"L’homme est condamné à être libre." –Jean-Paul Sartre
("Man is condemned to be free.")
Fleur Delacour stood outside the labyrinth of the Third Task. It looked oddly beautiful in the twilight, with the moon and the stars shyly slipping out into the shadow-blue sky and casting a faint shimmer on the rounded leaves of the hedge that made up the maze.
Beautiful or not, Fleur was not looking forward to disappearing into its dark passages.
Although it certainly did not promise to be as nerve-wracking as the Second Task. Fleur could at least be sure of that. She was prepared for this in every way possible, even more than she had been for the other two tasks. This time, she had her reputation to vindicate.
"If I had been champion," Joline Dupont had sniffed when she had thought Fleur was out of earshot, "I would not have come in last place in the Second Task. I would not have needed a little boy to rescue my own sister for me."
Fleur had just barely managed to avoid cursing Joline’s smug face full of pimples. The jealous cat.
But success was more practical than revenge, and so in the weeks before the Third Task, Fleur dedicated her evenings to studying hexes, charms, Healing Spells and anything else that could possibly be useful.
She would not disgrace herself in this Task. She would not give Joline and her fellow chiennes, all of who resented Fleur for beating them to the spot of Beauxbatons champion, another target for their petty sniping. Not this time, not with her mother and Gabrielle in the stands watching.
She fingered the fleur-de-lis pendant that her grandmother had given her for her eleventh birthday, when she received her letter from Beauxbatons.
The fleur-de-lis has many meanings, cherie, Grandmère had said. It has stood for royalty, purity, light, courage and nobility of character. It will bring you good luck.
Fleur fervently hoped so.
Bagman blew his whistle once, and Harry and Cedric entered the maze. Minutes passed, the whistle blew again, and Viktor Krum went in.
After what seemed like an eternity, Bagman blew the whistle for the third time. Fleur took a deep breath and entered the maze.
The first thing she noticed was that it was, for some reason, much darker in the maze than it was outside.
"Lumos," she whispered, not sure why she was whispering, and a beacon of light emerged from her wand.
The second thing she noticed was that the maze was absolutely, eerily silent. Fleur shivered.
She must have been walking without being conscious of it, because she was suddenly about fifty yards from the entrance to the maze, and she had reached a fork. Left or right?
She held her wand flat in her palm and said, "Dirigez-moi."
The wand spun around and pointed north, to her right. Fleur thought rapidly and realized that the center of the maze was northwest, so she had to go somewhere between her absolute right and straight ahead. She took the right fork.
She was just beginning to wonder at the lack of dangerous obstacles when one of the gamekeeper’s…things, what did the Hogwarts students call them? Skrewts? Whatever the beasts were called, one of them scuttled in front of her.
Fleur barely held back her scream.
"Stupefy!" she yelled. It had no effect, and she danced away from it, afraid of being blasted. "Consopio!" She carefully waved her wand, slowly and steadily, in front of the creature. It stopped skittering madly, slowed to a halt and finally drifted off into a sleepy trance.
Fleur cautiously crept around the beast and was about to continue on her way, when Professor Moody stepped out of a shadowy corner in the hedges.
"Professor Moody!" she said in surprise.
"Good evening, Miss Delacour," was the reply. The moonlight hit his pale eyes and gave his face an eerie cast, and Fleur suddenly felt afraid.
Something is not right. But the thought barely had time to cross her mind before Moody raised his wand.
She screamed, and raised her own wand, but not before Moody shouted, "Stupefy!"
Fleur fell to the ground with a soft thud, and the world faded softly to black.
* * *
"Fleur! Fleur, cherie, wake up! If anything has happened to my daughter, Professor, you will answer to me!"
"Is she all right? I hope, for the sake of your school, that this could not have been prevented."
"Calm yourselves, ladies," came the high squeaky voice of Professor Flitwick. "Miss Delacour has merely been Stunned, and now she is recovering."
Fleur’s eyes slowly flickered open. She looked around and saw the dark shrubbery of the maze around her, and the darker night sky above her, giving her no clue as to how long she had lain there. Quelle heure est-il?
"See? She is quite all right."
Fleur opened her mouth, and tried to speak, but all that emerged was a croak. She cleared her throat, and tried again.
"It was Moody!" she said, when she managed to speak.
Madame Maxime and Flitwick exchanged puzzled glances. "It was! Moody Stunned me after I passed one of the gamekeeper’s beasts!"
"Who is this Moody?" Maryse Delacour demanded.
"A Hogwarts Professor and famous ex-Auror," snapped Flitwick.
"Fleur, cherie--" Madame Maxime hesitated. "Are you sure of this?"
"I ‘ave never been more sure in my life. He Stunned me." Fleur got the words out with an effort. She was dizzy, and her head ached.
"Professor Flitwick." The Beauxbatons Headmistress looked exceedingly stern. "What is the meaning of this? A Professor of your school has Stunned our champion."
"Oui, Professor, what is this? Do British Professors normally attack students? Is this a custom?" If Fleur had been a little less dazed she would have smiled: her mother could be killingly sarcastic when she was annoyed.
Professor Flitwick was getting red in the face. "Now, look here, there’s no need to get testy. Maybe you should take this up with Professor Dumbledore."
"Merci, Professor Flitwick, that is a good plan. This Tournament has been a clear failure. A student has died, and another was attacked…"
"Died?" croaked Fleur. "Who died?"
Fleur’s mother and Madame Maxime looked at each other with identical unreadable expressions.
"Fleur, cherie, it was that boy, the Hogwarts champion…le beau garçon, je ne me souviens pas de son nom…" Madame Delacour hesitated.
The Hogwarts champion…le beau garçon…
"Cedric!" said Fleur, sitting straight up. "Cedric… il est mort? He is…dead?" She looked to Professor Flitwick for an answer, hoping that her mother was wrong, that she had somehow become confused.
Professor Flitwick opened his mouth, but Fleur didn’t even hear the words that came out. His grave expression told it all.
"Twenty points from Slytherin, Malfoy." A stern look, a diamond-hard tone of voice.
"Comment--" Fleur began, then switched to English. "H-how?"
"I am not sure of that myself, Miss Delacour," Flitwick’s squeaky voice sounded unusually somber. No, not just somber. Pained. "I think the best thing we can do is go inside, so you can rest and we can find out what happened." He sighed, then pulled himself together, and added, "And so we can investigate your…allegation against Professor Moody."
Numbly Fleur rose to her feet, assisted by her mother, and left the maze.
Ahead, the castle loomed over them, casting its dark gray shadow on the lawns. It didn’t look like a sprightly, eccentric school bubbling over with children and laughter and life. It looked like a mausoleum.
"Listen, Eloise, don’t pay any attention to him."
They reached the entrance, and went into the school. Inside, it was absolutely silent, and the corridors were empty. Hogwarts was as majestic and deserted as an old Roman ruin.
The halls floated by Fleur, and the floor slid under her feet. She wasn’t walking at all, she wasn’t moving, and yet she was somehow in the infirmary and being fed chocolate and Pepper-Up Potion…and now she was being led away, to a gargoyle statue where Flitwick said "Cockroach Cluster" (vraiment, these mad English!)…and now she was in an office. An extremely strange office, with various peculiar objects such as a bedraggled old hat and a bird that looked like a phoenix.
Flitwick motioned for Fleur, Maryse and Madame Maxime to sit down.
"Now what, Professor?" Maryse said, the edge in her voice becoming more pronounced.
"Now we wait for Dumbledore to get back from…wherever he is…"
They waited. Fleur stared at the carpet. She did not know how much time passed before a tired voice outside the door said "Cockroach Cluster" and an unusually haggard Dumbledore entered.
"Ladies. Professor Flitwick. I wish that I could call this a good evening." He looked old. Of course, he’d always looked old, but there had always been an almost infantile twinkle in his blue eyes. Fleur had always been faintly scornful of that twinkle, thinking that the piercing gaze of Madame Maxime was more suitable to the Head of a prominent school.
The twinkle was now gone.
"Ahh, Dumbly-dorr. Bien. Now perhaps we can have an explanation?" Madame Maxime’s tone was imperious.
"Why did Moody Stun me?" demanded Fleur, in a voice that was feebler than she would have liked. "Was it part of the Task, or…"
"It was not part of the Task," said Dumbledore, his voice heavy. "And Moody did not Stun you, although I can certainly understand why you thought he did."
"Perhaps you should sleep before I explain?"
"No." Fleur’s voice was firm this time. "I want to know, now. Please."
"Very well, then." Dumbledore took a breath, then continued. "The man who we believed to be Alastor Moody was not Moody at all, but was in fact Bartemius Crouch, Jr., the son of the Ministry official who supervised the Tournament. Crouch Jr. was thrown into Azkaban for torturing a an Auror and his wife—in fact, his father was the one responsible for his sentence. But at the urging of his wife, Crouch Sr. used Polyjuice Potion and his special status at the Ministry to smuggle his son out of Azkaban. He kept his son under the Imperius Curse for quite some time, but during the Quidditch World Cup Crouch Jr. escaped and rejoined Lord Voldemort--" Maryse Delacour whitened and exchanged a glance with Madame Maxime.
"Rejoined the Dark Lord? But how? Is he--" Maryse’s voice tapered off.
"Lord Voldemort has been attempting to rise again for some time. This evening, he succeeded, using an ancient Dark ritual involving bone of the father, flesh of the servant and blood of the enemy. The ‘enemy’ was Mr. Potter. " Dumbledore held up a hand to forestall the onslaught of questions, and continued. "Crouch Jr. posed as Moody under the orders of Voldemort, guided Harry Potter through the Task to ascertain his victory." Well, that explains a lot, thought Fleur, without bitterness. "He Stunned Miss Delacour and…temporarily disposed of Mr. Krum. He had previously enchanted the Triwizard Cup so that it was turned into a Portkey that would transport Mr. Potter to the graveyard where Voldemort’s resurrection took place." Dumbledore paused, sighed and kept on with the story, with the doggedness of a runner finishing the last mile of a marathon. "Except that there were two hitches. Firstly, in spite of Crouch Jr.’s careful plans, Cedric Diggory tied Harry Potter in the race for the Cup, and both boys ending up taking the Portkey. Cedric Diggory was promptly killed upon his arrival at the graveyard. He was, you see, in the way." Dumbledore spat out the words bitterly, and Fleur’s hands clenched themselves into fists. "The second hitch in Voldemort’s plan was that Mr. Potter was courageous enough to face whatever was thrown at him, and managed to survive and escape."
Fleur paled. That little boy. That heroic little midget of a boy.
In the way. Cedric, blasted into oblivion because he was "in the way."
"Never knew you could look so angry, Fleur." That surge of helpless rage came back, a hundred times stronger. Cedric had been "in the way."
Dumbledore’s voice brought Fleur out of her reverie. "Miss Delacour, this has been a painful evening for all of us. Perhaps you would like to rest now?"
Fleur didn’t think she would "like" to do anything at all, but she dully got to her feet and, followed by Madame Maxime and her mother, trudged to the Beauxbatons carriage and mechanically prepared for bed.
She slept fitfully that night.
* * *
Fleur spent the next day feeling as though she were trying to recover her balance after falling from a great height and somehow landing on her feet. She stumbled around in a daze, feeling an ache behind her eyes that would not dissolve into tears, no matter how much she wanted it to.
After lunch, Professor Dumbledore called her into his office. Madame Maxime was there as well.
"Please be seated, Miss Delacour," he said. The twinkle had not yet reappeared.
There was a long pause. Dumbledore looked at Fleur. Fleur stared right back, hiding her nervousness. For all his eccentricities, Dumbledore was downright scary.
At last he spoke. "Madame Maxime tells me you wish to return to England after the summer, to improve your English?"
"Yes," answered Fleur warily. Dumbledore gravely looked at her, and continued.
"You are aware of the current state of the world." It was not a question, and so Fleur did not answer. "If you come to England…you will be forced to make a choice. You will be in a position of responsibility, whether you like it or not."
Madame Maxime finally spoke.
"Yes," she said. "Fleur, cherie, do you recall that Muggle quotation? L’homme est condamné à être libre? That, unfortunately, is the place we are all in right now. You cannot just live your life quietly anymore—no matter what you do, you will be choosing a side, and your choice will make a difference."
Fleur had a sudden hysterical urge to laugh. Madame Maxime and Dumbledore looked so somber, talking of such lofty things—it was almost humorous, and was definitely confusing. What are they talking about?
Her lack of comprehension must have shown on her face, because Dumbledore spoke again.
"To put it bluntly, Miss Delacour, Voldemort will soon begin menacing the wizarding population again, particularly in Britain. And so wizarding Britain must make a choice: whether to refuse to believe that Voldemort has risen and persist in upholding an illusion of safety, or to face the truth and help in the fight. You must make this choice as well. You are a talented young woman, who could be of great help in this fight—you must decide now whether to share or withhold your talents."
Fight? Fleur almost flinched at the very thought, but Dumbledore’s implied question gave her no pause. Somehow, somewhere between the time she had learned of Cedric’s death and the present moment, a decision had hardened in her mind.
"I hardly think that this is such a difficult choice to make, Headmaster," said Fleur, startled to hear how strong and almost scornful her voice sounded. "Of course I will help you, in any way I can."
* * *
The Beauxbatons Carriage
Fleur stared out of the window of her tiny room, ignored the hushed chatter of Joline and her cronies.
They were leaving Hogwarts and returning home, and Fleur tried to work up some joy at this fact. But she couldn’t; she couldn’t help but feel that she was tied in some strange way to this lunatic asylum of a school, tied by fright and kindness and Cedric Diggory’s blood.
"Malfoy’s not typical of Hogwarts, Fleur, so don’t think it."
She didn’t, not for a minute. Hogwarts was peculiar but it was not best represented by a platinum-blonde brat. No. Hogwarts was Cedric Diggory, and the thin green-eyed boy who had dully raised a glass in his memory.
"Remember Cedric." Dumbledore had said that. And Fleur had seen the distraught faces of the Hogwarts students who had know Cedric Diggory for years, and had realized how he’d burned himself into her memory after one or two fleeting acts of kindness. How many such acts did the Hogwarts students have to remember?
Remember Cedric, indeed. As if she could do otherwise.
The carriage was beginning to lift off the ground, and the castle of Hogwarts fell away, shrinking into a small brown speck.
Fleur could do nothing now. Dumbledore had asked her for help, and she had given it, and she now realized that his request had been more of a gift than a demand. Although she could do nothing now, she was promised action in the future: a paying job, Dumbledore had said, with a little…extra work on the side.
In the meantime, Fleur would live out the summer as best as she could. She would wait for Dumbledore’s letter. And she would remember Cedric Diggory.
A/N: Thanks to all those who reviewed the first chapter of this: Kuroneko Kashikoi, CousinYogurt99, Fawkes101, Angua, Karie, thecurmudgeons, Tiki, Rugi, Clarimonde, Ozma, ilene, MrRobertsIII, Sreya, Juliane , Violet Azure, and of course my beta reader Arabella, who puts up with all my misplaced commas J