Author's note: Although labelled 'Harry Potter' this fanfiction is actually a recursive fanfiction for Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Less Wrong. To really enjoy this fic, you should probably first read that one. In fact, you should read that one anyway. It's awesome. But if you utterly refuse to, the short story is that Harry was raised by a scientist and now everything is different.
For those familiar with Methods of Rationality, this is a future!(rationalist!Harry) [Q: are character tags associative?] set in Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts. As such, it may become an AU if, at any point, canon updates disagree drastically with my wild guesses at what might happen to Harry in the future. Or if I come up with any cool ideas. Or if I get bored and disintegrate into shipping.
You have been warned.
On the upper levels of the Ministry of Magic, it was often difficult to find anywhere that could honestly be called quiet. Near constantly, people bustled in and out, delivering messages too important to be entrusted to the crowd of aeroplanes which darted overhead, skewering the unwary or unusually tall in their race to the top members of the government of Wizarding Britain. In the crowded corridors, it was unusual to pass a dozen metres without having to skirt around some vital murmured conversation sparked by a chance encounter. All around, there was an aura of communication, a low muttering whisper which to outsiders sometimes seemed just as likely to contain idle office gossip as the vital inner workings of a nation – particularly, someone had once observed, if those outsiders were regular readers of the Daily Prophet.
The one exception to the ever present discussions was also the subject of more than a few of them; a bastion of calm enclosed on all sides by thick, and some said curse proof, walls, and utterly inaccessible, for all but the most highly ranked, without a prior appointment: the Minister's Office.
It was there, within that precious bubble of silence, that Fudge now sat, regarding with some curiosity the woman opposite him.
Although he had been acquainted with her for many years, he still felt he knew little about her. That state of affairs was not unusual in such a busy office, but what little he did know had only served to heighten his curiosity. She was loyal, both to the Ministry itself and to Fudge personally and, unlike far too many of his staff, she seemed somewhat incorruptible. If everything he had observed of her was to be believed, she was that rarest of things – a politician truly devoted to the good of the nation and the upholding of its rightful government, and willing to do close to anything in the service of that cause.
"Dolores," he began. "Tell me – did you ever consider another career?"
She smiled sweetly, a sight which would strike terror into the heart of any Junior Undersecretary, and had once been, rumour had it, the last sight ever seen by one particularly rude copy boy.
"Why, I don't believe so," she said. "I began working for the Ministry straight out of Hogwarts. I never had reason to consider it."
"What about teaching?"
Umbridge's look of confusion disappeared as she realised what this was about. Although she did not always look it, Dolores had proven herself to be exceedingly intelligent on more than one occasion in the past – as top-level employees almost invariably were, if one was prepared to look hard enough. It was this intelligence, her loyalty, and above all her reputation for utter ruthlessness, which made her perfect for the task at hand.
"Hogwarts is a great tradition of this country," she said carefully. "If it were offered, I would relish the opportunity to pass on my experience to the next generation of wizard-kind."
"But unfortunately," Fudge continued. "Hogwarts has been somewhat unlucky as of late."
Dolores nodded. "The unfortunate death of Mr Diggory has generated a certain amount of negative attention."
"Of course, it would be a terrible loss if Hogwarts were to fail." Fudge smiled. "The Ministry cannot be seen to be complacent about such a national treasure."
"We must protect our country's heritage."
"Provide a watchful eye."
"Show our concern."
"Make sure everything is in order."
They had understood each other perfectly so far. But there was one question which could not go unanswered.
"Precisely," Fudge nodded. "For without order, there is chaos."
Umbridge's face was suddenly blank. She had heard the rumours, then – by now, who hadn't? But was she involved? He suspected that, if she knew more, she would have prepared a better reaction.
After all, she was in politics.
"Order is infinitely preferable," she said quietly.
"I agree." Fudge got to his feet, walking her to the door. "Thank you for your time, Dolores."
"Thank you, Minister."
He opened the door onto the thrum of the outer office, which quietened not inconsiderably at the sight of one of its most feared overseers.
Yes, Fudge thought to himself as Dolores walked away. Umbridge was the right person for the job.
If anyone could do it, she could.
Platform Nine and Three Quarters was a big place – larger than many of Hogwarts students realised. Certainly, it had surprised Evan that, while searching for a bathroom, he had somehow managed to stray away from the crowds, the tearful parents and the enthusiastic greetings of friends reunited after a long summer, and that he now found himself frightened and alone in the smoke.
It had been more frightening, although perhaps less surprising, to discover that he was not, in fact, alone.
"Why, look what we have here?" called a horribly familiar voice. "Gryffidiot can't find his way back to the train."
A high pitched laugh. He had brought his girlfriend, then. Those were the worst times, when there was someone to cheer him on. At first, Evan had thought he might hold back in front of her, but she wasn't at all squeamish. She seemed to enjoy it even more than he did.
Evan's hand went to his pocket, but his wand was still in his backpack with his other belongings. He had thought he would be safe on the platform. Clearly, he had gotten into bad habits over the summer, and now he was going to have to pay the price.
He spun around to face his tormentors.
They were not looking at him, but had, in turn, turned to face an approaching figure, shrouded in the September mist.
They had been followed. Perhaps he was not the only one who had lost his edge over the summer.
"You know," said a voice instantly familiar to all three. "This really isn't behaviour befitting of the name of Hogwarts."
The two bullies took a step back, almost involuntarily.
"What would the new first years think if they saw something like this? They might get completely the wrong idea."
The newcomer took a step forward, steam curling away to reveal a tall girl with slightly wild brown hair and a friendly smile.
"You see, I'm a prefect now," she continued, gesturing to the shiny blue badge she had already pinned to her cardigan.
As one, the trio's eyes drifted a couple of centimetres to the left, towards a small, circular pin bearing the stylised insignia of a sun.
"I really can't let this kind of thing just happen," she continued.
The couple drew closer together, holding tight onto each other.
The girl tipped her head to the side, as if considering a difficult problem. "But then, I suppose it is the first day of school. You were probably all just overexcited, weren't you?"
All three nodded.
"So I think it would be best if you just headed back to the train now, don't you?"
The trio turned to leave.
"Oh, and Evan?" his rescuer called. "If there's any more trouble in future, you can always come and talk to me. I'm sure I could help."
"Thank you, General Granger." It was best to be polite.
She smiled. "You can call me Hermione."
He nodded, hurrying after his tormentors.
He would never go to her. He had heard the rumours. Even after everything they had done to him, they didn't deserve that.
Hermione watched the three third-years hurrying away.
"You'd better keep an eye on those two, Malfoy," she called.
"I'll deal with it my way, Granger." Rolling his eyes, Draco stepped away from the wall and headed towards her. "So, you made Prefect?"
"Obviously. And you did too."
He, too, was wearing his badge, the Slytherin emerald contrasting sharply with the flame he wore next to it.
"Stop the evasion and get to the point," Draco told her. "You waited until Harry was saying goodbye to his parents and you made sure I saw you leaving. Whatever you want to say, we don't have long before he comes looking for us."
"Like you don't already know." Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Has he told you anything?"
"Of course not, or I would have found a way to let you know." Draco had been staying with Harry's family over the summer, but his attempts to learn more had all failed.
"No clues?" Hermione didn't look hopeful.
Draco paused. "He isn't a Prefect."
That got a reaction, albeit one that few would notice. A slight raising of the eyebrows, a tightening of the jaw – Hermione had been practising schooling her expression for several years, but there were always clues, if you knew the person well enough.
But then, Draco hardly needed her expression to reveal the surprise she must be feeling.
"I presume you've heard the official rumours?" Draco asked.
"Of course," Hermione acknowledged. "But we both know why that's impossible."
"True…" He let a hint of doubt creep into his voice.
She raised an eyebrow. "We were there. We saw it. What more evidence do you need?"
He shook his head. "But what else could it be? What wouldn't he tell us? He –" He dropped his voice, conscious that this place, though difficult to find, was still technically public. "He's changed, Hermione."
"None of us are the same people we used to be," she said coldly.
Draco just shook his head. She would understand soon enough, and then she would start to wonder too. How had Cedric Diggory died? Was Voldemort really back?
What exactly had happened to Harry in that maze?