SUMMARY: In a flash, the winner of the Triwizard Tournament appeared before the audience, cup in hand. Alone. In but an instant he was crying for the boy he'd left behind.
Cedric managed to escape the deathly curses of Voldemort and his men, a narrow escape that cost Harry Potter his own. But Cedric hasn't given up on the boy who had sacrificed himself for him. Years later, he is determined to find Harry and right the wrong that has since unbalanced the world with the return of one Tom Riddle. If only he could find a glimmer of hope to promise that the boy he sought was still even alive.
Tags: GoF AU, Darkness, Evil is winning, Off-screen torture, obsessions, an endless hunt
As a WARNING, not so much as a trigger or anything, I feel like I have to add. 1) Harry is kind of (very) OOC. I feel that in this case it is justified, but I just had to mention it because I know this annoys people sometimes. And 2) this story contains one trope in particular that I know is often cause for distress and/or annoyance in some people. I can't really say what it is because that would be a massive spoiler for the stoyline but... it's not dirty, gritty, violent or sexual, but just so you know. If particularly sensitive to these sorts of things, maybe steer clear.
DISCLAIMER: All rights belong, inevitably, to JK Rowling. This is not my world - unfortunately - nor my original characters - also unfortunately - even if the divergence is entirely mine, both the good and the bad parts. I make no profit from this story.
Chapter 1: Lost and Damned
The Triwizard Tournament could hardly be deemed a spectator event. With the exception of perhaps the First Task, there was little for the audience to actually observe as they waited with baited breath for any sign of their competitors. Peering across the stagnant surface of the Black Lake or up at the towering twists of evergreen hedge that formed the foundations of the Third Task maze was hardly what many had in mind when contemplating the trials their champions would face. Enthusiasm slowly slipped into boredom as rigid alertness gradually became a trial to maintain indefinitely.
As such, it was no surprise that when a competitor appeared, there was exaggerated exuberance and animated chatter immediately bursting from the otherwise ominously hushed grandstands. At least, that had been the reaction at the Second Task. The appearance of contestants from the maze was somewhat less… triumphant.
Fleur Delacour was the first to appear in the Third Task. When the huddle of witches and wizards gradually drew nearer towards her abrupt arrival, excited whispers hushed to frigid silence, so quiet that the muffled footfalls of the medi-wizards and witches hastening across the grass could be heard like the resounding thumps of a booming drum. Eyes drew towards the stretcher elevated magically in their midst and gasps were emitted by more than just the Beauxbatons students. The girl was filthy, covered in a thick layer of dirt and leaves, hair pulled from its precise tail to frizz messily around her wan, slack face. Ragged breathing heaved her chest and her fingers twitched with nervous flickers as though attempting to settle upon something. Yet it was her eyes that held the greatest horror; wide and staring, there was a faintly crazed light beneath upwelling tears, beneath the pain that was the only indication of her discomfort.
The swift departure of the emergency response squad left only a throbbing, foreboding shadow in its wake. Not a soul shifted on their seats, not even a friend of the French girl rising to chase after the departed champion. Dread swirled in the pits of all stomachs. Excitement was replaced with fear. Something had happened in the maze, something confronted that had been unseen in previous Tasks.
Viktor Krum was the second competitor to arise from the depths of the maze. Though no noise save muted whispers graced the waiting audience, the overwhelming silence that accompanied his arrival was distinct. A similarly huddling group of healers surrounded the Durmstrang boy, but anxious glimpses peering through the ring of dark robes and over bowed heads showed him to be in a state resembling that of the Beauxbatons girl. The urgency in the mature wizards and witches hastened Krum's departure more swiftly even than Fleur's rapid retreat. Once more the spectators were left in absolute silence. Dread hung like a heavy, descending cloud over every onlooker, only intensified by the frantic pacing and muffled conversations of presiding staff. Even Dumbledore, the ever-constant pillar of stability, stared with ice-cold ferocity at the maze. Something was definitely not right.
Nightfall gradually crept into the Scottish air, chilling the spring breeze into teeth-chattering discomfort. Feet shuffled, the only sound from the waiting crowd. Guts clenched as the indefinite wait dragged on, overriding the hunger that remained unsated despite the profit fast-food vendors could have turned. Said vendors fidgeted in similar foreboding, eyes flickering between the increasingly frantic marching of Hogwarts staff and presiding officers. The Hogwarts Headmaster, accompanied by a handful of his trusted professors, had disappeared with the sun, withdrawing with almost magical speed along the perimeter of the maze with wands raised and colourful bursts of magic erupting periodically into the air. No one had heard a breath of them since.
Nightfall had well and truly set in, the vicious bite of the cold setting teeth through even the thickest clothing, before the stagnation was finally broken. A resounding crack like the limb falling from a tree broke through the silence of the waiting crowd. A split second later, a figure clad in grass-stained and filthy robes tumbled across the empty grounds at the entrance to the maze. The force of his sudden appearance broke the boy from the faintly glowing cup that had been clasped in his hands, flinging it to bounce with a lobbing spring towards the grandstands. Nothing moved, no one dared even breathe as they waited – for something, anything, some glimmer of life to shift the crumpled figure on the grass. It could have been a minute or an hour, but finally the onlookers were released from their spellbound state as a pained groan split the air.
Out of nowhere, as if by Apparation, Dumbledore was striding across the open clearing before the maze and dropping to his knees beside the boy. Moments later, a group of medi-wizards and witches bustled after him, accompanied by the running figures of Amos and Bronwyn Diggory. Questioning whispers and sighs of relief broke through the masses as speculation and reassurances filled the emptiness left by the sudden appearance of the Hogwarts champion; the cup was here, the Task was over. Only one competitor was absent and, though it was uncertain where he was at present, surely the conclusion of the tournament would result in him being forcefully removed from the maze.
"No! No no no no NO!"
A scream ripped through the air. Horror unlike any that had graced the ears of the audience split through their whispers. Suddenly, the huddle of figures around the fallen champion burst apart like a popped bubble and a scrambling figure launched from their cloaked depths towards the grandstands.
As he skidded on his knees before the Triwizard Cup, Cedric Diggory's features finally became identifiable. As filthy as his fellow champions, the boy had a crazed glaze to his eyes that surpassed even that of Fleur's. The effect was only intensified by the mad array of spiking hair atop his head, the erratic jerks of his motions as he dragged himself towards the discarded trophy.
Swinging his drawn wand at the luminescent cup, the Hufflepuff boy cursed fluently and with uncharacteristic ferocity as he gestured at the inanimate object. When no change occurred, he forsook his wand and simply hefted the cup into his arms, shaking it like a child would rattle a gift-wrapped box, though with desperation and horror replacing innocent joy.
"Come on, come on! No, dammit, please…no no no… come on!"
Not a person, not even his slowly trailing entourage of healers and professors, could tear their eyes from the fit of madness that seemed to have gripped the boy. The raging abuse Cedric rained upon the trophy continued with increasing brutality. Only when he had begun slamming the fragile stand forcefully onto the compact dirt before him did Amos rush to his side.
"Ced, what are you –? Stop, son, what are you doing?"
The boy panted heavily, gasps heaving into sobs as his eyes filled with tears. "…go back. I have to go back!"
"Back? Cedric, what do you -?"
"I have to go back! I left him, he made me leave, and he's there all by himself! I can't –" The tirade fumbled into unintelligible cussing as the Cedric's pounding continued, wand still in hand and attempting to cast once more while his other fist rained heavy blows on the stylised metal. Amos, Bronwyn, and everyone around him for that matter, seemed horrified and at a loss as to how to proceed. They could only watch as the boy worked himself into hysterical sobs, the oversized cup before him as lifeless and unresponsive as a broken doll.
Finally, as though concluding his intervention now necessary, Dumbledore stepped towards the champion. Sinking to his knees once more with an ease that bellied his age, the Hogwarts Headmaster placed wrinkled hands over Cedric's trembling wrists. Whether by magic or physical force, the beating the Hufflepuff inflicted abruptly ceased.
"Cedric. Tell me."
No other words were necessary. In fact, had the headmaster attempted to soothe the boy, he would likely have only intensified his distress. Instead, Cedric raised his head, forlornness down-turning his lips and tightening his face. Seeing the steadfast determination in the headmaster's intent gaze, he suddenly slumped into near collapse. Amos started forward, wrapping an arm around his son's shoulders to support his weakened frame.
"Albus, I must take him to the hospital wing immediately." His fear and warranted worry added force and demand to the his tone, yet Amos had eyes only for his slumping son.
Dumbledore nodded in agreement, accepting the fatherly concern. "Indeed, Amos. However, I must question him briefly before you remove him to tend to his needs."
"No! Absolutely not –"
"Amos. Do not fight me on this matter." For you shall be removed otherwise, was spoken by Dumbledore's unwavering gaze, the flat determination that brooked no argument. "The sooner you allow this, the sooner he can be tended to."
A tick twitched the corner of Amos's eye, the only indication that indignation accompanied his cowed submission. Despite his evident desires, he bowed his head, shifting to grip his son's shoulders more firmly yet making no motion to retreat.
Dumbledore nodded his head in acknowledgement of the man's acceptance before turning towards Cedric once more. "Cedric. Tell me."
Cedric's frantic energy seemed to have evaporated into weak exhaustion. He barely raised his head to meet his Dumbledore's gaze, his face clouded in pain far deeper than the physical kind. "Harry. I have to go back, to get him, to help him…"
"Where is Harry?"
"The graveyard. The cup… it was a portkey to a graveyard. I don't know where, but Harry… he's in danger. I don't know what they'll do, they didn't say!" A shadow of his earlier distress coloured Cedric's tone once more, worry for his fellow champion tingeing his words. It was a desperate plea, a demand for assistance.
Brow furrowing, Dumbledore drew closer to stare at the boy with even greater intensity. His bowed figure hid Cedric from the curious onlookers peering wide-eyed from the stand, creating an imposing wall that caused even the officials to draw back. The lesser, or perhaps more mentally stable, were understandably cowed. Cedric merely stared back in desperation. "What graveyard? Tell me what happened."
Drawing a shuddering breath, swallowing thickly, Cedric leaned towards the headmaster, keeping his words from even his father. "He's back. He Who Must Not Be Named is back. I saw it, I swear, Headmaster. He lives and he breathes, he walks and he kills. I saw it with my very own eyes." He clenched those eyes closed as though attempting to wipe the image from his mind.
Had he maintained his eye contact with Dumbledore, even he would have likely shied back, sinking onto his haunches more deeply in the same way Amos huddled upon himself. A feverish glow of anger brightened the vivid blue of Dumbledore's gaze, apparent even in the darkness of night. Dangerous would have been the most accurate description of the man's transformation.
Cedric visibly twitched. "Harry, he… You-Know-Who used him for the revival. Or at least You-Know-Who's accomplice did. Tied him up to a headstone, used his blood… I was petrified, I couldn't move, but I saw it all. I saw…I saw him be reborn." Horror rang in his tone, his breath shortening. "It was – I can't –"
"Calm yourself, Cedric. Tell me, how did you escape?"
Cedric twitched once more, shuddering. "I wasn't… I don't really know how it happened. I was too far away to hear most of it. I don't think they even remembered I was there. It was… it was probably the only reason they didn't kill me." He swallowed again, grounding himself as he gained a semblance of steadiness. His voice hardened slightly, coming more rapidly as he gathered his thoughts. "Something happened, between Him and Harry. They talked. Then He released him and… He started… started casting spells at Harry. Shooting at him but not to kill him. Crucio hit Harry at least once, knocked him down. He said… He screamed it so loudly I could hear Him… said that he wouldn't kill Harry, not now. That he had a better use for him.
"There was… one spell that was different though. I don't know what it was, I don't… I can't…" Once more, the Cedric took a deep breath, collecting himself and raising his hands to his head. Fingers raked his forehead as though seeking to grasp at his memories. Dumbledore waited with the patience of a statue, moving just a little on his knees as he waited for his student to continue. "Harry and You-Know-Who shot at each other at the same time and their wands sort of… connected, with a beam of light. These ghosts, they came out of You-Know-Who's wand and two, two of them spoke to Harry. I don't know who they were, but I think Harry might have recognised them. At one point, they, all of them, they turned and looked at me. I saw Harry nod and say something then suddenly the spell snapped. I think one of his followers, one of the Death Eaters, they might have done something."
Cedric's tone had grown suddenly monotonously flat, yet somehow this instead emphasised the keeness out his emotions rather than masking them. He recited the story as though narrating the events as they occurred before his eyes. Perhaps they did. "Everything happened at once. Harry shot me with a Finite Incantatum and I was free to move. He yelled something at me, but I couldn't make it out. Everything was happening so fast, and suddenly they were all running at me, at Harry. I could hardly even move, I was so scared, I…" A glimmer of tears turned Cedric's eyes glassy, threatening to spill forth. "I didn't try to run. I couldn't, not even when the Death Eater's came running straight for me. I watched it all, I watched one of them grab Harry and pin him down. He didn't look scared, though – I don't know how he wasn't scared – but just watched me as the Death Eaters charged towards me. It was like he didn't even really care about himself; he was just worried for me.
"I don't know, something about that made me move. I started to run towards him, through the Death Eaters coming for me if I had to, but before I could even make it halfway Harry pointed his wand at the Cup and it came flying towards me and…"
Tears finally broke through Cedric's monotony, cascading down his cheeks. Covering his eyes with one hand, he shook in great, heaving sobs. Trembles shook his shoulders until his father finally wrapped him in a sturdy embrace. Amos stared wide-eyed up at Dumbledore, having heard at least part of his son's retelling.
Dumbledore met his gaze gravely. "Amos, Cedric is in dire need of healing. If you would, please take him to see the medi-staff."
Nodding in agreement at the Headmaster's suggestion, Amos rapidly rose to his feet, dragging Cedric with him. Stumbling, he tugged his son towards the Healer's pavilion masked by the darkness of night, his wife appearing at Cedric's other side in an instant and muttering words of comfort the entire way.
Turning towards his onlooking fellows, Dumbledore let his eyes slip closed. If what Cedric had said was accurate then the Wizarding world was set to change on monstrous proportions, and not at all for the better. Worse yet, the one person who would provide the lynchpin in the outcome of the oncoming war was in the hands of the enemy. Guilt and grief nearly overwhelmed Dumbledore as he contemplated the sorry state of Harry Potter. Cedric had said that the boy would not be killed; his single statement to the fact had been quite sure of the fact. But surely… there was only so long that one could survive in the torturously sadistic hands of Voldermort and his Death Eaters.
The boy wouldn't stand a chance. Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, was lost.
The blow hit Dumbledore harder than he would ever have expected. He had always attempted to maintain an emotional detachment from Harry; he knew the role he would once have to play given the nature of his survival from Voldermort's first attack. Even so, Harry had somehow wormed his way into Dumbledore's lonely, desiccated heart. To have that warmth torn away so suddenly, so brutally, was almost more than he could bear. Yet bear it he must.
Opening his eyes once more, Dumbledore gazed upon his silent onlookers. From the crowd of anxiously waiting students and families to the Hogwarts professors and Triwizard officials, everyone seemed balanced precariously in wait, breathless for his words and desperately hoping to allay their fears and uncertainties.
Turning first towards the grandstand, eyes flickering up the tiered seating to capture the faces of every observer, Dumbledore spoke with a resounding boom. 'The Triwizard Tournament has reached its close. Everyone shall proceed towards Hogwarts in search of meals and beds. You are dismissed.'
Resolutely ignoring the buzz of conversation, of questions and pronounced indignation that erupted, Dumbledore turned towards his inner circle standing in formal preparedness behind him. The Ministry officials edged quietly around their closed group, easing themselves from listening distance from the militaristic preparedness that was straightening backs and setting jaws of Dumbledore's trusted associates. Lowering his voice, Dumbledore spoke in grave tones. "It is as we feared. It has begun."
A smattering of sharp inhalations met his words. Reactions ranged from muted horror to brief incomprehension that gradually seeped into understanding and determination. Within moments, each witch and wizard had composed themselves once more. As though simply informed of some mildly concerning developments, they awaited their orders.
Dumbledore obliged. "Alastor, alert the Order. I believe it is time to revive the resistance. Arthur, if you would inform those within your network, I seek a meeting three days hence. Grimmauld Place will be adequate to suit our needs." Nodding, the red-haired Weasley turned on his heel, quickly departing the scene with Alastor's hobbling step hastening alongside him with surprising speed. "Kingsley, I would see that you seek your own assistants and begin preparations within the Ministry; Cornelius is unlikely to respond positively to this incident and show as much reluctance to initiate change as he is want to do." The towering wizard bowed in acceptance and Apparated directly from the scene.
Facing only his Professors, Dumbledore continued issuing his orders. "Pomona, if you would kindly seek the Diggorys and provide any additional assistance and assurances they may require; you are, of course, Cedric's head of house. Filius, please kindly see to supervising the students. Many will likely be in a great amount of distress. Seek the assistance of Poppy for Calming Draughts where necessary." Both nodded and departed immediately. "Minerva, Maxine and Igor are likely to have questions that neither has the patience to await an answer for. If you would, please inform them of my momentary absence, after which I will assist them in any way I am able." Minerva's eye twitched slightly but she too bowed her acknowledgement.
Dumbledore turned towards his final confidant. "Severus." Flickering eyes to peer at the dark shadow that masked the potions master's face, he shared a wordless conversation with the man. Snape nodded his head in acceptance, only the slight curl of his lip indicating any distaste for his orders, before he too Apparated directly from darkened shadow of the maze.
Shifting his focus from the afterimage of the potions master, the elderly wizard raised an eyebrow at his Deputy's continued presence. Each of the other professors had disappeared in all haste upon receiving their orders. "Minerva?"
Worry creased the woman's brow, pursing lips that threatened to tremble with suppressed emotion. "Albus, what of Harry Potter?"
Dumbledore sighed. A hand rose wearily to push the half-moon spectacles further up his nose. "We have only Cedric's word to follow, Minerva, but if he interprets correctly then Harry may still be alive."
"Whatever would He wish to keep him for? You-Know-Who has been after Harry's life since he was a baby."
Shaking his head, Dumbledore sighed again. "I know not, Minerva. And yet I fear the worst. If not death, then…' The flicker of suppressed horror in the Gryffindor Head's eyes spoke volumes of her understanding, of the extensiveness of her imagination. "I assure you, I will do my utmost to search for him."
The witch before him showed remarkable restraint by not pointing out he failed to assure her he would 'find' him. "And what of Harry's friends? They will undoubtedly be beside themselves."
"Indeed." Dumbledore nodded his head sagely. "Minerva, if you would be so kind, provide any assistance and explanation required without revealing the severity of the situation. They are entitled to at least partial truth."
The witch nodded in agreement. Sadness at the anticipated panic of her students evidently increased the strain of stilling her trembling lips. "And you, Albus?"
The elderly man bowed his head at her question. "I seek the graveyard."
A hazy pre-dawn glow tinged the sky, faintly illuminating tombstones and impressive statues, from weeping angels to macabre cupids, cloaked reapers to elegant harpists. The cemetery spread as far as the eye could see in every direction. It was ancient, and held residents of family lines long slipped into oblivion beneath its cracked, musky soil.
Before a particularly large statue of an angel-winged reaper, an elderly man stared fixedly at a ring of scorch marks upon the ground at his feet. Smudged footprints danced around the streaks of blackness, as though carefully avoiding the tainted ground. Dark splatters coated the feeble attempts at ground cover in excess, though in the insufficient light vision was inadequate in determining its nature.
The wizard held a wand aloft in his hand, though he had not used it for hours. Attempts at seeking signs of passage, any faint pathway that would indicate their relocation, had faded swiftly with the departure of those who had artfully redesigned the clearing before the reaper. To follow in the footsteps of any Apparation required a complex tracing enchantment that must be conducted within minutes of said Apparation. The man had not been fast enough.
Hovering above a particularly dark splatter on the soil, the elderly wizard lowered his wand to point vertically at the darkness. A soundless flick of his wand and a ghost-like figure appeared on the ground before him, colourless save for the faintly blue mistiness of memory apparitions. The figure, a young, skinny boy barely creeping into pubescence, curled protectively in upon himself, a blood-splattered arm protruding from the huddle and watering the parched soil with scarlet tears. The ghost lasted only moments before disappearing like dissipating smoke.
"Oh, Harry…" The words were barely a sigh, a whisper to break the silence. The man stood in silent grief, allowing his face to crumple with the absence of onlookers. A moment later, without even raising his wand, a whip-crack snapped through the air and the he disappeared.
A/N: If you liked this first chapter or just have anything else to say, please leave a comment to let me know what you think. Thanks!