Disclaimer: Anything you recognise belongs to J.K. Rowling. I own nothing, make no money from anything, and am writing this purely for personal enjoyment.

AU. The story starts at the beginning of Harry's seventh year, but ignores the events of HBP. No parings, Snape mentors Harry. OC's, but they will not be the focus of the story.

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He might be an adult in the Wizarding world, but thankfully the Dursley's didn't know that. He had a home there until the second he turned eighteen, at which time his protection would end. Just one more year - it would have to be enough.

Harry Potter unpacked the next box, holding each book in his hands for a moment before shelving it carefully.

Whatever it takes to defeat Voldemort, he swore to himself once again, knowledge is power.

He pulled out another and abruptly dropped it. This was not a book he had bought. Visions of portkeys and diaries flashed through his mind as he looked down at the title:

The wizard-reborn: All you need to know about being a vampire.

It didn't matter if it was a portkey - the wards would prevent it from activating, and besides, he had already handled it. He cast as many detection spells on it as he could think of, and examined it critically. It was a beautiful thing, written in hand-etched leather. He knew he should report it to the Headmaster, but...

Yes, 'but' indeed. The Headmaster's decisions regarding his safety had always been suspect, and it was getting harder to pretend. His frustrated rebellion twinned with his normal curiosity tipped the balance, and he turned to the first page. Knowledge is power; power is knowledge.

Forget everything you've learnt about vampires from the Wizarding world. Some of it is fanciful fiction, most of it applies only to the lesser 'upir', and some of it is deliberate misdirection. Whether this book is any more truthful is something you will have to find out for yourself.

Vampires? Not quite what he had been expecting. He flipped through the book quickly, and then turned to the first of two bookmarks.

While the soul will usually release once the feeding reaches a certain point, the following section will teach you how to force this release. Practice this extensively on animals before attempting it on a sentient being - it is a common mistake to reverse the desired effects, absorbing the soul and releasing the blood-magic. This will destroy all traces of the sentient's existence, and triggers another level of blood-curse (see chapter 4). In other words, it's a Very Bad Idea.

A way, a real way, to destroy Voldemort! But of no use to them. Not even the upir supported Dumbledore, and these 'other' vampires were clearly not intending to make themselves known to the general wizarding world. He turned to the second:

The Strigoi Vii: Signs that a being has the capacity to rise again.

The careless feeder will soon discover that the vast majority of their victims stay dead after death even if they fail to release the soul. Very few will wake and join our ranks as Strigoi Mort. When looking to birth another into our world, look for as many of these signs as possible:
- birth caul.
- birthmarks on lower back, ribcage or sole of the foot in the following shapes: leaf, moth, or circle.
- curse scars on face, neck, or hands.
- communication with animals.
- affinity for dark arts.

The implication was clear. Harry wasn't sure what the first meant, and he hoped the last wasn't true, but the rest... fit him very well. He had been given a map - but where was the path? Giving himself some time to think about the idea, he hid the book behind some of the others as he continued unpacking. Ironic, actually -the first time he could store his magical stuff where he could see it, and here he was hiding something already. He ran his hand over the desk and around the room. Seventeen. Amazing what difference a day could make. But he wasn't stupid - if his relatives walked in, they would see the same depressing place that had been here before.

He wasn't entirely sure why he was going to so much effort for a place he would only be spending a handful more weeks in, but he felt he needed to wipe the slate clean. Besides, he could take most of it with him when he left. He had shrunk everything that was previously in the room, cleaned and redecorated from floor to ceiling, and was in the midst of refilling it from his mail-order purchases.

To distract himself, Harry pulled out his half completed thank-you letter to Ron and Hermione, who were spending the holidays together again this year.

It's strange being able to perform magic all the time, and no, Hermione, I am not hexing the Dursley's, you don't have to worry.

Harry debated for one long moment whether to ask advice in a round about way about the vampire situation. But one thing that had become more and more clear over the previous months was that this was not Ron and Hermione's task. Oh sure, they would fight and possibly even die in the upcoming war, but the burden of ending it lay on him alone. In the end, he kept his letter as light and meaningless as the ones they'd been sending him.

Over the next few days he read the book from cover to cover. He cast more charms on it as he thought of them. One showed the book to be in excess of sixty years old. A good sign - it meant no one was inventing these details tailor made to reel him in. Another showed only one previous owner. A bad sign - someone was targeting him very directly.

He considered his options carefully. If this was real, someone was placing a good deal of trust in him. If it was false, it was an awfully elaborate scam for very little return.

He had spent the past fourteen months searching for a solution to the problem of Voldemort's immortality. Dumbledore had no doubt spent the last seventeen years on the same quest. And although everyone was keeping true to the trend of not telling him anything, he knew - if they really thought he could defeat Voldemort, they would be training him in how to do so.

He decided at least this much - he would contact his mysterious benefactor. He was being guarded carefully, but he could work within that if he had to. His only starting point was the book store that had sent him that box - but if they wanted to be contacted, that would surely be enough. He sent a message to his keepers, expressing his desire to visit the store - they didn't have to know he had already exhausted their inventory – and resigned himself to uncertainty.

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He wondered around the store, feeling more and more stupid.

"Looking for something?" whispered a voice just out of his peripheral vision. He resisted the urge to whip around, but nevertheless prepared his wand. If this turned out to be some helpful clerk, he was about to make a real idiot of himself.

"I'm looking for the author of a book I got from here a few weeks ago."

"Do you know this author's name?"

"Unfortunately not. I'm hoping to discover that information."

"Perhaps the author wishes to remain anonymous."

"I will not challenge that anonymity."

Harry stared forward, hoping that this was the right person and he had passed whatever test had been given. His breathing picked up, and he forced himself back to calmness.

"Do you have the ability to invite me through your wards?"

"If I know your magical signature. Can you find me?"

"If I know your blood."

Vampire, right. Harry mentally went through the list of dangerous things that could be done with blood. If the wound was self-inflicted, simple exposure to air would prevent any of the things Harry was really worried about.

"I'll cut my hand, and you can heal it for me. Will that be sufficient?"

"That will work."

Harry drew a quick line against his palm, and let it fall to where he knew the man was standing. A brush, and he could feel his hand tingle. The influx of magic was enough to magically identify the shadow.

"I will see you this evening, then, Harry Potter."

"I am looking forward to it."

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With the ease of long practice Harry put on his 'normal' face for his keepers, but he couldn't stop himself from pacing when he was safely within the confines of his room. The wards had been modified, the privacy seal had been double checked, and there was nothing left to do but wait. 'This evening' covered a rather large portion of time.

He had almost given up hope when his own personal wards sounded. The man who slipped into his room was instantly forgettable. Neville Longbottom during herbology on a misty day. But then he met Harry's eyes and something altered. His appearance stayed the same, but Harry was suddenly aware of the sheer presence of the man.

"I am Lord Stefan, member of the council of British Vampires, and I am at your service," said the man with an old-fashioned bow.

Harry was impressed despite himself, but he was in no illusions as to how much danger he was in. He kept his wand to hand, and reminded himself of the possible benefits.

"How can I trust you are what you claim you are? That you can do what you claim you can?"

"Perhaps a small demonstration of the book is in order. Have you read the section on healing?"

"Yes." He'd practically devoured the book since he had made his decision to contact the vampire.

"Then you are aware of a Strigoi's regenerative powers. A demonstration perhaps?"

Harry nodded sharply, and stepped well back as Stefan slowly drew a knife. He held his hand palm up, and echoed the cut Harry had made earlier. Harry divided his attention between the wound and Stephan's eyes. A few heartbeats later, all traces of the wound had healed.

"It could have been wandless magic."

"Don't be disingenuous, Mr. Potter. I am aware of your ability to sense that."

Harry considered. He had come this far, after all. He holstered his wand.

"Please, call me Harry. Would you like a seat?"

"Thank you."

"Am I correct in understanding you are offering to... ahh..."

"To guide you through the rebirth process, yes. It doesn't much matter how it happens, so we tend to ignore that part of it."

"But you will be killing me."

"Yes. I believe there is an excellent chance that you will rise again."

"I'm sure that'll be a lot of consolation to me if I stay dead."

Stephan shrugged.

"Won't I be seventeen forever?"

"We have some conscious control over the regeneration process. With some effort, we can change skin colour, hair texture, height, and so on. While you body will default to your current state, you can be whatever age you chose to be."

"How long do I have to decide?"

Stephan checked his watch.

"Twenty five more minutes."

"Twenty five minutes?"

"I can only safely remove approximately half an hour's worth of memory. If you decide against this, it will all fade as some strange practical joke."

"So, this is how you convince me you're one of the good guys?"

"As with most things, it rather depends on how you define 'good guy'. I am a killer. Do this, and you will be a killer too, Harry Potter. If you are successful as a vampire, in time you will come to have killed more people than Voldemort could possibly do in his rise to power. He may be inhumane, but you will quite literally be inhuman. In two thousand years, when all this will be but a distant legend, will you then still think it worth the price?"

"Well, you think so!"

"I don't care."

"I don't understand. You want me to become a vampire so that I can kill Voldemort."

"No. I want you to become a vampire because you intrigue me, and because I can. You want to become a vampire to kill Voldemort."

"I thought you were trying to convince me here!"

"Yes. But with eyes wide open, young Harry Potter. Make your own decisions, and let the prophecy take care of itself."

"You know about the prophecy?"

Stephan tilted his head to one side.

"I will give you this. It is my honest belief that the prophecy indicates that the first of you two to die will have the power to kill the other. But you do not need to stay dead."

Harry stood up and paced again, now comfortable with turning his back on Stephan. It was entirely too elaborate to be for the simple purpose of killing him. He asked questions as he thought of them, but gradually he was left with just the decision. He didn't have the means of killing Voldemort as it stood. The prophecy virtually guaranteed he would make it to the final confrontation. And it was a confrontation he was not prepared to lose.

"Two minutes," warned Stephan softly.

No point in drawing it out any longer. He came back to stand in front of Stephan.

"Yes. I want to be reborn."

"'Then live with me, and be my love,'" quoted Stefan gently.

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