-1A.N. Here's the next chapter, a bit shorter than usual, but not by much. Hope you enjoy it. Thanks to Minstrel Knight for the final short discussion on the Philosopher Stone between Harry and Hedwig.
Harry woke up with a start. It was September the First and he would be going to Hogwarts soon. Frowning, he jumped up and walked in for breakfast. He was about to walk to the kitchen when Dolly promptly moved to block his path.
"Dolly speaks to elders," she said in a wondrous tone. "Elders say to treat the Great Guardian as Dolly's Master Harry. Dolly doesn't let Master Harry cook. Great Guardian must sit and eat, not cook!" She finished with a look of fierce determination.
Chuckling at the house elf's exuberance, he said, "Alright. But only if you call me Harry!"
Soon they were in Platform Nine and Three Quarters, and after many tearful partings, Harry and Leila found themselves in a train compartment with Hermione, playing exploding snap, when the door opened and two shy figures stumbled in.
"Hey," greeted Harry amicably to the first new entry, Ginny Weasley. "We met in Ollivander's with Minister Weasley, didn't we? I'm Harry Potter and this is my twin, Leila. That's our friend Hermione Black."
The redhead nodded but didn't say anything. She sat down and looked out the window.
Leila frowned and turned to Harry questioningly, but he shook his head. He looked at the other person, another shy kid, Neville Longbottom, and grinned. "Care to join us, you guys?" and Neville quietly moved closer to them
"There you are, Ginny," Ron Weasley said. "What are you doing here with the Squibs? Ernie was looking for you. Come to our compartment." Almost as if automatically, the girl got up and followed her brother out of the compartment, and Neville sighed sadly.
Harry looked at him questioningly and Neville shook his head. "Her family, especially her brothers, are really harsh on her. They control everything she does and every person she meets. We used to be playmates before the boy-who-lived decided he was too good to hang out with a squib like me."
Harry's brows furrowed and he said, "You're not a squib, Neville. You just haven't had the opportunity to develop."
Neville looked bothered for a moment and hesitated before asking, "Do you mind if I ask… it used to be quite well known that the Potter heir's a squib… what happened?"
"Like I said, Neville," Harry said with a grin, "Don't believe what people say! Look, I'll prove to you." He took out his wand, ignoring Hermione's protests, and pointed it at Leila.
"Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow.
Turn my favorite twin sis yellow!"
He waved his hand with a flourish at his sister.
"That's not a real spell!" Hermione protested. "It shouldn't do anything…" she gasped in disbelief when Leila's hair turned yellow in color.
Shrieking, the yellow haired girl tackled her brother, who laughingly held her back at a safe distance. "Change it back! Change it back!" she screamed. "It's my first day! Change it back!"
"If you insist," Harry said disappointedly. "I think yellow hair becomes you. Oh all right," he waved his wand again, saying, "Control Z!" and much to Hermione's chagrin, the yellow hair turned black again.
"What does 'Control Z' mean?" the bushy haired girl asked curiously, annoyed to come across a term she hadn't heard before.
Harry chuckled as if amused by a private joke and shook his head. "You'll find out some day, Mione."
All this while Neville had been staring at them in complete puzzlement. He shook his head, awed by Harry Potter's magic, and asked, "What House do you guys think you'll go to?"
"Ravenclaw!" said Hermione, as Leila declared, "Gryffindor!"
Harry shrugged and said, "Don't really care. But hey, how come Ginny and her brother were in the same year. I didn't know the boy-who-lived had a twin."
"He doesn't," Neville said. "The Minister asked for it. Nobody would be in the Weasley home to look after her, he didn't want Ginny to remain alone."
The rest of the journey passed uneventfully and soon they were being led by Hagrid to the stern faced McGonagall. Harry Potter saw her glance at him curiously as she explained the procedure. Finally, the Hat finished its song and the Sorting began.
"Black, Hermione Granger," went to Ravenclaw happily. Neville went to Gryffindor. Ernie McMillan, Ron Weasley's current best friend, went to Gryffindor.
"Potter, Harry," McGonagall called out, and there was a buzz of whispers. Most purebloods were aware of the Potter family's shame.
Harry ignored the rude comments, and put on the Hat.
'It's time for your vacation, Mr. Hat. A permanent one. You are dismissed.'
'I thank you, my lord,' the Hat concurred. "SORTING DISMISSED PERMANENTLY!" And two wings sprouted off the Hat, flapping to the ceiling, and yelled, "HAWAII, HERE I COME! ALOHA OE!" and with a flash, the legendary Sorting Hat of Hogwarts disappeared, leaving behind an astounded Hogwarts Great Hall.
All eyes fell on Harry Potter, who shrugged innocently. Several mutterings about dark squibs came from the Gryffindor Table, especially from around the Weasleys.
"You fool of a Potter!" yelled a sneering greasy haired man from the High Table. "What have you done to the Hat?"
"Severus," the Headmaster rebuked, and turned to Harry Potter kindly. "Mr. Potter, if you would be so kind as to tell us what the Hat spoke in your head?"
Shrugging, Harry said, "He was trying to sort me, and I asked him about the life of a hat. He said he spent the whole year writing a song for the next sorting. I said I would be bored of such a life and go on a permanent vacation. You heard the rest."
There was an almost painful silence at Harry's explanation and all eyes bored into the boy, but he looked around happily.
"So? Am I allowed to choose my own place, or will someone tell me whether I am supposed to be brave or cunning?" he blinked innocently at the staff. The staff turned to each other, obviously finding a deeper meaning to the boy's innocuous question that suddenly bothered them deeply.
The Headmaster cleared his throat and stood up. Facing all the unsorted students, he said, "For now, sit where you wish to. You will spend the night in the dorm of that house. We will come with a more permanent solution tomorrow. Mr. Potter, please see me after dinner."
Harry tore from the stool and ran to his twin. Before he could tell her where to go, she dragged him to Gryffindor. But when they reached the red and gold table, they were met with several hostile glares, especially from the Weasley brothers and their friends. Shrugging, Harry dragged his sister to Ravenclaw, and sat next to Hermione.
"You shouldn't have done that," Hermione said in an offended manner. "You'll get into trouble even before we settle here."
Harry gaped at her in bewilderment. Without saying a word, he dug into his food.
After dinner, Harry found himself being led by Flitwick to the Headmaster, who took him to his office. Harry looked curiously at all the portraits and moving staircases, knowing full well that the Headmaster was closely observing him.
While walking, Nearly Headless Nick and the Bloody Baron crossed their paths, arguing about Peeves. Seeing Harry, both stopped. The Bloody Baron bowed while Sir Nicholas looked at him in hesitation, much to the Headmaster's bemusement.
Harry smiled and said, "It's a pleasure to meet the noble ghosts of the Castle at last," he glanced surreptitiously at the Headmaster. "I have several messages for you… from old friends. But I don't want to keep the Headmaster waiting."
The two straightened and floated away without another word, and Harry followed a thoughtful Dumbledore as he spoke the password to his office, 'Lemon Drops.'
"Well, Mr. Potter, allow me to begin by giving you my heartiest congratulations on making it to Hogwarts. I understand your name was added to the roster only days before the start of term."
Harry nodded, and said, "I used to be a squib before that."
"Used to?" Dumbledore asked curiously.
"According to my phoenix, magic adopted me," Harry said mildly. "I was bitten by a snake. A phoenix healed me, and said that because my magic was closed, I couldn't heal on my own. I nearly died, and because of that my magic opened."
Dumbledore leaned back with heavy eyes and sighed. Shaking his head, he turned to his phoenix, "Was it this phoenix?"
Harry shook his head, and called Hedwig. The silver phoenix appeared instantly and sunk to Harry's lap. The boy stroked the bird fondly.
"A magnificent bird," Dumbledore remarked. "Truly beautiful, but then all phoenixes are." Then he sighed again and opened his mouth to say something, but thought the better of it. "Is there anything you would like to tell me, my boy?"
Harry closed his eyes for a few seconds. Then opening, he said sadly, "I forgive you for what you have done to me and my family. But in your schemes, you overlooked the impact on Ginny Weasley's upbringing." Ignoring Dumbledore's shocked expression, he continued, "If the Sorting had continued, Ginny Weasley would have ended up in Slytherin, where she would face a new and different horror every night, for the rest of her days in Hogwarts." Seeing Dumbledore's fearful gaze, he finished with an accusatory, "You know what I mean!"
"Who are you?" Dumbledore asked, breathing rapidly.
"I am Harry Potter," Harry said simply. "But I died and I was reborn. The phoenix brought me back to life. But for the instant that I was dead, I saw much."
Dumbledore gaped at him in disbelief, as if judging the veracity of the boy's statement. Then, tears glistened down his eyes. "I'm sorry, my boy. I should have tried to open your magic. I'm truly sorry… I don't know what truly happened to you… But I could have prevented this ordeal."
"You could have," Harry agreed. Sighing, he added, "I know what that would have required. It could only be opened after another near death experience."
Like being sentenced to the Dursleys, the thought filled his head, or thrown from a second floor window like Neville.
Shaking his head, Harry continued, "Your biggest weakness, sir, is your desire to keep your students from making tough decisions. That decision should have been made by my parents. James and Lily are adults, Professor, and you should treat them as such, especially in matters concerning their own child's future and happiness. It doesn't matter if you believed they'd make the same choice, it was theirs to make. At the very least, they should have known their options."
"I thought… I thought I could protect you," said Dumbledore sorrowfully. "I thought I could drop some hints about me binding your magic, and that would satisfy those who… those who might want to search for the true boy-who-lived. Not everyone believes my misdirection towards Ron Weasley to be accurate."
"And that is why I forgive you," said Harry, getting up. "But you have played with the lives of the Weasleys. They could have been so much more," he sighed sadly. "I forgive you, but that doesn't mean I'm willing to embrace you."
When Dumbledore remained silent, Harry continued, "Can you learn from your mistakes, Headmaster? The way you sort the First Years tomorrow will reveal that."
"I have decided. The Sorting Ceremony used to be an important part of Hogwarts Tradition, but is now much outdated. The need of the hour is for us to learn from each other's strengths, and not to be divided because of them," Dumbledore began the next morning. "Keeping that in mind, I have decided that students will have the first choice in determining where to go, based on which, the Heads of Houses will interview them. The House names will remain the same, as will all the distinctive features, but perhaps in this manner of Sorting, some of the prejudice can be removed. If there is a problem, conflict, or any sort of issue regarding House placement, then the four Heads will sit together and decide. It will be a lengthier process, but one which is more relevant to today's climate. Perhaps some day in the future, the Sorting Hat will return, when the need to divide arises again."
Harry smiled appreciatively, and nodded when the Headmaster turned to him. He glanced away as an owl dropped a letter in front of him.
'WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, HARRY JAMES POTTER! HOW COULD YOU! YOUR FATHER IS MOST DISPLEASED WITH YOU! JUST WAIT UNTIL YOU GET HOME!
Here I am, sitting on the laurels of seven years of hard work and toil in building the Marauder name, and you… take less than an hour in Hogwarts to pull a prank that causes a bigger uproar than our entire school period! Harry James Potter! I am so angry… and I am so proud! To end a thousand year old tradition by sending the Sorting Hat to Hawaii… sniff… Your mother is… um… lets not talk of narrow minded women… Moony has been thumping his chest with pride for more than five minutes now… I think he has lost his speech capacity… sniff… Give hell to McGonagall, Snape and Filch, will you?'
Harry chuckled, and passed the letter to Leila and Hermione. His sister laughed at their father's antics, but Hermione clicked in disapproval.
"Honestly," she said with narrowed eyes. "I can see all three of them celebrating lavishly tonight, just for this!"
"Wouldn't you, Mione?" Harry asked. "If your child followed in your footsteps, and finished reading the Hogwarts library in their first year?" Then, ignoring Hermione's indignant expression, he turned to Flitwick as he approached, and said, "Can I stay in Ravenclaw, Professor? Hermione has just challenged me to a race in seeing who reads the Hogwarts library first?"
The tiny professor squeaked at the prospect of having the strange Potter boy in his house, and hastily said, "A most Gryffindor reason behind your choice, Mr. Potter… Honestly! A race to acquire knowledge!" Avoiding eye contact with McGonagall, who had approached at the mention of her house name, he continued, "Miss Potter?"
"Gryffindor!" she said confidently. "Potters belong there!" Turning to McGonagall, she smiled brightly, "Don't we, Aunt Minnie?"
McGonagall looked at the two Marauder-Spawn smiling broadly, and groaned, recalling the horrors she had to endure during their father's time. She was doomed. "Selfish, self-indulging Hat," she muttered quietly. "Couldn't even ask if anyone else would want to join it." But she nodded, and said, "I suppose you do belong in Gryffindor."
Within minutes, the teachers had settled with the sorting, and Harry followed Leila to Gryffindor. The prefect, another Weasley called Percival, who grabbed Ginny's hand, led the first years to the Gryffindor Common Room, and along the way they ran into Peeves.
Harry grinned at the Poltergeist, whose smirk wiped off on seeing Harry, and he slowly tried to back away in fear. But Harry was faster, and yelled, "Ghostbusters!" and a jet of greenish-brown goo shot from his wand and pinned the Poltergeist to the wall. Blowing the top of his wand coolly, Harry muttered, "Who you gonna call?" Some of the muggleborn students laughed heartily at that, much to Hermione's chagrin.
"Five points from Gryffindor for doing magic without permission," Percy said in a disgruntled way, obviously disliking the incursion on his authority by the first year student, and a Potter to boot.
The atmosphere in the Gryffindor first year boys dormitory was frosty, to say the least. Ron Weasley had acquired a new sidekick, an Irish boy, Seamus Finnigan. Along with Ernie McMillan, the three of them started ordering the two other students, Harry and Neville.
"I wish I had changed houses," muttered Neville to Harry quietly. "I should have followed Dean Thomas to Hufflepuff."
"Hey!" Harry protested indignantly. "Then I would be all alone here." Looking at Ron, Harry frowned, and then said, "He can't be that bad."
"You don't know him," whispered Neville. "He's spoilt rotten." Seeing the others attention turning towards them, he hastily muttered a goodnight, and went to bed.
Harry waited for the other boys to fall asleep, but they were intent on staying up for a long time, and knowing he had to be up for lessons the next day, Harry decided to go to sleep. The Guardian's task would have to wait. Sighing, he went to sleep.
The next week passed by rapidly, and Harry found himself in the presence of the foreboding Potions Master on Friday. He had made it no small secret that he despised the Potters. He didn't much care for the Weasleys either, but at least, the redhead family was… important, while the Potters were simply insignificant braggarts.
"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making," was his introductory sentence. "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect many of you to be able to achieve much, not unless you are much different from the usual bunch of dunderheads I receive."
Then he threw a volley of really tough questions at Harry, who instantly answered them without much of a problem. Finally, Snape grudgingly accepted Harry's answers, but deducted a point for being smug. As the lesson ended, Harry whispered to Leila as he left the classroom, but loud enough for everyone to hear, "He was right, Lei. Even squibs can excel at potion making! It isn't really magic then, is it?"
The Guardian of Magic raised an eyebrow. He looked at the silver haired beauty, and grabbing her hand, kissed it gently. "My Lady, you look radiant tonight," he said, making her giggle like a little girl.
He took her hand, and they disappeared. Reappearing in front of a tall mirror with golden frames, the Guardian looked around, and said, "To take or not to take… isn't that the question?" On hearing no witty repartee from Hedwig, he turned to her, and sighed. She was staring at the mirror, with her head tilted to one side, and a dazed expression on her face.
Gently, the Guardian pulled her back, and kissed her forehead. "Don't dwell on desires, my dear," he said. "They can cause you much pain."
"Or bring great joy," the Phoenix said quietly, slipping her hand into her pocket, and removing the Philosopher's Stone from it. "Shall we return this to the Flamels?"
"Aunt Perenelle told us not to return," the Guardian said. "They must have departed by now." He looked at the stone with interest, and laughed. "A Philosopher's Stone… What is a philosopher's prime task, my dear?"
"Enlightenment," came the brisk response.
He sighed. "Individuation and enlightenment. Supposedly, this stone should burn out impurities from a corrupt life, and make it immortal, to remove impurities from corrupt metals and transmute them to pure gold."
"No longer can gold be called a pure substance. Much blood has been spilt over it," the Phoenix said wisely.
"Nor can it purify a soul that is split asunder," said the Guardian sadly, "Or we could simply heal Voldemort, and bring back Tom Riddle as he once was." Shaking his head, he clenched his wrist, and crushed the stone in his hand. Then he put a handful of stone dust before the Phoenix, and allowed her to completely incinerate it in silver flames.
"Muggles have it right," he said finally. "The Philosopher's Stone should remain a hypothetical quest, a metaphor, and only thus will it be able to serve its purpose." He remained silent for a few seconds, during which the Phoenix looked at him quietly. "Hedwig," he finally requested. "Will you visit Ginny Weasley? Her heart and soul is troubled. I didn't wish to invade her privacy to determine why, but I think it has something to do with her brothers."
"You still care for her," Hedwig commented.
The Guardian sighed. "I care for her as I care for everyone else whom I once knew. The woman I once loved is not the girl I see in Hogwarts. You know that, Hedwig."
"Forgive me, My Lord," the Phoenix said. "I shouldn't have insinuated that."
Chuckling, the Guardian put an arm around her. "Don't be silly." Then he disappeared.