A matter of perception
Author name: Kunglou
Summary: An ancient prophecy, a rogue military arm and technological experiments of questionable ethics will all make for the biggest change the wizarding world has yet seen.
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made from the use of these characters.
Author notes: AU, OC
"A population weakened and exhausted by battling against so many obstacles -- whose needs are never satisfied and desires never fulfilled -- is vulnerable to manipulation and regimentation. The struggle for survival is, above all, an exercise that is hugely time-consuming, absorbing and debilitating. If you create these ''anti-conditions,'' your rule is guaranteed for a hundred years."
- Ryszard Kapuscinski quotes
Chapter 6: The start of something great, terrible yes… but great.
"Slytherin," the shrill voice of the hat echoed in through the great hall. Harry had to wonder if the shrillness of the magical hat's voice had any hidden meaning in the highly orchestrated sorting. His observations of the rest of the ceremony, from the ritualized entrance of Hagrid and the rest of the first years to the initial interruption of the Hogwarts ghosts, all told him that someone was setting them all up, pulling strings and taking the newest members of the student body's measure by watching their response to the pageantry.
Even the hat, he would bet anyone that the Gryffindorian artifact did a lot more than merely sort students into random house or even non-randomly based on personality traits. The very walls of the Hall seemed to hum and the air vibrate with magic, as inexperienced with magic as he was and with the limited reading on the uses of such ambient magic, he was not about to take anything for granted.
Not even a seemingly innocent ragged hat. Much more likely that it kept track of students psychology and character traits and how best to manipulate and control them.
"We got Potter, you mudbloods and blood traitors will never get your diseased and inferior fingers on 'im." The cheer went up on the Slytherin benches at the hat's announcement and Harry noticed the Gryffindors taking offense – 'heh what a surprise,' he thought turning his attention back to the sorting hat and ceremony.
No, such a magical artifact definitely had more of a purpose than to sit on the shelf for the majority of the year thinking up a new welcome song. He felt decidedly uneasy that someone or someone's were potentially reading him somehow without his knowledge and inexperienced as he was in this world, he was powerless to stop it.
Being the centre of so much silent scrutiny, or at least it was silent before the hat's announcement and the resulting jeering and trading of insults that followed, made him decidedly nervous and ensured that behind the innocent muggle raised 11-year old persona he projected, he was preparing himself for anything.
His upbringing was such that he associated crowds with being attacked and being at the centre of what looked like 600-700 students and teachers each with a wand and far more training in the use of magic than himself, Harry shook the thought from his mind.
When he had been planning his entrance to the magical world at large, plotting his place and his approach to his magical education he had not been unaware the sort of reaction that he might expect as a result of his part in the downfall of the last dark wizard or the reaction of the wizarding world should he be sorted into a house different to that of his parents. Despite, or maybe because of, his own line of blood purity - the potters after all were a well known liked and ancient bloodline.
He thought it was ridiculous to limit yourself individually like that but on a societal scale it seemed insane. The artificial divide that seemed to divide magical theory and society, that between light and dark, had rendered the reaction, the chaos that he was seeing now, almost predictable.
His parents were both from Gryffindor's, the epitome of light. Slytherin was a house made up by the offspring of those that most often preached for those darker and more interesting pieces of magic's that were denounced by the lighter and nobler families.
Even though he had access to the wizarding world for about a month, Harry wondered how they had managed to survive at all. The ability that even the weakest wizard had should have allowed them to set themselves to rule and control the muggle world with ease, conquer science and seek immortality among the stars. Power unheard of was instead wasted in some philosophical struggle that culled the wizarding population and kept it insignificant compared to the muggles. Its achievements ground to dust.
Harry almost sneered at the thought, he would have if he had not been in the middle of his sorting ceremony with so many people watching his every move, reading his every expression, no doubt predicting his next move and trying to rope him into some of their own schemes as he already was considering how best to use them towards his own ends.
It was something to keep in mind but what concerned him more immediately was the fact that he was potentially the target of any number of wands – now that was a reality that had just started to sink in. Oh, he had known in an academic way that that would be true as soon as he entered the school but being there, the centre of attention made him twitchy. Very twitchy.
Even a first year spell could turn anyone of the objects that filled the Great hall, a candle stick, a chair, even another body, into a lethal weapon. Harry forced an uncertain smile on his face to disguise his calculating sweep of the great hall. Keeping a careful eye on his surroundings, he allowed himself to slink towards the Slytherin table.
The wizarding world had insured that he remained ignorant of his heritage and magic and so he would give them the immature, ignorant eleven year old they expected.
"I heard your uncles screamed like a little girl when faced by the great lord Weasley," Harry almost cheered darkly like the rest of his house at the taunts that flowed between the children of the survivors of the last war. It seemed almost inevitable that his presence would once again bring to boil simmering tensions; he just hoped that that wouldn't last and that he would be able to hide himself amoungst the student body in mediocrity.
It surprised him that the staff table seemed as unsettled as the four long tables of children that surrounded him. Amusingly, the giant grounds keeper had knocked over a glass causing greater chaos than the unsettled murmuring and heated argument that had engulfed it. An empty chair in the middle of the staff table seemed an ominous omen of the chaos spilling over and causing casualties. 'How could such behavior be condoned?' Harry thought with disdain, 'Had they no pride?'
His already low opinion of the wizarding world further plummeted at the childish behavior of the alumni of what was supposed to be a prestigious institution of European wizardry. If he had to spend time within this school, he would amuse himself in the meantime by subverting it to his will. He would not be satisfied until he could guarantee his own safety within and without and magic seemed to be a very powerful tool.
Still, whatever chaos had engulfed the staff table was certainly drowned by the escalating pandemonium that grew between the house benches.
What had started as jeering and mocking from the Slytherin benches had quickly descended into slurs and not so subtle point scoring from the last war. Sitting huddled, invisible, amongst the other Slytherin sorted children, he considered the Gryffindor, Slytherin rivalry that seemed even fiercer than he had read. He had read that Slytherin was mostly made up of descendants from the losing side, and having him sorted there must have seemed like a coo, and a deadly insult to the Gryffindor's if no one else.
Of course the Gryffindor's, philosophically opposed to the Slytherin house and mostly descended from those on the winning side, seemed to be giving as good as they got in the verbal stakes. As usual Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff seemed to be on the periphery of the mainly Slytherin-Gryffindor conflict, but the longer it went on, the further it escalated, Harry could see them getting inevitable drawn in.
Once again it all came back to their idiotic and irrational focus on such a simple philosophical hyperbole.
Slouching in an uncertain carriage, Harry slipped underneath the chaos and onto the Slytherin benches restraining a superior smirk. The lot of them were behaving like the immature, magic reliant fools that he had categorized them as. He had expected a house that supposedly represented intelligence ambition and cunning to be smarter than….. Unless, Harry let his thoughts trail off as he sought to become invisible amongst the chaos and rewrapping the black cloth around his scar.
Harry looked closer, he had often made use of peoples expectations himself as a mirage that hid his real plans. Everyone expected the Slytherin house to be full of spiteful, mean-spirited, blood purist, so is that what was being presented. Harry's eyes drifted to the older students. Not all of them certainly but a few of them seemed to be….
Yes he could see the subtle body language, the minute twitches in their facial muscles. It was all an act, Harry almost cursed. He prided himself for his skilled manipulations, subtle plans and false fronts. Plans within plans hiding plans were his forte and he had almost fallen for what, in hindsight, was a fairly obvious although flawlessly executed mask. He would have to be doubly careful in the pit of vipers that Slytherin promised to be.
It would ensure that he didn't allow himself to relax for even a minute. Harry couldn't restrain the snort this time, 'as if he could relax in the middle of a magical fortress full of potential enemies armed with the means and will to subvert his will, perhaps unknowingly.'
"I am sure that insane bitch of a dominatrix is loving the attentions of the dementors," he could admit that the Gryffindors could be just as vicious in point scoring as the Slytherins, there had been more than enough casualties on both sides.
As members from both houses reached for there wands in a further escalation of conflict – he was unsure of the Gryffindor's complicity in the Slytherins act or the professors knowledge of it, regardless, he would have to be watchful. So he huddled down amongst the other Slytherin first years, projecting uncertainty and invisibility
"Enough," the headmasters firm command, followed by a rush of power seemed to dampen tempers and cut through the chaos like a knife. "Continue with the sorting"
The professors at the raised head table once again sat in orderly watchfulness as the students from the four houses settled and sorting ceremony continued.
Harry snorted in distaste at the man whom he was sure was responsible for most of the hardships in his life. His placing with the abusive Dursleys, the denial of his rightful wealth and heritage, and his negligence of any responsibility, moral and legal, that he may have held. The rush of power that had quickly restored order proved that the old man in the half moon glasses and ridiculous amount of facial hair held more teeth than the grandfatherly image he tried to project.
It would not have surprised him at all if the magical world had forgotten that this was the man responsible for the defeat of Grindelwald and the discovery of the 12 uses for dragons blood or at least not seen the implications of such achievements. This was a man not to be underestimated in terms of magical strength, deep magical knowledge and a wealth of experience.
No, he would not, could not afford to, underestimate the man, in fact he held no doubt that he was currently in the middle of the man's web, frantically struggling for escape. It was not a pleasant image and he swore that he would not fall for any of the man's games or even play by his rules. Still, he was very aware that he was so far out of his comfort zone that he may not even be aware that he was being bound until far too late.
With order restored and the sorting ceremony continuing he occupied himself by surveying the rest of the great hall, always keeping a watchful eye on his own house. The large ceiling, in what seemed to be an impressive but wasteful display of magic, seemed to mimic the current weather outside of the castle. Assorted portraits lined the walls causing Harry to frown worriedly. Yet another method of surveillance that he needed to be wary off. More concerning were the number of seemingly decorative statues and suits of amour, he had little doubt that in times of emergency they played an important cannon fodder role in providing security. He did wonder what it said about the wizarding world that such a place would be turned into a school, even if it could be reconverted back to its original purpose at a moments thought.
Still, with so much of the wizarding world intent on killing itself off, he could understand the reasoning. After all, controlling the education of the next generation ensured that the victors could write the history.
No, Hogwarts seemed like a very dangerous place to be, and he knew that the moment he allowed his guard to relax, any number of enemies would strike. 'Hostile territory,' he recited, falling deeper in the mask he was portraying to Hogwarts at large, 'Hostile Territory, but someday it will be mine.' Indeed, already he had been shown a fault line that was already well exploited to misdirect attention from his carefully laid plans.
One that he had little doubt that his house had made frequent use out of, playing to the world's expectations was an overdone but workable tactic. The enjoyment that came toying with the other houses no doubt came as a bonus he thought, hiding a dark chuckle. As the sorting came to an end, Harry studied the rest of the Slytherin house. But more, the twenty children that had been sorted to Slytherin and sat in the benches near him.
It matched up nicely with his estimation of the wizarding population generally in the British Isles. Anything less and the population would not have been able to sustain the economic activity he had seen in Diagon Alley or there were other magical catchment schools he had not heard about. He was amazed that the population was this large, with so many conflicts and the sheer potential for destruction they wielded.
Surprisingly two of the children he shared a carriage with on his trip to Hogwarts had also made it into the green and silver house. The boy and girl at least, perhaps as expected the fool who had been flashing his ring around had not made it into the house of cunning. Carefully memorizing Dumbledore's final instructions incase it became useful later, particularly the one about the third floor, Harry waited keenly for the welcoming feast he had read so much about.
When the food arrived, he assumed via house elf, he was not disappointed and dug in, matching the other Slytherin plate for plate making a note to find the kitchen for himself. His appetite since he had been introduced to the wizarding world was abnormal and he would not want to go hungry, or attract undue notice by requesting additional food.
Now that he was finally at Hogwarts, he was determined to get himself lost in the mediocrity of the students here. Unnoticed by the staff and the other students, invisible to as much surveillance as he could manage, he would learn and maneuver from the shadows slowly building his powerbase among the student body.
Oh, he knew that he could not trust the other students, and even if he watched them meticulously – he left himself open to betrayal. This early in his quest, betrayal was unacceptable. No, he would recruit unwitting fools, manipulate unwilling and unknowing children that would no doubt have turned on him in a heartbeat should the opportunity arise.
He acknowledged to himself that he would have move nimbly to avoid some of the older students' schemes and plots. The risk of his own plans crossing over with another of the more cunning vipers in his new house was ever present, particularly in the house of green and silver, but he had both form and experience that he doubted the shortsighted fools would see beyond magical potential.
No, with his age being as it was and societies hang-ups being what it was, by far the greatest danger to his ultimate goals seemed to be the professors, even in his old school his best plans almost came unstuck by nosy, self important teachers, perhaps he had found a use for the third floor after all.
Harry's eyes glittered darkly with plans and counter plans as the welcoming feast slowly begun to come to a close. Even after reading all he could about the old fortress, he could not weight to start unraveling its secrets.
"All right you snotty first year brats, come with me, or I'll leave you to find your own way to the Slytherin dormitories."
Harry slowly raised his eyes from his meal to that of an older Slytherin, fourth or fifth year if he had to guess his age. He had a bulky frame and a hard face, certainly hard enough to intimidate first years unsure of their new surroundings. He was positive that was exactly the boy's intention, and why he was chosen for this task. Harry watched the group of eleven year olds tear themselves away from the table of food and congregate around the older boy so as not to get left behind.
Nodding to himself in satisfaction, the boy didn't introduce himself or even alley the first years uncertainties or homesickness, he just strode off deeper into the castle expecting them to follow, paying no mind if any first years wondered off, or were even left behind.
Harry followed towards the back of the group of Slytherin first years, not far enough back to attract attention but well enough to be able to study the majority of the new Slytherins'. Some of the boys, the ones that he assumed were from the older purebred magical families walked up front with an arrogance and false confidence that came from being steeped in wealth and having their every whim catered too.
Further back were those like himself, either smarter than they looked or of lesser magical or blood status. Following the older student down through the depths of Hogwarts corridors, Harry confirmed what he had read about the magical fortress. Like the great hall, the walls were lined with portraits, whose inhabitants from what he could see frequently moved and communicated with other portraits – effectively creating a real time castle wide spy network.
He would have smiled in appreciation if it were not so obviously aimed at the students. Himself foremost.
The walls were lined with suits of amour and stone statues of fairies, griffins, gargoyles and even a dragon or two. If those weren't enough defenses, Harry noticed the group doubling back and circling around so many times that he estimated that the layout of the castle was as chaotic as it appeared from the outside. If it were true that the layout reorganized itself randomly and at need, like he had read, then a potential invader faced a formidable challenge even if he were to get past the external defenses.
Although he was pretty good at spatially determining where he was, even he quickly became disorientated, a common defense he had found or at least was finding, in the wizarding world; the only thing he could determine was that they were steadily descending, towards the castle dungeons. As they neared their destination, the hallways became darker, dingier, the statues more formidable and intimidating.
Some of the younger, more uncertain looking students had long since allowed their fear to shine from their faces, their faces to pale as they were lead deeper into the castles basement. "Disgraceful," Harry thought "That they should allow their fear, their uncertainties, to show in such a manner. The world will only take advantage of such as them." He carefully marked those students though, they would be the easiest to fool, the first to be taken advantage of and be used in others schemes and games. He would remain watchful.
Finally they were walking towards a dead end, Harry assumed it was their destination. He could see the wetness on Hogwarts stonework of what he assumed was water from the great lake outside the castle. Stopping in front of the wall and facing the older student with the other first years, he looked around at the huge stone snakes that surrounded them. Even the more confident of the first years begun to look a little uncertain now, was this part of a secret initiation?
The older students face begun to harden and the snake statues almost seemed to grow in the shadows. The atmosphere was intimidating and no word was said to alleviate it. Harry could almost see the more timid students becoming hysterical.
Keeping a firm grip on his wand, he went through the spells he had learned that may be useful. A powerful blaster and healing spell. He had not thought he would need a shielding spell so early in his stay. He would be ready but not tip his hand unless he had to. At least he would not be seen to succumb to his fear like some of the weaker of the house.
"Death to blood traitors," the older student intoned. Harry just blinked as the blank stone wall rippled and vanished, the Slytherin common room lay beyond. The atmosphere almost immediately lightened as the air of intimidation lightened.
"Don't forget the password, otherwise you will be stuck out here until it gets reset once a fortnight." Nodding once at the group of eleven year olds, he gestured that they follow him in. Harry nodded in understanding, it was cold, unsympathetic to weakness of character, but he doubted that students forgot the password more than once in their stay at Hogwarts. Perhaps he did belong in this house more than others. It seemed to match his outlook nicely.
As he would have expected with a group of children trying to make it through a narrow door way, there was some jostling. He had to restrain his frequent flinches and almost unconscious response to draw his wand and lash out in the crowded space. Harry promised to check his body and clothing later tonight, when he was alone, for anything that didn't belong there. In such a close environment, it would be far too easy to magically tag him.
Once they were all in the common room, Harry joined them in surveying the room. It was a bare stone chamber with a low ceiling, in fact it reminded him of his Gringott's vault, a stone chamber hewn directly from the bed rock. Old oil lanterns provided what little light was available and a large fireplace burned brightly at one end of the room casting uneven and flickering shadows spiraling and dancing across the walls and ceiling. The floor was carpeted in the Slytherin colors, but apart from an alter and large book in the middle of the room, it lay unfurnished and retained an unwelcome intimidating feel, he didn't imagine too many students lingered here.
"Welcome to Slytherin House, I am Montague, a fifth year prefect. It is my unwelcome duty," Harry looked at the boys scowl and wondered how he had ended up with, to him, such an unpleasant task as welcoming snotty nose self important brats to the house. "To welcome you and explain our house rules."
He certainly didn't sound welcoming, nor were the surroundings that welcome.
"When you passed through the common room entrance just now, you along with those before you and those that will no doubt follow, were bound with an unbreakable magical binding that will prevent you from ever speaking of what happens here to anyone, with few exceptions." By his tone, he would not explain further, could not be bothered to explain further. Harry got the very distinct impression that only the truly strong thrived in this house – as it should be.
If he wanted to find out more, he needed to either figure it out or ask someone who knew. Montague's tone strongly implied the former.
Still, Harry worried, was it possible that he had so easily been magically bound without his knowledge or ability to defend. Despite his vast, if brief, study of this world he begun to feel woefully unprepared. The urgency of the information stored with these halls had increased dramatically. It was a weakness, he needed to address as soon as possible.
"This house proudly subscribes to the concept of Praestantia," Harry considered the other kids, oh he recognized the Latin word for excellence and superiority, which seemed more than most of the rest of the first year Slytherins did, but that didn't really answer the question of what exactly Praestantia was, and what it meant for Slytherin, or there house rules.
As a philosophy, there had to be more than the literal translation of the word. He had a deep suspicion that one of his more urgent priorities was to find out.
"This book, outlines the basic philosophy, along with key practitioners interpretation through the ages, Slytherin, Arinbjorn, Kadlin, Grindelwald, Voldemort." Montague smiled grimily, with dark amusement and no small amount of sadistic glee, as lay a careful hand on the book, "you all have three days immunity and protection before the rest of the house start to involve you in the game, but after that….Upstairs on the right, your dorm rooms."
Harry watched as Montague shrugged and then left the common room allowing the first year Slytherins to sort and fend for themselves. Oh yes, here, here he could have a wealth of fun, Praestantia, superiority, excellence, oh he would read the book, along with others interpretations of it, and he would in time add his own.
He already suspected though, that he would be competing with other students in trying to press his own interpretation on the house, to harness resources and ensure that he did not become a resource and one day, to use what he learnt here and change society.
Oh he didn't miss the references to the so called dark lords, who must have been trying to change and shape society to their own ideas of greatness. He was always up for a challenge and this seemed to be the greatest challenge of all. Before he broke out into a chilling laugh, filled with anticipation, and squabbling over position like the rest of the children - he went to claim a bunk. He would need to get started on his warding schemes.
He did not trust the three day deadline they had been given, he would come back for the book when every one else lay asleep. If this was the way Slytherin house was organized, no wonder they were greatly feared. He did wonder where the head boy and the head of house were but shrugged; no one would show their superiority by being coddled.
It seemed smart and incredibly devious that Slytherin had ensured safeguards against a purge, such as the one he expected would follow a leak of the Houses behavior and molding of minds. A Trojan horse of a house that would continue his legacy even after his defeat by the other three founders. Oh he couldn't wait to get started.
Albus Dumbledore sat at the head of a large board room table furiously curling his white beard in knots. It was either that or reach for his emergency hip flask of sambuca. He was strongly tempted and would have not thought twice, if he weren't expecting the four heads of house any second. The Italian aniseed flavored spirit was a marvelous invention, satisfying his addiction to sweets along with his cravings for something harder. Muggles really did invent the best liqueur he found, firewisky was strong but held little appeal to him.
Albus brightly considered the wonders of the different strong drinks that he had tried in his long life and considered the myriad of others he had yet to before sighing, his mood souring, and dragging his thoughts back to why he was here. For now, he had to come to a decision that may well determine if he had wasted ten years of plotting and conspiring, at least as far as the Potter scion was concerned.
The room that he sat in was a small meeting room just off his office and surprisingly for any room in Hogswart, devoid of any portraits or any of the usual decorative statues that doubled for defensive works. Thus, it made the room perfect for uninterrupted, and more importantly, secret head of house meetings. Despite the lack of normal Hogwarts adornment, it was very comfortable, he would not lower himself or his staff any further than was necessary. What he was doing was no base conspiracy, and he would not behave as if it were.
Besides, here, without witnesses he could really have fun with the heads of house, stirring and meddling with the heads was a most amusing past time. His old eyes shone with amusement at the arguments that the entirely too serious Minerva and Severus sometimes took up.
It often surprised and puzzled his contemporizes before and since his defeat of Grindelwald, why, when he could have taken any position of power in Europe, he instead chose to accept the position of Hogwarts headmaster.
Why when he could have commanded armies of bureaucrats, held and pulled the strings of budgets and taxes across Europe, and influenced society through the utilization of the enormous political capital that he had accumulated. Why, when he could have all that, did he accept a seemingly lower role that involved staff meetings such as this?
Why did he settle for a position that while prestigious, hardly seemed to hold the power or trappings of the more public alternatives?
"Bahh screw it, what's life without a little bit of pleasure," Dumbledore muttered as he reached for the flask at his hip, almost aggressively taking a long gulp. "Besides, I'll know when they get close, even though there is no surveillance in this room, the hallways are full of it."
He however had seen the parallels between his own situation and the muggle leader Winston Churchill; later Margaret Thatcher faced the same fight and lost, wizard history was also full of such tales. He had seen political capital, even enormous ones such as his own, eroded and eventually, the unthankful, ingrates that filled Britain and Europe would throw him away like yesterdays bone.
History would not be kind to him then and the changes that he would have wanted to institute would have no doubt been unwound.
No, he had his eye on a bigger picture, a longer lasting legacy. One that if he was successful would see him motioned in the awed tones that Merlin and the four Hogwarts founder's names were muttered. He would finish the work that Merlin started, and create a society were dark lords were anathema, where potential dark lords were stifled and culled before they got a chance to wreak there terrible darkness on society.
And have some fun away from the limelight at the same time. He doubted that his stirring would be taken in quite the same light if he weren't a professor of Hogwarts.
For his vision to be successful however, he needed to be able to mould society's minds while they were still young. In his position of head master of such a prestigious catchment school, he would be in a prime position to not only find the next leaders young and nurture and guide them into the future but also all the supporting men and women who would be so important in insuring that the leaders were successful.
He would determine what they knew and when, he would ensure they saw the world through his eyes, he would shape their very thinking; in effect ensuring that he had influence at all levels of society. It had been going well in the years since he had succeeded the last headmaster and his work would then be passed down through the future generations and his legacy would be carried though long after he passed onto the next great adventure.
The occasional dark lord should have been a mere hiccup to someone who had defeated Grindelwald, and in fact had been. The populous had been looking to him for direction over the elected government. His plan had been working as planned, already Hogwarts alumni had been filling positions of power, economic and political, both at home and in continental Europe. He had only needed a few more decades for his will to have become entrenched.
It had been working, until he had received that damnable prophecy, one that determined that he would not be able to resolve the latest situation, with the self styled Lord Voldemort, on his own timing in his own manner.
'Even then, I was in a prime position to continue as I was, with an even greater probability of mentoring the next GREAT leader, someone who would possibly defeat someone as great as Grindelwald far younger than I had and thus be in a prime position to continue my work of complete social engineering.' Dumbledore mumbled taking several swigs from his flask before moving it back into place.
Coming up the corridor, the heads of house were arriving, either from greeting their new students or in Snape's case, from the infirmary. He couldn't wait to get to the bottom of that one, how the hell had Potter been sorted into Slytherin. Dumbledore sighed in disappointment, he had barely got a fortifying buzz from his emergency hip flask and this meeting was already shaping to be a long one.
He would have to make sure to rub in Harry Potters sorting, Severus would be livid and Minerva, well, anything that made Severus livid seemed to be Okay by her.
There hadn't been a Potter in Slytherin for over two hundred years. He wasn't particularly pleased either, while he could access the dormitories himself, as headmaster, he preferred not to. The Heads would know, and such oversight implied that he didn't trust their judgment. He didn't of cause, he didn't trust anyone, but they didn't need to know that.
While some of the heads of house were more willing than others to share access with there students dormitories, Slytherins where typically extremely private individuals, heads of house more than most. In fact, thinking back, he didn't think he had ever been in the Slytherin dorms, not even once. Strange.
For his role to be successful, image was everything. Besides traditionally, according to his records and other methods of surveillance, Slytherins rarely spent much time in their dorms making the entire subject moot.
Albus relaxed back into the large, high backed, chair at the head of the oval table, conjured himself a bowl of Lemon drops, after all – if he couldn't reach for his hip flask he needed something, and watched as the heads all entered at the same time. Minerva McGonagall, head of Gryffindor was very sharp, very educated and powerful magically. Even better, she often deferred to him in times of stress. She was an excellent member of staff and an old friend. Or at least as close as he ever allowed people to get.
He would no doubt get a full commentary of the disgraceful quarrel between her house and that of Severus's at the sorting ceremony. Being close friends to the Potter boys parents would not have helped matters in that regard either. She would have an emotional attachment to the whole affair. He was unsure how she would receive the news that he had no doubt been abused at his relative's house.
Most likely whatever her reaction it would be to his advantage.
Professor Flitwick, head of Ravenclaw followed next. His dash of goblin blood made him a very powerful dueler, and with a thirst of knowledge that rivaled his own. The head of Ravenclaw made a powerful ally in his quest to shape the next generation witches and wizards. He would not have been nearly as successful as he had been so far without the diminutive man's aid.
The man just seemed to know what was needed when, and by how much. It must have been why he was so good at charms work. He was also a keen judge of character, more than one of the newer employees at the ministry, often in key roles, had been picked and nurtured by the man. Under his direction and careful guidance of course, he didn't want to seem to interested or pushy after all.
Next filed in Professor Sprout. Often overlooked as much as her house of Hufflepuff was, Albus nevertheless greatly respected her skills of herbology. The magical plants that he made such use off for his secret alchemy projects and Snape's own work of potions would have bankrupted him over the decade if not for her tireless work. Even better, she was endlessly grateful for the position that he had offered her at Hogwarts, and the work that he allowed her to continue with.
She had her own glasshouse of magical crossbreeds and blends that often yielded some very powerful and valuable results. He allowed her to be grateful, and allowed her to continue her work. While reaping the benefits.
Finally Severus Snape stalked in, his face tightened in a pained scowl as he flopped heavily into a chair. With the sorting had refusing to comment on this years batch of students, he would be even more reliant on the man's skills in Legimancy he was extremely disappointed at Hagrid's report, he needed Snape's information to confirm what he had seen in the great hall.
Harry had appeared to by a normal eleven year old, gawping at the magic with a large amount of curiosity. But that image did not mesh with what he had seen in Hagrid's surface thoughts. There, at his home, he had been cold and restrained, was a month a way from his formally abusive environment enough to break through his defensive mechanism or was there something more at play. He was suspicious.
Albus hand itched to grab his hip flask, instead he plastered on a smile and offered everyone a lemon drop, "well. A new year, and aside from that small unpleasantness, looks like a good crop. What are your thoughts? Minerva?" He nodded to his right indicating for her to start. It seemed to ease the tension though Severus's scowl deepened.
Oh this would be fun, after all, if he could not have fun while ensuring that his plans were followed through, what was the point he though in amusement.
The head of Gryffindor smiled tightly, "the house is in an uproar Albus, as I am sure you suspect. Everyone expected Harry to follow his parents into the house of red and gold."
"It would have gone a long way to smooth the tensions between those of mixed blood and different backgrounds to within the house to have someone of Potters status to champion them. From what I knew of his parents, I am positive he would have gladly assumed such a role.
"Saying that, I have severely reprimanded those involved in the," Minerva paused as if considering her words carefully, "outburst at the sorting ceremony. The house will have to deal with its disappointment in a more constructive manner in future. I will of course make sure that there is not any lingering resentment, at least no more than usual."
Albus eye's glittered with bemusement, he was a little disappointed that the disagreement had almost ended up in wands drawn, but didn't expect the bad blood to be carried through the term, perhaps escalating. At least not seriously from the Gryffindors side. They were a passionate lot but not really cunning enough to carry a longer term grudge. He would have a private word with Severus and Minerva make sure though, reinforcing his hope that nothing further come from this incident.
It would be interesting how the wizarding populous would take Potter's sorting into the house of snakes. Now that he had rejoined wizarding society, Albus was positive that he would quickly become an icon of interest and speculation. This would fuel the fire.
"Aside from that, I am following with interest the progress of the Weasley's, particularly the twins, Johnson and Bell. They seemed to have made good use out of the books that I left out for them and haven't to my knowledge, except for some minor tricks, shared it with the rest of their year group. They will I believe be extremely influential in the future and they are clearly already showing a leadership role within the house. As a result of your recommendations, I have already laid the groundwork for some of the more promising first year's eventual encounters with Harry."
Dumbledore nodded, he had spent a generation entrenching Merlin's teachings into the school and houses. No matter what house he had been sorted, even one as problematic as Slytherin, he could still ensure that Potter was molded into the leader he envisaged, drawing all the houses together and eliminating the lingering tensions between them. Perhaps it was what was needed, Slytherins would never truly follow a non Slytherin.
Smiling, Albus nodded at Professor Flitwick to continue, he didn't expected anything unusual or outrageous for the first half of the meeting, but it was useful to keep track of those the Heads of House thought were most worthy of extra curricular guidance. Also, whenever there was an influx of ignorant muggle borns, there was always potential for difficulties and culture clashes which needed to be kept in house. While the line between fun and trouble was often blurred, he couldn't afford to have it crossed.
"I got a curious bunch this year, most likely they would all like access to the extra material I could provide. As you know Albus, most of those I would provide with additional learning to would almost immediately disseminate it to the rest of the house and some of it is very dangerous for wider dissemination. Learning is prized above everything else in my house. It is a view that I have been encouraging since the seventies."
"However, as you know, an approach I have been taking is providing extra history and philosophical help. The extra knowledge and drive comes with an increased responsibility that I make sure Ravenclaw is well aware off. Bradley and Clearwater have been extremely useful in providing a moral compass for my house. Carmichael also looks promising. I imagine it would take a major shakeup in the house structure and direction for my eagles to get involved in the rivalry between the lions and snakes."
Albus almost smiled at the smug tone, and subtle dig at the other houses. Almost as if Flitwick considered his house academically superior. It was possible, Ravenclaw turned out very skilled people who later became very influential in their field. Though perhaps not much more than the other houses despite their reputation. Still, they played a very important role as keepers of esoteric knowledge within Hogwarts.
"Professor Sprout, do you have something to report before Snape can update us on his house and fill us in about the latest Potter to grace our halls."
"Oh yes, of course headmaster. My house never really changes much, hardworking all and equally loyal to Hogwarts. The new students look like they will be no different, even the muggleborns look like they will fit the mold perfectly. I look forward to seeing how Bones and Hopkins turn out. But for now Diggory and Summerby are most notable amongst the house. I expect great things from them. But really Headmaster, all my house will do well anywhere, I am sure."
Oh, yes he was sure they would. Hufflepuff were perhaps the most overlooked house at Hogwarts and thus, as a result, their achievements were even more impressive. Overlooked they be, but the hardworking, even minded and loyalty showed by there house aligned almost perfectly to Merlin's image of Wizarding utopia. He made sure that they got the most guidance as a result of their low key and aligned values, in the hope that their values would spread and embed themselves in the other three houses.
Any interventions to that house were less likely to be noticed and mostly just as effective in influencing the student body. His overwhelming influence and control over Hogwarts and the student body had remained largely secret, and he was determined to keep it that way and it hadn't been done by drawing undue attention to himself.
"I have also managed to splice some exciting traits to my samples of Devils snare. If you have a chance I'll give you a tour." Professor Sprout smiled excitedly at the thought and almost single minded focus on pushing the boundaries of traditional Herbology. In some respects, it was what made her a perfect candidate for teaching the subject and head of Hufflepuff.
"Of course, I will come down as soon as I have a moment free. Severus, perhaps you can tell us about Slytherin. We all saw what their very public reaction to Harry Potter's sorting was, but perhaps you can give us some insight."
It seemed strange to him and quite out of character that Severus would sit quietly, without sniping, while all of the other houses reported on their houses best and brightest. Snape almost always aired his thoughts on blood purity and ignorance. It was a long held contention of his that ignorant and undisciplined did not belong at Hogwarts.
He was keen to know what the cunning head of house was thinking. Afterall, he had survived and perhaps even flourished at the height of Voldemort's power and games. Albus would not, could not doubt the man's instincts.
"That Boy," Snape almost snarled, "he is dangerous. Far more dangerous than James Potter, he…"
"Oh come on Severus," interrupted Minerva with an exasperated tone, "we all remember the fights and the bullying, but how can you hold a grudge against an eleven year old boy who was only introduced to magic a month ago." While she didn't say it, the unspoken 'grow up already' rang loudly in the room.
Albus waved his hand for Severus to go on, "What makes you say that, the hat clearly thought that he was well suited to your house? It took hardly anytime at all to sort him. What I saw was a curious and mediocre eleven year old that may or may not grow up into something exceptional." He knew that that wasn't the case of course, but then he had the benefit of prophecy, they did not. Or at least Severus only knew half.
He was glad his facial hair fid the twitch of his lips as Severus started to grind his teeth. It was dangerous to goad the dark head of house and for a moment he wondered if he had gone too far. 'Nah,' he though his eyes shinning brighter than ever. Minerva would probably cherish this meeting for years.
"His eyes, I met his eyes in preparation for a Legilimens probe," Minerva and Sprout gasped in surprise and horror at the use of mind magic against a child of that age. Mind magic on someone so young could hold serious consequences depending on the magical power and skill of the user. Albus almost leaned forward in anticipation of what Severus had found, it had been he who had asked the man to take a quick peek after all.
Flitwick only raised an eyebrow, he understood the drive for knowledge and he himself had been a dueler and knew that scanning surface thoughts hardly constituted an attack. As long as that was all it was, besides, he probably knew more about Severus background than most.
Still, he knew from the responses of the heads of house that any information that Severus now yielded would be disregarded. Of course that didn't make it any less salient.
"His eyes glittered with inner intent and…" Severus whole face scrunched up in remembered pain, "I don't know what the brat did but…" He didn't mention the neurological damage, if he hadn't gotten to Pomfrey in time, he shivered. He doubted that even the great lord had that same dark look or ability with mind magic at eleven.
"Don't forget that he was sorted into Slytherin, it must have been for a reason. Albus, what did the sorting hat have to say? I fear what influence he may one day hold over that house."
"Nothing," Albus sighed, his hip flask growing heavier on his belt even with the dish of sweets in front of him. He might enjoy his fun, but he was always very focus on his priorities. "It has refused to say anything on the entire sorting. As you know, normally it will tell the headmaster, in the broadest terms, about its decisions. It is information we have made good use of in designing the sorting ceremony to leverage as much information from the students as we can. This time, the hat is refusing to give me even that."
Albus sighed, the feeling of his plans unstoppingly slipping through his fingers returned. "How is the rest of Slytherin house taking his sorting?"
"You saw for yourself, they saw it as a triumph over the rest of the school. His bloodline will ensure he becomes a very powerful wizard in the future, both in terms of magical strength and politics. My house is nothing but ambitious. But, there is no coddling in my house, or silly pranking. The behavior of James Potter will not be tolerated in my house."
Albus looked at Severus dark scowl and wondered how his boy hood grudge would fit into his plans. Would the boy willingly flee into his arms? It was possible, the boy he saw today no doubt would, but the boy he saw in Hagrids memories no more than a month ago would never willingly surrender his trust so easily.
How would he reconcile those two visions of Harry Potter. Only time would tell, but he felt his window of opportunity was rapidly closing.
"Now, I have received the usual request for access this year, parents, reporters, what you say…." Albus continued the meeting with half his mind on the challenges that yet lay ahead. Despite the enormity of the challenged posed by Harry reintroduction to the wizarding world and the prophecy, there was also the philosopher's stone and six hundred and thirty nine students that he guided and managed. Having been headmaster for so long made embedding Merlin's ideals into society and thereby ensuring his entry into history no easier, instead it was a constant battle.
Harry found himself standing in the middle of the room where he had stayed for a month at the leaky cauldron. The room was exactly as he had left it, clothes seeming thrown around at random, his bed unmade, the rumpled sheets hiding monitoring devices that would tell him if the room had been disturbed.
Even his trunk lay where he had kept it, unmoved. He knew that he was dreaming, he had gone to sleep behind some very aggressive and malevolent wardings back in the Sytherin first year dorms, contemplating all the things that needed to be done as urgently as possible. He did not trust this place, in fact he had taken a calculated risk even being here, the prison he had escaped from was a known quantity and he probably would not get as good an opportunity to escape so thoroughly again.
But, why would he dream of this place, if anything he had expected his sleep to be interrupted by the same dream of swirling colors that he still had not figured out the meaning to.
Walking around, he nodded to himself, all the security that he had managed to find in that month lay exactly where he had set it up. The replica he found himself in was very accurate.
"Harry." He spun around to find himself face to face with a woman who had definitely not been standing there before and he had not heard the door either. 'Well, maybe not face to face,' he thought guardedly, 'after all, I am only eleven and not quite fully grown.'
He studied he guardedly, she stood tally, proudly, with straw blond hair and a clear complexion. Harry noted in amusement that she had a very ample bust size, definitely someone he might dream up. Why here though, he was not naïve enough, in the middle of what he had decided was enemy territory, to pass this off as some sort of wet dream. It certainly was not going at all in that direction so far.
He had just to decide if magic was involved, or something more sinister, he was betting more sinister. His luck in that direction was never very good.
"Harry," she said again, he noted that her voice was melodious, "I am CSE-001."
'Ok,' he thought taking a few steps back, 'that didn't really tell me anything. Other than it probably isn't anything to do with magic, the wizarding world seems far too backward to give something an acronym and a serial number. So what the hell is this and how is it gonna bite me in the ass?'
Even more pertinent, how do I get out of here when it all goes to hell trying to kill me and mutilate my corpse. Dream construction or not, the woman showed no sign of detecting his dark, blood laden thoughts.
"Cerberus symbiotic entity serial number 001," the tall blond continued. "When you were kidnapped, a number of self replicating, intelligent and more importantly networked nano-machines were injected into your, code named 001-C, blood stream. These nanites acted according to their programming and started to repair, improve and optimize."
"The intention was to create a technological and military edge over our enemies. The maintenance of a strategic edge was paramount in all our planning"
Only his need to know where he had been for a year and why there was a large hole in his mid covering that period stopped him from pulling out his wand and blasting away at the woman. He didn't know what would happen while dreaming this strangely realistic situation and the woman had not made any offensive moves, but consequences be damned.
But her voice rang of truth and he had noticed a change since he had awoken, surrounded by shattered concrete and twisted metal. He slept less, ate more and seemed stronger. If the symbiotic part of her code name was accurate, Harry almost growled, he didn't even want to think of the costs of such benefits.
He would hear he out and then decide if she were trustworthy and her story believable.
"The programming held no knowledge of your magical core, and so the nanites adapted to the extent that it could and continued to follow their programming. Nothing could foresee the explosion that took place when it destroyed your magical core and rebuilt it according to its programming, stronger, more efficient, more integrated to the rest of your biological functions. Destroying the lab and killing the scientist responsible. It had been the only lab where this work was being carried out. Such a devastating loss should have put the program back decades."
Harry smiled grimly, if that was true, then at least some of the bastards responsible were dead, good. There strategic edge from what he had been told was now his strategic edge. Harry grinned, he always enjoyed hearing about plans thwarted, the more pain that was involved the better. He had plenty of pain in his life to share.
The dead were no longer his problem but the rest, he wasn't kidnapped by scientists, Harry shook his head, in time. Still, what else could go wrong, he almost didn't want to know.
"The nanites, through that process become inherently magical, and progressed well on its way to true sentience. Where it was considered smart before, the contact with your magical core, gave it the beginnings of true AI. It wasn't until it detected a magical intrusion that we became truly aware."
Harry watched as the woman made eye contact for the fist time and smiled, "my personality into the future will be shaped as much by you as yours will be shaped by mine. The changes even now being made to your brain morphology and chemistry are not insignificant."
And with that Harry shivered and his skin crawled as the implications immediately became obvious, he did not allow his fear to show but his stomach was leaden. Someone had so casually altered his behavior, his memories; his own body was no longer in his own control, his magic, so recently discovered, could be manipulated and changed without him even being aware. The changes were even now taking place.
He had not even started considering the inference that someone had tried to get into his head so early into his stay at Hogwarts.
Harry had never felt so powerless, and his hatred at those who had kidnapped him surged. "Can I see and alter your programming CSE?" He didn't bother with the serial number since he figured that if the lab was destroyed, then their probably wouldn't be any following for a while and the question sounded more like a demand but at that point he didn't much care.
He despised the powerless, just as he despised being powerless. It was never a place he remained for long, there was the strong and then there was the dead.
"Of course Harry on both accounts with a few restrictions," instantly an awareness of pseudo code filled his awareness. He trawled through it, looking for anything that may be immediately damning and the AI continued her explanation, "I picked this location and appearance so as to minimize your distress and shock at finding out what had been done to you. In combination with my knowledge of the British culture and your own subconscious I have constructed a figure that you associate with mother, daughter, lover. This location was of course the last one you felt even a modicum of safety."
Unsaid was that she could have manipulated his mind to think he was in the ninth pits of hell being tortured by the devil himself and he, with his lack of training, would be unable to do anything about it. But as he scrawled through the pseudo code, he noticed again and again structures that prevented the AI to knowing harm him. Later, he would have to go through this code with a fine tooth comb.
From what he had seen so far though, it was a fairly straight forward framework, with a clear intention to build upon it as the system evolved or the situation changed.
He would not focus on the past, as much as he wanted to dwell on what was done to him and continue to question the being in front of him, only on the future mattered at this point. He already had too many urgent priorities that needed to be addressed and he could already see the advantages of have such a powerful entity as an ally. "What about you? What do you get from this symbiotic relationship? What is the cost?"
Even if he would triple check her answer, with as many sources as he felt was needed. The question needed to be asked and answered. It may have sounded harsh but the gentle smile on the blonds face never twitched.
"Harry, the cost is to us both as is the benefits. We share the same body, the same knowledge, we have the same weaknesses. This is a symbiotic relationship that will have time to develop, mature, explore. I will look forward to it."
The woman smiled and the room dissolved into darkness, but not before a wealth of knowledge about the Cerberus Program flooded his thoughts. Harry smiled as he eased back into sleep. Perhaps the future was not as dim as it had seemed only yesterday, he would sleep on it.
Securely behind his warding in a bunk at Hogwarts.