Disclaimer

The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment.

Introduction

This story was inspired by the similarly titled story, Coming Back Late, by the author Paracelsus on Portkey dot org. (He's also here on Fanfiction dot net under the name Alchymie, but not as many chapters have been posted on this site.) It's one of the more interesting post-DH-excluding-the- Epilogue fanfics I've seen, but it's incomplete and I have some concern whether it will ever finish. It's been in progress for more than 3 years and the update rate has slowed dramatically.

Having said that, the two stories don't have all that much in common; I didn't set out to rewrite Paracelcus's story or anything like that. Besides mimicking the title, I only used the overall theme – Harry leaves wizarding Britain for many years, then comes back. But there the similarity ends. In my story people know that he left, in that one everyone thinks he's dead. In fact the only key points the two stories share are that Harry ultimately gets together with Hermione once he returns, and his return is triggered by the actions of Teddy Lupin and Victoire Weasley. I also borrowed a few minor details, such as the identities of Ron and Ginny's current romantic interests.

I'll readily admit that the basic premise of my story – that Harry intentionally isolates himself from wizarding Britain, even to the extent of not knowing key details of his friends' lives – is not all that likely. It will require some suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. But that's the premise, and without it this story wouldn't exist, so either accept it and enjoy the story or move on to something else. Your choice.

One more thing – I originally intended for this to be a one-shot, but it got much longer than a typical one-chapter story. So I divided it up into three parts. That way you can savor it a bit more!

-xox-XOX-XOX-xox-

Coming Back, Part 1 - Discovery

Prologue – August, 1998

"I have to leave."

Hermione had suspected that this was the reason Harry had asked her to come to Grimmauld Place today, alone. Something in his tone of voice on the floo, how strained and serious he sounded, had led her to guess what he was going to tell her, so she'd had a little time to prepare her response.

She wished that she could say this came as a surprise, but it didn't, not really. Concerned, as she always was, for his well-being after the final battle, she'd kept a close eye on him the past few months. She'd probably spent as much or more time with him than anyone else (which had been the source of some dissatisfaction in the two youngest Weasley siblings, for separate but related reasons).

Harry had always been uncomfortable with his fame, and shied away from publicity, but there'd been no avoiding either since his defeat of Voldemort. It had been a constant, unceasing pressure on him – everyone wanted a piece of his time. It wasn't malicious, for the most part, just the entirety of wizarding Britain wanting to express its gratitude. But it had been overwhelming for her best friend.

She'd done her best to shield him, try to get people to back off, but sometimes it seemed like she'd been the only one. Ginny tried, but found herself caught up in the adulation as well, and just didn't have the experience to deal with it. Unlike Hermione, she'd not been alongside Harry at the center of everything that had happened to him for the past seven years, but only witnessed most of it from the periphery. Ron was even less help, as he reveled in the attention. Hermione realized that it was what he'd been yearning for all his life, but her understanding his behavior didn't do anything to lessen its negative effect on Harry's state of mind.

"I understand," she replied as calmly as she could. "Do you want me to come with you?"

"No, I think this is something I have to do myself," Harry responded frankly. "I appreciate all you've done for me, especially this past year. I never would have made it without you. And I enjoy your company. But I need to make my own decisions now." He looked up at her and shrugged. "And if I'm gone maybe things will, you know, settle down a bit and people will be able to get on with their lives."

"I understand," Hermione repeated, trying to discreetly wipe away a tear that insisted on forming in her eye. It was true that many of her classmates, who would have completed their seventh years without the disruption caused by the war, were undecided about whether to return to Hogwarts for an additional year or study independently to take their NEWTs. She believed that a lot of them were waiting to see what Harry Potter did.

"What about Ginny?" she asked after several seconds.

Harry shrugged again and looked down at his feet. "It's funny, isn't it? After a whole year of wanting something, once you get it …" He trailed off, then shook his head and continued. "Somehow it no longer feels right."

"Do she and Ron know?" Hermione inquired cautiously.

"I mentioned it as a possibility a few days ago," he informed her. "Neither of them took it well. Ron thinks I'm daft. Ginny, well, as you might guess she's not happy with me at all." From her seat on the sofa beside him, Hermione reached out and gave his hand a squeeze in a show of support. Harry glanced up and shot her a small but appreciative smile.

"With any luck it might help you and Ron, too," he offered a bit tentatively. This time it was Hermione's turn to sigh and look down at her feet. She knew exactly what he was saying. Ron had been quite firmly expressing his opinion that she should be spending more time with him and less with Harry. Suddenly, she jerked her head back up and shot him a look of alarm.

"Harry, please tell me that has nothing to do with your decision," she demanded with a note of dismay in her voice.

Harry was shaking his head before she even finished. "No, no, not really," he assured her. "It just seemed like a possible benefit. Without me around to get in the way, maybe …" He broke off, not needing to finish the thought which he could tell was making both of them uncomfortable.

They sat in silence for some time. Hermione could feel her chest tightening with a crushing pressure as the reality set in that she might never see Harry Potter again. She realized that this was exactly what it was like to feel that your heart was breaking. The tear in her eye returned, along with reinforcements.

"You will come back though?" she pleaded.

"I … someday, I guess," he replied hesitantly. She shook her head, not satisfied.

"Promise me," she demanded. He took a deep breath, then nodded.

"All right. I promise that I'll come back eventually," he pledged. He barely had enough time to raise his arms as she threw herself at him in a fierce hug.

"Oh Harry, you're the best friend I've ever had or ever will have," she declared with absolute certainty. "I couldn't stand the thought of you leaving my life forever." She tightened her grip for another few seconds, then relaxed and moved back and locked eyes with him.

"I love you."

Harry's eyes widened as he was momentarily taken aback, before he recognized the self-evident truth of her words – of course she loved him. No one would have done all the things she did for him over the years otherwise.

"I understand," he confirmed.

"Please keep in touch?" she implored. At his hesitation she quickly continued her plea. "At least let me know you're OK. I wouldn't be able to bear the uncertainty."

"I will," he vowed.

"And if you ever need me …" she persisted. Harry smiled and hugged her again.

"I'll let you know," he agreed. "Good bye, Hermione. And I love you too."

-oooOOOooo-

17 Years Later – Late August

Teddy Lupin was on a trek through a wilderness, somewhere in Wales, as far as he knew. At least the last recognizable landmark, which they'd left behind early that morning, had been in Wales. His godfather, Harry Potter, had sent him very elaborate instructions that he'd had to follow, partly as a test of his abilities, he suspected.

One very big positive about this journey was his traveling companion, Victoire Weasley, who at this time was taking a turn in the lead – she'd insisted on doing her share of the work as a matter of principle. One of Harry's conditions had been that they cover their tracks completely, so the one leading magically cleared their path while the one following magically restored it to its undisturbed state. After his first time in the trailing position Teddy realized the considerable advantage to this assignment – the opportunity to observe Tori's delightful posterior.

It took some willpower for Teddy to control his hormones, as his Veela companion was dressed in short, snug-fitting cargo shorts and a tank top – a very tight tank top. Her hair hung in a loose braid down her back and if she'd had a pair of automatic handguns strapped to her hips she'd have strongly resembled a certain video game character from the late 1990's.

The besotted young man was so focused on his girlfriend's bum that he didn't notice right away as the vegetation began to change … as well as the temperature. It was only when Tori stopped and turned around that he noticed the perspiration on her skin, as well as on his own, and realized that it had become quite hot and humid.

"Isn't this amazing?" she exclaimed, gesturing toward the surrounding flora and fauna. "There are plants and animals here from … practically everywhere. Just in the past five minutes I've counted at least a dozen different kinds of ferns, from three continents!"

Teddy glanced around sheepishly, only now fully observing the altered ecosystem. Tori shot him an exasperated glance, accompanied by an arched eyebrow that led him to suspect that she knew exactly what had been occupying his attention. With a final smirk she turned, and after consulting her watch and a magical combined pedometer/compass device, resumed their hike. Teddy was forced to bite his lip hard when she added a slight wiggle to her hips as she set off.

An hour later Teddy was in the lead and sweating buckets. He'd removed his shirt some thirty minutes earlier when the two had switched places, eliciting an appreciative, admiring nod from Tori. For a brief instant he'd considered suggesting that she follow his example, but managed to refrain. By this point it was quite obvious that she wasn't wearing anything under the tank top, now thoroughly soaked and molding itself to her torso even more closely than it had before.

Suddenly, after he parted a particularly dense mat of vines, they found themselves confronted with a rock formation containing a hidden pool of sparkling, clear water, fed by a waterfall. It was the perfect picture of a tropical paradise. As Teddy came to a halt, Tori moved up beside him.

"Fancy a swim?" she suggested coyly, shooting him a quick smile that froze him in his tracks. He stood rigid for the next several seconds as one of his most treasured fantasies played out before his eyes. He watched her step up to the edge of the pool, removing first her boots, then her shorts, and finally her tank top. Now clad only in a brief pair of knickers, she shot him another seductive smile over her shoulder and jumped in.

When she surfaced a dozen or so feet out toward the middle of the pond, she began treading water and pushed her long wet hair back from her face. "Well?" she called out. "Aren't you going to join me?"

Forcing himself to breathe again, Teddy nodded vigorously and tugged off his own boots and shorts. Taking one final deep breath he jumped in, making a large splash. Bobbing quickly to the surface, he swam cautiously over to where she waited. Control yourself! Control yourself! he repeated in his mind as he nervously approached her. But as soon as he was within arm's reach she threw her arms around his neck, pulled their bodies together, and kissed him!

On the verge of having his mind turn completely to mush, Teddy managed a less than half-hearted protest. "Tori! What are you doing?"

"Thanking you for bringing me here" she replied with another hug. (A naked hug! Teddy's mind screamed at him. Tori's hugging me and we're practically naked!) "This place is amazing!" she gushed. Then she pulled back, fixed him with a piercing blue-eyed gaze, and added, "And moving our relationship forward a little bit."

"A little bit?" he gasped.

"Just a little," she teased. Next, she took his hand and moved it toward her bare breast. But just as it was about to make contact they suddenly became aware that they were not alone. A pack of wolves had materialized on the rocks surround them! And their wands were back on the shore!

Suddenly a giant panther leapt down from some boulders higher up the rock formation, and the wolves scattered. The panther padded calmly along the rocks, stopped several feet from where they'd left their clothing, and sat back on its haunches, regarding them with an even gaze. Tori shot a glance at Teddy, frowned briefly, then nodded determinedly. Taking care not to make any sudden moves, she swam slowly toward the panther until she reached shallower water, and then stood.

The panther's head jerked back when it became aware of her state of undress. Tori allowed herself a smile – this creature was definitely human, and male. She was now certain she knew who it was. Then the panther licked its lips and she hesitated – she'd seen that particular expression of lust many times. But the magnificent creature merely nodded toward the waterfall and some of the mist that formed just above where it cascaded into the pool gathered into a cloud.

To the two teens' astonishment, the misty cloud floated over to Tori and hovered around her, slightly obscuring her from view. With a delighted laugh as she realized the purpose of this feat of magic, she quickly exited the pool and walked over to her clothing, still under the silent, watchful eye of the panther. Teddy followed suit and once they were dressed again (and dry, the mist having dispelled once it had served its purpose), they turned their attention back to their presumed host.

But the panther next quickly bounded to the top of the cliff towering above them, then turned toward them expectantly.

"How do you suppose we're expected to follow?" Teddy wondered. Tori examined the cliff face, then pointed out some intermediate ledges.

"Levitate each other?" she suggested. Teddy studied the ledges for a moment and agreed.

"Sticking charms too, just to be safe," he added.

Working in concert, each levitating the other in turn, the pair made their way to the top. Once they arrived they paused to catch their breaths while the panther gazed at them and nodded, clearly pleased with their efforts. The two teens took a moment to admire the view - the waterfall, the jungle beneath them, and the broad expanse of the valley stretching out as far as they could see before everything seemed to dissolve into mist.

When they were sufficiently rested the panther transformed, as they'd expected, into the wizard that had disappeared from Britain so many years ago – Harry Potter. With a grin, he motioned them to follow him as he led them on a short walk to a cave. They complied, their excitement mounting with each step. They were about to meet a living legend of the wizarding world! Once they arrived at their destination he turned to them and caught Teddy up in a welcoming embrace.

"So how's my godson?" he asked with a broad smile as he indicated that they should take a seat. "And you must be Bill and Fleur's daughter?"

"How did you know?" she wondered. She was pretty certain that Teddy hadn't communicated this information beforehand.

"Your mother was the most beautiful woman I ever met – until now," Harry replied. He shot her a sly grin. "For some reason you remind me of her."

He gestured toward the pool they'd just come from. Tori blushed at the reminder that she'd exposed herself to him, but was inwardly quite pleased with the compliment. "And when did you encounter my mother under similar circumstances?" she challenged.

Now it was Harry's turn to blush. "Not exactly the same, but we did have something of an adventure together in a lake once," he responded. He took a moment to recall the former Fleur Delacour in a silvery, skin tight swimsuit that left nothing to the imagination.

He shook off those thoughts and turned to Ted. "Congratulations on making Head Boy," he declared with sincere admiration. Tori beamed and hugged her boyfriend proudly. "And it seems additional congratulations may also be in order?" Harry continued, alluding to the rather close relationship he'd been observing.

Tori laughed while Teddy grinned, and they blushingly agreed that it was indeed for keeps. Teddy explained that they planned to formalize their engagement on her seventeenth birthday, which would be next spring.

Harry nodded thoughtfully. "I'm trying to decide which is the bigger accomplishment, but I think being Head Boy takes a back seat." Teddy nodded vigorously and Tori blushed again.

"Why do you say that?" she wanted to know.

"There've been lots of Head Boys," Harry reasoned.

"But lots of guys end up with Veela mates too," she countered.

Harry shook his head. "Being a Veela is the least of it," he contended. "Once I really got to know Fleur Delacour I realized there was far more to her than just beauty – she was as brave as any Gryffindor, ambitious as any Slytherin, intelligent as any Ravenclaw, and as loyal as any Hufflepuff. From what I've observed today I suspect the Sorting Hat said something similar to you." He paused as he recalled a long ago comment that those words somehow triggered in his mind – books and cleverness … friendship and bravery and …

Tori noticed the faraway look on his face. "It sounds like you were in love with my mother," she commented with no small amount of surprise in her voice.

Harry shook his head and shot her an amused smile. "No, I admired her. I was not remotely in her league."

The two students shook their heads and shot each other glances of disbelief. He was Harry Potter! How could any witch alive be 'out of his league'?

It wasn't too difficult for Harry to read their thoughts, so he explained. "You have to realize – I was just a clueless fourteen year old skinny little boy when I met her, and she was a very mature seventeen year old woman. She and your dad, on the other hand, were a good match right from the beginning."

Tori was taken aback by the direction the conversation had taken. As far as she knew, her parents, like everyone else she came into contact with, greatly admired Harry Potter, were even somewhat in awe of him. And yet to hear him talk, it sounded like he considered it the other way around.

"They always spoke highly of you," she pointed out. Harry nodded and smiled, accepting the compliment.

"Be that as it may" he declared, returning to his original contention and redirecting his comments to his godson. "You have a real treasure here, Teddy. It's extremely rare to find such a combination – beauty, brains, courage, and loyalty."

The three of them relaxed in the cave opening as the talk turned to lighter topics. It was simply furnished with lounge chairs and end tables. Teddy observed that it seemed almost like a front porch with a spectacular view.

Harry agreed, and an idea occurred to him. "What do you think, should it have a porch swing?" he suggested. Both teens nodded enthusiastically and before they could blink the older wizard had conjured one with a simple wave of his hand. After sharing a wide-eyed glance at the impressive display of magic, they gratefully accepted his offer and climbed onto the swing, cuddling together as they settled into a gentle rocking motion. For several minutes they silently watched the shadows creep down the valley as the sun set behind them.

While the initial excitement of meeting Harry Potter had not diminished too much, the two teens were gradually becoming more comfortable with him, and discovering, to Tori's amazement at least, that he acted like a pretty regular guy. Teddy had the advantage of having limited communication with his godfather over the years, and so had at least some idea of his self-effacing personality. But this was still their first face-to-face meeting.

For a while the conversation was mostly between Harry and Teddy, but eventually Tori gathered her courage and decided to return to their initial topic of discussion and press the issue.

"Have you ever been in love?" she queried her host.

Harry regarded her for a moment, then shook his head slowly. Had he? He found his thoughts drifting back to his farewell with Hermione seventeen years earlier. He'd certainly loved her, but that wasn't the same thing – or so he'd thought at the time. But in his travels he'd met many couples who'd started as best friends, and whose affections had gradually grown to more, and had been very happy together. He'd often wondered if that could have actually been what he felt for the girl with whom he'd shared such a close bond, forged during the most intense experiences and emotions of his life. However, it was far too late to do anything about that now.

Tori had taken careful note of his introspection and became convinced that there had been someone in his past whom he'd loved, perhaps without realizing it at the time. But who was it? The matchmaking side of her personality now had a new goal!

"Perhaps you should take your own advice," the young Veela suggested with a cheeky, impudent tone in her voice. "Beauty, brains, courage and loyalty. Did you once know another witch with those qualities?"

Somewhat flustered at her ability to read him so well, Harry redirected the conversation to a different, but from his point of view, related subject.

"So, tell me more about things back home," he inquired with apparent casualness. "How are your aunt and uncle doing?"

Tori was initially puzzled – she had quite a few aunts and uncles and wondered which ones he was referring to. But then she realized that he must be talking about Ron Weasley, whom everyone knew had been Harry Potter's best mate in school.

"You mean Uncle Ron and Aunt Ginny?" she clarified. "Great. Uncle Ron played quidditch for a while with the Chudly Cannons as their reserve keeper (her dad had said it was mostly for publicity) and now he works with Uncle George. Aunt Ginny still plays quidditch. She's not married." (She suspected that Ginny was seeing Blaise Zabini, but kept that to herself. It was also possible that her flamboyant aunt was Harry's long lost love.)

Harry grinned at the news about Ron. It was nice to hear that he'd managed to live one of his dreams, at least for a while. "Actually, I was asking about Hermione, not Ginny," he corrected, still maintaining an air of friendly interest.

Tori frowned in puzzlement. "Hermione? You mean Professor Granger? She's not my aunt," she objected. She paused briefly as she recalled something she'd learned long ago. "I do remember hearing that she dated Uncle Ron for a while, but that was before I was born."

Harry was startled into speechlessness. Ron and Hermione … not married?

Tori quickly noted his open-mouthed astonishment and the color that was draining from his face. She nudged Teddy and caught his eye, seeing that he was as taken by surprise as she was.

"Uncle Harry?" "Mr. Potter?" their voices chorused. "Are you all right?"

-ooOoo-

September 2

Victoire Weasley was on a mission. She'd always loved stories with happy endings, where the hero gets the girl, and here she was faced with one where she could be a part of facilitating exactly that result. The romantic in her firmly believed that Harry Potter and Hermione Granger should be together. Now, back at Hogwarts, she had a chance to begin that process.

She'd reached her destination and now found herself knocking on the door of the office of the Assistant Headmistress. When the answering voice invited her in, she took a deep breath and allowed herself a satisfied smile.

"Hello Miss Weasley," her favorite professor greeted her. "Welcome back to Hogwarts. What can I do for you?"

"Hi Professor Granger," she responded happily. "I actually have some information for you this time." Hermione cocked her head with curiosity and indicated that she should continue.

"I just met an old friend of yours last week," the younger girl announced. "Harry Potter."

Hermione's reaction to this news was nearly as vigorous as Harry's had been earlier. She was so shocked she needed to sit down before her knees gave out. "H … Harry? You've seen Harry?"

While she paused to re-gather her wits she found herself reminiscing to that long ago day when her best friend had bid her farewell, and what had followed. She'd continued dating Ron for a month or so after Harry left, but her heart wasn't in it. It turned out that Harry was both the glue that held the three of them together as well as the buffer that kept the other two thirds of the trio's heated interactions under control. She'd no idea that he'd played such an essential role in her and Ron's relationship with each other. The breaking point had come when she went back to Hogwarts to finish her schooling and he didn't.

After scoring O's in all her NEWTs, she'd been asked to stay on and teach. Over the years she'd ably instructed first Muggle Studies, then Arithmancy, and finally Charms. She'd eventually been made Assistant Head, a position she'd assumed just last year. She'd more or less adopted Minerva McGonagall as a role model, minimizing her social life and throwing her energies into her teaching career. But she'd always wondered how things might have turned out with Harry, if only …

She shook her head. She'd long considered these to be the two biggest mistakes she'd ever made – letting Harry go and not realizing how she really felt for him. He'd kept his promise to stay in touch by sending her a letter and a gift once a year on her birthday, so she knew some of what he'd been doing, but had been continually frustrated that she couldn't contact him.

Her musings were cut short when Victoire cleared her throat and handed her a box and delivered the rest of her message with a smug smile on her face. Inside the box was this year's birthday present, a jade necklace that matched the jade earrings he'd sent her last year. But the necklace was also a portkey! It would activate on her birthday if she wanted to come visit him!

Visit Harry? Of course she wanted to! Over the next half hour Hermione proceeded to pump Victoire for information, insisting on hearing everything she'd learned about Harry, along with all the details of their encounter. Finally, she leaned back in her chair as the delighted young Gryffindor left, neither of them able to keep large smiles off their faces.

-ooOoo-

September 19

Hermione had been steadily growing more anxious as this day had approached. What will he be like? Will we still get on as well as we used to after all these years? These were the two most critical of the many questions that had been percolating through her head.

At breakfast, she informed McGonagall that she'd be out of the castle all day, and the Headmistress had smiled and wished her a happy birthday. Back at her room, she carefully dressed as Victoire had instructed, packing the additional things she'd need in a small bag. She shook her head again as she added the swimsuit, finding it hard to believe that she was actually going to wear something like that in front of Harry.

When she'd tried on the small bikini the other day she'd spent several minutes tugging at the top, unable to get it to cover her to her satisfaction, swearing at her mum for buying her something so revealing. After hearing Victoire's story, she suspected the younger girl would approve wholeheartedly. Of course, this suit would look perfect on her – with her slender hips, long, slim legs, and impossibly flat tummy. The only place Hermione could hold her own was in the bust, but then she was thirty-six years old while the young Veela was only sixteen. In a year or two her body would finish developing and then she'd have an absolutely flawless figure, just like her mother.

She wondered if she would have the nerve to follow her student's lead. Once more she shook her head – the girl was a matchmaker, no doubt about it. That thought led her to recall her mirror's response to her attempts to get the bikini positioned properly. "You look lovely, my dear," it had finally declared. "Your young man will be quite happy with it."

"I don't have a young man," Hermione had corrected. "I'm single … I've always been single." She managed to refrain from adding, 'and I always will be.'

"That's a shame," the mirror had continued. "A lovely young lady like you should have a man." Hermione had brought the exchange to a conclusion by muttering that mirrors should be seen and not heard.

With one last look around her room, and a deep breath to calm the butterflies in her stomach, she took the necklace from its box, fastened it around her neck, and spoke the activation phrase.

"Take me to Harry."

-xox-XOX-XOX-xox-

A/N It's actually a complete coincidence that I posted this story on the day the final installment of the Harry Potter movies premiered.