By = Fayanora
Chapter Forty-two: Victory and Defeat
Note 1: Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue.
Note 2: Once more, I apologize for the bits and pieces of canon dialogue/narration here and there. But some canon scenes are just too good to change much. There's a lot of those in this one, but don't skim through or you'll miss things.
Note 3: I have different styles for the internal speech of each of the people in the Potter collective, but the note was probably the cause of the messed up formatting somehow, so if you need a reminder of what formats mean who, you can go back to a previous chapter for the note.
Note 4: All hail Our Lady Of Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling!
Note 5: Sorry this took so long. Between my normal issues and working on some original fiction of my own, I've gotten behind on this one.
Al felt Cedric and himself slam into the ground; his face was pressed into grass; the smell of it filled his nostrils. He had closed his eyes while the Portkey transported him, and he kept them closed now. He did not move. All the breath seemed to have been knocked out of him; his head was swimming so badly he felt as though the ground beneath him were swaying like the deck of a ship, his ears were still ringing, and he had a head injury for sure. To hold himself steady, he tightened his hold on the two things he was still clutching: the smooth, cold handle of the Tri-wizard Cup and Cedric's hand. He felt as though he would slide away into the blackness gathering at the edges of his brain if he let go of either of them. Shock and exhaustion kept him on the ground, breathing in the smell of the grass, waiting … waiting for someone to do something … something to happen … and all the while, his scar burned dully on his forehead.
Cedric forced his hand out of Al's hand, but Al just stayed where he was. A torrent of sound deafened and confused him; there were voices everywhere, footsteps, shouting. … He remained where he was, his face screwed up against the noise, as though it were a nightmare that would pass.
Then a pair of hands seized him roughly and turned him over.
He opened his eyes.
He was looking up at the starry sky, and Albus Dumbledore was crouched over him. Cedric was next to Dumbledore, being helped up by Sirius. The dark shadows of a crowd of people pressed in around them, pushing nearer; Al felt the ground beneath his head reverberating with their footsteps.
They had come back to the edge of the maze. He could see the stands rising above him, the shapes of people moving in them, the stars above.
“He’s back,” Al whispered. “He’s back. Voldemort is back.”
“I know, Alastair; Cedric told me.”
“What’s going on? What’s happened?”
The face of Cornelius Fudge appeared upside down over Al; it looked nervous.
“Voldemort has returned, Cornelius. Alastair and Cedric both witnessed his return.”
“He's back? What's this rubbish? How could they have seen...? They were in the maze, Dumbledore!”
“The Triwizard Cup was a Portkey, Minister,” Cedric said. “Al tried warning me before we grabbed it, tried stopping me so I'd be safe. But I didn't listen. If Al hadn't turned me into a mouse the second we arrived in that graveyard, I'd probably be dead!”
Cornelius spluttered, confused.
“Dumbledore,” Al said before the minister could say anything, “where's Moody? He's an impostor, and he has Luna somewhere! He said she'd be safe if I went to the graveyard to face Voldemort, but I don't trust him. Where's Luna? Iliana is freaking out right now, she needs to know where Luna is!”
(Wait a minute, didn't we have the Map on us? He never took it away; I don't think he knew about it.)
At Hypatia's words, Al fumbled around in his robes and found the Marauder's Map, and he tried activating it right in front of Dumbledore and the Minister of Magic, but nothing happened. Of course nothing happened; he'd sacrificed two months of his magic!
Sirius, seeing what he was doing, put his wand to the Map, activated it, and said, “Find Luna Lovegood.”
Concentric circles surrounded her spot on the Map.
“Great,” Sirius said, “that means she's alive. And she's in that secret passage behind the mirror on the fourth floor.”
“I thought that caved in?” Al said, hysteria creeping into his voice.
“A skilled enough wizard could clear enough of the rubble to put a prisoner there,” Sirius said. “Wouldn't even take much skill, really. A student could do it.”
Before Al could say anything, Sirius next asked the Map to find Alastor Moody.
“He'll be in his office, I expect,” Al said. “Moody was an impostor. Look for Barty Crouch instead.”
“Barty-- Crouch, you say?” exclaimed the minister. “Bartemius Crouch? You dare accuse him of being a Death Eater, when he's proven over years--”
“Minister,” Dumbledore said, “Mr. Crouch had a son, did he not? With the same name, even?”
“What? Well, yes, but he died in Azkaban, years ago!”
“I rather suspect that if you dig up that grave, whoever is in there will not be Barty Crouch Junior.”
Fudge spluttered some more, looking lost for words.
Sirius, on the other hand, looked for Barty Crouch on the Map. The Map showed the man moving away from their location and toward the gates of the school.
“Sirius!” Dumbledore exclaimed.
“On it!” Sirius answered, turning into Padfoot and running off after the impostor.
Fudge gaped at Barty Crouch's spot on the Map. “What is this thing? How are you able to have a map of an Unplottable school?”
“I don't know how it works,” Al said.
“I could explain it, Minister,” Remus said. “It's a long explanation, but suffice it to say for now that the Map is tied into the school's wards, using their information to populate its display. So it's never wrong. But we never did figure out how to get Junior, Senior, or other such things to display on the Map.”
Fudge goggled at Remus. “You realize I'll have to have more evidence of that statement than the word of a werewolf, Mr. Lupin?”
Lupin smiled. “Sirius will be able to confirm what I've said. He's the only living person left besides myself who could tell you how it works.”
Fudge still looked skeptical. After all, exonerated or not, Sirius had once escaped from Azkaban.
Al looked over at Cedric to see how he was doing, and saw that his parents were hugging him, looking relieved to see he was alive.
Dumbledore – finally noticing Al was still on the ground – bent down, and with extraordinary strength for a man so old and thin, raised him from the ground and set him on his feet. Al swayed. His head was pounding, his ears were still ringing, and one side of his head was caked in drying blood.
Noticing Al's wounds himself, Fudge said, “He looks like he should go to the Hospital Wing, Dumbledore; he's injured. Diggory, too.”
“Not just yet, Minister. Their wounds are not serious, I think, and I'd prefer to ease Mr. Potter's mind in regard to Miss Lovegood first. Remus, you should go find her.”
“Right away, sir,” Remus said, running off.
“While we wait for Sirius and Remus, Al, I think we should go to my office so you can tell me more of what happened. Cedric, if you could come as well, you're the only other witness we have.”
“Yes, yes,” Fudge said. “That sounds a good idea, let's hear their story. I'd like to know what they think happened before they have a chance to get their stories straight with each other. If they haven't already, that is.”
Ignoring Fudge, Dumbledore escorted Al, Cedric, and the Diggory parents toward his office. A load of other people tried crowding them as they left, though, and Mr. Diggory volunteered to keep them at bay. Dumbledore thanked him and guided them on toward the school.
They were almost to the door of the castle when Sirius came running back up to Dumbledore, looking the worse for wear, Hagrid coming up behind him. Sirius's robes were smoking like he'd been on fire, his face was battered, and his hair was also singed. One arm had a bleeding cut on it.
“What happened, Sirius? Did you catch him?”
“No, more's the pity. That bugger can duel better than anyone I've seen besides the real Moody and yourself. Hagrid here saw most of it on his way to help me, but the bugger got away before he was in range to do anything to help.”
“Aye, Dumbledore,” Hagrid said. “I reckon it'll take an hour or so to fix the damage. Twere a short fight, but an awful nasty one fer all tha'.”
“I don't know how he got so good,” Sirius complained. “I know I'm rusty, but ye gods, I have been getting enough practice to where I should've done better than that.”
“And what did he look like? Did he look like Alastor Moody?” Dumbledore asked.
“Nope. Polyjuice must've worn off. He probably let it wear off in case he needed to make a quick escape; Moody isn't exactly very quick on his feet anymore. Anyway, the man I saw looks different, older, but it was Crouch Junior alright. I remember what he looked like from my time in Azkaban.”
Fudge tapped Sirius on the shoulder and the two of them fell back to talk, trailing behind the rest of them. Al heard enough snatches of conversation to know Sirius was explaining the Marauder's Map in detail to Fudge.
Professor Snape turned up as they were entering the school.
“Headmaster, I have something urgent I need to tell you,” Snape said. “Something private.”
“I believe I know what you are going to say, Severus. It can wait. For now, Voldemort is back in a new body, alive and dangerous as ever. Young Mr. Potter and young Mr. Diggory here are witnesses.”
Snape nodded, scowling at Al. “May I join you, Headmaster? I wish to know how Mr. Potter managed to get in trouble this time, when he was supposed to be in that maze. I have a bet with Minerva about it, and I wish to know if I've won.”
“You may come, Severus, if you can keep your snide comments to yourself for now.”
Snape nodded again, and fell in behind them, Sirius glaring at him now and then all the way to the gargoyle outside Dumbledore's office.
“You're not going to interrogate Al, are you, Dumbledore?” Sirius asked. “He's just been through a huge ordeal.”
“We must know the full story as soon as possible. The faster we know, the faster we can act.”
Sirius sighed, and nodded.
When they reached the stone gargoyle and finished speaking, Dumbledore gave the password, and it sprang aside.
“If you don't mind, Dumbledore,” Fudge said, “I'm going to interrogate Diggory separately, to see if their stories match up. I'll expect you to fill me in, of course, on Potter's version.”
“Of course, Minister. Severus, if you could join the Minister to ensure everything is right and proper, I will fill you in later as well.”
Snape scowled, but nodded, and the two of them went somewhere else. Hagrid stayed behind as well, not wanting to crowd the office. The rest of them – Sirius, Dumbledore, and Al – went up the moving spiral staircase to the door of Dumbledore's office.
They entered Dumbledore's office. Dumbledore made sure they all had enough chairs. Al sat down on the nearest one, a kind of numbness and a sense of complete unreality were upon him, but he did not care; he was even glad of it. He didn’t want to have to think about anything that had happened since he had first touched the Triwizard Cup. He didn’t want to have to examine the memories, fresh and sharp as photographs, which kept flashing across his mind. Mad-Eye Moody, inside the trunk. The fake Moody pointing a wand at him. Bellatrix cutting off her hand and the rest of her arm. Voldemort, rising from the steaming cauldron.
When Al sat down, Fawkes the phoenix fluttered over to him and landed at his side.
“ ’Lo, Fawkes,” said Al quietly. He stroked the phoenix’s beautiful scarlet-and-gold plumage. Fawkes blinked peacefully up at him. There was something comforting about his warm weight.
Dumbledore stopped talking. He sat down opposite Al, behind his desk. He was looking at Al, who avoided his eyes. Dumbledore was going to question him. He was going to make Al relive everything.
They were interrupted before they could even begin when Remus and Luna came in. Luna looked scared and confused, but unharmed. Al ran over to her, hugging her.
“Hello to you too, Al,” she said, her fear turning to amusement. “Or is that Iliana?”
“It's all of us. Iliana is your girlfriend, but the rest of us are your friends; we all worried about you.”
“I'd like to say I worried about you as well, but by the time Mr. Lupin woke me up, it was all over. But now I see you're wounded, so I suppose that means I can worry. Is your ear missing?”
“I think so. I hope Madam Pomfrey can fix it.”
She blinked at him. “Won't it fix itself when you transform again?”
Al sighed. “I suppose it will, in two months when I get my magic back.”
There were a number of shocked noises and voices about this pronouncement.
“What do you mean by that, Al?” Sirius asked. “Why would your magic be gone?”
“Yes, what happened? It sounds serious,” Remus said.
“It's a long story, everyone. Please try to be patient with me.”
Al sighed deeply. They might as well get it over with. He began, then, to tell them everything, as he spoke, visions of everything that had passed that night seemed to rise before his eyes; he saw the sparkling surface of the potion that had revived Voldemort; he saw the Death Eaters Apparating between the graves around them; he saw the furious, pitched battle as Hypatia prepared her ritual; he saw Mother's supercharged Patronus killing that Death Eater and maiming another.
Once or twice, Sirius made a noise as though about to say something, his hand still tight on Al's shoulder, but Dumbledore raised his hand to stop him, and Al was glad of this, because it was easier to keep going now he had started. It was even a relief; he felt almost as though something poisonous were being extracted from him. It was costing him every bit of determination he had to keep talking, yet he sensed that once he had finished, he would feel better. He also had help from the others in his head with him, who would take over when he stopped for whatever reason.
Luna, Sirius and the others gasped when he revealed Bellatrix LeStrange was alive, and had helped Voldemort tonight. Several people gaped in astonishment that the power of his mother's protection hadn't broken like they'd all thought it had when he'd stopped staying with the Dursleys. Al himself was surprised at a detail he'd barely noticed before, but which Hypatia had recorded, about Voldemort giving Bellatrix a super-strong silver arm to replace the one she'd lost. And when he told of her stabbing him in the arm and later using the blood in the ritual to revive Voldemort, Sirius let out a vehement exclamation, Luna squeaked loudly in alarm, and Dumbledore stood up so quickly that Al started. Dumbledore walked around the desk and told Al to stretch out his arm. Al showed them all the place where his robes were torn and the cut beneath them.
“He said my blood would make him stronger than if he’d used someone else’s,” Al said. “Not sure why he thought that, since he hadn't known Mum's protection was still going, but maybe it was something symbolic for him. But once he knew, he said the protection my — my mother left in me — he’d have it too. And he was right — he could touch me without hurting himself, he touched my face. Even though I'd burned Bellatrix's arm nearly all the way off just minutes before.”
For a fleeting instant, Al and the others thought they saw a gleam of something like triumph in Dumbledore’s eyes. But next second, they were sure they had imagined it, for when Dumbledore had returned to his seat behind the desk, he looked as old and weary as they had ever seen him. Hypatia wondered to the others if it had something to do with the horcruxes.
“Very well,” Dumbledore said, sitting down again. “Voldemort has overcome that particular barrier. Please continue, Alastair.”
Al went on; he explained how Voldemort had emerged from the cauldron, and told them all Hypatia's recording could remember of Voldemort’s speech to the Death Eaters, pausing a moment as he looked at Luna before deciding he could trust her and continuing, explaining the part where they'd been largely spacing out the man's incessant nattering while a non-sentient construct of Hypatia's had been dutifully recording everything. He paused briefly to explain Hypatia to Luna, and swear her to secrecy about the subject, before going on. Then he told how Voldemort had untied him, returned his wand to him, intending for them to duel. He explained about the diversion Cedric supplied, the pitched battle they'd barely survived as Hypatia prepared the ritual, and all about the supercharged Patronus and the mayhem it caused, scattering the surviving Death Eaters to the wind. And then, of course, how the Patronus had dropped the Portkey into Al's arms so they could escape.
“That's a Hell of a night you had, pup,” Sirius said when he was finished.
Al suddenly became aware that Fawkes was moving. It was resting its beautiful head against Al's arm and thick, pearly tears were falling from its eyes onto the wound. The pain vanished. The skin mended.
Dumbledore looked at Al with approval. “Alastair, you and the others in your collective have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you tonight. You have shown bravery equal to those who died fighting Voldemort at the height of his powers. You have shouldered a grown wizard’s burden and found yourself equal to it — and you have now given us all that we have a right to expect. You will come with me to the hospital wing. I do not want you returning to the dormitory tonight. A Sleeping Potion, and some peace … Sirius, would you like to stay with him? And you, Remus? Miss Lovegood?”
Sirius nodded and stood up. Remus joined him, as did Luna. The five of them went downstairs and on to the hospital wing.
When Dumbledore pushed open the door, Al saw Mrs. Weasley, Bill, Ron, and Hermione grouped around a harassed-looking Madam Pomfrey. They had apparently come to watch the Third Task too, and now appeared to be demanding to know where Al was and what had happened to him. All of them whipped around as Al, Dumbledore, Sirius, Remus, and Luna entered, and Mrs. Weasley let out a kind of muffled scream at the sight of Al's head.
“Adira! Er, Alastair! You look horrible!” she said, clearly worried.
She started to hurry toward him, but Dumbledore moved between them.
“Molly,” he said, holding up a hand, “please listen to me for a moment. Alastair has been through a terrible ordeal tonight. He has just had to relive it for me. What he needs now is sleep, and peace, and quiet. If he would like you all to stay with him,” he added, looking around at Ron, Hermione, Luna, Sirius, Remus, and Bill too, “you may do so. But I do not want you questioning him until he is ready to answer, and certainly not this evening.”
Mrs. Weasley nodded. She was very white. She rounded on Ron, Hermione, and Bill as though they were being noisy, and hissed, “Did you hear? He needs quiet!”
“Headmaster,” said Madam Pomfrey, “this is far too many people to be visiting a patient at one time. I already have Mr. and Mrs. Diggory here with their son. Some of these people will have to leave.”
“I'll go,” Remus said. “Are any other volunteers?”
“I'll go too,” Bill said.
“At least one more will have to go, I must insist on it, Headmaster.”
Mrs. Weasley looked at the others, then sighed. “I'll go too, much as I don't want to. Alastair will have his godfather, and I can't say no to poor dear Luna. Ron, you and Hermione should come as well.”
There was an instant outcry about this from the two of them, and Mrs. Weasley argued for a bit and then threw up her hands, leaving Madam Pomfrey to sort it out, exiting the room muttering.
Al felt an inexpressible sense of gratitude to Dumbledore for asking the others not to question him. It wasn’t as though he didn’t want them there; but the thought of explaining it all over again, the idea of reliving it one more time, was more than he could stand.
“I can save some space, Poppy, by turning into Padfoot. My dog form,” he explained at her confused expression.
“I suppose so,” she said.
Sirius nodded and shrunk a little into the very large dog that was Padfoot. He jumped up on Al's bed and curled up at Al's feet.
“I will be back to see you as soon as I have met with Fudge, Alastair,” said Dumbledore. “I would like you to remain here tomorrow until I have spoken to the school.” He left.
As Madam Pomfrey led Al to a nearby bed, he caught sight of the real Moody lying motionless in a bed at the far end of the room.
“Is he okay?” Al asked.
“He’ll be fine,” said Madam Pomfrey. “It's you I'm worried about. This is a nasty cut on your head, and there's possible head trauma I'll have to fix before you can go to sleep. As well as that missing ear to regrow, if possible.”
“She's keeping me overnight for observation, just in case,” Cedric said. “That was a nasty fight we were in. It's a miracle we survived.”
“Right,” Al said, waiting as she tended to him.
“Hmm,” she said after a bit. “This is odd.”
“What's--- oh wait, I think I know what's odd, Madam Pomfrey. I, uh... it's a long story, but suffice it to say I won't be able to do a lick of magic for the next two months.”
“I... see,” she said, her eyes narrowed at him. “Well that does explain these readings, I suppose. I'll heal you up, then. Good to know, though; some potions use a person's magic to fully work, but we shouldn't need any of those.”
She finished healing his wounds, including the head trauma and regrowing the missing ear since it hadn't been removed by dark magic, and soon he was getting into some pajamas and taking a potion for dreamless sleep. Al took the goblet and drank a few mouthfuls. He felt himself becoming drowsy at once. Everything around him became hazy; the lamps around the hospital wing seemed to be winking at him in a friendly way through the screen around his bed; his body felt as though it was sinking deeper into the warmth of the feather mattress. Before he could finish the potion, before he could say another word, his exhaustion had carried him off to sleep.
Al woke up, so warm, so very sleepy, that he didn’t open his eyes, wanting to drop off again. The room was still dimly lit; he was sure it was still nighttime and had a feeling that he couldn’t have been asleep very long. He felt Sirius still curled up at his feet. He also felt Luna laying in the bed beside him, but she was above the covers and he was under them.
Then he heard whispering around him.
“They’ll wake him if they don’t shut up!”
“What are they shouting about? Nothing else can have happened, can it?”
Al opened his eyes blearily. He could see Mr. and Mrs. Diggory close by, Cedric's bed being next to his own. Mr. Diggory was on his feet. The real Moody was still asleep in a bed on one side of him.
“That’s Fudge’s voice,” he whispered. “And that’s Minerva McGonagall’s, isn’t it? But what are they arguing about?”
Now Al and the others could hear them too: people shouting and running toward the hospital wing.
“Absolutely not!” yelled an irate Fudge. “I will not waste valuable Ministry time and resources on a wild diricawl hunt! You have no evidence!”
“We have two eyewitnesses to his return, Minister! And two eyewitnesses to Crouch Junior being alive still!”
“HA!” Fudge shouted derisively. “The word of a fourteen-year-old lunatic and the victim of a Confundus Charm! That is as good as no evidence! And as to Black and Hagrid, that's just as bad! Hagrid is a continual trouble-maker who shouldn't even be a teacher because of his monster fancy and his halfbreed status, and Black was an illegal animagus who escaped from prison! The fact he was innocent of being a Death Eater and killing those Muggles means nothing! He's still in Dumbledore's pocket! Without Dumbledore, Black would have been Kissed!”
Al heard the hospital doors burst open. Unnoticed by any of the people around his bed, all of whom were staring at the door as Fudge barged in, Al sat up and glared in Fudge's general direction. Sirius was awake too; he leaped off the bed and transformed back into his human form. He saw Al was awake and pulled the screens back so Al could see. Luna was awake as well, sitting on the side of his bed, watching everything placidly, as thought it were a television drama.
Fudge came striding up the ward. Professors McGonagall and Snape were at his heels.
“Where’s Dumbledore?” Fudge demanded of Sirius.
“He’s not here,” said Sirius angrily. “This is a hospital wing, Minister, don’t you think you’d do better to —”
But the door opened, and Dumbledore came sweeping up the ward.
“What has happened?” said Dumbledore sharply, looking from Fudge to Professor McGonagall. “Why are you disturbing these people?”
“The Minister refuses to deploy resources to deal with the You-Know-Who crisis, nor to look for Crouch Junior,” McGonagall said. “He seems to think the whole thing is some kind of mad conspiracy against him, says we have no real evidence, and you're vying for the position of Minister.”
Dumbledore regarded Fudge coolly. “Minister, I have never wanted your position. If I had, I could easily have obtained it after Minister Bagnold retired. We have no reason to lie about these things. Voldemort is back, and we have two eyewitnesses to his return, in Mr. Potter and young Mr. Diggory.”
“You believe their mad tale, do you?”
“It is not a mad tale, Minister. It makes sense. It explains most if not all of the unusual occurrences of the last year, including the problem with the Tournament. And anyway, did you not interrogate Mr. Diggory yourself, to make sure the stories matched up?”
Fudge snorted derisively. “All that proves is Potter planted the mad story in Diggory's head before their sudden appearance from the Maze. And this tosh about the TriWizard cup being a Portkey, there's no evidence of that! And by Diggory's own admission, he and Potter fought on several occasions within the Maze. You'd have me believe one of the voices in Potter's head has been practicing illegal ritual magic with your knowledge and that it saved them in a fight against You-Know-Who? And that it was done with a giant humanoid Patronus that can kill people? Tosh and nonsense! I've never heard such a ridiculous yarn in my life! If it was a novel in a library I'd throw it across the room for being too absurd even for fiction!
“So no, Dumbledore, I don't believe it for a minute. It's a much more believable story that Potter, who is clearly insane, planted the tale in Diggory's brain for some reason and you're either feeble-minded enough in your old age to believe it, or you're pretending to believe it in a bid to remove me from power!”
By now, Al noticed Cedric had woken up too, and was glaring at the Minister as well. His parents hadn't noticed yet. Mr. Diggory was glowering at Fudge.
“Are you calling my son a liar?”
Fudge was about to respond, but Dumbledore spoke first, interrupting him.
“Minister,” Dumbledore said. “We do have evidence. The eyewitnesses – including the two who saw Barty Crouch Junior – can give Pensieve memories as evidence.”
“Memories can be altered, Dumbledore!”
“Yes, but it takes a ridiculously talented Occlumens to alter such memories without leaving traces of the changes.”
“Indeed. And I've been interrogating a lot of people today, Dumbledore, so I happen to know one of the voices in Potter's head has precisely the talent needed to do that. And that it may be a Legilimens as well, by now. So you'll excuse me if I don't trust all these testimonies.”
“What of Hagrid and Black, Minister?” Snape interjected, glaring, getting a matching glare from Sirius. “Much as I hate to admit it, they saw Crouch Junior. I have viewed their memories of the fight with Crouch, and I believe them to be genuine.”
Fudge scoffed again. “You could have planted those yourself, Snape.”
“Like I'd let that bastard fiddle around inside my head!” Sirius barked.
Snape raised an eyebrow. “You were with me, Minister, when Black and Hagrid returned from their fight. You heard them speak of it. Please, tell me how I could be in two places at once?”
Fudge faltered at this a little. “Well, well... I may not have all the details worked out yet, Snape, but trust me when I say I will work it out in the end!”
“Cornelius, when Alastair Potter and Cedric Diggory touched the Triwizard Cup tonight, they were transported straight to Voldemort,” said Dumbledore steadily. “They witnessed Lord Voldemort’s rebirth. You heard Cedric's testimony. But I will explain it all to you again if you will step up to my office.”
Dumbledore glanced around at Al and saw that he was awake, but shook his head and said, “I am afraid I cannot permit you to question Al tonight.”
“Mighty convenient, Dumbledore. But unnecessary. Nothing he says would convince me anyway, he's a lunatic.”
That was the final straw for Al, and he decided to speak up at last, speaking over Sirius.
“I admit my situation is peculiar, Minister, but Rita Skeeter's lies aside, I assure you I'm quite sane.”
Fudge snorted again and rolled his eyes. “'Lies.' Right. I've seen you transform. I've seen your different behaviors in these different masks. I don't need Rita Skeeter to convince me you're insane.”
“Then answer me this: why would I act against you? I neither know you well enough to have any reason to be against you, nor do I care. I don't really trust Dumbledore either, to be honest; he's lied to me on more than one occasion, even if he did eventually come clean. If I gave a single god-damn who was Minister, I certainly wouldn't support Dumbledore over you. Dunno who I'd support, honestly, that's how little I care.” He then turned to Sirius, thinking for a second before adding, “Possibly Sirius. But not Dumbledore.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, pup, but I wouldn't want the position either. Too stressful.”
Fudge shrugged. “Who knows what motivates a lunatic? And the fact you speak with snakes doesn't help your case either.”
Al closed his eyes and took a bracing breath. “You want evidence my story is true? Ask Madam Pomfrey. She'll be able to confirm that my magic is currently not functioning. For the next two months, Minister, I am as powerless as a Muggle or a squib.”
“I don't have an explanation for that either, Potter, but it's still absurd to believe a fourteen-year-old wizard managed to advance that far into ritual magic on their own.”
“Hermione Granger has been top in our year, possibly the entire school, since our first year. She's maybe half as intelligent as Hypatia, and if she'd had access to the same books Hypatia did, she could have possibly done the same thing.”
Hermione blinked. “Who's Hypatia?”
“I'll tell you later, Hermione. It's uh... a bit of a secret, actually. For now.”
“I won't tell anyone,” Cedric said. “If she's the one who saved our asses in that graveyard, I'll keep the secret of her existence for you. Assuming it doesn't get out anyway,” he added, glaring at Fudge with distrust.
“What of you two?” Al asked the Diggories.
They nodded. “We have no idea what you're even talking about,” Mr. Diggory said, “but yes, we'll keep quiet.”
“Loathe as I am to agree with Mr. Potter on anything, Minister, he isn't wrong about this 'Hypatia' being that intelligent. I've gotten to know her over many weeks, and if her talents were not so focused on runic magic, arithmancy, and ritual magic to the exclusion of all else, she could have grown to become the next Dumbledore. Perhaps even better than that. The girl can, after all, do ridiculously complicated arithmancy in her head. Just ask Fangslaughter and his partner down at Gringott's.”
“This is absurd!” Fudge shouted. “The boy's brains are clearly addled, anyone can see that! On top of which, he's a Parselmouth and having funny turns around the place!”
“I assume that you are referring to the pains the Potters have been experiencing in their scar?” said Dumbledore coolly.
“You admit that he has been having these pains, then?” said Fudge quickly. “Headaches? Nightmares? Possibly — hallucinations?”
“Listen to me, Cornelius,” said Dumbledore, taking a step toward Fudge, and once again, he seemed to radiate an indefinable sense of power. “The Potters are as sane as you or I, just different. That scar upon their forehead has not addled their brains. I believe it hurts them when Lord Voldemort is close by, or feeling particularly murderous.”
Fudge had taken half a step back from Dumbledore, but he looked no less stubborn.
“You’ll forgive me, Dumbledore, but I’ve never heard of a curse scar acting as an alarm bell before.”
“Look, we saw Voldemort come back!” Al shouted. He tried to get out of bed again, but Sirius forced him back. “I saw the Death Eaters! I can give you their names! Lucius Malfoy —”
Snape made a sudden movement, but as Al looked at him, Snape’s eyes flew back to Fudge.
“Malfoy was cleared!” said Fudge, visibly affronted. “A very old family — donations to excellent causes —”
“Macnair!” Al continued.
“Also cleared! Now working for the Ministry!”
“Avery — Nott — Crabbe — Goyle —”
“You are merely repeating the names of those who were acquitted of being Death Eaters thirteen years ago!” said Fudge angrily. “You could have found those names in old reports of the trials! For heaven’s sake, Dumbledore, the boy can talk to snakes, and you still think he’s trustworthy?”
“What about me, Minister?” Cedric asked.
“NO! I was there! I was a mouse for most of it, but I was there! I could see and hear just fine. How could a Confundus make me think I was a mouse? How would Al even know what it felt like to be a mouse?”
“I don't know, but I know enough to see through this pathetic attempt to fool me! It seems to me that you are all determined to start a panic that will destabilize everything we have worked for these last thirteen years!”
Al couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had always thought of Fudge as a kindly figure, a little blustering, a little pompous, but essentially good-natured. But now a short, angry wizard stood before him, refusing, point-blank, to accept the prospect of disruption in his comfortable and ordered world — to believe that Voldemort could have risen.
“Again I ask, are you calling my son a liar?” Mr. Diggory demanded.
“No, Diggory. Like I said, he was clearly Confunded.”
“He says he wasn't, though!” Mr. Diggory said, but he looked uncertain.
“Why don't we have Madam Pomfrey verify that, then?” Sirius responded.
“As if she's not in his pocket, too.”
“A Saint Mungo's Healer, then?” Mr. Diggory asked.
Fudge snorted, and turned away from Mr. Diggory.
“Voldemort has returned,” Dumbledore repeated. “If you accept that fact straightaway, Fudge, and take the necessary measures, we may still be able to save the situation. The first and most essential step is to remove Azkaban from the control of the dementors —”
“Preposterous!” shouted Fudge again. “Remove the dementors? I’d be kicked out of office for suggesting it! Half of us only feel safe in our beds at night because we know the dementors are standing guard at Azkaban!”
“The rest of us sleep less soundly in our beds, Cornelius, knowing that you have put Lord Voldemort’s most dangerous supporters in the care of creatures who will join him the instant he asks them!” said Dumbledore. “They will not remain loyal to you, Fudge! Voldemort can offer them much more scope for their powers and their pleasures than you can! With the dementors behind him, and his old supporters returned to him, you will be hard-pressed to stop him regaining the sort of power he had thirteen years ago!”
Al sighed and glared at Fudge as Dumbledore told Fudge to send envoys to the giants, berated Fudge for being too too fond of his power to pull his head out of his arse and see the reality of the situation, warning Fudge he'd be remembered poorly by history if he didn't act on Dumbledore's advice. But it was all falling on deaf ears. Fudge had made up his mind, and couldn't stand to be confused by the facts. Finally, even Dumbledore had enough of arguing with the pompous windbag.
“If your determination to shut your eyes will carry you as far as this, Cornelius,” said Dumbledore, “we have reached a parting of the ways. You must act as you see fit. And I — I shall act as I see fit.”
Dumbledore’s voice carried no hint of a threat; it sounded like a mere statement, but Fudge bristled as though Dumbledore were advancing upon him with a wand.
“Now, see here, Dumbledore,” he said, waving a threatening finger. “I’ve given you free rein, always. I’ve had a lot of respect for you. I might not have agreed with some of your decisions, but I’ve kept quiet. There aren’t many who’d have let you hire werewolves, or keep Hagrid, or decide what to teach your students without reference to the Ministry. But if you’re going to work against me —”
“The only one against whom I intend to work,” said Dumbledore, “is Lord Voldemort. If you are against him, then we remain, Cornelius, on the same side.”
It seemed Fudge could think of no answer to this. Instead, he glared at Dumbledore. “You're trying to convince me to believe an impossibility, Dumbledore. You should quit while you're behind.”
Snape strode forward, past Dumbledore, pulling up the left sleeve of his robes as he went. He stuck out his forearm and showed it to Fudge, who recoiled.
“There,” said Snape harshly. “There. The Dark Mark. It is not as clear as it was an hour or so ago, when it burned black, but you can still see it. Every Death Eater had the sign burned into him by the Dark Lord. It was a means of distinguishing one another, and his means of summoning us to him. When he touched the Mark of any Death Eater, we were to Disapparate, and Apparate, instantly, at his side. This Mark has been growing clearer all year. Karkaroff’s too. Why do you think Karkaroff fled tonight? We both felt the Mark burn. We both knew he had returned. Karkaroff fears the Dark Lord’s vengeance. He betrayed too many of his fellow Death Eaters to be sure of a welcome back into the fold.”
Fudge stepped back from Snape too. He was shaking his head. He did not seem to have taken in a word Snape had said. He stared, apparently repelled by the ugly mark on Snape’s arm, then looked up at Dumbledore and whispered, “I don’t know what you and your staff are playing at, Dumbledore, but I have heard enough. I have no more to add. I will be in touch with you tomorrow, Dumbledore, to discuss the running of this school. I must return to the Ministry.”
He had almost reached the door when he paused. He turned around, strode back down the dormitory, and stopped at Al's bed.
“Your winnings,” he said shortly, taking a large bag of gold out of his pocket and dropping it onto Al's bedside table. “Five hundred Galleons. And here's your half, Diggory,” he said, throwing another bag on Cedric's bed. “Same amount. There should have been a presentation ceremony, but under the circumstances...”
He crammed his bowler hat onto his head and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him. The moment he had disappeared, Dumbledore turned to look at the group around Al's bed. Al placed the bag of gold on his bedside cabinet.
“There is work to be done,” he said. “Amos, do I have your support?”
Mr. Diggory nodded. “Yes. Fudge called my son a liar, and he's using my son as part of some mad conspiracy theory about a cabal acting against him, when he should be preparing to fight You-Know-Who! Of course you have my support!”
“Excellent. Then please go to Molly Weasley, and ask her if I can count on her family's support. If she says yes, go to Arthur Weasley and tell him what has happened, leaving out the secret of Hypatia's existence. Arthur will need to be discreet, however. If Fudge thinks I am interfering at the Ministry...”
“Right, Dumbledore,” Mr. Diggory said. “Once more, no idea what you're talking about, in regard to this 'Hypatia.' Don't think I want to know, either. Should I go now, then?”
Mr. Diggory nodded, hugged his wife and his son, then left to find Mrs. Weasley.
“Sirius, do I have your support as well?”
“Of course, Dumbledore. As long as Al and the others are on your side, so am I.”
“And Alastair? You are on my side still?”
“Our objectives still align, yes,” Al said.
“Excellent. So, Sirius, if you could go find Remus and send him to my office, I would be much obliged. I have a summer assignment for him. And after that, please go inform Arabella Figg and Mundungus Fletcher, and the rest of the old crowd.”
“Right,” Sirius said. He turned to Al. “I'll be back soon as I can, pup. You get better.”
“Alright, Sirius. Go do what you need to do. We'll be fine. Madam Pomfrey is here.”
Sirius took off then, Al watching him going.
“Oh yes,” Dumbledore said. “And that reminds me, Alastair, you shall need a bodyguard until you are safely at home with Sirius. And one for the interim, until Sirius returns.”
“I pick Professor Snape, if that's an option,” Al said. “He's got plenty of reason to want me alive.”
Snape glared angrily at Al. But Dumbledore shook his head. “Professor Snape has a greater mission, Alastair. Professor McGonagall shall stay behind to guard you.”
She nodded, putting her hand on her wand but didn't take it out.
Dumbledore nodded and sent a Patronus message off. “Just informing Hagrid to come to my office,” he said. “Hopefully he will be able to bring Madame Maxime with him as instructed.”
He then turned to Snape. “You know what you must do, Severus. If you are ready... if you are prepared...”
Snape nodded. “I am.”
He looked slightly paler than usual, and his cold, black eyes glittered strangely.
“Then good luck,” said Dumbledore, and he watched, with a trace of apprehension on his face, as Snape swept wordlessly after Sirius, his robes billowing behind him.
“He's our spy, right?” Al asked.
“Indeed he is.”
Al nodded. He knew Snape was getting revenge for Lily dying. That was solid enough motive for Al.
It was several minutes before Dumbledore spoke again.
“I must go to my office,” Dumbledore said. “Take the rest of your potion, Alastair. I will see all of you later.”
Al slumped back against his pillows as Dumbledore disappeared. Hermione, Ron, and Luna were all looking at him. None of them spoke for a very long time.
“You should take the rest of your potion, Al,” Luna said at last. Her hand nudged the sack of gold on his bedside cabinet as she reached for the bottle and the goblet. “You have a good long sleep. Try and think about something else for a while. Think about what you’re going to buy with your winnings.”
“I don't want that gold. I never did. You want it, Cedric?”
Cedric shook his head. “No, we both won. Regardless of what happened next, we both touched the cup at the same time, it was a tie. That money is yours.”
Al shrugged. “Fine, whatever,” he said.
He was starting to feel the weight of the night's experiences weighing down on them. They tried pushing the thoughts away, but they kept resurfacing. It was finally happening. They hadn't found any of the horcruxes yet, hadn't figured out a way to remove the horcrux from their own flesh, and who knew how long it would take Moldyshorts to get his army back up to snuff? They were running out of time.
Al felt a warm hand on his, and saw it was Luna's hand, holding his tight. He then felt himself sink below the surface of their mind, Iliana taking over.
“Luna,” she said with Al's voice. “God, that's weird. I took this whole transformation thing for granted, but it sure is weird when we're stuck in one form, the way Muggle Multiples are.”
“Iliana?” Luna asked.
“Yes, it's me. Man, I can't wait until we get our magic back.”
“Oh, you'll manage,” Luna said.
“What about you, though?”
“I'll be fine. I know you're in there. Even if I can't see you or feel you, I know you're there. That's enough for me, until you get better.”
“What if I never get better, though? What if this is permanent? I mean, even if we get our magic back, what if we lose our transformation power?”
“You shouldn't worry about things you can't do anything about. Just wait and see. If you do, well, I'll stay with you anyway.”
“Thanks.” She said. She was silent for a moment, then she said, “Ugh, stuck as a boy for two months. What a nightmare.”
“Hey!” Ron said, indignant.
“Like you wouldn't complain if you were stuck as a girl for two months.”
Ron looked thoughtful. “Well, it would depend on how pretty a girl I was. And how big my boobs were.”
“RON!” Iliana shouted.
There was a loud slamming noise, and Luna and Al/Iliana broke apart. Hermione was standing by the window. She was holding something tight in her hand.
“Sorry,” she whispered.
“Your potion, Iliana,” Luna said softly. “You need your sleep.”
They drank it in one gulp. The effect was instantaneous. Heavy, irresistible waves of dreamless sleep broke over them; they fell back onto their pillows and thought no more.
Endnotes: None this time. Just that this isn't quite the end of this half of the story. Oh, and once I figure out a good title for it, I am for sure going to split the rest of the story off into its own half, as this one is getting quite long.
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