Title: Starting over
Rating: PG (no pairing)
Summary: Harry hoped that going to Hogwarts would be a good thing for him, his chance to start over. He was surprised by what he found.
Disclaimer: The HP world belongs to someone commonly known as JKR, I am not her. Anything that looks like hers must be. Whatever is leftover would be mine. This is all done for fun.
(A/N: I have several variations on this theme in my notes, I think I'll go with this one and scrap the rest, although I'll mention my favorite alternate at the bottom.)

Starting Over

Harry walked out of his first Potions class, having almost completed his first week of school. Although no one else would know by looking at his expression, since he'd learned to hide his feeling at the Dursleys, he was very disappointed. Hogwarts was not going nearly as well as he'd hoped. In fact, other than Professors McGonagall and Flitwick and maybe Sprout, he really wasn't impressed by any of the others. Then there was Binns and Snape, firmly on the negative side.

He had so hoped this would be place to "start over" after the Dursleys. It was better in that he could eat as much as he wanted here instead of being starved half the time. He could also make some friends eventually he was sure. But there were some rather large negatives too.

While Ron Weasley continued to prattle on as they walked towards lunch, Harry continued to ignore him and consider whether he wanted to continue one of his thoughts from earlier in the week or not. Deciding he had little to lose and that he needed to move quickly if he was going to, he said suddenly, "I'll see you in the Great Hall shortly, I need to go ask McGonagall a question."

His friend was so surprised by that he just stood there and gaped while Harry turned and walked up a set of stairs.

A few moments later, he was standing at his Head of House's office door and wondering which interpretation of her "this will be like your family" would be true: Would she be like family or like his family?

She answered his knock and looked surprised at seeing him. "What do you need, Potter? It's time for lunch."

"I wanted to register a complaint about a class, or the professor really. Maybe you could help make the class better for all of us?" he asked hopefully.

She gave a deep sigh and waved him in. "Why don't you come in for a moment." Closing the door behind him, she said, "I can guess which class, but which class and professor did you want to discuss?"

"Professor Snape, ma'am. He took points from me and only me during a class for not knowing answers to questions that are not in the beginning of the book, plus he insulted me and my family."

Shaking her head she told him, "Mr Potter, I'm truly sorry for that, but I'm afraid there is nothing I can do unless he physically harms you. I could take a complaint from you, but it would be added to an already full drawer of them because the Headmaster won't take it. The best advice I can give you is to try to stay out of his way."

"I see," he said slowly. "Thank you for your honesty." He turned and headed out of her office to the Great Hall. `Like my family then,` he thought with disappointment as he walked.

After Binns's class a few days ago, he'd snuck away from Ron to go to the library, and daring the librarian's glare while he looked at the reference books, he'd looked a few things up … just in case. It seemed he'd need that information now that he'd experienced every class at least once and had the feel of them as well as learned what it was like to go to Hogwarts.

At lunch, he listened minimally and nodded when needed at Ron, but he was planning what he needed to do and wondered just how long a few things would take. If he'd been alone he would have sighed in disappointment, but that feeling was kept hidden too.

Back in his dorm room after lunch, Harry sat on his bed and wrote a letter. Satisfied it was about as good as it was going to get after three readings and a few corrections, he sealed it and left for the owlery.

When he arrived, Hedwig immediately came down and landed on the ledge next to him. "How are you doing girl?" She made pleasant sounding noises which he took as "good". "I have a letter for you to take and it's very important. It's also a long way from here. Can you take it? I don't know how else to send it."

Hedwig stuck her leg out, so Harry attached it and told her to whom it was going to. "Have a safe and swift flight girl." He watched her take off and head mostly west. She seemed to get lost in the tops of the trees of the forest as she grew smaller before she disappeared completely in the forest.

Harry sighed and headed back to Gryffindor Tower. At the moment, he was glad that Ron was so easy to get away from and that he didn't have another friend who kept close watch over him. Of course, he also wondered just how good a friend Ron was to him or if Ron was just a friend of The-Boy-Who-Lived based on how Ron had acted on the train and since then.

— — —

Hedwig might not have had the intelligence of her companion, but she wasn't a dumb animal either. She understood her boy's need and urgency. Therefore, she used the second of her magical traits, having already used the first to figure out where she had to go. Concentrating on her destination, she suddenly disappeared with only a blacked feathered left behind to float down to the forest floor and decay like any dead leaf.

While it had been late afternoon where she'd left, she appeared in a forest where the sun was still rising. Flying the last mile, she glided the last little bit through an open window and back-winged to a perfect landing on a large desk.

The slightly graying woman looked at her and smiled. "Oh, aren't you a pretty one. What do you have for me?"

Hedwig stuck out her leg and let the woman remove it since she "knew" the woman was the intended recipient.

"There's water and food for you over there if you need it," the woman told her as the woman opened her companion's letter.

The owl availed herself to the water and munched on the grains and small bits of dried meat provided. She detected a hint of bacon on them and relished the taste as she watched the woman and waited.

"How very interesting," the woman said softly before dropping the letter on her desk and reaching for a drawer. The woman looked at the owl and said, "I assume you're waiting to take a response back?"

Hedwig gave a single soft barking-hoot to tell her yes. She was glad the woman understood.

"Very well. Rest yourself for a couple of hours. I need to take care of a few things before you can take a letter back to your master."

While the woman was writing, Hedwig snorted at the idea of her having a master instead of the companion she did have. The boy was a little ignorant of a few things, like her, but he was kind. She put her head under a wing for a nap; she was almost sure she'd have to travel back tonight.

Indeed, the owl was awakened in the local late afternoon by the woman who had a thick envelope.

"Can you take this all the way back?" the woman asked.

Offended, Hedwig gave a loud barking sound and stuck out her leg, glaring as best she could.

"I'm sorry, but I thought it polite to ask," the woman said as she tied the envelope on.

Mollified, Hedwig gave her a long soft hoot.

"Thank you. Have a safe trip and I'll see you … oh, probably the day after I would guess. You can leave from here if you like; I won't mind the feather you leave behind."

Hedwig snorted, as if she'd do that in public, even if the woman did understand owl travel. With a jump, she launched herself and flew out the window for the nearest forest. Once in the trees, she concentrated and disappeared, a single singed feather left behind.

Thankfully, she hadn't had to travel far very quickly lately and so had plenty of magical feathers stored up, and she'd need at least two more if the woman was to be believed.

It was night as Hedwig reappeared over the Forbidden Forest, the rest of her flight was an easy one, not having to worry too much about being seen. She landed at the window nearest her companion and pecked on the window with her beak. An older student opened the window and she flew in and landed on the table of her companion.

"Hedwig? What? How? I mean … yeah, never mind, I definitely have more to learn about you," Harry told her caringly as he took the thick letter from the owl as others watched him with curiosity.

"What'cha have mate? Owls normally only come at breakfast," the red-haired one said as he moved a chess piece.

"Got a letter," her companion said as he rose. "Back in a bit." He put her on his shoulder. "Need some water and a food?" he asked her as they went up the stairs.

He's a good companion, the owl thought again as she drank from the water provided a moment later.

A while later, he sighed and looked at her. "I have another for you, if you're up for it. It's a much shorter trip this time."

Hedwig wondered what that meant as she stuck out her leg from her position near him. With the thin letter attached and with instructions for her safety, as if she didn't already know the danger zone she was about to head into, she left from the window in his room. She thought she'd fly this one all the way as she had plenty of time.

— — —

Petunia Dursley puttered around in the kitchen, slowing starting breakfast, not in any real hurry as it would be awhile before her husband woke this Saturday morning. It was just her and Vernon now, at least for nine months of the year. Dudley would come be home at the end of May and it would be just the three of them for a month - as it should be. Then the little freak would come at the end of June for two months. At least it was only two months out of the year now that he'd left for that school of his kind.

She almost dropped the pan she was about to put on the stove when a large white bird - his bird - landed on her window sill, practically scaring her to death. As it looked at her with its large amber eyes she knew she'd have to do something about it and it was probably best done before Vernon came down.

Not wanting the dirty bird in her house, she went to the back door and step out, walking over to it. As she was about to ask it what it wanted, despite knowing the bird couldn't understand her despite what her sister had claimed, it stuck its leg out. Being too surprised at the owl's arrival, Petunia hadn't noticed the letter, but took it when she saw her name on it. She had no idea what the little freak wanted as she recognized this owl.

Reading the short note quickly, she was surprised at its contents along with the form that came with the note, which had yet a longer note attached to it. After reading that note too, she was officially amazed - the little freak had actually done something right.

Looking at the owl, Petunia took a chance and ordered, "Wait!" as if talking to a dog before she returned into the house. Finding a pen, she signed the form and put it back in the envelope it came in before going out back, relieved the owl was still there.

Not sure what to do, she looked at the owl, who merely stuck its leg out for her. Carefully and without confidence, she tied the envelope to the owl's leg with the ribbon that had been there before. Petunia almost told the owl to go, but decided the animal didn't deserve the effort and returned to her kitchen, locking the door behind her, missing the owl leaving.

For the first time in a long time, Petunia was thoroughly happy and she knew Vernon would be too when she told him the news.

— — —

Hedwig burned another feather returning, recognizing that breakfast was almost done based on the sun. She swooped down and landed in front of her companion, sticking out her leg.

"Bloody hell, I've got to find out how you do that," Harry exclaimed as he took the letter.

"Language, Potter," a bushy-headed brown-haired girl said from a few seats down.

Her companion ignored the girl, as he should, the owl thought, upset the girl would criticize her companion.

"Go catch some sleep, my most faithful friend. I'll come find you later."

Hedwig cooed softly and flew back to the owlery, the most tired she'd been in a long time. If she had to make another long trip this evening, she definitely wanted sleep now.

— — —

"Who are you writing, your relatives?" Ron asked him as they walked through the corridors.

Inside, Harry was upset at the boy who wouldn't leave him alone today. Normally, he didn't mind Ron hanging around too much, but there were times the boy got on his nerves. Harry also thought that Ron would like some alone time coming from a large family, but apparently not.

Harry enjoyed time to be alone, but that was probably because that also meant he wasn't having to run from Dudley. Well, that wouldn't happen anymore with the way things were looking - which pleased him greatly.

After tying the letter to Hedwig's leg, very quietly so Ron wouldn't hear, Harry told his owl. "Back to Madam Crenshaw. Please be safe. I'm really looking forward to your return."

"What you on about to your owl?" Ron asked. "Do you really think she can understand you?"

"Doesn't your family owl?" Harry retorted as he watched Hedwig fly away. "If not, how does he know where to deliver the letter to?"

Ron opened his mouth then snapped is shut. A moment later he said, "I don't have a clue; I never really thought about it."

Harry shook his head and then pointed out. "I see the gates to the school are closed," he pointed off to the side, "but what's to stop people from coming in through the forest? There's no fence there."

"Dunno," Ron said with a shrug. "Fred and George have said they've gone into the forest a few times, but it's a right scary place. I don't want to go out there. Ready to head to dinner, mate? It's close enough to time."

"Sure," Harry told him, wondering if Hedwig would return as quickly today. He decided that he'd go to the library after dinner and see what he could find out about owls. Maybe he'd get some alone time as he knew Ron didn't like the library.

— — —

Harry sat by a window in the common room looking out and enjoying the cool air of the evening; he also had a book on Magical Post Owls in his hand, which he'd been reading from earlier. About half of the house had already gone to bed, or so he guessed. Ron was over playing chess with some fifth year, who was giving Ron a good game from what he could see from here. Harry had talked to Seamus for a bit, asking him what Ireland was like, which the Irishman was happy to discuss.

Since he wasn't looking out, Hedwig's completely silent arrival scared him enough that he almost fell out the window. He let her stand on his leg while he untied the return letter. Looking around and not seeing anyone really paying attention to him, he opened the letter there and read the enclosed paper, leaving the unexpected large metal key inside. When he finished reading, he decided that he was happy he'd done this. Sure, things could still go wrong, but it really couldn't be any worse, could it?

Thinking about what he needed to do, he realized he had two real problems, though one probably wasn't too bad. Still, he had a problem and the considered what to do about it. Looking around the common room to see who was here, he noticed Ron's twin brothers over in a corner with their friend, Lee he thought it was.

Or maybe… Yes, he would do. Putting Hedwig on his shoulder, he walked over to Ron's oldest brother here. "Percy, could you help me with a spell?"

The fifth year looked up from his book. "To learn one, you mean?"

"Err, no, just do one for me once until I can learn later. It'd be really helpful and since you're a Prefect - please?" Harry hoped mightily his appeal worked.

"Very well, but just one time," Percy told him as he rose. "What did you need done?"

"I'd like my trunk shrunken so I can try to store it out of the way." Harry did his best to look innocent and apparently it worked.

"It won't last more than a day or two and you're trying to learn a third year charm," Percy warned him as they walked up the stairs.

"That will be long enough that I'll know if this is a good thing or not. I don't mind working harder as I've liked the Charms class so far." That was the truth too, Harry had liked the class and Flitwick.

In his room, Percy shrunk the trunk so it was only a foot long, and proportional the other directions. "Don't leave that in a drawer or other small space or it will break the drawer and probably the trunk too when it expands."

"I'll remember," Harry promised. "I'll try a few things and then set it back out in the morning."

With a nod, Percy left, never noticing that Harry had nothing else of his out.

Harry crawled into bed and shut his curtains, letting Hedwig sit on his headboard. "Just two hours, girl. Rest and we'll go." He reopened the book on owls to pass the time.

— — —

Harry turned off his wand with a "Nox", the light spell being the first he'd learned, and peered out the curtains of his bed. The slightly glowing clock showed it was nearly midnight and the rest of his dorm mates seemed to be asleep.

"Fly out the window and meet me outside," he whispered softly to his owl, who flew out his dorm room window.

Harry wished he could leave by his window, but it was very high above the ground since he was in Gryffindor Tower. Leaving the library book on his bed, he picked up his shrunken trunk and made his way down to the common room very quietly. Thankfully, everyone had gone to bed.

Sneaking out the Portrait Hole as slowly and quietly as he could, he noticed the guardian in the portrait stayed asleep. Harry started his trek towards the doors, thinking this probably wouldn't work and asked himself what else could he do?

On the third floor, he heard a noise and ducked into a secret passage he'd been shown a couple of days ago, he hurried down as fast as he could go without making a lot of noise. At the bottom and on the ground floor, he very carefully opened the painting door a crack and looked out, listening closely.

There was a low murmured conversation going on between two people, which put a crimp in his plans, but he'd have to wait a bit; he had the time. Eventually, they stopped talking and then he saw the back of Snape walking away. Not sure who else had been there, he waited a few minutes more.

Tired of waiting and yet hopeful the way was clear, he opened the door to this end of the secret passage and looked out. It was clear and he grinned. He tiptoed to a room across the corridor and just as he opened it, he heard, "Hey! Stop!" Looking he saw Filch staring right at him.

With his secrecy gone, he darted into the room and ran for the other side to a window. Trying as hard as he could to open it, the window would not budge. The door swung open and there stood Filch. "I've got you now."

Desperate, Harry used his shrunken trunk and swung it at the window, breaking the glass and causing Filch to growl at him. Harry crawled up on the window sill and jumped, falling almost three times his height, landing in a squat. Ignoring his stinging feet, he lept up with a tight grip on his trunk and started running for the Forbidden forest. Pretending Dudley was behind him, he ran as fast as he could in the low light of the moon.

As he reached the edge of the forest, Hedwig swooped down from a tree and scared him at her sudden appearance. "Glad you made it," he panted as he looked back. Harry didn't see anyone following so he didn't rush, but he decided he needed to move on.

Hiking into the forest, he lit his wand and walked for ten minutes. Hoping that was far enough because of the sounds in here were definitely spooky and creepy, he pulled the key out of his pocket and placed it in his left hand while his trunk was held against his chest, then holding his wand in his right hand as he held Hedwig to him with is right arm, he touched his wand to the key and said, "New magic". He felt like he'd been grabbed behind his navel and jerked; Hedwig gave a loud squawk.

— — —

"What is it?" Snape asked irritably as jogged down the corridor to the room, looking upset at having to hurry anywhere.

"He escaped!" Filch cried and pointed out the window.

As Snape hurried over, he saw the window had been broken. Looking out, he thought he might see something moving out there, but it was hard to tell because the moon was only a sliver in size. "Where?"

"Over there," Filch pointed, "I think."

"Who was it?" Snape asked, still looking and not really seeing anyone, though the few trees and small hills could have been hiding almost anyone.

"Not sure, small though, probably a firstie," Filch groused.

"Probably a Muggle-born then," Snape said as if no great loss. "Go tell the Headmaster; he'll have to be told anyway."

Telling Dumbledore meant McGonagall was pulled in also, then Flitwick and Sprout, so all the Heads of House were there too. They argued for a few minutes before Dumbledore repaired the window and they all headed outside. However, none of them could find anyone else outside and they called the search off after an hour. It was decided the Heads of House would get everyone up early to see who was missing, rather than wake all the students now at half one in the morning.

Albus Dumbledore almost had a heart attack when he learned Harry Potter was the missing student the next morning. Knowing he had a way to track the boy, he hurried to his office to look at the instruments tied to the boy and was aghast that the only one working was the one to show he was still alive (he had no idea he was only a few hours too late). Worse, a quick visit to Privet Drive showed the boy wasn't there, so he wasn't sure where else to start looking for him.

Dumbledore also had no idea why Potter would leave, so he called the staff together later that morning.

"For those that haven't heard, Harry Potter left the school last night and has yet to return," Dumbledore announced, surprising all but the heads of house. He frowned a little as he noticed that Snape looked slightly pleased. "Does anyone know why he might have left?"

"How do you know he wasn't taken?" Hagrid asked.

"Because he jumped through a window to leave and no one was seen with him," Dumbledore answered. "Does anyone know anything?" He noticed his deputy looked uncomfortable. "Minerva?"

"I don't know if it's the only reason, but he tried to file a complaint about Severus being unfair in class," she answered.

"Preposterous," the Potions teacher said coolly.

"I told him that I have a whole drawer of complaints about Severus, but I also told him that I knew you'd do nothing about it, Headmaster," she finished with a hint of disdain towards the older man.

"That seems minor and hardly worthy of running away," Dumbledore said, blithely ignoring the issue. "Anyone else?"

No one else had any idea, which worried Dumbledore a little more.

— — —

Harry landed and managed to release Hedwig so she fell far enough away Harry didn't land on her nor did he vomit on her. Hedwig was doing her version of being sick as well, leaving a ball of something Harry couldn't identify.

"Welcome, Mr Potter, although you're a little later than I expected," a slightly graying lady said as she cleaned up the sickness of both human and avian with a causal wave of her wand and then helped him up. "I'm Susanna Crenshaw, Head Principal for Salem Academy of Magic for Witches and Wizards." She conjured a small glass with water for him to get the bad taste out of his mouth.

"Thank you for helping me get here," Harry told her when he was able to talk.

"I'm happy to help a student find a better education," she told him with a very welcoming smile. "If you'll follow me, I'll lead you to your dorm room."

"I know you said it in your letter," Harry started, "but am I really unknown here?"

"Mostly," she replied. "I and a couple of other teachers have heard of you as have those who have taken advanced Arithmancy, since you're discussed in one lesson. Oh, and by those few who take World History of Magic. All total, that's probably less than twenty people and I've asked them to respect your privacy. To the rest of the students, you'll be only a student from Britain."

"Brilliant," he said with relief.

"As for the other things you asked about, I'll take you to our Magical Mall tomorrow to let you talk to the Goblins of Gringotts as well as pick up your books." Principal Crenshaw looked at him for a moment. "As your guardian, I'd also like you to be looked at by our school healer. You're a little shorter than I expected and I want to make sure you're completely healthy. Did the healer at Hogwarts give you an examination?"

"Err, no," he answered, not sure what this was about.

"Hmm, then I better have her make sure you've had all of you required vaccinations too. I wouldn't want you to come down with Dragon Pox or something else that's preventable. Over here," she told him as she lead him into a building.

"This is the boys' dorms. Girls are not allowed in and boys are not allowed in the girls' dorm. This is your room." She knocked lightly and the door opened a moment later.

"Is he here?" the blond boy asked and looked past her and at Harry.

"He is." Crenshaw looked at Harry. "This is Harry Potter, who is from Britain and he'll be your roommate. Harry, this is David Trevor, whom you'll be sharing a room with. As you can see, all dorm rooms hold two people. Please do your best to make this work, but if you two find you just can't seem to make it work, let us know and we'll see what can be done to help or find you a new dorm room and dorm mate."

She looked at the small case under Harry's arm. "Do you need help unshrinking your suitcase, Mr Potter?"

"It's my trunk, but yes please," Harry answered.

When Crenshaw had returned the trunk to its normal size, she also waved her wand over it and looked at it in consternation, causing her to shoot another spell at it and then nodding. She also cast a spell at Harry and frowned again. "It seems someone really wants to keep track of you as there was a tracking charm on your trunk and something else a little more elaborate on you. If you'll hold still please, I shall dispel it."

After she was done, Harry thanked her and she left, promising to find him after breakfast tomorrow.

David looked at him for a moment. "They told me this morning I'd be getting a roommate this evening; I guess you're it."

"Yeah," Harry said, not sure what to say now that they were alone.

"Uh, I'm in this bed so I guess the other is yours, as is that closet. The bathroom is down the hall." David looked at him for a moment. "So, do you like to fly?"

"I don't know as flying class wasn't scheduled for us until next week, but it sounds like a lot of fun," Harry told him.

"I've only been a few times," David said, "but it's great…"

As they talked while Harry unpacked, he thought that this could work. He was just a normal person here. Now if only his teachers worked out.

— — —

Harry was taken to the healer at the school after breakfast. She was a kind woman with an easy smile until she checked Harry over, then she scowled. Principal Crenshaw was called over and Harry's malnourishment and ill-treatment as a child was brought up. Though embarrassed, Harry told them the truth about growing up with the Dursleys.

When the Healer did a scan of the scar on Harry's forehead, she became concerned and called in a few of the teachers. In the end, they weren't sure what was wrong, but Dark Magic was definitely at work and a specialist would be called in - at no charge to Harry.

However, he was given a set of potions to help correct his other problems and was told to buy clothes that were two sizes too big instead of just one as he was about to receive a magical growth spurt.

At the Magical Mall, he picked up his school supplies, mostly books. He also visited a Gringotts branch and had a long discussion with the Goblins there. Harry thought these Goblins were only slightly friendlier than the ones in Britain, but they were quite happy to move all of the Potter vaults from Britain to the Boston branch - for only a "small fee". Principal Crenshaw suggested he take the offer so Dumbledore or anyone else couldn't use his family's assets against him and Harry did so.

Two days later, the evening after his first day of classes which had gone splendidly, he was introduced to an old man with white hair, dark brown skin, and was dressed in soft leather garments and boots. The old man used a large feather like a wand while casting spells at Harry. When he was done, with narrowed eyes, he pulled Crenshaw to the side and spoke quietly for a few minutes before leaving.

The principal came over and put her hand on Harry's shoulder. "Healer Silver Hawk says that you have an evil spirit in your scar, though it's not like one he's seen before. But don't worry, he says he'll remove it tomorrow after he rests from his journey."

Harry wasn't sure what to say to a surprise like that, so he only nodded and let the principal lead him back to his dorm room, where she told his roommate to let Harry go to be early and get as much sleep as possible.

The next day, the old Native Indian removed the "evil spirit" and his head was healed, removing his scar and growing new skin there. He was pleased at the result and tallied another grievance against Dumbledore for not doing the same thing years sooner.

— — —

It had taken Albus Dumbledore nearly a month to check all the major schools around the world and to find out that Salem Academy had received a new student a few days after their fall term had started and that he was British. It had taken another week for him to exhaust all normal diplomatic avenues with the Americans to even speak with Harry Potter, and he'd been denied every time. Then he had needed over two more weeks to convince the Security Council of the ICW to intervene enough to just question Potter and get himself included on the team that went on the visit. In fact, he'd burned a lot of favors to get that far that fast.

So it was in early November when Dumbledore joined a team of three interviewers and four security personnel as only an observer and they all travelled to Boston and then Apparated to the gates of the school.

The principal herself was there to greet them and open the gate. "Good morning, I'm Principal Crenshaw and this is my deputy, Mr Nelson."

Nelson was a large man and he didn't smile; he also knew why the group was here and he agreed with his supervisor on uselessness of this.

"In addition," Crenshaw held out her hand towards the other man with her, "this is Mr Peterson, he's here as an observer."

"We're the group from the ICW and I'm Hans Schmidt," the first man introduced himself before the others. "With me Jan Praat and Maria Lopez, plus our security team," he indicated the four behind him. With a look at the last member, he said, "And Professor Dumbledore is here as an interested observer."

Crenshaw and Nelson greeted each, though Dumbledore received the briefest. Even the security was made to feel more welcome than the old Headmaster.

"Mr Peterson, who are you with?" Schmidt asked.

"I'm from the Department of State, Magical Division. I'm here to help protect our citizens," Peterson said with a smile, pointedly ignoring Dumbledore as he greeted the three interviewers.

"If you'll follow me to my office," Crenshaw said and led the way, with her deputy taking the rear.

As they filed into a conference room, Crenshaw took the head of the table. When all were seated, she looked at Schmidt. "As I am Mr Potter's guardian," Dumbledore inhaled sharply but she ignored him, "I believe you need to convince me why you need to talk to him."

"Madam Crenshaw," Schmidt began as the leader of the group, "as explained in the letter, there has been an allegation of kidnapping and since it involved national borders, we have been brought in to investigate. However, from what our investigations have already turned up, I don't think this will take long."

Dumbledore looked surprised and Schmidt shot him a quelling glance.

Schmidt opened a notebook he brought with him. "First, we need see paperwork to show guardianship."

Crenshaw pulled out a folder from her pocket along with her wand to enlarge it. From the folder, she extracted a document and handed it to the man, along with a second. "The guardianship transfer along with citizenship papers," she said smugly.

"That was quick," Praat told her.

She looked at the man and smiled. "I have a cousin on staff with the Secretary of Magic. Between her and my reputation, it wasn't hard to get it fast-tracked in order to protect Mr Potter from Dumbledore." She noticed Dumbledore frown at that, but she didn't care. The old man was not well liked in this country because of his heavy-handedness in the ICW.

"It's all perfectly in order, I assure you as I attended to it myself," Peterson added.

Schmidt nodded after a moment's examination and pulled out his wand, duplicating the documents before handing the originals to his fellow interviewers to examine and then give back. "Those seem to be in order. I'd still like to ask Mr Potter a few questions before we leave, and I'm sure my colleagues would as well." He received two nods.

"Would I be permitted to ask a few questions?" Dumbledore asked.

"I don't mind," Schmidt said and looked at Crenshaw.

Crenshaw considered the crafty man who really shouldn't even be at this meeting for a moment. Deciding to take the high road in front of the ICW officials, she said, "You may, but you must write them down so they can be screened. I'll not have you upsetting Mr Potter unnecessarily."

"I agree, good precaution," Lopez agreed as did the other two. Dumbledore didn't look happy, but he took the pen and paper that was offered to him with a look of distrust before he started to write. Nelson stood and left.

"While we're waiting," Crenshaw pulled a smaller folder from her main folder and handed it to Schmidt. "You may look at this for your investigation, but you may not take copies. They are Mr Potter's medical records."

"Ah, very generous," Schmidt said laying the small folder in front of him with Lopez and Praat crowding around, leaving no room for Dumbledore.

"Why did you do it, Dumbledore?" Crenshaw asked to keep the man engaged and away from the records.

"Pardon me? Do what?" Dumbledore looked confused.

"Why did you never have Mr Potter examined and treated by a competent healer?" Crenshaw asked calmly, but gloated inwardly when Lopez looked up from the report and glowered at Dumbledore. The principal knew she'd won the witch over to her side then, though she thought the three were already predisposed to Potter's side when they'd arrived. If they had done investigations before as indicated, there would be no problem, at least for her and Potter.

She watched Dumbledore glance around the room and find the curious looks from the three observers. The two men held a mostly neutral expression, while Lopez still looked a little upset. Crenshaw had put him in a no-win position and could see that he knew it.

"It was scheduled," Dumbledore said finally, "but he left before it could happen."

"Your Medi-Witch never even took the opportunity she had during the week he was there," Lopez stated, still looking at the Headmaster with disapproval.

"There are a lot of students," Dumbledore replied evenly.

"She didn't check any of them because she said she was told she didn't need to - by you," Lopez retorted, catching the Headmaster in a lie. "We asked her."

It was all Crenshaw could do not to make a gloating expression as she watched Dumbledore being taken down a notch or three. She remembered him stating multiple times over the years that "Hogwarts is the best magical school in the world" - no it's not and we're all about to see that, she thought.

The door opened and Nelson escorted her charge in. She smiled and waved him over so he would come sit by her. Now that she'd had time to get to know him over the past couple of months, she would have been happy for him to be her grandson, which is how she treated him.

"Harry, these people are from the ICW and they have a few questions for you about your time in Britain. Please answer as honestly as you can, but know that if something is too hurtful, you don't have to answer, all right?"

"All right," Harry answered nervously.

"Professor, your questions please?" Schmidt asked and then accepted the paper from Dumbledore. "Hmm, nothing significantly different than what we'll be asking anyway." He folded the paper and set it aside, earning a glower from the old Headmaster.

Schmidt put on a smile and leaned forward slightly. "Mr Potter, as your principal said, we need you answer honestly; can you do that for us? I promise there will be no harm to you, we just need you to verify a few things."

"Err, all right," Harry answered.

"Did anyone tell you that you had to leave Britain?"

"No," Harry answered, "I decided that on my own."

"When did you decided that?"

"After my first week of school," said Harry.

"Did you ever feel like you were forced or there was a pull to leave?"

"No, it was all my decision. Principal Crenshaw just helped me to leave when I asked her." Harry looked at them as a few notes were made.

"Why did you decide to leave?" Schmidt asked.

When Harry looked down, Lopez said softly, "Harry, are you scared to tell us?"

"A little. I don't want to go back and I'm afraid," Harry pointed at his old Headmaster. "he'll try to make me."

Lopez looked at the other two, who nodded to her. "Harry, we can make sure you don't have to go back if you don't want to, but we need to know why in your own words. Can you please tell me? You don't have to look at him, just look at me and tell me. What's one reason you don't want to go back?"

Harry looked down at the table for a moment before he quietly said, "He left me at my aunt's and I think he'll make me go back."

Schmidt pulled a sheet out of his notebook and passed it over. Lopez picked it up and held it towards Harry as she asked, "Is this your aunt?"

Harry looked up at the photo and nodded. "Yes. She didn't feed me a lot and she hates me, my uncle and cousin too."

"What's another reason?" the Spanish witch asked.

"I'm not normal. They called me a freak and they're right. I thought Hogwarts would be better, but it's not. Everyone looks at me and points, whispers about me. I also can't tell who's really my friend; I think the one that tried to be my friend was just because they call me The-Boy-Who-Lived. That's not true here, everyone is nice and I'm just another student."

"I can understand that," Lopez sympathized with him. "Are there any other reasons?"

Harry nodded and continued, not seeming able to stop now that he'd started. "I'd hoped it would be a good school; Hagrid said it's the best, but it's not. One of the teachers insulted me and my family and took points only from me in the class, but when I asked Professor McGonagall about it, she said there was nothing that could be done because the Headmaster wouldn't do anything to fix it like all the other complaints she already had. The older Gryffindors said that's the way it's always been.

"And the History of Magic class is a joke. They have a ghost teaching it that puts everyone to sleep. The older students said it's always been that way too and to just read the book and ignore the ghost.

"The Defense professor stutters so badly I can hardly understand him. I feel sorry for him, but shouldn't a teacher be able to teach so we can understand him?

"And Dumbledore said there's something dangerous in the school, something that could cause a most painful death. Why would he have that in the school?" Harry looked up at her.

"I don't know, but we'll try to find out," Lopez told him.

Harry sighed. "I was paying for all that and I didn't want to." He grinned. "Gringotts said they'd get my money back for me though, or at least most of it."

"Besides leaving me with people who hate me, he's never told me about the magical world or my family. My aunt said my parents were drunks killed in a car crash, but Hagrid said they were killed by someone called Voldemort. I wanted to believe Hagrid, but I was never sure until Mrs Crenshaw bought me a book that told me about them.

"Then there was my scar. Healer Silver Hawk said it was an evil spirit in me, but he removed it. I don't understand why Dumbledore didn't do something about that.

"I guess," Harry fidgeted for a moment. "I guess I don't really want to go back because of him; I don't know what other bad things he'll do to me. I thought I'd get to start over by going to Hogwarts, but it wasn't true. It was just more of the same bad things happening to me."

Harry brightened. "Salem has been a great, none of that. Everyone's been so nice and helpful. David, my roommate, has been great. We go flying every weekend with some of the others. The teachers are helpful too, no insults either. To everyone here, I'm just another student. I really like Salem and want to stay here."

"I don't see why not," Lopez told him with a smile. "Why don't you return to class and let us finish here."

"You sure?" he asked, some doubt creeping into his voice.

"I'm sure," she told him.

"Thanks!" he told her as he stood. Deputy Nelson also stood, smiling, and led him out.

When Harry was gone, Schmidt looked over. "Well done, Maria." She nodded as she sat back looking pleased and yet concerned.

Schmidt now looked at their observer. "Dumbledore, in many ways, you have only yourself to blame for him leaving. I can see no coercions or compulsions."

"But-" Dumbledore started, only to be cut off.

"We can also verify most of what he said from other sources," Schmidt told him.

"I," Praat added, "was most disgusted by the interview with the Dursleys. What you have done to him is very disrespectful of his true family. If he had a close family, I would not be surprised if they brought a legal case against you."

"And Hogwarts is well known outside of Britain to have substandard teaching in Potions, History, Divination, Muggle Studies, and Defense Against the Dark Arts," Lopez said. "I would agree with Potter that it's not worth paying for."

Schmidt looked at the older man. "Then there are the medical issues you willfully ignored." He looked at the other two. "Is there really any need for deliberation?" At the vigorous "no's" returned, he called, "For the case of kidnapping from Hogwarts?"

"No," all three said.

"For having a valid reason to leave?"

"Yes," all three said.

"Since all the guardianship papers are in good order and Petunia Dursley has confirmed she willingly signed the transfer, Harry Potter may stay where he is with Susanna Crenshaw as his guardian," Schmidt stated as wrote the answers on a form and signed before passing it to the other two.

"But he's needed in Britain!" Dumbledore argued.

"He can decide that when he's eighteen," Schmidt said as he took the signed form back and closed his notebook. "Though if I were giving him advice, I'd tell him to wait longer. As for you, Headmaster, perhaps you didn't intend it, but expect this information to be forwarded to those who address magical education in the ICW and in Britain. If I had my way, you'd no longer be Headmaster, preferably immediately.

"Principal, it was good to finally meet you. Good luck at the school and with Mr Potter," Schmidt shook her hand. The other two bid her farewell also.

The security men had to escort Dumbledore to the gate; everyone ignored his protests. When he mentioned a prophecy in a desperate tone, one of the security men hit him with a silencing spell from behind before binding him in ropes so he could be removed more easily.

— — —

At the next meeting of the ICW, Albus Dumbledore was given a vote of No Confidence and was stripped of his position of Supreme Mugwump. Many in Britain were not happy with that, but there wasn't a thing they could do.

A short time later, many in the populace changed their opinion and were not happy with Dumbledore after various reports came out about what Hogwarts was really like. Many had thought the stories brought home by their children over the years were fanciful (because Dumbledore!) and had been ignored. Now they were being looked into and found to be true.

By Christmas, Albus Dumbledore was removed as Headmaster of Hogwarts and Minerva McGonagall was installed as temporary Headmistress for the rest of the year to see if she could improve the school.

After a meeting with the Department of Education, which she wouldn't discuss the details with her staff, she started to clean up the school. The trap on the third floor was removed and Quirrell was found dead a few days later in his quarters. A new history teacher was hired and started immediately; Binns continued to teach, but to an empty classroom. Snape's teaching contract was not renewed and he left in June; the same happened to Trelawny as the Divination class was discontinued. Burbage resigned at the end of the year, refusing to believe that any changes needed to be made to Muggle Studies. All replacements for full professors came from various countries on the continent, not from Britain. Filch also left at the end of the year, but he was not replaced. Hagrid never became a teacher. A few junior professors where hired to help, they did come from Britain but were young enough to remember the hardships at Hogwarts and to want to do things differently. McGonagall was hired permanently after all these changes.

This all caused other indiscretions to come to light. Cornelius Fudge eventually left office in disgrace, dragged down by Dumbledore. Amelia Bones stepped into the position as Minister for Magic and cleaned up the Ministry of much of its corruptions over the course of her first year. By the time Voldemort returned seven years later (Pettigrew hadn't had to flee until Ron Weasley graduated from Hogwarts), it was a short war as there was a full complement of Aurors with a Minister who wouldn't back down. Also, most of his former supporters were either in Azkaban or were no longer in positions of power, due to Fudge no longer able to protect them.

Sirius Black escaped Azkaban at the end of Harry's first year and was never seen again, though all the Black family holdings were sold and all assets left Britain. Between that and the Potter assets leaving, magical Britain experienced a light recession for the next few years.

As for Harry, he didn't return to Britain for many years as he had no reason to. A man claiming to be his godfather showed up with evidence that proved he really was (he had the Potter Will), and he had proof he didn't betray the Potters (the will stated the secret keeper was Peter Pettigrew). The man became a favorite uncle and stayed out of the limelight as Harry had. Over time, Harry married and his wife's family was wonderful and he enjoyed spending time with them. He also visited Susanna Crenshaw as often as he could, calling her "auntie" once he graduated.

It had taken some work and luck, but Harry did finally get to start his life over and he enjoyed it.


Favorite alternate on the theme of Harry deciding Hogwarts was not for him:

After Harry returns to the Dursleys after the shopping trip with Hagrid and really thinks about what he saw and experienced, and how much Hagrid seemed to be trying to influence him, he returned to Diagon Alley the next day. Wearing a hat to cover his scar he now really looks around and he realizes just how "old-fashioned" everything is. He also visits the book store again to look over more books and finds some children's stories about himself doing impossible things, at least impossible to him.

He puts the book back and starts to walk out only to hear another family talking about if they really want to do this. Thinking he has nothing to lose, he walks over and tells them he's not sure about this either. He meets Justin Finch-Fletchley and they hit it off. Dean Thomas also joins the conversation but he decides to go ahead and go to Hogwarts; but he does tell them that McGonagall told him they have to go to a magical school or be tutored by an approved instructor or they'll get their magic bound.

Harry and Justin don't want to go to Hogwarts and find a small shop with a man who advertises he does magical instruction, and he has been approved by the Ministry. He's a Muggle-born running his own business but it hasn't been going well, so he's happy for the long-term business.

Harry arranges room with the Finch-Fletchleys and joins Justin in normal school with the tutor coming over in the evenings and on Saturdays. They do keep in touch with Dean (who we see later joining them for their 2nd year as he decides Hogwarts is not for him after the first year). After Hermione is severely injured, though healed, she leaves after the first term and joins Justin and Harry, Dean mentioned the arrangement to her and she writes.

Harry sends a letter with Hedwig only a few days before September saying he's not coming and has instruction elsewhere, but doesn't say where nor where he is. Chaos ensues for Dumbledore and the staff. :)

(That's the basic idea for the story. Anyone who likes this alternative enough to adopt it may have it.)

— — —

(A/N: I hoped you like this little bit of fiction. - Kevin)