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.
Dumbledore sipped on his tea and took a moment to relax. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and allowed the sharp taste to sooth his nerves. It did not work as well as he hoped. Perhaps he should have dropped an extra cube of sugar into the cup. With a sigh, he opened his eyes and considered the three people sitting on the other side of his desk.
Professor McGonagall, Professor Snape and Madam Pomfrey were arrayed opposite him, each occupied with their own cup of Earl Grey. All had thoughtful expressions on their faces, though Minerva's was a tad on the pensive side and Severus seemed more irritated than anything else. Of course, having had his shoulder dislocated and his collarbone broken, it was hardly surprising that Snape was even less sociable than normal.
"So, Poppy," Dumbledore began, breaking the silence, "what can you tell us?"
"While you're asking about Harry Potter, let me just say that Hermione Granger is in perfect health, though understandably shaken up," Madam Pomfrey reported. She took a long taste of her tea and then continued, "As for Mr. Potter, aside from his refusal to be properly treated--"
"He refused your ministrations?" asked Snape, looking across to her.
"Yes," Pomfrey ruefully confirmed. "He seemed rather distrustful of my 'voodoo mysticism'."
Snape turned to the headmaster, a gleam of vindication in his black eyes, and said, "It would seem the Potter blood breeds true; the boy hasn't been Sorted yet and he's already proved to be just as arrogant and egotistical as his father."
Dumbledore levelled a flat stare at his Potions Master and stated, "Actually, Severus, I found Harry to both polite and attentive."
"James Potter and his friends were perfectly able to charm their way out of trouble when they needed to," Snape countered with conviction. "Mark my words; his son will be no different."
"You seem strangely certain that the boy takes after James and not Lily," said McGonagall, eyeing her colleague narrowly.
"You saw the boy, Minerva," argued Snape, "he might as well be his father reincarnate."
"Yet he has Lily's eyes," said Dumbledore softly. He could see the impact his observation had on the acerbic man, as Snape swiftly settled back and stared sullenly into his steaming teacup. Dumbledore turned back to Pomfrey and prompted, "Forgive the interruption, Poppy. Please continue."
"I am at something of a loss, Albus," Pomfrey readily confessed.
"In what way?"
"I was unable to do as thorough an examination as I would have liked, not with the way he was shifting about, but what I have learned…"
There was something ominous about the way the matron trailed off, yet there was no hint of actual worry in her voice. Instead, she sounded puzzled, as if confronted by something she did not understand.
Dumbledore set his teacup down and asked, "What is it, my dear?"
"Well, you hardly need a magical scan to tell that Mr. Potter is far ahead of his year-mates in terms of growth. If I didn't know better, just by looking at him I would think he was a third year. The scan I made showed hormone levels closer to a thirteen year old, rather than an eleven year old."
"Are you saying that he's been aged somehow?" asked McGonagall. "Through repeated use of a time-turner perhaps?"
"No, not at all," Pomfrey shook her head. "The spell to determine age showed Mr. Potter to be eleven years and three months old. While he might look older, he is not older than he should be. Somehow, I suspect it might have something to do with his upbringing; he's years ahead of where he should be."
"Interesting," murmured Dumbledore.
"Bloody impossible would be a better description."
"Really? Why do you say that?"
"It's not just his physical appearance," elaborated Pomfrey. "There are several aspects of his physical condition that I simply cannot explain."
"And what might those be?"
"I could find no trace of his tonsils or appendix. None. At all. Even with the best magical healing available, there's always some small indication to show that they were there and were then removed. As far as Mr. Potter is concerned, however, it's as if he hadn't been born with them."
"Perhaps they were removed using Muggle methods," suggested McGonagall.
Madam Pomfrey snorted at the absurdity of that idea. "Impossible. I've treated plenty of Muggleborn students who have suffered under a Muggle doctor's butcher knife. They all have very clearly defined scarring compared to magical methods."
Dumbledore sipped his tea, considering the implications of this. Needing more data to form a proper theory, he asked, "Anything else?"
"His eyesight is perfect, as is his hearing. In fact, they're better than perfect and I think his other senses are similarly advanced," Pomfrey recited, ticking off her fingers as she spoke. "Reflexes and hand-eye coordination are also exceptionally high. The only student close to his level is Oliver Wood. This is on top of greater than average muscle and bone density, as well as superb body tone and near optimal weight for his height. He'll be the best Quidditch player of his generation if he decides to fly professionally."
Pomfrey paused to allow her audience a chance to absorb her words. A glance at Snape, who was glowering fiercely, prompted her to add, "And if he chooses the sensible thing and stays on the ground, well, he might prove to be the best academic of his generation. I don't have anything conclusive, but there were indications of considerable neurological activity, even though he was doing nothing but sit in a hospital bed."
Dumbledore pursed his lips and steepled his fingers in front of him. One or two of these things might have been a coincidence. Perhaps merely an indication of just how well Diziet Sma had raised the boy. But put all together, they painted a worrisome picture. "What of his magic?" he enquired.
"His magical core is slightly above average, but not enough to remark upon. Still, he somehow managed to recover almost all of his energy in half an hour; this after having Apparated inside the school and then firing off a Blasting Curse strong enough to utterly destroy Quirrell's mountain troll."
"Did you detect any indications of possible ritual magic usage?"
This question brought all three of the headmaster's guests to an abrupt halt.
Professor McGonagall immediately protested. "Albus, you honestly can't think that Harry Potter would use dark rituals to enhance himself!"
Snape arched an eyebrow high and nodded, "I have to agree. Not even the most ambitious and foolhardy children of the dark families would consider such a thing. Even if he did, how would he be able to do it? The knowledge of such things is hardly likely to find itself in the hands of an eleven year old brat."
Dumbledore looked over the rim of his spectacles and met the gaze of both Minerva and then Severus. "I am not concerned that Harry might have done this," he informed them, "his adopted mother, however, is a very likely suspect."
"Dragon dung, Albus!" snapped Pomfrey, drawing attention back to her. "I'll have you know that Harry Potter is completely and utterly free of any trace - any trace at all, of dark magic. Merlin's sake, the boy has the lowest levels of external ambient magic affecting his body than I've seen since the Prescott girl in the seventies. A single bottle of butterbeer would probably double it."
"Really?" asked Dumbledore, greatly surprised by this. "Then how would you explain his exceptional health?"
Madam Pomfrey gave him a flat look and answered, "You'd be amazed what a healthy lifestyle can accomplish, Albus."
It had no name. It did not have enough of a mind to warrant such a defining characteristic. Instead, it was identified by a somewhat lengthy base-nine serial number that also described its purpose.
It was a spy. Well, the euphemistic term would be; surveillance microdrone, but in truth it was much the same thing. No larger than a house fly and disguised to resemble one; it existed for the sole purpose of observing the world around it in as unobtrusive a manner as possible.
It was currently perched atop the portrait of Gonville Bromhead, Hogwarts headmaster from 1879 to 1890. Bromhead was too busy feigning sleep to notice it and the four humans currently in the headmaster's office were completely unaware of its presence.
It did exactly what it had been built for. It watched. It listened. It transmitted everything it perceived to its creator.
The General Contact Unit It's Not My Fault paid close attention.
Diziet Sma was watching the slow and steady rise and fall of Harry's chest when the Ship contacted her. Polite to the proverbial fault, as almost all Culture Minds were, the GCU did not risk the chance of waking the sleeping boy.
Ms. Sma? it called through her neural lace.
Yes? Sma replied, not breaking her vigil.
I have been monitoring Hogwarts via a series of microdrones since your return last night, the Ship informed her. One of them is currently observing a conversation taking place in the headmaster's office. I think you would like to hear what is being said.
Shifting slightly, Sma finally allowed her eyes to slide away from her charge's bare torso. Can you summarise?
Of course, though I believe you would lose much of the context, the Ship replied.
Sma considered this for a moment. She knew that the It's Not My Fault would not have interrupted her and Harry's morning for anything that was not important. Minds were like that, though their definition of important was occasionally vastly different from a human's. She turned her gaze back to Harry and reached out to wrap a hand around his waist, drawing him into a tight hug.
I'm going to gland some Quicken, she told the Ship. Can you give me a compressed feed until I'm caught up?
Releasing a small dose of Quicken from her drug glands, Sma watched and felt as the utility drug caused her perception of time to greatly speed up. The rise and fall of Harry's chest grew longer and longer, as did the faint beating of his heart against her naked breasts. Once she felt that the Quicken had fully asserted itself within her system, she sent of a brief, Ready, and then waited for the Ship's download.
The image feed from the microdrone began to form in her mind's eye, nebulous and blurry around the edges until she concentrated, at which point it coalesced into a much clearer picture. She ignored most of the extraneous information that accompanied the images and sound. She had no need to know the body temperature of each participant, nor how much oxygen was being inhaled with their every breath, nor how much carbon dioxide was present when they exhaled. Instead, Sma simply watched and listened.
She immediately recognised everyone present in the headmaster's office, not even having to use her neural lace to remind her of their names. There was Dumbledore, of course, as it was his office. Professors McGonagall and Snape, who appeared to be his confidants and advisors, were also present, as was the school's matron; Madam Pomfrey.
The standard morning pleasantries went by rather quickly. Apparently Snape was feeling somewhat grouchy after having been injured the previous night, though he was unsure of the cause of his injuries. Dumbledore and McGonagall informed him of the actions Skaffen-Amtiskaw had taken to reach Harry, causing the dour man's face to shutter closed of nearly all emotion. Despite his impressive impassivity, Sma could still discern his anger. Dumbledore gave the customary offer of tea, which was accepted all round. She absently noted the preferences of all four people, just in case such knowledge was needed in the future.
Then the conversation itself began. Sma's thoughts on Snape's animosity towards Harry were confirmed as the man not so subtly, but still politely, began to denigrate the boy in question. His remarks about James Potter seemed to explain the attitude, but his almost instant withdrawal at the mention of Lily Potter was interesting. Sma wondered what Harry would make of it, his skills as a Referrer making him better suited to reach the correct explanation. She almost lost focus on the feed as attention turned to Pomfrey, who began to detail her report on Harry's health.
What the fuck? How could she know all that?
Apparently she used her magic wand, replied the Ship. The perpetual neutrality of its tone gave its observation a strangely sarcastic tinge. From what Skaffen-Amtiskaw observed last night that was the only action she took, aside from trying to feed Harry those magical potions of hers.
Seriously? She learned all that by waving a wooden stick back and forth?
Sma continued to listen intently and then asked, Magical core? Do you know what they're talking about?
She received the mental impression of a shrug and heard the Ship reply, Not in the least. There is a significant degree of Grid Energy permeating Harry's body, but nothing concentrated enough to call a 'core'. We do know that he causes a bit of a ripple in both skeins, wherever he goes, but we haven't seen anything similar with the other magical Terrasa we have observed.
The next bit of conversation confused Sma slightly, as well as leaving her feeling a little bit indignant. Ritual magic usage? she repeated with a huff. Do they honestly think I'd go about sacrificing virgins and invoking the auspices of whatever unholy dark gods exist in their pantheon merely to make my Harry better than them? Are they stupid?
That is a matter of some debate, supplied the Ship, sounding slightly amused.
Sma grunted and turned her ear, so to speak, back to what was being said.
"I know, but really," said Dumbledore in response to Pomfrey's jab about clean living.
"You're worrying needlessly, Albus," Pomfrey asserted. "Just because the boy is as fit as a fiddle doesn't mean he needed rituals get there."
"Neither of his parents was in possession of such extraordinary health."
"James was a typical wizard in regards to his way of life, Albus – his diet was hardly what I'd call well-balanced. And Lily was always more fond of her books than she was of running about. Their son, however, seems to know how to take proper care of himself."
There was a brief lull in conversation as the others considered the matron's words.
Dumbledore ended the silence by taking a sip of his tea and proclaiming, "Thank you for the reassurance, Poppy. I do not claim to be totally without concern, but you have eased the bulk of my worries."
"Yet that won't stop you from watching the boy like a hawk for every second he's inside the castle," observed Pomfrey.
"You know me too well, my dear," Dumbledore smiled.
"And his guardian?" asked Snape.
"I have spoken to Alastor and he will be taking a holiday to Cape Town later this week," answered Dumbledore, still with a smile. "I imagine he will keep an eye out for anything of interest while he is there."
"That will do as a background check, headmaster," Snape acknowledged, "but what about the woman herself?"
"We will do what we can to investigate her, Severus, I assure you," said Dumbledore. "However, that will require finding her first."
"You have no idea where she and Potter are staying?"
"None whatsoever. We will have to wait until she contacts us."
"And what of my meeting with them today, Albus?" asked McGonagall. "After what happened last night, I wouldn't be surprised if they cancelled, but should I be there in case they do show up?"
We're coming up to the present, the Ship informed her in an aside.
"I thiinnnkkkk ttttthhhhhhaaaaaaa--"
Sma gave a mental wince as Dumbledore's words slowed down and distorted, her perception of time running several times faster than normal. Having caught up on all that had been discussed prior to her interest in the conversation, Sma flushed the Quicken out of her system. With the drug no longer accelerating her thought processes, Sma watched as Harry's chest soon began to rise and fall at a normal pace, rather than in extreme slow motion. In her mind, the image transmitted by the microdrone sped up until the incomprehensible drone of Dumbledore's distorted voice returned to something understandable.
"--aaaaatttt wwwee can expect Harry and Ms. Sma to be there, as agreed," the headmaster finished. "She strikes me as a woman of her word."
"Very well, Albus," McGonagall relented. "You will take my classes for the morning?"
"I look forward to it," Dumbledore grinned boyishly. "It will be a pleasant change from the usual paperwork."
"Do you want me to do anything while in Ms. Sma's company?"
"No... no, I don't think that would be prudent. Merely talk to her – learn what you can."
Checking her neural lace, Sma found that it was still a couple of hours before she and Harry were due to meet with the deputy headmistress. That was good, as they would need the time to prepare for the encounter. Harry needed to be informed of the situation in the school and then coached on how best to react to it.
Can you Displace something into the castle? Sma asked of the It's Not My Fault, continuing to listen to the conversation with half an ear.
Of course, replied the Ship. Provided it is not alive; there is a lot of interference in the Hyperspace skein surrounding the school.
That's fine, Sma assured the GCU. Now, I'm going to dictate a letter that I want you to Displace to Dumbledore's desk...
Dumbledore was in the process of buttering his croissant (he had chosen some French cuisine instead of the usual scones) when a tiny pinprick of light appeared directly in front of him, suspended several inches above his desk. In the blink of an eye that dot expanded into a shimmering silver sphere that disappeared with a soft whuff of displaced air. The headmaster blinked in surprise as a neatly folded letter dropped onto his desktop.
"What the devil?" exclaimed Snape, jumping up from his chair and drawing his wand.
"Calm yourself, Severus," said Dumbledore, waving for the man to retake his seat.
"A letter? But how did it arrive?" asked McGonagall. "I've never seen anything like it."
"Neither have I," Dumbledore admitted, setting his croissant aside.
Erring on the side of caution, he did not move to pick up the letter, but rather leaning over to examine it first. It was a simple sheet of crisp white paper, precisely folded in three. There was no seal or anything similar to prevent a third party from reading it illicitly. Its grain was thick enough, though very fine, that he could not see any impression of whatever had been written on its inside.
"Muggle paper by the look of it. Not any kind of parchment," he concluded. "Very fine quality as well. Whoever sent it is obviously not lacking in wealth."
"Why would any wizard use Muggle paper to send you a letter?" asked Snape.
"I have the suspicion that our correspondent is in fact Ms. Sma," answered Dumbledore.
Drawing his wand, Dumbledore held it over the letter and began to cast the standard set of detection charms that he used whenever he received unsolicited mail. Malicious letters, frequently cursed and jinxed to do harm to the reader, were a thing he had to deal with on the semi-frequent basis. But nothing he cast returned any reaction. There did not appear to be any charms or curses or hexes upon the paper. There were no compulsions or subliminal suggestions. No privacy wards or security precautions.
It was as if the letter was utterly untouched by magic, which he had trouble believing. Beginning to wonder, he cast a slightly different charm. Again the letter did not react. Dumbledore was perplexed by this, as that last charm was designed to detect the presence of magic. The lack of reaction could only mean that the letter was completely devoid of any spellwork or magic.
"Albus? Is something wrong?" asked McGonagall, wondering at the headmaster's reaction.
"No," replied Dumbledore. "I cannot, however, find any trace of whatever method was used to deliver this letter to us."
"What does it say?" asked Madam Pomfrey.
"Let us find out," replied Dumbledore, unfolding the paper and holding it up in front of him. He cleared his throat and began to read the letter out loud.
Dear Professor Dumbledore,
Despite the events of last night, we have decided to allow Harry's enrolment at Hogwarts to continue. I trust you will remember the conditions we require for this matter to be settled.
As agreed, we will meet with your deputy, Professor McGonagall, outside the Leaky Cauldron public house in London at 10 o'clock this morning in order to purchase Harry's school supplies and other necessities.
Rasd-Codurersa Diziet Embless Sma da' Marenhide
"What are these conditions she's talking about?" asked Snape sharply.
"A complete refunding of both Mr. Potter and Ms. Granger's school fees for the year, as well as undertaking a full investigation into how the troll managed to enter the school," elaborated Dumbledore, passing the letter across to Professor McGonagall. He made no mention of Sma's other demand; that of an inquiry into Professor Quirrell's competence. He needed the Defence Professor in place, now that Harry would be attending classes.
"Nothing that you shouldn't have offered yourself," observed Madam Pomfrey.
"Allowing Potter to attend for free? Are you intent on letting the boy lord his supposed superiority over the other students?"
"Really, Severus, you should give the boy a chance to prove himself before condemning him."
"Blood will out, Albus, blood will out."
"Ten o'clock," said McGonagall, reading through the letter with her own eyes before handing it to Pomfrey. "They've set the time back by an hour, but we will still have more than enough to get everything done before returning to Hogwarts."
"Will Mr. Potter be returning with you?" asked Pomfrey.
"I expect so," McGonagall nodded. "That was the arrangement."
"That would be perfect; we could hold his Sorting during dinner," said Dumbledore.
"Are you sure you don't want to do it in private?" asked Snape. "In the Great Hall during dinner would be a spectacle."
"I do not think young Harry would be bothered by the attention."
McGonagall nodded in agreement and said, "Yes, he did seem at very ease yesterday, despite the incident with the troll."
Dumbledore nodded as well and asked, "Have you discovered anything in that regard?"
"Nothing conclusive," Snape replied. "Tracing its path, from where Quirrell reported it to be, I would say that it entered the school through the West Rose Courtyard. By the tracks left in the lawn outside, it must have wandered down from the northern edge of the Forbidden Forest."
"Do you know how it came to find the second floor girls' bathroom?" asked Pomfrey.
"Only that to reach it, it would have had to move in the opposite direction from the dungeons."
"But Professor Quirrell saw it in the dungeons..."
"So he says."
"And what of the Stone?" asked McGonagall.
"I had thought to check on that first, on the chance that the troll was merely a diversion," Snape grudgingly admitted. "Unfortunately the Sma woman's briefcase incapacitated me when it flew by."
"Do not fear," Dumbledore assured his staff. "I too made a point of checking on the Stone's defences. None of the perimeter wards were triggered, nor is there any evidence of anyone having entered Fluffy's chamber."
"Do you think Severus is right? Was the troll a diversion?" asked McGonagall.
"If so it was hardly a subtle one."
Professor McGonagall stepped into the Leaky Cauldron ten minutes before the agreed upon time. A quick Cleansing Charm removed the dust and ash that had accumulated on her robes during the trip through the Floo.
"Professor McGonagall, this is a surprise," announced Tom, the barkeeper. "What brings you to the Cauldron in the middle of term?"
"Hello Tom," acknowledged McGonagall, moving to greet the man. "I'm here on Hogwarts business; to escort a student that is only now joining us."
Tom glanced around and leaned in close to whisper, "Are the rumours true then? Harry Potter's returned?"
Wondering, not for the first time, at the speed at which gossip travelled, Professor McGonagall merely inclined her head. "I trust you can be discreet about this, Tom," she cautioned, "We'd prefer not to endure any hubbub."
"Mum's the word," Tom agreed.
"Thank you. I'll be meeting Mr. Potter and his guardian outside. We'll be coming through to the Alley in a few minutes. Could you clear the way?"
"Of course, of course."
Walking across the pub to the entrance, Professor McGonagall pulled open the door and walked out into Muggle London. Though she would never admit it to anyone, not even Dumbledore, she was always left feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable when visiting the city. Perhaps it was an aspect of her animagus form, but she always held a slight and irrational fear that one of the many Muggle automobiles would lose control and run her over. There were just so many of the things flitting about.
McGonagall waited patiently to one side of the Leaky Cauldron's door, her eyes scanning back and forth as she tried to spot Harry Potter and Diziet Sma's arrival. The chimes of Big Ben striking ten o'clock began to resound through the city and McGonagall pursed her lips. Unless they were coming via some magical means of transport, her companions were going to be late. She had just finished that thought when a London taxi cab pulled up to the pavement some distance down the street. It was with no small amount of relief that she watched as Harry and Sma stepped out of the vehicle.
The It's Not My Fault had delivered the pair to the planet surface using the same blister module that had transported them to Little Whinging. The module, invisible and silent, had dropped them off in London's Hyde Park, where they caught a taxi to carry them to their final destination. Timing their arrival to be perfectly precise had been a challenge, and an iffy one at that, but the various Minds involved had able to tweak matters appropriately.
The professor watched as the two unloaded a pair of sizeable suitcases as well as a carrier for Harry's feline familiar, Sylvester. The boy's owl, Butch, swooped down from above and settled atop the nearest streetlamp. Eyeing the luggage, which Harry was dragging behind him on built in wheels and handles, McGonagall had to wonder exactly what the young wizard had packed in them. Heavens knew that a standard trunk would not be able to hold the contents of both, at least not without an expansion charm of some sort.
"Professor McGonagall, good morning," said Sma once she and Harry had paid their fare and crossed the remaining distance.
"Ms. Sma. I see you brought your briefcase as well," acknowledged McGonagall.
"I never leave home without it," replied Sma.
"Why are you pretending to carry it?" McGonagall asked, eyeing the escort drone cautiously. While she had little information of exactly what Sma's companion was capable of, she did know that it was able to move under its own power.
"We'd prefer not to draw too much attention to ourselves."
"After the events of last night, I'm afraid that's something of a lost cause."
Sma looked at McGonagall in surprise and asked, "How would anyone here know about that?"
McGonagall affected an amused expression and replied, "You would be surprised."
"The Leaky Cauldron," read Harry, looking up at the sign hanging over the pub door. He glanced over to the professor and asked, "Isn't it a bit risky, having such an obvious name for the entrance to your shopping district?"
"Not to worry, Mr. Potter, the doorway is well hidden beneath a wide range of Muggle repelling wards," McGonagall assured him.
Sma, who was taking a look at pub herself, arched an eyebrow and asked, "Are you sure it's working?"
"Of course," asserted McGonagall, as if the very idea were absurd. "Otherwise we would be attracting a great deal of attention."
Then why am I not having any trouble seeing the damned thing? wondered Sma, directing her silent query to Harry and Skaffen-Amtiskaw.
Perhaps something about your physiology affects the way it works, the drone conjectured. Since our arrival we have been passed by nineteen Terrasa, none of which seemed to notice our presence.
I'm betting on the neural lace, said Harry. By all accounts native technology is too primitive to withstand the background HS energy generated by 'magic'. Culture equipment, however, can continue to function with almost no trouble. The lace must be able to filter the interference these so-called wards cause.
"Shall we go?" prompted McGonagall, indicating for Harry and Sma to precede her.
"Yes, let's," agreed Sma. "I'm very eager to visit Gringotts and discuss Harry's financial situation."
Somewhat leery of the idea that someone she didn't know would have access to the Potter vaults, McGonagall contented herself to a curt nod. It would not do, after all, to antagonise someone whose abilities were mostly unknown. Still, that would not prevent her from keeping a very close eye on Ms. Sma. Hopefully she would have something useful to report once the day was done.
"Could I shrink your luggage for you?" she offered.
"Shrink my luggage?" repeated Harry.
"Yes, I think it would be easier to have them in your pocket rather than having to drag them along all day."
"Well, uh, sure. So long as you can unshrink them when we get to the school."
Ignoring Harry's slight misgivings about her ability, McGonagall drew her wand and tapped each suitcase, shrinking them down to the size of a pack of cards. Harry seemed very impressed by this as he picked them up, turning them this way and that. Having confirmed that the process had not damaged or otherwise affected the suitcases, he slipped them into his inside pocket. The deputy headmistress took another moment to shrink Sylvester's carrier, though only after Harry had released the cat within. Shrinking living creatures was never a good idea. She had to forcibly hold back a frown as Sylvester slinked by. Her own feline instincts, courtesy of her animagus form, were giving her the equivalent feeling of raised hackles. There was something very odd about that cat.
After waiting for Butch to descend and find a perch on Harry's shoulder, she followed the pair into the pub. She was not surprised when they were immediately accosted by Tom, as the barkeeper was want to do whenever people in obviously Muggle clothing entered his domain. This time, however, his interest had more to do with who had stepped inside, rather than out of any need to properly greet them.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Potter," Tom greeted quietly, taking care not to attract any attention. "Welcome back, welcome back."
"Er… thanks," nodded Harry, shaking the man's hand. "It's, uh, good to be back home."
"Wonderful to hear you say that, Mr. Potter. We were horribly concerned when you vanished all those years ago."
"Don't worry, I was perfectly safe. Dizzy here took proper care of me."
After Harry had pointed to Sma, who was standing next to him, Tom rounded on the woman and grabbed her by the hand. "Thank you so very much, Miss," he gushed. "It's a relief to know that Harry was in good hands."
Having dropped Skaffen-Amtiskaw in surprise when Tom began vigorously shaking her hand, Sma smiled winningly at the man and tried to extract her hand from his surprisingly firm grip. "It was a pleasure," she said. "I've always tried to treat him as if he were my own."
"And I can't thank you enough, Ma'am," continued Tom, still shaking her hand up and down.
"Please Tom," said McGonagall, stepping between the two. Sma shot her a thankful look. "We have a lot of business to attend to."
"Of course," Tom nodded. He said his goodbyes, which involved another round of handshakes, before retreating back behind the bar.
"If you'll follow me," prompted McGonagall.
"Is everyone going to act like that?" asked Harry.
"Fortunately not. Tom is merely more enthusiastic than most. Still, I expect you will receive a fair number of such displays of gratitude," said McGonagall as she led them through the main tap room and out the pub's back door. Navigating round a pair of dilapidated garbage bins, she came to a halt in front of a plain brick wall.
"Not exactly a grand access way," commented Sma, looking over the old and grimy bricks.
"Mediocrity is much easier to hide than grandeur, Ms. Sma," McGonagall countered.
With an economic series of taps, McGonagall was too staid to use a flourish, the entrance to Diagon Alley was revealed. She watched closely as both Harry and Sma took in the sight of Britain's magical shopping district. Their reactions were quite dissimilar. Sma barely raised an eyebrow and observed the narrow alleyway and its various stores with a calm curiosity. She had seen more impressive things, as well as things much worse. Harry, on the other hand, was much less subtle in his reaction. His eyes were wide in what McGonagall at first hoped was amazement, but a moment later she reassess her opinion. She saw this look fairly often, when escorting some of the more conservative and upper crust Muggle-born students on their orientation.
"What a dump," Harry finally managed, luckily slipping into Marain and thereby avoiding offending McGonagall too much. Still, even though she did not understand the words, she could clearly hear the emotion behind them.
"It is not Harrods, I know," said McGonagall, saying what she told everyone that had such a reaction, "but I think you will find Diagon Alley to have a certain rustic charm not present in the Muggle world."
"It looks rather... cramped," said Harry as they began to walk.
"Yes, well, the Alley was built over a thousand years ago. While the shops and buildings have been replaced, at one time or another, the original street itself has remained almost unchanged. There is some degree of tradition about it."
"Is that Gringotts?" asked Sma, directing their attention in the direction they were walking.
"Yes, the wizarding bank," confirmed McGonagall. "I presumed we would be going there first, to acquire funds for the day."
"Amongst other things, yes," Sma nodded.
Harry regarded the bank as they approached. It was by far the most impressive building to be seen in the Alley. Certainly it seemed much less likely to topple over without warning. As they reached the steps leading up to the bank doors, he noticed a pair of short figures flanking the entrance on either side. They were clearly not human, though they were humanoid. He recognised them as goblins, thanks to the comprehensive reconnaissance recordings taken by the It's Not My Fault and the other two GCUs.
Pointing them out to his companions, he asked, "Who are they?"
"Those are the Gringotts Entrance Guards," answered McGonagall as their party paused to give the two sentries a once over. The pair studiously ignored the scrutiny; remaining perfectly erect and their halberds upright. "Only the best goblin warriors are assigned to the position."
"But what are they standing there for?"
"Show," Sma promptly supplied.
"Show?" repeated Harry, mirrored a moment later by a surprised McGonagall.
"Yes; to show that the goblins are rich and powerful and important enough to have armed flunkeys stand around all day doing nothing."
McGonagall, who had been listening intently, almost tripped on the stairs as she stared incredulously at Sma. The armed flunkeys in question had to settle for glaring balefully at Culture woman.
A puzzled Harry looked from Sma to the goblin guards and back. "But, doesn't everyone already know that?"
Sma smiled indulgently at him and, hand on the small of his back, prompted him back into motion and across the bank's threshold. "You still haven't fully grasped the concepts of wealth and power, or the psychology behind them, have you?"
Inside the bank Harry and Sma wondered at the hustle and bustle going on all around them. There was much more going on than Sma had ever seen in any other bank, though there were some resemblances. Harry, however, was staring about the place with wide eyes and a complete lack of comprehension. He could not understand why there was so much fuss over what amounted to pieces of metal.
"This way," said McGonagall, leading them to an available teller.
The goblin, whose nose was remarkably long and pointed, was busy writing in a thick and musty ledger. He was using a quill made from a particularly bright and fluffy feather which Harry's neural lace informed him was from a bird called a peacock. He also ignored the three humans utterly.
"Excuse me," McGonagall prompted after a long moment.
Without moving its head, the goblin turned his eyes to his customers. With a grunt, he set the quill aside and closed the ledger shut with a loud thump. Finally lifting his head to more fully regard them, he asked, "Yes?"
McGonagall indicated her companions and introduced, "This is Mr. Harry Potter and his adoptive mother, Ms. Diziet Sma. They wish to make a withdrawal from the Potter trust vault as well as other business."
"Indeed," the goblin drawled. He looked from Harry to Sma and back. "And do you have your vault key, Mr. Potter?"
"I have it," said Sma, drawing the goblin's attention back to her.
"Very well, I will have someone escort your to the vault. Is there anything else?"
Ignoring the bluntness of the dismissal, Sma nodded again and stepped up so that she was leaning against the counter. This subtly emphasised her full height, nearly half a head taller than Professor McGonagall. "Actually," she said with a sly smile, "I'd like to arrange an account of my own. You are able to transfer funds from a non-magical bank, correct?"
The goblin cocked an eyebrow and nodded. "Of course. We deal with all the major monetary institutions."
"Excellent," said Sma. She handed over a slip of paper. "These are the details to a business account I hold at the Bank of England."
"Vavatch Corporation," read the goblin.
This was the name of the principal front company that the Culture had created on Earth for its Contact operatives to draw funds from. In something of a private joke, albeit a morbid one, it was named after an orbital that had been destroyed during the Culture-Idiran War. While only a couple of months old, the various bank accounts under the Vavatch Corporation name were more than sufficient for the purchase of several small islands. Maybe even a big one.
"Would a standard Gringotts business account suit your needs? Or would you prefer something with more security?"
"A standard account will be fine."
"And how much do you want transferred into your new vault?"
Sma's smile developed a faint edge as she stated, "Oh, not too much. Say ten million Galleons. Minus charges, of course."
The goblin rocked back, staring at her with wide eyes. "Ten million Galleons?" he repeated. He cleared his throat and asked, "Are you sure?"
"Very well," managed the goblin, quickly gathering himself. "It will take some time to arrange for the vault and the transfer. Everything should be ready by the time you've finished your business in the Potter vaults."
"That will be fine," accepted Sma. "And the paperwork?"
"You can fill that out now." He rummaged about his desk and settled several sheets of parchment out before her. "Here it is. We will need your signature at the designated spots, here, here, here and here. Lastly, you must sign in blood here."
"In blood?" repeated Harry incredulously.
"Yes, in blood. Otherwise it wouldn't constitute a properly binding magical contract," the goblin explained.
"Very well," Sma accepted with a grimace. She took the proffered peacock feather quill and began to write. As she scribbled on the parchment she said, "While I'm busy, could you get a full accounting of the Potter finances? Since they've been inactive for the past ten years, we'd like to see what state they're in before deciding what to do with them."
"An account summary will be here momentarily, Ms. Sma," nodded the goblin.
They seem very good at what they do, commented Harry silently to his companions.
That's to be expected. From what we've been able to observe of their society, the pursuit of wealth is held above all else, relayed Skaffen-Amtiskaw.
But why? asked Harry. What good does it do to have lots of gold?
Essentially it comes down to the concept of greed; wanting more than what they already have.
"A copy of the files you requested," announced the teller, having just been handed a thick sheath of parchment by passing goblin.
Sma, who was now signing her name in the designated spots, thanked the goblin and asked, "How do I go about signing this in blood?"
The goblin looked over the sheets she had been working on. "Almost done? Good." He reached beneath the counter he was seated at and withdrew a quill, which he held up for display. "You must write your final signature using this contract blood-quill."
The quill, made from a raven's feather, gleamed sinisterly as he handed it to her. Sma examined the quill, trying to see how it would accomplish its purpose, but found it to be no different than the quill she had just been using. With a slight shrug, she turned back to the account agreement and began to write out her name. A sharp pain in her hand, however, stopped her after only the first letter.
"What the fuck?" she exclaimed, dropping the blood-quill and looking at her hand. A small cut was present on the back of her palm, bleeding slightly, and shaped identically to the single character she had managed to write.
"Never used a blood-quill before, eh?" asked the goblin with a vicious grin.
"Why is it cutting into my hand?" Sma demanded through clenched teeth.
"To spill the blood needed to finalise the contract," the goblin answered. "Don't worry; you'd have to sign thousands of contracts before it will leave a scar."
"Barbaric," muttered Harry, drawing a glance from the goblin.
The teller bared his teeth and sneered, "Do not blame us for your own squeamishness, Mr. Potter."
Harry huffed indignantly and countered, "Surely there must be a more civilised way to do it?"
"Doubtful. The old magics are the strongest and most reliable. Only a fool would seek a different way to accomplish what they can do," retorted the goblin with an air of finality. He returned his focus to Sma and asked, "Well? Are you going to sign or not?"
Grimacing at the idea, Sma nodded and began to secrete the appropriate painkillers from her drug glands. Feeling herself properly prepared, she reclaimed the blood-quill and scratched out her name as quickly as she could without appearing to be in a hurry. She absently mused that it was a good thing she had signed using only her familiar name; Diziet Sma, rather than with her full name. Once finished, she stoically set the blood-quill down and pushed the document towards the goblin.
"Let's see," the teller murmured, picking up the contract.
"Are you all right?" asked Harry anxiously, grabbing Sma's hand to inspect the injury.
"I'm fine," Sma assured him. "It's just a scratch. I'll have it looked at when I get home."
"I don't think that's necessary, Ms. Sma," said McGonagall. She drew her wand and held it over the bleeding cut. "May I?"
Sma considered the deputy-headmistress' offer, ignoring a weary communication from Skaffen-Amtiskaw, and gave a curt nod. McGonagall waved her wand back and forth, and with a muttered word the wound disappeared. Harry, who had been more than a little doubtful about this method of healing, stared in disbelief at the unblemished skin of Sma's hand. He ran his fingers over the area in question, not trusting what his eyes were showing him.
Impossible, commented Skaffen-Amtiskaw incredulously.
"I may not be as talented as Madam Pomfrey, but I can heal such minor injuries," said McGonagall.
"Thank you," said Sma, just as amazed as Harry, but hiding it better.
"Everything is in order," announced the goblin teller, drawing their attention back to him. "I will have this filed and properly recorded while you are seeing to the Potter vaults." A snap of his fingers summoned another goblin to them. "Grabnuck will escort you to the vaults."
"Follow me," directed Grabnuck gruffly.
Retrieving Skaffen-Amtiskaw from its place on the floor, Harry and Sma dutifully trailed behind the goblin, with Professor McGonagall keeping up the rear. The witch made note that Harry did not release his grip on Sma's hand as they walked.
"You know, I rather like this," said Harry to Sma, speaking in Marain.
Sma gave a soft sigh at her ward's insistence at avoiding English whenever possible. Instead, using the same language, she asked, "Like what?"
Harry gestured between themselves (including McGonagall) and Grabnuck. "This," he said. "The goblins are shorter and smaller than us."
"Why would you like that?"
"It's nice to be bigger for a change," replied Harry. "Think about it. Most of the other species the Culture deal with are bigger and stronger than us. There's the Homomdans, the Chelgrians, the Iridans, the Affront..."
"I get the idea," said Sma, holding up a hand to forestall the growing list.
"I'm just pointing out that it's a nice turnaround," concluded Harry.
Sma chuckled softly. Looking up, she realized that their guide had drawn to a halt and was staring at them with unfettered curiosity. A glance backwards revealed that Professor McGonagall was doing the same. "I'm sorry," she apologised, "but Harry's a bit stubborn when it comes to speaking in English."
"What language was that?" asked McGonagall.
Grabnuck leaned closer, trying not to make it obvious that he was listening closely.
Oh shit, Sma, I'm sorry, Harry transmitted through his lace. He suddenly realized that it would be rather difficult for Sma to explain his and her usage of an extra-terrestrial language.
It's okay, Harry, she reassured him.
But what can we say? he asked frantically.
Sometimes the best kind of lie is the unvarnished truth, contributed Skaffen-Amtiskaw, entering the silent conversation. Especially when they cannot confirm or deny its validity.
That actually works?
Certainly. Watch and learn, Harry.
"It's called Marain," Sma said to McGonagall. "It's the primary dialect of our Culture."
"Really? I've never heard of it before," the professor probed.
"Not many people here speak it."
McGonagall nodded thoughtfully. She turned to Harry and asked, "I gather then that English is not your home language?" On Harry's silent nod she raised both eyebrows a fraction. "You speak as if you have spoken it all your life."
Harry shrugged. "I had to learn when we decided I'd be going to Hogwarts."
At this the professor's eyebrows shot up almost to her hairline. "But it was only a few months ago that we sent off your acceptance letter!"
He smirked and replied, "I learn quickly."
The shop was narrow, shabby and just as dilapidated as the rest of Diagon Alley. Set above the door was a wooden signboard, painted a dark green with faded and peeling gold letters that declared, Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC. There was only a single window looking out onto the cobblestone street that wound through the alley. Displayed on a moth-eaten purple pillow was a single, elegantly carved wand.
Harry sent a weary glance to Sma before following Professor McGonagall through the door. While his guardian was well used to the relatively primitive conditions to be found on non-Culture worlds (not that there were all that many planets in the Culture), Harry was still trying to get used to it. Thanks to the meticulous nature of most Minds and drones, the Culture was a place considerably cleaner and more orderly than what he had encountered on Earth thus far. The seemingly mindless repetition of Privet Drive had been tolerable, despite the village's lack of individuality. Hogwarts was about what Harry had expected to find in a castle built out of stone blocks. Diagon Alley, however, was a place that he found almost intolerably crowded and ramshackle. He was not enjoying the experience.
Stepping into the wand shop, Harry found that the inside was not any better. The interior of the store was narrow and cramped, packed from floor to ceiling with shelves and shelves that extended into shadow. Piled upon these shelves were a great many narrow boxes, stacked in neat towers, one atop the other, that left scarcely any free space available.
"Ah, Harry Potter."
Harry spun round and saw an old man to one side of the entrance, standing alongside Professor McGonagall. He was dressed much as every other wizard Harry had thus far encountered, though he looked a tad on the dusty side. Much like the rest of the shop really. His hair was a wild mass of white surrounding his head like a halo of clouds. His eyes were unnaturally pale for a Terran and were focused unblinking upon Harry with alarming intensity.
"You are late, Mr. Potter," the man announced. "I had been expecting you some time ago."
"Mr. Potter, this is Mr. Ollivander, the proprietor," Professor McGonagall introduced.
"Pleased to meet you, sir," Harry nodded.
"Indeed, Mr. Potter, indeed. The honour, I dare say, is mine." Ollivander turned his gaze to the person that had entered after Harry. He regarded her with the same unnerving intensity. "And you would be young Mr. Potter's adoptive mother."
"Yes, I am," said Sma. She made a show of looking about the shop and asked, "There are wands in all these boxes?"
"Indeed," Ollivander confirmed. "Each wand is different and no two are exactly alike."
"We'd like to buy some wands then."
"Wands? As in the plural? Do you wish to purchase one for yourself as well, Miss...?"
"Diziet Sma," she told him. "And actually I'd like to buy a hundred wands."
Ollivander blinked, the words simply not registering properly. Professor McGonagall, standing alongside him, had much the same reaction. "One hundred wands!" he finally managed to exclaim, "Whatever for?"
Sma gave him the matter-of-fact answer, "To take them apart, of course."
"Take them apart?" repeated Ollivander breathlessly, sounding horrified by the very idea. He stood perfectly still, staring at Sma for a long while before he managed to stammer out a weak, "I have some old pre-owned ones, if you'd like."
"Those would be fine," Sma allowed with a gracious smile.
"Perhaps we should find Mr. Potter's wand first," prompted McGonagall, having recovered from her own surprise at Sma's request for so many wands.
"Yes, yes," Ollivander stepped up to Harry and withdrew a silver tape measure from his pocket. "Which is your wand arm, Mr. Potter?"
"Wand arm?" repeated Harry dumbly. He understood what the old man was referring to, of course, but was too put off by the absurdity of the question to bring himself to answer it.
"Which hand do you write with?"
Writing was hardly something widely practiced in the Culture, though every school-aged child was taught how. For the most part people used either keyboards (considered somewhat antiquated and quaint) or they simply dictated whatever they wanted to record. Harry, who had not written anything in several years, took a moment to remember.
"I write with my left hand, sir," he answered.
"Indeed? Both your parents were right-handed, as I recall."
"You knew my parents?" asked Harry as Ollivander released the tape and watched as it began to measure its way about Harry's body. He repressed that part of him that wanted to know how it was doing this. Skaffen-Amtiskaw was doubtless recording everything. They could speculate about it later.
"I remember every wand I have every sold, Mr. Potter. Every last one," Ollivander told him.
"What wands did my parents use?"
"You mother's first wand was made of willow, with a unicorn hair at its centre. Ten and a quarter inches long. Your father, on the other hand, was selected by a mahogany wand with a dragon heartstring core. A powerful wand. Eleven inches long."
"You say the wand selected James Potter," noted Sma. "What do you mean by that?"
"It is the wand that chooses the wizard, Ms. Sma. Or the witch," replied Ollivander.
"How could an inanimate piece of wood, with some dead animal remains choose anything?"
"Magic, my dear lady, magic."
"That will do," Ollivander decided and the tape measure rolled itself back up and dropped to the floor. Ignoring the discarded implement, the wand maker returned to where Harry was standing, several boxes piled in his arms. "Now then, Mr. Potter. Let's begin, shall we? Here we go; Oak and phoenix feather. Exactly twelve inches. A common enough combination and length. Good as a benchmark. Go on – give it a wave."
Harry grasped the wand that Ollivander handed him and stared blankly at it. It looked like nothing more than a nicely carved stick of wood. He could feel a slight tremor in the hyperspace skein, but hardly enough to worth mentioning. He glanced to where Sma was standing.
It's a wooden stick with a bird's feather sealed inside. Nothing out of the ordinary, said Skaffen-Amtiskaw.
"Today, Mr. Potter," prompted Ollivander.
Relenting to the strange man's order, Harry weakly waved the wand about. He had barely managed to move his wrist back and forth before Ollivander suddenly leaned in and snatched the wand away from him.
"Clearly not," he said, setting the wand aside and presenting another to the perplexed boy. Once Harry had the new wand in hand, he recited, "Fourteen inches, willow, containing one unicorn tail-hair."
Again Harry focused all of his senses on the wand. Again he found nothing to suggest that it was anything more than it appeared to be. Seeing that Ollivander was watching expectantly, and little impatiently, Harry sighed in resignation and gave this other wand a wave.
"No, no, no," Ollivander proclaimed, almost instantly snatching the wand away as well.
"I get the feeling that this is going to take a while," commented Sma, addressing her remark to Professor McGonagall.
McGonagall nodded slightly and said, "Sometimes it does, but Mr. Ollivander usually finds a match after half a dozen tries or so."
This prediction, however, soon proved to be false. The pile of discarded wands began to grow, soon reaching the point where they had a tendency of rolling off the counter and falling to the floor with a clatter. Ollivander, however, scarcely seemed to notice. Indeed, the wand maker seemed to grow more and more delighted with each failure. Apparently he considered Harry to be quite the challenge to his wand matching skills.
"A tricky customer indeed, Mr. Potter, but not to worry – we'll find a match for you somewhere." Ollivander paused, as if struck by an idea. He appeared to ponder for a moment, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "I wonder – yes, why not?" He dashed back into the very depths of the shop and returned a minute later with a box that he held almost reverently. "Holly and phoenix feather – an unusual combination that requires particular attention when creating it. Eleven inches."
Harry took hold of the proffered wand and swished it about with the same frustrated resignation that he had used for the last dozen wands. Ollivander watched him with eager anticipation. When nothing happened, Harry waited a moment – expecting the man to grab the wand away from him, as he had done with all the others. A glance to see what the delay was showed that Ollivander had instead affected an utterly perplexed expression. Harry gave the wand a second wave, the first he had managed thus far. Again, nothing happened.
"Very strange. Very strange," Ollivander muttered.
"Do we really need one of these things?" asked Sma, who was sitting tiredly on one of the available spindle chairs. Her interest in Harry's wand selection had waned into boredom after the first dozen wands had proven incompatible. She checked the time on her wristwatch, a concession to Terran fashion, and saw that they had been there for nearly an hour.
"I don't understand it," Ollivander shook his head.
"Perhaps Mr. Potter is a very tricky customer," suggested McGonagall, also looking somewhat bored by the proceedings.
"It can't be – at least one of the wands should have had some reaction to the magic he puts into them," countered Ollivander.
"Wait," Harry held up a hand to forestall the man from reclaiming the wand. "I'm supposed to channel, uh, magic through the wand?"
"Of course you must, lad," Ollivander confirmed. "How else do you expect to see if your magic is compatible with the wand?"
"Oh." Harry resisted the urge to blush. "Perhaps you should have told me that before we went to all this trouble."
Ollivander blinked owlishly at the young boy and asked, "Do you mean to say, Mr. Potter, that your magic hasn't touched any of the wands? Remarkable for one so young to have such control over their magic. Most children cannot prevent their magic from leaking into the wands, which is why I only ever need for them to give the wand a wave or two."
Straightening up in preparation, Harry took a deep breath, closed his eyes and focused on the Hyperspace Grid. Drawing from both available layers, he directed the grid energy to flow through his body, gathering it in his left hand. Opening his eyes, he held the wand out in front of him and gave a sharp flicking motion, whilst at the same time releasing the energies he held within him. The result was much more than he had expected. Or anyone else for that mattered.
A wave of concussive energy exploded out of the wand tip, racing out and flattening everything in its path. There was a loud crash as the shop window exploded outwards, spraying shards of shattered glass out into the alley. The front counter careened backwards until it crashed into the shelves, which had themselves been blown sideways and toppled over by the blast. Wooden beams splintered under the strain and impact, sending tiny slivers of wood flying into the air. Boxes of wands were scattered about like leaves caught in a hurricane; their contents flung around as their lids were knocked open. Some of the wands were caught in the wake of the energy blast and were in turn tossed throughout the shop interior.
If this happened with every customer that passed through the doors, then it was a wonder the building was still standing, Harry mused. Thinking that this had to be conclusive proof that the wand was compatible with him, thereby ending this rigmarole, he smiled and gave the wand in question a satisfied smirk. The expression fell off his face as he realized that the wand had been reduced in length by half – clearly unable to withstand the strength of the grid energy that had been forced through it.
Harry looked at the smouldering stub he now held. "Bit too much, huh?"
He tried not to wince as, in the very back of the shop, a section of ceiling collapsed.
It had taken another half an hour before the group were able to leave Ollivanders. Most of this time involved Professor McGonagall repairing the damage, while Mr. Ollivander tried to coach Harry in using enough magic to register with the wands, yet not destroy everything before him. The deputy headmistress had three close calls before he managed to find the appropriate level of intensity. He also destroyed a further five wands in the process, much to Ollivander's dismay and Sma's not so secret amusement.
In the end, however, everything was resolved and Harry left the shop with a wand of his own. It was eleven and two thirds of an inch long, carved from Sequoia sempervirens wood, harvested by Ollivander's grandfather during the American War of Independence, and containing a phoenix feather core. Sma, after very little haggling (everyone involved was too tired to put up more than a token effort), emerged with a large box containing a hundred second-hand wands of all combinations and sizes. This included the six wands Harry had accidentally destroyed.
As it was shortly after noon the trio delayed the remainder of their shopping trip for a quick lunch at the nearby Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour. While Professor McGonagall had a rather sedate cup of tea, with a blueberry muffin, both Harry and Sma indulged in wide variety of sweet confections that left the deputy headmistress wondering if Madam Pomfrey's conclusions about Harry's health had been accurate or not. Even Ron Weasley would have been hard pressed to eat so much in a single setting - though doubtless with far less acceptable manners.
After finishing up with a large chocolate, banana and bubblegum swirl milkshake, which they shared like a pair of teenagers on a date (to McGonagall's disquiet), Harry and Sma spent a good fifteen minutes complementing and charming Florean Fortescue himself into a starry eyed daze. Finishing with the ice-cream parlour, the group, trailed by Butch and Sylvester, made their way to the next stop on their shopping trip.
Harry, who still had trouble understanding the concept of shops and stores, decided that Flourish and Blotts was more like a library than anything else. Much like Ollivanders, though considerably larger, the store was filled with shelving that reached from floor to ceiling and stretched back as far as he could see. Books of all shapes and sizes were stacked throughout, some even piled haphazardly on the shop floor.
"Wow," he breathed in honest awe. McGonagall actually cracked a pleased smiled, though she quickly hid it.
"This is impressive," agreed Sma, craning her head back to view the stacks.
"The largest bookstore in Britain," announced the shop manager, coming over to them. He looked pleasantly surprised as he said, "Professor McGonagall, it's a rare treat to see you in the middle of a term."
"We have a student that's only just joining us," explained McGonagall, indicating to Harry.
"Ah, I see," the man nodded. He looked Harry over and asked, "So, a standard set of third-year books I gather. What electives are you taking?"
Harry, who was examining a nearby book (The Really Big Book of Really Big Things) that was actually taller than he was, stifled a giggle and corrected, "Actually I'm only starting my first year at Hogwarts."
The manager blinked in surprised and looked Harry over a second time. "Really?" he asked. "You don't look like a firsty."
Sma smiled mischievously and said, "You'd be amazed what a healthy lifestyle can accomplish."
Professor McGonagall, who had been watching quietly and hiding her own amusement, jerked in surprise. Those were the exact words that Madam Pomfrey had spoken to the headmaster in their morning meeting. She looked suspiciously at Sma, wondering if this was merely a coincidence or something more. Sma, seeing her expression, winked rakishly before turning back to the store manager.
"Then you'll be wanting..." the man prompted.
"We'll take one of each," said Sma decisively.
"One set of first-year books? No problem, ma'am, would there be anything else?" the manager nodded.
"You misunderstand," said Sma. "We will take one copy of every book you have in stock."
"Every book?" repeated the manager dumbly.
Sma smiled cheekily at him and said, "I'm an avid reader."
Adopting a disbelieving expression the manager asked, "Are you certain you can afford this, ma'am? The cost would be--"
"Money means nothing to me," interrupted Sma, speaking literally.
The manager was too flabbergasted to respond right away. Once he managed to gather himself, he said, "All right, but it will take a while to get everything together for you to carry away. Of course, we'll shrink it for you, but..."
"It's a bit much to carry, even if you did shrink it down for us," Sma observed, turning an eye back to the many bookshelves. She was also reluctant to have anything shrunk due to the fact that they had no idea of how to later unshrink them. She nodded thoughtfully and then handed the man a business card. "Could you have them delivered to this address? We'd be glad to pay a little extra for your trouble."
This, to McGonagall's astonishment, set the trend for every store they visited. Harry would acquire exactly what was listed in his supply list and Sma would then buy one example of everything else the shop happened to have in stock. The professor eventually gave up trying to tally exactly how much money the pair spent in their shopping spree. It was a small fortune though; more than even the Malfoys could comfortably spend at any one time.
After having visited and sampling all that Diagon Alley had to offer the group retired to the Leaky Cauldron. It was now late in the afternoon and the Professor's first act upon entering the pub was to order a small gillywater. She did not often drink liquor, especially on a school day, but her time with Harry and Sma had been exhausting in more ways than one. The boy had a habit of asking questions about the strangest things at the most inopportune moments. The fact that Sma would frequently add her own opinion, usual one that was not very complimentary, left McGonagall feeling rather set upon. Taking a seat at one of the many empty tables, she sipped her drink and watched Harry and Sma say their goodbyes. Doing her best not to listen in, she did get the impression that it was a poignant moment.
"Try not to blow up any more sticks, please," pleaded Sma.
Harry rolled his eyes and answered dutifully, "Yes, Sma."
"And whatever you do, don't let them know about the small drones."
"Butch won't be a problem. Sylvester..."
"Well try to keep the stupid thing quiet. And make sure you never go anywhere without your knife-missile. The small-drones probably won't be able to follow you around to all your classes, so it'll be your first line of defence."
"Don't worry so much, Sma," Harry assured her. "It's a school."
"A school with trolls running around," muttered Sma.
Knowing better than to argue, Harry asked, "Anything else?"
Sma nodded, "Yes, keep an eye..." She paused to glance at McGonagall. "Keep an eye open for this 'stone' that was mentioned during their meeting this morning. Whatever it is, they seem rather concerned about its safety."
"They were probably talking about the Philosopher's Stone," said Harry, recalling his studies aboard the No Posted Speed Limit. "There's a few other 'stones' mentioned in the planet's mythology, but that's the most prominent. Supposedly it can transmute base metals into gold. Waste of time, really. It's probably being kept hidden somewhere on the third-floor corridor that Dumbledore warned us about."
"Yes, well, I imagine it would be considered quite important then," said Sma, noting that Harry's conclusion was identical to the one reached by the Minds.
"These people's obsession with gold is disturbing," Harry muttered.
Sma drew him into a hug and said, "Just keep an ear out for any mention of it. The Minds are curious."
Harry snorted and asked, "Why? The Culture already has the technology to transmute elements."
"Yes, but this is magic we're talking about," grinned Sma.
"Fine," relented Harry, "but you owe me for it."
"Oh? And what do you want?" asked Sma.
Harry declared his intentions by leaning up and kissing his guardian with all the passion he could muster. Professor McGonagall, who had been trying to give the pair an illusion of privacy to say their farewells, jerked back so violently that she caused her chair to toppled over. Scrabbling to her feet, McGonagall stared at her newest student in sheer disbelief. Skaffen-Amtiskaw, fully aware of the witch's reaction, made a note to discuss matters of propriety with young Harry. While such interaction would have scarcely raised an eyebrow in the Culture (Harry was not Sma's biological child, after all) it was fairly scandalous by Terrestrial terms. By some miracle of programming, Sylvester was intelligent enough to remain quiet and not put forth any commentary.
Sma, who had been expecting such a reaction (Harry's attraction to her was well remarked upon), simply went with the moment and returned the kiss. She did, however, note that her charge was a pretty good kisser for his age. He was by no means as experienced as the older lovers she preferred, but it was enough to make her wonder how good he would be at other activities. Something to consider for the future.
"Getting a little brash, are we?" she murmured, pulling away slowly.
"I know what I want, that's all," he quietly replied.
"And what makes you think you'll get what you want?"
Harry answered Sma's question with a hooded look. "Because I never stop until I do, Sma. You know that."
Sma grinned in acknowledgement to his point and playfully ruffled his already messy hair. "Well, don't expect me to reciprocate for a while yet. You're still a bit young for my tastes. Maybe after you graduate from Hogwarts."
"Bribery?" asked Harry.
"I'll hold you to that."
"I'm a woman of my word."
That said, Sma pulled Harry in for another hug. She planted a soft and chaste kiss on his forehead. "Stay safe, darling, and don't hesitate to call me for anything that bothers you. And make sure you're always in contact with the Fault, or the drone. If anything happens; cut loose with the small-drones and your knife-missile. That should gain us enough time to come for you."
"I will," Harry promised.
Sma blinked back tears as she stepped away, reluctant to leave him. She had been separated from Harry before, called away by Special Circumstances, but those occasions had been few and far between. The Minds preferred to keep her close to her charge, even though he had a plethora of friends and pseudo-family to look after him. This time, however, it was Harry that would be leaving her to accomplish the tasks set before him. It was an unpleasant turnaround.
Good luck, Harry, projected Skaffen-Amtiskaw, rising into the air and dipping a corner in the boy's direction. Its aura field was a deep and sad purple with stripes of formal blue and proud sapphire. Luckily the Leaky Cauldron was mostly empty ahead of the dinnertime rush, so there was only Professor McGonagall and Tom to witness its actions. The publican stared at the floating block of colour for several seconds before shrugging off the entire episode as nothing more than some strange piece of magic.
"Thanks, Skaffy," said Harry quietly, acknowledging the drone's farewell.
Sma walked to where her companion was hovering and took hold of the faux handle its disguise field was projecting. Skaffen-Amtiskaw promptly resumed its faux black leather appearance and lowered itself to the appropriate height to make it appear that Sma was carrying it.
Giving a somewhat tremulous, but mostly confident smile, Sma exited the pub. Harry looked after her, even after the door had swung shut, until Professor McGonagall approached and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. Shaking himself out of his thoughts of how he seemed to be making a lot of goodbyes recently, he released a small dose of Calm into his system and he looked up to her. He considered her slightly paler than normal face and the sharp line of her lips. Clearly, the witch was feeling concerned. He had a feel he knew why.
"Do you - does she - does that happen often?" McGonagall finally managed to ask.
"That's the first time I've ever kissed her like that," said Harry.
"Has she ever kissed you like that?"
"No, of course not."
McGonagall sighed softly in relief, though she still felt that the matter was wholly inappropriate. Hoping to understand the reasoning behind what she had seen, she asked, "Then why did you do that? She's your mother, after all."
Harry looked at her with some annoyance. "She is my mother," he agreed, "but she is not actually related to me."
"Perhaps, but she is old enough to be your mother. Such familiarity is hardly proper."
Harry briefly considered telling her that Sma was many times older than Lily Potter had been at the time of her death, but decided against it. Their parting kiss had already stirred up too much attention. No need to add any more fuel to the fire. Hoping to let the matter drop, he tried to turn the conversation to their imminent departure.
"Will we be riding in the... uh... the..." Harry trailed off, unsure of how to describe the official Hogwarts flivver.
"We will be Apparating to Hogsmeade; there will be a carriage waiting to take us to the castle," said McGonagall, somewhat relieved at the change of topic.
"Hogsmeade, that's the village in the valley, right?" checked Harry.
"Yes," confirmed McGonagall.
"I've only ever, er, Apparated either line-of-sight or to places I've already been," Harry confessed.
McGonagall turned to him with a stern expression on her face and stated, "You will not be Apparating yourself, Mr. Potter. Regardless of whatever the law may be in Magical South Africa, here in England children are not allowed to take such blatant risks." She secured her hat and extended a hand, which Harry took hold of. "I shall Apparate you alongside myself to our destination."
With a crack of displaced air, Harry and McGonagall disappeared.
"May I have your attention please?"
Dinner in the Great Hall was in full swing and the entire population of Hogwarts was in attendance. At the sound of the headmaster's announcement, the students hushed and turned to face the staff table. Dumbledore stood patiently and waited for them (and some of the staff as well) to finish settling. Once things were quiet, he began to speak.
"As you are all no doubt aware," he said, "last night one of our students, Hermione Granger," he indicated to the girl sitting at the Gryffindor table, "found herself faced with certain death at the hands of a rogue mountain troll."
All eyes focused on Hermione, causing the bushy-haired girl to blush furiously and duck her head in embarrassment. She did, however, take some small pleasure in the chagrined expression on Ron Weasley's face. Professor McGonagall had, after returning to Gryffindor Tower the previous evening, given the boy a proper dressing down for the words he had used after Charms class; the words that had sent her fleeing to the girls' bathroom.
Attention returned to Dumbledore as he continued, "You are also, no doubt, aware that Miss Granger was rescued by the fortuitous arrival of a young wizard who, at great personal risk, saved her from harm and defeated the troll. I am speaking of none other than Harry Potter."
A wave of hushed voices raced through the students at this definite confirmation of the rumours that had been flying about all day. The whisperings had an undertone of excitement, mixed with both awe and wonder. No doubt a great many new tall tales would be circulating before the night was out.
"Yes, yes," Dumbledore nodded. "The Boy-Who-Lived-And-Vanished has at last come home."
Shouts, cheers, whistles and applause greeted this pronouncement, though restricted primarily to the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables. Ravenclaw was more reserved, but still pleased to hear the news. Slytherin, however, were not enthused at all and only gave enough reaction to meet the demands of common courtesy.
With his usual impeccable timing, Dumbledore gestured to the doors and proclaimed, "And I present to you now; the Boy-Who-Returned!"
Silently, as the hinges were charmed against creaking, the doors to the Great Hall swung open. Everyone, even the Slytherins, craned their necks to get a better look at what was being revealed. Once again whispers erupted at the sight of the waiting Professor McGonagall and Harry Potter. As the pair strode into the Hall, allowing the students a proper look, the hushed conversations grew in intensity.
Having reclaimed his seat, Dumbledore could understand the various reactions to the sight of the wizarding world's long-lost hero. Harry Potter was, most certainly, not what anyone would have expected. He was exceptionally tall for an eleven-year-old and could, at first glance, easily pass for a third-year student. He did not carry himself with the arrogance of some celebrities, nor was he unnerved by the attention focused upon him. Instead, he strode down centre aisle with a calm acceptance, as if he were well used to being in the proverbial spotlight.
Not for the first time since meeting the boy, the headmaster found himself wondering if this was a prudent course of action. Had Harry been raised by the Dursleys, there would have been no surprises; Dumbledore would have known exactly what to expect from the boy. It was much the same with most of the students, such as Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy. He knew their parents and therefore knew how the children had been raised.
Harry, however, had been raised by a completely unknown factor; Diziet Sma and her unnamed (and only obliquely mentioned) friends. As such, Harry Potter was a mystery. And Dumbledore hated mysteries. Well, unless of course he was the one keeping them.
Reaching the raised dais for the staff table, Professor McGonagall brought Harry to a halt in front of the Sorting Hat and its stool. "We'll begin your Sorting in a moment, Mr. Potter," she said softly. "Wait here, please."
Dumbledore waited several moments, silently observing the young wizard standing before him. There was a great deal of hushed whispering going on amongst the students. Harry ignored it all, including Dumbledore's appraisal, and stood patiently in place.
"Welcome to Hogwarts, Mr. Potter," Dumbledore finally greeted.
"Thank you, Headmaster," replied Harry.
"You're a bit late, perhaps, but that's preferable to you not attending at all." Harry accepted this statement without reaction. Dumbledore cleared his throat and, for the first time since becoming headmaster, began to explain the school's house system. "As you may know, there are four houses at Hogwarts, representing each of the four founders. Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin," he pointed out each house as he named them. "Each student is Sorted into the house that best matches their personality. Gryffindor house typifies those of excessive bravery; Hufflepuff is home to those with a solid work ethic; Ravenclaw is a gathering of those that value intellectual pursuits; and Slytherin attracts those ruled by their ambitions."
Harry nodded in understanding and asked, "How do you determine which students possess which traits?"
After a nod from Dumbledore, McGonagall took over the explanation. Clearing her throat, she indicated the Sorting Hat; resting placidly on the stool between them. "This is the Sorting Hat," she explained. "Place it upon your head and it will find the proper place for you.
"You have to be joking," said Harry, staring flatly at her.
"I assure you, Mr. Potter, I am not," McGonagall replied, having expected such a reaction.
"You honestly believe that some dirty old rag can determine which house would be the best match for my personality?"
"My, such scepticism," the Sorting Hat drawled, its brim parting in mimicry of lips as it spoke.
"A talking hat," said Harry, bewildered. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Why am I even surprised by this? After the talking paintings, a talking hat is almost normal."
"This is Hogwarts School, boy," the Hat proclaimed with authority. "There is no such thing as 'normal'."
Harry looked blankly at the Hat and then to the waiting McGonagall. He shifted his focus from one to the other several times before shrugging. "Fine. Why not? Let's throw logic and common sense out the window. Goodness knows I've never used them."
Ignoring the young wizard's sarcastic tone, McGonagall motioned for him to take his place on the stool beside her.
"Sma is not going to believe this," grumbled Harry, taking his seat on the stool.
Professor McGonagall settled the Hat down on his head and the last thing Harry saw, before the Hat dropped over his eyes, was the expectant faces of his future fellow students. They all seemed much more excited about the whole endeavour than he was. With his sight hindered by the black inside of the Hat, Harry closed his eyes and waited patiently. He hoped this wouldn't take too long.
"Oh my," said a small voice, causing Harry to start with surprise. "Oh my," it repeated. "This is... different. Very different. And very difficult."
"Shit!" exclaimed Harry aloud, causing the rest of the Great Hall to titter in amusement.
"No need to be alarmed, young Potter," said the voice. "It is only me; the hat on your head."
"Insane, the lot of you," muttered Harry.
"Strange that you should think so, many of those here would say it was you that is insane. And no need to speak out loud; I can hear your thoughts quite clearly. It's actually a pleasant change, having to Sort someone with such an organised mind. But is that you, I wonder, or this... machine woven into your brain that is producing such order?"
"What?" asked Harry dumbly as the Hat's words sank in.
"So where shall I put you?" the Hat wondered. "You could be great, you know, it's all here in your head--"
Harry's mind finally managed to accept what was happening to him. Despite that the Hat had laid everything out in plain, he had initially refused to believe that it was actually daring to read his mind. Practically the only form of private property the Culture recognised was thought and memory. Anything and everything else was, theoretically, available to anybody at any time. Reading someone else's mind, without their express permission, was considered almost as heinous a crime as murder and rape. Once the realization was completely formed that the Sorting Hat was doing just that, a wave of unadulterated rage exploded within him.
"Meat Fucker!" snarled Harry, pulling the Hat off his head and furiously throwing it aside. Leaping to his feet he began to swear up a storm, unleashing a string of obscenities that made full use of every single language he knew. He made particular use of German, Russian and 3rd Era Galactic Common, whose harsher tones lent themselves to the fury that coursed through him.
Harry's tirade came to an abrupt halt as Dumbledore's voice rang out. The boy turned to stare at the headmaster with wide eyes. The sheer aura of command radiating from the old wizard was almost palpable; so much so that he felt his words stick in his throat.
Dumbledore stared back at him; his face set in a stern frown, and said, "I will thank you to keep a polite tone of voice when in the company of others."
Swallowing round the constriction in his throat, Harry hung his head and contritely apologised, "Sorry."
"Now, what seems to be the problem, Mr. Potter?"
Harry looked up and answered, "The Hat read my mind. Without permission, it read my mind."
The Hat, having been scooped up from where it had been hurled, spoke from McGonagall's grasp, "And how else do you expect me to Sort you then, hmm? This is not some silly little game, Potter; this is what will determine your entire future here!"
There was an explosive crack as the stool splintered into kindling. For the first time in a decade, Harry Potter had unleashed a burst of accidental magic. He glared hatefully at the Hat and snarled, "You violated my mind! You never even bothered to ask - you just jumped in there and started rummaging about! I don't care what you backward fools might say, but where I come from that's called rape!"
A ringing silence descended over the Great Hall on the heels of Harry's words.
"How dare you?"
The Sorting Hat spoke barely above a whisper, but everyone present heard it clearly. "How dare you?" it repeated, its voice gaining in volume with each word. "How dare you say such a thing? I have been here for a thousand years and have Sorted every single student to ever attend this school. Every. Single. Student."
"Sort my limp dick," retorted Harry. "You raped their minds just as you raped mine!"
"Mr. Potter--" began Dumbledore, rising to his feet.
"Shut up, Dumbledore!" bellowed the Hat, interrupting the headmaster. It shifting in place and seemed to glare across at the old man. "This is between me and the boy. Your interference is not needed and certainly not desired. So sit down and shut up."
Blinking in consternation at being addressed in such a fashion, by a hat of all things, Dumbledore sank back into his seat.
With a huff the Hat returned its attention back to Harry. "You would dare accuse me of such a – a vile action."
"Did you ask for my permission first?" asked Harry.
"I did not need to," retorted the Hat. "Such permission was assumed when you allowed me to be put on your head."
"So you excuse your crimes by the assumption that your victims knew what you were doing?"
"Do you enjoy it?" asked Harry. "You do, don't you? Seeing people's deepest secrets, their most private thoughts? What, does it make you feel better than them? Stronger, perhaps? Smarter? Or do you get some perverse pleasure in knowing that you can violate them so utterly without their knowledge? That they're literally lining up for you to have a go at them?"
"ENOUGH!" roared the Hat, quivering in a fury that matched Harry's earlier anger.
"The truth hurts, doesn't it?" smirked Harry. "Or is it because I've revealed your atrocity to the other children?"
"I love the children, more than you could comprehend! My only reason for existing is the children! To Sort them into the correct house, to guide them along the best path for them to succeed! Nothing is more important to me!"
"And yet you routinely abuse their most intimate privacy."
"Their thoughts and secrets are as safe as can be," argued the Hat passionately. "I guard them with all that I am. The very magic that created me would see that I was undone, completely destroyed, before I betrayed a single one of them!"
"Forgive me if I remain sceptical as to the trustworthiness of a piece of cloth," retorted Harry.
"Do not presume to laud your own moral superiority over me, Potter," the Hat warned. "Remember, I saw what was in your head. Not much of it, not all of it, not before you threw me off, but I saw enough."
"I've never done anything like what you have," retaliated Harry.
"I do not speak of you, boy. I speak of the Culture; the people that raised you; the Minds that direct you."
Harry was frozen in place, glaring at the Sorting Hat, not with anger, but with caution. "You don't know what you're talking about," he said frostily. "You and this castle have stood for a thousand years, yes, but our history goes back many times further. And unlike you lot; we've learned from our mistakes."
The Hat seemed to adopt a sly expression and asked, in passable Marain, "Like the Chelgrian Caste War?"
The mention of Culture's most recent (not to mention devastating) Contact blunder, caused Harry to rock back a step. His glare transformed into a look of pale disquiet. "You know about that?" he asked, in the same language. Even as he wondered how the Hat knew Marain, another part of him was glad that nobody else would be able to understand them.
"Aye," confirmed the Hat. "You were thinking of a girl, Chomba, and the music you both listened to. A symphony composed by a Chelgrian exile to commemorate something even more terrible. Portisia and Junce."
"Had attempted to sue for peace several times before that final battle," the Hat interrupted. "Fifty years of warfare, too horrible to speak of, yet your people refused to accept anything less than their total surrender."
"Perhaps," Harry agreed, warily, "but we are not so childish as to forswear our responsibility in those atrocities. Or for what happened on Chel. We intervened when we saw what was happening. We admitted our involvement. Can you and your people say the same?"
"Accepting blame does not come easily to humans," replied the Hat.
"I suppose. But tell me this; Chel was a mistake, as were the Twin Novae. How many atrocities in your history were the same? The Spanish Inquisition? The Rape of Nanking? The Nazi Holocaust? The Sharpeville Massacre? Were those acts of goodwill gone wrong?"
"And you don't have anything similar in your own past?"
"Of course we do," Harry readily admitted. "But our past is very far removed from your present."
"Hmph, perhaps," admitted the Hat.
"So..." mused Harry after several moments of silence between the pair. "What now?
The Hat regarded Harry for a long minute, staring at him with such focused concentration that the boy almost wondered how its intelligence would compare against that of a Mind. He also worried, if only a little, over the possibility that the cursed thing was trying to read his thoughts from a distance. Only the fact that the Hat needed to be on his head for that reassured him.
"Well, you certainly have a sharp mind," the Hat finally concluded, reverting back to English. "The belligerence of a Gryffindor. The stubbornness of a Hufflepuff. The ruthlessness of a Slytherin. But still... a sharp mind." It twisted to face the headmaster, who (along with everyone else) had been watching and listening intently. "Dumbledore," it directed, "put the brat in RAVENCLAW!"
"I beg your pardon?" asked Dumbledore, regarding the Hat incredulously.
"You heard me, you old coot," the Hat grumbled. "I've seen and heard enough. Put me on his head again or not, it makes no difference. It is my decision that Harry Potter be Sorted into Rowena's house. Now send me back to my shelf - I need a long rest after this. Don't bother me again until next year's Sorting."
Blinking rapidly, the headmaster looked from the Hat to Harry and back several times. Finally he nodded slowly and motioned for Harry to move. "Very well," he said. "Mr. Potter, your house awaits you."
Harry nodded, just as slowly and warily, and walked over to the appropriate table. Not unexpectedly, he was greeted by silence. The events of the past few minutes were a lot to take in and his new housemates were in no condition to welcome him with any enthusiasm.
The remainder of dinner that night was a very quiet affair.
New M16-level Core Group formed. n8
Name: Interesting Times Gang (Act VI).
x Limivorous (GSV, Ocean Class):
And so it begins.
x Different Tan (GCU, Mountain Class):
Why do you always try to sound like an all-wise, all-knowing mystical sage?
x Limivorous (GSV, Ocean Class):
I'm a Culture Mind. Of course I'm all-wise and all-knowing.
x Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The (GSV, Plate Class):
x Stafl (Orbital Hub, Seseris system, solo):
And the mystical sage?
x Limivorous (GSV, Ocean Class):
Well, it seems appropriate, considering.
x Fate Amenable To Change (GCU, Escarpment Class):
x End In Tears (Rock, First Era):
Let us please dispense with the witty banter. What of our information gathering efforts?
x Time And Again (MSV Desert Class):
Sma's shopping expedition is already bearing fruit. Most of the supplies and equipment she purchased have already been delivered to the London penthouse we're operating from.
x Stood Far Back When The Gravitas Was Handed Out (GSV, Plate Class):
The It's Not My Fault is in the process of studying them.
x End In Tears (Rock, First Era):
And what of the books? Those will help us the most, if only in terms of constructing an accurate history for these "magic" users.
x Time And Again (MSV Desert Class):
The books have been delivered to Sma and Displaced to the Fault for transcription, despite the difficulties encountered.
x Fate Amenable To Change (GCU, Escarpment Class):
What difficulties could there possibly be in the scanning of books?
x Time And Again (MSV Desert Class):
Apparently, to facilitate their transport, the bookstore saw fit to shrink the books to a more manageable size.
x Stafl (Orbital Hub, Seseris system, solo):
They shrank the books?
x End In Tears (Rock, First Era):
Your attempt a humour is not amusing.
x Time And Again (MSV Desert Class):
I'm not joking. They shrank the books. Significantly. Sma was able to hold an entire encyclopaedia, thirty-six volumes, in the palm of her hand.
x End In Tears (Rock, First Era):
x Limivorous (GSV, Ocean Class):
x What Are The Civilian Applications? (GSV, Continent Class, Sub-Class Prompt, Limited):
So it would seem. How long will it be before the It's Not My Fault is able to transmit the completed scans to us?
x Time And Again (MSV Desert Class):
It has to scan the books using effector molecular imaging, as many of the shrunken pages are rather delicate – even under field manipulation. Image recognition scanning is thus not an option. At its current rate of progress it will have completed the task in another twenty-two seconds.
x End In Tears (Rock, First Era):
Slow, but acceptable.
x Serious Callers Only (LSV, Tundra Class):
x What Are The Civilian Applications? (GSV, Continent Class, Sub-Class Prompt, Limited):
x Stafl (Orbital Hub, Seseris system, solo):
x Different Tan (GCU, Mountain Class):
I think we'll be having some interesting reading in the near future.
x Limivorous (GSV, Ocean Class):