The chill March air hung thick with a valley mist, and as evening began to set in, so did the fog. It had been nearly a week since Albus’ impromptu visit and the soonest that I could get away. Prior to leaving, I researched the archives of local Muggle newspapers to find out as much as I could about what I was getting in to and had a feeling that Albus was right. Frank Bryce had been the Muggle caretaker at the Riddle family home and had been the prime suspect in the mysterious deaths of the family many years earlier. He had been acquitted of the crimes and still maintained the grounds for an unknown wealthy proprietor, but he had disappeared, without a trace, one night last summer shortly after Voldemort left Albania.
Keeping to the shadows, I stealthily made my way toward the large, abandoned house on the hill that overlooked the sleeping village. The grounds had been immaculately kept at one time but were now overgrown with weeds and tall grass. Windows had been broken, and the front door hosted a sign, probably warning trespassers of the consequences of being on the property. I couldn’t read it from my distance. A familiar, ominous feeling pulsated from the grounds. There was definitely a sinister magical presence. Circumventing the terrain, I thoroughly tested the wards. They were strong, like those in the last days of Albania, and I feared that breaching them would raise an alarm to those inside, so I gathered as much information as I could from the perimeter and returned to the opposite side of town to Apparate. Albus would get the first report tonight.
The following weeks saw me balance the final series at Oxford, the Magpie research at the Ministry and its subsequent trials at St. Mungo’s, and Albus’ “task”. I found that I was functioning on no more than three to four hours of sleep a night, and although I was becoming edgy and irritable, my body was becoming accustomed to the deprivation. It seemed that when I did have time to sleep, I couldn’t and took to formulating strategic plans or taking walks in nighttime London, playing cat and mouse with the souls of the night.
I visited the Riddle home several times a week, eventually noting that although it maintained its wards, activity within had become minimal, as if they had moved on. I hoped that Albus had better luck on his end for I was no closer to finding an unobserved way in than I was a month ago. He finally advised that I simply survey and report back, not wanting to risk alerting our nemesis. Severus had informed him that his mark was becoming darker and more uncomfortable and that Karkaroff had been to see him on a number of occasions, fearful of what obviously lay ahead. However, it wasn’t until the final task when menacing activity seemed to become more obvious.
Stark circled the audience gathered to watch at the task at the giant maze on the former Quidditch field, keeping a watchful, protective eye on Severus.
As the champions entered the maze, the twenty-foot high hedge closing behind them, sealing them in. The crowd waited anxiously, cheering and chattering, happy, proud, and oblivious to the dangers about to occur.
Severus sat silently, unmoving, all senses alert until a searing bolt shot through his left forearm making him grit his teeth and close his eyes briefly. The signal. What we had been waiting for. He knew it was time. His “master” was calling. When he opened his eyes, he met Albus’ concerned gaze. As planned, he would delay, making his “master” wait, and he knew that meant a painful penalty when he returned. His explanation would be solid, if believed. To all outward appearances, Severus had remained loyal to the Dark Lord, staying at Hogwarts as instructed and keeping a watchful eye on Dumbledore. To abruptly leave during the final task would draw unwanted attention that could destroyed the Dark Lord’s plan. His story was well rehearsed.
I was hunkered down, in a distant meadow, at the edge of the Riddle property, cloaked by the modified Disillusionment Charm, waiting for…anything. This seemed to be Voldemort’s last chance. The Potter boy had somehow made it to the final task. Something had to happen. The tension was thick, and the static grated my nerves, as well as my skin. Power was growing, and I placed my hand on the ground, praying silently to Mother Earth to watch over those who needed it. The only response was an apprehensive shudder of the soil under my palm as Goddess Moon shone brightly overhead. My heart thudded hard against the back of my ribs. Something was going to happen…soon.
Time passed, the temperature dropped, and clouds swirled and gathered over the Riddle family graveyard obscuring the moon. To anyone else, it appeared that a storm was brewing, but to me, I knew “he” was calling his inner circle, and they were obediently responding. The air crackled as sharp “pops” shot through the clouds, and I steadied my breathing as I manoeuvred closer to the activity. The wards were heavy, layers upon layers, and I sensed the snake circumventing the property, but this time I took a risk and fought the defences, managing to infiltrate the first layer without being detected. The Elemental Guardians were on my side, the wind picking up removing my scent from the snake’s path, and the clouds shielding the moons rays. The preoccupation of the inhabitants close to the largest headstone in the centre was a blessing, but I dared to venture only to the iron fence at the perimeter, close enough to witness the activities but too far away to do anything about it. I could only helplessly watch in horror at the sickening sight before my eyes. Albus’ orders had been clear – observe, report, do not intervene. My magical powers would surely be detected, putting the entire situation at risk.
While Voldemort and the boy fought, I focused all of my energy for a brief empathic message, as empathic waves were not standard magical form, I felt it was safe. I didn’t know if Albus would receive it over such a tremendous distance, but I had to try.
He’s back, and he has Harry.
When Voldemort’s and the Potter boy’s wands clashed, gold bands arching against the sky, refusing to fight each other, the last spells cast by Voldemort’s wand glowing against the blackened night. The images seemed to encourage the boy on, giving him strength, and when the bond was broken, the boy made a valiant, terrified dash for his fallen friend and the Portkey. Then, he was gone. Voldemort raged to the sky and all those in attendance felt his loss as “Crucio” was cast at random, his followers tasting their master’s anger.
The gathering back at Hogwarts was stunned into confused mayhem as the Potter boy landed with a thump at the entrance of the maze, clutching his friend and sobbing in pain and confusion. Albus was the first to arrive by his side, then the masses closed in, and Stark lost sight of what was going on. Finally, through a break in the crowd, he could see the boy being led away. Waiting a while longer, and then seeing that there was nothing else he could do, the sleek, black raven took flight in search of me.
I waited at the assigned clearing in the Forbidden Forest to relay my information, but I had a feeling that the wait would be endless. Pacing the hardened ground, my stomach churned with what I had seen. My mind was so horrified that I started to giggle uncontrollably, like a madwoman. And here, I thought this would be a good year, I silently, sardonically scoffed. Cheers, Severus, I guess our annual summer vacation in Spain is definitely off. Bending to sit on a fallen log, I closed my eyes and rested my head in my palms, struggling for control until the laughter turned to sobs, then to jaw clenching determination. Stark watched from a nearby tree uncertain of what to make of this emotional roller coaster. It hit like a Giant’s slap at a Nargle. I knew that from this moment on, all would change. Everything that we had waited for, everything that we had worked for, every image that we were forced to portray would come to light. This was it. The second war was now to begin. “He” was back.
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