A Sixth Year Story: Voldemort's Return brings in the International Confederation and a team from the North American Wizarding Confederation to take control. In this chapter, Harry becomes of age...
Harry worked hard for the rest of the month. He was determined to be able to end Voldemort's terror no matter what, and if possible then move on with his own life. It quickly fell to Ron to get Harry to relax in his few free moments so that the tension didn't build up too far during the day and evening.
Most of this short-term daily relaxation was still done by flying. None of the others could keep up with Harry, although some, organized by Ron, tried. To Ron's chagrin, Ginny came closest, followed by Sabrina. He and the two former (adult) beaters were all excellent flyers, but were missing that touch of brilliance the two girls had and that Harry had in abundance.
Luna said simply that she would take care of relaxing Harry at night. Neither she nor Harry let on how that was done, and no matter how curious the others might be, none, not even Tabitha or Hermione, dared intrude into the couple's privacy enough to find out.
Despite these precautions, by the time Sabrina had left for her druid training towards the end of July, Hermione was becoming concerned for Harry's welfare, and was seriously considering taking those concerns to Tabitha. Hermione consulted Luna first, who took a closer look at Harry and then sent Hermione off to Tabitha immediately. The older woman agreed with Hermione's concerns, and the pair cornered Master J and Tudor and made them understand the depths of their concern while Luna made certain the meeting was unseen by the others, especially by Harry.
"Harry has been looking tired," Tudor agreed. "I don't think it's the dueling that's tiring him out. It must be the extra astral work and whatever he's doing at night."
"I agree," Master J said, as if this was restarting a standing argument, which it turned out was true. "Still, that work is what Harry needs most, not learning some new hex that Harry won't have time to use in a firefight anyway. That's why I want you to free up at least an extra hour. He can rest part of it, and meditate the rest. Harry must be centered. . . ."
"Harry must be prepared. . . ."
"Harry must not be worked into ground," Hermione stated, interrupting both men, surprising them. She was usually the most respectful of the students. "Since you two insist on using most of Harry's time, to his detriment, someone else should be in overall charge of scheduling his time." She turned to Tabitha. "I suppose Luna and I can trust you to do what's best for Harry? For the short term as well as the long term?"
"I shall do my best," Tabitha said with a grin. She faced the two scowling men. "Now, the current schedule will stay in effect through the twenty-ninth. Harry will have at least the Thirtieth and his birthday off. I expect the two of you to have plausible schedules, along with rationales, ready for me by the afternoon of the thirtieth. All right?"
Both men looked ready to object. Tabitha's face hardened, and said, "I SAID, is that all right?"
The two women smiled at each other and left the room.
"I hate it when they do that," Tudor complained.
"It reminds me why some of my friends are celibate and lead lives of near-solitary contemplation," Johnson agreed.
"Does that help?"
"No, it merely reduces the number of times it happens."
Zach Smith cautiously made his way out of Malfoy Manor. While he was paying fairly close attention to his surroundings, since there were numerous traps and wards, he was also berating himself.
He now knew he had made a serious miscalculation the previous summer, when Corner and Cornfoot had recruited him to serve the Dark Lord. To be fair, Corner, Cornfoot, and the Ravenclaw Clique had all made the same miscalculation. Zach now knew that every description that portrayed the Dark Lord as evil incarnate had been understated, not merely propaganda, like he had always thought they had been.
All throughout that previous year, Zach had observed Dumbledore and his golden child, Harry Potter. He had, to his chagrin, found Potter powerful for his age, but also as totally uninspiring as a leader as he had suspected him of being from years of casual observation. He had always thought Dumbledore a bit odd, and the ease which Umbridge had taken over the school that year, even if she had ultimately failed to keep that control, made Zach think that Dumbledore was leading the losing side.
Zach and the others didn't hate the Muggle-born, and most were barely Full Bloods, let alone Pure. What they had thought they had understood was power. They had thought Voldemort was more likely to get it than he was to lose, and they wanted to be on the winning side.
It had taken Zach less than a week of directly serving the Dark Lord, along with his few attendant followers -- nearly all either as mad as Bellatrix Lestrange or the dregs of the Wizarding world, or both -- to understand what evil was. To understand that he had been horribly, tragically, wrong about nearly everything.
It had taken even less time to learn that there seemed to be no way out that wasn't likely to end if a painful death at the hands of his Master, or a long stretch of imprisonment on the off chance he was able to survive.
Neither was a pleasing prospect.
For that matter, dealing with the sardonic Draco Malfoy once every week or two, didn't make Zach's life any easier. As he exited the final wards surrounding the Malfoy estate, Zach sighed and looked back. "There's got to be some way out of this mess."
Zach then fell over. Three men in dark grey robes came out of the shadows, picked Zach off of the ground, and disappeared, all without a sound.
"You're going to have the next two days off," Master J reminded Harry the evening of the 29th.
"What are we going to do?" Harry asked.
"I thought it was to be left mostly up to you," J pointed out. "All I know is, no practicing anything besides the minimum mental exercises."
Harry frowned. "Not even apparation?"
"No," J said firmly. "You will all be practicing on the First again, and then taking your final exams on the Second."
"Are you sure, sir?"
"About taking your exam on the Second?"
"No," Harry said, "taking two full days off. I need to practice. . . ."
"Well, to tell you the truth, Tudor and I have mixed feelings, but Luna, Hermione, and Tabitha are certain."
"Ah," Harry said. "I understand." He thought. "What's the weather supposed to be like?"
Since it was winter at the islands, weather could be varied, to say the least. Some days were very warm, some nights nearly freezing. Heavy, cold rain was also not uncommon, day and night.
"Cool and windy the next three days, and it should be nice for your apparation tests. Then things will get nasty again."
Harry nodded. "Then I'm sure Hermione already has everything planned, with approval from Luna and Tabitha."
"No doubt," J agreed.
Harry sighed, knowing that someone was always trying to run his life, with the best of intentions, of course.
"Where am I?" Zach asked.
"It does not matter," a voice said from the shadows.
"Who are you?"
"One who has the power of life and death over you."
"Well, that hardly narrows things down much these days," Zach managed to snap, although his heart was pounding from raw fear.
"There is some truth to that," the voice agreed. "Your Master will likely kill you if he finds out we captured you, even if we were to let you go. His more insane followers would do it for fun, and all the rest, even your friend Cornfoot, would kill you because they would be afraid not to, just as you would kill them if you had been ordered to."
Zach hung his head in acknowledgment. "You're those Americans, the druids, right?"
"We will answer to that. We are the Hidden. The being you chose to follow is an abomination."
Zach winced. "Well, I know that now," he said.
"A bit late for that, isn't it?"
"And do you think that since you know you chose poorly, even stupidly, this will let you escape punishment?"
"No," Zach admitted. He looked towards the voice in the shadows. "You caught Michael didn't you?"
"Is he . . . did you. . . ?"
"He is, we did," the voice said. "Do you wish to attempt to escape execution?"
"Why should we help you?"
Zach sighed. "You must want something from me." He looked up. "I take it you at least won't make me torture anyone, right?"
"True," the voice said. "You may have to kill some of your fellow Death Eaters, however."
He shrugged. "Better their blood than all those Muggles. None of us are innocent any more." He looked into the shadows yet again. "How long have I been here? I'm supposed to be capturing some Muggles to feed to the dementors tomorrow, or what would have been tomorrow."
"It is only two hours since we captured you. We have some innocent-looking Muggle criminals for you to feed the dementors. First, you will tell us everything you have learned, especially what your mission was to Malfoy." The Hidden already had sifted through Zach's mind, and would compare what he said with what he had already revealed and what they knew through their excellence surveillance of Malfoy Manor.
"If you are then willing, we will turn Voldemort's spells against him, and allow you to take the volunteering spying oath. We will intercept you when you make your trips to Malfoy's."
"Cornfoot more-or-less alternates with me," Zach said.
"We know. He's the one who convinced us we should give you this chance rather than executing you."
"I'll have to thank him when this is over," Zach said.
"Let's hope that you can."
Harry enjoyed his first day off, but felt rather miserable on his actual birthday. Luna and Hermione both told him it that his body was unused to relaxing, and that he was probably suffering from not being on edge every minute.
Harry shrugged. "If you two agree, who am I to argue?"
"You can still fly," Hermione pointed out. "Your party isn't until lunch."
"Come on," Ginny said. "A good game of tag will get your blood moving again."
Harry smiled. "Good idea!" The flyers took off on a run.
"Crazy, aren't they?" Tabitha asked Hermione with a smile.
"But they're happy," Hermione said. "That's what's important."
Voldemort surveyed his pitiful force of Death Eaters. How powerful they had been, seventeen years before! His Death Eaters had numbered just over a hundred, and his other supporters had numbered in the low thousands. Not enough to take over the magical portions of Western Europe yet, but he had been well on his way. He had felt it only a matter of months at most before he would start piling up followers, which would have led to his ultimate triumph.
Then the enlarged force of the Old Believers had shown up, and for months, he had suffered his first major set-backs, as they had combined with the Old Man's Order and the united forces of several Ministries. He had planned well, and by the spring of 1981, his forces were recovering.
Then, he had been brought news of the prophesy.
His plan for dealing with it, right up to the moment he had cast the Killing Curse at the toddler named Harry Potter, had also seemed to work to perfection. Until some of Draco Malfoy's employees had managed to acquire a copy of the arthimatical schematic the Americans had created a few months before, Voldemort had not been able to begin to understand how even the powerful magic Lily Potter had managed to cast on her son by her sacrifice had destroyed his original body.
Even now, that wasn't totally clear to him (he didn't dare show schematic to anyone else to help him figure it out), although it made some sense. There were still some missing factors, and Voldemort still wondered if the lost prophecy had contained some clue as to what Potter's powers might be.
No matter. If he were to triumph any time soon, Voldemort knew he had to first destroy Harry Potter, and to do it himself. If he failed again, only a few of his more insane and thuggish followers were likely to even consider remaining. Voldemort knew if he did not succeed in the following weeks, he had best plan on a long exile. After all, he had survived a Killing Curse and being blown up, even if both had taken dark rituals to restore him.
As egotistical as he was, even Voldemort had realized that his current plans might not work out. His solution was to begin creating a fallback position. If he could not triumph while Harry Potter was alive, and could not manage to kill Harry Potter, then he would have to retreat and wait.
Voldemort knew he was not really totally immortal. Still, he was probably closer than any mortal being had ever been before. If needs be, he could actually afford to wait a few hundred years, until Potter died. It was far from his first choice, but Voldemort decided it was a necessary precaution.
He put all his doubts behind him and stepped forward. "Tonight, we make our first attempt to summons Potter!"
The small group managed to make a ragged cheer.
"If Potter is relatively unwarded and within three hundred miles, he will appear here," Voldemort stated, marking the spot were a small bronze cauldron boiled. "If he is too well-warded to be summonsed, his image will still appear, tinged with red. If he is further away than three hundred miles, it will be tinged with blue. The fainter and more colored the image, well, that shall tell us how far away and warded he is. If no image appears, then Malfoy's agents are worthless." He wanted to make certain that any failure was expected and well-explained.
Voldemort knelt over the cauldron, dropped some of Harry's hair into it while chanting an incantation, and then thrust a knife into the cauldron as well. As the cauldron boiled and smoked, Voldemort stood up and backed off, drawing his wand.
The billowing smoke slowly took the shape of a human body.
"What's wrong Harry?" Tudor asked. Harry was in the middle of his apparation practice, since where he was it was the morning after his birthday, with a time zone difference between where he was and Britain.
"I think Voldemort is using that summonsing ritual," Harry answered. "You know, the one they stole my hair for."
"You're totally safe at this distance, although I guess, to be safe, you shouldn't apparate while it's going on."
"That's what I thought." Harry stood there, and put himself through his meditation exercises.
"What's up?" Ron asked, apparating near the pair. Tudor signaled the rest of the group in his line of sight, and when they had gathered, explained.
"What's he doing?" Neville asked.
"He's testing the connections of the ritual," Master J said, slightly worried. "I think we should join him," he said to Tabitha.
Tabitha nodded her agreement, and the pair prepared to join Harry in the astral realm. Luna frowned, and joined them as well.
Harry smiled, and made his arms move. Ron caught on first, and shocked the others by his reaction.
Back in Voldemort's hideaway, the smoke-figure had slowly become recognizable as Harry Potter. Voldemort was a bit surprised for a moment at how much the boy had grown. It was easy to believe that Potter was now a young man.
The smoke was mostly blue, shot through with dark reds. It wasn't really showing Harry or a real image, showing that Harry was thousands of miles away. It also showed that the ceremony would work when Harry was close enough and unprotected enough.
Bellatrix laughed. "We might not have him today, Master, but we will have him! Won't he be surprised!"
The smokey image turned slightly, so that it faced both Voldemort and Bellatrix. Lestrange stopped laughing. The figure's right arm raised, and then two fingers went up in an unmistakable gesture. Just in case it was better understood, Smoke Harry's index finger folded in, leaving the middle finger extended.
"Somehow," Voldemort said drily, "I do not think the boy is going to be as surprised as we thought he might be." Voldemort flicked his wand, and the cauldron tipped over, ending the ritual. "How could he have learned what we were up to? There is no way anyone could tell they were being summonsed at such a distance, unless he was expecting it."
Voldemort was looking at his followers closely. "Smith? Cornfoot? Do either of you have an answer?"
"No, Master," Zach said, "I do, however, have a pair of suggestions."
"And they are?"
"Either Malfoy is playing both sides, or his agents were observed gathering the hair and the Old Man added things up."
Voldemort nodded his head. "Two reasonable suggestions. Do you know who gathered the hair?"
"I am uncertain, Master." Zach thought hard, and said, "I know all of the Fifth year Slytherin girls were involved in some way, as was one of the Ravenclaws but I don't know which were in on the hair grab and which were used by the others as cover. I do know that those that gathered the hairs turned them over to Parkinson, and she sent them to Malfoy."
"Well, Zacharias, I think you and your friend should pay a visit to Miss Parkinson."
Smith and Cornfoot both bowed low.
"Question her if you can. Learn the names of the girls who gathered the hair. If you decide she let it slip or betrayed us, give her to the dementors for their next meal instead of a Muggle. If you decide it was one of the other girls, feed that girl to them instead."
"And if they all pass, Master?"
Voldemort smiled nastily. "We are done with our lair here if we need to leave. If we decide it was young Malfoy, well, then Bella can question her dear nephew." Bellatrix cackled in sadistic joy, anticipating 'questioning' Draco. Usually, when Bella 'questioned' someone, there wasn't much left afterwards.
Voldemort scowled. "Well? You may or may not be able to question Parkinson at this moment, but I want it done as soon as possible!"
Smith and Cornfoot bowed to their Master, and hurried from the room, glad they had so far gotten off lightly.
Back on the island in the Southern Ocean, Ron Weasley was still laughing.