Title: Culture Shock

Author: Ruskbyte

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.


Chapter Four

State of Flux


Dumbledore was barely able to suppress his excitement. Word had just come from Hogsmeade that the Hogwarts Express had pulled into the village station and was disembarking its passengers. Two hundred and twenty-six students, ready for another year of study in the magical arts. And following on their heels; thirty-two young witches and wizards preparing for their first year at the greatest school of magic in Europe, if not the world.

And somewhere amongst their number; Harry James Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived-And-Vanished.

The headmaster was eager to see that appellation change to the Boy-Who-Returned.

Having a hard time hiding his grin, Dumbledore collected the Sorting Hat and left his office, beginning his descent to the Great Hall. It did not take him long to arrive and before long he was taking his seat at the High Table. Professors Flitwick, Burbage and Vector were the only teachers already present, though the others soon arrived. Dumbledore's good mood dampened just a fraction as Severus Snape entered the hall and took his place at the table.

It had always been a given that the school's potions master would never get along with any child of James Potter, but Snape's attitude regarding the missing Harry Potter had grown progressively antagonistic in the past month. It had first started when the boy's acceptance letter had come back undelivered. There had been lengthy rants, some public but most private, each one more biting and vindictive than the last.

Matters had reached a head, however, upon the completion of the ritual to portkey Harry's letter to him. Suffice to say, Snape had not accepted his magical exhaustion with quiet dignity and grace. His vitriol against Harry, while recuperating in the hospital wing, had been appallingly spiteful.

Glancing at the man, Dumbledore trusted that Snape would be professional enough to keep his personal feelings out of the classroom. Besides which, the headmaster still held out some hope that frequent interaction between the pair would enable the man to put his past behind him and reconcile his unrequited love for Lily Potter. If not, well, he would not intercede unless matters became excessive. It would do Harry good, after all, to face a certain degree of adversity while in school. And as Dumbledore could easily monitor and subtly direct Snape's actions, this was a perfect arrangement.

Ah, the students had arrived and were filing into the hall. Dumbledore felt a pang of nostalgia that he did not know them as well as he would, were he still an active professor, rather than the headmaster. He so rarely had the opportunity to interact with the children; spending the bulk of his time sequestered away in his office, fighting against the machinations of the Ministry and the school's Board of Governors. Merlin, there were times that he loathed politics.

It did not take long for the house tables to fill up, the students taking their sittings with varying degrees of anticipation. Just on the edge of his hearing, Dumbledore could make out the reverberating thumps of Hagrid bashing against the castle's main doors. A minute later the grounds man entered the Great Hall and shuffled into his place at the end of the table.

A few minutes later, the doors leading to the Entrance Hall swung wide open and Professor McGonagall strode briskly down the centre aisle. Following behind her were the new first-year students. Dumbledore's smile resurfaced as he took in the sight of so many young witches and wizards staring about the hall in such wonder and disbelief.

With the children now clumped in a group at the front of the hall, Professor McGonagall collected the Sorting Hat and a stool for the first-years to sit on. She put the Hat on top of the stool and stepped back, waiting for the tattered piece of clothe to begin its song. Dumbledore, however, was far too busy to take much note of the banal singing; busy scanning the various faces that now stood before him.

Where was young Harry? The headmaster had not seen the boy in a decade. That was a long time, especially with regards a baby boy. None of the young wizards really stood out, nor did any of them catch Dumbledore's eye. He ignored the blonde Malfoy heir, as well as the latest red-haired Weasley. He discounted young Neville Longbottom as well. He knew these children, after all. Instead he narrowed his focus on those boys that he did not immediately recognise.

Absently joining the applause for the Hat's song, not one word of which he would be able to recall, Dumbledore considered his options. There was not a single boy that bore any distinct similarity to James Potter. There was also no indication that Harry might haven take after his mother in appearance. Still, there were several possibilities to choose from.

"Abbot, Hannah," McGonagall called, beginning the Sorting.

Not bothering to pay any great attention to what was happening; Dumbledore continued to narrow things down. He began by concentrating on those boys with either black or dark brown hair. There was little chance at this distance of spotting Harry's distinctive green eyes.


A trickle of embarrassment ran down Dumbledore's spine at the realization that he simply had no idea which boy was Harry. There were several that he thought more than likely to be him, but these quickly proved otherwise. Seamus Finnegan. Justin Finch-Fletchley. Both had fit the general phenotype that he had been looking for. At this point, he was beginning to grow concerned. Those faces he did not recognise as pure-blooded wizards were completely at odds with what he expected Harry to look like. And those few were quickly being whittled down in numbers as well.

"Potter, Harry," announced McGonagall finally.

The hall abruptly went silent as everyone, professor and student alike, scanned the remaining first years for the famed Boy-Who-Lived-And-Vanished. It did not take long, as there were only three children left to be sorted. One was a witch. The two young wizards, Ronald Weasley and Blaise Zabini, found themselves the objects of intense scrutiny; which was quick to reveal that neither of them was the boy in question.

"Potter, Harry?" McGonagall repeated, slightly louder.

The soft sound of murmurs and whispered speculation began to fill the air. While the teaching staff was professional enough, or simply experienced enough, to keep quiet their thoughts on the matter, the students were not so discerning. It did not take long before heads began to turn and questioning eyes directed themselves to where Dumbledore was sitting. But the headmaster had no answer to give.

"I think, Professor McGonagall," he finally said, "That we should continue with the rest of the Sorting."

McGonagall actually blinked in surprise at such a suggestion. Dumbledore could understand why. That Harry Potter was not present, indeed was still missing, was a matter of great concern. That he was ignoring it, even for the Sorting, however briefly, was simply astonishing. But Minerva McGonagall was made of sterner stuff than that and quickly rallied herself.

"Yes, headmaster. Of course," she said, before moving to the next name on the list.

Dumbledore leaned back in his seat, his throne, and barely noticed as the last three students were brought up and sorted. Once the ceremony had concluded and Professor McGonagall had removed the Sorting Hat, he absently waved a hand and caused the house-elves to send up the food. His welcoming speech was all but forgotten, even his witty little joke at the end. Instead, the headmaster lost himself in contemplation.

A horrible coldness had settled in the pit of his stomach and, for the first time, Dumbledore began to have doubts.


Culture Superlifters were widely considered to be the fastest ships in the galaxy. Certainly, none of the currently active Involved civilizations could claim to have ever beaten one in a race. This was mostly due to the fact that a Superlifter was little more than pure engine and an attached Mind. The average Cliff-class Superlifter could sustain a steady cruise velocity of one hundred and eighty-five kilolights. For brief bursts of an hour or two, it could push that figure up to an even more impressive two-twenty-one.

Right now, the No Posted Speed Limit, a proud and reliable Cliff-class Superlifter, was carrying Harry Potter, Diziet Sma and the drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw on a course to the Sol star system at 185,000 thousand times the speed of light. After a week of travel, it would still be another month before they arrived and rendezvoused with the waiting GCU It's Not My Fault.

Inside the twelve-man module that was temporarily serving as the ship's passenger's quarters for the duration of the trip, Harry Potter was reclining in his bed and trying to make sense of the day's lessons. As part of his preparation for blending in with the people of his homeworld, Harry was having to endure a comprehensive, annotated and abridged education in Terran history, society, customs and anything else that Contact thought he might need to know.

While the history lessons were not too difficult to learn, comprehend and retain, Harry found himself struggling with many aspects of their society. Their laws in particular, which were almost as strange to him as the concept of money, were enough to cause an almost blinding headache. A small glanding of Diffuse would take care of that, but would not mesh very well with the already glanded Sharp Blue and Focus, which were the only things keeping him from tossing his hands in the air and declaring the whole matter a lost and hopeless cause.

The Culture, you see, had no laws. None. At all. Nowhere in all of the nine thousand years of the Culture's history, was there a single, clearly defined, written or stated law, rule, decree or regulation of any sort. In point of fact, to most Culture citizens the entire concept of laws and rules was a theoretical exercise that they were expected to study during what would be their high school years. If asked they would state that their society had evolved to a sufficient degree of civilization that they could be trusted to behave themselves, constrained by nothing more than the concept of good manners and proper behaviour.

Harry closed his eyes with a sigh and directed his room's screen to shut off. And the wars. It seemed that the people of Earth had no concept of what peace was, having been embroiled in one war or another for their entire history. In fact, it was so bad that they marked notable points of their history by whichever war they were fighting at the time. They had just finished another one. A conflict involving a good portion of the globe, including England, had entered into a perturbing conflict in a region that was euphemistically called the "Middle East". A war fought over oil of all things.

"The universe hates me," he declared unhappily.

"That's right, Harry!"

"Gah! Get off!" exclaimed Harry eyes snapping wide open, as one of his new companion drones jumped up onto the bed and then onto his lap. This would not normally have bothered the boy, save for the fact that he hadn't bothered getting dressed after his morning shower. "Grief, Sylvester! Off!"

"Sure thing, Harry!"

Harry suppressed a whimper as Sylvester bounded away. The moment the drone was clear, he clamped both hands over his crotch, more than a little relieved that the biogenetic animal had not extended its claws. He rolled onto his side and glared balefully at the drone, which had sprung off the bed and was now strutting back and forth next to it.

Sylvester was what most Terrans would describe as a house cat; black with white "socks" on all four feet. It was not a real cat, of course. It was actually one of Harry's two assigned autonomous escorts.

A combat small-drone, 2/2, that was carefully and skilfully hidden within the biogenetically engineered shell-body of a Terran feline. It had combat grade effector fields, a miniature HS laser, a secondary X-ray laser and a fully loaded pallet of 256 antimatter tipped one millimetre long nanomissiles. It also had a 0.7 level AI core brain, which meant that it wasn't all that bright. Worse still, the damned thing had an accursedly chipper personality, which had a tendency to grate on Harry's nerves. He had decided to call it Sylvester, after a character he had seen in one of the Terran animation videos he and Sma had been watching over the past week.


Harry nodded in agreement and turned to his other companion, who had just declared its disdain. Perched on the tall headboard of Harry's bed, was the first combat small-drone, 1/2, currently hidden away within the biogenetic body of a Terran barn owl. Its plumage was primarily dark brown with a few white flecks dotted about its chest. Identical to its twin in almost every way, save its personality, Harry found this drone much easier to tolerate. For one thing, it didn't talk as much. As a consequence, Harry had given its designation much consideration and decided to use a good and solidly traditional Terran pet name; Butch.

"I don't suppose you know where its off-switch is, do you?" he asked.

"No," replied Butch blandly. Its personality was different from Sylvester's mostly by virtue of it not having a personality.

"Pity," muttered Harry, turning a jaundiced eye to the oblivious fake cat.

Unexpectedly, the door to Harry's rooms slid open just then, granting Sma entrance. She was wearing a pair of blue, fashionably tight shorts and nothing else. She had a bemused expression on her face, doubtless a result of the disgruntled expression she had seen Harry wearing upon her entrance. She found it highly amusing when he struggled to contain Sylvester's limitless enthusiasm.

Harry's eyes were immediately, if momentarily, drawn to her exposed breasts before rising up to her dark eyes. It was only polite, after all, to pay attention to what she was about to say – as she would not have interrupted his studies for no reason. Admiring Sma's wonderfully lithe figure, in particular her rosy nipples, would have to wait until later. Pity.

"Sma?" he asked, prompting her to speak.

"Hey, Harry," she smiled, her own gaze taking in his nude frame with a glance. "We've just received the daily data packet from the GCUs."

A trio of General Contact Units had already arrived in the Sol system and were busy uncovering the planet's secrets, of which there were a surprisingly large number. The trio had been surveying the planet with a degree of thoroughness that even the most pedantic Mind would have found impressive. The Culture's reputation for thoroughness was almost as well known as its penchant for hedonism.

What the GCUs had uncovered thus far was as impressive as it was surprising. It appeared that there was a distinct subculture existing on Terra alongside its more mundane human inhabitants. The investigation, using sensors and scanners that could track a quark through the galactic core, had detected numerous settlements that literally reeked with duel layered Grid-energy. Closer examination revealed these to be more appropriate for a mid stage-two class civilization, rather than the rest of the planet's predominately stage-three level of technology. The inhabitants appeared to be stereotypical witches and wizards.

Harry hopped off his bed and briefly considered grabbing some shorts to cover himself in. He was acutely aware that he was still only a child, just approaching the onset of puberty, and thus a little underdeveloped compared to an adult male – Sma's currently preferred bed partners. Still, she had never said anything negative about his appearance, nor did her expression suggest that she found him lacking in any way. Deciding that he was worrying needlessly, Harry padded into the module's communal lounge and dropped into place next to Sma.

"Anything in particular you want to review?" asked Skaffen-Amtiskaw, from where it sat on the nearby kitchen counter.

"Nothing springs to mind," said Sma.

"Has any progress been made in surveillance of the… witches and wizards?" asked Harry. The three GCUs had only watched the strange beings from a distance, having yet to make any observation that wasn't initiated from orbit. There had been some discussion the previous day to begin discreet surveillance using cloaked stealth drones, adhering to the one-hundred metre approach limit.

"Not yet, but the GCU Artificial Stupidity has observed what appears to be a sport of some sort, accompanied by a live broadcast on something analogous to a radio wave, only based in the hyperspace skein," replied the drone.

"Was it able to decipher the broadcast?" asked Sma.

"Yes," confirmed Skaffen-Amtiskaw. Its aura field flickered a displeased brown. "Apparently the sport is called 'Quidditch' and the game was being played between two professional teams; the Hollyhead Harpies and the Chudley Cannons."

"Do you have any recordings of the game? Can we watch?" asked Harry, curious as to what forms of recreation his fellow wizards might play.

"Again, yes," confirmed the drone.

"Can you put it one the screen then?"

"Certainly, but I should warn you first."

"Warn us? About what?" asked Sma. "This sport isn't a bloody one, is it?"

"Not particularly," admitted Skaffen-Amtiskaw.

"It's not like cricket - where a single match lasts five days?"

"Grief, no. It's just…"

"Just what, Skaffy?" prompted Harry.

Skaffen-Amtiskaw's aura field flickered rapidly between brown, grey and orange. Finally, it spoke. "The game is played in the air."

Sma and Harry exchanged a puzzled look. Harry turned to the drone and asked, "So? That's not unusual."

"On broomsticks. They ride around on broomsticks."


It had been a month since the start of term. The first of September had come and gone, and it was now the first of October. An entire month without any sign or hint of Harry Potter's whereabouts. Dumbledore was at a loss as to why Harry had not yet arrived at Hogwarts. The only indication that the missing boy was still on the move was the continued shifting of the directional compass, which had now moved nearly six whole degrees from its long standing medium.

Dumbledore could not decide how he felt about this. His emotions were cycling between disappointment, apprehension, expectation and a gut wrenching fear that he was completely misinterpreting events and that Harry was merely changing his location, as he had four years before, instead of coming to Hogwarts. He had been so certain that Harry was going to arrive in time for the Sorting; returning to the magical world as the proverbial prodigal son.

The media and political uproar had been calamitous, almost but not quite as bad as when it was revealed that Harry had vanished without a trace. Minister Fudge was becoming increasingly annoying, no doubt egged on by Lucius Malfoy. The Daily Prophet was running a series of articles - led by Rita Skeeter - lambasting Dumbledore and anyone even remotely associated with him. His only consolation was that her forked tongue was also striking out against the Ministry; accusing them of almost as much negligence as she accused the headmaster.

At Hogwarts, thankfully, things were much quieter. Amongst the students, if nobody else. There had been rampant speculation, of course, as well as the usual gossip and rumour-mongering. Some of the stories that did the rounds were hilariously amusing, principally due to their utter inanity.

Depending on whom you asked, Harry Potter had forgone attending Hogwarts in favour of Durmstrang, Beauxbatons and even the Salem Institute. Then there was the claim that he was already at Hogwarts, but under an impenetrable disguise. He had been sorted into either Gryffindor, Slytherin or the previously undiscovered house of Merlin.

But, after the first couple of weeks, it had died down to the point that most of the students had seemingly forgotten all about their missing classmate. It was only in the staffroom where Harry's name still came up in conversation.

Professor McGonagall made a point of asking Dumbledore about Harry's condition at least twice a day. It was a relief that she was now so restrained. That first week had been especially trying, as she would make the trip up to the headmaster's office at every available moment. For the first time since beginning her tenure at Hogwarts, the Transfiguration professor had been late for one of her classes.

And if McGonagall's insistence was annoying, then Snape's smug vindication was infuriating. Dumbledore was, he had to admit, beginning to lose his patience with the potions master. The man had never been popular with the rest of the staff, truth be told the other professors barely tolerated him, but his constant gloating was causing tempers to fray. The only good things to come of it all was that Severus was in too good a mood to bother taking his usual slew of points from the other three houses.

Sitting down for lunch in the Great Hall, Dumbledore gazed out at the assembled students. They seemed so carefree, utterly unaware of the dangers that lurked just beyond their perceptions. The Philosopher's Stone was secured away beyond the third-floor corridor. Various defences, traps and trials were laid out, ostensibly to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Professor Quirrell was biding his time…

The sound of raised voices drew his attention to a spot near the Gryffindor table. Yes, Draco Malfoy and Ronald Weasley were locking horns yet again. The two boys were almost incapable of being in the same room without entering an altercation of some sort. Dumbledore had been hoping that they would resolve their differences, but that seemed more and more unlikely to ever come about. He briefly considered speaking to their respective heads of house, but decided not to. Severus would, as was his wont, do nothing to curtail Draco's actions, and having Minerva restrain Ronald's retaliation would only lead to a festering resentment within the redhead. The only hope was for them to sort it out themselves.

Dumbledore sighed and turned his attention to the food arrayed in front of him. He began to help himself to a portion of roast lamb and Yorkshire pudding. He had put so much effort into arranging a suitable test of young Harry's abilities and yet it seemed likely that the boy would not have an opportunity to face it. None of the Stone's protections were impossibly difficult to circumvent, given a little power, skill and creative thinking. This was exactly as the headmaster intended.

But without the Boy-Who-Lived-And-Vanished, this only served to make the Stone that much more vulnerable to Voldemort and his servant. The headmaster began to contemplate the idea of properly enhancing the various defensive measures, but was unsure of how to do so without drawing Quirrell's attention. It was too late, now that the man was residing within the castle.

Dumbledore loosed another tired sigh and tried to put the matter out of his mind, at least until the end of lunch. He hoped that Harry would arrive soon. The boy's absence was disrupting everything.


In the main observation lounge of the Mountain class General Contact Unit It's Not My Fault, Harry observed the tiny blue, green and white sphere that hung suspended in the black. It was such a small and fragile looking thing, his home planet. The orbital of S'Jet, where he had lived for his first six years in the Culture, had over a hundred and twenty times the surface area of Terra. Stafl, his home for the past four years, was slightly smaller, but still had almost a hundred times more space for its many billions of inhabitants, be they human or drone.

It had been a week since the No Posted Speed Limit had arrived in orbit and transferred its passengers to the GCU. It had then sped off into the ether, on its way to join up with the GSV Sufficiently Advanced Technology. Harry, Sma, Skaffen-Amtiskaw and the two combat small-drones had moved into their suites aboard the It's Not My Fault, and enjoyed an interesting evening getting to know the ship's crew.

Harry was concerned to note that barely two months of exposure to Terran civilization had been enough to drive the lot of them, three hundred men, women and drones, into a state of burgeoning insanity. Apparently, as told by various parties, the crew had discovered Terran fiction. More specifically; Terran science-fiction. Somewhere along the line the crew had become focused and then divided upon two of the more prominent of these fictional universes.

Sma was almost as incredulous about this behaviour as Harry was, but had enough experience in the eccentricities of GCU crews to hide it better. Skaffen-Amtiskaw had loudly proclaimed that the Terran's madness was evidently contagious, before settling down, its aura field a rosy pink, and enjoying the show put on by the ship's crew.

The one camp, who called themselves the 'Fleet-ers, were obsessing about a series of television programs called Star Trek. Their opposition, calling themselves the Rebel Alliance, had latched onto a trilogy of video movies known as Star Wars. It was impossible to talk with anyone on the ship without the phrases "Live long and prosper" and "May the Force be with you" being throw into the conversation. Even more irritating was not the raging debate over which was the better creation, but the petitions to have the It's Not My Fault change its name. The 'Fleet-ers want to rename the ship the "U.S.S. Enterprise", while the Rebels want to call it the "Millennium Falcon".

The GCU itself seemed to find the entire mess all too amusing, and had developed the habit of modifying its remote-drones to resemble the starships in question. Whenever the two types of remote-drones happened to enter the same room at the same type, they invariably engaged in mock combat – holographic weaponry blazing between them. None of the U.S.S. Enterprises or Millennium Falcons had managed to win any of these battles, but the crew were hoping that the GCU would eventually pick a side.

In Harry's personal opinion, the only good thing about it was the various costumes that some of the women wore. That they all wore, actually, though it was the women that caught the young man's eyes. The male 'Fleet-ers, in honour of their chosen television series, would run around in black trousers and bright, primary coloured shirts. The women invariably wore similar uniforms, but had impressively short skirts rather than trousers. Harry found himself appreciating more than a few stocking-clad legs.

The Rebels, in contrast, had a much broader range of costumes to choose from. Orange jumpsuits, voluminous royal robes, Jedi (whatever those were) tunics and much, much more. One man insisted on wearing an all encompassing black suit and cape with a massively oversized helmet. Harry tried to avoid him whenever possible. The deep, heavy breathing was strangely disturbing.

There was one Rebel woman, however, who was running around in a skimpy gold bikini. The contrast against her dark, nightwood coloured skin, was very enticing. She lost points, however, by insisting on calling him a, "Scruffy looking nerf-herder". Harry had no idea what a nerf was, let alone how to herd one, but he resented being called scruffy. He couldn't help the unruly nature of his hair and felt it was impolite of her to draw attention to it.

"Peace and long life, Mr. Potter."

Harry turned to the blue-uniformed man that had walked up to him and levelled a glare that, if looks could kill, would have seriously damaged the It's Not My Fault. Taking in to account the fact that the average General Contact Unit could survive anything short of a supernova or a black hole, the planet below would have been reduced to a cloud of gravel.

The man either ignored it entirely, or was completely oblivious to it.

"Mr. Fors," acknowledged Harry after a beat. "Is there something I can help you with?"

Stemli Fors grinned and nodded, "Diziet asked me to call you for her. She and Dn. Skaffen-Amtiskaw want to finalize your plans for the trip down to Terra tomorrow."

Harry smiled in return, secretly and silently cursing the man in all ten of the Terran languages he had learnt during the voyage from Stafl. Diziet had obviously, in a fit of mischief, sent the man to fetch him. She could have simply used her lace to contact him, or even had the It's Not My Fault do it. The only reason she had to use Fors as a go-between was the fact that she knew it would irritate him. The only thing that would have annoyed him even more was if she had slept with the man. Fortunately, Sma had been more discerning with her bed mates – though Harry still felt a twinge of jealousy each time he thought about it.

"Thank you," he said politely, while switching from Spanish to Chinese in his unvoiced cursing. "Is she in her rooms?"

"Yes, I believe so," nodded Fors.

"Then I'll be off. Thanks again."

"You're welcome, Harry. Live long and prosper."

Harry somehow managed to keep a polite smile on his face. He nodded graciously, returned the farewell (complete with funny hand sign), and waved goodbye as he tried to flee the man's presence as fast as possible without seeming rude.

Sma? he called through his lace, having left the lounge.

Harry, replied Sma. Did Stemli pass along my message?

Oh, he did, he did, Harry confirmed. You're evil, did you know that?

Sma's only reply was a tinkle of laughter, which translated surprisingly well through the neural lace connection. Harry felt his annoyance melt away in the face of his guardian's somewhat twisted sense of humour. Within a matter of minutes he had arrived at Sma's apartments, located next to his own. As she was expecting him, he entered without bothering to announce himself. He found her and Skaffen-Amtiskaw in the lounge, having apparently just finished playing a game of Stricken. The metre edged web cube hung suspended over the lounge table, still showing the final move. From what Harry could see of it, he would give the victory to Skaffen-Amtiskaw, after a game that lasted slightly under an hour.

"So, I'm evil, am I?" she asked as he stepped into the room.

"At least you didn't send Lord Dark Helmet to fetch me," retorted Harry.

"Only because I couldn't find him on such short notice."

"What's the plan for our little excursion?"

"That's what we're hoping to decide now," said the drone. "There are a fair few options for us to choose."

"I thought we'd be going straight to the school," said Harry, sitting down next to Sma.

The GCUs had made a comprehensive survey of the planet over the past two months and had built up a reasonable understanding of the magical substratum of Terran humans, in particular those living in Great Britain. It had not taken them long to discover the location of Hogwarts castle, despite its being hidden beneath an odd form of hyperspace distortion. Surveillance of the school had not yielded a wealth of information, but the nearby village of Hogsmeade; which was the largest purely magical settlement on the island, had greatly broadened their knowledge. It had also convinced most of the Contact Section that witches and wizards were amongst the most illogical creatures in the galaxy.

"Maybe at the end of the day," Sma explained. "Truth is; none of the letters we have really provide much in the way of instructions. The letter we found with you only gave a brief explanation of how you were orphaned. The Hogwarts letter only said that you'd been accepted to study there. We could just turn up on their front doorstep and knock, I suppose, but the Minds think that would be unnecessarily provocative."

Harry leaned back against the couch and nodded in thoughtfully agreement. As a Potential Referrer, he had a better idea than most as to the way Minds worked. Saving Hogwarts for last, after investigating other notable locations beforehand, was just the sort of thing he would consider doing, if he were in charge.

"Where do they want us to go first?" he asked. "The 'scene of the crime', as it were… or where the two of you found me?"

"By that I gather you mean Godric's Hollow and Privet Drive," asked Skaffen-Amtiskaw.

"Of course," confirmed Harry. "I blew up the first and was unceremoniously dumped at the second."

"Accurate as ever, if somewhat crudely put," the drone agreed.

"Our Incident Coordinator wants us to visit Privet Drive first. After that we'll go to Godric's Hollow. We want to see what your own talents make of both locations. After that, we'll proceed to Hogsmeade and then to Hogwarts," summarised Sma.

"Who is that, anyway? Our IC, I mean? It's a GSV obviously."

"Yes," confirmed Skaffen-Amtiskaw. "The Size Isn't Everything."

"One of the System class ships?"

"Yes. Sma and I have worked with it before."

"Is it in the volume, or working over distance?"

"It's a little over eleven thousand years away. A month travel at cruise, two and a half weeks at a dash."


"So, are you okay with this?" asked Sma. "Privet Drive; then Godric's Hollow and then Hogsmeade and Hogwarts?"

Harry considered briefly and then nodded. "Works for me." He glanced at the Stricken web cube and asked, "How was the game? Last long?"

Skaffen-Amtiskaw glowed a bright sapphire and declared, "She gave me quite the challenge today. The game lasted nearly an hour."

"Bloody drone," muttered Sma. "Don't you ever lose?"

"Not to you."

Harry smiled softly. "That's what I thought."


Breakfast was a dreary affair. Or at least, that was Dumbledore's opinion on the matter. Most meals were these days, mostly due to the fact that there was still no indication that Harry Potter was ever going to turn up. Today was Halloween and tomorrow would mark two months since the start of the school year.

Not feeling especially hungry, Dumbledore helped himself to a single slice of buttered toast. He considered slathering on some marmalade, but found himself unable to produce enough energy to care. Harry's continued absence of beginning to affect the headmaster's health. The simple truth was that he was depressed. Most of the staff had noticed, though only Minerva and Poppy had said anything about it.

"You really should have more to eat than just that, Albus," McGonagall quietly prodded from her seat beside him.

"Would that I could, Minerva," he replied, "but I fear that my appetite has deserted me."

"Still no change then?" she asked.

Dumbledore bit into his toast and munched thoughtfully. "Not for this last week, no. There is a great deal of variation in the location readings, not unlike what happened shortly after Harry first disappeared, but nothing to hint as to his location."

McGonagall nodded and sipped her morning tea. "What do you think it means?" she asked.

"I have no idea," Dumbledore confessed. "The scrying magicks have always been monotonously reliable, though the story they have told is one utterly impossible. Now, however, they have managed to completely befuddle me. Not even the strongest magic could allow Harry to move in the way they indicate."

"What do those gadgets of yours say, Albus?" asked Filius Flitwick, who had been listening quietly to their conversation.

"I am at a loss to explain it, Filius. The directional compass is making a complete revolution every six hours. Likewise, the distance pendulum swings between a minimum of a hundred miles and ten thousand; again, every six hours."

"I wouldn't be surprised if the spoiled brat was doing it deliberately."

All eyes turned to Professor Snape, who was almost viciously attacking his morning omelette. It required a great deal of effort for Dumbledore not to groan. When would the man learn to keep his opinion about Harry to himself and shut up? Or better yet, grow up.

Unsurprisingly, Professor McGonagall rallied to Harry's defence and replied, "But of course, Severus. Heaven only knows how much satisfaction Mr. Potter must take in frustrating you so. Why, it's only natural to for him to act in such a way; against a man he's never even see or heard of."

"How silly of us not to have realized that," Filius teasingly added.

Snape glared balefully at them both, but had enough common sense not to try and retaliate. Instead, he returned to his meal, jabbing his fork into the omelette hard enough that it screeched loudly against the plate.

Dumbledore sighed and took another mouthful of toast. "Regardless of the confusion," he said, after swallowing, "I do hold out hope in the fact that things seem to have come full circle. Who knows, perhaps today…"

"Don't make me laugh, headmaster," said Snape. "On Halloween? Ten years to the day that the boy's parents were killed?"

"Stranger things have happened, Severus," Dumbledore countered.

"Believe what you will, Albus," said Snape, abandoning his breakfast and rising from his seat. "Personally, I think we're all much better off without the little boy celebrity and his, no doubt greatly overblown, ego."

"I will never understand what you see in that man, Albus," muttered McGonagall as Snape departed.

"Severus has my complete trust and faith, Minerva," replied Dumbledore.

"Yours, perhaps, headmaster," Flitwick retorted. "The rest of us are content to remain sceptical."

"I admit that he is not an easy person to be around."

"No, Albus, he most certainly is not. And you won't find many that think otherwise."

Dumbledore, following in Snape's footsteps, abandoned his breakfast, such as it was, and excused himself from the staff table. As he left, he said, "I do not ask you to like the man. But I do expect for you to tolerate him."

It was McGonagall who answered for the remaining professors, saying plainly, "We have and we shall continue to do so. But it will not last forever, Albus. Not even you can expect such blind devotion."

Exiting the Great Hall and slowly winding his way back to his office; Dumbledore had to admit, if only to himself, that he was slowly losing the war when it came to Severus Snape. It would have been much easier to accomplish had the man in question actually bothered to comport himself in a vaguely civil manner, but Snape seemed to live for the opportunity to make subtle, and not to subtle, barbs against his colleagues. That most of the student body openly detested him, aside from his own house, did nothing to help matters.

"Almond Nougat," he said to the guardian gargoyle.

Riding the winding staircase up to his office, he contemplated what to do. Perhaps an owl. Harry's position relative to Hogwarts had changed dramatically from its once steady course. It seemed reasonable to assume that whatever wards protected him were affecting the instrument's readings. Perhaps the closer proximity is what was confusing the results to a degree. There was at least some hope that an owl would be able to find him now.

Arriving outside his office, Dumbledore opened the door and crossed to his desk. Sinking into his plush chair, he looked to Fawkes' perch, but the phoenix was nowhere to be seen. Eyeing the silver bowl on his desk, he almost reached for a lemon sherbet, but ultimately decided against it. Not even the bittersweet flavour of his favourite sweet would help his current mood. He sat for several minutes, staring blankly into space, before a sense of restlessness overcame him. Not really wanting to do anything, he reluctantly left the comfort of his seat and began to wander about his office.

He brushed a hand along the spines of the books arrayed along one bookshelf. None of the titles caught his eye. He had read them all many times. Ah, the antique blunderbuss his old friend Dedalus Diggle had given him for his hundredth birthday. Still in working order. And there, yes, the certificate for his Order of Merlin, First Class. He kept the actual medal itself in his Gringotts vault. He preferred not to think of the circumstances of how he came to be awarded it. His pensieve. Perhaps he should take a dip? Remember those bright and better days of his youth, before Gellert, before… damn.

Not for the first time, Dumbledore cursed how easily his past intruded upon his present. He could never escape it.

Coming to his 'Harry Potter cabinet', he let his gaze run idly over the various instruments. As he expected; no change. Harry was hale and hearty. His emotions a tad more excited than usual. And look; he was currently a little over four hundred and twenty miles from Hogwarts, south-south-west. That would be about where Little Whinging and number four Privet Drive were located...

Dumbledore had actually taken three steps away from the cabinet before it registered. He spun around, almost tripping over his robes, and scurried back for a second and closer look. Yes, by Merlin, yes! He hurried to his fireplace and grabbed frantically at the floo powder. He tossed an entire handful into the flames, several times more than needed, but he didn't care.

"Professor McGonagall!" he called insistently. "Minerva McGonagall!"

A moment later his deputy's head appeared in the fireplace. She looked up at him in open concern. "Headmaster? What's wrong?"

"Minerva! I've found him!"


"Please, tell me the rest of the planet isn't this monotonous," complained Harry, as the he, Sma and the three drones arrived at Privet Drive.

"English, Harry," Skaffen-Amtiskaw reminded him.

"Fine," Harry rolled his eyes and switched languages. "Well? Is it?"

"No, I think it's just this street," Sma shook her head. She looked up and down the rows of identical two-story houses and sighed. "Ten years and I'd swear that nothing has changed. Not even a single blade of grass."

"Wonderful," Harry grumbled, stepping around Sylvester, who had paused to investigate flowerbed.

As they walked, Harry mimicked Sma's actions and regarded the street critically. It had, as she said, remained almost unchanged from that night tens years before. Harry had no real recollection of it, save the odd dream or two, but had witnessed and participated in the VR recording of the event. Once the GCU Short Circuit had realized what had happened in Godric's Hollow, it diligently recorded everything its sensors witnessed. It had tracked baby Harry from the destroyed wreck of his family home, via a flying motorcycle, all the way to Little Whinging. By that time it had moved into a much better position to observe events and had been able to use its effectors to monitor the situation in multiple dimensions, which later provided a perfectly accurate recording.

Harry had first experienced it when he was six, while still living on S'Jet orbital. He had viewed it several times since then, always accompanied by Sma and usually with one or two Minds. The Short Circuit's effectors had easily been able to record the sounds to go with the visual actions. He knew that the large man that had carried him on the motorcycle was Hagrid. He knew that the old man was Dumbledore and the stern looking woman was McGonagall.

The Culture had learnt a good deal from what the Short Circuit had recorded. Harry, Sma and dozens of Minds had listened to and reviewed the conversation that had transpired before Harry had been abandoned on the doorstep. Every word had been analysed, every nuance examined and every expression dissected. It was only a matter of bad luck that the GCU had not been able to listen in on Dumbledore and McGonagall before Hagrid had descended to join them.

Returning his attention to the pavement their little group was walking on, Harry once again noticed the slight spring in his step. He might have thought that it was a result of his excitement, but knew that it was actually because of fractionally lower gravity. It wasn't a lot, only a few percent, but enough that he had immediately noticed the difference.

The fact that he was actually standing on a planet was something that left him with a faintly surreal feeling. That there was a visible horizon was more than a little disconcerting. Such a limited line of sight! Harry had not been within forty million kilometres of a planet, or any other natural body, since he had been brought into the Culture. Both S'Jet and Stafl were orbitals; massive hoops of super-dense exotic material that only mimicked a planetary surface. There was little or nothing natural about them.

With his attention focused, however briefly, on his feet, Harry became aware of his snug fitting gelfield suit. Being one of the Culture's technological wonders, it was very easy to forget that he was even wearing it. The suit, a Culture Gelfield Contact / Protection Suit, Mk 13, was to be Harry's first line of defence during his stay on Terra. At least until everyone was confident that he would not unexpectedly find himself in harm's way.

The gelfield suit covered his body like a second skin, never more than a centimetre thick and averaging only half that. It extended from his neck down and fully encompassed both hands and feet, though could readily adjust itself to cover Harry's head as well, doing so within less than quarter of a microsecond, should it be required. The suit could allow its human wearer to survive indefinitely in hard vacuum or withstand pressures equivalent to the bottom of a deep ocean. Due to its complexity, it also possessed a node-distributed quasi-sentient brain, with a 0.9 intelligence rating.

"All right there, Harry?" asked Sma, having noticed that her charge was distracted.

"Fine, Sma, perfectly fine," he replied. "I was just thinking about what I have on under all these clothes."

It went without saying that the gelfield suit was far beyond anything Terran science and technology could produce. This dictated that the suit remain as unobtrusive as possible, so as to avoid any awkward questions. It was currently matching Harry's skin tone, making it almost impossible to spot while he wore regular clothing over it.

At the moment he was dressed in a pair of sneakers, which he considered to be a very odd name for footwear, and trousers of a rough blue fabric called demin jeans. He wore a plain white, button up shirt, underneath a grey and black pullover sweater, made from the shorn fur of a local animal. On top of all this was a brown jacket of faux leather, which he was expected to wear to ward off the chilly weather. Of course, the gelfield suit meant that Harry was never anything less than perfectly comfortable, regardless of the temperature, but it was all for show.

Sma, striding alongside him, was dressed in an elegant navy blue business suit, a jacket and trouser affair, topped off by a cream-coloured coat that reached down to her ankles. She also had on a pair of dark sunglasses, despite the overcast sky. Unlike Harry, she was not safely ensconced within a gelfield suit. That gave him some cause for concern, but there was some relief in the face that the GCU It's Not My Fault was constantly monitoring their mind-states via their neural laces.

Harry absently ran a thumb over his belt buckle. This was the next component of his varied protection. With a thought from Harry, the front panel of the buckle would detach, unfold to twice its current length, and then proceed to kill or destroy whatever he directed it to. More than likely at speeds the human eye would have difficulty following. Knife-missiles were as renowned for their speed as for their lethality. This one in particular, given to Harry during their stopover aboard the GSV Thorough But… Unreliable, had a 0.8 level AI brain, meaning that it could accomplish a great deal without explicit instruction.

Added to that was the combined Butch and Sylvester combat small-drones, as well as Skaffen-Amtiskaw. While the small-drones were both dedicated killing machines, each capable of levelling a small neighbourhood… like, say, Privet Drive… Sma's personal escort drone was no slouch either. Skaffen-Amtiskaw was lacking laser and nanomissiles, but it did have the usual effector fields and an additional compliment of three slaved knife-missiles.

Harry wondered if any single human had ever been so well protected; short of having a Culture GOU watching over them.

"Well, here we are," announced Sma, drawing Harry's attention back to the present. He looked up and found that they were standing by the driveway leading up to house number four. A glance to one side revealed that Butch had settled down from his overhead flight and was perched on a nearby streetlight. Sylvester was not far away, prowling inquisitively through the garden of number two.

"These people seem to like tall and narrow," said Harry.

"They don't have much room to spread out, so they build upwards," explained Skaffen-Amtiskaw. The drone was projecting a disguise field image that gave it the appearance of an executive briefcase. Sma had been "carrying" it ever since they had left the module that had brought them to the planet surface.

"So," Harry ran a critical eye over the house, "this is where I was supposed to have lived, huh?"

"You were expecting something else?" asked Sma.

"Maybe a little," said Harry. "I mean, I've seen this place dozens of times, in the VR recordings, but this time I'm actually physically here. I was… I don't know, expecting it to be a little more real or something."

"Do you want to knock on the door? Or should I do it for you?"

"I'll do it. They're my relatives."

"I'm sure they'll be delighted to finally meet you," said Skaffen-Amtiskaw.

"That's right, Harry!" chirped Sylvester, brushing itself languidly against Sma's legs.

"Damnable fool, be quiet!" hissed Skaffen-Amtiskaw. "Cats are not supposed to be able to talk!"

"Nor are suitcases," said Sma softly.

Sucking in a deep breath, and idly wondering why he was even bothering to do this, Harry strode up to the front door of number four Privet Drive. He stood there for a long time, nervously rubbing his hands together. He had never once given any thought to the possibility that he would one day meet someone, anyone, that had an actual blood relation to him. Yet, here he was, literally on the threshold of doing so.

A hand settled softly on his shoulder and he turned to see that Sma was standing beside him, lending her support. Skaffen-Amtiskaw was there as well, still in its disguise, and resting silently at their feet. Butch and Sylvester, not fully sentient and not as familiar with him as the others, remained a short distance away on the pavement.

Turning back to the door, he briefly considered glanding some Calm, to steady his nerves. If ever there was a time for such artificial control of his emotions, now was most certainly it. But, taking another deep breath and trying to quell his churning stomach, Harry gathered his courage and decided to do it on his own. There really was no need for more than that. After all; Sma and Skaffen-Amtiskaw were with him. He needed nothing else.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Having rapped firmly on the plain wood door, Harry settled back, resting all of his weight on his heels and clasped his hands together behind his back. Sma continued to keep a reassuring hand on his shoulder. There was nothing left to do now, but wait. After a minute or so, he could hear the sounds of someone approaching. There was the rattle of a lock being released and then the door swung open, revealing a skinny and dour-looking woman, dressing in clothes almost as bland as the rest of her figure.

"Yes? What do you… you… you!"

Somewhat surprised that the woman appeared to recognise him, Harry tried to introduce himself. "Good day, Miss," he said, taking care to enunciate his English properly. "Are you by any chance Petunia Dursley? I'm—"

"Potter!" the woman interrupted, her eyes now wide and her face a sickly pallor. "POTTER!"

"Er… yes, I'm—"

"No! NO!" the woman's voice rose to a shrill screech. "You can't be here! You can't! You're dead! Dead! DEAD! THEY TOLD US YOU WERE DEAD! YOU AND LILY BOTH! DEAD!"

"I'm not—"

"He killed you! HE KILLED YOU!" screamed Petunia hysterically.

"But I—"

All of Harry's attempts to speak to the woman were cut short by her increasingly loud rant. Before he could manage to get a word in edgewise, Petunia slammed the door in his face, close enough that he jerked back in surprise. It did nothing to stop her screams, which were still perfectly audible to those outside, if somewhat reduced in volume.

"I won't let you take me too! I won't! Or my Dudders! You won't have my baby!"

Harry turned back to his companions, utterly nonplussed by his last living relative's reaction to seeing him. Sma looked to be just as surprised, though there was a faint hint of amusement in her dark eyes. Harry could hardly fault her for it; as he also found Petunia's actions inexplicably strange.

"Funny," said Skaffen-Amtiskaw from its place on the ground. Unable to use its aura field while disguised, it allowed the faux leather of its disguise field to briefly change to a rich pink, before settling back to a plain glossy black. "You look very healthy for someone that's supposed to be dead, Harry."

"That letter you found on the doorstep with me," said Harry thoughtfully, already forming an idea of what had just happened. "It said that my parents were called James and Lily Potter, right?"

"Right," confirmed Sma. She looked him over. "Obviously there must be some resemblance."

"To my father," agreed Harry, "as he's the one she compared me to."

"It must be a remarkable likeness," noted Skaffen-Amtiskaw, "for her to react so strongly."

"So, now what?" asked Harry, looking to his guardians for direction.

"I don't think we'll be learning much here, if Petunia Dursley's reaction is anything to go by," said Sma as she led Harry back to the pavement in front of the house, where Butch and Sylvester were waiting patiently. "I suppose we'll have to look for answers somewhere else. Either in Godric's Hollow at Hogwarts itself."

"I suppose," agreed Harry. "Perhaps it's for the best. No emotional entanglements."

"Let's get back to the module then; it can fly us there," said Sma, linking her with Harry's as they started a slow trek back to the nearby park. They had walked barely ten metres when they suddenly found themselves surrounded.

The two humans and Skaffen-Amtiskaw were understandably surprised when a dozen people in robes appeared out of nowhere, all pointing wooden sticks at them. The two small-drones, Sylvester and Butch were slightly less surprised, but only because they were not as fully capable of experiencing emotion. Sheer luck, and a hurried order via Sma's lace, was the only thing that prevented the Order of the Phoenix from being utterly annihilated in that moment.

Harry summed up the experience with a simple and eloquent, "Fuck me."

The various witches and wizards present had no idea how to respond.


Author's Notes: First and foremost; my figures for the number of students at Hogwarts are complete and utter thumb sucks. I made them up. Accurate to canon or not; I don't care, so don't bother ragging me about it (I got enough of that about Backwards Compatible's plasma rifle).

And now a few notes on Sol-Terrasa Harry Potter dam Marenhide. I suppose this falls very much under the argument of Nature vs. Nurture. Suffice to say, this Harry has been nurtured in a way completely different to anyone on Earth.

Perhaps most importantly is the fact that the Culture, despite its ability to destroy planets and suns, is a society where, for the most part, aggression and violence are somewhat foreign concepts. This stems partly from their language, Marain, which was specifically designed to be lacking those very concepts. Even the concepts of possession and owner are of greatly reduced importance. Because of this, Harry himself will be very unlikely to resort to violence – at least not deliberately.

He is also free of the normal "human" prejudices found here on Earth, though as will be seen he will have his unique prejudices – most notably a definite superiority complex over us poor technological and social barbarians. However, he is aware of this and does try to moderate his complaints about the backwards savages.

In regards to Harry's sexuality, at this point he's merely a boy with an impressive amount of experimentation under his belt. He had not had sex yet and will not until sometime in either his fourth or fifth-year at Hogwarts. There will be a good deal of confusion between Harry and his classmates over this, at first, but Harry will quickly learn (if not fully comprehend) Terran moral standards.

Too understand this; you must understand that in the Culture, anything goes. There are no social taboos. Homosexuality is just as common as Heterosexuality, and just about everyone would be considered fully-fledged bisexuals. This stems mostly from the fact that Culture humans are capable of changing sex at will, not unlike Tonk's metamorphmagus abilities.

The process, as described by Banks, is initiated by entering a trance-like state (presumable taught to them as children) and then setting their Residual Self Image (a term I borrow from the Matrix) from male to female, or the reverse. This causes their bodies to begin to change, over a period of about a year. The average Culture human will change gender and back at least once during their lifetime and will generally bare at least one child while living as a female.

Another very important aspect of the Culture is that marriage, while not completely unknown, is a very, very, very rare occurrence. In fact, most Culture humans consider it to be a somewhat quaint and barbaric practice; better suited for less advanced civilizations (namely us). The closest they might come to marriage is a state of serial monogamy – meaning that they will restrict themselves to only their partner for the duration of their relationship.

Harry is somewhat different from the average Culture child, in that he had spent most of his childhood in the presence of adults, drones and Minds. As such he has a slightly more mature outlook that most (monkey see, monkey do). However, he is still a child at heart and I will try to show this when possible. It is also important to remember that Harry has been spoiled rotten for as long as he can remember. He is very used to getting what he wants – mostly thanks to the Culture's ability to provide anything without much appreciable effort.

I do intend for him to interact with his canon friends and foes, but his relationships with them will be completely different. I wouldn't want to spoil any surprises, but don't expect Ron or Draco to fall into their traditional roles. And don't expect them to be reversed either. Oddly enough, I don't see his relationship with Hermione being much different. There may or may not be any sexual tension there, I haven't decided yet.

Well, can't really think of anything more to say.

Oh, and regarding the small fan-war between Star Trek and Star Wars; I actually based this from Banks' novel State of the Art, wherein one crewmember aboard the GCU observing the Earth makes an impassioned speech about why he should be voted as the ship's Captain. It was simply the most hilarious thing I have ever read, and strangely enough something that Culture GCU crews tend to do.