Harry was being interrogated by Aurors. It was a new experience for him.
"Mister Potter, you claim not to have been there when your fellow champions found the man in the trunk?" Auror Mckinzey clarified from his written statement in her hands.
"That is correct." Harry said with a nod. "And you can confirm that by asking them, Hermione and that Poliakoff fellow."
"I see. And do you recognize this man?" Mckinzey continued his interrogation.
He withdrew from the folder beside him a photograph and slid it across the table to him. Harry looked at it and were it not for the hem of Madame Pomfreys skirt in the background he almost mistook it for a regular, non-animated photograph. The word "No" was at the tip of his lips before recognition dawned on him.
"Wait, yes! I have." Harry said. "Twice. Once in Dumbledore's pensive and the other in a dream."
Mckinzey blinked at him.
"I may need you to explain to me what Dumbledore was doing showing you memories of hits man in his pensieve." Mckinzey requested.
"Oh he didn't show me anything." Harry said. "He had to leave me alone in his office for a few minutes and in those few minutes I, being the nosy little pain in the ass I am, discovered his pensieve and promptly discovered what they did. Saw the whole trial of that guy and his team of Death Eaters. It was... unpleasant."
Mckinzey hummed and made a note, no doubt to corroborate that incident with Dumbledore.
"I could imagine seeing that kind of thing would give any child nightmares. Very well." Mckinzey thought aloud as he stared thoughtfully at his notes.
Harry didn't correct him in his assumption. Either his chronological one or his psychological one.
"And why were you all pursueing this car in the first place?" Mckinzey asked.
"Oh, that was entirely my idea." Harry claimed. "See, I have a tendency to try and solve problems after hours, especially if they involve life-or-death dangers. You can confirm this by asking any professor. They all know this."
"Oh yeah, that was entirely Harry's idea." Diggory confirmed. "See, he has a tendency to try and solve problems after hours, especially if they involve life-or-death dangers. You can confirm this with any of the students. We all know this."
Mckinzey hummed in understanding as Diggory confirmed Harry's story.
"And why did you decide to go along with his adventure this time? Knowing full well it could lead to the month of detention you are all sharing together?" Mckinzey continued.
"Are you kidding!" Diggory exclaimed with a laugh. "It's my last year at Hogwarts, and for the last six of them the only real excitement I got was facing Harry on the Quidditch pitch while a swarm of dementors tried to kill him."
Mckinzey blinked. Oh right, that HAD happened, hadn't it? How that had stayed out of the papers was a miracle of backroom deals between the ministry and prophet. The entirety of the going-ons from last year staying out of the prophet was the only reason Fudge was still in office. And Lucius Malfoy.
"Don't you think this tournament has enough excitement for you to be getting along with?" He asked.
"Compared to a Harry Potter adventure? You must be out of your mind!" Diggory, still in good humor, disagreed. "Between these tasks and running around with Harry I think I may have a taste for the life of an adrenaline junkie. Much more of this and I think the four of us will be fully prepared for the coming war."
That last statement, made so casually, stopped Mckinzey's train of thought dead in its tracks.
"Coming war?" he asked, hoping he meant some kind of school "war" or other.
Diggory gave him a look. A look he recognized from genuine war veterans. A look of pity and maybe envy at the naivety of those who haven't seen the horror of war yet or who are about to ship off. It was a look he didn't like seeing on this child.
"Right. You haven't seen the signs. I believe you. Every child and teenager in this school knows and feels what's coming, but you law enforcement cannot conceive of the self-evident fact that the war machine is churning. You've completely missed the dark forces amassing and becoming brazes. The missing people and kidnappings just completely flew under your radar. Right, I believe you." Diggory said.
The mirthless snort he gave after that, combined with his crossed arms, told Mckinzey that the boy had nothing more to say to him. So he dismissed him and filed away that stark worldview away for later meditation.
"Oh, zat was entirely 'Arry's idea." Fleur told the nice Auror. "e has a tendency to try and solve problems after hours, especially if zey involve life-or-death dangers. You can confirm zis by asking any random Muggle on the streets of Santiago who has never heard of him. Zey all know zis."
The Auror, Mckinzey, seemed to be trying not to groan at her quip. He did not manage to avoid a forlorn sigh.
"And why, pray tell, did you decide to go along with him on this escapade?" He asked. "Isn't the tournament providing you with sufficient adrenaline and danger?"
Fleur made sure to look at him in such away as to make him feel exactly as stupid as she felt he was.
"This tournament has been a.. a..." She struggled for words. "I am sorry, I wish to use all manner of foul language but I know my papa will be reading this report. The tournament eez a lot of four letter words. It 'az been a disaster at every level and seems to ave been designed to be as unfair to each of us as possible, with the exception of Cedric. His words, not mine."
He had the gall to roll his eyes at that claim. Of course she would say that, being last in the running. She didn't care if she sounded like a sore loser for it, it was the truth.
"Especially to 'arry and myself." Fleur went on, not bothering to rant and rave about the unfairness of the scoring and task design. "So when 'arry found out about ze Knight Anglia and his plan to rescue it I waz in. It is not as eef any of you ADULTS are looking after him or solving ze problems he tackles like a drugged Erumpent."
"Oh yes, that was all V.. Potter's idea." Viktor Krum confirmed for him the third time that day. "He has a tendency to try and solve problems after hours, especially if they involve life-or-death dangers. You can confirm this with any fossilized microbes on the Martian surface. Even they know this."
That time he did groan out loud. He knew for a fact they hadn't rehearsed this, so why did they have such identical senses of humor and misanthropy? He glossed over whatever word he was going to use to describe potter, probably some Bulgarian word that wasn't appropriate for the interview and moved along.
"And you're certain you've never seen this man before and had nothing to do with his being in that trunk?" Mckinzey clarified, tapping the photograph.
The Quidditch star looked at him, then back at the photograph, then back at him. He donned a blank, deer in the headlights look that was somehow incredibly mocking.
"You caught me." Viktor told him, holding his hands up as if to be cuffed. "I am the serial killer known as the boot stuffer. I have been kidnapping previously thought dead Death Eaters and stuffing them into car trunks for years, always making certain to get at least two in every city I played in. Arrest me, I am a danger to myself and others."
Mckinzey dismissed the acerbically sarcastic, yet impressively quick-witted, teenager and called in the next person.
"Oh I wasn't with them." Hermione told the Auror honestly. "I was following them because a nosy tattletale and can't help getting involved in any life-or-death situations Harry finds himself in. You can confirm this with..."
"Please! Don't!" The Auror, Mckinzey, pleaded with her before she could finish her sentence.
It seemed like a rather rude thing to do, she had a great joke about something absurd and disconnected from Harry and her somehow knowing the obvious fact about their relationship. She'd have to save it for later, she guessed. Viktor would have liked it.
"So, you've been on other misadventures like these with him in the past?" He clarified.
"Oh yes. First year with the troll, a cerberus and a few other things I wouldn't like to tangle with again." She laughed internally at the devil's snare pun. "Second year I spent in the hospital wing because of the basilisk, but third year had a lot of us almost dying too. So the Knight Anglia was nothing special."
The Auror stared at her.
She stared back.
"Please, just... send the last person in." Mckinzey asked in a defeated tone.
"Que?" Poliakoff asked confusedly with blank eyes.
This was the sixth language he had switched to in order to avoid answering the basic question of "why were you following Harry Potter and the other champions. He pretended not to understand English by speaking French. Then he had pretended not to speak French by speaking Bulgarian. And so their dance had continued. German, Greek, and Russian. All of which he also spoke fluently. Now he was onto Spanish and landed on a language Mckinzey didn't speak.
"Just... Just go. Please send for Dumbledore." He asked the kid.
"Finally!" Poliakoff exclaimed as he stood up. "I thought I'd run out of languages before you got the message. Later pig."
With that he left the room and Mckinzey slammed his forehead on the desk.
"Ah. I see you were not prepared for them." Dumbledore's consoled.
Mckinzey looked up at the kind, ancient man.
"You have the look of somebody who just had circles run around him by youth he had underestimated." Dumbledore teased furhter. "It is a rather distinct look. I've seen t enough to know it when I see it."
"Those teenagers are... are..." Mckinzey tried to come up with a word that had more than four letters himself.
"Teenagers?" Dumbledore offered.
"Yeah. They are at that." Mckinzey confirmed. "Possibly the most brilliant I've seen since James Potter and his gang ran afoul of the law. How many languages does that Poliakoff kid speak?"
"You will have the chance to ask Igor momentarily, I'm sure." Dumbledore offered, motioning to the door with his arm. "In the meantime, I wish for you to join me with Alastor in meeting with Fudge. We have much to discuss."
Dumbledore and Mckinzey entered the hospital wing to no fanfare whatsoever.
Professors Snape and Moody stood on either side of the two occupied beds, with Fudge and Pomfrey at the foot. Albus lead his old Auror friend to his even older Auror friend and motioned to the two dying stood at the very back of the hospital wing and Madam Olympe stood beside the door. Good, everyone was here.
"You transported Crouch Senior from Mungos?" Mckinzey asked seeing the father beside his son.
"Yes." Said Poppy. "As they are both dying, I thought it humane to bring them back together in their final hours. My colleagues at Mungos agreed."
"You are certain they cannot be saved?" Albus asked his favorite mediwitch sadly.
"Positive." Poppy said. "In both case it's a miracle they're still alive. The years of imperius damage on both of their minds is bad enough. In juniors case he also suffered under the dementors for over a decade and now the week of starvation and dehydration in a car trunk? If it hadn't been magically warmed in their they would have found his frozen corpse. For senior he has so much cruciatus damage in addition to the mental damage of the extended imperius he's been under that what little cognitive function he has is almost as miraculous."
Albus frowned sadly at the bleak lives these two had lived. Both had been wonderfully bright and kind Hufflepuffs in their youth. Even after his century and change of life he could not understood ow peoples choices spiraled them into fates like this. It strained his belief in people being responsible for it, and he had to wonder again what was wrong with the world to chew up children and spit out such sad, ruined men.
"What did those children say?" Fudge asked, fidgeting with his hideous bowler hat as always.
"Little we don't already know, but a lot we have been refusing to say." Mckinzey answered in an unusually cryptic way.
Albus was please to find out his mannerisms were finally rubbing off onto him.
"Would you elaborate?" Albus asked.
"Well all of them are displeased with this mockery of a tournament." Mckinzey said the obvious part first. "But they also all have bleak outlooks for the future, and seem to be coping with the horrible reality that is our future with good humor. Excessively so. They're more vocal about what we know is coming than we are."
Fudge fidgeted harder. They all knew where the conversation was going and fast.
"Voldemort." Maxine said quietly from the doorway, but loud enough making nearly everyone jump.
It was the way she said the name that got even Albus. The woman had a flair for the dramatic that even he couldn't completely imitate.
"It's not him!" Fudge explained, quivering. "He is dead. Pettigrew is dead. His followers are all in Azkaban!"
Both Severus and Igor scoffed at that last one, which probably didn't help the deeply prideful man's mood.
"Even the children see the signs." Mckinzey said. "I just finished interviewing what might be the six most brilliant youth's in Europe, and each of them is preparing themselves, mentally and physically, for war. Trying to squeeze out every last drop of joy and mirth from their very limited time left in school. It's all as it happened last time. The missing people. The kidnappings. The terrorist attacks on sporting events. And now we have our first two killings laying before us. What more will it take to get your thumb out of your ass!"
"I am your minister of magic Auror Investigator Mckinzey! And I will not be spoken to that way!" Fudge demanded. "All of this is clearly Sirius Black. He was HIS most faithful then, and he is continuing his work! We must double our efforts to find him!"
And now he was beginning to wave around his authority. Bad sign.
"Cornelius, I have never lied to you before, why do you doubt me now after all these years of seeking my guidance?" Dumbledore pleaded. "When I say Sirius Black is innocent and that both Pettigrew and Voldemort are alive, and that I'm willing to stake all of my reputation on it. The reappearance of Junior here should add even more credence to these claims."
Fudge was now turning red with indignation and Albus thought the battle lost, until Severus stepped it.
"If I may..." His potions master interrupted. "It is possible that the headmaster is incorrect."
Albus was sure that the look of utter shock on his face was going to fuel Severus' patronus for decades to come.
"In the details, but not in spirit. All of these signs point to the same thing. A dark lord IS on the rise." Severus concluded. "If not He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, then somebody who is building on what he left behind."
Severus then did the unthinkable, he pulled back the sleeve on his arm to reveal the fully-inflamed dark mark.
"Somebody is in control of the dark mark. Somebody is gather Death Eaters, the ones that were missed. Somebody is kidnapping, torturing, brainwashing and killing. If not Voldemort, then the next worse thing." He explained. "And anybody capable of reverse-engineering the Dark Mark, let alone bringing into his fold Death Eaters who had faked their own deaths and been in hiding to their cause, let alone accomplishing all that they have these last few years without being found out is dangerous indeed. Potentiall worse than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
Fudge went from righteous indignation to a sputtering, fearful mess. It was an improvement but barely.
"But... Pettigrew. Black. It could be disastrous for me.. the ministry if it were true!" Fudge exclaimed.
It was then that Igor stepped in. He made a cooing sound as he placed his hands on both of Fudge's shoulders.
"Cornelius, Cornelious! That wasn't your doing, that was the previous administrations crimes." Igor purred, massaging the man's shoulders. "You fail to see the big picture here, Cornelius. You have before you a golden opportunity to become the greatest Minister of Magic that Britan has ever seen!"
They all remained quiet at the disturbing display by the former death eater, but more out of awe at the masterpiece of Machiavellian theatre unfolding before them. Albus really ought to be taking notes.
"You have before you the chance to clear Sirius Black's name, a name associated with a great deal of wealth and political power should he be cleared. He is the last of his line, meaning all of that wealth is his. And should you be the one to set right what was done to him, he would be forever grateful." Igor continued his sweet whispers.
"Grateful, you say?" Cornelius asked, eyes glazed and staring off into space.
It was clear to Albus that Cornelius was now alone in the room with Igor and the rest of them no longer existed in his mind.
"Yes! And could you imagine the boon it would be to have him as your biggest supporter, and Lucius Malfoy as your second?" Igor went on.
"That WOULD be a boon, wouldn't it?" Cornelius whispered, oblivious to the fact that they could all hear him perfectly.
"And that's only part one. You will be remembered as the first minister of magic in history to stop a dark lord on the rise before he killed tens of thousands, instead of after." Igor said, preparing for his finale. "And you'll be able to put all of the blame at the feet of the previous administration, and look, the only man left to defend against that blame lies braindead before you."
Fudge looked down at the dying father and son and, honest-to-god, smiled.
"You're right!" Fudge exclaimed, putting his hideous bowler hat back on. "By Merlin, I have so much work to do! Get me those kids testimony, about Sirius Black from last year AND tonight. I have to get back to my office and start the ball rolling.!"
The small man waddled out of the room as quickly as his short legs could take him. The movement was so sudden he almost pulled Igor along with him for the ride before the Durmstrang Headmaster remembered to let go of his shoulders.
A moment later he was gone from the hospital wing, and they all turned to Igor in silence until the sound of the Minister's footsteps faded away completely.
"I think I need a shower." Mckinzey said disgustedly.
"I zink we all do." Madame Maxine agreed. "Zat was quite foul, Karkaroff."
"Trust me, my beautiful headmistress. If you had a fire lit under your ass as hot as the one under mine you would be willing to do such foul things yourself." Karkaroff warned. "I am worse than dead if HE is allowed to return unchallenged. And all I have come to care for will be lost with me."
"Oh please!" Alastor said annoyedly. "Don't go getting all mushy on us saying the children changed you."
Igor made a sad gesture of surrender, one that said he knew he couldn't convince the ex-Auror. But Albus knew. One does not spend over a decade educating and mentoring children without it changing them. He wouldn't trust Igor to fight at his back on a battlefield, but side by side? Maybe. And his tactics did work.
It was then that a majestic black bird flew in from a circular owl window in the ceiling. Like a swan made of shining obsidian, it flew down and landed at the foot of Junior's bed, looking up at Albus expectantly. The one red feather on it's breast telling him exactly why it was there.
"Whoa! Is that a phoenix?" Mckinzey asked in awe.
Albus sighs and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"They just... they just keep showing up." He lamented.
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