Age_Chap1.html

Title: Coming of Age: Chapter One - The Return (1/?)

Author name: Frances Potter

Author email:

Category: Mystery, Action/Adventure

Keywords: This story takes place around Harry's 21st birthday. Harry, Hermione, Ron, Sirius and just about everyone including Fred, George, the rest of the Weasley and, of course, Draco!

Spoilers: All books

Rating: General

Summary: After finally defeating Voldemort, Harry Potter can take no more. He leaves the wizarding world for good. But three years later the Dark Lord has a 21st birthday present for the Boy Who Lived. Just what Draco has to do with that present is anyone's guess. An Animagus, Ron and Hermione living together and the least likely person to be an Auror are all there to help, but just what role does Dudley Dursley play in all this!

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Note: Thanks to my wonderful Beta readers, Josie (for picking up all my mistakes), Antares Altair (for help with plot problems and words of encouragement) and Emily (yes, you can have him if you want!). Any reviews, are more than welcome, either on-line or at the above email. I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!

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Coming of Age Chapter One - The Return

Everything I touched was golden

Everything I loved got broken

On the road to Mandalay

Every mistake I've ever made

Has been rehashed and then replayed

As I got lost along the way.

- Robbie Williams The Road to Mandalay

Prologue - Summer 1998 - Aftermath

"I'm leaving."

Hermione Granger looked up from the cup, which had been holding all her attention, and brushed a curl of light brown hair from her face. The flickering light from the fire was all that illuminated the Gryffindor common room. It burned despite the hot summer's evening, warding off the strange chill that had settled over the whole of Hogwarts. "Hmm?"

Harry Potter was staring into the flames. He was bundled up in his robes as though it were the middle of winter, hands hidden in the folds of dark fabric. He did feel cold. In fact he hadn't felt warm for days, not since the fight with Voldemort, which had also claimed Dumbledore. Harry was almost 18, but he felt more like 800 at that moment. And the worst thing was, no one understood what the fight had done to him.

His friend Ron Weasley would say they didn't understand because Harry wouldn't explain. But the truth was Harry didn't know what to say. Didn't know how to put into words the horror of those last few moments with Voldemort. Harry didn't know how he would ever come to terms with what had happened, but he did know he needed to get away to somewhere there would be no memories.

"I'm leaving."

Putting the cup down on a side table, Hermione stretched, trying hard not to yawn. "Probably a good idea. I know I'm tired and it's been one heck of a day."

Around the room other people stirred as if the voices had brought them out of a strange stupor. No one had really spoken since the memorial service for Professor Dumbledore, held earlier in Hogwarts' Great Hall. Up to that point no one had really accepted that the great wizard was gone. But listening to people talk about him made both his death and all the other horrors of those last days finally take on a dreadful reality.

Hermione remembered when she was younger in the days before finding out she was a witch, listening to a great aunt talk about loosing her father in the war. Like Dumbledore, his body had never been recovered. Those left behind, with no grave or body, never managed to grieve properly. It felt the same now. How could the professor be gone? She felt sure that if she went down to Hogsmeade now, she would find he'd just popped to The Three Broomsticks for a Butterbeer.

"No, I'm not tired. I mean I'm leaving. I'm going away." The firelight reflected in Harry's glasses, hiding his eyes, which were full of tears.

"Away?" Hermione frowned. "Where to?"

"Anywhere. As long as it's not here." Harry let out a ragged sigh and his head dropped back, resting on the chair. "I hate it here."

"Ron," Hermione turned slightly, holding out a hand towards her other friend - the third side of the triangle forged on the Hogwarts Express seven years before.

Ron had heard the short conversation and was already by Hermione's side. "Okay, Harry. It will probably do you good. Are you looking for some company? I could do with a break too."

"I don't mean a holiday. I'm leaving Hogwarts. I don't want to be a wizard anymore."

"What?" The single word wasn't really a question. "Harry, you can't just stop being a wizard any more than ... any more than I could stop having red hair. Oh, sure I could dye it, but my hair would still be red." He sat down on the arm of Hermione's chair. "Besides, you're Harry Potter - the most famous wizard there is. You can't just stop being him."

"That's the whole point, Ron. I can't carry on being this ... this person you all want me to be. I can't do the Potter thing any more. It's ... too ... too..." The words caught in his throat. "Painful." The emotion in that final word was so powerful it sounded like a cry of agony from a tormented soul.

Hermione became aware of the other people gathering behind her chair, all watching the person who had been their rock doing the recent battle with Voldemort. Harry had held things together when even Dumbledore thought they would loose. She slipped from her chair and crossed the couple of paces between them on her knees, swiftly reaching for his hands. Harry tried to pull away, but her fingers closed around his wrists. "Harry, you know we are here for you. You're with friends."

"No."

"We're your family, don't ever forget that."

"I can't..." He came to his feet, hung on her hands for a moment as their eyes met. She saw the pain in the green eyes, a hurt she didn't know how to help. He pulled away from the kneeling figure. For the first time he saw the group surrounding him; saw the questioning faces looking at him. People he had gotten to know over those seven years. His friends and, Hermione had been right, his family. And they all looked at him. Concerned. Expectant. Apprehensive. "I'm not a wizard. I should never have gotten that letter about Hogwarts. I ... I want to be normal again."

The silence was finally broken by a cough from Neville Longbottom. "Harry, how can you say that? You're the best wizard I've ever known."

"No, I'm not." He suddenly strode forward, elbowing his way through the group. "I'm sorry."

Someone made to stop him, but Ron shook his head, his quiet voice loud in the otherwise silent room. "Let him go. Give him some time."

For several minutes no one moved, all staring after the retreating back as Harry disappeared to the dormitories. They all seemed to be waiting for Ron and Hermione to do something ... anything ... but both were just as shocked and confused. Finally, if only to break the strange silent stalemate, Ron took Hermione's hand and they followed Harry.

The dormitory was empty.

"Harry!" Ron called, pulling aside the drapes around two of the beds. "Come on, Harry, this isn't a joke anymore."

"No, it isn't."

He spun back round, knowing the voice wasn't Harry's but hoping all the same. "Don't say that."

She was holding a sheet of parchment, tears running down her face. "Oh, Ron."

The letter had been started several times. Words at the top of the sheet from previous attempts had been blacked out in big dark blocks as though someone had drawn a line with a magic marker. Harry must have written it earlier, before the memorial service.

It finally started:

Dear Hermione and Ron,

It would be corny to say if you are reading this then I've gone, but I have to leave. I can't explain, so please just accept that this is happening for a reason. I'm going back to the Muggle world. Don't try and follow me.

Ron, look after Herm - she isn't as strong as you think.

Hermione, look after Ron - he doesn't know how to look after himself.

I'm not going to be using magic anymore. So Ron, please look after my wand - make sure it goes to a good home. And look after the invisibility cloak too. Dumbledore once told me to use it well, so make sure you do the same.

Hermione, please look after Hedwig. Don't send her to find me because she won't be able to; I've used a charm that will stop her.

Give my love to everyone and tell Sirius I am sorry to have let him down.

Love Harry.

********************

Through a small open window, Harry watched his friends read his letter. He manoeuvred his broomstick, holding station for a moment as Hermione fell into Ron's arms, weeping on his shoulder. Ron wrapped her in his robe, the sheet of parchment screwed up in his hand.

It was the final nail in the coffin Voldemort had been building for him since the Dark Lord had killed Harry's parents too many years ago for Harry to want to remember.

He kicked a foot against the tower wall and sent the broomstick flying towards the Forbidden Forest and away from his current life.

********************

Diary of Sirius Black - 31st October 1998

Today is Halloween and Harry has been gone four months now. I'm writing this to help me understand, but it isn't helping that much. I still can't believe he's gone. I was away when he left, so didn't know about it for a couple of weeks.

When Harry left Hogwarts, he took very little with him. Ron check through his things, but wasn't sure what was missing. He did take his Firebolt, however. It was found against a wall outside Gringotts Wizarding Bank about a week later. Molly Weasley, Ron's mum, went to see the bank's managing goblin. I wish Bill Weasley was still alive - he worked for Gringotts and knew his way around. But Molly is a person who normally gets her own way. She found out Harry had changed some of the money in his vault back to Muggle money. How much the manager wouldn't tell her. Molly has been through so much; she's lost her husband and son, yet she still has time to care about others. Wonderful woman!

When I finally got back to Hogwarts, everyone was in a state of shock and didn't really know what to do next. This was the final straw - first Albus Dumbledore and now Harry. Only one person seemed able to deal with things and that was young Ron. His dad would be proud of him. He'd been having precognitive dreams for some time and he later told me he'd had a dream about Harry's departure. The poor boy doesn't know how to deal with these messages - I'll have to get him some help. He has a very rare gift and it would be a crying shame if he doesn't learn how to use it. He seems to have picked up the reins from Harry and people are looking to him to sort things out. I'll do as much as I can, but I hope it isn't all too much for him.

Despite Harry's instructions, Hermione did try to send Hedwig with a message. Hermione is devastated. I knew she and Harry had been dating, but didn't realise how serious it was. The owl was gone for over a month and when Hedwig finally came back, the letter was still tied to her leg. She was exhausted and distressed about the undelivered package and it took Hermione many days to revive the owl to her old self. Hermione has set about trying to remove the charm Harry put on the owl. Hermione is terrific at charms and things. I've yet to come across a spell she can't find a counter-curse for. It might take time, but she's got this way of researching things, which gets results. And she's great with medical magic too. Unfortunately she hasn't found a way round the charm Harry put on Hedwig yet.

And me? I was so angry with my godson I didn't want to do anything at first. Of course, I was angry with myself rather than Harry. I'd let down Lily and James by not being there to look after their son, as they had wanted. If I'd been there for Harry from the beginning he wouldn't have had to live with those Muggles. Maybe, then, he would have understood what being a wizard was really about.

What hurts the most though is Harry not being able to talk to me about this before flying off.

Well, last week I found him.

It had been hard work because he'd dropped completely out of sight. And I've never been much good at dealing with Muggle authorities. Arthur Weasley would have been great at it. Harry was living down near the coast and I found him sitting on a cliff top just watching the sea roll against the rocks below. I wasn't sure what I was going to say to him. I just wanted to let him know there were people around who still cared for him. But he acted as if I wasn't there - he just didn't respond. I couldn't believe he would cut me off like that. Then I realised Harry had switched off his magic so completely that anything to do with the wizarding world, including myself, had become invisible to him.

What on earth happened during that last battle with Voldemort? Poor Harry is so traumatised he has just locked everything away into some place where it can no longer hurt him. I thought about getting St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries involved, but that just isn't going to help. Harry needs to find his own way through this in his own good time.

My concern now is how vulnerable Harry is. He no longer has the protection of his own magic or that of being with his own family. I wish I knew what magic Dumbledore had put on the Dursleys to protect him while he lived there. We could use something similar now.

I know the Dark Forces didn't die with the disappearance of Voldemort. In fact they seem to be growing stronger. Insidiously moving into places of authority. It's worse now than before we lost Albus. Harry's enemies know they have the ideal opportunity to rid themselves of him for good.

Killing Harry the wizard was almost impossible for them, but Harry the Muggle will be a breeze!

The Darkness is still there and it still sees Harry as a threat.

********************

Tuesday 31st July 2001 - The Return

The dark-haired young man climbed into the British Racing Green MG sports car, unable to suppress a smile as he turned the key in the ignition. For a moment he sat back in the black leather seat and just listened to the purr of the engine. It sang to him and he answered by tapping a foot very gently on the accelerator peddle.

Harry Potter loved his car. He fell in love with it the first time he saw it in the car show room and had never lost that thrill in the few months it had belonged to him. Of course, there were faster ways to travel - by broomstick for instance - but Harry hadn't used magic in nearly three years.

To the people hurriedly going about their own business on London's bustling streets, Harry was just another person out trying to get through the day. Oh, they sometimes stared at the car, or at him, especially when they caught sight of the lightening-bolt shaped scar on his forehead, but that was because they were just plain nosy.

But to a hidden world, which ordinary people passed in those same streets every day without seeing, Harry was a hero, a role model and a name to whisper to their children to reassure them that everything would be okay.

Harry was a wizard. In fact he was probably the most famous wizard in Britain ... in the world.

If he cared to remember that part of his life, he would know just across the road from where his car was parked was the entrance to a part of London ordinary people knew nothing about. Diagon Alley, London's wizarding heart, contained a whole world hidden from prying eyes by charms and spells.

Harry chose not to see it anymore.

But it saw him.

If he had cared to look, he would see people watching him, whispering to each other, "That's him. That's Harry Potter". And asking, "Why did he leave? Why won't he help us any more?" Sometimes there would be a reply "Because he's scared - he's always been scared" or perhaps "They say he never got over losing Dumbledore". But often the answer would be a shrug and a look of great sadness. "They say he's seen right into the face of pure Darkness and that he can't take anymore. Poor boy."

They were right, he had seen too much. Had lost faith in everything, including himself. His heart broken so terribly he thought it would never mend. He didn't want to remember how often he had faced death over the last ten years. Didn't want to be reminded of the friends and loved ones he'd lost. Most of all he didn't want to be reminded of the man ... the thing ... responsible for his heartache.

Voldemort. The Dark Lord.

Voldemort had dogged his life from the moment he killed Harry's parents, to the day he had been entangled by Harry in a veil of rainbow crystal, which had also become a prison for Harry's mentor.

Harry's hand paused above the gear lever as Voldemort's name sprang unbidden to his thoughts, clouding the otherwise bright July afternoon. For a fleeting moment his green eyes seemed to dull, the spark quashed by fear. But the sunlight washed over him and as quickly as the memory had surfaced, it vanished. He put the car into gear and slipped out into the traffic.

He wasn't going to let the past interfere with the present. Three years ago he had walked away from that other world. Given up the magic, given up everything, to return to the ordinary - Muggle - world. He had a new life and he wasn't going to be dragged back into a world responsible for destroying everything he loved. He was a successful photographer now, the darling of the art world.

And Harry loved it. Loved being famous for something he could do rather than for what people thought he was. In the wizarding world, he was famous because as a baby he had survived an attack by Voldemort, which had lead to the Dark Lord's temporary demise. Harry had no control over those events. Here, in this 'ordinary' life he was in control. He called the shots. It gave him pleasure and for the moment he was content with what he had.

Harry's home was some 80 miles south of London, on the English Channel coast, overlooking the sea. He had been left a considerable amount of wizarding money by his parents, some of which he converted into Muggle money. Enough for the dream car, the house by the sea and a comfortable (if not rich) life.

There was still a stack of Galleons, Sickles and Knuts in the Gringotts Wizarding Bank and more tied up in investments, but Harry had no intention of ever returning to claim any of it. Like the rest of his wizarding life, it had been consigned to history. His friends, Ron and Hermione, would eventually share most of the money, He knew they probably wouldn't accept it, but that was up to them. It was there in trust and when they both turned 21 they would get the bankbooks.

In fact, he reminded himself, they were already 21. Hermione was the eldest of the trio. She would have received her book almost a year ago on 19th September. Ron received his back on 1st March. Harry was the youngest and today was his 21st birthday. He wondered how they were, and images from their years together as students drifted lazily through his thoughts.

"No!" He quickly stamped on the images, reproaching himself for dwelling on the past.

With an exasperated breath, he pushed a shock of black hair off his forehead and reached for the car radio, cranking up the volume to drown out his own troubled thoughts.

********************

"Afternoon, sweetheart. How's it going?" Ron Weasley leaned over the back of the couch and ran his fingers through the long brown hair of the woman sat there. She leaned back into his hand and he turned her face up to him, kissing her gently on the lips,

"Oh fine. Not getting very far though." Hermione twisted slightly, bringing her legs up onto the couch, "I'm starting to see spells in these books which aren't even written there. I don't know why Sirius should think I can find what he wants."

"Because you are the expert in these things. I'll go and make you some tea." His hand lingered briefly on her shoulder. "My day, on the other hand, has been excellent." Ron filled the kettle with water, put it on the stove and touched it with his wand. It came to the boil almost instantly. "That prediction about Berkeley and the fraud - they caught him at it."

"Well done. Who would have thought it, your predictions actually having some basis in fact." Hermione sauntered into the kitchen and sat down at the large pine table. She started rummaging in the biscuit barrel. "Have you eaten all the chocolate ones again?"

"Who me? The very thought." He poured tea from a pretty china teapot and handed her the mug. "How's Harry?"

Hermione spooned sugar into the mug. "He's fine. Had a meeting near Diagon Alley this morning. I thought he might be tempted to visit, but no. He's off home now for a birthday party with 'her'!"

"Ohhh, the Big Green Jealously Monster rears its ugly head again."

"I am so not jealous!" She pouted. "I just wish he was here, celebrating his 21st with us ... where he belongs." Ron had a suitable retort primed and ready to go, but he decided against it. He might not actually be able to read Hermione's thoughts, but he was able to pick up her emotions with ease these days. Teasing her about the missing Potter would not a good idea just now. "I keep thinking that even after all this time, he will miss us so much he'll come back."

"He will, when he's ready. Remember, it's in his chart."

"And your charts never lie?" The question was actually a statement. "What happened to my lottery win?"

"Ahh, I never said *when* it would be, did I."

Ron was a seer. Well, probably 'trainee seer' would be a better description of his efforts to date. Back when they were at Hogwarts, Hermione never had a kind word for Professor Trelawney, the divination teacher, and Ron had hated the classes. Maybe 'hate' wasn't the right word. He'd found the whole thing hilarious if the truth were told. Yet slowly but surely, the predictions he claimed to have faked started to take place, his astrology charts actually worked and he even saw things in the crystal ball. For most of his 6th year at Hogwarts he denied any suggestion he had 'the gift' as Trelawney kept insisting. Then he saw in a dream what Voldemort was going to do to his father and knew it wasn't a gift at all, but a curse.

"Hey! No dunking biscuits!" Ron clung at the diversion. "That is not cool and leaves a mess in the bottom of the cup."

"Sorry." She quickly finished the biscuit. "Ron, why are we still doing this?"

"Doing what?"

"Still keeping watch on someone who doesn't want to be watched."

"Is that a rhetorical question?"

"I guess. You know we spend our time watching over that git and what do we get back from him?" She picked up another biscuit and snapped it forcibly in half. "He's got a new life and what do I have? Not even a chocolate biscuit!

She poured a fresh cup of tea and sighed. She remembered quite vividly the first attempt made on Harry's life after he left Hogwarts that day back in 1998. Fortunately, Sirius had been with him or he might not have survived. Afterwards, his godfather had gone to the Ministry of Magic with his concerns for Harry's safety, but they had refused to have anything to do with protecting him.

Lucius Malfoy, who she knew was a supporter of Voldemort, had somehow managed to worm his way in into the position of Minister of Magic after what had become known as the 'Final Battle' - the downfall of Voldemort and the death of Dumbledore. He'd done it by pretending to be some sort of philanthropist, giving money to all sorts of wizard organisations. It make her sick to think of all those photographs in the Daily Prophet of him kissing babies and shaking hands with pretty women ... or was it the other way round!

When she and Sirius had gone to his office, Malfoy had expressed his 'sadness' that Harry had chosen not to serve his own kind but return to the Muggles. What was it he had said? Oh yes, she remembered, could even hear his cold drawling voice! "If he isn't prepared to take up his birthright, then why should we expend money protecting him?"

So Sirius had set up his own team, consisting of Hermione, the whole Weasley family (twins Fred and George, Charlie, Percy, Ginny, Molly, their mother and of course Ron), Neville Longbottom and several other ex-Gryffindor students. They all worked to protect Harry, keeping him safe with spells he knew nothing about and charms, which had saved his life on more than one occasion.

"Okay, you win. I'll see if I can find another packet." Ron's voice cut through her thoughts and she watched him poke around the cupboard for a fresh supply of biscuits. "Have you heard from Neville?"

"No. He's still trying to track down that witch who put the last hex on Harry."

Ron found a packet of chocolate covered shortbread and emptied it into the biscuit barrel. He hated seeing the hurt and pain and tiredness on Hermione's face. He'd loved Hermione for years, probably since the Yule Ball during their 4th year at Hogwarts. By their 5th year, she and Harry had been a couple and Ron had found it hard not to let his jealousy show.

About six months after Harry walked out, Ron had been there when Hermione reached rock bottom. They began a very torrid and physical relationship created out of their dual grief from all the death caused by Voldemort, including Ron's father and brother Bill. Harry leaving had been the final straw.

Their relationship continued to this day, but as the anger and grief faded, some of the physical passion lessened. Now their love was deeper, more spiritual, and it wrapped them in a strange, profound, almost telepathic bond. Both were very aware of each other's moods and needs, though Ron sometimes wondered whether he could see deeper than even she was aware.

Most of the time Hermione coped well with everything and they had enjoyed the past three years. But sometimes, he knew she found it too much, watching out for someone she had once loved who might never return. It was hard for him too. Harry had been his friend. No. It was more than that. Harry was like a brother.

Having seen some of what could be Harry's future helped him cope with the present, but even with the precognitive gifts he had mastered, nothing was black and white. But to watch Hermione die little by little each day was sometimes too much for him to bear.

One day he was going to punch Harry Potter's lights out.

********************

"Nice car."

Harry jumped at the voice, then realised it came from the car in the parallel line of stationery traffic. It had taken him almost 30 minutes to cover the last mile "Sorry?"

The dark haired girl in the black hatchback smiled at him. "I said nice car."

"Thanks." He turned the radio down. "Bad traffic."

"There's been an accident about a mile up the road." She paused as Harry's car drew a few feet in front of her, waiting until they were level again. "So. Do you have a name?"

"Me or the car?"

She continued smiling. "Well, both, but yours is more important. Let me guess the car - something mysterious?"

"No, it doesn't have a name." Not one I'm willing to tell a complete stranger anyway, Harry told himself. On a bad day, when the car seemed to have a mind of it's own he called it 'Draco,' but that was not a name he cared to explain. "I'm Harry."

"Afternoon, Harry." She reached across the gap between the two cars and Harry felt obliged to respond. His right hand grasped the outstretched fingers. "I'm Isabel and my friend here," she pointed at the driver, "is Julia." (Author's note: in the UK we drive on the left, so the driver sits on the right side of the car)

Harry smiled at the other woman. "Hi." Julia waved back.

"So, Harry, what brings you to this traffic jam on such a fine Tuesday afternoon?"

"I'm on my way home."

"And home is?"

"A long way from here."

Isabel ran a finger along her lips. "The mystery deepens. A long way?" She giggled. "I live not far from here. Fancy a coffee, Harry From a Long Way Away?"

"Not today. Thanks" He suddenly realised his car was drifting closer and closer to the other car. Quickly he corrected and tried to keep his attention on the road. It was not an easy thing to do. He felt strangely drawn to the woman and she was starting to unnerve him. Neither car moved. Harry's relaxed mood was sorely tested as the sun beat down. He took off his glasses and reached for the prescription sunglasses in the glove compartment.

Isabel still watched him.

He focused his gaze left, away from Isabel and to the lake, which ran beside the road. On it, he spotted one of his photo opportunities. Quickly, he grabbed for his digital camera (a constant companion now) and shot off several pictures of a family of swans gliding serenely across the surface in which the row of stationery cars was reflected. He slid back into the driver's seat just as the traffic started to move again.

"Amateur or professional?" Isabel returned to haunt him, waving at the camera.

"I like to think of myself as a professional amateur." He made to put the camera down and then changed his mind. "May I?" He gestured with the camera at her.

"But of course." She struck an over-the-top pose.

Harry quickly set up a shot, surprised at himself for wanting to take a photo of a person he would like to see the back of. He took the first photograph, and then frowned as the image through the viewfinder shifted and the sunlight reflected off the woman, causing a strange halo around her face. For a second he thought the features shimmered out of focus as though he was seeing a second face superimposed on the first. He shot a photo through the effect and then it was gone as though it never been there - wiped clean by the sun. "Thanks."

"The pleasure is all mine." She started searching for something in the glove compartment and found a pen and paper. "Look, Harry, if they come out, will you send me a copy? I'd really like one."

"Okay." Isabel reached across the space between the two cars and handed him the sheet of paper. He glanced down at it and saw the woman's name and address. "If they come out, I'll send you a copy."

"Thanks. This is our turning coming up." She stretched across the gap and again Harry took her hand. This time, it felt tacky with sweat. "Hope the traffic doesn't keep you too long, Harry Potter. Hope we meet again soon." The car suddenly indicated right and took a side road. He watched as Isabel's hand kept waving until the car was out of sight.

********************

"Why don't we," Ron reached out a hand and stroked Hermione's fingertips, "go up to Hogsmeade, have a few Butterbeers and..."

It came like a ripple in the air, a shockwave that expanded across the kitchen first passing Hermione and then washing over Ron. "What the..."

It left them both gasping and Hermione's eyes opened wide. "Dark Magic. Really powerful Dark Magic." Her chair scraped across the floor. "They're after Harry."

********************

Music back up loud, Harry kicked the car into top gear and finally managed to get up some speed as the traffic thinned out. He could feel the wind tugging at his hair and the shoulders of his shirt and was glad for the cooling breeze after the sticky wait in the traffic jam.

Absently, he robbed at his forehead with his right hand.

********************

"Oh, no! I've lost him."

Hermione leaned forward, clutching at the side of her head, and let out a howl of pain. "What are they doing to him?" She felt a familiar pressure on her shoulders. Two hands, which had lightly rested there since the Dark Magic passed through them. A calm steadying voice, so un-Ron-like, filled her mind, finding a path through the panic.

"Quiet, Herm. Just hold the thought. You know he's still there. I can feel him. So can you." He allowed her to draw on his power, letting it flow through them both.

Hermione took a deep breath as she felt Ron's power wash away the taint left by the Dark Magic. She clung onto the light like a drowning person. It augmented her power and she allowed it to flow through her, into her hands. They rose over the crystal, filling it was a soft gold light.

A picture formed.

********************

Five miles from home Harry began to feel it. His right hand had felt mildly irritated the whole journey, as though he'd caught it on a nettle or had pins and needles. But now he felt hot, sweaty, and he was developing a migraine. There was also a sick feeling in his stomach and he had to swallow back acid bile.

Off the motorway, and onto the smaller side roads, he drove faster than he should, desperate to get home before it got worse. But the traffic was bad and he sat in jam after jam. A few miles from home things were no different.

Harry slowed the car to a halt. The constant stop-start of the traffic jarred his body and made his head throb with pain. He fought against being sick as nausea came in huge waves. The effort left him light-headed and bathed in perspiration. He felt like his shirt was choking him and he unbuttoned it a little. "Come on! It's my birthday and I want to go home!" But the traffic just carried trickling along at it's own leisurely pace.

"What the hell is wrong with me?" He turned off the radio, no longer able to stand the noise and leaned back against the rest. Above him a flock of birds rose from a tree and settled in the next one along the road. If only he could fly - make the car just take off and fly home. That way ... Harry paused, realising that he could do just that. He knew the spell to make a car fly, even knew how to shield the other Muggle drivers from remembering said flying car.

But he didn't have a wand anymore. Maybe he could get off the road and disapperate. But again not without a wand! A single hollow laugh left his throat. "This was not a good day to give up magic."

Sweat ran down his face, stinging his eyes. Harry pulled off his sunglasses, squinting against the bright light of the sun, and draw the back of his hand across his forehead. It felt hot and feverish, "I don't understand," he muttered to himself and realised the guy in the car in front was watching him in his mirrors. "Just get the hell out of my life," he whispered to himself. "Can't you see I'm ill?"

Harry's hands dropped into his lap. He was desperate for a drink. "Maybe I should have gone for coffee," he mused, mind drifting and filling with the image of Isabel.

A car horn made him jump and he realised the traffic had moved. Quickly he put the car into gear and released the hand break. The car edged forward and he reached for his glasses. He wiped his had across his forehead again and put the glasses back on.

And froze.

The back of his hand was covered in blood.

Harry was speechless. He mouthed an expletive and grabbed at the rear-view mirror, pulling it round so he could see.

His scar was bleeding. Not huge rivers of blood, but oozing slowly, like sap seeping though tree bark. The blood was bright red, almost an unnatural colour. "No. This can't be..." He grabbed a paper tissue out of a box and pressed it hard on the scar. It came away bloody and for a moment he thought he had stopped the flow.

Then slowly, very slowly, it began to ooze again.

********************

The room was dark except for the glow from a large stone basin. It cast a harsh icy light onto the two faces standing beside it.

The two faces were so similar it was clear they shared the same genes - father and son. Pale pointed faces with grey eyes surrounded by platinum white hair. The light turned their features into skull-like relief, hiding the eyes in black, shadow-filled sockets.

The father's eyes were hard, full of cold emotion. The son's were similar, but his youth still allowed him to keep a hint of hope and joy in them.

They waited in silence, the young man finding it hard to stand still because of cramp in his left calf. Keeping the rest of his body perfectly motionless, Draco Malfoy surreptitiously pressed his toes into the stone floor, trying to ease the sharp digging pain. He hoped his robes would hide the movement. His father didn't move. He had succeeded.

The pain slowly decreased to a dull ache and Draco lowered his heel to the ground. They had been waiting in silence for what seemed like hours. He resisted the temptation to look at his watch. He was thirsty and bored and it was not how he expected to be spending his 21st birthday. He'd expected lots of presents and something much more interesting to do then 'waiting'.

And what were they waiting for?

He had absolutely no idea!

A surprise his father had said.

Somehow, Draco didn't think it was finding out he'd won tickets on a round-the-world cruise. He might be 21, but his father always gave him the impression his son was forever 11 years old!

Then it happened.

So sudden he had no time to react.

Like a shockwave from a bomb blast, it swept across the darkened room, streaking toward him.

It hit, passing through Draco's body before travelling on to the far wall where it stopped with a sound like shattering glass. The wave fell to the floor in a shower of hail.

Draco realised he'd forgotten to breath. In fact he's forgotten how to do anything.

Something had ripped each of his molecules apart and then put the atoms back together again.

When he did remember to breath again, his lungs felt like they had been scorched or as if the very air was solid, grazing the delicate tissues.

He wanted to speak, but his throat was too painful. "What...?" Draco finally managed to squeak out the word.

Lucius Malfoy watched his son's discomfort, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "That, Draco, was Dark Magic returning to the person who Called it. You should be honoured that I have allowed you to experience this Power."

All Draco could do was nod. The sensation of his molecules shattering still burned through his body and he realised that this was Power touching him at a cellular level, shifting and altering something he couldn't quite grasp.

He didn't like it. He had to remind himself to breath, conscious all the time of his father watching him with a condescending half-smile on his face. Draco hated that smile. He knew he had inherited the same expression ... had used it on countless occasions ... but to have it used upon himself never failed to unsettle him.

"Come and see who the recipient of this Power is today." Lucius gestured his son to the bowl, a hand steering Draco closer. Both men looked into the shimmering depths. The light seemed to have condensed into liquid, slowly turning in a whirlpool. Its surface crackled with energy. "Now, touch the surface with your wand."

Draco drew the slim wand from his robes and did as he was instructed. "Situs Persona." The words came unbidden to his lips as if someone else was talking through his mouth. This was not a spell he'd come across before and he didn't know how he knew the words now. The surface of the bowl seemed to fall in on itself, leaving it glass-smooth. An image slowly solidified from its depths.

It was of a man about his own age. He was leaning back against a headrest in a Muggle car, his face drained of colour and clearly in pain. The image moved and raised a hand to remove his glasses. Green eyes stared out from the bowl - eyes dimmed by pain almost to the point of having no colour at all.

Finally it dawned on Draco who the person was.

"Harry Potter?" he questioned. His old adversary from Hogwarts looked different now. His black hair had been cut short and for once, despite the pain, looked tidy. Draco looked closer, studying the face he hadn't seen for many years, and realised Potter's scar was bleeding.

"Yes. Isn't it delicious to finally see him suffer." The look in his father's eyes was unlike anything Draco had ever seen before. "I so wanted to give him a birthday present ... and what better than this."

"I thought he was protected. How did you mange to get through to him?" Then Draco remembered the Dark Magic so unlike anything he had ever experienced before. "Are you going to kill him?"

"Oh no. Not yet." Lucius stared at the bowl, his eyes fixed on the image. "He'll have to suffer much more before I will give him the luxury of death. Or perhaps you would kill him for me."

"Me?" Draco's cool composure, which he had been quietly working on restoring since the shockwave had stunned him, crumpled slightly. He had never killed a person in his life. In fact, he had gone out of his way never to be put into just such a situation. Killing didn't lead to answers even if that was what his father believed.

"Yes. I know you saved his life once, when you thought no one was looking."

"How..." The words dried in Draco's throat. No one but himself and Potter knew of that incident. How Potter had slipped and was hanging on by his fingernails. How Draco, who could have left him to fall, had pulled him back to the path. He swallowed. "How did you know?"

"I know everything, boy." Lucius turned suddenly on the young man and gripped his chin between thumb and fingers.

The pressure was so hard Draco thought he would break his jaw. He tried to pull back, but couldn't move his head. Forced to look into the other's eyes, he realised with a growing sense of foreboding that the person looking back was not his father.

"You know don't you!" If Draco could have nodded he would. "Did you really believe Potter had defeated me?" He released the young man with a push, which sent him sprawling to the floor in a heap of black robes. "Who am I?" Draco didn't move, couldn't find a voice. "WHO AM I?"

"Lord...." The words were a whisper of disbelief. "Lord Voldemort."

"Yes." The man's eyes had taken on a red hue.

"But ... my father."

"Your father was a great soldier and loyal follower. He willingly gave himself for me and in return I promised to care for you" He began to slowly walk round the prostrate figure. "Though sometimes I wonder who got the best part of the bargain. Since my rebirth six years ago, I have been working towards two things. First, to finally rid myself of Dumbledore. Then, with him out of the way, I would deal with Harry Potter. Dumbledore was easy. Your father, in his role as Education Minister and a governor, forced the split up of Hogwarts. Once Slytherin split from the School, Dumbledore started to loose his hold over people. Their children were able to study the Dark Arts without having to hide in the shadows. They no longer needed to send them to schools overseas. And, of course, you know what that lead to."

Of course Draco knew. He was one of the many who left Hogwarts just months after starting his 6th year to join the new Slytherin School. He had cheered along with all the new Slytherins when the Ministry of Education suspended the Hogwarts Charter to Teach six months later. Dumbledore had kept the school open, but only for some of the older students already in their final two years. Potter, Weasley, Granger and some of the others he once studied with remained. But many left because the Death Eaters made it almost impossible for children to attend the school.

Then, during what would have been his 7th year, the Great Battle had begun. A war of attrition waged by Voldemort's followers, bringing the wizarding world to it's knees as they had done 25 years before.

"Yes, I know."

"Then came my chance. What better way to rid myself of Dumbledore than to have him sacrificed himself in an attempt to destroy me? He knew he could trap me in a place from where neither of us could return, but needed Potter to carry out the magic. Only Potter, because of his insufferable mother's sacrifice, had the power to open the Chasm and then close it again. It took Dumbledore days to persuade Potter the only way to end the war was for both him and me to be trapped together. Oh, how Dumbledore pleaded with the boy." Voldemort's chuckle echoed around the room. "It was your father's idea to give me his body and for him to take my place."

"You mean he's locked with Dumbledore somewhere?"

"Oh yes. But don't worry. He is still alive. When Potter meets his match, I might return him ... assuming, of course, that you play your part."

"My part in what?" Draco finally felt strong enough to stand. He never made it as Voldemort forced him back to his knees with a mere look.

"You have always been part of my plans, Draco. You and Potter. Have you never realised that you and he are opposites? Light and Dark. Gryffindor and Slytherin. Dumbledore would have added good and evil, but he always had a funny way of thinking. And you share the same birthday. Your father always said you were slow, but I'm sure you are intelligent enough draw your own conclusions. You see Lily and James Potter where a strange combination. Apart they were nothing, but together they would produce a child with powers greater than any living wizard. Dumbledore knew this and worked to protect both of them from me. He was torn you see, between wanting them to have their dearest wish and what that child would become. Of course, I wanted them to have a child - a son who would carry those powers. I wanted those powers, but I needed a catalyst to receive them when Potter died and keep them safe until he reached manhood, when I would be able to take them. That is what you were created for."

For once Draco couldn't think of anything to say. He was starting to feel very alone and very scared. If he could have gotten to his feet, he would have been out of the room in a flash. Instead he felt welded to the floor.

"You and he are twin souls, linked on a deeper level than flesh. You may have different genes, but my life force runs through each of you. I made you both and that Power you just felt as forged the link between you and him. That was why his parents fought so hard to keep him from me. You both carry my Mark. Potter's scar is my Mark, which should have killed him. You have the same Mark."

Draco amazed himself by managing a tiny snort of disdain. He knew exactly what marks did and did not exist on his pale. "I don't have a mark like that."

"Can you imagine people's reaction if you displayed a mark the same as Potter's? It had to be hidden until the time was right. You father followed my instructions and used a very powerful charm on it. And now the time is finally right."

Voldemort reached for the neck of Draco's robe and pulled it away from his shoulder so roughly that the clasp broke. Draco gasped as he felt the buttons on his shirt give way, leaving a pale shoulder exposed against the dark cloth. Voldemort again grabbed at his chin, this time forcing his head to one side.

The touch of Voldemort's wand on his right shoulder felt like ice. The Dark Lord ran the wand slowly along Draco's collarbone and stopped at the slope of his neck. Slowly the ice turned to fire, building in intensity and Draco felt like he was being branded. He fought the pain, determined not to cry out - his father had worked hard at making sure his son could deal with pain. But Voldemort was proving a point - proving he was in control - and the pain continued to intensify, searing into his body, carried by his blood to every part of his being.

Finally a scream forced its way from deep inside. It was an anguished cry of "Please!!! Stop!"

He was released.

Draco stumbled, half crawling away from his tormentor. Sobbing, he raised a hand to the hollow of his neck. Under his fingers he could clearly trace the small lightening bolt scar.

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