Interlude – It's All Fun And Games Until
DIGGORY WINS TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT
A Triwizard Tournament filled with twists and turns came to an exciting conclusion last night at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hufflepuff sixth-year, prefect, and Quidditch Captain Cedric Diggory emerged victorious after a grueling Third Task that left at least two other Champions battered and bruised.
"It was a very near thing," said Diggory, when this reporter caught up with him amidst the jubilation of his victory party, which was in full swing at the Three Broomsticks during the wee hours of the night. "The third task came down to luck as well as skill. I'm proud to have won, but in some respects I felt like the last man standing rather than the winner."
The modest, handsome sixth year was quick to sing the praises of his fellow Champions. "I think Viktor knows more curses than I knew spells, total, and he's obviously brilliant on a broom," said Diggory. "And Fleur's got a scarily quick kind of mind. She always seemed to be one step ahead of us, even when she ran into some bad luck."
And as for Harry Potter, the "other" Hogwarts champion? Diggory firmly threw his support behind the Boy-Who-Lived, whose entrance into the Tournament was fraught with controversy. "Look, Harry's just… he's Harry," said Cedric, who seemed reluctant to engage on the subject. "He's a fourth year, and he nearly won. That should tell you what he's made of. We all know his story, but not all of us actually pay attention to who he is, and the thing is…"
Lost for words, it's Cedric's girlfriend, Ravenclaw fifth-year Cho Chang, who steps in to answer. "Harry's the guy you want on your side," she says. "He's the guy you want guarding your back."
A curious sentiment. Diggory, after appearing in front of the maze clutching the Triwizard Cup, immediately accosted the judges as well as Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and was overheard mentioning Potter's name in a state of agitation. Could this have something to do with the newly-crowned Champion's attitude towards the Boy-Who-Lived? "No comment," is Cedric's only reply.
News of his victory spread quickly, and Diggory is already rumored to be fielding offers from several professional Quidditch clubs as well as at least two departments at the Ministry of Magic, but the budding talent played it coy with this reporter. "I'm not looking that far into the future right now," he said, showing a curious, almost guarded side that contrasted with his easygoing demeanor. "Sometimes life throws up surprises for you, and larger events overshadow your dreams." When pressed for more detail, Diggory simply shook his head. "Whatever's out there, I just hope I'm ready for it."
In one of the high places in Hogwarts castle, above a spiral staircase and behind a large wooden door, Albus Dumbledore sat behind his desk. The Headmaster's office was quiet, for the most part, being filled with the routine sounds of life and work and peacefulness. The scratching of a quill, the rustling of feathers as Fawkes preened himself, the click and whirr of the various contraptions dotting the shelves.
Dumbledore was slumped over the desk, almost sagging with exhaustion, but his eyes were alert, and his hand was steady on the quill.
"One more, Fawkes," said Dumbledore. "And our work is done for the night. Though our real task has just begun." Dumbledore rose, making his way over to Fawkes's perch, folding a piece of parchment as he walked.
Fawkes tilted his head quizzically as Dumbledore presented the letter. "Emmeline Vance, this time," said Dumbledore.
The phoenix wasted no time, grasping the letter in his talons and vanishing in a burst of flame.
Dumbledore slumped, closing his eyes briefly, before returning to his desk. He removed his half-moon spectacles and sighed. A long night. A long night indeed, and the first of many, in all likelihood. He sat there, arms folded on the table, allowing himself one crystalline, stretched-out moment of serenity.
A bell chimed.
It was a soft sound, subdued and nonthreatening, but Dumbledore's eyes snapped open, his torpor shattered. He slipped his glasses back on, stood up, and walked, neither quickly nor slowly, to the shelf near the window. He reached over a whizzing, spinning globe and a delicate golden statue of a hawk to a dusty, ordinary-looking mouth organ shoved into the back of the shelf.
The instrument was chiming a slow, almost mournful sounding tune, the bell tones coming in measured, even steps.
Dumbledore sighed. It had been more than fifteen years since he'd heard the tune, and it meant nothing good.
CHAOS AT HOGWARTS: MINISTRY OFFICIAL KILLED BY DEATH EATER SON, DISAPPEARANCES PILE UP OVERNIGHT
In a grisly spectacle echoing a night of terror at the Quidditch World Cup last year, the Dark Mark was seen over the night sky at Hogwarts as the Triwizard Tournament concluded. Official sources are tight-lipped, and unofficial sources seemingly contradictory. The story has developed long into the night, and as of printing this morning, the picture is far from complete.
This is what we know so far.
Last night, even as Hogwarts Champion Cedric Diggory was accepting handshakes and congratulations from an ecstatic crowd of hundreds, the Dark Mark was cast from the middle of the crowd. Unlike the incident at the World Cup, however, the perpetrator was clear. Bartemius Crouch Jr., whose death after incarceration in Azkaban in 1981 is a matter of public record, was seen in full view of the crowd in the late stages of Polyjuice un-transformation casting the Dark Mark, proclaiming He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's return, and revealing the body of his father, Bartemius Crouch Sr. – the current Head of the Department of International Cooperation.
Crouch Jr. was quickly Stunned by a crack team of Ministry Aurors. Disturbingly, Crouch was seen un-transforming from the form of former Auror and current Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Alastor Moody.
"I'm shocked. Absolutely shocked," said one Hogwarts parent who attended the event. "I don't know what to make of it at all. Could that maniac have been teaching our children for the entire year? I can't even think of it."
A source close to the Minister reports that Crouch Jr. is being examined by top Healers at St. Mungo's to determine the cause of his apparent madness. "He's cracked in the head," said the source bluntly. "We're, ah, not exactly sure how he's alive, or how he made his way to Hogwarts, but it's clear he's acting on his own. Confessed to a whole load of nonsense under Veritaserum. Can't say more, ongoing investigation, you understand."
Even as the Ministry was reeling from the incident at Hogwarts, it was discovering a mystery within its own ranks. Crouch Sr.'s death combined with Crouch Jr.'s reappearance sparked an all-hands-on-deck Floo call during the night, and in the chaos that followed, several key Ministry officials appear to have vanished. In a sign of things to come, the Committee for the Disposal of Magical Creatures, on hand to control the various beasts employed in the Third Task, reported the disappearance of Senior Specialist Walden Macnair sometime during the Task itself.
As members of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement arrived at Hogwarts in the wake of the Dark Mark's appearance, Junior Hit Wizard Alfred Goyle and his partner Derek Crabbe did not respond to the Floo call, and a sweep of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement turned up nothing. Similarly, a confidential source within the Unspeakables admitted that one of their members "left in quite a hurry" from a "regularly scheduled planning session" and "couldn't be found with the usual locator spells" when the Department was tasked with magical analysis of Crouch Sr.'s body.
Minister Fudge has declined to make a public statement, but a source inside the Minister's office had this to say: "Frankly, we're baffled. We're all shocked at Barty's death, of course, but the more pressing issue is that we're missing a few people from almost every department, and it looks like they all vanished just around the time Crouch's son went bonkers."
When pressed, the source went on to say, "look, obviously they could be connected, and we're not ruling anything out at this point, but the Minister's convinced it's all just a coincidence."
Meanwhile, eyewitness accounts from Hogwarts indicate that Alastor Moody was rushed to the hospital wing, and appeared to be badly emaciated. Also present in the hospital wing last night were Hogwarts Champions Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory, apparently recovering from wounds sustained during the third task.
One Hogwarts student had this to say: "Something happened to Diggory and Potter in that maze, and no one's saying anything about it. Everyone knows something's up, though."
Most disturbingly, on a night chock full of mysterious events and suspicious disappearances, the Prophet's own Rita Skeeter, stationed at Hogwarts to report on the Triwzard Tournament, failed to make her regularly scheduled deadline after the conclusion of the third task.
As the hours tick by into the morning, the Minister's silence has this newspaper wondering: what does he know, and why is he hiding it from us?
The plaza outside King's Cross was drenched with rain, the straight concrete lines glassy and rippling with raindrops like the surface of a pond. Albus Dumbledore stood in the open, his Muggle suit perhaps out of fashion, but dry. The rain, for some reason, never seemed to find the man's body, though he made no real move to avoid it.
The crowd ignored him. They were busy, scurrying from one place to another. Dumbledore's stationary posture and somewhat odd clothing drew a few looks, but no one paid him much mind. For a few minutes, Dumbledore simply waited, betraying no outward sign of any particular emotion.
Through the crowd, he saw him. Tom Riddle made no bones about being a wizard, made no concessions to blending in with Muggles. His black robe stood stark against his pale, reptilian flesh, and his eyes were an unnatural red. Without even concentrating, Dumbledore could feel the ripples and warps of Tom's sinister brand of magic twist the air. The Muggles avoided him, making a space, and though they were hardly aware of the thing they avoided, part of them must have known, for when they neared Tom Riddle, they tightened their coats and stepped quickly.
Neither wizard made a move. They simply regarded each other through the raindrops and the milling crowd.
Finally, Riddle drew his wand, his spindly fingers fluid in their motion as he reached into his black robe. He casually waved it at a passing Muggle, and the man jerked to a stop, eyes going glassy. The man, who wore a neatly-pressed suit that was all corners and sharp angles, with a haircut to match, started making his way through the crowd towards Dumbledore, arms swinging stiffly, like a puppet.
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, stifling a burst of irritation. Tom was many things, but subtle was not one of them.
The man lurched to a stop in front of Dumbledore, and when he spoke, it was with Tom Riddle's voice.
Dumbledore inclined his head. "Hello, Tom. I confess, I hoped we wouldn't meet again. An idle hope, I fear. You never did have the strength to die gracefully."
The man's mouth twitched into something resembling a smile. "Always the same song with you. Always the same, tired words. That you can be so dismissive when I stand before you, a living testament to the power of my magic, is all the proof I need that you are, as you ever were, a deluded old fool."
"And quite proud of it," said Dumbledore cheerfully. He spread his arms. "I presume that this is no mere social call? You never used our… cease-fire agreement… for anything so trivial as insults. I do hope that resurrection has not made you petty."
"I wish only to congratulate you, Dumbledore." The man's smile was predatory. Dumbledore, who was keeping a careful eye on Riddle, who still stood some distance away, watched Riddle's wand flick sharply upwards, and a vial of silvery liquid appeared in the puppet's hand.
"The young Potter brat surprised me. He was ruthless. I never thought you'd have gone so far, molding him into something like that." The puppet dropped the vial, and Dumbledore caught it adroitly, sensing nothing magically amiss. "He seemed to like keeping secrets. I wonder what he's keeping even from you."
Dumbledore brought the vial to his face, staring at what was clearly a Pensieve memory. "I fear you've wasted a trip, Tom. Young Harry was already kind enough to recount the memory of your battle, and I daresay he displayed uncommon bravery in escaping you and your Death Eater friends. But ruthlessness? Secrecy? No. Never that. Never Harry."
The puppet's eyes widened, and a gleeful, cruel smirk appeared on his face, a mockery of a human expression. "Is that what he told you? My, my. Losing your touch, Dumbledore. Could the brat have you so completely fooled? And I thought my opinion of you could sink no lower."
Frowning, Dumbledore stayed silent, though his mind was racing. He slipped the vial into the pocket of his suit.
"I shall enjoy our next meeting, Dumbledore," said the puppet. "Though you won't." And with that, the man collapsed, the strings broken. He got too his feet, shakily, and looked around, completely baffled. Dumbledore gave him a commiserating look, and the man wandered off towards King's Cross.
Albus Dumbledore and Tom Riddle looked at each other from across the square. Dumbledore tilted his head, his mind still switching rapidly between thoughts, sure he was missing something. Riddle, reading his expression, laughed, and Dumbledore could hear it even over the crowd. Riddle turned and vanished.
The moment he'd gone, Dumbledore turned and Apparated to the gates of Hogwarts. He started walking up to the school, the memory of Riddle's laugh echoing in his mind, wearing at him like a pebble in his shoe.
AZKABAN ATTACKED; AT LEAST FIVE PRISONERS DEAD
Coming in the wake of last night's chaotic news of Ministry disappearances, the death of Bartemius Crouch, and the re-appearance of his presumed-dead son, another shock came at approximately seven o'clock this morning as Ministry liaisons to Azkaban reported unusual communications from the Dementors. Apparently, the island prison was the site of an unconfirmed breakout attempt that left several prisoners dead.
"All the Dementors would say is that the tower itself is badly damaged," said one Ministry official who declined to be identified. "They were – and I don't use this word lightly when it comes to Dementors – spooked. Whatever happened at Azkaban last night, it was big. That's all I can say."
At least five prisoners died in the attack, and as of yet, there are no reports that any prisoners made it off the island. "We're looking into it," said the same official, "but quite honestly it's a low priority right now. We're still quite pressed trying to figure out how we lost something like seventeen Ministry people last night, thank you very much. Prisoners will have to wait."
When asked if the attack on the prison could be connected to the events of last night, particularly Crouch Jr., who was an inmate of Azkaban before his apparent death, the official replied: "Possibly. Maybe. Ask someone else. I just pulled a twenty-hour shift, and I really can't consider your crazy theories at the moment."
Dumbledore stepped out of the Pensieve, his face ashen. Fawkes squawked in alarm, sensing his master's distress. Dumbledore leaned on his desk, breathing heavily.
"Oh, Harry," said Dumbledore, his voice trembling as he looked back at the silvery liquid, as it formed into swirling images of death and chaos and madness. "What have you done?"
A/N: Finally figured out where I was going with this. There will be two more chapters, at which point there will be a conclusion. There may or may not be a sequel called The Greater Madness (tip of the hat to 'Drome for coming up with the title.)