Harry and Cedric leave the graveyard in Little Hangleton almost as soon as they arrive. The repercussions of that choice ring across the timeline.
Chapter 1: Ditching the Graveyard Early
The graveyard the tri-wizard cup brought them to was silent and eerie, and the lack of mountains made clear they were far from the school. Harry looked to Cedric. "Is this supposed to be part of the task?"
Cedric bit his lip. "I don't see any tournament personnel. I don't like this at all." He grabbed Harry and grabbed the cup.
A dizzying moment later, they were back in the center of the maze, Cedric throwing the cup aside before they could somehow re-activate it.
Harry said, "What if that was part of the tournament?"
"Then we'll do it later. More importantly, what if it wasn't? That place was spooky, no one told us about any sort of tiebreaker, and if they had one, shouldn't it be on school grounds?"
Harry frowned. He was processing slowly, but he hadn't liked being unexpectedly portkeyed to a graveyard either.
Cedric said, "This whole tournament's been fishy. What, with you being in it."
Harry stared at him and stepped away from the cup. A large part of him was still screaming to take the cup, that it would be horribly embarrassing to stop in the middle of a task because he was afraid it wasn't really a task, but all the bad situations he'd been in, plus a year of listening to Professor Moody yell about Constant Vigilance brought caution to mind.
Professor Moody came around the corner, freezing as he saw Cedric and Harry at the center of the maze, the cup not far away.
"What are you waiting for?" said Moody.
Harry opened his mouth to tell Moody about the graveyard, but Cedric spoke first. "What are you doing in the maze?"
"Security," said Moody. "Can't be too careful. So let's get this over with. Take the cup, Harry."
Harry took a step, but stopped, staring at Moody.
Cedric said, "Why should Harry take the cup? I got to it first."
The older boy met his eyes wearing a pleading expression, so Harry said, "That's right. He beat me to it. He grabbed the cup and disappeared, but he reappeared not even a minute later."
Cedric said, "The cup took me to a graveyard. I didn't like it."
"Just part of the challenge," Moody said.
"Well then," said Cedric, taking a step toward the cup.
"Stop," shouted Moody. "Harry, take the cup."
Cedric raised his wand, and said, "Reducto."
The cup blew into pieces.
Moody screamed, then screamed again. "Avada Kedavra!"
Cedric dodged the green light while casting, "Bombarda Maxima."
Moody dodged, the hedge behind him exploded, and Moody had to shield against Harry's blasting curse.
Cedric took the moment's respite to shoot red sparks into the air, calling for help.
Harry didn't know what was happening, or why Moody was attacking them, but it was happening, and he'd been attacked by Defense Professors before. If they worked together, they could do this. Two wands were greater than one.
Four stone wolves rose from the earth around Moody and ran at Cedric.
Moody sent a string of Stunning Spells at Harry, who dodged some and blocked others with protego, his shield cracking with each hit.
Cedric got a wolf with a blasting curse, but then the other three were on him, and he was desperately keeping them at bay with shields.
Harry's shield broke, and he dodged the stupefy so fast he fell.
Moody said, "Imperio."
The near familiar pleasure washed over him, the sense that everything was alright, but it was stronger than ever before. Moody was serious this time.
Moody said, "You will come with me to the edge of the maze, and you will say that nothing is wrong."
If he gave in, Cedric would die, and whatever horrible thing Moody wanted to do would happen.
"Reducto" cast Harry, then "reducto!" again.
Moody shielded against the first, but the second was aimed not at Moody but at the wolves attacking Cedric, destroying one, throwing another off balance. Cedric destroyed it, and the other, immediately dodged another Killing Curse, and hit back with bombarda as Harry cast another reducto.
Harry was growing tired, fearful he wouldn't be able to cast many more spells.
Two Aurors arrived on broomsticks, responding no doubt to the red sparks. One of them cast a shield between the combatants, and Moody sent a curse at the Auror, who rolled to avoid it.
Then both Aurors were casting at Moody, who stepped back and back again, looking increasingly wild.
And Dumbledore stepped appeared at the edge of the area. His voice boomed even as his spells shielded Moody from the barrage. "What is the meaning of this?!"
Harry screamed a warning but knew he was too late. Moody turned, the green light of the Killing Curse headed straight for the unsuspecting Dumbledore.
A plinth of earth rose, the air itself seemed to explode, the Aurors on broomsticks shot stunning spells, and when the dust cleared, Moody was bound and gagged, his wand in Dumbledore's hand, the Headmaster's face a study in confusion.
Cedric shouted a concise report while Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "The cup was a portkey to a graveyard, and Professor Moody wanted Harry to grab it. He was willing to kill me and cast the Imperius Curse on Harry."
Harry offered his shout agreement, and Dumbledore's bright blue eyes met his own. Harry had a strange feeling, images flashing quickly through his mind, and Dumbledore frowned. The larger remaining pieces of the cup rose from the ground. "Smart then, to break it."
Dumbledore flicked his wand again. Moody was transformed into a small grey rock, which Dumbledore pocketed. He said to the Aurors, "Let's make this look as close to normal as possible.
A pair of galleons from Dumbledore's pocket were turned into a cup, which he tossed onto the ground. "Take it, whichever of you would rather be known as Tri-Wizard champion. It is not a portkey. Act calm and say nothing of this. Whatever plot is afoot, we'd better not tip off the plotters more than we must."
Harry made eye-contact with Cedric. After fighting for his life against the Defense Professor, it felt very strange to be considering again the glory of winning the tournament. "Same as before?" he said.
"Sure," said Cedric, also a little pale, and they approached the cup.
Dumbledore said, "You intend to tie?"
They nodded, and Dumbledore spoke to the Aurors, who were hovering a few feet up on broomsticks. "We're going with the boys to the stadium. We'll explain that they tied and the portkey malfunctioned. We'll get Fudge, and we'll get the boys to my office as quickly as feasible without tipping our hand in a game we don't know the rules of."
Harry and Cedric grabbed the fake cup together.
An hour later, the (somewhat confused) roaring of the crowd already a distant memory, they were making witness statements to a woman named Amelia Bones, who seemed to be both very important and very disturbed.
They were then kept in a room with four Aurors and Professor McGonagall while Amelia Bones, Dumbledore, and Harry didn't know who all else went somewhere. Harry supposed they'd gotten the location of the graveyard.
Cedric was allowed to talk with his father, then had a private talk with Professor Dumbledore once the later had returned, looking very tense.
Cedric left, and it was Harry's turn for a private talk with the Headmaster.
Harry took a few. One of the Aurors had brought him a sandwich a glass of milk, but he was tired and hungry despite that.
"Sir, why did Moody attack us?"
"It wasn't Alastor Moody who attacked you. In fact, this entire year, it wasn't Alastor Moody who taught you."
"I don't understand."
"I have made a grievous and shameful mistake, one which nearly cost us everything. Which nearly killed you and returned Voldemort to power. This summer, Alastor Moody was captured by Bartemius Crouch Jr., who, between legilimency, veritaserum and Polyjuice Potion, did a regrettably excellent job impersonating him.
"But not a perfect job. I'd hardly seen him in ten years. That he'd changed was no surprise. If at times I thought he'd changed in ways I wouldn't have expected, well, that was hardly beyond the realm of human experience. That he might not be Alastor Moody never occurred to me all."
Dumbledore continued, "Alastor Moody himself spent the entire year locked in his own trunk in Moody's office. His hair was used for Polyjuice Potion, and he was continually interrogated so Crouch Jr. could provide whatever details Moody ought to know."
"But what, the point of it all, why..."
Dumbledore said, "In order to resurrect Lord Voldemort."
"I've cut off many of his pathways to resurrection, but I freely confess that Voldemort's knowledge of the Darkest Arts surpasses my own. It seems he intended a ritual which would've used the bones of his father. We've removed those, and those of other close relatives on his father's side. His mother's body, we've yet to find."
"It also required the blood of his enemy. I suppose there are only two people he thought worth considering." He pointed to himself and to Harry. "We are lucky that the ritual apparently required the blood to be fresh and taken very much against your will, and with your approximate knowledge of the purpose-that makes the victory more complete, you see. The date is also significant. Three days after the summer solstice, three days being a famously significant time period in resurrections, the summer solstice being the longest day of the year. Though there are other dates that might work, that's likely the best for it, and Voldemort has always placed great store in magical symbolism. Through the Imperius Curse, he was able to get the day of the final task to coincide."
Harry said, "Why not just grab me, and hit me with a portkey?"
"Hogwarts' wards prevent portkeys from operating. However, the event planners wanted the cup to be a portkey which would take the winner directly to the stadium. As Headmaster, I am master of Hogwarts' wards. I keyed the cup to them. Even so, I had to temporarily deactivate a layer. He changed the destination of my portkey, interfering with it as little as possible so he wouldn't break it.
"I've been to the graveyard. Voldemort had already fled when I arrived, and the trail quickly went cold, though I expect to be out there once more tomorrow. While there, I noticed a ward on the graveyard. It was intended to allow portkeying in but not out, but it didn't function properly. We may be thankful that Voldemort has been reduced to relying on Pettigrew, who is not the most competent of wizards."
"Peter Pettigrew?" said Harry.
"He fled to Voldemort. An unfortunate occurrence, made doubly so by the fact that Minister refuses to entertain the possibility that Pettigrew is alive, which rather undercuts our ability to conduct a manhunt for him. Thankfully, Ms. Bones is a flexible woman, fully capable pursuing a man she officially believes to be dead."
That was important, Pettigrew was important, Sirius needed the Ministry to accept that Pettigrew was alive, but something else was more important. Harry said, "Sir, if Cedric hadn't made us go back, or if Pettigrew had made the ward right, Voldemort would be alive again?"
"As powerful as ever, perhaps. And you and Cedric would likely both be dead. It is disturbing how much we owe to the good sense of Cedric Diggory."
"He oughta get a thousand house points," said Harry, sick laughter rising up. "If Voldemort returned..." He shivered.
If Harry had grabbed the cup alone, without Cedric, he would've stubbornly stayed in the graveyard waiting to find out why he was there, and Voldemort would be back. He was sure of it.
His first year, he'd been trying to save the Philosopher's Stone, and he'd always sort of insisted that he had, but in retrospect, Quirrell had been stumped by the mirror. Dumbledore had clearly been setting a trap for Voldemort, and he, Harry, had spoiled it. He'd actually ended up helping Voldemort, probably, and had nearly enabled him to get the stone.
His second year he'd killed the basilisk and destroyed Riddle's diary, but really Fawkes had done most of the work, and it all would've been over much more quickly and without, perhaps, a single human petrification if he'd just told Dumbledore about the voices he heard in the walls. He'd spent weeks risking people's lives because he hadn't wanted to embarrass himself. It was only luck that no one had gotten killed.
His third-year he'd saved Buckbeak and Sirius, but Hermione had had at least as much to with that as he had, and if he'd been a little more sensible, Pettigrew would've been captured.
Now in his fourth-year, a plot to resurrect Voldemort had been spoiled, but only because Peter Pettigrew was incompetent and Cedric was generally great. And the plot had been dependent on Harry in the first place. And now that he knew what the plot was, he realized that he'd had all the pieces to figure out that Moody was an impostor.
Third and fourth year both, the map had told him something that had seemed so impossible he'd hardly bothered investigating it. If he'd taken twenty minutes to go to Dumbledore's office and tell the headmaster about it, Crouch would've been caught, and quite early in the year.
Most students, in the same bad situations, would've done a better job. Many students, at least. Cedric, certainly.
"Sir, you know, I have a map?"
Dumbledore nodded. "Remus Lupin mentioned briefly at the end of your third year. Crouch spoke of it during the interrogation. Some ingenious application of the Homonculus charm, I gather. Crouch took it from you." He took the battered square of parchment from inside his robes and laid it at the end of the desk. "I should return it to you."
Harry took a deep breath. "We saw that Barty Crouch was wandering around, but it didn't occur to us that it might be Barty Crouch Jr., and we saw that the map never showed Moody anywhere but in his office, but we just thought it wasn't working right or something."
Dumbledore paled. "The map is that good? It showed Crouch as Crouch even though he was under Polyjuice? And it showed Moody even when he was in a space expanded trunk?"
Harry nodded. "It even showed Pettigrew in my third year, when he was in his rat form."
Dumbledore needed a little effort to smile. "Harry, I'm not upset, but in the future, that's the sort of discrepancy you might mention to me. If you don't feel comfortable coming to my office, you can simply owl me."
Harry said, "I think you should have the map." He didn't want to give up the map. But Voldemort had nearly just come back, and if Dumbledore had had the map, it probably wouldn't have come close to happening. "You tap it with your wand and say 'I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.' Then the map appears."
Slowly, Dumbledore did just that, and the lines crawled across the parchment. The Headmaster bent over it, the brightness of the lights increasing at a wave of his hand, his finger coming down on the Headmaster's office, showing Harry and Dumbledore exactly where they were. He quickly gained mastery of it, move the perspective around to get better looks at different floors.
Dumbledore said, "Who else knows about this?"
"Hermione and Ron of course. Lupin and Sirius. Snape a little, but he doesn't exactly know what it is."
"I see," said Dumbledore. "I'll have to ask Remus and Sirius why they did not tell me more of it." His wand ran over the map. "It's missing four secret passages, but it shows one of which I was unaware until I found out how Sirius had gotten in. I suppose it doesn't show the Chamber of Secrets?"
"No. I think it can only show places the makers knew about."
Dumbledore said, "This is almost too much information. I'm not sure it's right for a Headmaster of a school to be able to track this closely what students and staff are up to. But clearly, recent events have shown, it might be necessary.
"I will get this back to you Harry, I think. I'll investigate how it works, make my own, and create restrictions as to its use so it cannot be abused. Hopefully, when school restarts, I'll be done. How do I close it?"
"You top it with your wand and say 'Mischief Managed.'"
Dumbledore snorted, and did so, the parchment growing blank once more. "It's makers must've been quite the characters."
"Sure," said Harry. "Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. Lupin, Pettigrew, Sirius and my dad." And didn't realize until he saw Dumbledore's expression that Dumbledore hadn't known.
Dumbledore rubbed his temples. "I should've known. In addition to becoming unregistered animagi... I sincerely hope there have never before been any other students who've pulled so much wool over my eyes."
Harry said, "I'm surprised you're surprised."
"The false impression of my omniscience leads me to know less than I otherwise would. Perhaps cutting the beard would help."
Harry winced. He'd just been thinking about everything he should've told Dumbledore and hadn't. Of course others must've done that same.
If his parents had told Dumbledore about Pettigrew being the real secret keeper, Sirius would've never gone to Azkaban. Pettigrew would probably still be there instead.
Likely enough, his mother, embarrassed, had fibbed to Dumbledore about how good her relationship with her sister was. It seemed like something Harry would do.
Harry said, "What about Pettigrew?"
"Gone before we arrived. From muggles in the area, we've gained a few memories of Peter Pettigrew, all from a distance or with his face obscured. Still, combined with Crouch's confession, the testimony of you, your friends, and Mr. Lupin, as well as an offer from Sirius Black just sent to the ministry offering to submit to public questioning under veritaserum, the Ministry has a clear-cut choice between admitting something has gone wrong or engaging in a substantial cover-up and smear campaign against the credibility of the witnesses. As such, I expect them to waffle."
Harry said, "If we go public-"
Dumbledore said, "Then the Ministry will be egged into that smear campaign. A smear campaign against three minors, a werewolf, a Death Eater, and the man accused. Fudge does not want to admit to his mistakes. He would've had Crouch kissed if not for Amelia and my intervention. If Voldemort had indeed returned, I suspect he would've done it anyway, just to deny the reality of failure. We can and will have Sirius exonerated, but it's going to take time and careful politicking."
Dumbledore looked frustrated. And old and tired. Which was odd, because the day was a victory. A plot of Voldemort had been spoiled. His most powerful active servant had been captured. New evidence as to Pettigrew's continued existence had been acquired.
But the day had also exposed a great many failures.
Harry said, "What can I do to become useful?"
Dumbledore made a reassuring smile and opened his mouth as if to insist that Harry already was useful, a wonderful young man coming along nicely. But he stopped, took a long, careful look at Harry, and said, "Learn occlumency. There are secrets you ought to know, as they involve you, important secrets, but I'm reluctant to disclose them to a fourteen-year-old with an unsecured mind."
Professor Dumbledore handed Harry a slim book. "Read this within the first two weeks of summer, and practice the exercises daily."
"I'll get in trouble with the ministry."
Dumbledore shook his head. "It's not magic, exactly. It's a mental technique that makes one's mind safer against magical interrogation. Legilimency. You'll read about it. Consider it summer homework.
"If you want to become useful, do your other summer homework too, and do it well. Prepare for your OWLs. Work hard in every class, and don't neglect theory. You don't yet realize the practical importance of understanding theory, but trust me when I say that no great wizard could be more than good without it." Four more books appeared in Dumbledore's hands, and he gave them to Harry. One on the theory of potions, one on the theory of transfiguration, one on the theory of Dark Magic and the Defense Against, and one on the theory of magic itself.
"Read these. Understand them. When thinking about them hurts your head, continue thinking. Do not withdraw. Running from the pain attendant to correcting one's misconceptions is a common yet horrible sin. Little is more injurious."
Dumbledore's accustomed twinkle was gone. There was a different air about him. He was still the kindly headmaster, but for the first time Harry saw that Dumbledore was also the man who'd waged wars against Grindelwald and Voldemort, and had put down an unknown number of lesser Dark Lords in between, as a sort of extra-governmental warlord.
"Familiarize yourself with the basics of runes and arithmancy. That's your summer homework. When you come back, practice hard and study hard. There will likely be seminars on special topics. Attend them. As part of your morning or nightly routine, choose a spell you know well, and practice it wordlessly for a few minutes every day. Then spend a few minutes trying to do something wandlessly. Lighting a candle or levitating a feather, perhaps. Accomplish all that, and you will be on the way to usefulness."
It hurt, for Dumbledore to so casually suggest that at present he wasn't even on the way to usefulness.
Dumbledore said, "But the two most important matters are these. First, you must grow up. For a fourteen-year-old, you are not especially immature, but it would serve you well, if, by this time next year, you were especially mature for a fifteen-year-old. That does not mean acting as if you are older than you are. Have fun. Be witty, be humble, be good, and be excellent in all your interactions with others." For a moment, the twinkle entered Dumbledore's eyes. "Dating would not be a bad idea. It is by living life with intensity, and then reflecting morally upon it, that you will mature, not by becoming an overly serious bore.
"Second, and this is key, you must embrace magic. You never really have."
Harry protested. "I love magic."
Dumbledore poked the left lens of Harry's glasses with his finger. "It smudged. Why? Check the library and you'll find anti-smudging spells. They're well within your ability. All sorts of charms are. If you're wearing these every day, they ought to be covered in magic. Subtly charmed personal objects aren't against the statute. And your muggle clothes. You've mended them, but you've never attempted to resize them or refresh the color or any of that. Why?"
"Well. I." Why hadn't he?
"Some muggle-borns feel guilty using magic for the simple things, as if they fear to run out of it and have none left. In reality, the more you use, the more you have. Embrace magic. Breathe it. Work it into every fiber of your being. Then, perhaps, you will find your limits."
Dumbledore smiled, and Harry was facing the kindly Headmaster once more. "If there's nothing else I can help you with, Harry, I expect you're exhausted and ready for bed."
Harry got up, took a step toward the door.
Dumbledore said, "Your books, Harry."
"Right." He picked them up. Five books, counting the book on occlumency.
Dumbledore said, "I expect you to return those to me at the start of the coming school year."
Harry said, "My relatives. They don't like me reading my magic books over the summer."
Dumbledore's expression flickered, but he said, "Embrace magic, and you will find that circumventing a few muggles is not such a difficult task, even without the use of your wand."
Harry took the books.
The day the Hogwarts express was to leave, Harry sat on his bed considering two trunks.
The first he'd gotten from Hagrid and filled with dirt till it had the right weight. The second was his own trunk, and he was pleased with it.
Most of what a person saw or heard did not attract a person's attention but hung in the mental and sensory background. The Notice-Me-Not charm was a minor compulsion magic that kept details there unless something happened to bring one's attention to them.
It could backfire against skilled wizards, who might notice the compulsion, but it was bully against muggles.
He'd cast it on his real trunk, and on everything in his real trunk. He also had a locket necklace with a weak Notice-Me-Not on it, and one on an off-white sticker he'd put on his door.
"Reducio," Harry cast, and the trunk shrank till it was the size of a harmonica. He picked it up, and it weighed little more. Getting so he could cast it at that level had taken hours of practice, what with the trunk containing all these separate items, some of them magical, but he was getting it.
He handed the miniature trunk to George, who tapped it and cast a few detection spells Harry didn't know but should probably learn. "Should hold for two or three days," said George.
Harry smiled and tapped the lenses of his glasses, which was fast becoming a mannerism of his. Anti-smudging charms had turned out to be at the level of a second-year charm, and charms to keep glasses from falling off weren't much harder. While getting the unbreakable charm to play nice with the other charms was beyond him without more practice and research than he had time for, the basic durability charm he'd learned as second-year hadn't caused any trouble at all.
Why hadn't he cast the durability charm on his glasses the day he'd learned it? Why hadn't he done any of this before? It would've taken a lot more effort, but he could've done it all as a third-year. Heck, he could've gotten older students do it for him as a first or second-year.
Perhaps he was being a little unfair to himself in concluding that his problem was stupidity, but he was still shuddering every time it occurred to him that his failure to go to Dumbledore about what he saw on the map had nearly resulted in Voldemort resurrecting.
He'd skimmed the books Dumbledore had loaned him, especially the books on Defense and Occlumency, but overall that was a project for the summer, when he couldn't practice magic. With a few minutes to kill before Ron came got out of the loo, he again tried casting Protego without an incantation.
He felt the magic welling up, but trying to cast a spell without saying the incantation felt like trying to walk into a room while holding the door closed.
Fred said, "Just keep at it. Took us months to start to get it. And reading the theory actually helped."
Harry nodded. There was a chapter on non-verbal magic in The Character of Magic, the book on magical theory in general, and according to it the need for an incantation had less to do with the nature of magic than with the nature of wizards, but so far reading that hadn't helped.
Over the last week, he'd worked a bit on his defense spells, and on transfiguration, remembering how Cedric, Krum and the fake Moody had all used it to good effect, but, other than preparing everything he needed to go back to the Dursleys, he'd spent most of his time participating in the usual end of term activities and relaxing with friends.
And listening to rumors, of course.
People knew that Barty Crouch Jr. had killed his father and had tried to interfere with the tournament somehow, and they were generally of the impression that Moody had been in the hospital due to injuries sustained in stopping him, and Cedric had done something or another, for which he'd received fifty house points, on top of the fifty points for his success in the tournament, enough to win Hufflepuff the cup.
All Harry would say was that he'd heard some talk about some die-hard Death Eaters trying to bring Voldemort back to life, but it hadn't worked. He didn't know much more, really.
Harry took a bag off his desk and tossed it to George.
"Isn't this your winnings?"
Five-hundred galleons. The tournament's prize, split with Cedric. "I want you to have it. What you guys said about Bagman not paying you back... This is a gift, not a loan. I won't tell you guys the story, but I don't deserve anything for the tournament. Cedric and I touched the cup at the same time, but I didn't really tie.
"Just take it. Bagman tried to help me. To make his bet work out. This belongs to you more than to me. Use it for your joke shop. If you need any more, if this isn't enough, come to me. You know I've got money, but that'll be a loan, not a gift, and I'll expect to make a profit."
Fred opened his mouth to argue but stopped as Ron came out of the loo. Harry waved bye to the twins, joined Hermione, and the three headed to the station together. Soon they were on the Hogwarts express once more.
Harry bought a few pumpkin pasties and used Wingardium Leviosa to hold them up as he ate them.
Ron said, "Blimey Harry, you're taking it a bit far lately."
Harry said, "Dumbledore says I have to-
"Embrace magic," the other two finished for him.
Harry took another bite of pumpkin pasty.
Hermione said, "Doesn't it feel, a little, I don't know, lazy to use magic for eating?"
Harry looked at her incredulously, the pumpkin pasty bobbing up and down in the air. "Are you joking? How is this easier than eating like normal? It's way harder."
Hermione frowned. Ron said, "You're being a bit of a prat with how much you're practicing lately."
Hermione said, "Well I think it's wonderful he's taking his studies seriously."
The two of them argued, Hermione not quite but nearly taking Harry's side.
Harry loosed a chocolate frog. The bouncy little thing dodged his first Levitation Charm, and his second Levitation Charm picked up Hermione's book, but his third caught the frog mid-hop.
An exercise in speed and precision.
He brought it over to himself with wafting motions of his wand, struggling a little to control the direction of the charm, tossed it in the air, hit it with a weak Finite to end its animation spell, then caught with another levitation charm just before it would've hit the floor.
He brought it up and ate it out of the air.
Ron said, "Mental, Harry."
"It's fun. Try it."
"Barmy," said Ron, but gave it a try, struggling to control his pumpkin pasty. Just a first-year spell, but the pasty bobbed one way or the other whenever Ron leaned forward to bite the pasty.
"Surprisingly hard to control, right?" said Harry. "Good thing Rita isn't here, or there'd be another article about how I'm cracked."
Hermione said, "Ms. Skeeter won't be bothering us anymore." Hermione held up a glass jar holding a beetle and some leaves. Hermione lowered her voice. "It's Rita Skeeter. She's an unregistered animagus."
Harry and Ron stared as Hermione explained how she'd figured out how Skeeter was finding out all those secrets, and how she'd caught the beetle in the hospital wing. "And I've told her she's to keep her quill to herself for a whole year. See if she can't break the habit of writing horrible lies about people."
"Rather than that," said Harry, "she could write something useful." He frowned, remembering what Dumbledore had said about not egging Fudge on. "She should write a series of articles on the unconvicted prisoners of Azkaban. About how, during and shortly after the war, some people were placed in Azkaban without the normal process. Probably, she should say that it was a necessary choice, then, but it's past time that we re-examined all those cases and made sure that no one who's innocent was put away."
Hermione looked speculatively at the beetle. "You're thinking of Snuffles."
"She shouldn't pay any particular attention to Snuffles' case. For now at least. But she shouldn't ignore it either. And to be clear, it's not Fudge's fault." His mind canvassed through the available options. "If it's anyone's fault, it's Barty Crouch's." That was even true, even if it felt bad to speak ill of the dead. "Now Fudge has a glorious opportunity to redress any wrongs of the past war and prove that he's one of Britain's greatest Ministers."
Hermione said, "Harry, that's brilliant."
He shrugged. "I've been thinking a lot about how to help Snuffles."
The rest of the ride passed companionably, Harry stealing frequent glances at Rita's jar and feeling a warm glow.
The train arrived, Harry pulled the fake trunk from the rack, patted the real trunk in his pocket, made his goodbyes, passed through the barrier, and walked with Uncle Vernon in silence to the car.
Yeah, I know, I should be working on updating Polymagus, not starting something new. Eh. The new chapter of Polymagus should be out in a few days.
Unlike with Polymagus, I actually will care a little here about keeping the characters consistent with the characters in the book, but Harry not being traumatized by Cedric's death should result in him developing differently.
I suppose this first chapter might be taken as a bit of Harry bashing, but it's Harry who's doing it.
It's odd to me that "Harry escapes Little Hangleton before he can be used for Voldemort's resurrection" isn't one of the most common tropes of HP FF.