Harry reappeared on the outskirts of Hogsmeade, completely unnoticed. The small town, which lived the grounds of Hogwarts, was quiet and the streets were deserted. As Harry pulled his Invisibility Cloak over his head (he had to slouch even more these days, due to it not covering as much as his ankles as it used too) and began to walk forward, the only source of noise was from the Three Broomsticks, which looked quite busy for a Wednesday night.
But this side of the War meant that Hogsmeade was a very safe place nowadays, and Harry supposed that he had never seen it so busy before, because the small village had almost always been in danger, which kept people away. And as he grew closer, the music grew louder, and the chattering stronger - he was unable to stop himself from smiling, acknowledging that it was he, Harry Potter, that had made such good things happen again.
After stopping very briefly, he moved on, Hogwarts now well and truly in his field of vision - but he did not intend to just walk through the front gates; for even he, Harry Potter, saviour, legend and ex-pupil, would not be allowed entry so easily. He supposed that if it were daylight, and he made his presence be known, he would have been carried on shoulders into the Entrance Hall and beyond and all with the Headmistress' full blessing.
But aside from his ego, he did not want that sort of attention this evening - there was only one person whose full attention he sought after, and if he was going to keep it to just her, he would have to sneak in, undetected. And he thought surely he could do that, with his map, his invisibility cloak and the castle asleep and scarcely unguarded, when Sirius Black was able to do it with none of those things, whilst he still had a bounty on his head.
His plan in which he almost always used and almost always had success with: was to make it up as he went along.
First of all, there were seven secret passageways that lead from Hogsmeade into Hogwarts - the ones that lead from Honeydukes, the Shrieking Shack and the Hogs Head were all currently inaccessible, as was the one behind the mirror on the fourth floor - that tunnel had caved in. But three more tunnels existed, very few know them, Filch was one of these people - but it is one thing for him to know of them, it's another for him to expect someone with an Invisibility Cloak that provides everlasting protection appear out of one of them.
The passage behind the statue of Gregory the Smarmy was the best one for Harry to use, it would take him to the fifth floor corridor, where there was a passageway/shortcut that would take him to the seventh-floor corridor and around the corner from the Gryffindor common room. He knew there was something he was forgetting, but he figured he would cross any sort of bridge when he came to it.
The entrance to the hidden passageway in Hogsmeade was in an old outhouse that hadn't occupied for decades, and a simple tap of his wand and mutter of the correct incantation, the floor would disperse under his feet and he could climb down a ladder into the tunnel below. Like all tunnels that lead from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts, it sloped down and then back up, meaning nearly half-an-hour passed before Harry reached the other end and felt the statue firmly in front of him.
Pulling out the Marauder's map, he tapped it with his wand and assessed the situation; the Caretaker Argus Filch, along with his cat Mrs Norris, were snooping around on the first floor, and miles away from where Harry would come out; his only other problem, Peeves the Poltergeist, appeared to be far too busy bouncing around in the Trophy room, hopefully he kept up the commotion and took any unwanted attention away from where Harry was.
However, walking up and down the fifth-floor corridor was a name he was unfamiliar with, and undoubtedly a Prefect; it was also likely they had been stationed there due to Filch knowing about the hidden passage and so he had always stationed a guard there. There only appeared to be one, so Harry waited for them to walk to the other end of the corridor before he pushed aside the statue, ducked out of the passage, and pushed the statue back into place.
Without wanting to take any more risks than he had too, he waited for the Prefect to double-back, and then walk away again before he moved. The Prefect in question was a big ugly brute of a boy, Slytherin, with more warts on his face than Harry had time to count; he only had time to stuff his fist in his mouth so as not to laugh out loud and give away his position. But eventually the Slytherin walked away, and Harry stepped out from his hiding spot and darted in the other direction, around one corner and the next.
Eventually he reached the tapestry with which had a shortcut behind and that would take him to the seventh floor - he made sure no one was closing in on him before he pulled it aside and made his way up the spiral staircase, careful to miss the step that his old friend Neville Longbottom used to always get caught in. Before he exited the stairwell, he checked his map again and completely ensured that the seventh floor was completely deserted.
Another Prefect was wandering around the Ravenclaw tower, and appeared to be tracing a pattern that kept quite a ways away from him, so otherwise all was clear. He moved through the tapestry and along the seventh floor corridor, rounding a corner to come face-to-face with the portrait of the Fat Lady - before it even occurred to him that he might need a password, he pulled the Invisibility Cloak off of his shoulders and attempted to wake her.
'Excuse me,' he said as quietly as he could, 'hello?'
It took him several minutes, but eventually she began to stir and grumpily started to shout at him for waking her. He had not prepared for this either, the surrounding portraits also began to wake at the echoing sound of the Fat Lady's voice, shouting at a student for being out of bed so late and for inconveniently waking her up.
'I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' Harry kept repeating, begging for them to be quiet, 'please can you just let me in?'
'Fine!' she shouted finally, before patting down her dress and straightening in her seat. 'Password?'
'Oh-' realisation set in for Harry, such was his eagerness to get in, the thought of needing something so simple as a password had completely slipped his mind. 'I don't know.'
This, regrettably, was also a stupid thing to say - the Fat Lady immediately riled up once more.
'You don't know?' she hissed at him, looking outraged, 'you have the tenacity to wake me up in the middle of the night and demand entry without a password? I was having such a wonderful dream, too! That Sir Cadogan was being such a gentleman to me and everything.. what chances do you think I have of picking it up where it left off again? Hmm?'
She looked back down at Harry, who still stood there, a look of disapproval on his face at what she had just said.
'No password, no entry!' she shouted, pointing at him, 'now go away!'
'But I really need too-'
'You must remember me? My name is Harry, Harry Pot-'
Not wanting to attract any more attention to himself, Harry decided to back right away rather than for her keep shouting at him and he threw the Invisibility Cloak back over his head. He doubled-back down the seventh-floor corridor, attempting to rack his brains for an idea as to what to do now - with no password he was stuck, and even if he found out what the password was, it would be a hell of a gamble to wake the Fat Lady again, she would undoubtedly make Filch come running, putting him in an awkward position to explain what he - an ex-student - was doing in the castle in the middle of the night.
Though he was sure there was no way someone with his amount of respectability and influence could be courted over such a little thing like disturbance of the peace, it still made for an embarrassing position, and he began to think that maybe he should pull the plug and leave before it could get any more out of hand. But it pained him to make it this far, to be less than one hundred metres from his goal, only to have to turn around and go all the way back to where he started from.
He had started walking back down the corridor, towards the tapestry and the hidden stairwell that would take him back to the fifth-floor, when something silvery-white caught his attention out of the corner of his eye.