The Backstreet Boys, of Orlando, Florida, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because as a chart-topping, internationally famous boyband, they just didn’t have time for all that.
Kevin Richardson was the oldest member of the group, which made pop music. He was a tall, handsome man with just a small amount of facial hair, although he did have very thick eyebrows. Howie Dorough, the second oldest, was short and dark and not nearly as handsome, which he compensated for by gyrating bare-chested onstage, winking at the fans. The Backstreet Boys had three younger members called Brian, AJ, and Nick, and in the fans’ opinion, there were no finer Boys anywhere.
The Backstreet Boys had everything they wanted, but one of them also had a secret, and his greatest fear was that somebody would discover it.
When the Boys woke up on the bright, sunny Sunday our story starts, there was nothing about the blue sky outside to suggest that strange and mysterious things would soon be happening all over the world. Howie hummed as he picked out his cheesiest tie for church, and Kevin paced around anxiously as he waited for his cousin Brian to finish packing his bags.
None of them noticed a large Great Horned owl flutter past the window.
At half past eight, Kevin picked up Brian’s suitcase, and Howie hugged Brian goodbye. “Good luck, man,” said Howie, as Brian and Kevin left the apartment. They got into Kevin’s car and pulled out of their building’s lot.
As they drove toward the airport, Brian thought of nothing except the major surgery he was going to have in five days. But on the edge of town, open-heart surgery was driven out of his mind by something else. As he and Kevin waited at a red light, he couldn’t help noticing that there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about. People in cloaks. Was there some kind of sci-fi convention going on, he wondered, or was this just some stupid new fashion? Brian didn’t care much about fashion – he wore a t-shirt and jeans when he wanted to be casual, a button-down shirt and tie when he needed to dress up, and whatever the stylists put him in when he was doing a photo shoot, performance, or press appearance. He and the fellas had been photographed in some pretty goofy getups over the years; he hoped cloaks weren’t next.
When he mentioned this out loud, Kevin said, “Cloaks?” Brian pointed his finger out the window, and Kevin’s eyes fell upon a huddle of these weirdos standing quite close by. They were whispering excitedly together. “It’s probably just some silly stunt,” Kevin said with a shrug. These people were obviously seeking attention for some reason… yes, that would be it. The light changed, and a few minutes later, Kevin and Brian arrived in the airport parking lot, their minds back on Brian’s surgery.
They always waited in a private lounge at the airport, where they wouldn’t be approached by fans or paparazzi. If they hadn’t, they might have been able to forget about the operation for a time. They didn’t see the owls swooping past in broad daylight, though people sitting in the concourse did; they pointed and gazed open-mouthed as owl after owl sped past the windows. Most of them had never seen an owl even at nighttime. Kentucky’s finest cousins, however, had a perfectly normal, owl-free wait. They each ordered a latte. They pretended to watch CNN and made small talk to avoid talking about the reason Brian was flying home. Kevin kept it together until boarding time, when he was forced to hug his cousin goodbye and walk out of the airport alone. He blinked back tears on the way to his car and let them fall once he was inside it. He knew Brian would be fine; he just hated that he had to stay in Orlando and perform when he should have been with his family.
He’d forgotten all about the people in cloaks until he passed a group of them on his way home. He eyed them angrily as he passed. He didn’t know why, but they made him uneasy. This bunch were whispering excitedly, too. It was while he was slowing down at a yellow stoplight, the car window cracked open to let in the warm spring air, that he caught a few words of what they were saying.
“The Dark Lord, that’s right, that’s what I heard—”
“—yes, the Chosen One, Harry—”
Kevin stopped dead, but only because the light had turned red. The words meant nothing to him. His only concern was for his cousin.
He found it a lot harder to concentrate in rehearsals that afternoon, and when he left the studio at five o’clock, he was still so worried that he walked straight into someone just outside the door.
“Sorry,” he grunted, as the tiny old man stumbled and almost fell. It was a few seconds before Kevin realized that the man was wearing a violet cloak. He didn’t seem at all upset at being almost knocked to the ground. On the contrary, his face split into a wide smile and he said in a squeaky voice that made passersby stare, “Don’t be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today! Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!”
And the old man hugged Kevin around the middle and walked off.
Kevin stood rooted to the spot. He had been hugged by a complete stranger – a stranger who was as far from a screaming teenaged girl as one could get. He also thought he had been called a Muggle, whatever that was. He was rattled. He hurried to his car and set off for home, hoping he was imagining things.
Several miles away, the warm spring breeze that had wafted through Kevin’s window drifted over a long driveway that wound between landscaped flower beds. An immense house reared up, sunlit and inviting. There was no sound apart from the rustle of palm trees and no sign of life apart from a tiny lizard that had scurried into the landscaping to search hopefully for insects among the flowers.
But then, with a very faint pop, a slim, hooded figure appeared out of thin air on the edge of the driveway. The lizard froze, wary eyes fixed upon this strange new phenomenon. The figure seemed to take her bearings for a few moments, then set off with light, quick strides, her long cloak rustling over the grass. Her footsteps echoed on the cobbles as she followed a stone path, until she reached the front porch, where a light glimmered through the curtains in a downstairs room.
She knocked on the door and stood waiting, breathing in the smell of flowers that was carried to her on the spring breeze. After a few seconds, she heard movement behind the door, and it opened a crack. A sliver of a woman could be seen looking out at her, a woman with short red hair curled in waves around a plump face and blue eyes.
The figure threw back her hood. She was so pale that she seemed to shine in the sunlight; the long blonde hair streaming down her back gave her the look of a drowned person.
“Narcissa!” said the woman, opening the door a little wider. “What a pleasant surprise!”
But the woman named Narcissa barely smiled. “May I speak to you? It’s urgent.”
“Well, of course!”
The redhead stood back to allow Narcissa to pass into her house. They stepped directly into a large living room, where the hostess gestured Narcissa to the sofa. She threw off her cloak, cast it aside, and sat down, staring at her white and trembling hands clasped in her lap.
“So, what can I do for you?” the other woman asked, settling herself in the armchair opposite Narcissa.
“We… we are alone, aren’t we?” Narcissa asked quietly.
“Yes, of course. Well, the dogs are here, but we’re not counting animals, are we?”
“Not unless they’re really Animagi, like our disgraced cousin,” sniffed Narcissa.
“Ah, yes, dear Sirius. Burnt off the Black family tree, just as I was, I’m guessing?”
Narcissa averted her eyes, looking slightly embarrassed. “You were never included on the tree to begin with. Your branch ended with your grandmother, the Squib.”
“Of course it did.” The other woman rolled her eyes, allowing herself a wry chuckle. “So why are you here, of all places? I’d have thought you’d be mourning the loss of your precious Dark Lord. I suppose he really has gone?”
“Oh yes, he’s gone,” said Narcissa. “And so is Bella.”
“She was killed in battle last night at Hogwarts.” Narcissa blinked back tears, struggling to maintain her composure.
“I… I’m so sorry to hear that.” The other woman shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “And what about the rest of your family?”
“Draco and Lucius are safe. We… fled… in the midst of the fray.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“I just hope,” Narcissa continued, speaking over the other woman, “that since we defected, Lucius won’t be convicted as a Death Eater again. I just can’t bear the thought of him being sent back to Azkaban.”
“But that’s not why I’m here.” Narcissa leaned forward, for once appearing eager to turn the topic of conversation away from herself. “I came to warn you. The child. If any of the remaining Death Eaters were to discover his existence, they might come after him, try to convert him to their side. If they only knew what he was, who he was, I fear they would see him as the Dark Lord reincarnated.”
“And your concern is for the child?” The red-haired woman arched her eyebrows skeptically.
“My concern is for all our children,” Narcissa snapped. “I almost lost my son last night because of this war, and if there’s a way to prevent another one-”
“I understand,” said the other woman gently, reaching out to pat her knee. “I sure don’t want my son involved in any of this either.”
Narcissa bristled, either at her touch or her words. Standing suddenly, she said, “Yes, well… I just wanted to warn you, so you’d know to keep him out of harm’s way.”
“Thank you,” the other woman replied genuinely, rising to her feet as well. She leaned forward, as if to embrace Narcissa, but the haughty blonde abruptly turned on her heel and strode across the room. At the door, she stopped and tipped her head toward the other woman.
“Good luck to you both,” she murmured. Then, with a swish of her cloak, she was gone.
A breeze ruffled the neatly clipped grass in the backyard, which lay serene and tidy under the cerulean sky, the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen. The boy in question rolled over in his hammock without waking up. One hand rested on the Discman beside him, and he napped on, knowing he was special, knowing he was famous, knowing he would spend the next eight weeks relaxing in the sun while his bandmate recuperated from surgery and that, afterwards, he would go back on the road to perform for crowds of his adoring fans. But he couldn’t know that this road would lead him down the very dark and dangerous path his mother had tried to hide from him, nor that he was destined to face whatever awaited him at its end.