The only problem with visiting Hogwarts was the lengthy walk from the designated Apparition point. Harry made his way along the trail and admired the castle from a distance. It had been so long since he had been back to the school.
He didn't know how Dumbledore had managed to do it all: fight Voldemort, and remain Headmaster. Of course, Dumbledore's sense of humor, in the most serious of times, probably helped them both more than they ever knew. Harry smiled wryly to himself, as he remembered some of the secret meeting spots Dumbledore had dropped on him over the period of the long war. Apparating to an ice glacier in mere summer robes had really seemed to be rather unfunny after awhile, as was Apparating into the middle of a rainforest with his extremely warm winter cloak.
Harry was always a good sport about it. There seemed to be some sort of quiet consensus between the two; Dumbledore was teasing Harry. It wasn't as if neither of them could do with a smile. A brief glimmer of amusement during those horrific days was not taken for granted.
He had been so immersed in his thoughts that he startled himself to realize he was standing before the gigantic oak door. Harry looked up; amazing. He felt eleven again. He knocked loudly three times and the door creaked open to reveal Professor McGonagall. Harry smiled warmly and shifted uncomfortably on his spot.
The Transfiguration professor hadn't changed a bit, except for a bit of gray which streaked her impeccable bun. She regarded him silently for a moment and finally spoke.
"Eight years, Mr. Potter. Now you decide to bless us with your appearance on the castle doorstep?" she asked primly. Harry continued to grin at her. What a greeting. Some people never changed.
She smiled back and, much to Harry's surprise, hugged him.
Harry laughed and returned her embrace. "Hello, Professor!"
"Welcome back! It's nice to see you again, Potter!" she said, opening the door wider, gesturing for him to come inside.
Harry took off his hat so he could get a better look at the entrance hall. Everything, much to his relief, looked the same. Hogwarts was timeless. He found it comforting that at least one thing hadn't been changed through past few years.
Professor McGonagall spoke to him kindly as they walked down one of the corridors.
"Really, Potter, you've amazed us all over the years. The stories the Headmaster has told us… You're a role model for so many students here."
Harry cleared his throat, embarrassed. "Thank you."
Two boys were immersed in a Quidditch magazine as they walked down the corridor, presumably heading down for lunch. They halted in their tracks when they saw Professor McGonagall. Harry saw the Gryffindor crests on their robes. He smiled, reminiscing to himself.
"Just WHERE are you going?" said Professor McGonagall, "Wandering the halls during lunch?"
"Going to lunch, Professor," gulped one of the boys, shrinking under her gaze.
The other boy glanced in Harry's direction. "Blimey!" he said softly, completely forgetting that he was about to be interrogated.
"What have I told you about… " Professor McGonagall was saying, but now neither of the boys seemed to notice that she was still there.
"Are you? Him? The real him?" asked the first boy.
"Mr. Zahn! Of all the ways to behave in front of a guest!" said McGonagall shrilly.
"Harry Potter," said Harry shaking their hands. The first boy dropped his Quidditch magazine and stared, open-mouthed.
"To LUNCH!" insisted Professor McGonagall.
"Yes, Professor," they said, turning to go, while still staring at Harry. They nearly walked into each other.
"Your magazine," said Harry, picking it up.
"Thanks," said the boys in unison.
They turned to hurry to the Great Hall, but the boy she called Mr. Zahn stopped dead in his tracks.
"Mr. Potter," he said timidly, walking up to Harry again, "could you autograph it? I know you didn't play Quidditch after Hogwarts… but… you were fantastic when you were here. I'm a Beater, ya know…We won the cup last year…" he babbled, turning bright red.
Harry pulled a quill out of his cloak and signed the magazine.
"Thanks!" said the boy breathlessly, and he and his friend ran off down the corridor, delighted.
Professor McGonagall sniffed disapprovingly as they scampered away. "Manners. I suppose you are treated in such a fashion everywhere."
Harry shrugged and smiled at her as they continued to walk down the corridor. He talked with her politely about what he had been up to recently.
Harry nearly jumped out of his skin. He glanced around quickly. Where on earth had that come from?!
Professor McGonagall had barely flinched, but sighed. "I wonder what it was this time. Peeves is still given free run of the castle."
A look of realization spread across Harry's face. Peeves, of course. He had nearly forgotten about how unpredictable the school could be.
Sure enough, Peeves flew around the corner cackling with laughter. He stopped midair when he spotted Harry. An evil grin cracked across his face and he broke out into song.
"Ooooooooh, Potter you rotter! Look what you have doooone!"
He stuck out his tongue and zoomed off singing the rest of the ditty.
The professor raised an eyebrow. "He has an amazing memory for a Poltergeist."
Filch came thundering around the corner in hot pursuit. A jingling noise told Harry that Mrs. Norris wasn't far behind.
"PEEVES!" he screamed.
When Filch saw Harry and Professor McGonagall he stopped his chase and took off his hat in what looked like an attempt at a polite greeting.
"Afte'noon, Professor, Mr. Potter," he said with a quick and distracted hello. He then glanced behind him and bolted to the staircase. "Come, my sweet!" he screamed to Mrs. Norris, "We'll get that Poltergeist this time! And it'll be sooo long Peeves!" Filch cackled loudly, sounding remarkably like Peeves.
"Can cats live that long?" said Harry slowly.
"Unfortu-Ahem- well, in Mrs. Norris' case, it certainly seems that way. Mr. Filch has also remained quite agile himself… as you can see…"
They had stopped in front of a doorway and a loud argument could be heard.
"Ah, here you are Mr. Potter, this is Professor Weasley-Granger's office." said Professor McGonagall. "It was wonderful seeing you again."
They heard a shout that sounded like Ron's and she winced and began walking off.
Harry knocked tentatively. He heard Hermione's voice. "Get the door, will you, Ron?"
To Harry's amusement Ron could be heard answering back. "Get your own door, dear, it's your office!"
"Why should I get YOUR door after you insulted me… see if I ever come to lunch again!"
"I wasn't INSULTING YOU. I was reminding you to pay the Prophet owl this afternoon for our subscription."
"As if I wasn't smart enough to handle it myself."
"You weren't LAST month."
Harry knocked a little louder.
"GET your door, Professor Hermione!" retorted Ron.
"Ron, you are impossible!"
"Ron! Answer the door!"
"I am occupied at the moment."
"You are not!"
"Neither are you."
Harry laughed silently to himself. The door flung open. It was Percy Weasley. He looked quite frazzled from the argument.
"Harry!" he said, overjoyed to see someone not yelling.
"Hello, Percy!" said Harry, shaking his hand.
"Harry!" Ron and Hermione said at the same time. Harry hugged them both.
"It's great to see you!" said Ron, leading Harry inside of the office.
"Oh, do sit down and visit with us!" said Hermione.
Harry glanced around her office. Not surprisingly, it was very organized, bookshelves lining every wall. Ron and Percy were sitting across from Hermione in front of her desk and Percy was bouncing a baby on his knee. Harry sat down and admired the adorable baby, much cuter than Dudley Jr.
"Which one is that again?" he asked Percy, ashamed at his ignorance of not knowing the exact ages of Percy's children, due to his long absence.
"My son," said Percy proudly. "Henri Alexander Napoleon Ferdinand Percival Weasley the second."
It took awhile for Harry to realize that was the child's real name.
Ron added, "We call him Henri, because Percy insists on tacking every title imaginable on the poor little chap."
Percy looked wounded. "When you have children, Ron, you may call them whatever you like," he said haughtily.
"I'm surprised you haven't run out of names yet, as many kids you and Penelope have!" said Ron.
"I have eight well-behaved children," said Percy with a glare.
"I hope it doesn't get out about what he does with the ill-behaved ones," whispered Ron with a grin.
"They are well-behaved," Hermione pointed out, ignoring Ron.
Harry smiled at them all. People never changed, it seemed. He decided to put Ron on the spot. "Why don't you and Hermione have children?" he questioned.
Hermione answered him, "Because I have my career to think about right now," she explained. "Besides, I have it all worked out in my head when would be the optimum time to start a family."
Ron rolled his eyes. "She even has expense charts made up for this. Believe me, Harry, the day we do something spontaneous, I'm going to have a heart attack."
"I am prepared for everything, Ronald Weasley!" said Hermione.
"Except for anything unpredictable!"
"That is stupid. No one can prepare for that."
"I thought I was the impossible one?"
"No, you're impossible to have a logical argument with."
"That's exactly why you DROPPED Divination," said Ron smugly.
"You're actually proud of your marks in Divination?" said Hermione, looking quite disgusted.
"I handled Divination quite well... I just chose not to exert my knowledge to its full potential."
"What was your full potential again? I think it was somewhere along the lines of writing fictitious predictions of your death for homework."
"That wasn't potential, my dear... that was originality. Harry and I got straight A's in that class for our 'fictitious' works."
At the very mention of Harry's name the two suddenly realized that Harry, Percy, and Baby Henri were staring at them, all three being entertained by the argument.
Harry knew they didn't mean it. The bickering had gone on for years. It wasn't hard to see the adoration in their eyes.
He reached across the desk and handed Dudley's letter to Hermione. "Read this," he said.
Hermione's eyes grew wide as she read the letter and passed it to Ron, who in turn passed it to Percy.
"What on earth does that moron want to talk to you about?" said Ron.
"I already spoke to him and his wife," said Harry. He quickly told them about the entire visit to Dudley's home.
"That filthy rat!" said Ron.
"How could he do that to his own child?" exclaimed Hermione.
"Obviously, not cut out to be a responsible parent," said Percy.
Harry nodded. "I have to make a huge decision here. Do I adopt this child and raise her with me? Or should I force Dudley and Gardenia to raise their own child and accept responsibility?"
Hermione was scribbling on parchment madly. "Okay, let's look at this in a logical fashion. I've just made a list of pros and cons."
Ron sighed. "Hermione! Would you cut it out?"
"Cut what out?"
"Never mind!" interrupted Harry, making sure this didn't turn into another legendary Weasley vs. Weasley debate. This could actually help. "Okay here's a big con, I'm not married and I know absolutely nothing about raising kids."
Percy nodded, understanding his point. "Well, that may be true, Harry, but many people these days are taking care of children by themselves. You know more than you think about raising kids and a five-year-old isn't too much of a shock."
Ron smiled. "Unless she is like Fred or George."
Hermione wrote some more things down. "Actually, Harry, according to these facts, you do have an optimum environment for raising a child. You have a consistent and large income, lots of free time… now, a home, and not to mention plenty of personality aspects that make a good parent." She displayed her arithmetic calculations in the margin of the page and a short list of a few personality traits she thought Harry had.
Harry thought about this for a moment. "The only downfall with the free time is that, as an Auror, I really don't know when I'll have to leave and go to work right away."
"But," interrupted Ron, "you have friends who would be happy to watch the kid at a moment's notice. Hermione and I aren't far away, and anyone from my family would do anything for you."
Hermione smiled. "That's right! We'll back you up whatever you decide."
Harry looked down at his hands. His head was spinning. Then the thought hit him.
"When I was little, I wanted nothing more than for some long-lost relative to come save me from the Dursleys," he said quietly.
"Oh, Harry," said Hermione.
"And someone did," said Harry, standing up. "It's my turn… to do the same for her."
Ron grinned. "You're going to do it?"
"I do hope you will come to dinner," said Harry striding to the door, and hurrying out, "I will be in touch about the time…"
Hermione, Percy, and Ron stared at the door after him.
"Dinner?" said Ron.
A few hours later, Harry stood in the middle of the Privet Drive living room again. As an afterthought, he raised his wand to make the doorbell chime by magic. It was very comical to see his cousin bumble to the door and slam it shut when he discovered no one was on the porch. When he walked into the living room, Dudley squeaked loudly at the sight of Harry.
"I rang the doorbell this time," said Harry truthfully, "like a normal person."
Dudley said nothing but stood glaring at him.
"I've decided to adopt your daughter. I won't allow any child to go through what I did."
Dudley's face brightened. "You're taking her?"
"That's what I just said," said Harry.
"Good, her bags are all packed. Wait on the front porch," Dudley said, tramping out of the room in a hurry.
Harry sat on the bench on the front porch and glanced at his watch. The door opened and Dudley chucked a trunk onto the porch. The door slammed closed again and Harry sighed. What an idiot.
The door opened again, and Dudley's arm was seen pushing a little girl out before the door slammed shut.
The little girl looked nothing like a Dursley. She was a tiny little thing and had long brown hair in two pigtails, a pair of green eyes and a concerned little face. She looked like a frightened sparrow.
"Hi," said Harry warmly, bending to her level. "I'm Harry, you're going to come live with me now."
The little girl gave him a disdainful look. "I'm Chloe, and I don't like you."
Harry's jaw almost dropped. Well, he thought, this is starting out well.
"That's okay. I like you," he said simply and took out his wand.