Title: Culture Shock
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling and IM Banks, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, Orbit Books and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Summary: Harry Potter has just received his Hogwarts letter, but really doesn't want to go. After all, who would want to live on a planet of all things? Especially one where the inhabitants still think nuclear energy is an advanced technology. And let's not forget the 42,000 light year commute.
Author's Note: A very strange idea of a crossover that came to me while reading one of Iain M. Bank's Culture novels.
Her name was Diziet Sma. An unusual name, by the standards of British society, but not one that would raise too many eyebrows. Of course, a great number of eyebrows would have shot to the sky had she introduced herself fully. Rasd-Codurersa Diziet Embless Sma da' Marenhide was, after all, a bit of a mouthful and a name decidedly outside the realm of British society and experience.
For that matter, Sma herself was more than a little removed from what the people of Great Britain would consider normal. Oh, she could pass herself off quite well in a crowd… perhaps receiving a few more admiring looks than most. Exceptional beauty was not the best way to hide in plain sight, but she was able to blend in if she ever felt the need
This made her stroll down the road of Privet Drive, in the town of Little Whinging, Surrey, something of a tricky business. Little Whinging, and Privet Drive in particular, were places where "normal" was the order of the day. Every day.
As far as Sma was concerned, this made the place dreadfully dull.
"Tell me again, Skaffen-Amtiskaw," she said to her companion, "why you had to drag me out of bed and to this place?"
"Something rather unusual happened late last night, local time," explained Skaffen-Amtiskaw, who was trailing behind her.
"Here?" asked Sma, glancing back at the drone. It was slightly smaller than a small suitcase and had a light-grey casing that seemed to fade into the background in the early morning light. It was hovering at about her eye-level.
"No," replied the drone, giving a small shake indicative of a shrug. "The incident itself occurred several hundred kilometres away, in a small village called Godric's Hollow."
"Then why are we here and not there?"
"Because we tracked the apparent source from Godric's Hollow to this location."
Sma made a show of looking about, taking in the rows of houses, each identical to the one before. The monotony was almost painful on the eyes. "So," she said, continuing her trek down the street, "what exactly happened that caught the Short Circuit's attention? I can't imagine anything here that would interest a Mind."
The air surrounding Skaffen-Amtiskaw coloured a purplish maroon, a use of the drone's fields to express emotion. In this case, the drone was presenting the equivalent of a thoughtful frown. Finally it answered, saying, "The Ship detected a high-energy fluctuation coming from Godric's Hollow. By the time it turned its sensors to have a closer look the fluctuation had died down again."
"What was it then?" asked Sma. "Energy weapons? Some other Involved species taking an interest in the place?"
"Neither," replied Skaffen-Amtiskaw. "From what the Short Circuit was able to observe in the aftermath, the whole thing was caused by a baby boy."
Sma came to an abrupt halt. She turned to Skaffen-Amtiskaw, her lips drawing into a serene smile that left the drone feeling a rather nervous. "A baby," she repeated sweetly. "You dragged me clear across the planet… for a newborn baby."
"Actually, the Circuit estimates the child's age at around fifteen months," the drone couldn't help but correct.
Sma lost her smile and stared flatly at the drone. "Are you insane? You and the Ship? A fifteen-month old baby does not cause fluctuations of any sort that could possibly be detected, other than its own bodily function. Even from the same room, let alone a vessel in high orbit."
Skaffen-Amtiskaw turned to her, its fields flushing a deep green, and said, "Sma… he linked to the hyperspace grid. To both the inferior and superior layers. Simultaneously."
"What? That's impossible!"
"Not impossible," corrected the drone, "merely beyond our ability to duplicate."
"But how could a baby – a human baby, an organic being – do that?"
"We don't know," Skaffen-Amtiskaw readily admitted. "The energy involved was enough to destroy not only this solar system, but most of the surrounding star systems as well. Luckily it was contained."
"If the Short Circuit didn't actually see what happened, then how do you know it was the baby that did it?" asked Sma.
"Let me show you," replied Skaffen-Amtiskaw.
The drone turned fully towards her and began using its fields to project the video recording made by the Ship. The view was a little narrow, as the Short Circuit had been at a bad angle, but it was enough for Sma to recognise a small building. Or the remains of one. From what she could see, it had once been a residence of some sort; one of the cosy little cottages that were popular in this part of the world. All that was left, however, were smouldering ruins.
"I thought you said the energy had been contained?" she asked.
"It was," affirmed the drone. "Just not very well. Now, watch closely – I'll speed it up for you."
Sma watched silently as the video played out. Several people soon appeared and began to investigate the wreckage of the cottage – including one man of truly massive proportions. Sifting through the debris, they pulled out a pair of bodies; one male and one female. Both were clearly dead, though in surprisingly good condition when one took into account the damage to the building. Then, the large man found something wrapped in a bundle of blankets. As the bundle was gently moved away from the house, a swirl of sickly green energy erupted from it.
"There," said Skaffen-Amtiskaw. "That was a residual energy pulse. Infinitely weaker than the original and nowhere close to the visible spectrum, but still detectable by the Ship's sensors. We don't think any of the people present noticed it; they certainly didn't react to it."
"All right," agreed Sma. "So the baby was involved, even if it wasn't the source."
"Exactly. The Short Circuit feels we could learn a great deal by examining the child."
"Who was brought here."
"Yes," confirmed the drone. It paused, hovering uncertainly, before adding, "On a flying motorcycle."
Sma, who had just resumed walking, immediately ground to a halt. "A flying motorcycle," she repeated calmly. Too calmly.
Skaffen-Amtiskaw's fields turned an embarrassed rose and it replied, "I can show you the video footage of that as well, if you like."
"If you were human, I'd suspect you were glanding Crystal Fugue State," Sma accused the drone.
"Well, I'm neither. Human or intoxicated," replied the drone. "Now, come on – we don't have much time. The people involved in rescuing the baby left it on the doorstep of the fourth house."
"They left a baby, one that had just had a house blow up and collapse on it, on a doorstep?" asked Sma incredulously. She resumed walking, her pace much faster than before. "Just when I thought the people on this planet couldn't possibly get any stupider."
"There he is," said Skaffen-Amtiskaw, using its fields to project a glowing yellow arrow pointing in front of them.
Sma hurried across the lawn and to the front door of number four Privet Drive. There she found that the drone was right, as it usually was. Bundled against the cold early-morning air, was a slumbering baby boy. Resting across his chest was a letter. Brushing it aside, she gently lifted the baby off the doorstep and held him up for inspection. Her eyes were immediately drawn to an ugly cut on his forehead, shaped like a lightning bolt. The surrounding skin was an inflamed red and a sickly yellow crust lined the actual wound. Closer scrutiny revealed a few bruises and other scrapes.
"They haven't even tried giving him any medical attention," she breathed unhappily.
"What does the letter say?" asked the drone, looking over her shoulder at the baby. It used its fields to levitate the sealed parchment up in front of her. Shifting the baby so that she was cradling him in one arm, Sma snatched the letter out of the air and tore it open. The pair read what was written there with interest that soon shifted to amusement, then disbelief.
"Magic," said Sma, after having read the letter a second time. "They're talking about magic. Spells and curses."
"Clearly," said Skaffen-Amtiskaw, "this civilisation is more primitive than we had first thought."
"Or maybe just the people on this island," suggested Sma.
"They're leaving the baby here so that he will be kept him safe from… the dark lord's minions," concluded the drone, looking over the letter again. It was unable to hide its disbelief. Its fields were alternating between a frosty blue and a deep purple, clearly having difficulty control its emotions. "Mad. They're completely mad. No one that's achieved an industrial society on this level could possibly believe this – this nonsense unless they were completely demented."
"We've seen stranger things," Sma reminded it. "And stupider."
"Perhaps," allowed Skaffen-Amtiskaw, "but this is ridiculous. It borders on the absurd. Magic!"
"Many on the things we do would seem like magic."
"To a bunch of primitive barbarians, yes – but these people have some measure of actual scientific knowledge. How could anyone believe such superstitions after they've reached such a level?"
"Regardless of their beliefs, in magic or not," said Sma, "what do we do now?"
"Well, I suppose we examine the child, or rather; I'll examine the child, and then we go on our way."
"And just leave him here?"
Skaffen-Amtiskaw was quiet for a while, a sure sign that it was thinking very hard. "These are his people, Sma," it finally said, its voice quietly modulated. "It's not our place to remove him from their care."
Sma glared at the drone and turned so that it had a clear look at the injury to his head. "Care? Does this look like proper care to you, drone? His parents have barely been dead a day, yet here he is – abandoned on a doorstep. They couldn't even be bothered to speak to his new guardians in person!"
"You know as well as I do, Skaffen-Amtiskaw," Sma cut off the drone's protest, "that the Culture would do just about anything for the ability to access both layers of hyperspace simultaneously."
"Just about, maybe. I'm not so sure about kidnapping a baby orphan," replied the drone.
"Do you deny that we'd look after him properly? Raise him, educate him as one of our own?" challenged Sma. "Can you honestly say that he'd have a better life here, on this backwater planet, than he would in the Culture?"
"This is not exactly a decision we—"
"Check with the Short Circuit then. Ask its opinion. Have all the other Minds in Special Circumstances put it to the vote."
"That'll take days, Sma. Weeks even," Skaffen-Amtiskaw argued.
"Days and weeks we can spend doing a proper job of it, not a rush job like we had planned," countered Sma.
Skaffen-Amtiskaw was silent for nearly two seconds. It took this time to have a very long and slightly heated debate with the GCU Short Circuit, the General Contact Unit currently orbiting far above them. Finally it bobbed up and down, its fields shading a dark yellow. "Very well," it conceded. "We can take the boy with us for the time being. Goodness knows; we'll certainly be able to give him better treatment than anyone else on this planet. But remember, if the Minds decide to send him back here…"
Sma smiled and cradled the baby closer to her chest. "Of course," she agreed.
"Now let's hurry up and return to the Module," urged the drone. "The sun's almost up and I'd prefer nobody see you."
As they hurried away from number four Privet Drive, Sma tickled the baby's chin. Surprisingly vibrant green eyes cracked open and stared up at her. She smiled and said, "Hello, Harry Potter."
Albus Dumbledore had departed from Privet Drive, in the company of Minerva McGonagall and Rubeus Hagrid, and proceeded to the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. There, he and his companions had a quiet and solemn breakfast. Conversation was rare and muted, consisting almost entirely of small and inconsequential things. Nobody wanted to talk too much about young Harry and his remarkable defeat of the dark lord. Certainly, the other patrons present in the pub were singing such praises loudly enough for all of them.
After breakfast the old wizard would floo to the Ministry of Magic, where a great deal of work needed to be done. There were Death Eaters to round up and trials to begin planning. Not to mention the task of making certain that nobody would be able to track down Harry Potter's location. It would not do to have the saviour of the Wizarding World hunted down and hounded.
It would not be until late the following morning that the headmaster would have a chance to return to Hogwarts. Having been kept away by a full day and a long night of interminable meetings, Dumbledore went straight up to his office and adjoining private quarters. There he ate a belated breakfast and turned in for a short nap, just long enough to relieve his body of the tiredness spreading through it.
He awoke an hour before the start of dinner and, having changed into a set of fresh robes, he spent a pleasant evening watching as his staff and students continued to celebrate their liberation from Voldemort's oppression.
The following morning, before going down to breakfast, Dumbledore made to check that the various devices he had arranged to monitor Harry Potter were in working order. He had no doubt that they were; he trusted his own skill in the matter, but it never hurt to make double sure. Several minutes later, the various portraits of past headmasters were treated a very unusual sight.
Dumbledore, who had a reputation of being utterly unflappable, began to swear like a Muggle sailor.
Harry Potter was not safe and sound in the Dursley household. Certainly, the devices reporting on his health and wellbeing confirmed that he was indeed safe and sound, but his location was not as expected. He was, by every indication, nowhere near Little Whinging. He was not to be found in Surrey, or even anywhere within the borders of Great Britain. In fact, he had seemingly disappeared off the very face of the Earth itself.
It would be a decade before Dumbledore realized just how true that was.