It was the middle of the night and Harry still could not find sleep. It wasn't the slightest bit because he was in the hospital wing. He had spent so many nights there throughout his time in Hogwarts that it practically doubled as his own room. Rather, it was the maze, it was the graveyard, the face of evil and the face of death that prevented his slumber.
He had the nagging suspicion that he could have prevented it all. Not competing in the tournament, because the fake Mad eye Moody seemed pretty intent on him competing… but the horrible turn of events… Cedric didn't have to die. Harry suspected that he could have stopped that loss. Voldemort didn't have to rise again… Harry had made a mistake somewhere…
The doors to the hospital wing opened and Professor McGonagall walked in carrying a candle. Despite the late hour, she was not dressed for bed. Harry remembered a time in his second year when she and the Headmaster had appeared in the middle of the night during one of his stays in the hospital wing and he had tried to feign sleep. He didn't this time. He didn't have it left in him.
She saw him but did not speak to him, she simply nodded her head and made for Madame Pomfrey's room. She knocked briskly and was allowed admittance.
Harry could hear their voiced in the silent hall despite the closed door between them.
"Alastor has made it safely to St. Mungo's, " Came McGonagall's Scottish lilt. "And Barty Crouch Jr. has been moved back to Azkaban for keeping until the Minister decides what to do with him."
"Do you think—"
"No, I don't think it wise. But what I think and what the Headmaster thinks is no longer relevant to the Minister of Magic." She paused, heavily. "We're reconvening the Order, Poppy. "
"You gave Potter a dreamless sleeping potion?"
"He wouldn't take it."
"…that's alright. Let him do as he wishes."
"Cedric's father is staying the night at the castle. I would, however, like a dreamless sleeping potion for him."
"Of course. I'll need to mix it."
"I can wait. And Poppy?"
"The Headmaster and I… will be staying up for the next several nights. Do you suppose—"
"You'll want something to help the both of you stay awake."
"And alert. "
"Give me a few minutes."
"Thank you." Professor McGonagall emerged. She hesitated for a moment, looking over at Harry who was looking back at her in a very matter-of-fact way. She paced down the opposite row of beds from him, inspecting them. No other students were in the wing that night, but still she swept through. When she got to the end of the row, she turned and inspected the other side, looking carefully, until she at last came upon Harry's bed at the very front of the line.
She sat down in a chair beside his bed and set her candle down on the nightstand. "Did you hear what I said to Madame Pomfrey?"
"I didn't hear anything I understood." He answered, honestly.
"In time you'll understand. In the end, I think, you'll understand everything."
"Yes, Professor." She was being as cryptic as Dumbledore, and Harry was only hardly in the mood for it. He decided he was abiding it mostly because he didn't want to be alone, and McGonagall was a strange kind of company, but she was company all the same.
They were silent for a while, appraising each other. McGonagall's eyes were narrowing, as they did whenever she mentally confirmed her own suspicions. "What are you thinking about, Potter?" she finally asked.
"Butterflies." He said dryly and without hesitation.
Her head tilted to the side, perhaps in amusement. "Charming." She said, with the same dryness in her voice. "Keep it up, especially around the hand full of people who believe you."
"Sorry." He mumbled.
"You should be, but you aren't. I just spent the last hour going tick for tack with the Minister of Magic on your behalf..."
"I'm sorry." He repeated, more insistently, and this time looking at her.
She nodded, turned her gaze to the candle and then repeated her question, "What are you thinking about?"
He thought a moment longer, deciding he was only just emotionally shocked enough to share this information.
"I'm going over today in my head."
"Of course you are."
"I'm trying to… retrace my steps—"
"Of course you are." But this time she said it differently. Something dawned on her, and all of the sudden she understood. "You're retracing your steps to see where you went wrong."
"Professor Dumbledore did the same thing."
"Just before he defeated the last greatest dark Wizard of all time."
"How many have there been?" Harry asked, amused by her choice of phraseology.
"How many greatest dark wizards of all time?" she asked and he nodded, "Oh, more than I can count. Every generation has their own, I think. Professor Bins might know more about it than I do, perhaps you should ask him in your next class."
"I think if one of his students asked him a question during class, the shock would kill him." Harry said, without thinking.
Professor McGonagall smirked, just a little bit. "Oh? You think that would kill him?" and Harry smiled just a little bit because Professor Bins was, of course, a ghost.
They were silent again for a while. Harry could see that she was tired, even through the dim candlelight, and he remembered what she had said about staying up the next few nights. He supposed, however, that she knew what she was doing. After all, she had been here before.
Finally McGonagall asked, "What have you learned?"
"Your thoughts about your steps. What have you learned?"
Harry shrugged. "I'm not sure. I… I can't remember… at first it was about staying alive. When the cup spit out my name, my only thought was to avoid death. I didn't think I'd win anything. But time passed… and I can't remember when I decided that I wanted to win. When I became competitive about it."
"And that matters?"
"If I had only wanted to survive the maze, I never would have gotten to the cup."
"Mr. Diggory would have, and he still would have been killed at that cemetery."
"But Voldemort wouldn't have returned."
"Tonight you wanted to win?" She asked.
"More than anything. I didn't care about winning against the dragon. And all I wanted to do at the lake was keep from drowning."
"And save absolutely everyone." She seemed slightly proud of the ridiculousness of it.
"Right, and save absolutely everyone. So it must have been today… somewhere in the maze… "
She looked at him carefully. Finally she said, "So think back. If you could change anything tonight, what would you change?"
Harry thought a moment. "Cedric and I wanted it to be fair. We were going to share the cup, that's why we both touched it at the same time… but it still wasn't fair. Krum was under some spell, and he attacked Fleur. Neither of them stood a chance. I would have asked that we both send up sparks and start the maze over later, when it would have been fair."
"You knew Mr. Krum was under a spell and that he had attacked Miss Delacour in the maze?"
"Yeah… because Krum was attacking Cedric, too."
McGonagall sighed. "So neither of you would have touched the cup. Someone else would have, and then they'd be dead. "
"Or maybe Mr. Crouch's son would have disarmed it before anyone could."
"Voldemort would have punished him."
"In order to understand Voldemort, Harry… you need to understand Tom Riddle. He would have been angry, but not punished his man on the inside. Crouch was too valuable to take out. He would have found another way to get you to that cemetery, especially considering how close Crouch was in your confidence. It wouldn't have taken very much at all to charm anything in his classroom into a portkey and send you on your way."
"That's enough, Potter." She said, in a tone which indicated that she would accept no more argument. "We do not deal in 'what might have been' whilst we're at war."
Harry thought a moment and something occurred to him. "Send me back."
"Send you where?"
"Send me back in time. I'll stop us both from touching that cup, I'll report Professor Moody… Dumbledore will believe me! So will you! Send me back—"
"Why not?!" He was growing irrationally upset. It was his only chance to make things right. "I've time traveled before! I'd know, in the maze, I wouldn't think I'd gone crazy!"
"In the maze, everything you see makes you think you've gone crazy, Potter! In the heart of the maze if anyone or anything had told you not to touch that cup, what would you have done?"
"… … Fine, then send me back to before the challenge started. "
"In front of the whole school?"
"No. Earlier than that. Any time this year, when I can be alone with Professor Dumbledore or you. Please!"
"Professor!" He sounded, even to his own ears, like Dudley when Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon put him on his diet. Shamefully enough, he felt tears sting his eyes.
"Potter, be quieter. Time travel won't fix what has to be done now. No matter how far back anyone goes. It wouldn't matter if we pinpointed a time when Tom Riddle was asleep in his bed in the Slytherin dormitories and attacked him there."
"Why don't we?!—"
"We have a reality to live in Potter. A reality in which Voldemort has murdered hundreds of thousands of people. Altering that reality could prove catastrophic. "
"Right. Because having my parents back, having Sirius as a free man—"
"Potter—" It was a warning voice, but he took no heed.
"That would be the worst thing ever to happen to this reality!" he yelled. He had yelled at her. He had yelled at his head of house.
Both of their faces registered surprise. To her credit, it did not take her long to reply. She said, urgently, "Potter, there is a fabric to our universe. It is fragile, and it is real. It is dangerous to go back and tear it up by greatly altering any event. Murdering a murderer before he murders anyone is not the same as being in Ancient Runes at the same time as being in Divination."
Harry wanted to tear his hair out. "Then how can I fix this? How can I make this right?" this time he was very quiet.
McGonagall looked at him with something akin to pity in her eyes. "We don't look backwards to try to correct catastrophes. We move forward. We fight Tom Riddle, Potter… There's an end point to this battle. We get there first."
It made sense to him, vaguely. He thought back on the maze again. Why had he spent so much time telling Cedric that they had to get out of the maze? Telling him to get back to the cup? Why hadn't he just grabbed Cedric and summoned the cup like he had in the end, after Voldemort came back and Cedric had died? Why was he so slow?!
McGonagall sighed, wearily. He had never heard her do that before, and it caught his attention, bringing him back from where his mind had wandered in that cemetery.
"Potter, " She said slowly, looking him in the eyes, "Sometimes we have to fall down. And sometimes it has to hurt. That's how we learn what works and what doesn't. That's how we craft our lives…"
McGonagall stopped mid-sentence as Madame Pomfrey opened her door carrying three viles, one purple and two orange.
"Here you are, Minerva." She said, handing them to Professor McGonagall who stood to take them.
"Thank you, Poppy." She picked up her candle and began to leave.
"Professor?" Harry asked.
"Yes, Potter?" She stopped and turned back to him.
"You said something… in order to understand Voldemort I need to understand Tom Riddle."
"…You understand Tom Riddle?"
She tilted her head to the side again, amused, but she also narrowed her eyes again, contemplating. Finally she said, "I believe I also said that in the end you'll understand everything."
"Even the extent to which you know Tom Riddle?"
This time the corners of her mouth twitched upward, but she did not reply. She merely turned away and left, closing the doors with an echoing bang and leaving Harry to be fussed over by Madame Pomfrey.