His Only Foil
Abus entered the medical tent to a much more somber atmosphere than the panicked one in the stands. Both the Delacour and Krum families were loitering around the hospital beds that Fleur and Viktor were confined to.
Pomphrey was busy with young Krum, trying to snap him out of his imperious and determine the mental damage, if any. It was slow work, akin to hypnotizing somebody out of a hypnotic state. She must have already finished with the young Delacour girl because her little sister was badgering her.
"It happened to you too now!" He heard little Gabrielle badger the painkiller-afflicted teenager. "Now we've both been saved by 'arry!"
Fleur fought against the painkillers as her head bobbed in an attempt to stay awake.
"No Gabby, we don't know if he was the one to save me." Fleur slurred in her drug-addled state as aftershock tremors racked her body.
"It was." He heard her father say. "He found you in the hedges and cast the sparks to have a teacher come get you. He also save young Diggory and Krum from each-other."
Indeed. Most people in the stands overlooking the maze with a proper pair of omnioculars had witnessed most of the ordeal. Whoever had Imperios'd Viktor had him commit his foul deeds nearer the center of the maze so as not to be seen or heard as well. All anybody saw was the flashes of light from the spells, and only the most experienced recognized the particular shade of red as belonging to the cruciatus, and even they hadn't been sure enough to intercede. They all saw now how this was a mistake.
Viktor's mother looked up from the sad display of her son's treatment to notice Albus in the doorway.
"Headmaster!" She called out, and every head in the room turned to look at him.
He raised both hands calmingly.
"I am sure you all have many questions, but I have even more of them that I will need answered first if we are to get to the bottom of all of this." Albus waylaid the storm of voices before they could erupt. "But both Harry and Cedric have vanished from Hogwarts grounds and I need every piece of information you have to try and figure out where they went. But first, we must wait for Amelia, Cornelius, Severus and Alastor to arrive."
They did not wait long, for both Cornelius and Amelia entered the tent just as soon as Albus finished his statement. Strangely enough they were not followed by Alastor and Severus, but instead by Minerva and Argus.
"Are Severus and Alastor on their way?" Albus asked pointedly to Minerva and Filch, whom he had sent to fetch the men.
"They are gone, Albus." Minerva said sternly.
Albus blinked at her.
"I beg your pardon?" Albus asked, worry creeping into him.
"Severus' quarters are empty. All of his things are gone." Minerva explained.
"The same is so for Mad-Eye's quarters." Filch added without Albus needing to ask. "They're gone. And they didn't so much as leave a letter."
Albus backed away from the tent entrance as if stricken, reaching out pitifully for a chair. Finding one he fell, boneless, into the seat and let out a pained sigh.
Severus and Alastor were two of his most trusted followers. Though he had been too busy the last year to so much as have a luncheon with either, he had sensed no animosity or intention to disappear. so sign or warning. Now two foreign nationals lay bedridden from having the unforgivables cast on them as a former Death Eater and former head Auror coincidentally go missing along with Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory. None of this smelled of coincidence.
"What about 'arry?!" a tiny squeak of a voice asked from beside him.
The little Veela's outburst brough albus back to reality and he withdrew the shaking hand that had been fussing with his beard out of worry. He was suddenly reminded of the many observers in the room and his many positions of responsibly. Each of them required he
"Potter and Diggory?" Albus reiterated young Delacour's question.
"Still no sign of em." Filch said. "The herbologists are tearing down the maze looking for them as we speak, but you seem quite sure that they have been portkeyed off of the grounds?"
"I am positive. And without Alastor here both to undo mister Krum's imperius curse and to help track down any signature for where the portkey could have been tuned into
"This Alastor can cure my son?" Mrs Krum interjected.
"Anybody can, he's just one of the few people who can do so legally." Pomphrey answered. "All you have to do to undo an imperius is cast another imperius at the victim and then cancel it. Alastor is one of the few men in the country legally allowed to cast the curse for educational or medial purposes. He was certainly the most readily available, but now I have to floo Mungo's. Excuse me."
Poppy squeezed past the crowd at the tent entrance and went on her way.
"And your need of us?" Amelia prompted Albus when the quiet returned.
"I was going to instruct you that young Potter and Diggory were missing from the Hogwarts wards and to begin a manhunt to find them, but as you heard we have two leads now. I request that we convene an emergency session of the Wizengomat, issue warrants of arrest for Alastor Moody and Severus Snape, and begin an international manhunt to rescue Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory." Albus declared with as much authority as he could muster, which turned out to be a sufficient amount based on the looks of conviction on everybody's faces.
Then came the screaming. It came from outside, dozens of voices screaming at something happening. Most were short shouts or gasps of surprise, but a few truly blood-curdling screams told Albus it wasn't a minor thing happening outside.
Albus, Amelia, Minerva, Cornelius and Argus marched out, leaving the families there to guard their respective champions.
The yelling was coming from the stands, the part closes to the maze entrance. This was conveniently rather close to the medical tent they had just exited and so they were upon the scene within moments. The sight of a man weeping openly over the corpse of his pride and joy put an end to Albus' cool and calm exterior.
"Cornelius, Amelia. That manhunt, if you would be so kind." Albus commanded.
Twenty minutes later saw every off duty Auror and ex-auror pulling overtime shifts. Albus watched as Amelia formed two teams to raid Severus and Alastor's respective homes while a third team, the largest of them, were assigned to every single town and city to try for a lucky roughshod approach. Random chance shouldn't be discounted and they had the people to spare. A couple larger teams were sent to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, respectively.
Albus remained at Hogwarts.
The tournament workers were still tearing down the hedge maze in the hopes of finding any clues. Albus stayed with them, being the best expert available to detect residual magic that could give them any clues. Meanwhile he left Minerva, Pamona, Filius and Sinestra to organize the students and guests into search parties for the castle, grounds and forbidden forest.
"I think I can rally up Aragog's kids for a search, if not then Firenze will certainly help search the forests." Hagrid consoled Albus before vanishing to do his self-imposed task.
Albus merely sat and waited throughout it all. He had no hope, no optimism to share, but he could be stoic and present a face strong enough to give others hope. And so that's what he did, for the remainder of the night. All students were allowed to stay out of bed and help with the search until dawn rolled around and the Auror teams began returning from their missions. Then the students were all escorted back to their dorms along with the bad news.
Every search so far turned up nothing. Severus' home in Spinner's end was empty. Alastor's was destroyed, as if a terrible fight had taken place some months back and nobody had bothered to clean up. No residues from the fight remained to try and determine who or what attacked Alastor Moddy. He now strongly suspected that the man at his staff table all year had been an imposter.
"I am retiring for the day." Albus told Amelia when she finished relaying the lack of news. "Please continue the manhunt."
Amelia nodded and left his office through the floo she had arrived in minutes earlier.
Albus locked up his office, resetting the wards to not allow access except by a select few individuals. Nothing short of an emergency would interrupt his sleep, and he clearly needed it in order to start thinking on the issue with a fresh mind. There was nothing else for him to be getting on with anyways.
Fawks appeared on top of his desk just as soon as he finished locking up, and Albus dared to hope that he had somehow found and snatched up Harry, but when Fawks merely presented a letter in his beak that hope dyed down. A new hope htat it was from HArry and he had merely run away from it all replaced it, but that too died when he saw the name on it.
"Severus sent you with this?" Albus asked.
Fawks looked at him pointedly.
"Or did he leave it with you ahead of time and ask you to deliver it now?" Albus corrected.
Fawks nodded and Albus took the letter. His faithful companion returned to his perch for a rest and Albus store open the envelope.
I am sure you have realized by now your folly in trusting me so absolutely. You were right to have done so all the way up until the point you made the error of sharing your terrible plans with me. I would have been yours forever, had you only kept your implied promise to me that the boy would be safe. Just as I would have been his forever, had he merely spared Lily's life. Now I am his forever to protect the last piece of her on this earth.
I told the Dark Lord everything. He knows that the boy is a horcrux. He knows that you know of the horcruxes. As with the others, he will keep Potter alive and protected in a gilded cage, safe from you and your machinations. I will be here to ensure his life is as good as it can be, and to make certain you never find him.
As my one final kindness to you I wish for you to know that Alastor is alive. Locked inside of his own trunk since September. A fellow Death Eater had farmed him for hair and impersonated him. He was behind all we witnessed this year. You should go retrieve the real Moody. He was buried alive in the grave of Tom Riddle senior in Little Hangleton.
Yours sincerely, the Half Blood Prince.
Albus collapsed into his chair for what felt like the hundredth time that day as despair and regret overtook him. He buried hus face deep into his hands and focused on breathing.
"Severus... what have you done?" He asked. "What have I done?"
15 Years Later
The squad descended the frozen spiral staircase into the depths of the infamous Mongolian prison, Kasyrgan
At their head was a retired warden of the prison being lead from behind by Monika Malfoy, their youngest member, who kept their prisoner deep under the imperius curse. The others, Norberta Weasley, Cedric Wood and Scorpius Malfoy formed a nice line between him and their guide.
"Little D!" A voice rang out from his intercom.
The others froze at the sound of his father's voice, which rang like a gong in the cramped space.
Dudley Jr barely managed to cut the long string of promised punishments his father was screaming over the airwaves without misfiring his gun. He glanced between the others as he righted his rifle and shrugged shyly.
"I think our parents know we're gone." He said sheepishly.
"And that we took their stuff." Said Wood, nodding to Dudley's rifle and the device on his own wrist.
Wood turned a dial on said device and a three-dimensional hologram of the prison appeared before them. A little red dot indicated their position and a gold one indicated their target. They had reached the very bottom level of the wizarding prison and beyond this door, according to the map, was a vast expanse like an endless auditorium. At its center was their goal.
"Let's go!" The bushy-haired girl leading them hissed as she made their prisoner open the door.
The sight that greeted them was every bit the nightmare that rumors told of. Row upon row of pits carved into the black stone stretched into the distance. Each one was a properly functioning tower of silence, and each was encircled on all sides by dozens of prisoners laid spread-eagle.
Thick, black tar bubbled as it rolled over them and into the pit, their agonized faces the only thing left untouched.
"Give me dementors any day." Said Norberta with a shudder.
Dudley could only nod in agreement with the freckled dragon-rider.
They tightened their formation as they advanced further. It was to the point that they were practically stepping on each-other's feet and doing their best to ignore the stench of filth and burning flesh as they went. None of them dared glance at the prisoners, to the people kept in a state of perpetual near-death experience through the cursed magic of this place.
Dudley fiddled with a dial on the flashlight attachment for the M16. Finding the correctly charged rune he activated the inbuilt magic and bathed his companions in patronus light. It didn't do much for him but he could see the despair of his companions leave them. That alone made him feel marginally better, even if he himself couldn't bask in the same light.
They spotted their destination long before they reached it on account of it being the only distinctive feature in the room. Long, thick chains like those of an aircraft carrier's anchor rose from a single pit filled to the brim with the tar-like substance. Following the chains with his eyes he saw they passed through rings embedded into the ceiling and connected to a series of leverless cranks on the ground.
Four chains. Four rings. Four cranks. Four wands.
"Alright Dudders, cover us." Scorpius ordered as he, his younger sister, Norberta and Cedric took a crank each.
Dudley canceled the patronus runes and activated a set on the scope attachment. He cycled through thermal, ultraviolet and aura scopes but saw no danger, beyond the horrors of how the prisoners auras looked.
He fought back bile as the quartet of relashios made simultaneous impact.
He turned to see all four cranks raise whatever was at the other end of those chains. He kept an eye out for trouble and activated a seismic detection function on the butt of his rifle as he watched the - sarcophagus? - rise out of the liquid.
Sarcophagus was the best word he had for it. It was made of metal and shaped like an upside-down stepped pyramid. Long, thin blades formed every edge of it and connected the steel plates of its surface. He thought he spied runes on the surface of these plates, but they kept changing like a hologram, the cheap plastic kind not the awesome electronic kind Cedric had.
"No name." Wood observed as he pointed to the description plate dangling from the sarcophagus on a much thinner chain.
Dudley looked through the scope and magnified until he could read the inscription.
"Incarcerated on July 11th, 1995 on charges of murder and use of all three unforgiveables." He read out loud. "TRIAL PENDING!?"
The others shushed him at his incredulous cry as he read those last words.
"Let's see here. We're looking for a guy who vanished in late June 1995. Accused of murder and unforgiveable use and who never got a trial." The Malfoy sister said in her best approximation of sarcasm.
"Unless you count trial by public opinion." The other lady present countered.
The Malfoy princess glared at the redhead before continuing.
"And this person appeared here two weeks later, no name and under the same charges. I think we have our guy." She concluded.
"And if it's not him?" Dudley prodded between glances around the prison.
"Then we stun him, shove him back in and pray are parent don't drag us back here to join him." Wood answered.
Their conviction set, the four Wanded fired a series of spells that Dudley deduced were a combination of unlocking and finite charms. One of them clearly did the trick as moments later steam hissed out of every corner of the metal contraption.
He was nearly blinded when one of the sides opened upwards like the door of a DeLorean and bathed them in white light. It was only thanks to the sunglasses setting on his scope that he was able to look inside at the prisoner.
The man was naked and floating in some kind of misty fluid, reminiscent of pensieve memories. He was in the fetal position making it hard to discern his features beyond the shag of long black hair. Fortunately, whatever kind of field he was in - stasis maybe?- made him rotate and when he came to the right angle he saw it.
The scar. The stuff of legend, plain as day and exactly as everyone described it there emblazoned on his forehead.
"We found him." Dudley Jr told his fellow Marauder Youth. "We've found Harry Potter!"
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