READ THIS! A/N: The alternate ending picks up after the Leaving Feast, when the students are on the train home. Although it leaves more loose ends than Chapter 59, I like this one better. Incidentally, I guess this ending does kind of set up for a sequel, but I'm not sure if I'll write one. –yamwam

On the train home Harry's compartment was full of people. Ron and Hermione weren't speaking to each other, but all their other fifth-year friends were there to fill in the silence, plus the Gryffindor Quidditch team, Ginny Weasley, Niamh Giffard, Darius Diggle, Lee Jordan, and Malcolm Baddock. Malcolm had been welcomed gladly by the Gryffindors, who were highly impressed by his courage in confronting Snape directly. Not even Harry, who had long epitomized suicidal audacity, would willingly have taken on Snape for such an impossible demand.

It was rather squished but no one minded. They were all jubilant because they had once again won the House Cup for having the most house points. Dumbledore had awarded Ron, Hermione, and Harry special fifty-, twenty-five-, and one hundred-point bonuses respectively for helping to catch the Lestranges and Lucius Malfoy, though Professor McGonagall had then taken away twenty points from each of them. She had looked like she had mixed emotions about Gryffindor's win; she had had to give Harry, Ron and Hermione a harsh lecture about leaving life-threatening situations to qualified authority, and felt that by rewarding them for their half-skilled, half-fluke resolutions of crises, her work was being undone.

Fred and George had snuck out to Hogsmeade before the Leaving Feast and had bought several bags of sweets, practical jokes, and bottles of Butterbeer for the train ride home. In the middle of the festivities Niamh pushed her way through to Harry and whispered seriously, "Harry, I thought you ought to know- Draco Malfoy's in terrific distress. He's been feeling rather nauseous and miserable since this morning, when he got two secret letters."

"Secret letters? From who? What did they say?"

"I couldn't tell you exactly what they said. Malfoy's holding it in a closed-off part of his minds... One had the Headmaster's wax seal on it, but the other- the other wasn't marked at all. And I can feel that it's the second one that's making him rather upset." Niamh's face was grave. "Notes of condolence, perhaps, for his father's recent imprisonment; but they may be more like invitations. From two different parties, both very interested in finding out what Malfoy's father taught him. And I sense that Dumbledore's was quite revelatory..."

Harry gaped at her. "But how would Dumbledore know about Malfoy being- you know?"

Niamh shrugged. "Oh, I reckon Dumbledore knows more than you or I. Much more than he ever lets on, in any case. But... well, if you're wanting to have a chat with Malfoy, I suggest you follow him into the hall. You don't want to make a scene in here."

Harry wanted to ask her about her peculiar warning, but at that point Ron stood up and waved for silence.

"It's great that we all got through another year alive, yeah, but a few really brave witches didn't, and they deserve to be honoured. We toasted them earlier in Dumbledore's Leaving Speech and we should toast them again now, because you can never thank someone enough for- for dying for you."

He glanced at Harry, who grinned encouragingly but with a pang of melancholy, thinking of his parents. Ron went on, "So raise your bottles high, in memory of Arabella Figg and Perdita Clemens. And," he added after a sharp look from Lavender Brown, "I suppose technically, Professor Trelawney."

They soberly lifted their Butterbeers and drank deeply. Harry was lowering his bottle when the compartment door slid open. Draco Malfoy stood in the doorway, wearing his customary sly smirk and flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, with several other Slytherins crowded in the hallway.

"Having a party?" Malfoy drawled, distastefully kicking an empty bottle at a pile of sweet wrappers. Was it Harry's imagination, or did Malfoy look paler? "What are you celebrating, that some of you may actually have passed this year?"

"I'm willing to bet a crate of Ton-Tongue Toffees that Hermione got more O.W.L.'s than you, Malfoy," snapped George.

"Who, the Mudblood, who hasn't got anything better to do with her time than study and prowl about with a disgraceful boyfriend?" Malfoy responded. Hermione sniffed sharply and her hand jerked towards her wand, but Malfoy was fully aware that as a prefect the last thing she would do was jinx another student. He probed more maliciously. "Oh, I'd forgotten, you dumped the Weasel, didn't you? What does that tell you, Weasley? Even pureblood, you can't keep a girlfriend?"

Ron opened his mouth to snap something back at him, but Hermione put her hand on his arm and he was too distracted to think of any good insults for Malfoy. "Get out of here," was all he came up with, though he said it quite vehemently.

"You're not wanted here, Draco," Malcolm Baddock said fiercely.

Malfoy's eyes flashed at his cousin. "I'll deal with you later," he snarled. Malcolm coloured but stood firm. Malfoy moved on to Harry.

"And Scarhead," he said softly, his pale eyes narrowed dangerously. "I have a little surprise for you. McCabe! Get in here."

Darius Diggle and Niamh Giffard exchanged tense looks. Crabbe moved aside and Marcus McCabe came in. Now his hair was slicked back like Malfoy's and he was affecting a peculiar swagger. He glanced round the compartment with a cool gaze, which only faltered when it fell on Harry.

"Marcus," Harry said coldly.

"Harry- I'm really sorry but Malf-" Marcus started to speak in a rush but halted when Malfoy laid a hand on his shoulder.

"McCabe, you show a lot of potential, but you still have much to learn. Never let them speak first, and never apologize. And he's Scarhead-"

At that point Harry lost his head, and a split second later Malfoy's eyebrows were on fire. The others followed his lead and the compartment fairly exploded with screams and curses. A hex hit Harry in the face, shattering his glasses. Through the smoke and cracked glass he saw Malfoy, now crouching alone among his fallen cronies, stumbling out as he felt the damage to his eyebrows. Recalling Niamh's strange advice, Harry gritted his teeth and picked his way through the hexed fighters to the compartment door. Ron made a muffled enquiry from a corner, where he'd been hit with a Full Body-Bind, and Harry called, "When you're finished with this lot, lock them up in their own trunks, will you? Don't worry about me, I'll be back soon!"

In the hall he found Malfoy putting out his smoldering forehead. "Malfoy, I want to talk to you," Harry said.

Malfoy glared at him. "Well, I want to chain you to a large heavy boulder and throw you over a bridge, but I haven't had the chance to do that yet, have I? Go back to your friends, Scarhead."

Harry resisted with much difficulty the impulse to hex Malfoy into a coma. Clenching his fists he said, "I know you got two letters this morning."

A shade of panic flitted momentarily across Malfoy's face. "What's it to you? My correspondence is none of your business!"

"Did Dumbledore tell you what you are?" Harry asked.

The effect was immediate. Malfoy recoiled as if struck. He stared at Harry with wide eyes. "How did- you can't have- but- You knew? My father never told me- how did you know?" He stopped spluttering and his horror was replaced by rage. "It was you! You told Dumbledore!"

"I didn't," Harry said flatly.

Malfoy gave him a hard stare, then turned suddenly and threw open the door of the compartment across the hall, startling a gang of second-years. "Get out," he barked. They stared at him in surprise.

"Malfoy," Harry began.

"Out!" Malfoy repeated, and the second-years all jumped up and hurried out into the hall. Malfoy strode into the vacated compartment and waited for Harry to follow him, then slammed and bolted the door, and glared at Harry. "If you know everything, Potter, you must know what Dumbledore wrote me."

"I don't know everything, Malfoy," Harry said in exasperation. "I guess he told you that you're not pureblood, that your family is vampire."

"That is a lie!" hissed Malfoy, his face suffused with rage. "My family is pureblood! PUREBLOOD!"

"And the other letter was from Voldemort, wasn't it?" Harry asked softly. Malfoy quivered almost imperceptibly. "What did he say to you, Malfoy?"

Malfoy stood still for a moment; then he slowly reached into his pocket and drew out the two letters. One did have a red wax phoenix seal, and the other was indeed blank, save Malfoy's name, scrawled in curling red letters. He opened the second letter and recited softly, avoiding Harry's eyes,

" 'Dear Draco Malfoy: You may think it foolhardy of me to write to you directly, but I believe I can trust you not to consign this missive to the hands of my foes. I will be perfectly frank: I wish you to take an active part in supporting my cause. I believe that you should seriously consider continuing your father's legacy in my service. True, his imprisonment makes the rewards he deserved difficult to deliver to him, but perhaps you could be the one to reap them in his stead. In you I hope to find the potential I saw unfulfilled in your father. I am deeply saddened by his present situation, which, of course, occurs rarely for my supporters. Yet he made it clear to me that you are a bright and skilled wizard, and I am certain that you feel your talents are overlooked in your current circumstance; but with me, your powers would be put to good use.

" 'At this time, when lunacy is mistaken for genius and true strength has no appropriate outlet, my enemies are at the peak of their power, which is why I require new talent in my service. I know that you, like me, desire to see magic used to its maximum by witches and wizards who are great enough to handle its raw might. Join me, Draco, and you could achieve glory and power beyond the wildest recesses of your imagination. Many of my enmities are common to you also: will you not help me to crush them?' "

He stopped and sat down, or rather, his knees gave out beneath him. Harry sat across from him, at an utter loss. "There's more, but it's basically the same," Malfoy murmured.

"What did Dumbledore say?" Harry asked.

Malfoy flinched, clearly harbouring a fearful repugnance for the Headmaster's letter; then he got himself back under control and replaced his scowl. "You read it for yourself." He thrust out the letter with the broken phoenix seal to Harry, who read silently:

'Dear Draco Malfoy: I write to you now not as your Headmaster, but as your friend. Please accept my deepest sympathies for the unprecipitate removal of your father from your household. It will be difficult for you to adjust to life without his presence, but it must be said that his arrest was not without just cause. You are undoubtedly aware that the Ministry of Magic may rule that Lucius Malfoy's actions warrant the Dementor's Kiss. I urge you not to seek vengeance against the Ministry for the sentence your father receives, however stringent it may be. I do not purport to know the workings of your heart or head, but I understand that retribution is probably at the forefront of your mind. Know only that revenge is futile, and is a waste of energy and emotion. We all must learn to accept both the glory and the blame for the choices we make. Your father is a wise man in that he made his decisions and now endures the consequences. I only hope that you, seeing his suffering, will not follow the same ruinous path. I know that you are a very able wizard, Draco, even if you have had little opportunity to prove your aptitude. But in the looming war with Lord Voldemort, we will all have a chance to show our quality.

'There is also the matter of your lineage. Throughout the conflict between purebloods and Muggle-borns, which I must add is grossly unjustifiable, you have laboured under the impression that your family was completely pureblood. It pains me to tell you that you have been deceived. Your mother is a direct descendant of the Tepes family of Transylvania, known vampires; therefore you are part-vampire.' " Malfoy's voice shook, but he continued, " 'In some circles, especially those whose entire convention is based upon the purging of non-pureblood wizards, such a heritage would be considered disgraceful. But I am personally interested in what you do, not what you are. I know from experience that it does not matter what one's circumstances are, only what one is capable of accomplishing.

'Do not mistake my motive in telling you your true heritage. I wished only to enlighten you to the shutting of some doors ahead of you, and the opening of others. Specifically, I would like you to consider a career as an Auror. I think you would be very successful at this demanding but constructive occupation. I make no attempt to sway your opinion, delude you with barren promises of glory or power, or coerce you into assisting me. I only ask that you think hard about the choices laid before you before making your decision. You do not want to make the wrong one. Albus Dumbledore.'

"Which letter are you going to answer?" Harry asked.

"Why should I tell you?" Malfoy said, suddenly angry.

"If you didn't want to tell me what you chose, then why did you bring me into this compartment?" Harry retorted.

Malfoy frowned, then said very quietly, "I suppose because you're the only one around who's met both of them. Perhaps I wanted to ask your opinion before I made my choice."

"I'm with Dumbledore," Harry said coldly. "My opinion, if you want it, is that there is no choice."

"That's because you're not considering the magnitude of the Dark Lord's offer of employ!" Malfoy leaned forward. "Do you remember when we travelled on this very train in our first year, and I extended my hand to you in friendship? And aren't there times, Potter, when you regret rejecting it? We could have had a powerful partnership."

"Voldemort said something like that to me once," Harry said. "But I've never regretted saying no to him, or to you. Does this mean you're definitely on Voldemort's side?"

"Why shouldn't I be?" Malfoy demanded. "Dumbledore thinks this- this obvious lie about me being part-vampire will convince me to join him and study to become one of his ludicrous Aurors. The only part of the letter he got right was when he said I was a capable wizard but haven't had a chance to prove what I can do. He's mad if he thinks he can dupe me into becoming one of his pawns- like you!" He paused, then suddenly smiled very disconcertingly. "But, Potter, I'm willing to give you another chance."

"Meaning what?" Harry said guardedly.

"Meaning, I think we should have another try at cooperation." Malfoy spoke the words with difficulty, and Harry received them with disbelief. "Think about what we could have accomplished together, while we were wasting our time with childish hostilities and stupid pranks. We're easily the most powerful wizards at Hogwarts- why not act like it?"

Harry blanched. "You're mad!"

"Come on, Potter! Who do you think could better utilize your powers- Dumbledore or the Dark Lord?"

Harry stared at him. "If you're trying to convince me to join Voldemort, you're fighting a losing battle. I can't join him, I'm supposed to-"

Then it hit him. Yes- he was supposed to destroy Voldemort, before the Dark wizard destroyed him! And what better way to get within killing range of the Dark Lord than by becoming one of his servants? Harry's mind was racing. Malfoy had just said he wanted to have another go at cooperation. Couldn't Harry pretend to have buried the hatchet, and request to join the Voldemort-supporting movement along with his new "friend"?

It occurred to him that this was all absolute rubbish. Lord Voldemort would never buy it, and obviously by presenting himself directly to the Dark Lord, Harry would essentially be committing suicide. But people changed, didn't they? He could pretend to be power-hungry like Malfoy. If Dumbledore could believe someone like Draco Malfoy, who had every motive to join the Death Eaters straightaway and start murdering Ministry officials to avenge his father, would even consider becoming an Auror, it was perhaps possible that Voldemort would accept Harry's change of heart. Wasn't there the slimmest, most minuscule possibility that Harry's spur-of-the-moment plot could succeed? Granted, the Death Eaters would probably shoot him upon sight. That question remained: how to get past them?

I hope you've read the real OotP because this whole part has been a spoiler. Also, although I forgot to state Trelawney's actual prophecy when I copied the part about the whole Harry-has-to-kill-Voldemort thing, I am going to refer to it now. I'm really sorry.

It struck him suddenly that Lord Voldemort did in fact have to be the one to kill Harry. What had the prophecy said? Sorry again. That one must die at the hand of the other? Which meant, perhaps, that neither could be destroyed by anyone else. Harry had never had anything to fear from the Death Eaters, nor would Voldemort have to even try to defend himself against even the mighty Albus Dumbledore. No wonder no one had ever succeeded in destroying either of them- it was out of those would-be assassins' hands. Their two fates were bound by some macabre cosmic influence which only they could break.

Malfoy was looking at him expectantly. "Supposed to-?"

Harry knew his plan was ludicrous, and had less chance of even partially succeeding than Dudley Dursley had of winning the Order of Merlin, Third Class; still, it was better than spending the rest of his life waiting patiently at number four Privet Drive, hoping that Voldemort would one day happen to wander by the living room window unarmed.

Besides, without knowing whether or not Voldemort could in fact be killed, Harry could not expect to be offered any other opportunity to get close to the Dark Lord, and was, statistically speaking, already a dead man.

So he set a convincingly conniving smile on his face and said, "Supposed to be on Dumbledore's side, of course. You know, since Voldemort killed my parents."

"Yeah," said Malfoy, trying to smile back but clearly nonplussed.

"But maybe he was right to do it," Harry said, trying to keep his voice from wavering. "Maybe Voldemort knew what he was doing. Maybe my parents were standing in the way of- of progress." Come on Harry, he thought desperately, you can't stammer now! If you're going to infiltrate the Death Eaters and destroy Voldemort you'll have to be a better liar than this!

Malfoy looked astonished. Harry pressed on determinedly, the lies pouring from his mouth like slugs had once slimed out of Ron's. "After all, if they weren't powerful enough to defend themselves against him, how good at magic could they have been? And when the smoke cleared, who came out on top? Not my parents- not even Voldemort- but me! I guess I was the strongest of us all."

Malfoy's eyes were wide with shock. Harry had no way of guessing it, but he had just spoken aloud the disturbing sentiments that had lurked within Malfoy for ages and ages. "You can't really believe that, Potter?"

"I do," Harry lied.

"But then why have we been archenemies for the past five years?" demanded Malfoy.

"Think about it, Malfoy! As things stand now, I'm the hero of the entire world, and you're easily the most despised student in the school." These at least were not lies, but Harry, modest by nature, still had trouble spitting them out. "Would I be where I am now, if five years ago I had joined Slytherin and become friends with you? Would you even be talking to me now if I hadn't played a part in convicting your father?" Malfoy twitched but continued to listen. "I did what I had to do to keep up my... reputation. Do you understand?"

Malfoy nodded slowly, though he still looked dubious. "I suppose I wouldn't have acted differently if our roles were reversed." He smiled broodingly. "But I would have had trouble tolerating that bungler Weasley and that insufferable Granger."

Harry smiled so tightly his cheeks ached, and went on, "And I was thinking, as you read your letter from Voldemort- why shouldn't I join his side? I mean, if you're going to do it. Why shouldn't I get some of that power?"

"Oh come on! You, Harry Potter, really want to join the Dark Lord?" Malfoy demanded, sounding skeptical. "I mean, isn't it a little odd- more than odd- outlandish, you suddenly blurting out all these things about how awful your parents were and how you want power? Are you trying to con me, Potter?"

This was it, Harry knew suddenly: this was the moment that would decide the fate of his flimsy plan. From Niamh's circuitous warnings he had gotten the impression that Draco Malfoy, however stupid or uninventive he may be, was in a position to be instrumental to the side he chose in this war. It was evident that he was leaning towards Voldemort's side; but if Harry said the wrong thing now, Malfoy would run off to the Death Eaters without him and his window of opportunity would slam shut. He chose his words carefully, setting his voice in a scornful, mildly hurt tone: "'Course I'm not trying to con you, Malfoy! Is it so hard to believe that there's someone else like you, who knows what he wants and has the means to get it?"

He'd been improvising, but he could see the last bit about means had been the right thing to say. Now Malfoy regarded him as an equal not only in brains and magical skill, but also in wealth; and if there was one tangible thing Malfoy held in great esteem, it was money.

"Do you think he'd accept you, though?" Malfoy asked. "I don't think anyone knows about my ancestry being- being- well, you know. I mean, if that stuff is true at all, which I doubt." Harry didn't think Malfoy did doubt it much anymore, but he only gave a wooden enquiring smile. "But virtually every wizard on the planet knows you're only a half-blood, not pureblood like You-Know-Who wants."

Harry felt a strange pain in his palms, and realized that he'd been clenching his fists so hard he'd shredded his skin with his fingernails. Holding his bleeding hands behind his back he casually let drop a small gem. "Well, maybe Dumbledore's right on that count, saying that even half-bloods can achieve greatness. Voldemort's a half-blood too." He raised his eyebrows and smirked, unintentionally mimicking Malfoy's usual expression, as the Slytherin jumped. "Didn't you know?" Harry said slyly.

"Er- yeah," said Malfoy, obviously lying, but also seeming pleased to have been let in on a secret. He dropped his voice confidentially. "If you're serious about this then, the last bit before the Dark Lord's signature says that he'd appreciate it if I could suggest some reliable friends as well."

Harry allowed some of his deep contempt for Malfoy to creep into his voice. "Friends? Us?"

Malfoy's guard fell back into place and he sneered somewhat as he said, "I'm just telling you what the letter said. We don't have to be friends."

Studying Malfoy, Harry began to feel sorry for him. All Draco Malfoy's swagger and pomp was only a cover for his loneliness. He had no friends, only subordinates. Not only that, but he probably had little real esteem for his skills, which would explain why he had approached Harry with the offer of alliance in the first place: Voldemort would not turn Malfoy down if he brought along a prize like Harry.

Harry reflected that it was also likely that the Dark Lord would be friendless, a position Malfoy would identify with, and another reason that Malfoy so venerated Voldemort, Salazar Slytherin, and other Dark wizards who had also been pariahs of their eras. Harry would have to treat Malfoy prudently, if he didn't want to start Malfoy down his own bleak path to evil dominance. After all, even if Harry did somehow manage to topple Lord Voldemort, he didn't want to have to contend with a Dark successor.

"Well, I suppose if we are both serious about going through with this all the way to the end, we'll have to have a pact of some sort," he said. Seeing Malfoy still look hesitant, Harry swallowed his revulsion and anger and extended his hand. "All right?" Malfoy stared at him for one precarious moment, during which Harry held his breath in trepidation; then with a sudden broad smile Malfoy took his hand and shook it briefly. "We're in this together, then," he said.

"But no one can ever know," Harry warned. "No one except you and I and Voldemort. We have to keep acting like normal. I'll keep sucking up to Dumbledore, and I think it wouldn't hurt if you did it too. To- to make him think his letter won you over, while you secretly contact Voldemort and arrange everything with him."

"Yeah, we'll be double agents!" Malfoy said, beginning to look excited. Harry pasted a sneering smile on his face. Double agents indeed; they would go through the exact same motions, yes, but for opposite sides.

Suddenly two loud thumps from above their heads made them jump. "What was that?" Harry said.

Malfoy pushed open the window and stuck his head out. "It's a witch and wizard! Looks like... that Auror Mundungus Fletcher, and... that Death Eater who escaped a few days ago, Emily Clemens!" They heard a shrill scream, followed by a startled holler. "They're duelling on the roof!"

"Let me see," Harry demanded, worried about Fletch. Malfoy pulled his head in and Harry took his place. The wind whipped his hair about his head and nearly made off with his glasses, but through the din he could hear their shouting.

"You won't catch me, Fletch! I escaped from Gringotts' and slipped right through your nine fingers," taunted Emily. "You can't protect Potter forever- Crucio!"

"Impedimenta! I will get you, Emily, you traitorous wretch!" shouted Fletch. "How could you deceive Perdita and I for so long? Expelliarmus!"

"Missed me again, Fletch! It was easy to fool you two, you were so disgustingly lovesick that you were completely oblivious to everything happening around you! Stupef-"

"Expecto Patronum!" Fletch roared, and Harry heard Emily shriek. Then Fletch grunted in surprise and called angrily, "Wandless magic? Have you no honour?"

"You won't need your wand when you're dead!" cried Emily, then yelped, and another thud fairly shook the whole car; Harry guessed Fletch had tackled the witch. Fletch's wand flew off the roof and Harry, with his quick Seeker reflexes, managed to grab it.

Fletch and Emily were fighting over the last wand. "Give me that-" Fletch grunted, "stop- aha! Stupefy!" There was a little scream, then silence. Then Fletch peered over the side of the car and found Harry's head sticking out the window. "Harry? Well, if you don't ask what I'm doing atop the Hogwarts Express, I won't ask why you ride the train with your head out the window. Did you happen to see a wand fall off the roof?" Harry passed it up to him and Fletch grinned. "Mad-Eye will be dead jealous when I tell him I bagged an escaped convict even without my own wand! Sirius will meet you on Platform nine and three-quarters. Have a good summer!" He moved out of Harry's sight, and then silence signified the two duellers had gone.

"He didn't catch her, did he?" Malfoy asked as Harry pulled his head back in. Harry nodded and Malfoy frowned. "We'll have to be better than her when we become Death Eaters."

"Yeah," Harry said, smoothing down his hair. "Maybe Fletch was too good. Or maybe he cheated," he said quickly, seeing Malfoy's eyebrow rise. "In any case, I've got to go before people realize we've been talking." Harry unbolted the door. "You'll find your friends locked in their trunks. And remember, I was never here." He paused. "Er... good luck, Malfoy."

"Same to you, Potter," Malfoy said, with a small, tense grin.

Harry slipped back across the hall to his compartment. All of his friends leaped up when he stepped in.

"Harry! Why'd you go off with Malfoy for so long?" Ron demanded.

Harry drew his wand. "I'm really sorry to have to do this to all of you, but... Obliviate!"

Their eyes defocused for a moment, then returned to him with vacant stares.

"What are we doing?" Katie Bell asked blankly.

Harry picked up a bottle of Butterbeer. "Toasting the memory of Professor Figg and Perdita Clemens, of course." He tipped the sweet drink down his throat and they grabbed bottles and joined him, looking confused. Harry guzzled away his guilt at having to manipulate their memories- but it would compromise his plan if anyone, even his closest friends, knew he'd been speaking with Draco Malfoy. The only person he would definitely have to talk to was Albus Dumbledore, who would certainly disapprove but would probably not try to deter Harry.

He really was in this to the end now, and totally alone. All his other exploits- retrieving the Philosopher's Stone, defeating Tom Riddle's diary-ghost, setting Sirius free, escaping a duel with a Dark wizard by the skin of his teeth, fleeing a torture chamber with a madman snapping at his heels- seemed to pale in comparison to what loomed ahead. Throughout those dangers he had always had friends by his side, in many forms. All his life people had been looking out for him, even when he hadn't known it, often causing him to feel stifled and sheltered; but now that he knew his daunting objective, he also knew that he could accept no aid. He would only be able to use and manipulate people to achieve his purposes. No one but Harry could kill Voldemort. He was on his own now.

The train pulled into King's Cross Station and Harry got off and met Sirius Black on the platform. His godfather was beaming. "All right, Harry?" Sirius asked.

"Just fine," said Harry.

" 'Bye Harry, 'bye Sirius!" Ron shouted from the other side of the platform, just before walking through the barrier.

"Have a good summer, and give me a ring!" Hermione said cheerfully to Harry as she left with her parents.

"Your uncle is waiting for us," Sirius said. "Are you ready?"

Harry glanced over his shoulder and saw Draco Malfoy getting off the train, also casting a quick look in his direction. Their eyes met and Malfoy's mouth twitched- the closest he could risk, in public, to a smile. Then Malfoy hurried away. Harry turned back to Sirius with a grin. "Ready for anything," he said.