The boats pulled closer to the cliff upon which the castle was built, and the huge man called, "Duck!" as they approached a curtain of ivy hanging down the rock face. Everyone ducked, although their guide seemed to be the only one who actually needed to duck as they passed through the curtain and into a cavern. The boats all glided up to a long pier at the base of a stone staircase and tied themselves up.
"Ev'rybody out," their huge guide said, "an' up th' stairs wi' ye." He waited at the far end of the pier until everyone was out of the boats and climbing the stairs before following them all up. He reached out with a meaty fist and knocked on a wooden door set into the stone.
The door opened to reveal a stern-looking witch in green robes with a tartan shoulder drape. "I trust the First Years are all accounted for, Hagrid?" she said, her voice not unkind, but her tone indicating that she would accept no nonsense.
The giant man, now identified as Hagrid, scratched his head. "I got the right number o' kids," he said, "but I din't see 'Arry Potter nowhere, Perfesser McGonagall."
Professor McGonagall nodded. "If the number of students is correct, Hagrid, we must assume Harry Potter is among them. Professor Snape suggested that if his aunt somehow learned that Mr. Potter is well-known, she may have used some muggle method to disguise him, so that he'd not be mobbed on the platform."
"Oh," Hagrid said. "I would'n'a thought o' that."
Professor McGonagall ushered the children into an antechamber and turned to face them. "Welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," she said. "In a few minutes, you will be sorted into one of four Houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, or Slytherin. Your House will be your home at Hogwarts, and your housemates will be your family. Named for the four founders of our school, each House has a long and respectable history, and you are expected to strive to be a credit to your House. Meritorious behaviour and academic excellence will gain points towards the House Cup, which is awarded at the end of each year, while misbehaviour and rules infractions will lose points. I suggest you take the next few moments to make sure you're presentable when I return to escort you into the Great Hall for your sorting." Her gaze moved from Greg Goyle, whose collar stuck straight up on one side of his neck, to the mannerless redhead, whose nose still bore a smudge of dirt, before she exited the antechamber.
Tracey helped Greg fix his collar. "There you go, Greg."
"Thanks, Tracey," he replied.
Professor McGonagall reappeared and led the first years into the Great Hall. Above hundreds of candles floating in midair, the ceiling reflected the sky outside, with a few wispy clouds chasing across the star-spattered darkness.
"Oh, wow," Hermione whispered. "I read about the charmed ceiling in Hogwarts: A History. It's so much more beautiful than I expected, though."
Draco grinned at Dean, whispering, "She's definitely Ravenclaw material – I think it's only Ravenclaws who read that book!"
A tall stool floated out in front of the head table, with a tattered hat sitting on it. A mouth-like rip near the brim opened up, and it sang a song explaining what each House founder looked for in their students and pointing out that the differences among the four friends were what kept the friendships so firm. Harry, who recognised Dumbledore from Stephen's description, noticed him frowning slightly at the hat and wondered why. Then Professor McGonagall pulled out a scroll and started reading off names. "Abbott, Hannah!"
Hannah hurried forward and Professor McGonagall placed the hat on her head. After a moment, the hat called out, "Hufflepuff!" and the table of students with yellow trim applauded. Hannah made her way over and took a seat there.
Susan Bones quickly followed her friend to Hufflepuff, as did a rather puzzled Vincent Crabbe. Tracey Davis and Daphne Greengrass went to Slytherin as they'd expected, then Greg Goyle joined his friend in Hufflepuff. Hermione Granger became the first Ravenclaw of the group of friends. Neville Longbottom took nearly three minutes under the hat before it decided to send him to Hufflepuff. Draco Malfoy surprised nearly everyone by also taking much longer than usual under the hat before going to Ravenclaw.
Finally, Professor McGonagall called the name that the whole school had been waiting to hear: "Potter, Harry!"
Harry ignored the puzzled whispers as he strode forward to let the hat settle over his head. "Oh my," he heard in his head. "No, despite what Headmaster Dumbledore wants, Gryffindor is the wrong House for you."
"Just as well I have no desire to please Headmaster Dumbledore, then," Harry thought. "Where do you believe I belong?"
"You could be great in Slytherin," the hat informed him. "I see you have much ambition to make the wizarding world a better place for all. But you also have quite a thirst for learning, well suited to Ravenclaw, as well as much loyalty to your friends which fits nicely with Hufflepuff. None of which is to say you're not brave, mind, just that you haven't got the 'act first, question later' instinct of Gryffindors."
"If my preference counts for anything, I'd like Ravenclaw, please," Harry told the hat. "I have no doubt that I'd do well in Slytherin, but I also know there are those who will immediately decide I'm going dark and my ambition is to become the next Dark Lord if I go there – especially as the wizarding world credits me with the destruction of the last one."
The hat laughed in his head. "And that display of logic just earned you the placement you desire," it said. "Ravenclaw!" the hat called aloud.
Cries of disbelief erupted from the Gryffindor table as Harry made his way to sit with Hermione and Draco at the Ravenclaw table. "We didn't get Potter?" a pair of redheaded twins asked plaintively. "How did we not get Potter?"
Dumbledore frowned, then looked dumbfounded as Harry's hair turned Ravenclaw blue and his eyes took on a metallic bronze hue as he sat at the table. The Granger girl hugged him, and the Malfoy boy gripped his shoulder in a friendly manner. Dumbledore also noticed that Harry never spared a glance in young Ronald Weasley's direction… and then he noticed the boy's unscarred forehead. "Hat," he said, before his deputy could call the next name on the list. "Are you sure you've sorted some of these students correctly? I've noticed several placements that seem at odds with expectations, including this last one."
"Oh, yes, Headmaster, I've sorted everyone correctly," the hat replied confidently. "Of course, if they're a close fit between two Houses, I listen to their arguments as to which they believe they're better suited for, but you know perfectly well I cannot sort a student into a house for which they are ill-suited."
"I see," Dumbledore said. "Harry, my boy, are you sure you prefer Ravenclaw to Gryffindor? Just think how much fun you could have in your parents' old House."
"Sir, even if the hat considered Gryffindor a suitable option for me, which it did not, I would have asked to be placed exactly where I am," Harry said. "From reading Hogwarts: A History, it seems to me that Gryffindors are – generally speaking – the wizarding equivalent of muggle football hooligans. Decent people overall, I'm sure, but much more focused on sport than on academics, with a tendency towards loud and brash behaviour. As this is a school and I am here to learn, I would much rather be among others who prefer studying to partying."
"I see," Dumbledore said once more. As much as he wanted to argue the boy's points, he knew he couldn't, at least not in such a public setting. "Well, perhaps you could tell…"
"Headmaster Dumbledore, surely this conversation can wait until the rest of the new students have been sorted, and everyone has eaten?" Professor Flitwick interrupted from his place at the head table. "I'm sure the students must be ravenous by now."
Dumbledore started to say something, then closed his mouth again when he realised that several people including Professor McGonagall were staring at him expectantly. "Yes, yes, of course," he said hastily. "But perhaps you'll escort Mr. Potter to my office after the feast, Filius?"
"Certainly," Professor Flitwick said with a nod.
Professor McGonagall called the next name on the list and the sorting continued on, with Sophie and Dean both going to Gryffindor. Ron Weasley did as well, and promptly latched onto Dean since the muggleborn seemed to know Harry Potter. Dean didn't look overly happy about this, especially once the food appeared and Ron's lack of table manners became apparent.
At the end of the feast, Professor Flitwick called Harry to him. "Mr. Potter, I'm Professor Flitwick, your head of house for Ravenclaw. Headmaster Dumbledore has requested your presence in his office, as you're aware, and I'm to escort you there."
"Will you also be there for this meeting, sir?" Harry asked. "I prefer not to be left alone with the headmaster. In fact, I refuse to be left alone with him."
Filius looked at the boy in confusion as they climbed the stairs. "Of course I'll stay, since you asked me to, Mr. Potter, but I don't quite understand why you'd want someone there you've never met before. The headmaster is your magical guardian, after all; you must have seen him any number of times over the years."
"Actually, he isn't, not anymore," Harry replied. "And considering I've never met him in my life, I'm not in the least unhappy about that. Also, what do you know of Sirius Black?"
"Sirius Black? Well, he was friends with your father, back in their Hogwarts days," the diminutive professor said. "And he was sent to Azkaban for betraying your parents to He Who Must Not Be Named and killing all those muggles while going after Peter Pettigrew, although it came out later that he'd never had a trial and was actually innocent."
"Sirius Black was also my parents' choice of guardian for me, in the event something happened to them," Harry said. "Hagrid took me from my rightful guardian on the headmaster's orders on that night. The headmaster then left me on the doorstep of my muggle aunt, without so much as asking if she was willing or even in a position to raise another child. I'm told that when she and her husband tried to leave me at an orphanage, he returned me to them within hours and used magic to make them keep me. I don't know if the headmaster is aware that he is no longer my guardian, but if he is, I believe he would use magic to try to get me to renounce my guardian and request to be his ward once again. That's why I refuse to be alone with the man."
Professor Flitwick looked disturbed. "I see. In that case, I will not leave you alone, Mr. Potter."
"Thank you, sir," Harry said politely.
The two reached the gargoyle guarding the entrance to the headmaster's office and Professor Flitwick looked at it and said, "Fizzing Whizzbees." The gargoyle slid aside, revealing a spiral staircase. When Harry and the professor stepped onto it, the staircase started to move, carrying them upward. Professor Flitwick knocked on the door at the top.
"Enter," Dumbledore called. "Ah, thank you, Filius, for bringing young Harry up. You may go now."
"Mr. Potter has asked that I stay, Headmaster," Flitwick replied. "As his Head of House, it is my duty to be present whenever one of my students is called to your office, especially when they request it."
"Harry, my boy, surely you don't want a stranger here whilst we catch up?" Dumbledore said, putting out his best twinkly-eyed, genial-grandfather air.
"Considering that you are also a stranger to me, sir, I have to admit that your interest in me is somewhat uncomfortable and so I prefer not to be left alone with you," Harry said. "Particularly since you stated that mine wasn't the only sorting that produced an unexpected result, but I noticed that mine was the only one you interrupted to question my placement and try to persuade me to ask the hat to place me elsewhere. In the muggle world, an educator taking such a… personal interest… in a student would quickly find himself being questioned by higher authorities as to his motivations."
Flitwick just barely managed to hold back his laughter at Dumbledore's expression when Harry not so subtly suggested that the man only wanted to be alone with him because he was some sort of kiddy-fiddler who'd selected Harry as his next victim.
Dumbledore nearly choked on his lemon drop at the child's insinuation. "I assure you, m… Mr. Potter, that my interest in purely that of a magical guardian wishing to become better acquainted with his ward," he said. "For example, I had no idea you were a metamorphmagus. Are you using that talent to hide your scar?"
"As you are not my guardian, you have no need to become better acquainted with me," Harry countered. "And I have no scar."
"Your aunt is your physical guardian, of course," Dumbledore said with the air of someone explaining a simple rule to a small child. "However, as she is a muggle, she cannot be your guardian in the wizarding world. Since your parents didn't leave a will, and I am the head of the Wizengamot, I was granted magical guardianship over you."
Harry stared coldly at the headmaster. "My parents did leave a will, and you failed to execute it properly. You had me taken from my godfather, and then left me with the people the will specifically stated I was never to be left with."
Dumbledore's eyes flared even as he grew slightly pale. "Where did you hear such a thing?" he demanded. "Who told you such lies?"
"I saw the will at Gringotts," Harry said flatly. "And my godfather is now my guardian, you're welcome to check the records in the Ministry for yourself." He turned to walk out of the office, turning back once he'd gone through the doorway. "Oh, Headmaster Dumbledore? Just so you know, the scar is gone, as is what was behind it. Poor form, that, leaving a baby with a horcrux in his head. The prophecy has been fulfilled. Check with Professor Snape if you don't believe me." He turned once more and made his way down the stairs.
Filius Flitwick stared at Dumbledore in disbelief. "If even half of that is true, Albus, I would very much hate to be in your shoes when the Daily Prophet finds out. And just what is a horcrux anyway?"
Dumbledore looked as though he'd taken a bludger to the face. "But… how… he couldn't… I never… he wasn't supposed to know!"
Professor Flitwick's face grew cold. "Well, now I certainly understand his reluctance to be alone with you, Albus. I'm actually tempted to hand you my resignation, because I'm not sure I want to be associated with you anymore. However, I also feel a responsibility to my students, particularly those of my house, and I won't leave them unprotected." He turned and left the office, leaving Dumbledore floundering. Catching up with Harry, he escorted the boy to the Ravenclaw common room, and the dorm he'd be sharing with his fellow firsties.
Draco gave him a smile. "Are you okay? What did the headmaster want?"
"Aside from me in Gryffindor and believing every word out of his mouth?" Harry said, relaxing now that he was no longer in the old man's presence. "Nothing too pressing, just him trying to interfere in my life. He must not have caught up on his Ministry memos, because he didn't know Sirius is my guardian now."
"Hah! My father will love hearing about that," Draco said. "Which reminds me, will you ask Hedwig to take a letter to my parents when you send her off to let Sirius, Stephen, and Remus know where you got sorted and all? I know I could use a school owl, but I really like Hedwig. She's the only owl I've seen that makes me regret getting a cat instead of an owl of my own." His lilac-point Siamese cat jumped up on his lap and he absently scritched her ears.
Harry laughed as he opened his trunk. "You only say that because Hedwig's a snowy owl, she was the only one at Eeylops pale enough to be a Malfoy," he teased. "But sure, you can use her. Uncle Remus gave me a faster way to talk to him anyway, and I think Sirius planned on being there tonight as well." He pulled a small mirror from where he'd stowed it with his breakable potions supplies in a padded section of the trunk. He told the mirror, "Moony, I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." The surface of the mirror fogged over for a moment, then Remus appeared.
"Harry! Hey, Padfoot, Stephen, Harry's calling!" Remus said happily.
Hi, Uncle Moony," Harry said with a smile. "Are you all there?"
"We're here," came the voices of Stephen and Sirius. Two hands appeared on either side of Remus's face, waving at the mirror.
"Hi, Stephen, hi, Uncle Padfoot," Harry said. "I made Ravenclaw, like I hoped. The headmaster actually interrupted the sorting to try to get me to ask the hat for Gryffindor – which was actually its last choice for me, of the houses. The hat said I plan far too carefully and like learning too much to be a Gryffindor."
"Aww," Sirius said in a mock-hurt tone. "You don't want our old house!" His voice brightened as he added, "On the other hand, no one expects Ravenclaws to be pranksters, so that ought to give you some extra room to have fun… and it's also true that you have to be a good planner to pull off the best pranks."
Harry laughed, then grew serious once more. "Yes, well, he also pulled me into his office to try to establish his authority over me as my magical guardian. I had to set him straight on that matter and a few other things as well. It's time to turn the goblins loose, and also for you to contact the DMLE. I don't know if he's checked with Professor Snape yet, but I bet he'll be headed for the Ministry as soon as he does."
"So he knows I'm your guardian now, and what else?" Sirius asked.
"That my scar is gone, along with what it contained, and that it's finished already," Harry said. "I walked out of his office then, so I don't know how he reacted after that. But I didn't dare stay any longer or I'd have lost my temper completely, and I know if I'd done that, everything I said would get dismissed because I'm just an angry child. "
"Good on you, realising that and acting accordingly, Harry," Stephen said as Moony nodded. "And we'll get word out to Gringotts and to Madam Bones right away. Given how well entrenched Dumbledore is in the Wizengamot and all that, if we go to anyone below her, there's a better than even chance he never gets arrested or charged."
Remus added, "Mind, it's still going to be difficult to get any charges to stick. But, with everything we'll be accusing him of, his reputation will be shattered, he'll almost certainly be sacked by the Hogwarts Board of Governors, and of course, he'll be ruined financially once the goblins set about recovering what he stole from you over the years."
"I'm also going to arrange for you to talk to someone from the Daily Prophet, pup," Sirius said. "I know you'd rather not put your entire life out there for the masses, but I know Di's spoken with you about the need to deal with the press. By reaching out to them first, we can request a particular reporter that I trust will write a fair story, and we can avoid the one with a reputation for spinning everything said in her hearing to produce the biggest possible scandal." He paused and chuckled, adding, "With luck, she'll get assigned to follow Dumbledore's story instead."
Harry laughed at that. "Yeah, that would be good. Okay, I don't like it, but yeah, Auntie Di has talked to me as well as Wills and Harry about dealing with the press and all. Better to use them to our advantage, than let them use us for theirs."
"Well, aside from the interview, pup, you get to sit back and be a kid again," Sirius said. "Regardless of what Dumbledore wants, he's got nothing to do with you aside from being headmaster of your school, and with a little luck – and most likely helped along with a few nudges from Lucius – he won't even be that for much longer. So, on to the important question – are there any really pretty girls in your year?"
Stephen laughed while Remus leaned out of the frame for a moment; Harry heard the sound of a hand swatting the back of a head, accompanied by Moony's half exasperated, half amused voice saying, "Really, Pads? He's eleven!"
"Hermione, of course," Harry said, laughing as well. "Then Daphne Greengrass has nice eyes and Susan Bones has a cute smile. There's a few others who look nice, too, but I don't know everyone's name yet."
All three men laughed, and Sirius said, "Well, fair enough. But I'll ask this question every year, just so you know. I realise it's early days for you to think about things like courtship and marriage, but quite a few of the old families still do arranged marriages. I won't arrange anything for you, but if you decide you might be interested in pursuing something with a girl from one of those families, I'll have to do some talk with her family to work out something where you can date her without actually being betrothed."
"Oh, I see," Harry said. He didn't like the whole concept of arranged marriage, especially after he'd come to an understanding that Auntie Di's marriage to Prince Charles very nearly was one, and he'd seen how that ended. But he also understood that the wizarding world was a different culture to what he was used to, and some allowances had to be made. "Well, I should let you go so you can contact Madam Bones and Gringotts and all. I'll call again when I have my schedule, so we can plan for that interview and stuff."
"Sounds good, Harry, we'll talk to you soon," Remus said with a smile.
"Good night, Stephen, Uncle Moony. Uncle Padfoot," Harry said.
"Night, Harry," the men chorused.
The mirror went dark for a moment and reverted to showing Harry his own face. He tucked it back into the padded compartment for safety and looked up to see Draco grinning at him.
"So, you think Hermione's pretty?" the blond teased.
"Oh, shut it," Harry laughed.
Elsewhere in the castle, Dumbledore raged at his potions professor. "…can't believe you! Why in Merlin's name did you not contact me as soon as this happened?"
Severus stood his ground. "Because you were off at the ICW, and it's difficult if not impossible to get a message to you when you're there. And frankly, by the time you returned, I was knee-deep in preparations for the school year and it simply slipped my mind. Besides, he's gone, so what does it matter that you found out just now instead of several weeks ago?"
"You forget yourself, Severus," Dumbledore said coldly. "If not for me, you'd be in Azkaban right now."
"Maybe, but we'll never know," Severus said, equally coldly. "If you try to have me charged now, you'll implicate yourself, since it was on your word that I was released with no charges. Try to have me charged now, everyone will wonder why you were so adamant to have me released before. Considering you freed me while letting Sirius Black rot in prison without a trial when you knew he was innocent, that won't look good for you, will it?"
Dumbledore ignored that comment in favour of asking, "And why did you not tell me that Harry Potter knew more of the wizarding world than he should have?"
"How was I to know that he did?" Severus countered. "All you told me was that you wanted me to check on him, as you wanted him to meet a teacher before he arrived at school, in case he needed guidance due to being raised in the muggle world. I checked on him, found him to be polite enough, but no less insufferable than any dunderhead his age, and reported as much to you. I certainly didn't encourage conversation. He admittedly didn't look quite as I'd expected him to, but as I assumed you'd looked in on him occasionally since you're his magical guardian, I didn't think to mention that."
"You still should have told me about it. Just as you should have told me about your Dark Mark vanishing," Dumbledore said. "Get out, go back to your Slytherins before some of them set fire to the common room." He turned his back on the young potions master, staring angrily out the window until he heard the door close with Snape's departure. "Fawkes," he said to his phoenix, "Take me to the Ministry." He grabbed hold of the bird's tail and they flashed away.
In the records division at the Ministry, Dumbledore groaned when he saw that Sirius had indeed been awarded custody of Harry James Potter – with the parchmentwork being filed during the time he'd been off at the ICW. But worse, he saw that Sirius had blood-adopted Harry… two years ago! Somehow, Sirius had been in contact with the boy for years! He hastily banished the records back to their appropriate places and hurried towards the Department of Mysteries. Had the boy been telling the truth? Was the prophecy completed?
He groaned in frustration when he saw the blackened orb on the shelf. Somehow, the boy had fulfilled the prophecy, without dying in the process. Dumbledore started to worry that his… creative accounting… with the Potter vaults that he'd expected to claim when the boy died might be noticed. Perhaps he ought to head for Gringotts and secure his own vaults before returning to Hogwarts.
But as he emerged into the atrium to have Fawkes bring him to the bank, he felt a hand on his shoulder and then his wrists being secured with magic-suppressing cuffs.
"Albus Dumbledore, just the wizard we wanted to see," Madam Bones said. "We were just on the way to Hogwarts to arrest you, on quite a number of charges, and I understand the goblins have frozen your vaults and may confiscate portions of them once they've done a complete audit, due to accusations of financial malfeasance on your part as well. Thank you for saving us the trip north."
"Amelia, my dear, surely you aren't serious," Dumbledore said, using his best grandfatherly voice. "Surely you know who I am and what I've done for the Greater Good. If I've made a few mistakes, surely they can be forgiven."
Madam Bones shook her head. "An executor deliberately breaking the terms of the will of a noble family is hardly a mistake, Albus. Nor is obliviating child welfare workers into forgetting that they're supposed to be investigating allegations of abuse. Believe me, someone who would do that, is not someone I want in charge of children." At her nod, the aurors with her marched Dumbledore off towards the DMLE and the holding cells there.
The following morning, the Hogwarts Board of Governors met outside the school gates and made their way up to the castle, where they had a brief conference with Professor McGonagall behind a privacy spell at the high table. The professor looked appalled, then angry, then downright furious. She nodded in response to something the leader of the group said, and then the privacy spell dropped.
Professor McGonagall stood and fired off a spell that sounded like the clanging of a bell to gain the attention of the students. When everyone quieted down and looked at her, she announced, "It is my duty to inform you all that Albus Dumbledore has been relieved of his position as headmaster, due to his arrest last night. The Board of Governors believe that the charges against him are such that they do not wish him to be associated with the school any longer. I will assume the head's duties on a temporary basis, while the Board looks into several matters with regards to Mr. Dumbledore's actions. Whether I take over as permanent headmistress or not will be determined in the future. The Board will hire someone to teach my classes for the interim, as I cannot manage a full schedule and also adequately perform the head's duties, although I will continue to teach for the next few days while they find my substitute."
The Great Hall broke out in a buzz of speculation, which only intensified when the Daily Prophet arrived along with the rest of the morning mail. Dumbledore Sacked Amidst Accusations screamed the headline, causing anyone without their own subscription to the paper to read over the shoulder of the nearest person who did.
Harry, who had taken out a subscription on Stephen's advice, smiled as he read the story. He knew that he'd almost certainly be called upon to testify, or possibly even to provide memories – Sirius had warned him about that – but it looked as though Dumbledore would no longer be a problem for him. As Sirius promised, the adults were handling the situation, and he could simply be the schoolboy he was. Without Dumbledore trying to push him in uncomfortable directions, he could look forward to the next seven years. He put down his paper, banishing all thoughts of Dumbledore from his mind, and looked at Draco and Hermione with a smile. "So, what class do you think we'll have first?"