It's been thirteen years since the Battle for Hogwarts, and most of the wounds of the wizarding world have long since healed.
The school has been rebuilt, all four Houses are back up to full strength (despite the best efforts of a vocal minority who spent months unsuccessfully attempting to oust Slytherin from the ranks), and the History curriculum has been entirely revamped, with rather fewer lessons about the Goblin Wars and quite a few more about the most significant events of the past century.
Courses in Music and Language Arts have been added to the Third Years' electives, the Gobstones' team has been given enough funding to send two representatives to Salem's International Gobstones Championship each year, and all four House Quidditch teams have been gifted with complete sets of new brooms, thanks to Draco Malfoy's ceaseless efforts to restore his family's good name.
Not all of the wounds have healed, however.
The lower levels of Azkaban hold 117 prisoners serving life sentences for the crimes they committed in service to Tom Riddle Jr (formerly 'Lord Voldemort'), the atmosphere at the Ministry is marked by paranoia and suspicion (although to be fair, paranoia and suspicion were pervasive in most Ministry departments even before Voldemort's second rise), and the majority of young witches and wizards cannot remember a time when they were not forced to acquire their wands from Continental or American sources after Ollivander retired permanently from the wand making business without naming an heir.
And then there are the children.
Motherless. Fatherless. Abandoned. Children whose entire extended families were lost in those long frightening months near the end of the twentieth century.
It is for those children that Ariana's Garden — a home for orphaned and displaced boys and girls — was created.
For reasons that should be obvious to anyone familiar with his personal history, Harry Potter — now married and the father of three — has long since been one of the Garden's major benefactors. He and his wife Ginny have a standing order with Gringotts to send a fairly substantial number of Galleons each month, earmarked specifically for the children's individual interests and hobbies, and he visits the Garden twice a year — once in January and once in July — to see to it personally that the children seem happy and thriving.
For the past two years, his oldest boy, James, has accompanied him on his visits, but this July is the first time that his middle child, Albus Severus, has also been allowed to join him for the day.
When they arrive, Al is introduced by his dad to Mr and Mrs Twist, who help take care of all the children at the orphanage. Mr Twist gives two biscuits each to James and Al, and the boys sit on either side of their dad in the front parlor as they eat their snacks. Al is just about to ask James if he wants to go play when some older kids that James recognizes from previous visits show up and whisk James away to play football with them out back.
Al's dad asks Al — quietly — whether he'd like to go play too, but Al shakes his head and asks if he can just explore for a bit.
Thirty minutes later, Al has seen all the public rooms, has watched the older boys and girls play footie, and has been told by a girl with the funny name of Wanda (Al does not laugh) that he can go down to the basement where they keep most of the toys and books if he wants.
He goes down the stairs, but there are only four kids down there, and three of them — the three sitting together on an old, threadbare sofa — are practicing spells in Latin. They look up when they hear him enter the room and one of the three, a curly-haired blond boy, offers him a small smile, but then he turns back to his friends and their study project.
Left to his own devices, Al gravitates towards the only other kid in the room, a boy who looks to be Al's age. He's staring intently into the corner.
The boy's hair is long and a little dirty, just like his own gets when his mum and dad haven't got around to washing it in a few days. He's wearing the same sort of clothes almost all the kids in the Garden wear, but on him they seem a little too big, a little weird, like something Granny Weasley would have worn back in the olden days when she was a girl.
Al kneels down close to the boy and waits for him to turn around. The expression on the boy's face is a little snarly, but he doesn't tell Al to get lost, so Al decides to talk to him.
"What are you doing?"
"Watching bugs," the boy answers.
Ordinarily, that wouldn't sound like a very fun activity, but Al glances over to where the boy had been looking and he sees five of the strangest and most colorful beetles he's ever seen in his life.
"Can I watch bugs with you?" he asks, as one of the prettiest beetles, all green and blue and purple, crawls over the back of a turquoise beetle that looks like it's made out of metal.
The boy looks at him with suspicion for a moment, then shrugs and turns back to the bugs. "That one," he says, pointing at the crawler, "is a Tamamushi, and the one he's crawling over is a kind of Tiger Beetle. They're not supposed to live in England at all. Why they're here is a mystery!"
"Cool," Al says.
"Yeah," says the boy, nodding in agreement.
Al puts out his hand then as he's seen his dad do and says "My name's Albus Severus Potter."
The boy doesn't take his hand, just frowns and says, "My middle name is Severus too."
This is very cool. Al's met plenty of kids named Albus, but he's never met another boy who shared his middle name. "What's your first name?"
"It's John. And now we have to be quiet so the spiders will come out and join the beetles."
Al nods as if that was the most obvious thing in the world. He lies down on his stomach and rests his chin on his arms. After a few minutes, John does the same.
When a pair of yellow and black spiders ('Wasp Spiders,' John says) come out from the wall and start climbing over the beetles, both boys scoot closer — their shoulders and elbows touching — so they can get a better look.
Al looks up and smiles. "His middle name is Severus like mine, Dad," he says excitedly.
James snickers. "Two people with the same dumb name."
"It's not a dumb name," says Al.
"Is not. Is it John?"
"James" says Harry, "What have your mother and I said about that kind of teasing?"
"Dumb name," mutters James one last time for good measure, but then the boy — John — whispers something into Al's ear and Al whispers something back and John whispers again and then Al grins and both boys say "You can't be Sirius!" in unison and start to giggle.
Against his better judgement, Harry smiles, then turns to John, who suddenly looks a little defensive about having maybe got Al into trouble.
Harry just shakes his head, pats all three boys on their shoulders, then tells his sons they can keep playing for another ten minutes, and that he'll be waiting for them upstairs in the front room with Madam Twist.
"Showed up literally on the doorstep one day a few months ago," says Madam Twist, "with a note pinned to his shirt, giving his name and nothing else."
"Where's he from?" Harry asks.
"No idea," she says. "He's got no memory about where he'd been before arriving here. We took him to St Mungo's and all, but they said the boy wasn't suffering from a memory spell gone wrong. They kept him under observation for three days, but they didn't have a clue what's wrong with young Mr Doe, so they released him back to us and here we are."
"Doe?" Harry says, all at once recognizing the name Muggles sometimes give to unidentified males from the films Hermione's made him watch over the years. "John Doe? Seriously?"
"Do you know his family?" Madam Twist asks with interest. "Doe doesn't sound like a wizarding name, but I suppose he might be foreign."
"Could be," Harry says noncommittally . "He's definitely magical, is he?"
"Oh, no question about that. And he's smart. Smart as a whip, that boy," says Madam Twist, "but he's got a mouth on him, that one. I'm surprised your youngest wasn't chased away."
"Takes a lot to run him off," says Harry fondly. "Al's a pretty patient kid."
"He'd have to be," sighs Madam Twist.
Madam Twist stands beside Harry. "What is it about your children?" she murmurs softly. "I don't think I've ever seen John playing with any of the other children here. He talks to them in class and at meals when he has to, but...he's a very solitary boy."
"Doesn't seem that way at the moment, does it?" Harry says, looking at his sons playing happily with John.
"No, it doesn't." she says, consideringly.
Al looks up from the game. "Hey Dad," he says. "Can John come with us to Angelo's for pizza?"
Harry glances at his older son, who just shrugs, then turns to look at John who's staring directly at the floor, his too-long hair hanging over his face.
"Would you like to come with us, John?" Harry asks.
John looks up and the expression on his face — as if the very idea of somebody wanting to do something nice for him was almost inconceivable — brings a lump to Harry's throat. For a moment, nobody says a word, then Al bumps his shoulder against John's and says, "He wants to go, Dad."
"Then let's go, boys."
Harry leads Ginny up to the bar so they can order some wine — and so that he can quickly explain how he started the day with two boys and ended up with three.
When they return to the table, their regular order has already been served and the children are busy eating. John sits between Al and three year old Lily Luna. Recently, Lily Luna has taken to poking everybody within arm's length repeatedly, but no matter how many times she pokes John, he never loses his temper — at least not until she leans over to poke him one last time and knocks his glass of lemonade off the table, spilling the drink all over both of them. Even then, John does little more than roll his eyes at the girl, but Harry can hear a very familiar voice mutter "That will be five points" through clenched teeth.
Harry's eyes widen in shock.
He wonders if it's possible he just imagined what he heard — nobody else seems to have noticed a thing — but when he looks over at John, the boy is breathing heavily and shaking his head as if he's trying to loosen something from his brain.
"Mum!" James says loudly. "John's freaking out."
And then Ginny is standing beside John, one arm wrapped around his shoulders and the other patting down the boy's jeans with a cloth napkin, and Lily Luna is patting John's hand and saying "Poor wet boy," which makes Al and James laugh.
After a moment, John laughs too.
So does Harry, but he knows what he heard John say.
Ginny tears up a little when the adoption is finalized and John officially becomes her fourth child.
So does Harry.
The family spends the afternoon seeing the ninth and last of the Star Wars movies, then they return home to share an early birthday dinner with Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron and their children.
At 7:00 p.m. precisely, the rest of the relatives, including Teddy and Great Aunt Andromeda, Apparate into the lounge. John gets two gifts from everybody — one for his birthday and one for what James says is a consolation prize for having Al as a brother.
Al and John tackle James to the floor and tickle him until Granny Weasley says it's time for cake.
James is still awake and reading in bed, but Al and Lily Luna are both fast asleep in their rooms.
John...well, John has always been a restless sleeper, but tonight, the sounds coming from his bedroom tell Harry that his boy is having a bad dream.
Harry opens the door and walks inside. The room used to be for guests, but now there's no mistaking it for anyone's but John's. It's packed with books about insects and dinosaurs and Ginny's old copy of The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle, there are posters all over the walls, and Muggle t-shirts crumpled up on the floor.
John whimpers a bit in his sleep, and Harry sits beside him on his bed. He brushes the hair off John's sweaty forehead, and John — still half asleep — rolls over and clings to him.
"Everything okay, big boy?" Harry whispers.
"Uh huh," John answers sleepily. "You know what?"
"Your eyes are just like Lily's."
For a moment, Harry can't breathe, then he forces himself to say cautiously, "Lily Luna's eyes are brown."
"Not Lily Luna's," John mutters. "The other Lily."
Harry sits there for a long time, holding his son in his arms.
Just when Harry thinks John has finally fallen back to sleep, the boy says quietly, "I like it here better than my other life," then adds with that breathtaking honesty that's usually only found in children: "I was really lonely."
Finally Harry says, "John, you know you can tell me anything, right?" John looks a little confused, but he nods. "Can you tell me about the bad dream you had last night?"
John scrunches up his face in deep thought, then shakes his head. "I don't think I had a bad dream. Did I...Dad?"
Harry takes a deep breath, then kisses his son on the forehead. "Maybe not, John. Maybe not."
John grins, then slides off Harry's lap and runs off to play with the other children.
John gets very good marks in all his classes, but he does especially well in Potions and Defense.
John becomes a damned good newspaperman.
He never returns to Hogwarts to teach.