Footsteps on a Different Path
(formerly, "Wyckham Academy")
Summary: AU: Harry Potter takes the option to attend another school of magic… does not being at Hogwarts still make him the Boy-Who-Lived?
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, any other characters, worlds, affiliates, etc., except for any new names you do not recognize which are oh-so-obviously mine.
It's choice - not chance - that determines your destiny.
London, England: January 1, 1981
Anita Hartz rang in the New Year at a local bar with her fiancé, Rhys Wyckham. They had had been dating since their final year at secondary school, and together just completed their first semester of first year at Oxford majoring in English. Anita was hoping to be a teacher one day.
The two staggered out of the bar as it neared 3 am, laughing over a group of students' latest commentary on their most hated Professor. Rhys was leaning against Anita, his arm slung over Anita's back to hold him upright. Rhys was, after all, more of a drinker than Anita would ever be.
"Alright, Rhys?" Anita asked. She only had a pint and was the designated driver for the evening, happily giving her fiancé all the drinks he wanted, with a new bottle of Tylenol at the flat waiting for him when they got in.
"Sure," slurred Rhys, grinning widely. They laughed together in the silence of the evening as other late-night stragglers wandered off in London, looking for their next party or a bed.
The two walked slowly down a narrow cobblestone lane, quietly snickering and looking for the nearest tube station. As they turned a corner, they heard a distant, but distinct, shout and stopped.
Although Rhys was fairly wasted, he had enough street-sense to sober himself up as much as possible, especially if there would be any danger. Anita, on the other hand, froze, and started to hyperventilate when multicolour beams of light sailed through the air. A tall, young man came barrelling around the corner, panting heavily, nearly running into the two.
"What are you doing here?" he gasped. "Run! Death Eaters!"
Perplexed, Rhys was going to ask him what he meant by Death Eaters, when he grabbed his shoulder and began tugging the two after him, back the way they came.
Briskly as a group with a semi-drunk could be, they made it to the same bar they had vacated earlier, and entered. There was still a large after-two crowd, who were no longer drinking but singing rowdily and watching the telly: a foreign football game was on. The man they were with sunk heavily into a booth, facing the bar door but half-hidden in shadows.
Rhys looked curiously at him and asked, "What's a Death Eater?"
The man whipped his head around to face the two before groaning. He hid his face in his hands. "Muggles!"
"Pardon?" asked Anita, blinking. She was very confused, what exactly was a Muggle or a Death Eater? She asked as much.
The man leaned forward and said, as quietly as possible with force behind his words, "you must believe me – there is a world out there, hidden underneath your nose that would never believe exists."
"Kind of like an underground society, then?" asked Anita.
The man nodded. "Yes. But imagine that they hide themselves amongst you. And imagine that they can do magic, where spells exist, where dragons and witches and wizards are real."
Rhys nodded along drunkenly. "I once thought I saw a dragon!" He hiccupped.
Anita looked at him strangely, wondering why this story never came up before.
"Oh?" the man asked, raising an eyebrow.
He nodded. "I was nine an' mam an' dad an' I were in Norway an' this huge beast of a thing landed in the water and snapped a fishing boat in two!" He frowned. "We left immediately afterward, leaving our tour guide, an' when we met up with him again he couldn't remember the dragon, but we could."
The man nodded. "Norwegian Ridgeback. Nasty blighters they are."
Anita stared. "Ok, let's humour you, and say that this world is real – who are Death Eaters?"
The man sighed. "Just like how your world has its good and bad guys, so does the magical world. And the Death Eaters are the worst of the lot."
Rhys opened his mouth to ask another question, but the man (who was looking out the bar window) gave a startled jump, and slipped a stick onto the table just as the door burst open and a voice exclaimed, "Avada Kedavra!"
A green light flashed across the room and the bartender fell to the floor, with the glass he was cleaning shattered next to him.
Following that was panic.
People began running to the doors, any exit they could find, the bathrooms, breaking windows – Rhys took a step away from the booth, fists raised and arming himself for a fight—and was swallowed by the mass of people still in the bar.
"Rhys!" cried Anita, sliding across the booth seat. "Rhys!"
The man reached out and grabbed her arm. "No! They'll kill you! Your friend should be fine."
Anita shrieked, "That's my fiancé! Rhys!"
The man frowned, but pushed Anita under the table to hide. The man then fingered his stick – Anita thought it would be a wand, if he was telling the truth – and began to murmur under his breath.
He then turned to face Anita, and she sucked in her breath, startled by the intensity of the man's face. "I'm sorry you got dragged into this," he said. "They hate anyone non-magical, and those born from non-magical parents. Bigots, prejudice arses they all are. Just remember, we're not all like them!"
He then turned back to face the laughing group of seven, ready to spring out from his hiding place.
"Wait!" Anita called. "Who are you?"
The man looked back and frowned, before saying, "I'm Matthew. Matthew Blake."
Anita nodded, and the man left. She was terrified for Matthew, but even more so for Rhys. Anita clamped her mouth shut and closed her eyes, praying for everything to be over. She couldn't see, but she could hear. She could hear the cries of patrons in the bar, their screams of terror and sobs. She could hear a bunch of weird words and phrases shouted back and forth and things exploding and the telly bursting into a shower of sparks and cables.
All too soon or far longer that she initially thought, the bar fell silent save for four loud cracks that filled the air. Holding her breath, Anita counted to thirty and then counted some more until she heard the wail of police, fire and ambulance sirens. She then crept out from under the table, and felt her eyes begin to tear up at the carnage in front of her.
Bloodied bodies lay in the room, a few breathing shallowly and in need of medical attention. As Anita stumbled around bodies and slipping on glasses and beer bottles, she came across one person she had hoped had escaped.
"Oh, oh no… Rhys…"
The medics found her sobbing next to her fiancé's corpse.
Albus Dumbledore found her a week later; she was huddled under her bed covers, in the flat she used to share with Rhys. There were empty Chinese, Thai and take-out containers littering the kitchen, and the air in the flat was stale.
He had knocked on the door several times with no answer, but the landlord below had assured him that she was in, "the poor, wee thing," he had added, looking forlornly up at the flat above him.
Dumbledore learned about Anita through one of the Aurors in the Department, who liaised with the Oblivators. They were missing several witnesses, some who escaped before the Death Eaters managed to kill everyone in the bar. The other, Anita, came from the witness report the paramedics took when they found the near-comatose girl beside her dead fiancé. Instead of the girl's memories being tarnished and rewritten, especially after such a traumatic event in losing the love of her life, Dumbledore hastened to track her down himself.
A whispered "alohamora" opened her front door, and he stepped into the small, but comfortable, flat. Evidence of her shared life was everywhere—in pictures decorating the bookshelves, in the two separate sets of textbooks, to the paired dishes in the sink—and it made Dumbledore's heart twist in sympathy.
Anita did not respond to seeing a strange, elderly looking man standing beside her in her bedroom. She did not seem to see the wizard—or didn't seem to care. In the end, knowing what he had to say as important, Dumbledore pushed aside his morals and cast the strongest Cheering Charm he could on the non-magical girl.
When she looked up at him, Anita wasn't grinning, or cheerful like the charm advertised; instead, she was aware of her surroundings but still despondent.
"Who're you?" she asked, quietly, still huddled under her covers. Her voice was flat.
"I am Albus Dumbledore," replied the wizard. "I am sorry for entering your home without permission, but you were not answering your door." He gave her a look over top of his glasses. "Your landlord is quite worried about you."
"I haven't left," answered Anita, calmly.
"You need to get out, Anita," replied Dumbledore, softly. "Do you have family you can return to?"
Anita scoffed. "Go back to Wales? I'll be even more depressed there than here. At least there's still noise."
"You'll get lost, my dear. I'm afraid you already are," sighed Dumbledore.
Anita frowned, looking carefully at the man, as if seeing him for the first time. "Just what are you doing here? Are you another wizard here to finish me off?"
Dumbledore opened his mouth to answer, but closed it, frowning. Is that what she thought of the magical world?
"Anita…" Dumbledore trailed off, unsure of how to proceed. "I run an organisation that is fighting against those that harmed your friends and your… fiancé that evening. I don't want your help, my dear—rather, we would like to help you."
"Help me?" she repeated, staring at him. "You want to help me? Please, Dumbledore, tell me how. Can your magic bring back Rhys? Can you turn back time to stop the Death Eaters from killing him?"
"I—" Dumbledore sighed. "No, Anita, magic cannot bring him back."
"So what can you and your group possibly do for me?" asked Anita, cruelly. "Your magical world, your magical wands and people have taken away the most important person in the world to me. Just what are you thinking of doing?"
"There will be people who will want to change your memories," answered Dumbledore, bluntly. "So that you don't remember that night, or change it so that something different happened.
"I want you to see the good side of magic. You experienced something terrible, Anita, but right now you're letting it drown you. Yes, you lost the person you love—but you're not the first person who has and you certainly won't be the last. Grieve, but remember the good memories. Be depressed, but laugh at the silly things you used to do with Rhys. Dream, if only to keep his dreams going as well."
Anita stared at Dumbledore from her bed, looking at the wizard like he was the strangest thing she had ever seen; and he probably was, wearing his garish purple robes with flashing stars, his long beard tucked into his belt.
She thought of his words, and slowly they sunk in. Rhys was dead. He wouldn't be coming back. But would he want her to be like this?
"I can't turn off my feelings that quickly," she whispered, eyes filling with tears.
Dumbledore smiled gently at her. "No one is asking you to, my dear. Just… remember and take each day as it comes, waking up and keeping to your routine. You can't dwell on the 'what ifs' or the 'what could be' and forget to live."
"It'll take time," she replied quietly.
"These things do."
Dumbledore turned to look around her room, messy with forgotten clothing and perfume bottles and men's cologne, and waved his wand. Clothing became clean and folded or placed in the wardrobe; take-out boxes were stacked neatly by the recycling and the room's stale scent turned fresh, like lavender.
"Take the time you need to grieve, Anita," Dumbledore said finally, as the girl stared in awe at his wand. "But don't forget to live, either. Only you would know what Rhys would want you to do. Remember that. And when you're ready to see the other side of magic, I'll know. Take your time."
The man disappeared right out of her bedroom with a pop! scaring her to death. She looked around the room, wondering where he went, but when he didn't reappear, she sunk back down on the bed.
Sighing, Anita got out of the bed, thinking about changing the bed sheets and what else she had to do. She had put off some things for long enough. Maybe Dumbledore was right—she couldn't forget to live, but she could still grieve for Rhys while she did so.
London, England: November 1, 1981
Anita was shopping for her parents' Christmas present, even though it was two months in advance. It was strange not getting anything for Rhys, this year, but she was determined to continue with her plans for the year. One thing she knew for certain, he wouldn't want her to stop studying because something happened to him.
Instead, Anita took her bereavement time off school to do some thinking and naval-gazing. Although her incident with Dumbledore had shaken her—what else could wizards do?—she did think he meant his words genuinely and kind-heartedly.
And while the ache of losing Rhys would take a long time to fade—if it ever did—Anita was determined to make him proud of her and her decisions. He had dreams of things he wanted to do, like visiting the Great Wall of China, or drinking espresso in Milan, or ride a mechanical bull in Texas. Anita promised herself she would honour his dreams and wishes and took it upon herself to do them one day.
However, she also wanted to honour her wishes and dreams to become an educator one day. So, her studies were taking up a lot of her time and she wanted to take advantage of the break she had to get her shopping done now instead of later.
The streets were unusually crowded in downtown London, with people wearing crazy mismatched clothing and wearing robes and pointed hats. Anita didn't think much of it, until a group of elderly women passed by, their faces bright and animated.
"– Praise be! You-Know-Who is finally gone!"
"All thanks to that young Potter boy –"
"– Poor dear… orphaned, no parents anymore –"
"– Muggles don't seem to ever understand –"
Anita stopped, and turned to face the women, calling out loudly, "Excuse me?"
The three, all wearing those funny robes and pointy hats, similar to Dumbledore's outfit several months ago, and looked at her blankly.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to overhear, but you… you said 'Muggles.' Do you mean non-magical people?" Anita would never forget that New Years Day, even if she wanted to. Those scenes still visited her in her dreams, and the ache was still too great to never feel it.
The three women shared uneasy glances, but Anita interrupted quickly. "No, please, I'm a Muggle, but my fiancé, we were attacked earlier this year by Death Eaters–"
One woman let out a murmur. "You poor thing, survived, did you?"
Anita swallowed thickly.
The other two murmured their own condolences and one pursed her lips before looking around. She stepped forward and wrapped her arm around Anita and asked, "Can you take a walk with us, dear?"
Anita nodded again, feeling foolish. She was far too trusting. "I can finish my Christmas shopping later."
With the older women congregating around her, they walked off, and Anita learned more about the wizard world than their government wanted Muggles to know about, especially without any family involved in their world.
London, England: June 23, 1982
Anita had grown close to the elderly witches, and spent every free weekend she could in London having Sunday tea at the Leaky Cauldron. Initially surprised to find such an establishment existed, she quickly grew to enjoy the quirks of the wizard world and found herself defending non-magical people – she took a quick disliking to the term "Muggle" as she considered it derogatory term – from prejudiced wizards.
She constantly thought back to the offer Dumbledore had extended to her. The elderly witches, Augusta Longbottom (whose son and daughter-in-law were tortured to insanity just days after she first met them), Matilda Warbeck and Michaela Davis, were surprised when Anita had told them about Dumbledore's visit, citing him to be a busy, important figurehead in the magical world.
Anita, although she never said it, was surprised too. What made her special or her situation unique enough to warrant his attention? In the end, Anita slowly wanted to know more about the world that took her fiancé from her. Not the bad, because there would always be a bad taste in her mouth when thinking about that world, but about the good, the things Dumbledore wanted her to know about.
The witches then happily informed her of the comings and goings of the wizard world and when they learnt Anita wished to be a teacher began telling her tales of Hogwarts.
And after each one, she found herself getting more and more upset.
The wizard world seemed to completely neglect muggleborns, who give up seven years of their life only to be disregarded because of their background. There was also a high illiteracy rate in young wizards and witches who did not receive the proper help when their ailments were discovered.
When Anita began to explain how non-magical children were educated, and how Hogwarts should offer more courses, Ms. Longbottom quipped, "Why don't you do something about it, dear? You are going to Canterbury Christ Church for your PGCE this upcoming September, and will be a licensed teacher."
Anita blinked, shocked; she would be a teacher and could do something! Then, her dreams shattered around her. She wasn't magical; there already was a magical school that was considered the premiere in Europe. She couldn't even defend herself against magical users. What good was she to them?
That night, when she got in to the same flat that she and Rhys originally lived in, there was a large, beautiful bird perched on an armchair. It was orange with scarlet plumes and tail feathers, with bright, beady black eyes and warm, inviting warble.
It also had a letter clutched in its talons.
The letter was for Anita, inviting her to come and visit Dumbledore at Hogwarts, in Scotland. Fawkes, the phoenix (making Anita stare for several moments at the preening bird), would arrive at their arranged time to whisk her away to the castle and then back to her home at her request.
Anita, intrigued, agreed; the next day at eight in the morning, she was standing in a field just outside the magical town of Hogsmeade, thinking about doing her laundry and was strongly compelled to turn around and go do her laundry when Dumbledore appeared beside her and tapped her on the head with his wand.
The compulsion disappeared and the two began one of the strangest days Anita would ever experience.
That night, back in London and safely tucked up in bed, Anita thought back on the day and her discussion with Dumbledore in his office before Fawkes would return her to her flat.
"What did you think of Hogwarts?" he asked.
Anita thought carefully. "I think for the magical world it's exactly what you need. But I think there are things that could be easily changed or adapted to different methods for easier teaching strategies."
"Hogwarts is our history. A thousand years of tradition is hard to change," argued Dumbledore with a smile.
Anita smiled back. "Yeah, I know. And I'm not saying it's wrong… it's just… things could be made smoother if you changed things. Doesn't mean I'm right, or you are, or it could be we're both right and wrong. Just some of the things aren't really working, and I feel like others, particularly parents of non-magical first-generation witches and wizards might feel like their children are being cheated out of the education they could also receive at Oxford, or Cambridge. You know?"
Dumbledore nodded. "The board is firm in their decisions. I know you and Augusta have several conversations about Pureblood tradition. Could you really see them changing their views on the Hogwarts curriculum or the system here?"
Anita laughed. "Not a chance." They both fell silent, until Anita spoke again. "Why me? Why did you offer me this opportunity? Surely there were others who escaped that night or other nights with their memories?"
Dumbledore smiled. "I wondered when you would ask. I know what it is like, to lose someone you love. It cripples you, it destroys you. And for some time I was aimless. I had hoped that perhaps I could do something for you, as there had been no one for me in my time of need. Or maybe you just reminded me of myself when I was younger—eager to face the world with the right person at my side, change things."
"And now?" Anita asked, gently.
Dumbledore toasted her with his teacup. "I still see something of me in you. The drive to change things, to learn and teach. You question things, something I don't do, which pains me to admit. Perhaps you can go a step further that I cannot. However many titles I hold, I am still limited by the role I play in each position, as well as what I can do within Hogwarts."
"Now you're just trying to be humble," argued Anita, laughingly. "But thanks. It was nice to see the school—it's beautiful… but at the end of the day, it's hard to forget that someone who went here is the reason Rhys is dead."
"Would you ever want to see more of our world?" asked Dumbledore.
Anita shook her head. "I think I've seen enough. I know enough now." She stood, and Dumbledore rose from behind his desk. "Thank you, Albus. Thank you for trusting me enough with your secret and for saying the right things when I needed to hear them."
Anita took a look around the office, at the smiling or frowning portraits on the walls, at Fawkes, at the books and knickknacks.
"But this world isn't for me to change. You need someone to do it," she finally said, ending the conversation.
Now, back home, Anita nodded firmly to herself as she got ready for bed. The magical world took something away from her, and she had to live with that for the rest of her life. She learned, studied, and experienced that world with as much as an open mind as she could, given the situation. And now, she was done with it.
Or so she thought, for several years.
Cardiff, Wales: June 18, 1985
She was surprised when the phone rang. Anita was even more surprised when, after picking it up, the voice at the other end said, "Anita? This is Albus Dumbledore. Would you mind if I come by later today?"
He apparated into her back garden after one in the afternoon dressed in his usual garish robes and pointed hat. Anita greeted him, leaning against her back door jamb.
"Albus," she said, a small smile on her face. "Tea?"
"Yes, please," he answered, and she nodded, motioning him into her kitchen. Boxes were stacked here and there, some in neat little piles and others open and half-filled. Anita found her teapot in one.
After boiling the kettle, and waiting patiently, she gestured for him to start talking. "I take it this isn't a social call," she suggested, looking at him.
Dumbledore shook his head. "I'm afraid I am in a bit of a bind. I… would like advice."
"From me?" queried Anita, surprise lacing her voice. The kettle whistled and she poured hot water into the two mugs.
"Yes," replied Dumbledore, quietly. "You offer a unique perspective that my staff and those I call friends may not help me with."
"Right," answered Anita, shortly. "Well, what's the problem?"
"One Mr. Harry Potter."
Anita nodded. She had an idea what this was about. Harry Potter was the topic du jour of the wizarding world, and nearly every meeting with her witch friends had Anita learning more about the boy—more myths and half-truths, that is. Thinking of a few things and then considering them when they didn't add up, she began to do some snooping in the non-magical world and found the Dursleys. Then, everything made sense.
"You made a nasty little mistake there, Albus," said Anita finally. "I've looked into them. They're… mean spirited little shits, really."
"Yes, thank you," the wizard replied, sourly.
"So what's the problem then? I can't imagine a beat-down kid like that is going to give you a hard time at Hogwarts in a few years time," she questioned, wrapping her hands around her mug.
Dumbledore scratched at his crooked nose before replying. Finally, after deciding on what to say, he bluntly answered, "I've received information that Voldemort is not as gone as I would like to believe."
Anita's mouth dropped open into an 'o.'
Dumbledore continued, "The thing is… I want Harry to have a normal childhood. And from what I've observed and seen at Hogwarts, between the students and staff, he will not get that. They're all terribly excited about his arrival—except Severus of course, but I've never seen him even smile except grin when Slytherin won the House Cup last year..."
"He's the Boy-Who-Lived, Albus, of course he's not going to get it at that school of yours where everyone knows him."
Albus frowned, but nodded accordingly. "Yes, true—but—I want him to not worry or experience the trouble with fame."
"He's going to have to deal with it sometime," argued Anita, reasonably. "Better now than when he hits puberty."
Dumbledore's lips twitched into a smile. "I can understand that, but… as much as it pains me, I don't know if Hogwarts is the best place for him."
"Albus, let's try to be honest here," said Anita instead, "You don't want him to be famous, but you need him to learn magic. He's the only known survivor of the Killing Curse, and you think that if he wasn't at Hogwarts he'd be safer at another school? At least you know your staff and students."
"I understand that, Anita," replied Dumbledore, after taking a sip from his tea. "When I think of his parents, when they started Hogwarts, and what he is like… I'm beginning to think that placing him with the Dursleys wasn't such a good idea."
"It wasn't. Full stop."
The wizard looked pained at the admission. "I… see."
Anita drank from her mug. "I still don't see what the problem is, other than you thinking he's not going to do well at Hogwarts anymore."
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Well, that is… I was hoping that you might consider….?"
"What? Me? Go to Hogwarts and teach there?" asked Anita, incredulous. "Not a fucking chance, Dumbledore."
"No…" he trailed off. "I… you were right, those years ago. About Hogwarts. Things need to change, but most wizards are scared of it. I was thinking about what you said. The things that you would change, and how you would change them."
Anita was staring at Dumbledore, her eyes wide and a frightened expression on her pale face. As she stared, Dumbledore finally noticed the boxes around her kitchen.
"Are you going somewhere?" he finally asked.
Anita started out of her stupor. "Rhys' parents have a summer home in Switzerland. They've retired now and don't like travelling there and back anymore but they don't want to sell just yet. They asked me if I could go and keep it for them, signing over the deed to the land. It was supposed to be a wedding gift." She laughed bitterly and looked shrewdly at Dumbledore. "You once told me I had to keep going and live some dreams, Dumbledore—Rhys always wanted to vacation there with me and we never got the chance. I thought I'd go and see what it's like now."
"I see…" He then smiled brightly and suggested, "You could always make a school there!"
"Please tell me you're not suggesting what I'm hearing," she whispered.
Dumbledore cheerfully ignored her. "I was thinking something like a sister school for Hogwarts? Perhaps one where you were in charge?"
"Or not? You'd prefer to remain a teacher instead?"
Anita stared at the insane wizard as he kept trying to entice her with running a magical school, with the sole purpose of getting Harry prepared for whatever eventual plans Dumbledore had in mind.
"Get out," she heard herself whisper.
Dumbledore continued blithely on.
"Get out," she said, louder, her own voice startling her as she heard the anguish in it. "Get the fuck out of my house right now."
Startled, Dumbledore blinked from behind his half-moon glasses and then slowly nodded. "I see. It's far too soon to begin asking you of this."
He stood, taking his wizard's hat with him. As he reached her back door, he politely said, "Thank you for the tea, Anita. Thank you for listening to an old man and his dreams. Your counsel was appreciated and I will consider those over the next few months. I wish you all the best in Switzerland."
With a small bow of his head, Dumbledore disapparated from her kitchen, leaving Anita, pale faced, staring at the spot where he last stood.
Outside Neuchâtel, Switzerland: May 15, 1986
Rhys' parents' summer home turned out to be a large monastery that was converted into a hotel at the turn of the century and then fell into disuse after the 1920s. His family, who made a fair amount of money in hotel renovations around the globe, acquired the Swiss hotel in the 40s before the war and made a slight successful run with American, British and Colombian tourists in the 50s and 60s before closing the hotel to family use.
Located in the Forêt de Peseux, on the Chaumont mountain and near the Abbaye de Fontaine-André, the Wyckham Estate was a fifteen-acre plot of land nestled on a flattened parcel of land, overlooking Lake Neuchâtel. The old monastery, from the twelfth century, was still prevalent in the architecture and design of the estate, from the traditional Swiss mortar and exposed wooden beams, to the interior stone design and cosy and nestled rooms.
Elisabeth and Richard Wyckham did not dismiss the staff from their positions within the hotel – which, although given its size boasted over 100 rooms, three reception rooms, two restaurants and a conservatory – and Anita was glad for the company of them.
Anita took several trips into Neuchâtel and fell in love with the nearby Lausanne, barely an hours' train ride away. Visiting Bern was for special trips, such as visiting the bears and enjoying the medieval architecture, and Basel and Zurich for expensive shopping trips, given their distance.
Anita arrived in the middle of skiing season and enjoyed learning to ski at the Neuchâtel Golf and Country Club located further up the mountain. As the snows melted and buds blossomed on the trees, Anita began to feel a sense of peace she hadn't in years since Rhys's death.
Then, Albus Dumbledore reappeared.
Anita allowed the elderly wizard to have his say as they walked the grounds around the estate, towards a fantastic pagoda with stone bench and rose garden, which looked toward the lake.
"This is crazy…"
Dumbledore eyed her carefully from his glasses. "Anita… this is what you were telling me to do several years ago. We need someone to change the educational system and I couldn't do it then, and truthfully, I can't do it now. But there's nothing from someone else starting up a private magical school that is run singularly on the tuition and donations of its students and families. And I think you're right; the magical world needs a change. It's stagnant. Your ideas are good."
"No one would attend," she whispered back, looking out at the blue lake. "A rival school to Hogwarts? What would people say?"
"I think we could find several who would be interested. And I would help Harry make his mind up, for at least a year, to attend. Several witches and wizards would go to a new school primarily for the reason that Harry would be attending it," answered Dumbledore, instead, gently. "As for what people would say, well, leave that to me. I still hold sway with the IWC and the Wizengamot."
"The paperwork… the hiring…" protested Anita weakly. "The location…"
"I know enough contacts that you could find people. Moreover, I think you have a lovely location right here, at the Wyckham Estate. I would help, especially as I'd like it to be ready for this September."
To say that Dumbledore wanted the impossible was an understatement. In the end, Anita had to place limitations on his request. They sequestered themselves in one of the reception rooms in the hotel, near a wood-burning fire the staff had kindly fanned for them.
"If you want me to do this," she began, warning him seriously, "You have to let me have full control. We'll be a sister-school, sure—but Albus, in the end, it'll be my school run like how I want it to be. There will be academic Hogwarts curriculum classes, in addition to GCSE, A-Level classes and non-magical studies, including the International Baccalaureate. No houses; more sports than just Quidditch."
"That sounds fair," agreed Dumbledore. "I know of several who would want to send their children there already."
"I handle the estate. I hire the teachers," she continued. "And since it's too late in the year, any children who switch from Hogwarts to this sister-school will not have additional fees. The tuition will be covered completely, as well as uniform changes and book fees."
Dumbledore winced, knowing that Hogwarts would receive a severe budget cut, but as it was his proposition… "Yes, that sounds fair as well."
Anita eyed him. "Really?"
She sighed and looked down at the piece of paper she was using to jot notes. "Lord above, I don't know how we're going to be able to get this done in about three weeks, Albus. Renovate parts of the hotel, hire teachers, write schedules, get furniture, design uniforms, set booklists, and get letters out." She looked up, in concern. "How are you going to tell everyone?"
"I'd send out letters to all the households of students attending Hogwarts to inform them," he replied.
Anita began chewing her lips. "Are you sure about this? Really sure about it? If Harry's not at Hogwarts, don't you think there will be some public backlash? At a school taught by a Muggle?"
Dumbledore shrugged. "There would be regardless. We'll just keep it quiet until then."
Anita sighed. "Fine. But you need to tell him, Albus." She then looked carefully at the elderly wizard. "And I mean, everything. You've got about five years to think of it, but until then, we need to start getting this place ready."
Neuchâtel, Switzerland: September 8, 1987
It took longer than Dumbledore wanted, but the hotel wasn't fit for receiving students. There was a lot of legal red tape, from Britain and from Switzerland, before Anita or Dumbledore could progress further in their plans. It helped, though, that the two nearest magical schools from Switzerland was Beauxbatons at five hours by car in Marseille, France and Drumstrang, somewhere in Latvia at over a day away by car.
France was infinitely closer than Latvia, but with Hogwarts being the northern tip of the magical schools in Europe, the IWC decided that they needed a central point to tie in the southern schools in Greece, Egypt and the Canary Islands, where three smaller schools of magic were located.
After that, it was to register the school as an international British boarding school with the Swiss government, which was incredibly difficult as the school had no Swiss ties, other than the property being owned by a British national. Dumbledore had to pull some more strings, but that finally went through.
Then, Anita began the inventory of the hotel and how she could change or amend the rooms to suit the purpose of a school without skyrocketing costs. No matter what, it would drain her meagre savings account.
In the end, the majority of the reception rooms (except the one with the fireplace) and the conference rooms were converted into classrooms. A chunk of Anita's savings went into the emerging SmartBoard technology from Canada.
Slowly, though, the Wyckham Hotel and estate began to look less like an empty manor home to an empty school, awaiting its students.
Augusta, Michaela, Matilda and Albus Dumbledore came to visit in the summer of '87, as the construction and movers finished their work and their contracts were complete.
The grounds in summer were breathtaking; the historic school setting rivalled Hogwarts' history; with 100 bedrooms hosting double beds, Anita converted them into twin-bed rooms, each able to host two students per room, with lots of room. Ideally, the estate could teach over 200 students—but given Hogwarts, at its peak after the Blood Wars, barely taught 650, it was unlikely she'd fill to capacity… unless they extended invitations to international students…
"Marvellous," breathed Augusta, "Simply marvellous, Anita dear. This will be a lovely location for a school. After seeing your plans for the curriculum as well, I do believe I'll be considering Neville for here!"
"There's just one thing missing," stated Dumbledore, with a twinkle in his eyes. "What shall you name it?"
Anita had a Mona Lisa smile on her face as she replied. "Wyckham Academy."
That September, Hogwarts lost twenty Muggleborn students. Dumbledore did not feel their financial loss, and sadly, the school didn't notice their disappearance. Most were upper-year class men, some first years, but not enough to notice to significant change in the Hogwarts community.
However, there were five Beauxbatons transfers and a surprisingly large number of Italian, Swiss and German students who also applied.
Anita was beginning to think she might need to make Wyckham less 'open for all' in the future. Her staff was hired based on discretion, skill and creativity; all underwent extensive background checks. The estate's staff, from when Rhys' parents owned the land, had left a year previous, pleased with their final pay package and eager to return to Britain after so long away.
Anita was just glad to get away from Britain and its memories.
As the 1987-1988 school year finished, Anita and her administrative staff began sloughing through the applicants for the 1988-1989 year, tightening their admissions rules and unfortunately upping their tuition costs. Word spread from the current students – a mere forty – about their mixed academics, their winter ski trips to the Alps, their autumn and spring trips to Milan, Paris and Zurich, their sports competitions with other American and British schools in Switzerland, their visits to Geneva and the UN…
Although initially unsure about what she got herself into, Anita was beginning to flourish and felt that Wyckham Academy was slowly coming into its own as well.
The days on the calendar flew by, and soon Anita was flying out of Basel airport to London, planning to meet Albus Dumbledore for their most important visit yet.
Surrey: July 12, 1991
Harry Potter, turning eleven in three weeks, always knew he was special – but never in his right mind did he actually believe he was this special!
A week ago, at the beginning of July, a brochure and information package had been sent to Number 4, Privet Drive, addressed to his Aunt and Uncle, care of Harry Potter. The return stamp and address was for Switzerland, causing them some confusion. Who did Harry know that lived in Switzerland?
At first, they had been surprised, but not too surprised. His elementary school had mentioned in his report card that they would possibly be sending his and Dudley's school records to the house as Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had not specified where the two preteens would go to for their secondary education.
When Vernon and Petunia had opened the package though, they were surprised by the official notification letter on cream paper, which was printed out specifically for Harry's guardians with reference to his name.
They showed surprise when viewing the colourful multi-page pamphlet that had pictures of students in a high-tech science lab, wearing lab coats, the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the library, an indoor gym and swimming pool. They were surprised at the pictures of the outdoors: forested grounds, meticulously pruned flowers and a view of a large lake…
But there were other pictures as well: pictures of students waving sticks and working over cauldrons, flying around on broomsticks in the air, playing some sort of sport.
Uncle Vernon wanted to chuck the brown envelope and its contents, but Petunia said something that caused both Harry and Dudley – who were eavesdropping – to start.
"This isn't from Hogwarts, Vernon; it's not from the school my sister went to!" Petunia whispered harshly. "Look at the pictures; read the letter sent along by the Headmistress, they combine normal classes with those freakish ones!"
"Do you think that freakish school will send the boy a letter as well?" asked Vernon gruffly.
"And what are your feelings on this, Pet?"
Harry held his breath. Would he finally learn about his past? His parents?
"I would rather the boy go to this Academy place than Hogwarts. It looks better than what Lily used to say, at the very least. I suppose it's the boy's choice."
Aunt Petunia didn't sound all that happy to say that, though.
A week later…
Anita met Albus Dumbledore outside the Dursley residence and burst out laughing at his tweed jacket with elbow patches.
"Welcome to the sixties!" she laughed, wheezing as she stood up and motioned at her fashionable trouser suit. "I think I'd best do the talking."
Privet Drive was immaculate, and number four, even more so. Anita grimaced, thinking of the lies and the blackmailing she'd possibly have to engage in to get Petunia and Vernon to listen to her. With Dumbledore at her side, however, they might be able to not resort to "magical trickery." Her research, years ago, into the Dursley residence left Anita ill prepared for the real thing, unfortunately, when Petunia answered the door and then slammed it in their faces.
Anita sighed, knocking again. "Mrs. Dursley? My name is Anita Hartz. I'm the Headmistress of a school in Swizterland. I know you received our informational brochure that we sent out in June. Please open the door before Mr. Dumbledore and I come in."
Petunia was scowling as she opened the door again, looking left and right for any neighbours watching her. Anita and Dumbledore entered the small rowhouse and followed Petunia to the lounge where Dudley sat watching television. Harry was nowhere to be seen.
"You're from that Wyckham Academy," said Petunia with a sniff, looking at Anita and everywhere but Dumbledore, who sat quietly.
"Yes," confirmed Anita calmly, folding her hands in her lap. "And as you know, Albus Dumbledore is the Headmaster of Hogwarts School."
Petunia recoiled as though slapped. "He's not going! He's going to Stonewall Secondary."
Anita and Dumbledore shared a glance. Gently, as much as she could given her knowledge of the household, "Mrs. Dursley, please allow me to explain. Harry's name has been down for Hogwarts since his birth. While it is possible for you to send him to Stonewall, there will still be… unexplained incidents when he becomes angry or frightened. He'll have no way of controlling his abilities."
The thought of Harry continuing to do freakishness had Petunia paling as she sunk into an armchair. Dudley, throughout the discussion, remained oblivious.
"Dumbledore and I," continued Anita, indicating at the wizard, "Believe that Hogwarts is not the best place for Harry."
Here, Petunia looked lost.
"While I would like to see Harry at my school, where his parents attended, I do believe that he would be better off at Anita's school instead of Hogwarts," answered Dumbledore, to Petunia's unasked question. "We would like to offer him the opportunity to experience Wyckham Academy for a year of his school. If he finds that he wants a more traditional experience, he will attend Hogwarts."
"The choice must be his," argued Anita, interjecting and glaring at Dumbledore. "Which includes him learning exactly why he was left at your house, Mrs. Dursley."
Dumbledore swallowed, not liking the tone of voice that Anita used, but knowing that he would have to "own up" on the things that he did for the past five years.
"Harry? Are you all right?" the woman, Anita Hartz or Professor Hartz as his Aunt wanted him to call her, asked.
Dazed, Harry could only murmur in reply, "I'm a wizard?"
Anita glanced at his Aunt, who sat stiffly in an armchair, staring at the wall. Not finding any help there, Anita began to ease Harry into the world she had been introduced into five years earlier. Dumbledore remained silent, wondering when it would be the right time to interject and possibly turn Harry away from him and Hogwarts altogether. There wasn't a moment of doubt in his mind that that would happen.
Harry was intelligent enough to realise he wasn't being told everything, but after Anita finished her explanation of her school, using the brochure as a guide, and explaining the magical world as she could from a non-magical perspective, she turned expectantly to Dumbledore.
Uncomfortable, Dumbledore cleared his throat and handed Harry his Hogwarts letter. "As Ms. Hartz explained to you, Harry, I am Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We would also like to offer you a place at our school, although I suggest you spend your first year at Wyckham."
"Why, sir?" asked Harry, frowning quizzically.
Dumbledore fought from fidgeting in his seat as Anita settled back with an almost smug look on her face.
"Well, you see, Harry – in our world, you are famous," began Dumbledore, trying to stick to the myth created first.
"Why? How?" cried the eleven year old.
This was what Dumbledore wanted to avoid—the truth about his parents. "Well, it began for you on the night of your parents' murder, really…"
"Murder?" interjected Harry, incredulous. "Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon said they died in a car crash!"
Silence. Dumbledore turned his glare to settle on Petunia, who sneered back at him. "I wasn't going to have it! I wasn't going to have that boy run off to your school and end up getting himself blown up like my sister!"
"'Blown up'?" repeated Harry, feeling fury rise in him quickly.
Anita saw the conversation slowly spiral out of control and threw herself into the conversation. "Harry, please sit down. Your parents were a part of Dumbledore's organisation to fight against crime, although they were a secret organisation. The man who killed them wanted them badly on his side but they refused numerous times. Finally, he had enough and went after them to, ah… remove them from the war."
"War?" asked Harry, settling down quietly.
"The Blood War," answered Dumbledore grimly. "It was a war between those who believe that Pureblood wizards and witches are better than Half-Bloods or Muggleborns and other magical, humanoid creatures. The man who started it calls himself Lord Voldemort. The night he killed your parents he tried to kill you—only he failed. He left you with that scar on your forehead as a reminder."
"My scar," murmured Harry, subconsciously raising a hand to trace it.
Dumbledore smiled grimly. "Yes, where everyone else he raised his wand to and killed them, you survived. The only one ever to do so. And that night, when you survived and your parents did not, Lord Voldemort vanished. We've been at peace since."
"And that's why I'm famous."
"Yes," answered Dumbledore.
Harry looked puzzled. "But why don't you want me to go to Hogwarts then?"
Anita raised her eyebrows at Dumbledore when he glanced her way. He sighed. "Because you are famous. There will be children of Voldemort's followers there, trying to gain your approval and friendship. There will be danger and I was informed that Lord Voldemort is not as gone as everyone would like to think he is."
"You think he'll try to come after me?" asked the frightened boy.
Dumbledore inclined his head. "Possibly. While you might be safe at Hogwarts, there is something that is being relocated there that I feel would attract his interest… and with you in the school would be, ah—Anita, what's the saying?"
"Two birds with one stone, Dumbledore," answered Anita dryly.
"Yes," nodded Dumbledore, "That he would attempt to seek the item being relocated for his own pleasure and then plan to kill you at the same time."
"Tell him the rest, Dumbledore," ordered Anita sharply, causing Harry to glance at her in surprise and his Aunt Petunia to startle. "Everything, just like you promised."
Feeling trapped and distinctly not liking it, Dumbledore contritely looked at Anita, and then at Harry and Petunia, who were ignoring each other. They were so good at it, that it was a practiced art. He winced, thinking of the files that Anita had on the Dursleys from several years ago. Things would not have changed in the house since.
Dumbledore felt his age as he explained what happened on the night of Halloween, 1981, and of his idea to place Harry at his Aunts' house. He explained the blood wards and alluded to a specific reason why Voldemort would want him dead.
Anita and Petunia were listening intently, the latter having never heard the reasons as to why Harry was left on her doorstep, other than a single warning of what would happen if he didn't.
Harry, on the other hand, looked entirely appalled and frightened and so terrified of everything Dumbledore was telling him that as soon as the lounge fell into silence, he turned to Anita and said, "When do we leave? I'd like to attend Wyckham for the entirety of my secondary schooling, please."
Hogwarts, Staff room: August 31, 1991
While waiting for his staff to enter the staff room for their usual pre-season talk, Dumbledore reflected on the last month, especially as he flicked through the enrolment applications and letters.
There were notable names missing from the list: Harry Potter, the Weasley twins Fred and George, the young girl Minerva was fond of, Hermione Granger, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Tracey and Roger Davies, Theodore Nott, Cedric Diggory and Alex Summers.
On the topic of Harry Potter, it was expected. Dumbledore knew as soon as he agreed to Anita's terms about Harry's past and his reasons for placing him with his Aunt, that the boy would never attend Hogwarts. Anita had done her research and while she had moved on from the traumatic loss of her fiancé, it was clear she still harboured ill will towards the magical world.
As his staff slowly began to pile into the staff room, Dumbledore sighed again. How was he going to tell magical Britain that their Boy-Who-Lived was attending a magical school in another country that he helped support?
A Note on the Revision: While it's a super, slow-going process, I am revising 'Wyckham' as you can see here, and trying to make a far more realistic story before bringing in the original characters from before and changing the plot around. Perhaps it'll be more coherent now, instead of Harry going after things he knows are fakes?
On Justin Finch-Fletchley: When Harry "meets" Justin in CoS, Justin informs him that he was down for Eton. ETON. Now, realistically, what parents in their right mind would send their child instead to Hogwarts instead of Eton? Go on the Eton website. It's interesting; private schools usually are. I teach at one and let me tell you, there's a difference between the parents at a public school and a private school. Eton charges £1500 for applying - most, if not all, private schools do this to cover admin fees. Eton also prefers taking in pupils at the age of 13, not 11. They have to be EXCEPTIONAL to get in at 11. The current 2010-2011 fees, while more than what Eton would be in 1991, are covering all three half terms, miscellaneous fees (books, field trips, musical instrument rentals, etc) total: £64,707 per year. Maximum, as I did each club and lesson available. Now, if Justin's parents could afford this, why couldn't they afford him a private magical tutor? They could clearly afford it.
Here's another for you: "medical practitioners" as of 2010 receive an annual wage of approx. £60,000/per annum. Hermione's parents are dentists. And after the shit my boyfriend went through for waiting three weeks to get his dentist to see him, with only 3 in his town, I think there are not too many dentists in the UK (Wales, at least). BOTH Hermione's parents are dentists. That's £120,000 per year. Again, other than social acceptance (which, had Harry not been at Hogwarts), Hermione would have no reason to attend Hogwarts. Her parents could also afford private magical tutors. She and Justin are essentially the Slytherin equivalents in the non-magical world of the British upper class. Or, fairly well-to-do, as I'm still bitter knowing an entry-level teacher under the GTCW in Wales is barely £21,000 after taxes. Who can live on that? Clearly that's what made me go private upon returning to Canada.
My point, after this rant, while impractical perhaps to think of (as Rowling clearly dictated the events in HP to lead Harry into fighting Voldemort at the end as a Jesus figure), are what would be going through my mind were I a parent. Hell, even not being a parent I'd be thinking this. Simply put, if Hogwarts is the magical school... what Muggleborn's parents would send them there? Where's their English courses, to learn how to write an essay (well, some still can't do this, I cringe at the essays I marked at my placement schools)? Where's their algebra and calculus? Social Studies? Media arts? Hell - North Americans will note, where's Civics and Law? I would never consider sending a child to Hogwarts. And maybe that's my problem, when I wrote the first "Wyckham." While Hogwarts is great for the magical people in the HP series, realistically speaking from my end of things, I wouldn't even think of it as an acceptable school. End of. Full stop.
So I wrote Wyckham. Effed it up seriously. Revised. Still effed it up. Went to Wales to receive my teacher training, and told my boyfriend that I didn't care if I moved to the country and even though I hated it, any kids we'd have were being sent to an American boarding school in Switzerland. Took my bitter thoughts (sorry, British nationals. I really do not like your educational system. Strange, I blame it on my last placement school and the staff there - very bad experience.), got lucky and landed a job at a private school here in my hometown in Canada. And wow - it's different. I was raised in the public; taught at public; am now in private. It's a world of a difference. I've got more experience under me in teaching and hopefully - hopefully, I can put it all into perspective and use it to write a MUCH better 'Wyckham' alternative.
Wish me luck. I hope you'll stick around. :)
- Kneazle (Nov 14 2010)