AN: I really liked this one-shot, but there were some after-the-fact problems I had with it. So, in the spare time that I had reconstructing everything, I went through and tried to revise this to make it as strong as I possibly could. I don't own Harry Potter, and I hope you all enjoy.
"The Art of The Possible"
On any other day, ten year old Harry Potter would have headed back to Number 4 Privet Drive the second school was over. After all there week, the threat of more chores and the displeasure of his relatives would have been enough. On any other day, however, Dudley Dursley, his rather overweight blonde-haired cousin, wouldn't have been nearly as hacked off as he was today. Dudley had been, as usual, trying to shrug off another round of bad marks he and his friends were to take home on their latest exam, when he grabbed Harry's test in the hall outside of class. His cousin was hoping that Harry's marks were terrible enough that he and his friends could just laugh it off. The problem was that Harry had done slightly better, which generally wouldn't have mattered, except that the entire episode embarrassed Dudley in front of his friends. And after nine years of dealing with his bad-tempered cousin, Harry did not feel particularly like returning back to the Dursleys just to walk into the inevitable ambush Dudley and his gang had set up. Which led to now.
Here Harry was, standing in the local library. A place no other ten year old would want to be caught dead. If he had any other choice, he wouldn't be here either. Seeing as Dudley and company would ambush him when he arrived back, which would delay him from doing his chores- did he mention he had a lot of chores his Aunt was expecting to be done?-, which would lead to another shouting lecture from Uncle Vernon; he might as well do the thing minus getting the snot kicked out of him. Luckily, Dudley wasn't a patient person, and he and his cohorts would bugger off if Harry wasted enough time. So Harry just had to kill time, enough time, here to avoid the stupid ambush.
The stern librarian glared at him. He wasn't well liked thanks to his Aunt Petunia's gossip, he knew that, but there was nothing she could do as long as he didn't try to take a book out, right? Hoping he was right, Harry set off down the long, windy rows upon rows of books.
Literature? No- boring. History? Boring. Cooking? Don't care. Zoology? Stupid animals- he didn't like them, they didn't like him, right? Not that he'd ever seen more than the passing pigeon. Children's books? Perhaps… nah, he didn't feel like it. Politics? An Uncle Vernon rant about how corrupt everyone in the government was played in his head on cue and Harry wandered past. Bored, Harry walked over to a nearby table, where a copy of the day's newspaper sat, unused. If the layer of dust was any indication.
His Uncle always sat and read the paper, muttering about the "Damn blood-suckers" or the "Fools in power" or how "His pocket was being bled dry." Of course, the last was a rather popular expression his Uncle used whenever he was in the room. He knew he was hated at the Dursleys, of course, but why did his uncle hate the Government? Suddenly curious, and with nothing else to do, Harry flipped the paper over and read the headline, Coalition Agreement Over Regulatory Reform.
Naturally, to a bored ten-year old in a library only to kill time, this headline did not contain a significant amount of meaning. He glanced at the picture, seven men sitting at a table, all of them well dressed, but two of them, both dressed in crisp dark suits, shaking hands. The caption underneath read, Steven Fletcher and George Vitters, above, have come to an agreement on the necessary reform measures. The caption meant nothing to Harry, and neither did the names involved or the issue at hand. But one word at the top of article caught Harry's attention. "Political." Politics.
There was that funny word again. Politics. His Uncle clearly detested it, though his Uncle detested a lot of things. But if his Uncle hated it, it couldn't be all bad, right? Curious, Harry wandered over to the stern librarian that had glared at him before. She would know where he could find a dictionary in this mess.
"Excuse me, ma'am," Harry interrupted timidly.
"What, boy?" The librarian snarled, in a perfect imitation of Uncle Vernon.
"Where are the dictionaries?" Harry pressed on quickly, on the edge of losing his nerve and abandoning the whole thing.
The librarian stared at him, as if judging his very soul. Finally she glanced to his right. "Second floor, right hand side, past the Encyclopedia section." Harry was about to run off when she called back to him. "What word are you looking up?" Harry could only call it a grudging curiosity, if it was even that.
"Politics," Harry answered, moving away.
The librarian snorted, though this was unheard by Harry. "Figures he'd want to know about politics."
Harry wandered around a bit on the second floor, before he found the Encyclopedia section, and then a bunch of dictionaries. He walked over to one, a ratty old edition of the Oxford Dictionary, and began flipping through it. The dust that issued from the old book as he leafed through various apges actually made his eyes water. Finally, he found 'P', and then 'politics.' Intrigued, Harry leaned closer to see what the dictionary had to say.
"Let's see…" Harry muttered quietly. "Politics… governance- what's that? State and government? Principles? Theory? Debate and Compromise? Improvement in life?" Well, that sounded appealing, but really, it was apparently a pretty boring word. Why was he wasting his time again? Annoyed at all the effort he'd made for nothing, Harry was about to shut the dictionary when he noticed scribbles in the margin right next to the word. Curious, Harry leaned closer and read out loud, "The art of the possible." He blinked.
The art of the possible? What did that mean? And why would someone write that right next to the word he had just looked up? Still slightly bored, still slightly curious, he spent the next few moments trying to figure out an answer to his puzzle. He had no bloody clue. Well, there was nothing else for it, maybe that stern librarian would have some answers.
"Excuse me again, ma'am," Harry interrupted the librarian once more, who was now dusting shelves.
"Now see here boy, I have to keep this place clean and tidy and I don't have all deal to with your nonsense," she cut across heatedly. Fortunately, he was used to dealing with hostile people.
"I know, I know," Harry replied quickly, "But I was just wondering something. In the dictionary I looked in, there was something scribbled in the margin right next to the word-"
"What? Young hoodlums like yourself come in and vandalize my books all the time," the librarian snarled.
Harry held up his hands. "I just wanted to know why someone would scribble someone about 'art' and 'possible' right next to that word," He explained quickly.
The librarian snorted. "Politics is the art of the possible. Correct?" Harry nodded in amazement. How did she- "Or so some would have you believe. Load of tripe, that is."
"But what does that mean?" Harry asked, slightly annoyed. If he hadn't been so frustrated, he probably would have realized he was asking questions, a bad habit to fall in to… especially if he was around Aunt Petunia.
"Politics is the art of the possible? It's a Bismarck quote." Harry had no idea who Bismarck was. "It's supposed to mean that people meeting together and giving up and getting things they want in order to reach a final agreement, can achieve more than ever thought possible through any other means. That somehow everything can be solved best with negotiation," she bit out annoyed. "If you want to know more than that then spend some time in the Politics section. Either way, leave me alone!" She snarled, walking off.
Harry was floored. What on earth did she mean about negotiating and getting what you wanted? Because that sounded awesome. There were things he wanted- liked fewer chores- so… how did this work? Did it even work; she said it didn't really work right? Besides what did she know; she was kind of like an unholy mix of Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. He was tempted to dismiss everything he heard from her, seeing as she was clearly a nutty old bat, and wander off to find comic books or something, but still, his curiosity refused to be sated. The art of the possible… Almost without thinking, he wandered off back to the politics section.
He began idly browsing the shelves, looking for anything interesting that had to do with politics and 'the art of the possible.' He didn't find what he was looking for, but he did notice that a fair amount of books he looked at had the word 'Machiavelli' in their title. At the end of the row, he spotted a book titled The Prince… by Niccolo Machiavelli. Ah, so Machiavelli was a person. Wondering where this person fit into the mess with politics, and if there was something to all of this talk of politics and negotiation, Harry gently pried the book from the shelf, and retreated to a nearby chair to leaf through it.
"Can I talk to you, Uncle Vernon?" Harry asked seriously. It had been several months since that fateful day when he'd received a sudden introduction to "The art of the possible." Since that day at the library, his relationship with his "family" had gotten worse, if possible. He'd taken to skiving off his chores and spending hours at a time in the library of all places. He didn't know what it was, but he'd found a home away from home in that place- even if the librarian still hated him. Especially in the politics section.
"What is it now, boy?" His uncle asked, clearly annoyed. His Uncle could do very little once he stopped listening to them. Harry found something in that library, some part of him- maybe it was courage, or recklessness- and his uncle's shouts, tantrums, and even the few times he'd hit him, just were not enough to stifle the rebellion. And the last time he'd hit him, Mrs. Gordon from down the street had actually seen it, so… Things were very much in his favor. This was actually the first time they had talked civilly in weeks.
"Well, I was wondering if there was to resolve our differences?" Harry asked bluntly. No use in sugarcoating it. He remembered some of the negotiation manuals he'd read. Be clear. Be to the point. He had an advantage here, but a slight one. Stick to his strengths.
On the surface, it seemed like the Dursleys held all the cards; after all, they fed him (badly), clothed him (badly), gave him shelter (a broom cupboard), and he was basically their work-slave. However, it wasn't as lopsided as it seemed to be on first appearance. At least,t hat's what Harry was hoping.
"Sure there is," his uncle snared, "Do Your Chores!" He shouted, spraying Harry with spit. "And stop being a Bloody nuisance, you no good-"
But Harry was not going to stand for it. He was putting everything on this hand- the card analogy was a favorite in the books he'd read- and he couldn't afford to lose. "You know, Mr. Phillips- the math teacher- he's been asking me some odd questions lately. About my home life." Uncle Vernon paled slightly. This was the card he had. Appearance. It was everything. At least, to the Dursley's. And the threat of a bad appearance… "Now, considering how you've taken me into your home and provided for me, I wasn't about to say anything. Why would I spit upon your kindness? However… he seems concerned."
"The thing is, once he starts asking questions, well… then the neighbors will start to talk. And you know what happens then," Harry cautioned. He hoped he knew. "But a poor little orphan boy taken in by his saintly Aunt and Uncle. One who's decided to stop being a troublemaker, and who instead spends all of his time trying to reform himself by pouring over books? What's to see there, except how good an influence you've been in turning my life around?," He asked, feeling as if the words gave him actual, physical pain.
His Uncle's face was purple with rage. "What do you want?" He snarled.
"Uncle, I don't want anything. However, if those people start talking, they'll start talking about what I deserved… and what you deserve," Harry explained cautiously. "Now I don't think it's unreasonable to do some chores, but things will be different; either by your choice, or someone else's. A bedroom- a proper one-, proper meals, proper clothes, maybe some pocket money for my labor, some leisure time to relax at the library, and no more throwing exams- that's all I want. And , if you want to look good, surely… After all, if you're a family man who can reform your troubled nephew, surely you're the right man to reform troubled workers?"
"You really are an ungrateful brat, aren't you?" Uncle Vernon asked scornfully. But the wheels were turning in his head. Harry had heard some of the nightly chatter indicating that the old President of Grunnings had been forced to step down. Perhaps he could at very least come by a raise, if not a promotion. If he looked good. If, a scandal broke about him and his nephew, however…
"Uncle, I'm not ungrateful. I'm perfectly grateful for everything you've given me. Just ask any of the people now questioning what's going on with me. However, if they knew what was going on, would they be grateful as well?" Harry asked quietly.
"Fine. Fine, boy. You'll have your ill-gotten gains- but don't think you can hit me up for more," His Uncle snarled.
"Of course not, Uncle. After all, I'm perfectly grateful for all you've done," Harry replied sweetly.
That was politics 101. It helped him realize that he did have options, that he did have cards to play, moves to make. He'd unknowingly set this discussion into motion when he'd returned back to the library. But he had capitalized on his unanticipated move. It was very simple realizing that what his relatives wanted was to present themselves as perfectly normal. Their treatment of him, though, was not perfectly normal. However, that could be taken two ways. One way held reward; the other, punishment. Since Harry now had a way his and Uncle Vernon's interests now melded together… he'd had his chance. All that was required was figured out how to press his advantage. So after a bit of study, it had been rather easy to let slip that not everything was all right below the surface to interested parties. And his luck with the President of Grunnings was an unanticipated masterstroke. All it had taken was a little pressure, a little leverage, and a little courage, and he now had everything he would have dreamed of a couple of years ago. That was the day he formally fell in love with the art of politics.
Without his Uncle saying anything, Harry quickly headed for his bedroom. After the day he'd had, he was grateful for his sanctuary. Harry bounded in and shut his door, breathing heavily, Dudley's terrified face still etched in his mind. He still had no idea what exactly had happened at the zoo. Even if Piers and Uncle Vernon insisted otherwise. Feeling suddenly exhausted, Harry collapsed into the bed.
After a few minutes of breathing heavily, his mind whirling, Harry sat up and looked around the room, desperate for something to occupy his mind. Gone was Dudley's broken junk- it had long since been kicked to the curb, and good riddance to bad rubbish. The bookcase remained, filled with books Harry had "procured." Well, really, it had been quite easy to trade with his peers- no longer isolated from him by the formerly impenetrable wall Dudley's gang had formed, thanks to a deal with some older kids- as they had no idea how valuable books were, as compared to say, comic books, or packs of gum. Especially the kinds of books Harry was looking for. His peers did not understand his fascination with trading for copies of books like The Wealth of Nations, which had already given him so much.
It came down to some of what'd he read from Ricardo. Comparative advantage. Before, he'd had nothing. No reason for any of his peers to take an interest, nothing to offer to the world. Once he'd realized that, he'd gone looking for a niche to fill. Dealmaker. Dudley's gang had caused quite a bit of havoc, as he well knew. But Harry had a great deal of experience outrunning them.
One afternoon, when one of his classmates, Tim Jenkins, had gotten his whale of a cousin hacked off about something, he'd swooped in and made a deal. He'd get Dudley and Company more angry at *him* in exchange for… the boy's math notes. He wanted to start small and make the price reasonable. One chase latter, Harry had an ally- not a friend- and math notes. And Tim had spread the world. Soon, other kids in class were lining up to make a similar deal when they'd gotten on Dudley's wrong side. Plus, Harry's "negotiation" ensured his Aunt and Uncle could no longer turn a complete blind eye, for fear of appearance; his Uncle Vernon's promotion was interim at best.
Soon, he'd begun branching out. Instead of running, he'd befriended some older boys to keep Dudley in line. Once again, those among his peers also clamoring for protection came to him. He hadn't done anything mean-spirited, but he had made sure to exact a price in return for the services he rendered. His room was now decorated with those payments.
Next to his prized books was his chess set. One of the older kids who'd "interceded" with Dudley's gang had known how to carve things. He also hated mowing his father's lawn in the summer time. A little bartering, and Harry had been taught a skill he wanted to know in exchange for a few weeks of labor at a task he had plenty of experience with. As the leaves turned, Harry had gone around collecting sticks, and using his new found skill to fashion the sticks into pieces, with the knife he'd traded with Piers Polkiss to get. He'd then used his pocket money to buy a block of wood, and some paint, to get the pieces to the right texture. The final touch had been carving out the inside, and attaching some fastenings there and a small flip-lock in order to make it easily transportable.
The alarm clock- well that had been tricky to get working. And he'd used to have such a problem getting up in the morning too, especially one his Aunt's screams had stopped waking him. However, the shop teacher, Ms. Gordon, could never keep organized. And in helping her tidy up, she'd shown Harry how to properly get it working. Of course, that basic knowledge had helped Harry get some of the household appliances up and running again when they'd broken down, further increasing his value to his relatives. And to the other kids of the neighborhood.
His clothes, which now fit properly, hung on the rack. Even if he didn't like his relatives, and would have liked nothing more than annoy his Aunt, he still hung up his clothes, instead of leaving them lying around like some of his peers. Besides, they were nice clothes, and presentation was important. It was, after all, what got him this room in the first place.
The last thing featured prominently was a small red ball, one he'd found in the park one day. He never had found its owner, nor anyone interested in trading for it, so Harry had kept it around. For someone reason, he really felt that it added something to his room.
But none of that mattered now. Harry was still having trouble coming to terms with the events at the zoo. If he understood what happened- which was definitely something he couldn't claim to so- he'd somehow spoken with a snake; a Boa Constrictor. He'd spoken with a snake. He didn't know a better way to describe it.
Well, he'd whispered to it, and it had understood, apparently, and it had communicated back with him, and Piers said he'd talked with it. If that wasn't speaking with a snake, he didn't know what was. Somehow, someway, he could talk to snakes. Or do something resembling that. Granted, he couldn't really see the use for it, but, the fact remained- he could do it. Somehow.
Perhaps that wouldn't have been such a big deal if what happened next hadn't been etched in his mind. His communication with the snake had roused his cousin's interest, who'd pushed him aside in order to get a better look. The trouble was, as he hit the floor hard, the glass Piers and Dudley had been pressing against disappeared, which allowed the snake to escape. And now Harry had a very hard time believing that if he could somehow talk to snakes, that he couldn't have made the glass vanish. Simply vanish into thin air- the very glass he himself had touched not moments ago.
But it was nonsense, wasn't it? He didn't have mysterious powers that allowed him to communicate with animals and make things vanish. He couldn't. It just wasn't possible. Except… for the fact that he had talked to a snake and made glass disappear. He had no other explanation for what happened, so… And what about those strange incidents when he was younger- like turning his teacher's wig blue? Or shrinking that ugly sweater his Aunt had tried to make him wear? Or regrowing his hair? Those were strange, dare he say, abnormal things that had been connecting with him. That he'd been punished for.
No, what was he saying? Those were anomalies! Unexplained events. Still the thought remained, like a weed he just could not pull out of his Aunt's garden. Try as he might, the idea that there might be something to his Aunt's frantic glances, his Uncle's half terrified mutterings that once-in-a-while touched on his "freakishness," refused to exit his mind. Finally, Harry wandered over to the little red ball that sat on his night table. If he had "mystical powers" then he should be able to make the ball levitate, right? Trial by fire and all that.
Harry held his hand over the ball, trying to will it to rise to his hand. Nothing. Well, except for that slight twitch, but that might have been because he breathed on it. Harry's hand remained steadily over it, and he willed the ball to levitate. Still nothing. Hah! Except the ball had rocked a little more vigorously. 'Well, if this nonsense was true, then the damn ball should just do what he told it!' Harry thought as he violently thrust his hand out once more. The third time, the ball catapulted into the air, past his hand, and ricocheted off the ceiling with a loud thud.
Harry glanced from his hand to the ball, wide-eyed. That. Was. Impossible! He could not have- there was no way- it couldn't be that. No. Not Possible. Simple as that. His eyes must have been tricking him. Just like they had earlier at the zoo? Or maybe he'd somehow knocked the ball away. Harry quickly picked up the ball and reset it, ignoring the thoughts in the back of his mind that mentioned that the mere fact that he had to move the ball back to this spot meant that he had somehow made the ball move.
Harry calmly held his hand over the ball once again, willing it to rise and levitate. For a few seconds, nothing happened. And then the ball started twitching, and Harry was starting to feel drained. Still he pressed forward, trying to will the ball to rise. And amazingly, incredibly, the ball slowly levitated a centimeter off the table. Suddenly, it all became too much, and Harry's hand fell, and with it, the ball plummeted back to the table, bouncing lightly on the carpet below.
He could do it! He could really do it! He might be tired as hell, but he somehow could manage it! He could force objects to disappear. He could talk to snakes. He could make things levitate. If politics was the art of the possible, then this, whatever it was, was the art of power. Pure power. 'Power corrupts; absolutely power corrupts absolutely,' Was the first response that entered his mind. He shook his head; this was the power to operate outside the laws of physics- Hell, the laws of the universe. And he somehow had it. He'd learned after ten long years at the Dursleys that it was much better to bet the one with the power than the one on the receiving end. Buoyed by his success, Harry set to work trying to make the ball float, if only barely, once again.
"I can make things float," Harry announced to his Aunt a few days later. Well really, he couldn't. He was still having a lot of trouble with it, but he could make the ball rise nearly a three centimeters before his concentration broke. His Aunt's eyes suddenly went wide, and on a hunch, Harry pressed forward. "I can also make things disappear and talk to snakes. But you already knew that. Didn't you?"
Instantly, his Aunt became indignant with rage. "Of course I knew that, you dratted boy! Of course you can do those damn things just like your blasted mother!"
Harry's ears perked up at finding some information. "Ah, so this gift runs in the family?" And without thinking, he added, "And you can't use it, can you?"
SLAP! That was apparently the wrong thing to say, which the red mark across his face attested to. "Of course I don't- I never wanted such… a cursed power!" She spat out.
Harry shrugged. "But I have it. And I have some measure of control over it. So if my mother had it as well..." His train of thought derailed as he processed what she'd said. If his mother could do it too, well enough that his Aunt knew, then… "How did she gain better control over her power?" Harry asked quietly.
His Aunt's face was red. "She went to some school… some dratted school for magic-"
"Ah, so it's magic I can do!" Harry interrupted thoughtfully. Finally, he could put a name to it!
"Of course it is!" His Aunt snarled.
"And there is a school?" Harry asked curiously. A magic school? Really? Really.
"Yes," His Aunt admitted finally, looking as if the words were painful. "They'll contact you right before you turn eleven! That's the way it was with her! Now get out of my sight!"
Almost idly, Harry help out his hand, to try levitating the ball again. As it had lately, it rose halfway, and then it was a struggle for Harry to keep it aloft. After a few seconds, Harry exhaled and let the ball land on the table.
Thankfully, his Aunt had explained the situation to his Uncle. What had followed was what had to be one of the biggest tantrums in history, where his Uncle has shouted, screamed, raged… and still didn't get his way. Now that Harry knew that there was a place to refine his power, he was going no matter what. Especially seeing as he had this power; this magic. And they didn't. After all, if there was one principle he'd learned from his study of politics, it was that power was good for pressure, leverage, and incentive, the three things needed for successful negotiations. And since negotiations and bartering had gotten him this far, he was fully prepared to take them further. And his Uncle would lose; his Aunt was apparently enamored with the idea of getting him out of the house for such a long period of time. So his intervention was actually unnecessary.
The result of his face-off with his Uncle was a brief letter of reply when the Hogwarts acceptance letter came around, stating his acceptance. He'd received a reply in turn, stating that a representative from the school would be by today in order to take him shopping for his school supplies. School supplies? He'd looked over the list and still regarded it as a joke. Magic Wand. Truly.
That was why Harry was up and dressed in black shirt and jeans at eight in the morning. Who knew when the person from the school would be by? All in all, it made for a rather fine birthday present. Even if he was skeptical… he'd come this far. What was a little further? Done with his musing, Harry turned back to the ball, intent on getting some more practice with levitating it until his guide finally arrived. He'd nearly gotten it half-a-dozen centimeters off the ground.
"You could be great, you know. It's all right here, in your head. And Slytherin could help you on our way to greatness." The Sorting Hat whispered, enticingly, almost excitedly, in his ear.
Harry thought for a second, his eyes flickering to the place where Padma had sat down. He hesitated for a second before he decided. "Greatness doesn't sound quite so bad," He intoned in his head.
"SLYTHERIN!" The hat declared, and Harry quickly took off the hat, not noticing how cold and suddenly still the Hall had gone, how Dumbledore's face had gone a shade of white similar to fresh snow, how McGonagall was staring at him in open-mouthed shock, how Snape himself was showing something akin to emotion on his pasty-white face. Harry noticed none of this as he walked down to an empty spot at the Slytherin Table. "Greatness is it? Well, here I come," He muttered under his breath.