Warnings and Disclaimers: I own neither Harry Potter, brainchild of J. K. Rowling, or the Matrix, demon spawn of the Wachowski brothers.
"Aconite, arrowroot, boomslang skin, camphor, motherwort, wormwood..." Severus mumbled out loud as he fingered the vials of ingredients in his pocket. For some reason, despite his normally perfect memory, the potions master had a nearly tangible feeling that he was forgetting one of the replacements for the cabinet of ingredients that one of the Gryffindor first-years had already managed to destroy with an exploding cauldron.
Even as he tried to remember, though, he kept a sharp eye on the mostly empty muggle street he strode briskly along. Street lamps, particularly unbroken street lamps, were rare in this part of London, and the last thing the wizard wanted was to be waylaid by some muggle criminal when he'd finally managed to convince Albus to let him leave Hogwarts to replace the ingredients.
Of course, he didn't the old man his determination to leave school grounds had as much to do with getting away from Albus as restocking. Over the last couple of years, since Harry Potter's disappearance, the Headmaster had calmed from terrifying rages to a kind of impatient tension, but now...
They were a month into what should have been Potter's first year, with no sign that the boy was even still alive. Albus presented a calm face to the students, despite whispers at their savior's absence, but more than once Severus had seen him destroy his office in fits of what he could only call madness.
He would have expected concern, or even worry, but this almost despairing anger still surprised him. Sometimes it almost seemed like Albus was actually in pain, strange as that was.
Severus sighed. Two years, with not hide nor hair of the boy. And in truth, sometimes he wondered if that wasn't for the best. What would it be like for a child raised in such a way, ignored and ostracized by his own family, and then suddenly dumped into a world where not only did everyone know his name, but his every move was scrutinized?
Either Potter's head would swell until it burst, or he'd have a nervous breakdown.
The light of the lamp he was passing beneath flickered wildly, dragging his gaze upwards for a moment. The October night was cool, even through the greatcoat he wore as a concession to the muggles, and he couldn't help the slightest of shivers. The wizard touched the vials in his pocket again, and stopped dead, finally recalling the last ingredient he needed. "Powdered bicorn horn, blast it!" he muttered, turning to head back to the tiny apothecary he'd left only a few minutes earlier.
But then Severus paused, taking in the suddenly deserted street. His instincts screamed a warning, and his dark eyes searched the shadows as he moved to put his back to the brick front of the nearest building.
For a long moment, nothing happened. The immediate neighborhood was silent, though the sounds of the rest of the city drifted ghost-like over the rooftops. The chill breeze still blew, catching a stray bit of paper half a block away and sending it tumbling along the asphalt. Severus gripped his wand tightly, swiveling his head from side to side as he tried to figure out where the attack would come from.
Then, at last, the silence of the night shattered. Severus' head jerked up as gunshots rang through the darkness, not at him, but a couple of streets over. The wizard watched in surprise as, not more than a minute after he had heard the shots, a running figure rounded the corner onto his street. Another person appeared behind him, and even as he watched the chase, the pursuer raised a muggle gun and shot again at the first person, who dodged just in time.
The potions master frowned as they grew nearer, staring at the two people. There was something wrong with the person; something more wrong than the idea of a midnight chase through the streets of London, anyway. Something about the... proportions... Yes, that was it. The second person was much larger than the first, which mean the one being chased was either a very small woman or...
Severus' blood ran cold. It was a child. The man was trying to kill a child.
Many of his students, and even his fellow teachers, called him heartless. It was true that he didn't enjoy teaching; it was only Albus' offer of protection that had made him take the position, and only inertia that kept him in it. But even so, there was a part of him that felt nothing but outrage at the thought of someone hurting a child.
It was that outrage that prompted him to step forward, raising his wand. "Get down!" he bellowed.
The child dove, hitting the pavement even as Severus' lips formed the incantation. "Stupefy!"
earlier that evening
Harry rubbed a hand over his eyes, trying to get read of the itchy, tight feeling staring at the computer screen for too long always left him with. "So, just the usual, then?" he asked his mother, memorizing the layout of the streets and the emergency escape routes their previous spies had discovered.
Trinity nodded, biting her lip in unhappiness. It had taken a year and a half of fierce arguments before she had finally agreed to let her baby boy out into the field. Even with her warrior's heart, she hated it; eleven-year-old boys were not rebels! But the sad fact was that Harry's presence in the Matrix, with his ability to escape almost anything and the fact that it was extremely difficult for even their computers to track him, saved lives.
And the Council, in a rare moment of unfortunate genius, had made very sure Harry knew that, and so gained the most valuable ally imaginable: the boy himself.
Harry had argued himself hoarse, trying to explain to his family why he needed to do this. That he couldn't stand by and let people be hurt or killed when he could do something about it. He'd been saved from the Dursleys; now he wanted to save others.
Trinity had been the final holdout, but even she finally caved six months ago, on the condition her son do nothing but spy. Harry was now the veteran of four successful missions, but this time was different. It had been a long time since they had had to enter the Matrix somewhere other than the mainframe that corresponded with New York.
Now, they were returning to Harry's native England.
"The Agents are meeting with someone higher up, someone new in the chain of command, according to our source," she said out loud, trying not to remember the last time they'd trusted a source in this area. "You won't be able to listen in to their conversation, but if you're in the alley outside you should be able to get a good look at the newcomer."
Harry nodded absently, and she sighed, leaning forward to tousle his hair. "We'll be just a few blocks away at the exit," she reminded him as he shot her a protesting look. "If anything goes wrong, just come straight to us, and-"
"And be careful," the boy chorused right along with her, smiling. "I know. I always am."
Trinity had to smile back at the spark of confidence that lit his eyes. He was so different now than from when they'd first adopted him. Having a loving family- parents in her and Neo, a grandfather in Morpheus, and two uncles in Tank and Link, the secondary operator Morpheus had chosen as part of the crew- had changed him from the timid kid she'd fallen in love with to a self-assured boy who was growing up far too fast for her liking.
Although, around strangers hints of that shy child still shone through on occasion.
"I know you're careful, kiddo, I just can't help but worry," she told him, pulling her son into her arms. "It's what mothers do, even if they can kick just about anyone's ass."
Harry giggled into her shoulder, then pulled away, looking at her with shining eyes. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Say that again when you're older," Neo commented from the doorway. "Once the girls start lining up and Trin starts sharpening her knives."
The boy laughed, even as Trinity threw her husband a dirty look. "Is it time?" she asked, though it really wasn't necessary. Neo wouldn't have come all the way back there except to get them.
He nodded, and Harry pulled away from her, getting up. "Right. Let's go, then."
Hours later, Harry shivered and pulled his coat more closely about him. The alley was dark and filthy, but it gave him a clear view of the entrance, so he put up with the stench. All the same, though, he'd much rather the machines got the meeting over with already!
As though in answer to his thoughts, the front door of the office building banged open and disgorged three easily-identifiable Agents and a fourth, cloaked figure. Harry blinked at that, even as he wanted to curse that he couldn't complete his mission.
"Who the hell wears a cloak?" he muttered out loud, then clapped a hand over his mouth.
The Agents' head snapped around to peer at the entrance of the alley he was standing in. Harry turned and started running, trying to get out of sight long enough to paint a picture of the safehouse in his mind so he could teleport to safety.
But then a bullet whanged loudly off the fire escape just ahead of him, and he realized that wasn't going to come easy.
The boy ran as fast as he could, utilizing his smaller build and greater agility to dodge around dust bins and piles of junk, putting them between him and the Agent. Finally he reached the turn off into the street and pulled as tight a turn as he could manage at that speed, but Harry knew it wouldn't give him enough time to get away, not with how fast the Agent could run. He kept running down the deserted street, dodging whenever the program shot at him and cursing inside his mind. Harry couldn't keep this up forever; either he had to get away, or something else had to happen, because there was no way in hell he was going to go home to Trinity and tell her he'd gotten his fool self killed.
Of course, that was the moment a dark figure stepped from the shadows ahead of him and raised an arm. Harry felt a wave of despair as he realized the Agents had him cornered, and he started to slow; there was no point in running now. But then the man spoke- yelled, actually.
For the last two years Harry had lived in a society ruled primarily by military concerns. Discipline was one of the cardinal virtues each of the children of Zion was taught; the ability to follow orders was highly prized. So, when he heard the note of true command in the man's voice, he did what now came naturally.
He obeyed, hitting the deck just in time to avoid getting hit by a blaze of red light that flashed by just overhead, and hit the Agent chasing him squarely in the chest. Harry twisted onto his back until he could see the program, who had stopped running and was standing there, looking almost… dazed?
The man yelled again, in a language Harry had never heard before, and there was another flash of red light. The Agent didn't even try to dodge as the light struck him.
Then Harry was watching in amazement as the Agent wavered, wobbled, and then, astonishingly, collapsed.
A/N: bows Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first chapter of Know Thyself! Aren't you shocked? Yes, I realize the title isn't original. Second year will be Know Thyself, Know Thy Past; third, Know Thyself, Know Thy Friends; fourth Know Thy Enemies; fifth Know Thy Future… provided we get that far, that is.
I debated for a while whether or not to thank everyone who reviewed the last chapter of the Prelude, but then I figured, it's already late, there's not much difference between posting at nine-thirty and posting at eleven, so here ya go!
Our most sincere gratitude to acr, albert87, A lilmatchgirl, Amaris Kincaid, angelkitty77, aphrodis, Blizzard Phoenix, blulilly07, Braindead, CrystalC, dairygirl, darknesscomes, D-sama, E.A.V., Eslyssa, Fate, Firedancer885 (Would you like me to send it to you? If you do, just put your email in a review), Firehedgehog, Fleetfoot, Gato-san, girl in the corner, goddessa39, gourry-gabriev610, Heiress-To-The-Dark-Throne, immarriedtovoldemort, Inverness, jenstarfire, Kaaera, kayly silverstorm, korrd, lisa, Locathah, LoLeLia, Lorien's Lady, Lyfe.exe, Mithros, momocolady, Moonmage, nina, peacockgal17, Prd2bAmerican18, Rayven, ReflectionsOfReality, Rkhiara, Sarah R Potter, shells33, Skuld's Sentaro4, skye-chan 12, Smackskiller, Smiley Face3, spacecatdet, Stratagemini (I looked it up in the movie credits, no 'e'. I originally thought it was Locke.), stuck-in-a-tree, SunStar Kitsune, sydneydallas, tdk99992000, Tobang, Toki Mirage, Wickedmoemoe, and wizardmon92 for reviewing.
23 September 2005