Harry stared at her, still not believing his ears. After regaining his composure, he shook it off as 'spunk' on her part.
Here was a chance he rarely got. She had never heard of him. They could start from scratch. Actually, from the way things were looking, they were really going to have to start from scratch.
He smiled at her, tapped her trunk twice with his wand, and it disappeared. "That was my trunk," she said, not looking the least bit amazed, but irritated.
"It's at my house now," said Harry gently.
"I want it back," she insisted.
"You can certainly have it back when we get home," said Harry, knowing that this wouldn't please her.
"I don't like you," she repeated, turning away from him.
Harry had seen her lower lip quiver. "You think you're a Muggle, and I still like you," said Harry matter-of-factly.
"I am not a Muggle!" she said turning back to him, looking very vicious indeed, for a five-year-old.
"No, you're not a Muggle!" praised Harry. He was actually beginning to enjoy this, and he was glad she had some spirit. Chloe was becoming annoyed and more interested with Harry also. She was quite curious to see him use magic again, but it was very confusing to have someone be so nice to her. She couldn't decide whether she liked him or not.
"Are you ready to go home?" he asked, extending his hand towards her.
"No," she said, crossing her arms.
"Do you want your trunk?" he asked.
"Yes, right now," she said, nodding, very sure of herself.
"Then let's be off, shall we?"
Before she could react, he grabbed her hand and they Apparated away from Privet Drive.
Chloe promptly fell on the grass when they Apparated onto Harry's lawn. She gaped at him, utterly speechless, as he helped her to her feet.
"I know you've been through a lot," he began, "I hope you will be very happy here with me. Once you've learned of who you really are."
"I want my trunk."
Harry really thought that she should be commended for her firmness. He was happy to oblige her demand.
"This is my home," he said making a wide gesture in front of them, across the lawns and towards his manor.
"It's odd," she said slowly, taking in the house.
Harry studied his house. He supposed it was rather odd to those used to Muggle homes. His manor was large, with graceful towers and turrets that obviously had to be supported with magic. Despite the chilly weather, curtains of ivy draped across the manor walls, the beautiful tendrils making their way down pillars and the trellises.
"Would you like to see your room?" he asked.
Chloe opened her mouth, presumably to mention her trunk.
"With your trunk in it," Harry added hastily.
Chloe looked around the room and then she eyed Harry suspiciously. Then she glanced back into the wonderful room again. This couldn't be hers. Why would he give her this?
Harry well remembered the cupboard under the stairs and so he had made arrangements for a nice room to be put together. He studied her concerned little face, hoping for a faint glimmer of approval.
The room still smelled like the fresh, pastel yellow paint. There was a canopy bed with thick down comforters and plump pillows. The enormous window looking out into the gardens of Potter Manor had a wide window seat, with curtains on either side of it and sheer white curtains framing the window could be drawn closed, making the window seat a cozy place to curl up and hide away. In the corner a white bookcase held a few children's books. There was also a toy box with a few toys in it and a bright rug to play on. A small fireplace crackled merrily and cast dancing shadows on its hearth.
"I'm very sorry it's not finished," he apologized, "but I had short notice. In fact, I don't think we could find many toys in my house. I could take you shopping for new toys and clothes tomorrow, if you would like."
"Why do I need new clothes?" she said, eyeing his robes suspiciously.
"Because you'll want to wear some proper robes," he said.
"Like those?" she asked.
"Yes, but prettier than mine. Girls wear much prettier colors."
"No. I don't want those."
"All right," he said, nodding.
Chloe couldn't understand it. She never had a say on anything she did at home. This was very odd. "Dinner will be ready very soon," said Harry. "Do you want me to leave, so you can look around your room?"
She paused, the bookshelf looked very inviting, but she shook her head vigorously.
"I invited my family to dinner to meet you, " he said, testing her reaction. "Well, they aren't really family, but my very close friends. They will be very happy to meet you."
She didn't say anything, but stared up at him. Harry stared back, startled.
She had his mother's eyes.
It was possible, of course, but it was still astonishing. He wondered what Aunt Petunia thought of Chloe's eye color. She had probably had been revolted that Dudley's child had inherited her sister's eyes.
Harry, on the other hand, was delighted.
Fred and George Weasley were the first to arrive. They enthusiastically clapped Harry on the shoulders and nearly knocked him over in the process. "Harry! It's great to see you!" said George. "How's life without seriously-evil wizard hunting, old boy?" questioned George, pumping Harry's arm in greeting.
"Ah, it's quiet. Too quiet, almost," said Harry truthfully. Chloe was peering behind one of the dining room chairs. She ducked away when George noticed her.
"Hey! That must be the kid you took on! Right?"
Harry nodded. "You can come out, Chloe, it's okay." Chloe didn't budge.
"No," she said from under the table.
She sat and watched Harry's boots pace back and forth. She could also hear him murmuring to the red-haired men. "It's probably too soon for all this. It's a difficult adjustment. Perhaps we should call dinner off."
"Nonsense," said one of the red-haired men. "She'll be fine." Chloe covered her mouth with her hands, as the dining room door banged open. She watched, amazed, as a pair of enormous boots tramped across the carpet. Chloe looked up at the bottom of the table when she heard the china tinkling with every step the person took. "Hagrid!" they all said.
" 'Ello all!" boomed Hagrid's merry voice. "Where's the little 'un you've got, Harry?"
Horrified, Chloe scooted farther under a chair.
"Under the table," said Harry, as if this was quite normal.
"Playing?" guessed Hagrid, leaning on his pink umbrella.
"Not exactly," said George.
Harry peered under the table. "Chloe, would you like to come out now?"
She was extremely curious about the owner of the enormous boots. She sat for a moment, weighing the decision thoughtfully.
She glanced up at Harry again. He had asked rather nicely.
Curiosity eventually prevailed uncertainty, so moments later she stood uneasily at Harry's side. "Chloe!" grinned Harry.
"So glad you could join us!" said George, with a sweeping bow.
Giant-man approached her. "I'm Rubeus Hagrid," he said, shaking her tiny hand.
"I'm Chloe. Let go," she said, pulling her hand back, startled.
"My," said Fred sarcastically, "what a delightful child."
Hagrid drew back at once, but he was unscathed. "How old are ya, Chloe?"
"Five," she said, putting on a brave face. She hoped he didn't think that he had scared her. She jumped again as two more people popped into the room. Without realizing it, she had scurried to Harry's side in her fright. Harry greeted Lupin and Sirius, and smiled down at Chloe. She stood absolutely still when she was introduced again. They all seemed friendly enough… Meanwhile, people were coming into the room left and right. There was plenty to look at now.
"Hello, Harry," said Ron, leaning to the side to look at Chloe.
"Hello," said Hermione, bending to Chloe's level, "I'm Hermione."
Chloe stepped further behind Harry's leg.
Ginny had also arrived. She smiled at Harry and then hugged him.
"Hello," said Harry, pleasantly surprised.
"She's lovely," said Ginny with a smile, and walked off to go speak to Hagrid.
Chloe peeped out a little from Harry's leg, and watched Ginny walk away.
A loud noise by the fireplace caught her attention.
The fire in the fireplace had roared to amazing heights and blazed an emerald green. A man with bright red hair walked out of the flames. He brushed the soot off his purple robes, wiped his glasses, and looked expectantly into the fireplace.
A boy appeared in the flames a few seconds later. He had the same red hair and he couldn't be older than seven. The man brushed the soot off the boy's robes and then took to gazing into the fire again. Then a little girl with a set of long red braids walked out of the fire. She had to be six or so. The boy brushed the soot off of her. Then another child appeared and the girl took on the job of brushing off her robes. Two more boys came out of the fire, then two girls. The children were progressively younger with each one that appeared and they all seemed to be a year apart.
Chloe had counted ten people including the mother who had arrived last, holding a baby. The father cleared his throat. "Children! Line up, please!" he said, watching them fall in line, oldest to youngest. "Mortimer?" called Percy.
"Here, Father!" said the eldest boy.
"Present!" cried the second girl.
"HERE!" crowed a proud-looking four-year-old. The two eldest children leaned forward to shush him.
"Here! Here! Here!" he cried.
"Alexandria and Madeline?"
"Hwere!" yelled two identical twins, who (coincidentally) were both about two years old.
"Penny, love, do you have Henri?"
"Yes," smiled the mother.
Percy nodded and he smiled at his family, "Children, what do we say to Mr. Potter?" The children glanced at each other and a little murmuring was heard. They apparently remembered what they were supposed to say and held hands facing Harry.
"Thank you very much for inviting us, Mr. Potter!" they said, in perfect unison. Percy looked proudly on and put an arm around Penelope.
"The Von Trapps, everyone!" said George, applauding loudly.
"Go set your gifts for your new friend on the table, please," said Percy, waving toward the table. Chloe now noticed the pile of gifts on the table. For her?
The children were wearing sky blue robes with their first initial embroidered on the right side of their robes. One by one they deposited their gifts on the table.
Fred walked over to them and began to pace back and forth, frowning at them.
"Uncle Fred!" cried one of the children, knowing Fred would play with them.
"Let me see, let me see…" said Fred, leaning over sharply to look one of them eye to eye.
The children were covering their mouths with their hands, giggling.
"No laughing!" yelled Fred. This actually made them laugh harder.
"You, the one with the red hair, give me a thousand!" said Fred.
The normally obedient children were perplexed. They all had red hair.
Fred tapped his foot. "If that's the way it's going to be, I'll have to eat one of you!"
All the children screamed and scattered in fits of laughter as Fred chased them. He succeeded in catching one of the boys and had thrown him over his shoulder, upside down, and continued chasing after the others. Chloe was staring, clinging to the side of Harry's robes. Amidst the ruckus, Percy was trying desperately to get Fred to stop, while George and the rest were enjoying the chaos.
"Whom are we missing?" asked Penelope, having to speak up over the din.
"Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are in Egypt with Bill, but Dumbledore said he'd be here," said Harry. Almost on cue, Albus Dumbledore Apparated into the room.
Little Alexandria ran headlong into his legs.
Percy put his face in his hands. "Children! Please!"
Dumbledore chuckled and picked Alexandria up off the floor, looking around at the rest of the children. Fred was now running around with two of the boys by their ankles, and George and Ron had joined him in playing with the children.
"Fun game?" Dumbledore asked her.
Alexandria nodded, smiling brightly. "Good evening, all!" he said, setting Alexandria down. An onslaught of cheery hellos filled the room.
"Glad you could come," said Harry, shaking his hand.
"Oh, fiddlesticks!" said Dumbledore, as he spotted the table heaped with presents. "I almost forgot!"
Chloe watched, entranced, as he drew a circle in front of him with his wand. It appeared to be just glittering sparkle in the air and she could see right through it. He stuck his arm through the circle and his arm disappeared, as if he had stuck it in a pocket of the air. He was now making a great deal of racket as he rummaged around, and Chloe swore she heard a chicken cluck loudly.
"Merlin's beard!" muttered Dumbledore. "What on earth did I do with the thing?"
His voice was muffled because he had stuck his head in the circle. It was a bizarre sight. Several of Percy's children giggled.
"AHA!" came Dumbledore's voice.
His face and pointed wizard's hat appeared again.
"Here we are!" he said brightly, as he tugged a gift-wrapped box out of the circle. The glittering circle disappeared once he pulled the box out of it, and he set the present along with the others on the table.
"Shall we eat now?" asked Harry.
"Oh yes, please!" said one of Percy's children.
A quick glance at the embroidered letter on her robes told Harry that it was Catherine. After much scuffling everyone was seated and staring at Harry, who stood up looking like he was about to give a —
"Speech!" demanded Sirius.
"Ah that's it, Harry, give us a speakin' to!" said Hagrid. Harry smiled at them and ran a hand through his mussed hair.
"Thank you all for coming tonight, it means so much to me," he paused, searching for correct words. "I held this dinner to welcome and introduce someone. Someone I think we will all come to love very much."
"Awwwwwww! Thanks, Harry!" butted in Fred. "You mean it?" WHAP!
Percy had swatted at George. "That was from Mum!" he hissed.
"Ahem," said Harry. "This is Chloe. Hopefully she will feel very happy and at home with us soon." There was a smattering of applause and Fred and George pretended to hand tissues to each other. Chloe wasn't going to admit it yet, but these wizard freaks (like Dad called them) were almost all right. She still didn't want to be a witch, though.
Chloe was hungrier than she thought and the dinner was very good. She steered a green bean around her plate and avoided responding to Hermione's questions by nodding yes to everything. Finally, Hermione had the good grace to stop encouraging her to come out of her shell.
Some time later someone suggested that Chloe should open her gifts. Chloe shook her head no, very firmly. She didn't want them all to stare at her. When she saw the disappointment on everyone's face, she shyly resigned to sitting next to Harry by the fireplace, who handed her a gift.
Percy's children were very confused with the newcomer. Not wanting to open gifts?! That was unheard of! Ron and Hermione had given Chloe a toy broom. She didn't know what it was for, besides sweeping the floor, and stared at them with a completely blank expression.
She was quickly handed another gift.
"THAT'S MINE!!!!" yelled Hunter with undisguised joy. "I picked it out!"
The gift was some sort of book. "QUIDDITCH!!!!" said the title in flashing colors.
Chloe blinked. Were the people moving in the pictures? She set the book down and decided not to chance another look. Another parcel. It was filled with tiny rockets. The rest of the children fidgeted and squirmed happily at the sight of these.
"Oh, set one off, Uncle George!" begged Kyle.
Chloe watched as George threw one towards the ceiling. A shower of glowing purple stars drifted down like confetti. The children cheered.
Chloe did like that. The faintest trace of a smile showed for a split second.
Then came the next box. Ginny had thoughtfully bought her a set of green robes.
Chloe looked at the robes unhappily. "I'm not a witch!" she said.
The room fell completely silent.
In the silence, Meghan could be heard asking a question.
"Could I be punished for saying that?" she asked Hermione.
"Meghan!" whispered Percy loudly.
Chloe felt guilty when she gazed at all their faces. Tears were threatening to spill over her burning cheeks.
"Open my gift, please," said Dumbledore in the silence. Chloe didn't want to do anything except go and hide in the cupboard under the stairs. If she was there, she could hide from the whole world, including her parents. Maybe she could hide there forever and be whoever she wanted to be.
"Go on, Chloe. Open Professor Dumbledore's present," coaxed Harry. She opened the gift and let it sit in front of her, still in the box. She had no clue what it was. It looked like a ball, about the size of a soccer ball. It was a dull light gray color, with a glassy sheen.
"Pick it up, my dear, it won't hurt you!" smiled Dumbledore. Chloe reached for it. The moment she held it in her hands it began to emit a soft golden light and was no longer the ugly gray, but a brilliant shining ball of light. "That," said Dumbledore, "is a bauble."
"It's pretty," Chloe whispered, in a voice she could barely hear herself.
Dumbledore continued, "Chloe, if you weren't a witch, the bauble would never glow for you. It only works by magic." Chloe's eyes filled with tears. She dropped the bauble like a hot coal, and ran from the room. Harry put his face in his hands. Dumbledore didn't seem unsettled by this turn of events.
"These never break," he said, setting the gleaming bauble back into the box, where it promptly turned back to flat gray.
"I'm sorry," Harry told his guests, "She's had to see a lot today."
After he had told his guests goodbye, Harry took all of Chloe's presents and made his way to her room.
"Chloe?" he called at her door. There was no answer and he let himself in.
Chloe was curled in a miserable little ball underneath all her bed sheets. "Tough day?" asked Harry, sitting next to the lump in the bed.
"I'm n-n-n-n-not a witch!" came the tearful reply.
"Why aren't you a witch?" he asked.
"Because, I don't want to be," she said with a wail.
She surfaced from her blankets and wiped at her face, sopping with tears.
"Your mum and dad don't want you if you're a witch," he said to her. Chloe nodded and more tears plopped onto her dress and streamed down her cheeks onto her hands.
"I-I want to be like Dudley Jr.," she said firmly.
"I'm sorry, but you're not him, Chloe, and I feel sorry for him not being like you!"
"Mum and Dad don't hate him!" she said, ready to dive under the covers again.
Harry looked at her for a moment,."I don't hate you Chloe." The sobbing let up for a moment.
"Why not?" she asked. Chloe couldn't help but feel a tad bit annoyed at that statement. "I was bad," she added, sounding halfway proud of it.
Oh yes, thought Harry to himself, that was most definitely 'spunk'.
"So what?" he said aloud, "I don't think you meant any of it," making sure she realized that he had caught her bluff.
"But Mum and Dad say witches are freaks with no friends," she said, trying to start another batch of tears but failing.
Harry grinned at this. "Oh, really? Your mum and dad hate me too. So that makes me a freak?" Chloe seemed surprised at this side of the truth.
"Well, n-n-no," she said, still stuttering from her earlier tears.
"I've got lots of friends, even more than the people you met tonight. Are they horrible and mean and awful freaks like your mum and dad call us?"
"Noooo," she said slowly, thinking this over.
"So, what is wrong with being with nice people all the time who love you for who you are?"
"If I was normal like Dudley Jr., my mum and dad would love me!" she said, the tears welling up again. Harry crossed his arms and shook his head.
"This is hard, Chloe; I am sorry I have to tell you this. Your mum and dad wouldn't accept you unconditionally even if you could hide your true self away now and go back to their world. They are selfish, Chloe. I know it hurts a lot to think that, but it's the truth and it has to be told." She stared at him and thought this over. "The wisest person I know once told me something about this," said Harry.
"What is it?" asked Chloe, as she let him wipe her face with a handkerchief.
"The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and therefore should be treated with great caution." Chloe stared at him blankly. Harry smiled at her expression and continued. "You might be a little young for that quote," he smiled shyly, a bit embarrassed, "I'm a bit new at this whole thing with little kids."
"What does it mean?" she persisted, not to be told she was too young.
"Well, what it means is," Harry paused, "sometimes the truth needs to be told, even though one must be careful to not hurt anyone with what they know. I said that because I know you really want to be with your parents, Chloe, but they aren't going to love you for who you are."
"I don't want to be there, and I don't know if I like it here!"
Harry thought she looked horribly tired.
"What will you miss from there? The cupboard? Or your dad screaming at you?" Chloe looked crestfallen at the mention of those things."I want you to live with me," said Harry. "You can be yourself and start all over here. I will love you no matter what you turn out to be and you are always welcome here."
He leaned over and hugged her, and she began crying on the front of his robes.
Later, after Chloe had been tucked in her bed, he gave her a kiss on the forehead and was about to leave the room when she said something. "What is that on your forehead?" she asked, staring at it.
Harry grimaced. "Ah, that's not exactly a great bedtime story," he said calmly, "What if I tell you about when I had to live in your old world?" Chloe nodded. She had never been told a bedtime story before.
Harry sat by her bed in a chair and told her all about his life before he went to Hogwarts. He had just got to the part where all the letters had come streaming into the chimney when he glanced at his watch.
"That's enough for tonight," he said.
Chloe looked disappointed but didn't argue. Her eyelids were getting heavy, and she could barely keep her eyes open. Harry was about to leave the room when she piped up again. "Can I..." she began.
"Chloe, you've had a long day…"
"Can I have that thing that man gave me?" she finished.
"Dumbledore?" asked Harry. "The bauble?"
Harry smiled. "You should be proud he likes you. He's the greatest wizard in the whole world."
"In the world?" said Chloe in amazement.
"Here," said Harry, handing over the bauble, "Now go to sleep before I give you a Sleeping Potion!"
"You can do that?" she said, sounding very impressed. "Like Snow White and the apple?" Harry had to remember the story of Snow White before he answered her question.
"No," he said, "not poison! It would just make you go to sleep. You'd wake up in the morning."
"I hope," Chloe gave a huge yawn, "that all the apples are okay here. I don't think we should really let the bad witches in the house."
"All the apples are fine," said Harry, smoothing her covers.
Harry snapped his fingers and the lights winked out in her room.
"We'll just let in the good witches," she said, even more drowsily.
She held her bauble again and admired the soft golden light in the darkness. Perhaps things were going to be all right here after all. Maybe magic wouldn't be so terrible and scary as she thought. She yawned as the bauble's golden light illuminated her face. It was worth a shot being a witch. Being difficult had worn her out.
Harry sat in his study and closed his book as he sat and thought about Chloe. It looked like a new life for the both of them. They would be just fine.