’ dark fur. He had thought Sirius was the only one to have ever escaped the horrors of Azkaban… but it there had been another… a true follower of Voldemort out there all along.

That explained the mystery of the names on the Marauder’s Map.

“Sir,” Harry said. “I don’t understand. How did Barty Crouch Junior come to be impersonating Professor Moody for Voldemort if his father had him under the Imperius Curse?”

“Through a rather nosy witch by the name of Bertha Jorkins, an employee of the Ministry of Magic who has been missing since last summer,” Dumbledore answered sadly. “It appears that Bertha once visited the Crouch home unannounced and came upon the careful arrangement Mr. Crouch had made for his son. Upon being confronted, Crouch cast a powerful Memory Charm on poor Bertha to keep his secret and sent her on her way, leading perhaps to the extreme forgetfulness for which she has since been known.

“On a holiday trip to Albania, she by chance encountered Voldemort’s other servant-”

“Peter Pettigrew,” Harry supplied, and felt Sirius shift against his leg.

Dumbledore paused, looking at Cedric and Mr. Lovegood.

“I told Cedric about him - the real story - after we ran into him at the graveyard,” Harry explained, and then remembered the wizard scribbling madly into his notebook nearby. He glanced back uncertainly. “I, um, hadn’t told Mr. Lovegood… though.”

“Ah,” Dumbledore said. “Another story for later, it seems, Xenophilius.”

“Indeed!” Mr. Lovegood agreed, without looking up.

Dumbledore went on to tell them how Pettigrew had captured Bertha Jorkins and, through her and through breaking Crouch’s Memory Charm, Voldemort had learned all about the upcoming Triwizard Tournament and the loyal servant imprisoned in Crouch’s home. Bertha Jorkins was murdered and Voldemort sought out Barty Crouch Junior, who had been coming to resist his father’s Imperius Charm, and who had been the one to cast the Dark Mark using Harry’s wand during the Quidditch World Cup. Winky had persuaded Mr. Crouch to allow his son to see the game under an invisibility cloak, but been unable to keep him under control and been freed.

“The elf named Winky was fetched and confirmed his story as she begged the young Crouch not to reveal his late father’s secrets,” Dumbledore said. “I am afraid that she has been greatly upset by all the revelations tonight and Dobby, though he very much wished to congratulate you on your victory, Harry, has taken it upon himself to console her.”

Mr. Crouch had then taken his newly Imperiused son home again, Dumbledore told them, only to shortly be attacked by Voldemort and Pettigrew. Once freed from his father’s control, Barty Crouch Junior had gladly rejoined his Dark Lord and joined the plan to infiltrate the Triwizard Tournament. Barty Crouch Senior had been placed under the Imperius to keep up appearances, and Barty Crouch Junior and Pettigrew had together captured Alastor Moody so that the younger Crouch could impersonate him. From there, the young Crouch had proceeded to manipulate them all for months to further his master’s plan.

“But he’s been caught now,” Harry confirmed, after it seemed the incredible story had finished.

“Oh, yes,” Dumbledore agreed. “At long last, he has been caught. Though not before he caused a great deal of suffering and murdered his own father before Mr. Crouch could reveal him.” Dumbledore then looked to the other boy at the table and said, “Cedric, though nothing need be decided now, Mister Krum has asked me to inform you that he would like to apologize for his role in your own suffering.”

Cedric was quiet, as he had been for most of this conversation, and his expression was unsettled as it had been ever since learning what Barty Crouch Junior had done to Viktor Krum. The Bursar had crawled off Cedric’s shoulder was now sitting on the table between Cedric’s arms. Cedric looked pained as he absentmindedly scratched the old niffler’s head.

“It’s not his fault,” Cedric said finally. “Any of it. He was under the Imperius Curse.”

“Nevertheless, if you will allow it, he wishes to apologize to you as he has already apologized to Miss Delacour. You are, the both of you, too young to remember what a frightening time the war was for people, not knowing who they could trust and afraid that they themselves could be used against their own friends and family. I am sorry you should know some of that unforgivable time now.”

Harry had nothing to say to this and, it seemed, neither did Cedric. Dumbledore sat back and allowed them to digest everything they had been told. Sirius waited patiently at Harry’s side. For several seconds, the only sound in the kitchen was Mr. Lovegood’s quill scratching away.

The first of them to move again was the Bursar, who cautiously sidled out from between Cedric’s arms towards Albus Dumbledore’s hands. They all watched (including Sirius, who was just tall enough to peer over the edge of the table) as the old niffler snuffled around Dumbledore’s rings. The Bursar looked up at the headmaster, who smiled down at him, and then began trying to take off the rings. Cedric stopped looking miserable in favour of looking absolutely mortified, but Dumbledore just looked amused and turned his hands into fists, letting the niffler tug curiously and uselessly at them.

“I don’t believe we have been introduced,” Dumbledore said.

“That’s the Bursar,” Cedric answered. “He’s my mum’s pet niffler. When we stopped at my place, we got worried someone might be able to follow us there and… I couldn’t leave him behind, not knowing what might happen to him. I can take him for you, sir.”

“Oh, that’s quite alright. I haven’t had such a pleasant encounter with a niffler for years,” Dumbledore said cheerfully, and Harry suddenly realized how much over the course of their conversation the headmaster had come to look like a man who had indeed been up for half the night. “Many nifflers of past acquaintance were much less polite about their interest in my jewellery… and did not have such dignified taste in eyewear as the Bursar here.”

Cedric reluctantly sat back in his chair, looking no less mortified.

“...What happens now, sir?” Harry asked.

“Pardon?” Dumbledore said, now moving his hands across the table for the niffler to follow. The Bursar kept pawing at the rings interestedly and now seemed to be trying to chew them off.

“Do we go back to Hogwarts now?”

“Ah. My apologies, Harry, we have gotten somewhat distracted, haven’t we? I am afraid that we do not return to Hogwarts quite yet, because in my dawdling I have yet to finish telling the story.”

Harry and Cedric both sat up a little straighter. “Sir?”

“I have just finished telling you the long and sorry story of the Crouches, but there is still what happened after our culprit was caught,” Dumbledore said, and looked up again at the two of them. “There are still many hours yet to speak of between the uncovering of the young Crouch late last night and sunrise today, in which an irreplaceable historical artefact was also still unaccounted for and demanded finding.”

 

Chapter Text

“You see, after we had uncovered the long and sorry story of the Crouches, I sent Professor McGonagall to call the Ministry,” Dumbledore explained to them. “Minister Fudge had by then, unfortunately, long since left for his bed and could not be contacted, but we were answered by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The Auror Office, upon hearing that Alastor Moody had been attacked and a Death Eater had been uncovered at Hogwarts, readily came upon my invitation that they investigate the matter on Minister Fudge’s behalf.”

At a sudden sound from behind him, Harry turned to see that that Mr. Lovegood badly suppressing laughter. A flash of amusement crossed Dumbledore’s face too, although that could have also been because the old headmaster was still playing hiding games with the niffler after his jewellery.

“The late Crouch Senior was, of course, not available for consultation, and Ludo Bagman had fled the scene upon the announcement that our Hogwarts champions had tied for first place,” Dumbledore said. “I understand that Mr. Bagman was quite deeply in debt with a group of goblins and had made a rather risky bet on our youngest champion to regain his gambling losses.”

“Is that why he offered to help me?” Harry demanded indignantly.

“...I would presume so.”

Harry huffed disbelievingly. He hadn’t known what to make of Mr. Bagman’s offer at the time. It was one thing to think that Mr. Bagman might have genuinely liked him enough to help him, and another thing to think that Mr. Bagman thought him incapable of succeeding on his own… but that Mr. Bagman had only wanted to help him win the Tournament to win a bet?

“I told him I didn’t need his help,” Harry assured them all, especially Cedric, who was looking at him in surprise. “Now I’m doubly glad I told him no.”

“Indeed,” Dumbledore said, smiling at Harry. “Now, as you can see, we were left without a Ministry representative to consult. We were unable to contact Minister Fudge or the Head of the Auror Office, Mr. Rufus Scrimgeour, but the Senior Auror who was working the night shift at the office was quite willing to step in for them.”

“...And this is… funny… for some reason,” Cedric said, looking between the adults in the room.

“Very much so!” Mr. Lovegood agreed, as he turned yet another page of his notebook to keep writing. “It’s all about public perception with certain fellows of our esteemed Ministry of Magic! The stories that I have heard about Cornelius Fudge! The people who send us articles for publishing at the Quibbler have much to say that you would never hear a whisper of in the Daily Prophet!”

“It has been... suggested... that the revival of the Triwizard Tournament was spearheaded by Minister Fudge, Mr. Bagman, and the late Mr. Crouch out of several motivations,” Dumbledore said. “It is important to them that the event appear to be a success, for they may not be cast in a favourable light should the long and sorry story of Barty Crouch Junior become widely known. As it does not cast a favourable light upon me that I was for so long fooled by his impersonation of Alastor Moody.”

“Oh,” said Cedric, with a look of great understanding.

Harry understood enough to know that Rita Skeeter would be gleeful to learn what had happened. Having been the focus of her vicious quill, he understood that he wouldn’t want her to know he had made a mistake either. He didn’t quite understand what was so funny about not being able to contact the Minister in the middle of the night, however, though he thought it might have something to do with Mr. Lovegood obviously not liking Cornelius Fudge and perhaps his green bowler hat.

“The Minister has yet to visit Hogwarts today and thus has not expressed an opinion on the investigation,” Dumbledore continued. “The Senior Auror who answered us came in the company of two others and three Junior Aurors, all of whom, I understand, served with and were at one point partially trained by Alastor Moody. They were all most distressed to hear of what had happened to him and eager to apprehend the accomplices still unaccounted for.”

It took a moment for Harry to understand what exactly that meant; it had never occurred to him that something like this could happen. “Wait,” he said, “they wanted to arrest Voldemort?”

“Very much so,” Dumbledore said. “The Aurors were, at first, skeptical of the assertion that our culprit had been acting under the orders of a man they have long believed to be dead, but they ultimately agreed that it was important to catch young Crouch’s accomplices no matter the identities being used. Unfortunately, by this time, the Veritaserum had begun to wear off, and Barty Crouch Junior was able to deflect our questions about the whereabouts of his accomplices with vague answers.”

“Couldn’t you give him more?”

“Not as quickly as we needed, unfortunately, without risking severe side effects. It is an extremely powerful potion. However, we had two other potential leads yet remaining: the trail left by Cedric here as you Apparated away and the Triwizard Cup that you left behind. The Aurors and I enlisted the assistance of the Diggories, who upon a brief explanation, gladly granted access to their home in the hopes of catching the wizards who had threatened their son’s life.

“While the Aurors followed Mr. and Mrs. Diggory to the their home in the hopes of following Cedric’s Apparition, I sought to divine the location of the the Triwizard Cup with the assistance of Professor Trelawney. Unfortunately, the Goblet of Fire, which might have been used to facilitate such a spell, was months ago returned to the custody of the Ministry - regaining access would have taken months of paperwork and many approvals, which we did not have to spare.”

Harry tried to imagine Professor Trelawney lending herself to the effort of a Ministry investigation, which seemed so unlikely that his mind begged him to stop trying.

“Fortunately, the Aurors had far greater luck. It took them some time and the reluctant assistance of the Department of Magical Transportation, encouraged by the immovable insistence of the Diggories, but they were eventually able to discover the origins of the Apparition: a graveyard in a village called Little Hangleton,” Dumbledore informed them. “Where Lord Voldemort’s father, Tom Riddle Senior, lived, before he was murdered over fifty years ago alongside his parents.”

Harry’s already bewildered brain scrambled to keep up. Cedric looked as though his eyes might pop out of his head at any moment. Even the scratching of Mr. Lovegood’s quill stopped for a moment, before it began scritching away twice as quickly. The only ones who didn’t seem stunned by the revelations were Sirius, who must have heard some version of this already, and the old niffler who, upon being unable to take the headmaster’s rings, had apparently decided to take possession of Dumbledore’s hands instead.  

“However, that is a story for another time,” Dumbledore said solemnly. “The Aurors collected reinforcements, not fully knowing what to expect at the other end, and surrounded the Little Hangleton graveyard. Where they encountered, both fortunately and unfortunately: Lord Voldemort, Peter Pettigrew, Lord Voldemort’s snake familiar, and a rather grim scene.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open. “They caught him?”

“Lord Voldemort? Unfortunately not. Even in what one might call a relatively newborn state, Lord Voldemort would not be so easily captured, and lashed out violently at the Aurors before escaping the scene with his snake familiar. Some of the Aurors were injured in his explosive escape, but they have been taken to Saint Mungo’s and are expected to recover. Any naysayers among the Aurors, at that point, could no longer deny this was a serious threat.”

“Now they know he’s back.”

Dumbledore tilted his head to one side, in a gesture that was neither a nod nor a shake of the head. “That is currently a heated topic of debate among those privy to the investigation. Lord Voldemort’s appearance has changed slightly with his resurrection and it has been over thirteen years since he was last seen. Some few still doubt his identity, but most of the Aurors that were on the scene have come to believe the truth: that the Dark Lord Voldemort was never dead and has risen again.”

“And the Minister still hasn’t shown up at the school?” Cedric demanded disbelievingly.

“I am to be alerted as soon as he makes an appearance on school grounds,” Dumbledore answered. “I believe that Minister Fudge may have decided that, after waiting longer than expected for the results of the Third Task, he was entitled to a late morning, and has since been held up at the office rather than speak with the witnesses currently being held in custody.”

Beside Harry, Sirius shifted eagerly, and Harry saw that his godfather’s tail was wagging against the floor. Harry realized that Dumbledore had spoken of witnesses in the plural. The way that the headmaster had said that made it seem that he was not speaking of Barty Crouch Junior and the house elf Winky.

Dumbledore smiled faintly at Sirius, before looking up at Harry again. “Yes, Peter Pettigrew did not manage to escape. The Aurors stumbled upon the scene of a ritual there, which required the bones of Voldemort’s father, the blood of an enemy, and a donation of flesh from a servant, which in this case was Peter Pettigrew’s right hand. The recent loss of an entire hand, instead of just one finger, this time thwarted his attempt to flee the authorities in his unregistered Animagus form.”

Sirius’ tail was wagging very fiercely now and he looked up at Harry with a bright canine grin. Harry stared back, mouth open, unable to fully trust what he was hearing. Peter Pettigrew had been apprehended by the Aurors. The only person who could prove his godfather’s innocence had been caught.

“While Peter Pettigrew attempted to explain that he was yet another victim in this affair, as his wounds might suggest, the Dark Mark on his left forearm, which it seems he gained after returning to his master this past summer, did not garner much sympathy from the Aurors. Nor did the evidence of a ritual that had required the blood of one of Lord Voldemort’s enemies,” Dumbledore said. He then added painfully, “It for this purpose, I assume, that he attempted to kidnap you, Harry.”

Sirius’ tail stopped wagging and he pressed his head insistently against Harry’s leg in comfort, no longer grinning. Harry looked down and dug his fingers deeper into his godfather’s fur.

“...What happened when he couldn’t get my blood?” Harry asked quietly.

Some part of him knew the answer already, but he couldn’t help but ask. He had to know who had taken his place in Voldemort’s terrible resurrection ritual, which Harry had partially witnessed… partially experienced even... in his nightmare, after Cedric had saved them both.  

“Lord Voldemort has made a great many enemies,” Dumbledore began, “and has had much time to plan his return. It seems that Peter Pettigrew briefly left his master and kidnapped a wizard named Arnfried Holm, another retired Auror and an old friend of Alastor Moody. By a potion bottle that was uncovered at the scene, the Aurors believe that Pettigrew utilized the same Polyjuice Potion as Barty Crouch Junior to take the appearance of Alastor Moody long enough to take Mr. Holm by surprise.”

“...Is… Mr. Holm alright?” Cedric asked.

“No. I am sorry to say that he is dead.”

Harry didn’t know Arnfried Holm, but the news of his death felt like a blow to his chest nevertheless. He felt a sudden kinship to this person he had never met and sudden grief that he would never have the chance to meet them.

Harry ran his hand up and down Sirius’ neck to let his concerned godfather know that he was alright, though he did have the thought that he might not be able to bear the unfairness of his escape coming at the price of someone else’s life. How could he ever be alright knowing that someone had died in his place? His gladness at having escaped Voldemort felt unfairly sour with this knowledge.

“Arnfried Holm’s remains have been recovered by his fellow Aurors, who mourn him as they are determined than ever to have the truth from Peter Pettigrew and catch the last accomplice in this wicked plot,” Dumbledore said. “I do not tell you this so that you may feel guilt at your escape and survival, but because you both deserve to know what has happened. Lord Voldemort has killed many times before and, I am sorry to say, will likely continue to cause great suffering until he meets a permanent end. If you had remained in that graveyard, I dare not imagined what might have become of the both of you.”

Harry dared not think too deeply about it either. It chilled him to think, if things had gone differently, they might never have lived to see this morning. Their bodies might have never been found.

Sirius was nearly a quarter-way on Harry’s lap now, which was both a comfort and uncomfortable due to how heavy he was. Harry hugged his godfather again, wishing more than even that Sirius could be human now and hug him back. He wished that Ron and Hermione could be here, so that he could see for himself that they were alright and that they could know he was alright. He wished, even, for Mrs. Weasley to still be at Hogwarts when he returned so that he could have one of her warm, crushing hugs.

When Harry sat up again, he saw Dumbledore pushing the Bursar back towards Cedric. The old niffler didn’t want to let go of the headmaster’s rings, but he had dropped a galleon in pursuit of the jewellery, and Cedric used the coin to lure the Bursar back to him. While the niffler was distracted recovering the coin, Dumbledore quickly removed his rings and put them in the small red purse he had brought with him.

“...What happened after that?” Cedric asked, as he scratched the Bursar’s back.

“The Aurors fully investigated the graveyard and the abandoned house nearby, which belonged to the late Riddles and which Lord Voldemort and his servants have been occupying this past year,” Dumbledore answered. “Peter Pettigrew is currently being held and treated at the Ministry, where his Animagus form has been accounted for and he will soon be fully interrogated. The Senior Auror who originally answered our call and her remaining team are waiting for the Minister and new reinforcements before transferring the young Mr. Crouch to the Ministry or, perhaps, returning him to Azkaban.”

Dumbledore then steepled his hands again and said, “And that, give or take a few minor details, is the long and sorry story of what has transpired tonight. It is one that I wish I did not have to tell you, but… you both deserved to hear the mysterious plot you had been caught up in against your wills.”

They both stared at him. The only sound in the kitchen was the scratch of a quill.

“...Thank you, sir,” Cedric said, after a few seconds.

“You are far more generous with your thanks than I deserve, Cedric, and I cannot accept it,” Dumbledore said quietly. “I am sorry that I could not see this plot sooner… and save you and several others a great deal of suffering.”

Harry didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t say it was alright, because it was not alright. While Harry and Cedric had walked to Mr. Lovegood’s house and stayed safe in this kitchen, so much had happened. Lord Voldemort had returned, a stranger was dead, Peter Pettigrew had been caught, and a Death Eater thought to be dead had been impersonating their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher all along. The world was different now… and Harry did not know if it was for the better.

He sat there, absentmindedly running his hand up and down his godfather’s back, as Cedric did the same to the Bursar. Albus Dumbledore sat patiently while Mr. Lovegood continued to write down a story that Harry wouldn’t know where to begin. He couldn’t imagine even the title of such an article.

Finally, Dumbledore took a pocket-watch out of his purse, and said, “I believe it is time for us to step outside. Important visitors should be arriving any moment now.”

“Visitors?” Harry repeated.

“Yes, very important visitors,” Dumbledore said, as he dropped the watch back into the purse and stood. “And I must be getting back to Hogwarts, and relieve my loyal, overtired staff before anything truly onerous be demanded of them. Xenophilius, thank you again for the tea. As you have expressed an interest in returning with us to Hogwarts, when would it be convenient for Madam Pomfrey’s supplies to be collected from you?”

“Hmm? Oh, anytime, anytime,” Mr. Lovegood assured the headmaster. “I don’t mind if the good madam’s assistants let themselves in while I am gone! I am well aware that they are able!”

At Dumbledore’s suggestion, Harry and Cedric collected their things. They did so in a daze. Cedric took the bag he had used to carry the Bursar and Harry took the old Cleansweep and the bag that Cedric had given him for the trousers that the maze spider had ruined, leaving the Hospital Wing cots and pyjamas behind. Cedric returned the Bursar to the bag and tried to get the old niffler to give up Mr. Lovegood’s galleons, but he didn’t appear to be having much success with that. Cedric was still trying to tickle the coins off the Bursar as they followed Dumbledore out Mr. Lovegood’s front door.

The morning was even nicer than before, Harry thought, as the soft breeze rustled the crab-apple trees and the dirigible plums. The sun had no right to be so warm and bright on such a disorienting day.

“Ah,” Dumbledore said. “There they are.”

Harry looked away from Mr. Lovegood’s garden and followed Dumbledore’s gaze down the path, where two figures were approaching the broken gate at the bottom of the hill. One figure appeared to be a tall wizard with a scrubby brown beard. The other was a witch who, despite her silver hair, didn’t appear to be particularly old. They were both dressed in nice robes, but they each carried a rumpled look, as though they had been up all night. As soon as the witch looked up and caught sight of them on Mr. Lovegood’s front steps, she lifted her skirts and broke into a run.

Beside Harry, Cedric stared wide-eyed down at them. “Mum? Dad?”

“Yes, your parents have been quite anxious to see you. Allow me to take charge of the Bursar for you, Cedric,” Dumbledore said as he approached, and gently took the bag holding the old niffler from Cedric. “He, like myself, may be a little too mature to partake in such jubilant renions.”

Cedric gave the bag over gladly and, without further ado, sprinted down Mr. Lovegood’s hill towards his parents. Harry had never seen anyone run so quickly before. Amos Diggory was doing his best to keep up with his wife and Cedric’s mother had picked up her skirts to move at an astonishing speed, but Cedric was faster than either of them. He appeared to half-fall and half-fly to them, the pebbles and dirt of the path kicked up without care behind him, and he leaped the fence.

When Cedric and his mother reached each other, it was surprisingly his mother lifting him off his feet with the force of her hug. It didn’t seem to matter to her that Cedric was a fair bit taller than her as she spun him around. Cedric’s surprised laughter could be heard from all the way up the hill.

Then Amos Diggory was there and he threw his arms around them both. His face was even ruddier than usual, Harry saw, because he was openly crying. When his wife took a step back, Cedric’s father buried his face in his son’s neck and held him tightly for several minutes. Cedric’s mother patted her husband on the back, as did Cedric, and then Cedric’s mother seemed to give in and hug them both again.

Harry watched them with a feeling between jealousy and envy. He tried not to have the thought, but he couldn’t help but wonder how Lily and James Potter might have greeted him in a similar situation.

He felt Sirius come up against his uninjured leg, pressing against it, and Harry reached down to place a hand on his godfather’s head. Then he decided to follow Cedric’s mother’s example, crouched gingerly down, and gave Sirius yet another hug. Sirius returned it as best he could, while being a dog and all.

When Harry looked up at Dumbledore and Mr. Lovegood, he saw Dumbledore smiling a little sadly down at the Diggories, while Mr. Lovegood was dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief.

“Shall we join them, Harry?” Dumbledore said, looking down at him. “At your own pace. Madam Pomfrey informed me of the injury to your leg.”

Harry nodded and stood, and together they set off down the path at a much more sedate pace. Sirius trotted beside them, while Mr. Lovegood went to go fetch his own bag and lock up behind them. The Bursar didn’t appear to want to stay in his bag, but Dumbledore offered the old niffler one of his hands, where the Bursar began searching earnestly for rings.

“I intend to inform the Diggories that they are welcome to return to Hogwarts at their own pace,” Dumbledore said. “Cedric is expected back some time before the end of term for the Closing Ceremony of the Triwizard Tournament, but he may elect to leave school early this year if he so chooses. You, on the other hand, Harry, I imagine are quite eager to return to the castle, where the Weasleys and Miss Granger are quite eager to see you again.”

That lifted some of Harry’s heavy spirit, when he had thought before they left the house that he might never be alright again. He was eager to see his friends again and to return to the school.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Is… is Snuffles coming with us?”

“He seems, despite the current presence of several Aurors who have just caught an unregistered Animagus, determined to accompany us,” Dumbledore said dryly, quietly enough that neither the Diggories nor Mr. Lovegood could hear him.

Sirius’ tail wagged in agreement to this observation.

“I must ask that, despite the recent capture of Peter Pettigrew, he stay out of their way as much as possible and do nothing to attract their attention to himself while in the castle, as he proved to have a great talent for last year,” Dumbledore continued, almost conversationally. “I do not wish to separate the two of you, but the Aurors do wish to speak to you and Cedric about the events of tonight.”

“...Alright.”

“You have nothing to be concerned about, Harry. Aurors Palmsee and Shacklebolt simply wish to be as thorough as possible in their investigation. You do not have to speak with them if you do not wish, and myself and Professor McGonagall will be there for you if you do.”

They reached the bottom of the hill, where the Diggories were waiting for them on the other side of the gate, all looking slightly teary-eyed, though none as much as Cedric's father. Cedric stepped away from his parents and opened the gate for them. Dumbledore and Harry stepped through with thanks, Sirius with another wag of the tail, and Mr. Lovegood followed shortly after a hurried jog down the hill. Mr. Lovegood had a satchel thrown over his shoulder.  

“Mabel! Amos!” Mr. Lovegood greeted brightly.

Cedric’s mother, whom Harry now remembered was named Mabel, beamed at Mr. Lovegood. Amos Diggory, his eyes still red and a little wet, stepped forward to greet his distant neighbour with a clap on the shoulder and to vigorously shake his hand.

“Xenophilius! I can’t thank you enough for taking our boy in!”

Mr. Lovegood shook Amos Diggory’s hand with equal fervour, beaming just as brightly at Mabel Diggory. “No need! No need! I know that either of you would have done exactly the same for my Luna!” he assured them. “It was a pleasure to have him! And your cerulean short-furred sneak! I have long wanted an opportunity to meet the distinguished Bursar!”

At that, Dumbledore stepped forward and offered the bag containing the niffler to Mabel Diggory. The Bursar and Mabel Diggory appeared to recognized each other at the exact same time. Cedric’s mother went oh, while the Bursar made an excited prrh sound, and they reached for each other. As soon as Mabel Diggory took the bag, the Bursar wriggled out of it and snuggled happily into her arms.

“We were told that you had taken him,” Mabel Diggory said, looking at her son.

“Well… I couldn’t leave him behind… not knowing what would happen,” Cedric said, looking a little embarrassed. “He took two of Mr. Lovegood’s galleons by the way. I can’t get him to give them up.”

Mabel Diggory sighed. “I’ll get them back. I’m glad you at least had some company.”

And then, very suddenly, both of the Diggory parents were beaming at Harry, who almost took a step backwards from the force of it.

Amos Diggory stepped forward, his expression turning shamefaced. “We’ve heard the whole story,” he said wretchedly, taking one of Harry’s hands. “You poor boy! You never wanted to be in the Triwizard Tournament at all, did you, Harry? Not like our Ced. It was all a plot by those terrible villains the Aurors have caught, wasn’t it? Using the competition for their own gains all along! Trying to take revenge on the Boy-Who-Lived! Oh, I’m so sorry that I ever believed otherwise.”

Harry’s shook Amos Diggory’s hand. “Er, that’s alright. It was… understandable.”

Behind his father, Cedric looked mortified again, and Mabel Diggory patted her son’s shoulder.

“If ever you need anything, you call on us, you hear?” Amos Diggory insisted.

“Sure,” Harry said, and took his hand back. “Thanks.”

Thankfully, Dumbledore stepped in before this awkward apology could go on any longer. The headmaster repeated to Cedric that he could return to Hogwarts at his own leisure.

“Oh, sir, I can go back now-”

“I am sure that you could,” Dumbledore agreed. “And there is still the Closing Ceremony… and the End-of-Year Feast… and the Aurors wish to speak with you when you are available, if willing. However, I believe that your parents were rather hoping to spend some time with you before you return.”

“Lunch, at least?” Mabel Diggory asked.

Cedric looked awkwardly between Harry and his mother. “...Could Harry come?”

“Of course,” Mabel Diggory said warmly.

“Thanks for the offer, but… I have to be getting back to Hogwarts,” Harry said quickly. “My friends are still waiting for me. Really, thanks for the offer, but-”

“You need to see them again, of course, dear,” Mabel Diggory finished kindly, apparently not in the least bit offended to be declined. “Last we were at the castle, Molly Weasley was still there waiting for you. If I know her at all, she’ll be there still.”

“Another time perhaps, eh, Harry?” Amos Diggory said.

“Yeah, maybe.”

Harry exchanged a long look with Cedric. Some part of him did want to accept the offer to leave with the Diggories, though the rest of him felt like he’d rather run for it than have such an awkward meal. He and Cedric had not been apart since the Third Task yesterday evening. It felt so strange to be pulled in different directions now… after everything.

They were alive. There were other people here. They could finally let go.

“See you at school,” Harry said to Cedric, finding that he didn’t really want to let go quite yet. Some part of him dreaded returning to Hogwarts and facing everything that waited there for him; and surely it wouldn’t be so bad if Cedric could come with him.

Cedric grinned, a little forced. “See you at school,” he agreed.

Well, at least Harry had Sirius, even if his godfather still couldn’t be human at the moment.

So, with a few more goodbyes, they went their separate ways. Harry, Dumbledore, Sirius, and Mr. Lovegood watched as the Diggories went back down the same path that he and Cedric had travelled last night. They all waved until it was getting a bit unreasonable. Then Amos Diggory put the old Cleansweep over his shoulder and one arm around his son’s shoulders, while Mabel Diggory kept on holding her son’s hand, and they stopped looking back altogether. 

 

Chapter Text

 Dumbledore offered to take him back to Hogwarts either by Floo or by Portkey. Heartily sick of both of these, Harry almost asked if he could be allowed to fly back to Hogwarts by broomstick, no matter how long it took. He thought the fresh air and endless sky would be wonderful. He chose the Portkey instead. They were on a schedule, and he had Dumbledore with him, after all, so it seemed like he’d manage alright even if this Portkey unexpectedly dropped him in front of Voldemort too. 

 The new Portkey turned out to be an old loafer shoe, which Dumbledore removed from his scarlet purse and first held out for Sirius to take a firm bite. Once the Grim had his grip, Mr. Lovegood and Harry took their own firm holds on the shoe. Mr. Lovegood also wordlessly held out his other hand for Harry to hold, which Harry at first debated refusing, but in the end Harry silently took the man’s hand for an even firmer grip. 

 “Are you ready, Harry?” Dumbledore asked. 

 “I guess. This is the second shoe Portkey I’ve used this year,” Harry remarked. 

 “Ah, I believe that this may be because one often has a number of spare and lonely shoes,” Dumbledore answered sagely, “and because the best Portkeys are distinct objects with well-defined boundaries. One wouldn’t wish for only a part of the Portkey to vanish, after all. Shoes are unambiguous objects and quite useless without having the pair, unless one has that rare willingness to go about their business with mismatched footwear.” 

 “...Huh,” Harry said thoughtfully. 

 “Forgive my little lesson, Harry. I find myself missing the classroom every now and again. Once a teacher, always a teacher, I fear. Now, I am going to activate this Portkey on the count of three. It will transport us directly to my office at Hogwarts. I assure you that this Portkey has not left my keeping since it was made. Are you ready?” 

 Harry nodded determinedly. “Ready.” 

 “Xenophilius?” 

 “Quite ready, thank you.” 

 “Snuffles?” 

 Sirius rumbled agreement. 

 Harry held on to the Portkey so tightly that his hands were beginning to hurt by the time that Dumbledore finally began his count. Harry held his breath he was yet again swept up in the increasingly familiar swirl of travelling untold distances in mere seconds, and he only released it and the Portkey after he had solid ground underneath him again. 

 Mr. Lovegood’s support was extremely steadying. Harry’s injured leg, despite being well on the mend thanks to Madam Pomfrey, seemed to have disagreed with this sudden shifting of weight. Harry released the man’s hand quickly, but very gratefully. 

 After Harry had let go, Sirius offered the loafer back to Dumbledore. The headmaster set the shoe and his little scarlet purse on the broad, dark desk behind him. Harry recognized that desk; the smooth surface with its well-ordered papers was supported by four ornately carved animals: a lion, a snake, an eagle, and a badger. Harry remembered it the same way he remembered the quiet, almost musical ticking around him as Dumbledore’s many decorative contraptions at work. The relief at finally being back - at being safe - after such a long, awful night threatened to take Harry’s legs out from underneath him all over again. 

 However, when Harry looked up and around the empty office - at Fawkes’ empty perch, at all of Dumbledore’s strange instruments and artefacts and automatons, at the Pensieve swirling in its open cabinet - he did so to a rousing round of applause. The raucous noise sent him a bewildered step back into Mr. Lovegood, searching for the source, until a loud whistle brought his attention to the nearest golden frame.  He was being cheered by the portraits of the previous headmasters of Hogwarts. 

 “Good show, lad! Showed up those pretty-wand frogs, eh?!” 

 “A Hogwarts tournament demands a Hogwarts champion! Oh, I couldn’t have borne it if Durmstrang had shown us up in our own school!” 

 “Three cheers for a Hogwarts victory!” hooted one of them loudly. “Hip, hip-!” 

 The hip-hip-hoorah died in their painted throats as the great black dog at Harry’s side stepped in front of him and barked twice, before breaking into a long howl that drowned out the unsolicited applause. It was not a hooraying sort of howl. It was the sort of sound that Harry best associated with the tall fences with BEWARE OF DOG signs best given wide berths. It was almost the sort of sound that could make a person believe in death omens, especially when it came from the mouth of a creature that so greatly resembled the Grim.  There was silence in the office when Sirius’ howl died out, all of the paintings were looking at Harry’s godfather with varying expressions of alarm. Sirius, for his part, sat down and looked brightly over his shoulder at Harry, his ears up and tongue lolling out. His tail thwapped proudly against the floor. 

 Harry hid a smile behind his hand. 

 “Thank you, Snuffles,” Dumbledore said gravely, gliding out in front of them both to speak to the office at large. “In different circumstances, a celebration might be appropriate, but, my esteemed predecessors, I should not have to remind you we are yet missing one of our champions and our youngest has had a difficult night. Victory comes with it a great deal of shock and tragedy, which I must ask be respected with a quieter show of appreciation for the strength demonstrated by our students tonight.” 

 Several of the late headmasters of Hogwarts shuffled awkwardly in their frames. It was a little strange seeing honored educators painted in their very best robes and fanciest hats, sitting in their often gilded and occasionally even bejeweled frames, act like scolded children. Most of the portraits nodded rather imperiously, as though ashamed of their fellows’ unruly behaviour, even though many of them had been participating in it only moments ago. 

 Dumbledore then turned around and offered Harry right of way. “Harry, if you would be so kind as to lead us to the Hospital Wing? Madam Pomfrey will like to see that we have not undone her work and your friends are most anxious to see you.” 

 Mr. Lovegood nudged him forward and Harry stepped past Dumbledore, Sirius at his side, to lead the way out of the office. Halfway to the door, one of the portraits began clapping again, which stirred a more respectful round of applause around the office that only made Harry even more uncomfortable. 

 It felt wrong to be celebrated without Cedric, who had always been the real Hogwarts Champion. It felt wrong to be celebrated at all, knowing that the victory he had thought hard-won had been helped along as a part of Voldemort’s plan from the beginning, that Voldemort was back, and that so many people had suffered and that someone had died for it. The applause mostly just made Harry feel hollow. 

 It was a relief to leave the undeserved celebration behind them, to travel down the headmaster’s staircase, and to come out into a familiar corridor of a familiar castle. The only sound now was Sirius’ claws click-clacking on the stone floors. Harry could see bright, morning-lit stained glass windows at one end of the corridor, slowly shifting through all the colors of the rainbow. He could see vibrant tapestries hanging from the walls at the other end of the corridor, in which figures frolicked sweetly in their endless picture of peace, though he couldn’t see their individual threads crawling through each other as he knew they did in their mesmerizing magical way. 

  Hogwarts. Harry wanted nothing more than to breathe it all in. He was home. 

 “My apologies for that display, Harry. Such are some of the difficulties in managing a deeply magical school,” Dumbledore said. “Should we ever have a free moment, if you are interested, I have a great deal of entertaining anecdotes about animated furniture which are desperately in need of a new audience. Indeed, Mr. Lupin or his friend could tell you of their adventures in accidentally creating a roaming pack of rebellious footstools in our own Hogwarts library.” 

 Harry looked down at Sirius, who suddenly looked the very picture of canine innocence. As though he had never done anything wrong in all his life, but would also coincidentally not meet Harry or Dumbledore’s eyes. 

 “Ah, Hogwarts,” Mr. Lovegood agreed wistfully, looking about with a hand pressed against his heart. “Such a lively space! There are so few places so deeply drowned in magic. The unique marks of generations of young witches and wizards are to be found in every corner of the castle. One does miss such richness of creativity and culture.” 

 “I count myself extraordinarily lucky to be surrounded by such a wealth of liveliness each day,” Dumbledore agreed. “Though I count myself luckier when it is a day the many voices gracing our school are not taking exception to each other’s presence. Do you recall, Xenophilius, in your later years of school, when the ghosts attempted to perform an opera? And convinced many of our more excitable paintings that Hogwarts was falling down around them at last?” 

 “Oh, yes. Nothing could be done for days,” Mr. Lovegood remembered fondly.  

 “Indeed. Now let us be off for the Hospital Wing before Madam Pomfrey comes in search of us herself, which is not something any wizard wishes to experience more than once.” 

 Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the comforts of Hogwarts to be overshadowed by Harry's anxieties of all that was yet to come. With every step towards the Hospital Wing, though he walked with his head held high, Harry dreaded in some small part having to speak with the Aurors, with the other Champions, and perhaps with the real Alastor Moody. They might not explicitly blame him for all their sorrows, but they would surely have many questions for which he would have no excuses. 

 This wasn’t helped by how, as they neared the Hospital Wing, Sirius butted Harry’s leg gently and then peeled away from their little group. Without so much as another whuffle, Harry’s godfather trotted away and disappeared around a corner. 

 “I have asked Snuffles to respect Madam Pomfrey’s preference not to have animals in her Hospital Wing, especially when it currently holds some rather sensitive visitors, who may not take well to the sight of a fellow who so resembles the Grim,” Dumbledore said. “Xenophilius, I must ask that you also remain outside to respect the privacy of the patients within. I shall rejoin you again shortly, as soon as Harry is settled.” 

 Mr. Lovegood looked disappointed, but he agreed nevertheless. “Of course! I shall take the opportunity to reacquaint myself with some of the Hogwarts paintings on this floor, perhaps for a Quibbler article! Our painted fellows have some of the most fascinating opinions on current events.” 

 “They do at that. Perhaps I could arrange interviews over the summer, if the conversations are mutually agreeable and you stumble upon a particularly striking topic.” 

 So, Dumbledore and Harry entered the Hospital Wing alone. Even in the company of Dumbledore, Harry did so uncertainly, not knowing who or what exactly might be waiting for him. But he saw immediately that all his fears were unfounded. The Hospital Wing looked much as it always did, with its bright warmth and rows of crisp white linens, and the first people he saw waiting for him were none other than Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Ron and Hermione were sitting side-by-side on one of the beds - the one beside the one that normally belonged to Harry - looking very tired, wearing yesterday’s clothing, and holding each other’s hand. 

 Ron and Hermione looked up at the clearing of Dumbledore’s throat. At the sight of Harry, Hermione let out a high, strangled sound and rushed towards Harry, who rushed forward down the rows to meet her. Ron followed Hermione and with his long legs caught up to her easily. Somewhere in the middle they all met each other. Hermione crashed into Harry’s chest, taking all the air out of him even before her arms went around him and squeezed, and Ron wrapped his long arms around them both, squeezing hard enough to briefly lift both Harry and Hermione off their feet. 

 Harry kept one arm around Hermione and slipped the other arm free to go around Ron's waist. Their hug was too warm and he couldn’t breathe, and Harry wouldn’t have had it any other way. He hugged them back as though this would keep them from ever letting him go again. 

 “Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, muffled against his chest. 

 “We thought you were dead, mate,” Ron said quietly into his hair. “Knew you’d turn up in the end though.” 

 “I’m alright,” Harry promised them. 

 Eventually, the hug had to end, as all hugs did. They pulled away from each other reluctantly. Hermione kept her hand on Harry’s wrist and Ron’s hand stayed on Harry’s arm, not yet letting go completely. With a closer and longer look at them, they only looked more exhausted, their clothes rumpled and their hair untidy. Harry was about to ask if they’d been up all night, but he heard a nearby sniffle that prompted him to look over Hermione’s bushy hair at the people behind her. 

 It was Molly and Bill Weasley. Harry had only had eyes for Ron and Hermione coming inside, but Ron’s mother and eldest brother were also still here and still wearing yesterday’s clothing, looking both tired and deeply touched by the reunion. In fact, Molly Weasley was sniffling quietly into a handkerchief.  Unable to bear it any longer, Molly Weasley came forward for her own hug. Harry expected it to be stiflingly hot and uncomfortably tight, but her hug was very gentle. It was also slightly wet, but Harry melted into the soft hug anyway. 

 “We were so worried, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said when she pulled back, raising her damp handkerchief to her face again. “When you two didn’t come out the maze again, like the other Champions, we knew that something must have happened to you! Everyone was looking but no one could find you two!” 

 “Everyone?” Harry repeated, as Bill patted him on the shoulder in lieu of another hug. “Wait, where are Krum and Fleur anyway?” 

 “They’re with their families and their classmates right now,” Bill said. “Beauxbatons and Durmstrang aren’t feeling very confident with Hogwarts’ security right now. Well, not that they were before, with the disappearance of Mr. Crouch, but tonight’s been the last straw. The Beauxbatons Champion, Fleur Delacour, in particular was very worried about you.” 

 “She said some very rude things about Hogwarts,” Mrs. Weasley said disapprovingly. 

 “I don’t think she meant them, Mum.” 

 “Well, then she shouldn’t have said them.” 

 “It has been a long night for everyone, Molly,” Dumbledore intervened. “Miss Delacour’s complaints are more than fair. It cannot be said that Hogwarts this year has served as the ideal host for the resurrection of the Triwizard Tournament. Where is Madam Pomfrey? I have made a promise to deliver Harry to her that I daren’t break.” 

 “I’m right here, professor, seeing to my other patient,” Madam Pomfrey said, as she came bustling bristly around a screen curtain farther into the Hospital Wing. “Come along, Potter, let’s make sure you haven’t managed to undo my hard work in the hours since I last saw you. Granger, Weasley, now that you’ve seen him with your own two eyes, maybe you can finally go clean yourselves up properly.” 

 Bill offered to escort Ron and Hermione to Gryffindor Tower and back again, which they agreed to begrudgingly. Mrs. Weasley seemed determined to plant herself by Harry’s side and never let him out of her sight again, but Harry embarrassedly assured her that he was quite fine and didn’t need her supervising his appointment with Madam Pomfrey, and Mrs. Weasley reluctantly accepted Dumbledore’s offer to make use of the staff facilities to freshen up as well. Dumbledore escorted her out personally and excused himself to Harry by citing a need to make sure Xenophilius Lovegood had not ignited revolution among the Hogwarts paintings, intentionally or otherwise. 

 Madam Pomfrey’s check-up was perfectly no-nonsense as usual and she declared Harry well on the mend. “At least physically,” she muttered. Madam Pomfrey prescribed him healthy, hearty meals and long, deep sleep - as much of each as he could get - and a good hot cup of cocoa with his friends every night. 

 After that, Madam Pomfrey left him to his own devices while she returned to her Hospital Wing business, though she expected him to inform her when he wished to leave and strongly suggested that he wait for his friends. Since he’d just disappeared on the staff of Hogwarts and didn’t want to panic anyone by wandering off to the washroom at the wrong moment, Harry patiently sat on the hospital bed that had over his four years at Hogwarts somewhat become “his” hospital bed. He certainly wasn’t looking forward to returning to Gryffindor Tower, another round of undeserved applause might be the least of the potential loudness waiting for him. 

 The Hospital Wing was peaceful. It was also the first time Harry had been close to alone since the Third Task. The two places couldn’t have been more different. The bright warmth and high ceilings of the Hospital Wing were nothing at all like the gloomy, looming hedges of the maze. Yet Harry still found himself listening sharply to the soft whoosh of the ventilation high above and the faint rattle of the window panes. 

 His wand didn’t leave his hand. 

 There was only one other occupied bed in the Hospital Wing, or so Harry assumed it was occupied - by Madam Pomfrey’s “other patient”. The bed was hidden behind a curtain screen which Harry was increasingly tempted to get up and peer behind, though he knew this would be a terrible invasion of someone’s privacy. He thought he could hear a gentle, almost musical crooning behind it, as well as the occasional rustle of robes as someone shifted in their seat, and it was making him warily curious. 

 Finally, the rustling ended in a pair of boots against the floor. Out came a tall fellow in sporty maroon robes, which looked like a uniform and were too tight for him. Harry spotted a black insignia of sorts on the fellow’s chest as he came down the rows, walking towards the doors, but the fellow passed him before he could make it out. 

 “Wotcher,” the man said with a dignified nod. 

 Harry nodded stiffly back and watched as the fellow left the Hospital Wing. 

 Two minutes later, a different stranger came in, a short fellow with a large moustache whose matching maroon robes were too large for him. He saluted Madam Pomfrey as he came in and she merely rolled her eyes at him. He gave the same jaunty salute to Harry as he sauntered past, before disappearing behind the screen curtain. Harry thought he heard a low chirp, but the sound wasn’t made again as the man settled there, and then there was silence again. 

 Before Harry could make up his mind to give in to his growing curiosity, Ron and Hermione returned. He stood to greet them and got wrapped in another of Hermione’s hugs. Ron’s greeting gesture was part hug and part pat on the back. Afterwards, they all sat on the bed together, with Ron and Hermione like bookends on either side of him. 

 Finally free of adult supervision, Ron and Hermione were insatiably curious about what had happened to Harry during and after the Third Task. Desperate to share with them perhaps the strangest night he’d ever had, in a low voice Harry gladly told his friends everything of the terrifying adventure they had missed. He started with the maze - with the looming hedges and the massive monsters, with thinking Fleur Delacour was seriously hurt and that Viktor Krum was a torturer, and with him and Cedric Diggory deciding to take the Triwizard Cup together. 

 “If I hadn’t convinced him to take it with me, I’d probably be dead,” Harry said. 

 Hermione made another quiet noise of upset, like the one she’d made upon hearing what Krum had been forced to do. She was holding one of Harry’s hands and one of Ron’s across Harry’s lap. Ron and Harry weren’t holding hands, but they hardly needed to when their sides were pressed together.

 Harry still didn’t want to let go of his wand. 

 Harry then told them about the graveyard. He told them about the confusion upon arriving in the graveyard and the sudden pain in his scar, about the figure and the bundle who had appeared out of the dark, and about how Cedric had only lived because Peter Pettigrew had been afraid of accidentally hitting Harry. He told them about how Cedric had saved his life. Harry explained how Cedric had Apparated them away to his house, out by Ottery St. Catchpole, immediately leaving the Triwizard Cup, Peter Pettigrew, and Voldemort and his plot far behind them. 

 Even though Cedric could have Apparated away on his own, Harry didn’t say, he dreaded to think what might have happened to Cedric if Cedric hadn’t convinced him to take the Cup as well. Cedric might not have known to run until it was too late. 

 He told Ron and Hermione about their decision to leave Cedric’s house and why they’d done it - and why Cedric had taken his mother’s pet Niffler with them. He told them about Xenophilius Lovegood’s strange house and the even stranger man who owned it. He told them about calling Professor McGonagall for help, speaking to Dumbledore about staying in hiding for the night, and then being visited by Madam Pomfrey. 

 Harry told them about his terrible dream. 

 Then he repeated to them everything Dumbledore had told him, as well as he could remember it: about Barty Crouch Junior having been alive all along and about Professor Moody having been Barty Crouch Junior all along, about being entered into the Triwizard Tournament and helped along so that Voldemort could use him in his resurrection, and about how Peter Pettigrew had killed someone else - one of Moody’s old Auror friends - in Harry’s place to give Voldemort a body again. The longer Harry spoke, the angrier he became. At this terrible plot; at his unwitting place in it. Peter Pettigrew might have finally been caught, Barty Crouch Junior had been caught, and the Aurors had seen Voldemort with their own eyes before he escaped, but those were still cold comforts in the overwhelming face of Voldemort’s return. 

 “I’m just glad you’re alright,” Hermione said quietly, prying Harry’s nails out of his palm where she held his non-wand hand. “All the teachers know now, right? And Dumbledore? And the Ministry? You can leave it to them now. They'll figure out what to do.” 

 Ron nodded. “Dumbledore’ll take care of it. The Aurors are here - the real ones. They’ll send Crouch Junior and Pettigrew to Azkaban. Then maybe Sirius’ll be finally free. That’s something, right?” 

 It didn’t feel like nearly enough to Harry, who despite being at home again and bracketed by friends didn’t feel alright. He couldn't find himself to be happy at the thought of even Crouch and Pettigrew in the hands of the dementors and Azkaban was proving far less secure than everyone said it was. Voldemort was back. Harry didn’t know what might happen or how, but it still felt like everything was sure to go terribly wrong. Anything was possible in all the worst ways.  

 “The Minister has to show up first,” Harry muttered. 

 “He’ll have to,” Hermione insisted. “I can’t believe he left like that when something was clearly wrong! I can’t believe that a Death Eater was impersonating Professor Moody the entire time! The Minister can’t ignore that!” 

 Like he ignored our protests that Sirius was innocent last year, Harry thought. 

 “Well, he can probably try,” Ron said dryly. 

 “Pettigrew and Crouch’s son have been caught! And they’re both supposed to be dead. Headmaster Dumbledore won’t let him ignore that,” Hermione said certainly. 

 Harry still couldn’t believe that Barty Crouch Junior had been pretending to be Professor Moody all along. Every single Defense Against the Dark Arts class had been a lie. Every piece of advice, every bit of concern, every moment where Harry had thought they’d shared some scrap of understanding - it had all been fake. It had all been part of a greater plan that Harry had played into so easily. Harry had never even met the real Alastor Moody. This too, the longer Harry thought about it, the angrier he became. 

 “Do you know where they’re holding Barty Crouch?” Harry asked. 

 Hermione and Ron exchanged a look, before Hermione began slowly, “Well… we were… we might have been eavesdropping on the teachers earlier. We think the Aurors are holding Crouch’s son in the choir room until the Minister and other Ministry officials get here and they can move him. Some of the Hogwarts teachers are there too.” 

 “They’ll have him back in Azkaban soon enough. Why’s’it- Harry.” Ron’s jaw went slack and his eyes went wide. “You’re not thinking of going to see him, are you? Why?”   

 “Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, in the worst way. 

 They leaned in a little tighter on either side of him, as though they meant to physically hold him there. Though he knew they meant well, Harry suddenly wanted to shrug off their attempts at comfort. Suddenly it felt too much like pity. 

 “I want the truth. I want to see his face,” Harry said determinedly. “For real. Not in a memory or anything. I want to see that he’s really alive for myself.” 

 “But-” 

 “ He’s the one who put my name in the Goblet of Fire, Hermione. He’s the one who made sure that I made it through every task - that I made it through the maze to win - who's been lying to everyone all this time. He’s the one who turned the Triwizard Cup into a Portkey so that Voldemort could kill me and get his body back. It’s all his fault.” 

 Ron and Hermione exchanged another look. 

 “I don’t know that the Aurors’ll let you in,” Ron said finally. 

 “They’re not letting anyone near that corridor at the moment,” Hermione agreed. “We tried to… well… we tried to just wander that direction earlier and one of the Aurors turned us away before we could get very far. He was very apologetic about it.” 

 “Yeah. But I mean, maybe you could…” Ron trailed off. 

 “Maybe I could what?” 

 “Well, you’re you, right? You’re the Boy-Who-Lived and one of the Hogwarts Champion who nearly got kidnapped,” Ron said. “If anyone could talk their way in, it’d be you.” 

 “But that’s not really a good idea, is it?” Hermione said hurriedly. 

 “It’s not like they’d arrest him or anything. Even if Dumbledore didn’t blow up at them for it, Mum would. Mum’d probably hex their hands off if they so much as pointed a wand at Harry,” Ron said. “But, uh, yeah, Harry, maybe you should ask first? They’d probably understand that. I mean, you just want a quick look at him, right?” 

 “Right,” Harry said. 

 “What’s the harm in a look, Hermione?” 

 Hermione looked like she wanted to argue this point, but didn’t quite have the words. 

 Harry, meanwhile, turned over Ron’s suggestion in his head. Being the Boy-Who-Lived had only seemed to get him a whole lot of trouble and bother lately. The least of it was complete strangers overeager to shake his hand and not-so-eager to let go, the worst of it was people who wanted him dead, and in the middle were things like Rita Skeeter’s terrible articles and everyone gaping at his forehead everywhere he went. Sometimes, however, there were people who went out of their way to be extremely nice to him, in an uncomfortably awed or pitying way usually, but also… sometimes in a useful way. 

 “Dumbledore said the Aurors in charge wanted to talk to me about what happened last night,” Harry said finally. “Whoever's watching the door can’t turn me away if their bosses want to talk to me, right?” 

 “Harry…” Hermione protested weakly. 

 “He’s in the choir room, right? Where’s that?” 

  He looked at Ron, but Ron could only shrug at him. Neither of them had ever had any interest in joining the Hogwarts choir or going to their performances, so they’d never bothered to find out where the choir practiced. “Ginny or Fred and George would know," Ron said, "they have friends in the choir. Percy and Bill would know too, probably - Head Busybodies and all - but they’re worriers who’d probably try to shoo us away from everything.” 

 Hermione sighed, extremely put-upon. “I’ll show you, but you have to ask Madam Pomfrey’s permission to leave first,” she said, “and you don’t try and sneak past the Aurors and the teachers if they say no. Alright, Harry?” 

 “Fine,” Harry agreed, already pushing his way out from between them. 

 “Mum’s not going to like this,” Ron muttered. 

 No, Molly Weasley probably wasn’t going to like this. Dumbledore and Sirius might not like this either. Harry could practically already hear Professor McGonagall telling him off for seeking out a dangerous Death Eater who had tried to send him to his death, if she found out, or even Cedric Diggory offering him his own “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” but Harry didn’t care. He needed more than dreams and other people’s accounts of the truth. He had to see Barty Crouch Junior with his own two eyes. 

 “I need to see his real face,” Harry insisted. “That’s all. Then I’ll go.” 

  

Chapter Text

 There were two wizards in matching maroon robes outside the entrance to the choir room, relatively young men who didn’t look too long out of Hogwarts. One was a fat, pale fellow with spots. The other was a slim fellow, also pale, who had the beginnings of a rather scraggly moustache above his upper lip. Their eyes went suspiciously between Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they approached. 

 Harry met them with his head held high, thinking his best “yes, I am supposed to be here” thoughts. 

 “I’m here to talk to Senior Aurors Shacklebolt and Palmsee,” Harry announced, having desperately racked his mind for the names Dumbledore had related to them earlier. Ron and Hermione had agreed that spouting names sounded much more official. If Harry had gotten them wrong, however, he knew he was about to look incredibly silly. 

 “And you are?” the slim Auror demanded. 

 Before they had come around the corner, Ron had purposefully mussed Harry’s hair to make sure that his infamous lightning-bolt scar was showing. Harry knew these two wizards had seen it. Both young men kept looking at his forehead and the fat fellow had just given his partner a disbelieving look. But then again, Harry thought, people had hardly been wearing the right faces around the castle lately, so maybe it was a good question, for all that evil wizards were definitely fully capable of lying. 

 “Harry Potter,” Harry said, as confidently as he dared. “Headmaster Dumbledore said that the Aurors in charge wanted to talk to me around what happened.” He wasn’t even lying; Dumbledore had said that and he was Harry Potter last time he’d checked. 

 The Aurors exchanged an awkward look, like they knew they couldn’t deny it. 

 “Who are your friends?” the slim fellow demanded finally. 

 “Hermione Granger.” 

 “Ron Weasley.” 

 “I haven’t heard anything about them wanting to talk to anyone but the kidnapped Champions,” the slim fellow said, his scraggly moustache twitching importantly. “We can’t allow just anyone in there even if they’re your friends, you know-” 

 Hermione lunged forward and, for one blind moment of absolute panic, Harry thought that his friend was about to punch an Auror. But, just as suddenly, Hermione caught herself. Like she’d just realized what she was about to do, she yanked her outstretched hand back and flung herself backwards, holding that hand like she forcibly needed to keep it down. Everyone stared at her obvious embarrassment in complete bewilderment, especially Harry and Ron. 

 “You have a beetle on your shoulder!” Hermione blurted. 

 The wide-eyed Aurors both looked at the slim fellow’s shoulder, where a large black beetle was indeed hopping away. The slim fellow startled, practically shrieked in disgust, and dramatically hit at his shoulder like he was trying to put out a fire - even though, after the first few hits, it was clear that the insect was long gone. By the end of it, the fat fellow was snickering at his partner, who scowled at him. 

 “Shut it, Parkins,” the slim fellow snapped. 

 Harry was confused and now antsy, since it was unclear whether the Aurors would let him inside. All he needed was to see Barty Crouch Junior’s real face. One look at the man who had lied to him, who had manipulated him, who had tried to sacrifice him to Voldemort, was all he needed. Then he would know that Voldemort’s servant was real and had been well and truly caught. 

 Hermione was looking desperately in the direction the beetle had jumped, her fingers twitching towards her pocket like she meant to pull out her wand next. The slim fellow was scowling mightily at her. Ron put a subtle hand on her elbow to keep things from getting worse. 

  “You can go in,” the Auror decreed to Harry. “Your little friends will have to wait for you somewhere else. If someone needs to speak with more students, we’ll come to you. Not the other way around.” 

 This sounded like the best deal that they were going to get. Harry looked desperately at Ron and Hermione, willing them to let him go. 

 Ron took Hermione more firmly by the elbow and drew her back. “Go on, mate,” he nodded. “We’ll see you back in the Hospital Wing in a bit, alright?” 

 “Yeah,” Harry agreed. “Sure.” 

 His sides felt a little colder as Ron and Hermione walked away, throwing nervous looks over their shoulders. Nevertheless, Harry kept his head up high and a hand on his wand, and he followed the slim fellow to the thick door of the choir room, which swung smoothly and silently open. Harry walked into the room feeling very different to the unready person whose name had been cast into the Goblet of Fire all those long and painful months ago. 

 He felt a lot angrier for one. 

 Everyone inside turned to look at Harry as the Auror ushered him inside. 

 The choir room was even larger than Harry had imagined, it was practically an auditorium, wider and more open than even Professor Binns’ lecture room. It was full of long stone benches, sloping downwards in rows, curved around a spacious, slightly raised stage. There were more doors than the one Harry had just come in - two near the stage, one of them marked STORAGE - but they both had broad stone statues standing guard in front of them, their arms immovably crossed. Their unseeing gazes and unmoving stances reminded Harry of McGonagall’s giant chess set, of that deadly game so long ago now, and he knew without a doubt that no one would be getting past them. 

 There was only one way in or out. 

 “Mister Potter! What are you-?! I hardly think it wise for you to be here!” squeaked a familiar voice in clear concern. Professor Flitwick was standing near the stage, atop a front row bench, beside two more Aurors and another teacher. 

 Harry only really had eyes for the person on the stage itself, seated in a lonely chair, bound with heavy chains. It was a pale man with a mop of fair hair and a somewhat sallow look, as though he was ill or the lighting didn’t suit him, or as though he had not seen proper sunlight perhaps in years. Nevertheless, he looked at Harry with focused eyes, with an unwavering stare, and licked his lips. And smirked. 

 It was Barty Crouch Junior, the scared boy from those Pensieve memories was now a sharp and dangerous man, sitting in chains almost like he meant to be there. He had a brush of freckles across his face, but also lines around his mouth and eyes, carved there by time and perhaps his years of imprisonment. He was wearing the clothes that Professor Moody had been wearing last night, Harry realized numbly, minus the heavy coat and boots. Moody’s clothes were a little too large for him - and disheveled - and one trouser leg had been cut to suit a prosthetic leg that was no longer there, replaced by a bare pale leg of flesh and bone, so that one socked foot and one bare foot rested on the stage. 

 But, no, it hadn’t been Professor Moody last night, had it? It had been him. 

 It had always been him. 

 Barty Crouch: Lord Voldemort’s other servant. 

 Harry came to the second row of benches and Professor Flitwick spoke again. Flitwick was still wearing the cheerful robes he had worn to the Third Task last night, a bright mixture of Gryffindor’s scarlet and gold and Hufflepuff’s yellow and black, with a golden brooch with the Hogwarts crest pinned up his cape, and a little golden lion earring dangled from one ear and a little golden badger earring dangled from the other. But Harry’s short Charms teacher looked tired and rumpled now. He didn’t look like he wanted to celebrate at all. 

 “Mister Potter,” he said, more softly. “It is not safe for you to be here.” 

 “That has never stopped Potter before,” said another voice, even less welcome, not at all gentle. The other teacher was Snape, just behind Flitwick, dressed in his usual immaculate black, looking prepared to throw Harry out by the ear if necessary. 

 “I had to see him,” Harry insisted quietly. 

 Flitwick looked sympathetic. Snape looked completely unmoved. 

 “I am certain that the Weasleys and Granger will be more than happy to coddle your wishes, Potter. Go find them,” Snape said dismissively. “You are not permitted to be here.” 

 “Dumbledore said the Aurors needed to talk to me,” Harry said stubbornly. 

 “Not at the moment. Not here,” said a new voice. 

 This voice, deep and steady, belonged to a tall, bald black man with a broad face and a broad chest. He wore an Auror’s robes, but the insignia on his breast was gold and he wore a silver badge beside it. Unlike the younger wizards outside, who had been otherwise plainly dressed, he also wore a round hat with a flat top and colorful pattern around, some equally colorful boots, and a golden hoop in his left ear. 

 This wizard, Harry could tell immediately, was one of the Aurors in charge. 

 Beside him was another Auror with a gold insignia and silver badge on her breast, a brown woman with flowery scars on one cheek, bags under her eyes, and short black hair. The sleeves of her robes had been rolled back, revealing enough mismatched wristwatches on her forearms for at least a dozen people,. Except they didn’t appear to be ordinary wristwatches, most of them turning and ticking and flickering with strange symbols. This witch was sending a withering look towards the Auror who had let Harry inside. It was a glare that might have impressed even Professor McGonagall. 

 “You’re dismissed, Munch,” she said coldly. “The next person to be let through those doors had better be no less than Albus Dumbledore or the Minister himself, am I understood?” 

 The slim fellow, Munch, made a terrified, wobby salute and hurried from the room as quickly as he could walk. The thick door swung closed silently behind him, but the clunk of the lock seemed to echo strangely through the room. 

 “So you got away,” said yet another voice, loud from the stage, familiar from Harry’s dreams. It was Crouch, of course, looking down on them all as he licked his lips again. 

 Looking down on Harry specifically. 

 Harry glared back.  

 “Should’ve had Krum be done with Diggory more cleanly when I had the chance, but even caught unaware it was hard enough to get a handle on him,’ Crouch said, hoarse and considering.”Should’ve done it myself at that point. You couldn’t have just left him, could you, Potter? Couldn’t have just taken the Cup when he offered it to you? No, decent people are too predictable.” 

 A chill was crawling down Harry’s spine. He had already known that he had come close to death tonight, that Cedric had nearly died just for being in Voldemort’s way, but it was another thing to have someone looking at him and discussing cold-blooded murder. Barty Crouch Junior looked at Harry like he meant to hurt him. Like, as though given the chance, he would have immediately killed everyone else in this room, and then gone out looking for Cedric and Krum and anyone who had ever crossed him. 

 “Be quiet, Barty!” Flitwick said. 

 Snape stepped between them, a wall of black shielding Crouch from Harry’s view. Harry stepped determinedly out from behind his teacher as Crouch wheezed. Crouch was in chains and Harry had his wand in hand, even if there had been no one else in the room, there was no good reason to be afraid. 

 “Better not come any closer. Hold on tight to that wand, boy,” Crouch said, licking the lips of his twisted smile. “Wouldn’t want me to get my hands on that a second time, would you?” 

 Harry couldn’t remember when Crouch had gotten his hands on his wand for a first time. 

 “All those cowards at the Quidditch Cup were happy to take a break from their comfortable lives to put on masks and torture a few worthless Muggles, but they all fled so quickly once I cast the Dark Mark into the sky. I’m surprised you’re still here, Snape. Has Karkaroff run yet? He at least tasted Azkaban before he begged for the chance to betray the Dark Lord and all his followers. But the Dark Lord’s back now. And there's no way to escape his Mark, no way to hide from him for traitors. He’ll make them all pay for their disloyalty and cowardice.” 

 Harry remembered how Dumbledore had said Barty Crouch had been put into the care of Winky, who had been sitting next to an empty seat in the top box and then been fired by Mr. Crouch at the Quidditch World Cup. Had Barty Crouch been there all along? He’d been the one to steal the wand! 

 “That is enough,” Flitwick said, with a fierceness that could have belonged to a giant. 

 “It wasn’t enough!” Crouch countered with that cruel, wheezing laugh, and he did not stop speaking. “I did my part perfectly, but you had to mess it all up, didn’t you, Potter? You can’t do anything on your own! I had to drag you through every one of those stupid tasks. Every one. I had to tell you to use your bloody broom against the dragon. Had to give Diggory the egg’s hint so he’d pass it on to you to return the favour and then get that stupid elf to get the gillyweed for you. Cursed half the obstacles and all the other Champions out of your way in that maze so you’d take that cup. And still. And still!” 

 Flitwick and Snape exchanged a look of realization and disgust respectively. The Aurors were expressionless. But Harry was hot-faced with anger and humiliation. Every victory he had thought hard-fought and hard-won in this Tournament was being cut down to nothing more than someone else’s manipulations. As though he hadn’t personally struggled through each deadly task. 

 “I played my part perfectly, played Alastor Moody without anyone being the wiser, not even Albus Dumbledore! And it wasn’t enough! You escaped! ...But that doesn’t matter. Did you feel it in that scar of yours when he came back, Potter? The Dark Lord has returned. It was inevitable.” 

 “What is inevitable, Barty, is your return to Azkaban!” Flitwick said. 

 Barty shrugged - a tiny motion, in his heavy chains - the only thing he appeared to be able to move freely was his head. He licked his lips again and grinned wider still. 

 “The Dark Lord will come for me,” he said, almost wistfully. “Perhaps I won’t be rewarded above all others as I should have been, but I have proven myself above and beyond his most loyal and most useful follower. We’re similar, the Dark Lord and myself. I could have been like a son to him. He’ll come for me and I’ll be out again soon enough, and then… then we’ll come for you, Potter.” 

 Harry had known this, but the chill in him spread through his whole body, tingling at the tips of his toes. No one had looked at him like this since Tom Riddle, two years ago, in the Chamber of Secrets, over Ginny Weasley’s body. The closest person before that had been Quirrell, shaking with desperation and fury and fear, willing to tear anything apart for the Philosopher’s Stone for his master. There had since been werewolves and dementors, acromantulas and basilisks, but they had all been beasts, who were supposed to be monstrous. In Barty Crouch now, there was a very knowing, very human hatred. 

 “And Diggory,” Crouch continued, sounding disgusted. “And you, Snape, you traitor. Everyone who dared crawl away to new masters and celebrate his fall will only see the Dark Lord rise greater than ever before. He has plans for them. For everyone. He has plans beyond anything ordinary wizards could even dream of...” 

 Harry remembered the basilisk fang in his arm; he remembered Quirrell’s long, pale fingers around his neck. But… Harry also remembered how Quirrell had crumbled to dust before his eyes, under his hands, used to nothing by his parasitic master and burned by Harry’s mother’s love. He remembered plunging that great fang into the diary, pressing until the memory of Tom Riddle had gone up in screaming light from the inside out. 

 “He was beaten once!” Harry snapped. “He’ll be beaten again!” 

 Crouch only looked amused. “By you? You think because you got lucky as a baby-” 

 “My mother beat him,” Harry interrupted hotly. 

 “And she’s dead, isn’t she?” 

 In front of Harry, both Snape and Flitwick stiffened. The Aurors exchanged another look between them and the man shook his head at the woman. 

 “Mummy and Daddy are both dead, Potter. They were practically children themselves: a young mudblood and an idiot bloodtraitor who should’ve known better. They can’t save you again, when the Dark Lord comes for you,” Crouch said cruelly. “Your mother can’t die twice for you.” 

 “Neither can yours,” Harry retorted. 

 Crouch’s mocking expression changed immediately, as though he had been physically struck. If Harry had thought Crouch’s expression was hateful before, it was nothing compared to the madness that overtook his eyes now at the mention of Ananke Crouch. He had tortured and murdered his father, Dumbledore had said, and now it looked like he would give anything to do the same to Harry. 

 “That is enough!” Flitwick cried again. 

 Harry’s Charms professor waved his wand at Crouch, so that a long rag appeared out of thin air and deftly tied itself around Crouch’s mouth like a gag. Crouch turned his murderous gaze on Flitwick for it, clearly furious to have been made mute. 

 “I will hear no more of this poison!” Flitwick declared, turning angrily on the Aurors and wagging his finger like it was as much a weapon as his wand. “If you must interview Mister Potter, you will do it somewhere else with Headmaster Dumbledore present! After all that he has been through in this Tournament, Mister Potter does not need to hear anymore of this man’s wicked words!” 

 “I agree, professor,” the man said, with almost soothing calmness. “We did not ask for Harry Potter to be brought here.” 

 “He’s only repeating the same rubbish as before,” the woman said agreeably, still looking at Crouch, as though she had perhaps hoped differently. 

 “He’ll be ready for another dose of Veritaserum soon enough,” Snape said coldly.  

 Flitwick nodded imperiously. “Come along, Mister Potter!” 

 The Aurors nodded back and Flitwick hopped down on his bench, prepared to lead Harry from the room and away from Barty Crouch’s wrathful look. 

 “One moment, professor,” said the male Auror. 

 Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw the man’s wand pointed at Flitwick’s back and he startled. Snape’s wand was pointed at the Auror in the blink of an eye, Harry hadn’t even seen his Potions professor move, but Snape wasn’t quite quick enough to present the flick of the man’s wand. There was a small crackle and something small, like a black button, popped off of Flitwick’s cape. It fell atop one of the stone benches nearby. 

 “Sorry,” the man said calmly, bending to pick it up. 

 Snape’s wand and the female Auror’s wand (having also spontaneously appeared) both lowered. Flitwick frowned at the man in bewilderment, his own wand at hand. Once the male Auror straightened again, with the button in the palm of his hand, they all leaned forward to see that the button was actually a large black beetle. It was on its back, its thin legs frozen in the air. 

 It might have been the same insect that Hermione had tried to catch just outside. 

 “What’s that?” asked the woman. 

 “Perhaps nothing,” said the man. “What do you see?” 

 The woman’s eyes narrowed and she waved one of her forearms over the beetle, before frowning at one of her flickering wristwatches. “Not nothing,” she answered mulishly. 

 Plucking the beetle out of the man’s palm, the woman walked a little ways away, off to the side of the stage, and placed the insect on the ground. Then she took some paces back and wordlessly pointed her wand at it. There was a bright flash of light from her wand to the insect. 

 The beetle began to grow massively. Legs disappeared or snapped out and stretched into human arms and legs as it grew and grew and grew. In the space that it took to sneeze, there was a person lying paralyzed and awkwardly posed on the floor in front of them, her eyes darting back and forth in a panic behind her distinctive spectacles jeweled with green rhinestones. Harry recognized those elaborate platinum blonde curls stiff across the floor, those long red fingernails, and that style of iridescent green skirt-suit. He could almost hear the click that would have been made by one of the shiny black heels that had fallen off in the transformation. 

 “Rita Skeeter!” Flitwick squeaked in surprise, having taken a step forward to see. 

 “That explains some things,” Snape said dryly. “An illegal Animagus, unless Minerva has been remiss in keeping us all informed of the latest developments regarding Animagus transformations in Britain.” He said this last bit as though he was very sure this could not be the case. 

 “Another one,” said the female Auror. “Two in one day.” 

 “It makes one question the accuracy of the list we keep,” the male Auror agreed, with a hint of humour. “I think a mandatory training course may be in order for all the D.M.L.E.” 

 “Perhaps McGonagall is too good at teaching her subject,” the female Auror said sourly. 

 Harry could barely believe it. Rita Skeeter was an Animagus! It almost made too much sense. Being an Animagus was the exact same method that Sirius had used to sneak onto Hogwarts grounds, the exact same method that Peter Pettigrew had used to remain undetected for twelve years, and now Rita Skeeter had used it to steal people’s secrets and twist them to her liking. No wonder she had been able to flit about the school and hear so many personal conversations! 

 The Aurors placed Rita Skeeter under arrest on the spot and agreed to interrogate her back at the Ministry, away from the eyes and ears of Barty Crouch. (“He’s already overheard too much from Juniors who don’t know how to keep their bloody mouths shut,” said the female Auror grimly.) The female Auror took Skeeter’s wand and consulted Professors Flitwick on how to best keep her from transforming again. 

 It was all so solemn. Perhaps Harry might have felt victorious at the fact that Skeeter had finally been caught and wouldn’t write any more lies, but mostly he felt strange, seeing her be restrained by a grim-faced Auror. 

 And it was hard to ignore Crouch’s silent gaze from the stage. 

 He had seen the face of the man who had sent him to his death, but he didn’t feel any better for it. In fact, Harry thought he felt worse. Now he knew for certain that the person he had thought was Professor Moody had been a magnificent fake. Crouch had hurt the other Champions and manipulated Harry’s friends to make sure that Harry won a deadly Tournament that he had been entered into against his will. If Crouch had had his way, Harry and Cedric both would have died tonight. 

 A hand landed, obvious and gentle, on Harry’s shoulder, interrupting his spinning thoughts. It was the male Auror, the man with the dark skin and the steady expression. “Come along,” he asked quietly. “This is no place for you, Harry Potter.” 

 It was far past time for Harry to leave. 

 The Auror released Harry and gestured for Harry to lead their way out of the room, but before Harry could so much as pass the first row, he looked up and saw that the door to the choir room was already open. One of the younger Aurors who had been guarding the door, the slim fellow who had allowed Harry inside, was standing in the doorway. He looked unusually pale. Even unsteady on his feet. 

 “Munch?” the Auror beside Harry called. “What is it?” 

 “The, uh, the Minister’s here, sir.” 

 Harry understood Munch’s appearance as he felt a coldness seeping from beyond the door… something that stirred a familiar emptiness inside him. Harry raised his wand, untrusting, and summoned his heart to his throat. The slim fellow, Munch, practically fell away from the door. 

 Harry could hear raised voices from the hallway outside, but he could not make them out. 

 A skeletal hand curled around the top of the doorframe, followed by the rest of a dark, humanoid creature. It was crawling into the room from the ceiling outside. The ends of its ragged black cloak dragged in the air behind it, unaffected by the chill that was spreading throughout the room. 

 “Is that-?” someone began disbelievingly. 

 The creature’s hooded head turned 180 degrees like an owl - either it had a very long neck or no neck at all, to hold its head alone the right way up - to apparently scent the room, though it had no visible nose. It had no visible eyes either, no visible face at all underneath that ragged cloak, but Harry could still see its starving attention fix on himself, the Auror, and Crouch. 

 It was looking at them. Harry could tell. 

 “REMOVE THAT CREATURE AT ONCE!” Flitwick cried shrilly. “IT HAS NO PLACE HERE!” 

 The dementor lunged, like a starving beast that knew it only had one chance to sink its teeth into Harry or Crouch. A young woman, distant and dead, screamed in horror in Harry’s mind. The dementor arched downwards with its arms outstretched towards the ceiling and hood facing down. It had no visible mouth, but Harry could see… could feel... a hungry void opening for a kiss. 

 And he was ready for it. 

 “EXPECTO PATRONUM,” he shouted. 

 At the exact same time that the Auror beside him stepped up and clearly said the same spell, deep and unwavering, wand pointed at the arching dementor. Harry had never cast the spell beside someone before, at the same time. The Auror stood slightly in front of him, immoveable like a mountain. 

  “Expecto Patronum!” 

 Silver light erupted from their wands. From Harry’s came an explosion of brilliant antlers tossed wildly, of long legs kicking free, of bright head and flank and hoof bursting forth and smashing into shape. From the Auror’s came claws and fur - a large cat with enormous feet and long tufty ears - leaping into shape more gently but even more brightly than Harry’s stag. The cat brought forth a feeling between a breath of fresh air and a song, before it leapt towards its foe. The animals met the dementor in the middle of the air. 

 Harry had had the thought this morning that he would never recover from the nightmare of Voldemort’s return, but then he had been reminded of the friends he had here… and then he had met Barty Crouch and found himself furious

 He thought of Ron and Hermione and Mrs. Weasley’s arms too tight around him. 

 He thought of Cedric’s flight down the hill towards his parents. 

 He thought of Sirius finally having a chance to be a free man again. He thought of himself running to meet his godfather the same way that Cedric had met Mr. and Mrs. Diggory. 

 The Auror’s large cat reached the dementor first, as immovable as the man beside Harry, and the dementor seemed to bounce off it. The dementor reared and shrieked as though burned. And then the charging stag’s antlers met the dementor’s open chest and gored the creature through. 

 The dementor let out a new shriek, one that shook the walls, as it was slammed back against the wall over the doorway, clawing at the Patronus holding it there as though it could do physical harm to the burning silver-white animal. But the dementor’s skeletal hands passed through the Patronus uselessly. Meanwhile, the large cat stayed between them and the shrieking dementor, prowling back and forth. Brighter and more solid, even if Harry’s stag should burst into a million pieces and the dementor should pounce again, the Auror’s Patronus didn’t look like it would falter for anything. 

 The dementor tossed its hooded head from side to side and screamed like a dying thing, until its long hands reached down and latched on to the top of the doorway again. The dementor seemed to have been cut into scraps of itself by Prongs’ antlers, for it yanked one ragged half of itself out through the doorway first and the other foul, inhuman half used its hand to slither out after. 

 The glowing stag reared to turn, bounced silently off the floor in bursts of silver sparks, and then chased the dementor out the door. Harry willed the Patronus to chase the horrid creature out of the castle and off school grounds, until it went back to whatever sorry shadow it had ever once crawled out of with no other purpose but to make the world a worse place. 

 The Auror’s cat didn’t go anywhere, but instead continued its prowl between the stage and the door. The Patronus was so solid that Harry thought he could see a slightly spotted coat of fur, in different shades of silver, white, and blue. Now that the dementor was gone, Harry decided that it was probably a lynx. Harry lowered his wand looked beside him in awe and some embarrassment to the man who had cast such a powerful Patronus, who had also lowered his wand and was giving Harry his own look that seemed impressed. The man, who had until now appeared quite solemn, smiled at him. 

 Harry smiled uncertainly back. 

 “My word!” cried Flitwick. “A dementor in Hogwarts! Albus could not have allowed that!” 

 Harry looked back to the others. Snape had his wand at the ready and his hair slightly out of place, as though he had turned quickly almost cast a spell as well, as did a wide-eyed Flitwick who had lost his hat. The female Auror, still standing over Skeeter, looked incredulous. And Barty Crouch Junior, restrained and gagged on the stage, looked even more ill. He looked stunned, his chest was heaving, and he was staring out the doorway as though realizing just how close he had come to a fate worse than death. 

 Harry felt some of Crouch’s shock and Flitwick’s surprise himself. 

 A dementor in Hogwarts! A dementor in Hogwarts! Harry’s heart was pounding as though he was falling fifty feet from his broomstick awake. Even when they had been commanded to guard the school last year in search of Harry’s godfather, even when they had disobeyed to trespass on school grounds, the dementors had never that he had seen been allowed to freely roam the castle itself. 

 Snape lowered his wand slightly and brushed his hair out of his face. “I imagine that the Headmaster will have much to say on the matter as soon as he is told about it,” he said.  

 “Indeed!” Flitwick said. “A dementor in Hogwarts! I never thought I’d see the day! Oh, that was a marvellously done Patronus, Mister Potter! And, of course, you as well, Auror Shacklebolt! Well done! Well done! But a dementor in Hogwarts should n-” 

  “Filius, I believe Crouch is having trouble breathing,” Snape said disinterestedly. 

 “Oh, dear.” 

 Flitwick waved his wand so that the gag around Crouch’s mouth unwrapped itself and vanished into the thin air from which it had been summoned. Crouch heaved in a deep, shuddering breath. Then he coughed, choking on his uneven breaths, which eventually turned into wheezing that Harry quickly realized was laughter. Crouch’s shoulders shook as much as they could in his chains. 

 “Ignore him, Harry,” said the immovable man beside him, whose lynx still prowled behind them. 

 “Yeah, I know,” Harry said determinedly. 

 The female Auror finished with Skeeter and straightened, her incredulousness turned clearly to anger. “What idiot,” she demanded, as though this word was not nearly enough, “brought a dementor anywhere without being able to control it? What idiot brings a dementor into a school full of children at all?” 

 The raised voices outside had paused while Harry was casting his spell, or perhaps Harry simply hadn’t heard them with the rushing in his ears, but they started up again now. One of them, Harry thought, was Professor McGonagall. The distant sound of someone being scolded was a semi-familiar one after four years at Hogwarts, but Harry’s Transfiguration teacher was really shouting now. Whoever she was talking to was much quieter, so Harry couldn’t hear their responses. 

 Then the Cornelius Fudge walked in the door, with McGonagall looking incandescent with fury behind him, and Harry realized his teacher had been shouting at the top of her lungs at the Minister for Magic. Most reasonable people would have probably melted into a puddle of shame and fear, Harry thought amazedly, like the younger Aurors outside who were peeking inside the room with wide eyes. But Fudge’s nose was in the air and his face was turning purple with annoyance. The colour went terribly with his lime green bowler hat and striped green business robes. 

 “Who cast that Patronus?!” Fudge cried hotly. “I demand to know!”