Chapter 1: A Dark Stranger

        Hermione Granger-Malfoy, Editor-In-Chief of the Daily Prophet, was reading the news. Cho Chang, one of the reporters who covered the Quidditch matches, had sent her the latest story on the trials of the League Cup. The last match had been an exciting one; the Chudley Cannons had won against Puddlemere United, thanks to their strong keeper, Ron Weasley. Cho always had interesting coverage of these kinds of events and Hermione enjoyed reading them, but today her mind was hardly on the report. Chudley Cannons, she mused, they were Harry's favorite team.

       Hermione finished reading Cho's story and set it in the "out" box on her desk, intending to put it in tomorrow's paper. Turning to her "in" box, Hermione's eye fell on the magical picture on her desk. It was of her, her husband Draco Malfoy, Ron Weasley, Ron's girlfriend Eloise Midgen, and Harry Potter, on their last day of school. The photo had been taken by Colin Creevey, who was now the best photographer at the paper. Surprisingly, Harry tolerated Colin reasonably well by then. After all, Harry had saved Colin's life when he was in his fifth year. He had saved a lot of lives when he was in his fifth year.

       Hermione shook herself mentally. Why did she keep thinking about Harry? They had received no word from him for over four years. He had disappeared from the face of the Earth, it seemed. He was most likely dead. Draco said so, Ron agreed; everyone said basically the same thing. He was dead.

       Just then there was a knock at her door. "Come in," Hermione said without looking up.

       "Hello, Editor," said Draco Malfoy, grinning as he walked into her office.

        "Hello, Chief Auror," she responded, also smiling a little.

        Her husband noticed the far away look on her face and knew exactly what was on her mind. "You're thinking about him again, aren't you?" he asked worriedly. The red tinge that appeared in her cheeks told Draco all he needed to know. It was the same every year. She would seem distant all day, then want to discuss the possibility that Harry was still alive. "Hon, why don't you meet me in the Leaky Cauldron tonight, say, about six, for dinner. That should take the stress off our minds for the night."

       Hermione nodded. "See you there," she said brightly.

* * *

        "Ron! Ron Weasley!" Draco cried a few hours later, while he and Hermione were having dinner in the Leaky Cauldron. "What the hell are you doing here?"

        "Same as you I suppose, just getting a quick supper before practice. Tomorrow's our big game you know. Are you coming?" answered Ron, smiling.

       "Of course. Why don't you join us for a while?"

        "I'd be glad to," said Ron as he sat down. Then, catching the look on Hermione's face, he added in a whisper to Draco, "Has she been thinking about him again?"

        "'Fraid so," sighed Draco.

        "Hermione, you have got to let go of him. Draco and I have," Ron said, turning to the young woman sitting beside him.

        "Then you are both stupid and cynical!" she cried.

        "Hermione!" both men said together.

        "I'm sorry, it's just- I can't make myself believe he's dead. There's something in the back of my mind that says he will be back. I don't understand why."

        "Hermione, you've just got to face the facts. He's gone and he's not coming back." Ron said firmly, as if that ended the conversation. Hermione nodded sadly. "Well, I've got to go now," he added.

        As Ron walked out the door, he almost bumped into someone. Apologizing hurriedly, he looked up and jumped. The other person -- if it was a person, it looked more like a dementor -- was dressed entirely in black. Black gloves, black boots, black tunic, all topped off with one long, black cloak. The hood was drawn up over his head, so they couldn't see his face. The figure didn't speak, but kept walking across to the bar, then spoke in a low tone to Tom the innkeeper.

        Draco shivered. "What's the matter?" asked his worried wife. "Are you cold?"

        "I don't get it," Draco said softly, ignoring Hermione. "Why does he give off that impression?"

        "What impression?"

        "One of menace. I've got that tingle up my spine that tells me he's not what he seems. I have a feeling we're going to meet up with him very soon."

        The dark stranger finished his talk with Tom, and crossed the room to the stairs. When he reached his room, he closed and locked the door. Then he lifted his hood. The pale face of Harry Potter emerged.

        It was expressionless, sober and tired. He crossed the room in a few quick strides and opened the window. Not that he was expecting to see anything, but the cool air felt good on his thin face. He removed his glasses. He had enchanted his glasses years ago, when his eyes changed. They still showed his eyes as green when he wore them, but when he took them off, the true color of his eyes was shown. They were a bright, rather alarming scarlet, with slits for pupils. His eyes were exactly the same as Voldemort's had been.

        Suddenly, a white owl swooped in from nowhere and landed on his arm. "Hello, Hedwig," said Harry softly. "Do you like our new home?" He chuckled to himself. "We'll be staying here for a while, so you'd better get used to it."

The Library * * * Next