An Inconvenient Truth

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Chapter 017

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Chapter Seventeen

Lightning Strikes

… --- …

Tom Riddle and Peter Pettigrew sat patiently waiting for a Portkey that might or might not arrive. Barty had no way of communicating his success or lack of it. The third task was scheduled to start at six PM and was expected to take between twenty minutes and an hour to complete.

They didn't know who, if anyone, would be coming, though Barty had assured them that Potter would be the most likely winner.

So they waited.

At 6:20, they say the Portkey flash at the spot where Barty had been instructed to use as the destination point.

… --- …

Cedric and Harry felt their feet slam into the ground. Diggory's injured shoulder was throbbing, and as they fell forward; their hands let go of the Triwizard Cup. He raised his head and asked, "Where are we?"

Harry shook his head. He got up, helped Cedric to his feet, and they looked around. They had left the Hogwarts grounds completely; they had obviously traveled miles - perhaps hundreds of miles - for even the mountains surrounding the castle were gone. Instead, they were standing in a dark and overgrown graveyard. The black outline of a small church was visible beyond a large yew tree to their right. A hill rose above them to their left. Harry could just make out the outline of a fine old house on the hillside.

Cedric looked down at the Triwizard Cup and then up at Harry. "Did anyone tell you the cup was a Portkey?" he asked.

"Nope," replied Harry. He was looking around the graveyard. It was completely silent and slightly eerie. Suddenly re recognized the area from the pensive memory that Professor Dumbledore had shown them. A hundred yards in front of them was the largest cauldron that either of them had ever seen. A small fire was heating it.

Cedric asked, "Wands out, d'you reckon?"

"Yeah," replied Harry, glad that Cedric had made the suggestion rather than him.

They pulled out their wands. Harry kept looking around him. He had the strange feeling that they were being watched.

… --- …

Riddle was positioned about fifty feet to the west of the Portkey landing site and was hidden behind a small bush. Wormtail was a hundred feet up the hill, hidden behind a tree. He looked at his master, who indicated that he would take out Potter, leaving the taller boy for Peter. Riddle held up three little fingers, then two, then one, and then fired, "Stupefy."

Pettigrew had previously been instructed that if anyone other than Potter appeared, that they were to be killed. Thus he fired, "Avada Kedavra."

Riddle's spell hit Potter square in the chest and was substantially absorbed by the Ironbelly armor. Wormtail's jet of green light flashed fractions of an inch to the left of Diggory.

"Down!" yelled Harry, and both teens dove to the ground and rolled. He added, "It's Wormtail!" Cedric grabbed the cup to use for cover just as Pettigrew hit him in the gut with a well-aimed Reducto blast. Potter couldn't find the second attacker, but fired a sweeping Diffindo at Pettigrew, who lost a hand before Harry was hit in the face with an equally well-aimed stunner from Riddle.

The Portkey fired in a blue flash and Cedric disappeared.

Harry was in deep weeds and he was all alone.

… --- …

Amelia and the others were startled by the blue flash and thump immediately behind them. Whipping her wand out as she spun around, she turned to see the bloody form of Cedric Diggory sprawled on the ground holding the crystal Triwizard trophy. Scrimgeour immediately bent over the teen and examined him. His intestines were blown apart and blood was gushing from the open wound. It didn't look good.

Amelia bent down, her face barely an inch from Cedric's nose and shouted, "Where's Harry?"

The once handsome teen wheezed, "Graveyard… Wormtail… Cauldron… Big Cauldron… Worm… tail… har…ry…" He gave a slight cough, but there was no more air in his lungs to expel.

Fudge yelled, "Healer! We need a healer." He turned to set the trophy rightside up, but Amelia snapped out of the thought that she'd been thinking and shouted, "Don't touch that!!! Anna, call the Unspeakables. We need to know where that Portkey was fired from. Connie, clear the immediate area." Pointing to Fudge she added, "That includes him. Now."

Fortunately, after the second task, Amelia had insisted that a full compliment of healers was onsite for the third task. It looked very grim for the Diggory boy, but he wasn't dead yet.

As the healers began working, Rufus remarked, "I'll go find Amos."

On the other side of the hedges, Amelia could hear the elder Diggory wail, "Where's my boy? Where's Cedric?"

Still standing by the edge of the maze, Dumbledore felt a blinding pain just above his right eye. He allowed himself to be led to a chair. It wasn't the first time he'd felt such pain recently, yet this time somehow felt more severe. He gave Poppy a meaningful look and allowed himself to be helped back to his office.

… --- …

The headcount illustrated that no students except Cedric and Harry were missing. Outside, approximately four hundred parents, spectators and ministry officials were milling around the grounds of the castle. Minerva sent the students to their common rooms with the sternest possible words warning that any violations would be dealt with severely.

Fudge attempted to send all of the parents and spectators home. He used the strongest possible words to the reporters from the Daily Prophet that there was to be no premature speculation about what had happened and that he would issue an official announcement at nine PM. He also stated that violators to the news blackout would be excluded from further interviews and their publications blocked from sale at the Ministry newsstand.

Not giving a rat's arse what Fudge thought, Xenophilius Lovegood somehow managed to obtain a gruesome photo from a student in Luna's year of Rufus and Amelia tending to the mortally wounded Cedric Diggory. It was a photo that would help change the wizarding world.

… --- …

Harry awoke some ten minutes after being stunned to find himself tied to a gravestone with heavy cords. He saw Pettigrew over by the cauldron adding fuel to the fire beneath it. Another bonfire had been started nearby. In the gathering darkness, Harry could see his wand on the ground some fifty feet away from him.

Pettigrew walked over to the headstone next to Harry. He could read the name on the marker. It read Thomas Riddle. Harry noticed that the traitor had wrapped his belt around the stump of his left forearm and that the hand was missing.

Pettigrew called, "Accio Thomas Riddle bone fragments."

Harry watched as a cloud of fine grey dust emerged from the ground and settled into a large cup that Pettigrew had set on the grass by his feet. Harry squirmed in a futile attempt to loosen the ropes that were binding him; holding him to the cold, moss-covered headstone.

"Bone of the Father – unknowingly given." Pettigrew dumped the cup of fragments into the cauldron as white sparks flew from the shimmering liquid flew into the air.

From an unseen spot on the other side of the cauldron, Harry could hear a high-pitched voice shout, "Hurry. Hurry."

Pettigrew picked up and dropped his severed hand into the pot and chanted, "Flesh of a servant – willingly given." Yellow sparks flew higher into the air. The bleeding man returned to the frightened teen and awkwardly withdrew a silver ritual knife from his pocket. Suddenly, clarity came to Harry Potter. He was going to be sacrificed for this Hellish ritual to somehow resurrect Voldemort.

"Hold out your arm, Potter."

"No."

"Hold it out, or I'll cut it off. It doesn't matter to me anymore"

"I can't move it. The cords are too tight."

Pettigrew loosened the ropes slightly and roughly grabbed Harry's arm. He slit the inside skin, by Harry's elbow. Moments later a small flow of blood dribbled down Harry's arm and filled the grove in the knife. Pettigrew carefully walked over to the pot and poured the collected blood into the cauldron. Then he chanted, "Blood of the enemy – forcibly taken. Bone, flesh and blood shall be used to restore a true body to my Master. Combined with his spirit, he shall rise before me, and I shall serve him faithfully." A shower of red sparks filled the air.

Pettigrew awkwardly picked up the ugly little creature, which clung to his good arm. He used the stump of his good arm to support the creature, but ended up getting blood all over him. When it was suspended over the pot, it let go and with a splash, plopped into the sparkling liquid. Sparks of all colors flew into the air.

Minutes passed in silence. As blood continued to ooze down his arm, Harry kept muttering to himself, "Let it drown. Let it drown."

After ten minutes, the sparks flew into the air at an ever-increasing rate until the remaining liquid in the cauldron suddenly flew high into the air and ignited with a Whoosh!!!

Harry had a fleeting thought of Neville and his exploding cauldrons and prayed that Pettigrew had somehow screwed up. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be.

A hand emerged from the cauldron and gripped the edge. A moment later, another hand gripped the opposite side and a skeletally thin figure slowly emerged from the cauldron and stood. In the firelight, Harry could see that the creature was hairless and had snakelike facial features. The creature sniffed the air, turned his head to Pettigrew, took a breath and commanded, "Robe me."

Wormtail awkwardly lifted a robe over the creature and called, "Master."

Lord Voldemort had returned.

He carefully stepped out of the cauldron and called, "My wand, Wormtail."

The whimpering man handed Voldemort his wand, handle first, then knelt and kissed the hem of his master's robes.

"Hold out your arm, Wormtail. Your other arm." He jabbed his wand tip at the now fully defined Mark on Pettigrew's arm. As he touched the tip of his wand to Pettigrew's skin, the Mark immediately went completely black, like wet coal.

Pettigrew whimpered, and waited.

A hundred yards away, an exhausted and terrified teen muttered, "Oh shite."

… --- …

Lucius Malfoy left Hogwarts when the other parents were asked to leave. As he entered his mansion in Wiltshire, he felt his arm twitch. As the stepped inside the door, he rolled up his sleeve and his worst fear was realized. The Mark on his arm had completely returned. Within a minute, he felt the Mark on his arm burn, and he felt the calling.

The moment hadn't come as a surprise. He would answer the Dark Lord's call and see for himself who or what awaited him.

… --- …

Hundreds of miles away, Igor Karkaroff felt the Mark on his arm burn. Like Lucius Malfoy, the Durmstrang Headmaster had anticipated that this moment would come, and had made his plans. Wordlessly, he walked up the gangway on the old, sail-less, three-mast ship. Two minutes later, he sealed the last hatch and moments later the ancient ship disappeared beneath the waters – destination Perth.

… --- …

Peter Crabbe and Grant Goyle hadn't received invitations from the Minister of Magic to attend the final task of the Triwizard Tournament. Neither wealthy and well connected, nor highly skilled – the best days of their lives had been while they were in service to the Dark Lord. Goyle was eating chicken dinner with Crabbe when they felt the Mark burn.

As stupid smiles crept onto the men's faces, they walked outside and happily answered their master's call.

Others in similar situations like the Carrows, Yaxley, the Flints, Bulstrode, the Parkinsons and a score of others felt the miraculous calling from the one who they had feared to be long gone. They dropped whatever they were doing, grabbed or conjured their garb and answered their master's call.

… --- …

Back at Hogwarts, Junior waited patiently in his quarters at the castle. As the minutes passed, he dared to dream about leaving the castle later in the evening, and looked around the room. He had no real possessions of his own. In his own form, he gathered his bag of galleons and waited.

Finally, the Mark on his arm materialized – as if it were a photograph in a darkroom-developing tank. Junior dumped some food in the bottom of the trunk and threw the wooden leg and magical eye into one of the other compartments of Moody's trunk. He doubted that he would need to return to the castle, but didn't want to shut the door on that option.

Certain that he and Snape would soon be apprehended and questioned, he made the decision to walk out of the castle in his own form – masked by a hood and the overall confusion of the moment. He grabbed his wand, and without thinking, tucked Moody's flask into the half-ripped pocket of Moody's old traveling duster. He closed the door, and in a fast walk, made his way out of the castle.

… --- …

Nymphadora Tonks had witnessed the mass-confusion following the abrupt conclusion of the third task. After the headcount was performed in the Great Hall, the non-heads of house staff was dismissed to either go back to their quarters or help outside. She had seen Moody going back to his room, wearing his slate grey duster that he always wore. After the roll call, she went outside, still in her Susan Florman persona/form.

Ten minutes later, she was talking with one of the Ministry workers when she noticed a blonde hair man walking out the door at a rapid pace. She went back to talking to the ministry man when, a half minute later, the realization had hit her – the man walking out of the castle was wearing Moody's duster.

She started after the man in a dead run and shouted, "Stop! Ministry Auror. Stop now."

From two hundred yards away, Kingsley Shackelbolt heard the disturbance and saw the young woman chasing the other man, who had now broken into a sprint of his own.

Crouch knew that he had to make it past Hagrid's hut to reach the edge of the anti-apparation borders and that was at least a half-mile away. He began running as fast as he could, and never noticed that the silver flask had slipped from his ripped pocket.

Kingsley fired a stunner, but the distance was too great and he missed. He took up the chase, but he was too far away to have any real chance of catching the man.

Tonks took a different approach and was attempting to catch and tackle the fleeing man.

Unfortunately, Barty Junior had been coached much better than the Junior Auror regarding the exact location of the ward boundaries. Crouch knew how far that he had to get, and as he reached the far edge of the hut, the winded man concentrated on his destination.

Not more than two strides behind the fleeing suspect, Tonks gave a leap and attempted to execute a flying tackle. To her utter frustration, the suspect vanished and she landed on the ground, finding herself with a face full of Fang dung.

"Shite."

… --- …

Back at the graveyard, the pops of apparitions had slowed and then nearly ceased. Harry wasn't certain how many Death Eaters that there were, but he remembered Scrimgeour's advice about being observant and counted thirty-two so far.

Finally Voldemort seemed to think that enough had arrived and he began, "Welcome, Death Eaters… Thirteen years – it's been thirteen years since last we met… Yet you answered my call as though it were yesterday."

He paused again and added, "We are still united under the Dark Mark, then! Or are we?"

He put back his terrible face and sniffed, his slit-like nostrils widening.

"I smell guilt," he said. "There is a stench of guilt upon the air."

Watching from a distance, Harry took another calming breath, though in fact, he was as frightened as he'd ever been.

… --- …

Severus Snape, age thirty-six, sat in the silence of his quarters as he contemplated what might have happened. Headmaster Dumbledore had merely informed the school that Cedric Diggory and Potter had somehow gone missing.

Certain that he'd be blamed for something that he had nothing to do with; he contemplated his future. It was possible that he could secure a decent position at Durmstrang, though he'd long admitted to himself that he found no joy in teaching. Perhaps he'd do better in Australia.

Without warning, the Mark on his arm flared jet-black. He felt the Dark Lord's call. With the knowledge that Dumbledore wouldn't be around to smooth the way over for him, he made his decision.

It suddenly became obvious to the unpleasant Potions Master that the Dark Lord or one of his servants had snatched Potter and Diggory. With Dumbledore gone, Snape knew that none would stand against the Dark Lord.

He quickly gathered a dozen vials of his most valuable potions and several sacks of rare ingredients and found his vault key. Convinced that he'd never set foot in the room again, he took one last look around and walked out the door.

As he reached the front door he came by the ailing Headmaster who called, "Severus, don't go!"

He looked into the failing eyes of his mentor and replied, "Goodbye, Headmaster." That said; he walked out the door.

… --- …

Amelia Bones liked to think that her greatest challenge and best accomplishment was to be a good parent to two active teenagers. That said; she didn't rise to become Britain's top magical cop by being a pansy. Two minutes ago, the pieces began to fit together. Snape and Moody were assigned to place the trophy in the middle of the maze. Dumbledore had reported checking it personally as the two men walked the trophy out the door together.

Tonks and Shacklebolt had just lost a wild footrace with a blonde hair young man who was dressed in Moody's traveling cloak. Diggory's final words indicated that they had been tricked by a plot hatched by Pettigrew, probably Riddle, the unidentified man and Merlin only knew who else. Someone had murdered Cedric Diggory and someone had her Son. She wanted to kick some butt. She wanted…

"Stop that man!"

Severus Snape heard her shout, and knew that he had to leave the grounds immediately. Unfortunately, he was running towards the Healer Trainee and another man that Snape didn't immediately recognize.

… --- …

It had been seven years since Michael Wood had finished Hogwarts. Having been blessed with quick reflexes, his path within that Auror corps was clear for him, and four years ago, he had been invited to join the Hit Wizard unit.

Wood had been glad to be invited to come to the castle for the day. It gave him the chance to visit with his former Head of House, Professor Flitwick. Now he was stationed at the edge of the castle grounds. He heard his boss's boss shout and was ready for action.

… --- …

Snape was running flat-out when he realized that the man standing by Healer Trainee Florman was an Auror of some type. Snape whipped out his wand and a jet of green light flew from the outstretched tip.

In the few seconds that he had until the black haired man would reach his opportunity to apparate, Wood drew his wand, dodged what appeared to be a killing curse, shouted, "Stop," and fired, "Diffindo."

His aim was true.

Severus Snape was cut down at the legs. When his body hit the ground, he literally was in three pieces.

"No!" shouted Bones. "I need him alive!" She reached Snape and the other two as Tonks cauterized the wounds on his left stump, then moments later on his right.

It was too late.

Severus Snape, and any answers that he might have possessed, had bled out into the ground.

Bones pulled up his sleeve and saw the jet black Dark Mark on the man's arm and closed her eyes to think. She was worried sick about her son, but there were a million things to do.

… --- …

Ten minutes later, Albus Dumbledore had never felt older in his life. Harry was gone. Amos's boy had returned badly wounded and was near death, and he'd failed Severus. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain like a charley horse in his thigh. He guessed that his femoral artery had burst or developed an aneurysm. Seating at his desk chair, he tried to maintain focus through the near-blinding pain. He made a statement and then withdrew the memory and placed it in one of the many crystal vials that he had in his desk drawer. He had so much to do and so little time remaining. Realizing that his time had grown very short, he withdrew a dozen other memories and carefully placed then into their own vials.

Moments later, his carotid artery burst and the greatest wizard of his age drew his last breath and slumped over onto the desk.

He was alone when he died.

… --- …

A hundred miles to the north out in the North Atlantic, a thin woman, dressed in a tattered black leather bustier, who may have been quite beautiful in years past, was awoken from her slumber. She saw the Mark on her arm go dark, then burn in its calling.

She gave a screech of delight that sent a chill to her human guards.

… --- …

Voldemort walked inside the circle of assembled Death Eaters that surrounded him. Though they were masked in their bone white masks, he called each of them by name. The last one to arrive was Crouch, who along with Pettigrew were named as his "most faithful;" servants. He continued, "As for the rest of you… for thirteen years, I was waiting… waiting for one of you to seek out and find me… Few of you gave even a passing look… Few of you made any attempt… Instead, you lived your comfortable lives – for some of you, very comfortable lives."

Nagini could literally taste the fear in the air. She would enjoy telling her master about the one with the long silver hair.

"Yet none of you attempted to secure the release of your fellow Death Eaters. Bellatrix, Augustus, Rabastan, Rodolphus and others languished in Azkaban, while some of you thought only of lining your pockets and drinking single-malt whiskey…"

He shouted, "That ends now!!!"

Voldemort allowed the silence to build around the circle. Like most inspirational leaders, he had always been a highly skilled speaker. Right now, the pauses between phrases were intended to intimidate his followers, and to a man, it was working. Nagini rose up like a cobra and was eye to eye with Nott for nearly a minute before slithering across the circle.

As the fear mounted, Voldemort broke the silence by observing, "Few of you have maintained your skills… Bulstrode, what happened to your leg?"

Sweating profusely, in spite of the chill in the air, the obviously overweight Michael Bulstrode shook as he replied, "I was injured in your service, Master."

"In my service? You paraded around like a bunch of drunken pirates last summer and were beaten – beaten by a boy. You disgust me. Avada Kedavra." Like a fast gun artist, Voldemort's wand emerged from his pocket, a jet of green light struck Bulstrode, and his wand was back in his pocket before the now dead man had slumped to the ground.

Nott, who was standing next to Bulstrode knelt down and kissed the hem of Voldemort's robes and asked, "Master, I beg of you. Please tell us of your miracle."

His desire to intimidate had succeeded. Riddle knew that at this point, they would all fall into line and follow his every command. Lightening the tone, he replied, "Stephen, it was an interesting tale and I will allow you to hear it, but first I believe Leonard Yaxley has something to say."

Yaxley was preparing for his own death, having lost his leg in the same attack as Bulstrode. He vowed, "I will do better next time, Master. If you would allow me the honor, I will take my vengeance on the Potter brat."

"Crucio." Voldemort held the curse for five seconds and smoothly returned his wand to his pocket.

"Allow?… the Dark Lord does not grant three wishes like some jinni in a bottle."

"Allow?… The dark Lord will take what he wishes, and you who are barely worthy will provide me what I need. I will, however allow you to live. Crucio." After a few seconds, he let up on the curse.

He told them his tale in some detail, but never used or mentioned the term horcrux. For nearly an hour he told them of his survival, his exile in Albania, of being found by Pettigrew, their chance meeting with Bertha Jorkins, of freeing Barty Crouch and of their plan to trap Harry Potter.

… --- …

As Bulstrode was falling to the ground, Broderick Brode and Head Unspeakable Alejandro Croaker arrived at Hogwarts. Croaker got right to work examining the trophy, while Amelia questioned Brode. "How long will it take to find the original destination?"

Unspeakables weren't as a rule field-agents, and were rarely used to being rushed. Seeing the urgency on Director Bones' face, Brode optimistically replied, "Perhaps as quick as an hour."

Bones exclaimed, "An hour? Harry Potter doesn't have an hour." Hoping that her son was still engaged in a firefight, she added, "This could be over in five minutes. We need an answer now and we need a rapid response team ready to go in three minutes."

"I'll volunteer," announced, Michael Wood.

"Me too," added his sister Michelle, also a Hit Witch

"Aye," said, Connie.

"I'll go," added Shacklebolt."

"Us too," remarked two of the trainee Aurors, Gunner Fawcett and Michael Bradley, hoping that they would finally be allowed to get some action in.

"We will too," announced the two Unspeakables who had accompanied Brode and Croakers.

Amelia was conflicted. Sending good people into what was most likely Lord Voldemort's lair sounded like pointing the way to their deaths, but her son needed help.

At the moment, it was moot. Croaker had taken the challenge to unravel the Portkey personally, but didn't yet have a solution. What made it difficult to understand was the two-way aspect of the cup. After ten minutes of methodical study, he announced, "The Portkey charm was cast today, but you probably already knew that." He added a masking rune and a few minutes later removed it and applied it to the other side of the cup. This seemed more to his liking. Finally he announced, "I've got it."

She replied, "Alejandro, please make a six foot chain Portkey. We'll leave in one minute."

… --- …

As Fudge was attempting to console the Diggorys, one of the Junior Aurors came up and exclaimed, "Minister, they found the Dark Mark on the body of Severus Snape. It was completely black!"

Diggory grabbed onto that and demanded, "Cornelius, does that mean that You-Know-Who is…? Did he attack my… my boy?"

Fudge smoothly replied, "No… No Amos. I'm sure there's some other explanation." His thoughts drifted back to the disappearance of You-Know-Who's wand, Lucius's attempt to divert the Aurors at the World Cup, the appearance of long hidden Death Eaters, the Dark Mark, and Potters insistence that he'd seen Pettigrew and that the supposedly long-dead young man was in fact, a killer and a Death Eater.

He muttered to himself, "What else can go wrong?"

… --- …

Lucius looked around the graveyard as the Dark Lord spoke of his time in Albania. There must be some specific reason why they were at this particular spot. He glanced at the headstone next to where the Potter brat was tied up and saw the name – Thomas Riddle. That confirmed the rumor that had been spread by the Daily Prophet. He got Stephen's attention and gave a pointed look in Potter's direction.

Nott saw the marker too and like his aristocratic friend Lucius, came to the same conclusion – for all of his might and skill, the ruler of the pureblood society. Tom Riddle was nothing more than a half-blood passing himself off as one of them. Within hours, he knew that they would be asked to fund him like some patron of old.

… --- …

"And so my tale begins, and ends with Harry Potter." As he spoke, Voldemort's snake Nagini raised her head from time to time, sniffed the air and flicked her forked tongue at the meal that had been laid out in front of her.

"Since you have provided me the means to return to my own body, I will offer you the opportunity to duel Lord Voldemort – to die by my hand with dignity like your father did. You have been taught to duel Harry Potter?"

Not trusting his voice, Harry nodded.

"Wormtail, release him and return his wand to him." Pettigrew, who was still marveling at his new hand walked over to the gravestone that Harry was bound to and vanished the cords.

… --- …

As the Aurors prepared to mount a rescue mission and the Healers were frantically attempting to save Amos's son, Fudge blew a measured breath. The last thing in the world that he wanted the Aurors to find would be a coven of Death Eaters led by Lucius.

As he watched the Mediwitches transport Cedric to St. Mungo's, his thoughts turned back to the World Cup. It had been easy to fob off the supposed attack as a bunch of drunken sports fans. The theft of You-Know-Who's wand had been easy enough to explain as a bit of vandalism. Diggory returning badly injured or worse would have to be explained as some sort of creature attack from the third task. His mind raced searching for plausible options as the Aurors prepared to depart.

… --- …

Encircled by the Death Eaters, Harry had nowhere to run. He stood some forty feet from Voldemort, moving back as far as he could. "Bow to death, Harry Potter, then when Wormtail says go, we duel."

Having seen Riddle's lightening quick reflexes, Harry realized that he was hopelessly outclassed. Yet, in that moment, he thought of his mother and father, of Amelia, of Hermione and finally of Susan. It was at that point that he found his courage. He found his strength.

"Go."

"Reducto."

"Reducto."

Harry rolled to the right as he fired and accidentally hit Yaxley in the gut instead of Riddle. However, Tom's aim was true, and Harry's wand exploded into dozens of pieces. With a fancy move, Lord Voldemort put his wand back in his pocket and turned around to face his servants, leaving Harry standing there, awaiting the death stroke which would doubtless fall before the night was through. Except for Yaxley, who was drawing his last breath, they were laughing and applauding when the Dark Lord gave a little stage bow.

The mood considerably lightened, one by one, he walked up to each Death Eater and asked them a question or two. Somehow he seemed to already know the answers. For the most part, the Death Eaters groveled and each seemed to make an excuse or two. The Dark Lord seemed to be in a forgiving mood.

Flint had been standing by Yaxley and was trying to help him, but blood was spraying over the nearby headstones.

Taking a deep breath, Harry saw his chance – his one chance and took it. Pulling his spare wand from its holster, he whispered, "Accio Riddle's wand."

Alecto Carrow watched in shock as in the course of three seconds, the Potter boy whipped out another wand, summoned and grabbed the Dark Lord's wand and cast a sweeping cutting charm which hit the Dark Lord, Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle and beheaded Nagini before disappearing.

The last thing Harry saw was Riddle's left hand falling to the ground as he snapped the Popsicle stick and disappeared.

… --- …

As Amelia was readying herself to go, she heard someone fire the cannon blast charm from the area by Hagrid's hut. A moment later, she heard, Tonks; Sonorus shout of "Potter's back!"

"I'll go, too, announced Anna. I've got my camera kit here in case there's anything to see."

Bones announced, "Rufus, stay here. The team leaves in five minutes unless you hear me call, "No joy." Have a second team ready to go depending on what we learn from Harry. Everyone comes home. Come back immediately if its bad odds. Good luck."

That said, she ran as fast as she could to where Tonks was stationed. When she finally reached him, he was seated on a stool that the Junior Auror had transfigured. Resuming her parent role, she cried, "Oh Lord, Harry, I was so worried. I'm so happy to see you." She ran up and hugged him for all that he was worth.

The only words out of Harry's mouth were, "He's back."

Forcing herself back into her Auror role, she pulled a crystal vial out of her bag and directed, "Make a memory copy from the moment that you entered the maze until you got back."

Harry touched his spare wand to his head and withdrew a dark grey strand and carefully placed it into the vial and handed it back to her.

He was about to ask what had happened to Cedric, when Fudge ran up and in a winded breath, demanded, "What happened, Potter?"

Amelia shook her head and announced, "He'll tell this one time and one time only. Harry, can you walk?"

His arm that had been cut was throbbing and the adrenalin rush was subsiding, leaving him with a pounding headache, but that aside, he was okay. He replied, "I'm fine."

Amelia said, "Tonks, go get Scrimgeour out of the maze. Tell him to send the troops and meet us in the hospital wing in five minutes. Run."

… --- …

As they walked down the corridor, Squiggles the elf popped up and in a desperate voice called, Ms. Bones, Ma'am, please comes along. Headmaster Dumbledores… Please comes along, please."

With the utmost reluctance, she allowed herself to be dragged towards Dumbledor's office after announcing, "Harry, I'll be back in five minutes. Have Healer Pomfrey look you over, but don't say anything or go anywhere until I get back."

McGonagall added, "I'll go with you."

That said, they were rushed to Dumbledore's office by the frantic elf.

… --- …

As Amelia reluctantly walked with McGonagall and the little elf towards the headmaster's office, Fudge saw his chance. As they walked to the hospital wing he demanded, "What happened, Potter?"

Not thinking that Amelia's warning applied to questions from the Minister of Magic, Harry gave a weary reply, "He's back. Voldemort's back. Pettigrew might have killed Cedric. Lucius Malfoy…"

Fudge snapped. His orderly world was about to crumble and he wasn't going to let this boy topple it.

"Obliviate!"

Potter was hit squarely with the blast and toppled down the stairway from the impact of the hex.

Figuring that his immediate problem was resolved, Fudge quickly left the castle, not knowing what he would do next. Perhaps Delores would have an idea.

… --- …

Tonks ran to Scrimgeour and described what had happened with Harry's return. "That's all I know, Sir."

Based on a guess that Harry may have caused some injuries, Scrimgeour took quick action. "Tonks, you and Dawlish and Straighthand, go to the lobby of St. Mungo's. The Death Eaters have snatched healers before and they're not going to get away with it this time. Wands out. Go!"

The young Auror had the feeling that she was in over her head.

… --- …

Voldemort shouted, "Damn him. Wormtail." He clamped his hand over his wrist to slow the flow of blood.

The little rat ran up and asked, "Yes, Master?"

Through gritted teeth, Voldemort commanded, "Give me your wand."

Peter pulled out his wand and handed it, handle first, to the Dark Lord, who grabbed it and with great effort, conjured a silver hand. As the liquid silver formed, Pettigrew noticed his Master strain as he attached it to the bleeding stump. Having no idea regarding the effort or skill that such a miracle took, he was amazed as he watched his Master at work.

Meanwhile, Lucius Malfoy cast a healing charm on himself. He was at the tail end of Potter's cutting hex and had been cut deeply in his left leg, but no major arteries had been severed. He would have a limp and be stiff for a while, but he didn't lose his leg. He helped his friend, Stephen Nott as best as he could. Nott had been standing next to Malfoy and had been hit higher up.

Crabbe and Nott had been hit in the gut and would require a skilled healer if they were to stand a chance. Riddle was exhausted, but this was not the time to show it. He got back on his feet and saw Yaxley on the ground, dead, with Goyle about to join him. He cast stasis charms on Goyle and directed Alexis Carrow, "Take Goyle and Nott to your home. Flint, and Parkinson, go obtain services from someone at St. Mungo's. Wear a hood, but no mask and Obliviate her when you're done and let her go."

He knew it was likely that the Potter Boy would return soon and bring back half of the Aurors with him. Damn him. He'd underestimated the boy again, and it had cost him his wand, and some respect from his servants. His moment of glory had been lost. He was in no position to fight the Aurors today and doubted that his servants were either. He announced, "We'll meet tomorrow night an ten at the Aveberry Circle. Go and prepare yourselves to rejoin my service."

The Death Eaters didn't need to be told twice and quickly disappeared in groups of twos or threes.

Voldemort turned to Pettigrew and Crouch and added, "Well done to both of you. I shall reward both of you beyond your dreams, but this isn't the time. Barty, we shall go and pay your father a visit and then go to Gringotts. There is nothing more for us here, so let us leave." Seconds later, they were in the back garden at the home of Crouch Senior.

Michael Wood heard a double apparition pop a moment after he and the rest of the ministry party arrived at Little Hangleton. He whipped his wand around to strike, only to see that no one was visible. In the gathering darkness there were still two fires illuminating the area. Michael and his sister, Michelle started walking outward while the other four waited as per their procedure. As he signaled, they began moving out in a circle, forming an ever-widening perimeter around their entry point. When they had gone about a hundred feet, he signaled that they stop and they each carefully looked around.

After a minute, Wood was satisfied that the area was deserted and they each cast Lumos Maximus. They could see the headstones.

While the others provided cover, Connie and Anna methodically walked back and forth in straight rows. Along the way, they found two bodies, a hand, several headstones splattered with blood, a Death Eater mask, the remains of a shattered wand and a massive cauldron.

"There's ropes around this one," remarked Connie, not wanting to think about poor Harry.

"More blood and body bits here. This looks like part of a Hufflepuff patch," added Anna, cringing as she realized that she was most likely standing on the spot where Cedric had been hit.

"Here's the handle to the wand," added Connie. Anna came over and took several photos of the wand that was most likely Harry's. She carefully marked the evidence and placed the shattered wand in a bag.

"Connie, Look at this!" Anna pointed to the hand that they'd seen twenty minutes ago. Then it had looked to be newly severed. Now it looked like it was month old road kill. She took another photo before bagging the withered hand.

Connie replied, "We'll have to compare the photos. Finish bagging it. Let's get some photos of the bodies and the blood on these headstones."

A half hour after they had arrived, they closed up the perimeter, and took the Portkey back to the castle.

… --- …

ooo CCC ooo

As Crow closed the door behind him and stepped into the bitter cold, McGonagall wondered if she shouldn't have invited him to stay for the Christmas holidays, or at least for a pint. The opportunity lost, she examined the report that he'd dropped off. Obviously there had been loss. She glanced up at the portrait that was at least making a pretense of sleeping, though she knew for a fact that the old headmaster never dozed while wearing his glasses. She worried over the fate of the Diggory boy. His prognosis wasn't good, even though there had been no recent report from St. Mungo's.

Yet somehow, there was hope in her heart. She hoped that the next report would clarify what had happened. She also hoped that those who had enjoyed the report would remember to mark it up. Lately Filius had been quite remiss in that respect.

She opened up the Christmas card and the bottle of amber potion that bore the scribe's name. Crow had apparently been studying arithmancy of late, as there was a rather long and involved equation. There were also several sets of numbers scribbled along the edges – 2859327*5402315+5244813$3675262.

She opened the bottle of potion marked "For medicinal purposes only" and took a dose. It tasted considerably better than the arthritis remedy that Poppy had given her the previous week. As she began rereading the report, she silently wished the old scribe well and hoped that he remembered to wear his gloves in the cold.

… --- …

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