June 6, 2012
Proofread on June 10, 2012
Proofread by Utsu 
Written by RahXephon 
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and its associated terms and trademarks are authored by J.K. Rowling, the copyright holder of the novel series. I do not in any shape or form claim to have authorization to write a derivative work based on the Harry Potter franchise. This work of fiction is a non-commercial fan-based creation, and no income is earned from this writing by the author.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: This fic is NOT A CROSSOVER between Harry Potter and another work of fiction. No prior knowledge of any fandom is required to enjoy this fic, which includes the Harry Potter novels themselves.
The Star Alliance
Part I: Magician Cadet
Harry Potter had never been into space. Throughout all the ten years of his life, he had never left the surface of the planet of his birth. Earth was his home, overcrowded and polluted as it was. He knew that humanity had spread out amongst the stars, colonizing world after world in a drive for riches and resources. Sometimes his dreams trailed off, and the young boy imagined himself as a noble captain keeping back the tide of invading aliens. But those were always fantasies. In the end, reality asserted itself, and Harry had to admit that he wasn't cut out for the military. As other kids abandoned their desire to become rockstars and actors, so did Harry leave behind his yearning for adventure.
Then he received the notice. Harry still remembered the day his life changed direction. It was his eleventh birthday, and he was celebrating it at home in their apartment in Surrey. Despite feeling that he was a little too old for birthday parties, his foster parents insisted he cherish the moment.
"You can never have too much love, my dear." His mother Jane told him as she ruffled his hair.
"Mom! I'm not that little kid anymore!"
"Nonsense my dear. I still remember vividly when the Child Protection Service first brought you to our home. Your uncle and aunt never should have mistreated you like that. To think they were confident that they could even get away with it, considering how we are bombarded with scans every moment of the day."
While Harry loved his foster parents to death, he still found it embarrassing that they treated him with kid gloves. He wasn't made out of china.
"I think our birthday boy has had enough hugs now, Jane." His father, Troy, said as he brought the birthday cake over from the refrigeration unit. "Come help me slice the cake instead honey."
The young boy sighed in relief and tried to straighten his hair. He hated it when people fussed with his hair. He'd been through two different scalp treatments but his hair still looked like a crow's nest.
A weight crashed against his back. Harry staggered and almost fell as a certain girl squealed, climbing onto his back.
"Alexia! You almost gave me a heart attack!"
His younger sister giggled as she held onto his body. "Carry me!"
"How about no."
Eventually they drifted into the living room and celebrated his birthday in earnest. Despite his protests, Harry genuinely enjoyed his parents' efforts. From the moment he arrived at their household, they'd done their best to make him forget about his childhood years at his former household. They'd succeeded, too, as Harry barely retained anything but fragments of his time with the Dursleys.
The time to unwrap his presents came next. His little sister went first. The nine year old presented a fluffy gift-wrapped object to him. Harry eagerly accepted it and tore the wrapping paper apart. It was a ring bearing synthetic crystal jewels along its band and an engraving on its inner side. He read the inscription and smiled even wider.
"Thank you Alexia." He said, and received a warm smile from his little sister.
His parents offered his second present together. "Since you will be starting the second phase of schooling next September, we decided to pool our allowances and present you with something that will help you build your future."
They presented him with a small, hand-sized box. The birthday boy took it and looked at it curiously. The black synthetic material felt sturdy, but plain. He turned the box around and tried to find the opening, but couldn't. "How do you open it?"
"You don't." Troy answered, and held out his hand to direct Harry's finger towards the middle of the box. "Instead, you press here."
As soon as his fingertips touched the surface, a red symbol lit up. A tone sounded out, and Harry pulled away when the box started to emit a screen.
+BIOMETRIC MATERIAL SCANNED. PARAGON V15.6 BOOTING UP. PLEASE HOLD. PLEASE HOLD. PLEASE HOLD+
"What's happening?" Harry asked, a bit apprehensive with all of the diagnostics flickering over the screen. He had never encountered anything as advanced as this before.
"Have some patience, son. You'll see."
+BOOT PROCESS COMPLETED. Welcome to the Paragon experience, a companion for life. Please vocalize your next command. VALID COMMANDS: SETUP, HELP and QUIT+
"You didn't!" Harry exclaimed with delight as he finally figured out the true nature of his gift. "An AI companion!"
"We wanted you to have the best future possible. While we can't pay for you to go to the best schools, we can at least provide you with a premium artificial intelligence to assist you with your learning. Use it well."
"I will dad." Harry said, and hugged both of his parents. He then spent a quarter of an hour setting up his new AI. He configured the settings to his liking and chose an animal avatar. While he spent a few minutes considering different types of wicked animals, he reminded himself that aggressive avatars had a tendency to get out of hand. He then considered more placid animals.
Why he settled on an owl of all animals he wasn't sure. But his mother approved. "Owls are animals of wisdom. She will serve you well in your growing years."
"She?" He raised an eyebrow at that.
"Of course it's going to be a girl. I can't have you planning mischief at your new school with a male companion."
He grumbled at her words and promptly set the gender of his owl. "No mother."
As the birthday party wound down, the doorbell rang. "Oh?" Jane said as she looked up. "We weren't expecting any guests."
Harry paid little attention as his mother went for the door. He was still enamoured with his new AI companion. Alexia pestered him to transfer control access to her, but he held on, not wanting his mischievous sister to hijack his pet at the most inopportune of moments. He hadn't even noticed the new arrival by the time Jane walked back into the living room.
"Harry?" She called to him, her face pale with shock. "This gentleman has something important to tell you."
He looked up and instantly felt all his playfulness drain away. The newcomer was a military officer. His straight, black-and-gold uniform stood in stark contrast to the casual clothes of his family. His entire bearing spoke of business. This was not a man to mess around with.
More than a little wary, Harry put his AI into standby mode and approached the officer. He mustered as much formality as he could. "Is there something I need to hear, sir?"
"In accordance with the Magician Draft Act, I hereby declare you as a magical potential and recruit you into Her Imperial Majesty's Space Navy. You are henceforth designated as a cadet in accordance with the aforementioned Act and are instructed to enter the nearest military base for preliminary orientation and basic space-board training."
Most of the big words glossed right over his mind, but he understood just enough to know what was happening. "I'm a magical potential? How...?"
"The evidence is overwhelming." The officer stated, and activated his emitter. A timeline of unusual events streamed past. His unusually quick recovery from malnutrition. That time when his hair grew back to its usual length after he crudely cut it short. The day when some bullies from his school somehow cornered him, only to appear on the roof of the classroom a moment later.
That wasn't all. The military kept detailed scans of his inner workings. Harry exhibited all of the typical signs of a magical potential, from having a very peculiar brain wave activity to a heightened metabolism. They'd even placed unshielded electronics in his presence, which had promptly fried from the continuous magical energy that leaked from of his body. Every single indicator pointed him as a manipulator of the mysterious force of magic.
"But... but this can't be true. I'm nobody special. I can't have magic, I just can't!"
"The evidence is overwhelming." The officer simply repeated, and his no-nonsense tone brokered no negotiation. With a heavy heart Harry came to terms with the news. The visitor didn't stick around for long, only leaving some brochures and instructions behind before leaving to tell another family of their children's special talent.
He spent the next summer undergoing a crash course on living in space. Since he was one of the few kids who had never experienced space travel before, he had to take the more intensive course during which he had to memorize all kinds of emergency sequences. He needed to learn how to react in the event of decompression, fire, hostile boarding and many other situations. The drill instructors constantly pushed him along with the other kids who were going up to space in simulated trials until he could get to an escape pod in his sleep.
Harry was glad that he could finally sleep regularly, now that he had finished his certification in basic starship safety. He had one more moment together with his adopted family in which he said his goodbyes to each of them before boarding the shuttle that would take him up one of Earth's civilian space stations.
"Please sit up straight in your seats and wait for the straps to automatically bind you down. Do not be alarmed when this occurs."
When something slick snaked across his body he got frightened anyway. It felt as if a mass of snakes had decided on his body as their new breeding ground.
"The bindings are perfectly safe, Harry." A wistful female voice said.
The cadet glared at his AI companion, who sat on the tip of the seat in front of him. "You don't have a body. Don't tell me what to feel."
Hedwig let out a sigh and turned her head away. "I'm only repeating what you learned in orientation. You haven't forgotten all of it already, have you?"
A small chuckle erupted from the seat besides Harry. "That is a beautiful companion you have there. Not too large, not too small, and with the capability for flight as well. I commend you, magician cadet."
The boy turned to face the new speaker. The man had a solid face and a short tuft of black hair. He appeared to be forty if he hadn't access to age replenishers, which meant that he was probably up in the eighties in these days. 'Great, an old fart is talking to me.'
"You know who I am?"
"Of course. Your uniform is quite distinctive." The man gestured to his ensemble of neutral coloured synthetic fabrics. The suit was part military, part academic, and part protective. The basic form resembled most of the military uniforms of earlier times. But hidden deep within its seemingly simple surface were millions of nanobots which could do a variety of things, such as encasing the wearer in a cocoon of vacuum or hardening its surface to withstand a pressure blast. The soles of his boots were able to magnetize onto any metal surface, and his collar would envelop his entire face and supply him with an hour's worth of oxygen in the event of decompression.
"The uniforms of magician spacers are always slimmer than the mundane equivalent. It feeds on the source of your psychic powers to accomplish feats beyond the capabilities of technology. I've seen many magicians survive impossible situations. I served in Her Majesty's Imperial Navy in my youth, you see."
If Harry could groan, he would have. Not only was he talking to a geezer, he was talking to a war veteran.
"You know, we mundanes always thought you magicians were a little odd." The man rambled on, not even bothering to give his name. "Your talents saved us from extinction and allowed us to traverse the stars for the first time in human history. But some of us still feel that through human ingenuity we would have eventually come up with a viable Faster-Than-Light drive ourselves, if we hadn't had magic as a crutch."
"What is your opinion on that, sir?"
The veteran let out a short laugh. "We could have never beaten back the Kichilic by ourselves. Our entire solar system would have been wiped out long before some mad scientist invented a means to catch up with the nasty buggers. Besides, without magic, I wouldn't be able to look this young at my age."
Somehow, the two fell into conversation even as his shuttle launched into air. The localized gravity and state-of-the-art inertial dampeners made the journey feel no different than standing still. In fact, Harry didn't even realise that they'd almost reached their destination until the geezer pointed it out.
"You might want to take a look out of the viewscreen, young Harry."
"Huh?" Harry turned to the window expecting to see the blue sky of Britain, only to gasp as he was met with an expanse of black and more stars than he had ever seen in his life. Never in his life had he thought that space was so... full. Away from all of the light pollution, he saw space in a different light. No longer was the black expanse a void or an endless barrier, instead he could just reach out with his fingers and touch the millions of stars that dotted the sky. He focused on a blinking one close to the centre. How far would he have to travel in order to reach that star system?
Then he caught sight of the space station that his shuttle was about to dock at. The gigantic structure served as a waystation for travellers heading in and out of Earth. Most passengers took a flight to the solar system's other colonies such as Mars or Venus, but a handful of people travelled much further than the confines of the solar system. Harry was one of those lucky few.
"I'll see you around, kid. Good luck with your training." The veteran said as he left for his own destination. Harry left the shuttle and went through the mandatory security check-ups before having free reign of the space dock.
'Now where do I have to go?'
His companion appeared on his shoulder and pecked him on the cheek. Not that he actually felt the hologram's beak, but it was the thought that counted. "Intersystem space departures is located in section 4B. Just follow the green line on the floor and it will take you there."
The boy kept his eyes open wide as he walked through the space dock. While he didn't have access to the interior of the space station, what he saw was almost enough to blow his mind. Hundreds of vessels docked just outside the space station, from atmospheric entry shuttles to huge liners the size of skyscrapers. Harry marvelled at how traffic control was able to direct all of the continuous traffic coming in and out. Somewhere in the distance of the transparent viewscreens he could just about catch a glimpse of the menacing patrol ships keeping order.
Eventually Harry reached intersystem departures. Hedwig helpfully guided him towards the security checkpoint that led to the small liner that departed towards the system where his new fleet was docked in. A bored-looking guard glanced at his uniform before scanning him briefly, automatically calling up Harry's digital passport and other wireless data.
"You're clear, cadet. Move up to gate 33. It's near the end over there."
He walked swiftly towards the indicated location and spent a moment scrutinizing the small liner docked at the gate. 'I thought it would be bigger.' The liner looked sleek and narrow, quite unlike the giant boxes that transported thousands to other destinations in the Human Empire. As he went through yet another security check – this time more thoroughly in order to confirm that he wasn't carrying any bombs or diseases of any sort – he finally entered the shuttle, and realized why it was so small.
The entire liner was dedicated to transporting magician cadets. Most of them looked older and wore varying amounts of pins and other distinguishing marks on their uniforms. Their suits were also coloured in four variations, from a rich shade of red, to a warm hue of yellow, to a sharp tinge of blue and a noticeably smaller portion of them wore venomous green. Fortunately, his assigned seat was positioned next to another grey unmarked recruit who enjoyed the window seat.
"Hi. I'm Harry Potter." He greeted the blond. When the other boy didn't respond Harry repeated his greeting.
The blond finally deigned to turn around. He swept over Harry with a quick, cool glance and huffed in disgust. "You must be a freshblood. Don't talk to me, worm."
Harry felt a bit unnerved when the blond turned back to gazing out the viewscreen. 'What did he mean? What is a freshblood and why does that make me a worm?' He subvocalized the query to his AI companion. Hedwig appeared in front of him, though this time in privacy mode so his neighbour and anyone else wouldn't see or hear the digital owl.
"I've scanned the Galactic Net for the term and it shows up in quite a lot of discussions, Harry."
"Well? Out with it. Tell me what it means."
"The term is mostly meant as a derogatory insult referring to magicians whose parents or ancestors have not served in Her Imperial Majesty's Fleet in the capacity as magicians. The so-called oldbloods pride themselves on their century-long tenures in their service to the Red Empress."
"Why the hell does it matter how far back your parents go?"
His owl paused for a brief moment as she accessed other records. "Dominant theories suggest that it is a continuation of discrimination practiced before the Mundane-Magician Assimilation. Archaic magicians divided themselves into purebloods and muggleborn, or mudbloods as magicians with a mundane heritage are called. This divide has been the cause of several devastating and shall I say idiotic wars between the factors. Since the MMA, the Red Empress put a stop to this madness by forcibly applying anti-discrimination legislation on their sub-society."
"I see." Harry murmured aloud, though his blond neighbour didn't deign to notice. "I think. So it's just the same thing with different words?"
"Not quite, but opinion differs wildly. The mundane half of the Imperial Space Navy always prided the offspring of retired spacers for their versatility in living in space, and the ancient purebloods latched on to it and subverted the concept to suit their own needs. Instead of discriminating on race or ancestry, which is officially forbidden, the newly rechristened oldbloods instead reframed the distinction towards length of service."
"So... basically it's the same thing."
Hedwig let out an affirmative hoot. "The only difference this time is that it's legal. The Red Empress hasn't been able to step in and squash this development."
Harry groaned. "So basically I'll be dealing with a bunch of stiffs like blondie over there for the rest of my tour on the training fleet."
If blondie felt insulted by Harry's careless words, he didn't react at all and continued to pretend that the freshblood didn't exist. By now Harry didn't care at all for blondie's stuck up attitude.
A few silent minutes passed. Harry contented himself by playing a minigame with his owl. His AI didn't come with a lot of inbuilt software, but he had downloaded thousands of games and other widgets into the box so that he would never lack for anything.
Then the empty seat to the left of him shifted. The wild-haired boy paused his progress and turned to see who just sat next to him. 'I hope it's not another frigid oldblood.'
Instead he encountered a bundle of bushy hair even wilder than his own that so happened to be attached to a cherubic face. 'I-It's a girl!'
The girl smiled shyly and said, "Hello."
"Hi. I'm Harry." He stammered out as he tried to get used to the girl. 'By the Empress her hair looks more dense than a rainforest.'
"Hermione." The girl gestured to his uniform. "So you're a recruit as well? I was so excited when I was drafted!" She gushed, seemingly continuing on without pause with her babble. "I mean, can you believe it that we actually have the ability to manipulate magic? This is so exciting!"
Harry had forgotten about blondie, who suddenly huffed yet again while muttering "Freshblood."
"Excuse me?" The girl queried, having caught only a portion of blondie's mutters.
"Oh don't mind blondie over there. He just looks down on us 'freshbloods' because our parents weren't magicians or something."
They fell into a brief conversation as the final passengers arrived to take their seats. It turned out that Hermione's parents were oral hygiene experts and instilled their daughter with a good respect for science. Some of the words that tumbled out of her mouth were practically alien to Harry, and if it wasn't for the aid of Hedwig he probably wouldn't have understood any of it at all. 'This girl is way too brainy.'
"I'm just so excited that I can see the other side of the coin, as it were. Science is all well and good, but mundanes haven't been able to break new ground since the MMA. Every field is pretty much settled except for all of the minor details. But magic on the other hand is so open, so mysterious. Don't you ever wonder how it actually works?"
"I have a few times." But he didn't have as much curiosity as his new friend about the unknown. He'd rather stick to cartoons than boring lectures on metaphysics. "But it's not really my thing, you know? I never really imagined that I would have the talent."
"You're in for a whole new world then, just like me. Say, have you thought of which ship you want to serve on?"
"Don't tell me you haven't thought about it yet. I've read all about the four ships of the training fleet." Hermione's eyes went dreamy. "I want to serve on the Godric Gryffindor myself. The greatest heroes in magician history come from their house. Did you know that Merlin the Younger was a Gryffindor, back when Hogwarts was a decrepit castle instead of a space fleet?"
"I haven't read much on Hogwarts, sorry."
"Well you'd better make up your mind fast, your preference counts for a third on which ship you will eventually be assigned on. Your ship assignment determines your courses and can drastically affect the roles you will adopt when you graduate."
Before Hermione could expand on the four ships, a tone chimed overhead, and Harry suddenly found himself strapped into his seat. Shortly after, a holo-display lit up, showing the cockpit of the liner.
"This is the cap'n speakin'. Welcome laddies to the Hogwarts Express!" A giant of a man with a beard almost as bushy as Hermione's hair. The griffon emblem on his chest designated him as a Gryffindor alumnus. "My name is Hagrid, and I have the distinct pleasure in taking you to our fine fleet. Most of the older students already know me as the Professor of Magical Animal-based Lifeforms, and all you first years out in the back will surely see me again in class. But that's later. Right now you're in for a ride. Is there anyone here who hasn't travelled intersystem before?"
Harry raised his hand, and so did Hermione and plenty of other cadets. Blondie's mouth curled into a sneer as he saw how many noobs hadn't even left their home star system.
"I see that there are well over a dozen first-timers. Well, you're in for a treat." Hagrid chuckled a little and flipped a handful of switches and settings before turning back to the camera. "Who here knows how ship-wide apparition works? Ah ah, hold your hippogriffs, first years only please."
"Me me me!" Hermione pleaded as she raised her entire hand towards the roof. She was the only recruit who even volunteered.
"Young miss over there, are you willing to try?"
The girl stood up, drawing the attention of every passenger. Her face suddenly bloomed as bright as a tomato once she realized how much attention she had drawn.
"Go on sweetie, nothing's going to harm you."
"Well Captain Hagrid, I've read that mature magicians have the ability to teleport themselves instantly to another location via wormhole travel, which is the mundane term for apparition I suppose. They have also been able to take others along in their travels through side-along apparition. Ship-wide apparition is therefore simply side-along apparition extended throughout the entire spaceship. This allows the human race to travel faster-than-light across incredible distances."
"Correct young miss! While the process is a lot more complicated in practice, your explanation is on the mark! Ship-wide apparition is one of our most important means of travelling from star to star. Merlin the Younger brilliantly came up with this new mode of travel when the Kichilic bombardment fleet threatened to wipe out all mundane and magical life on Earth back in the day. I'm sure you'll hear plenty more about the old stories from my colleagues, so I'll cut this short and begin with the transition. Hold on tight lads, for this won't be a pleasant experience."
All of the older students braced themselves in a peculiar manner by crossing their elbows against their chests. Blondie along with a few other grey suits followed likewise, leaving Harry, Hermione and a host of other ignorant children in the dust.
A second later, Harry, Hermione and a host of other ignorant children emptied their lunch into the bags which magically appeared in front of their mouths.
'What the hell happened? They never told me this would happen in orientation!' The boy mentally screamed as he wiped his mouth with the wet towel that lowered from the cabin's ceiling. 'I just felt like my entire stomach went through the ringer.'
The holo-display turned back on to reveal an amused captain. "Ship-wide apparition always has that effect on you first-timers. Don't take it too hard, everyone vomits during their first journeys! We'll be doing many such apparitions during your tour at the training fleet so it's important for you first years to get used to the sensation. A cap'n won't take to you too kindly if you cover your instruments with your dinner during the middle of a battle."
Thankfully Hagrid cut the feed, leaving the students to recover without his constant chatter.
"Ugh… I feel like I've swallowed a gallon of washing detergent." Hermione mumbled as she went to check whether any of her expulsions landed on her prodigious hair.
Blondie let out a short sniffle. Harry glared at the snotty brat. 'He could have at least warned us.'
According to the system map displayed in the corner, the liner was approaching the stationary training fleet with its sublight drive. Harry noted that the icons of the four ships were oddly positioned. They were sailing awfully close to each other for reasons he was not sure of. In orientation he learned that starships out in space should keep a comfortable distance away from one another – at least more than thirty kilometres when stationary and a hundred kilometres when on the move. According to the plot, the training fleet vessels were less than three hundred meters apart! One wrong move could send a ship veering into the side of another, causing a disastrous collision that would surely mean the end of both. What was the admiral thinking?
Harry hoped he would be able to catch an image of the fleet in space, but the displays stubbornly refused to change their views. Before long, the liner docked against one of the four ships, and soon all of the students started to stream out. Blondie escaped Harry's presence as soon as he was able to and joined a clique of peculiar looking first years which kept themselves firmly away from the others. The boy simply shrugged at the sight and allowed Hermione to keep him company on the way across the corridor leading them into the arrival compartment.
Warm yellow tones greeted him everywhere, along with banners depicting a badger of all things. The students milled about aimlessly for a moment before a heavyset woman wearing a thick variant of the standard magician uniform appeared from the main exit. A handful of other students followed in her wake and lined themselves up into several distinct groupings.
"Welcome magician cadets to another year at Hogwarts. I hope that you will enjoy or continue to enjoy your tour at our fine training fleet. For the first years amongst you, I am Professor Pomona Sprout and I will be teaching Magical Plant-based Lifeforms depending on your assigned ship and class choices. I am sure that Captain Hagrid has told you all you need to know already, so I won't be talking for long. Second years and up, you all know the way. I can trust you can reach the Great Hall by yourselves? Mentors, please stay behind."
As most of the older students melted away and disappeared through the exit, the professor gazed at each of the first years with a critical eye. "As for you newcomers, I hope you will find your new life in the fleet to your liking. Some of you may have already intended to serve on the fleet, but I know that a handful of you only learned of your new fate mere months ago. I cannot express how much sorrow I have for you, but the Empress' will is absolute. Magic is too valuable to waste, and every magician is a strategic resource. I hope that each and every one of you will come to learn that magic can be a blessing, and despite the harshness of shipboard life, you can achieve a life of happiness and fulfilment. You might not think much on my words right now, but you will struggle through it once you gain more wisdom."
In truth, the whole speech went right over Harry's head. He'd barely had a month to acclimatize to his new life and he was yet to see enough to form an opinion. Sure, the basic orientation and training had been intense, but he'd envisaged life in the training fleet as more relaxed.
"In any case," The professor continued. "Before you all get sorted, you will be assigned into groups led by an older year volunteer. Your mentor will guide you through your first year and is available for any questions or problems that you might have. In addition, your mentor group will also participate in mandatory group activities for the entire remainder of your seven-year tour on the training fleet regardless of where you will eventually be sorted. Past experience has showed that too much isolation within a single House breeds conflict well after graduation, so the mundanes have imposed many reforms in order to rectify these situations."
"You mean tear down tried and true traditions." Blondie grumbled somewhere else in the crowd.
"I heard that Cadet Malfoy!" Sprout admonished blondie. "You may keep your opinions to yourself. The modernization drive is the direct effort of the Empress herself. If you wish to protest these changes, you can take it up with Her Imperial Majesty."
That shut blondie—Malfoy— up good, Harry noted. 'I finally get to stick a name on that arrogant prat.'
"Let us get on with the mentor groups, shall we?" The professor then retrieved a strange implement. Harry thought it looked like a wooden stick, but it seemed to be covered with synthetic strips of some sort and he recognized an electronic module at the bottom of the pommel. Sprout waved her wand in rather eccentric motions.
When she finished her display, every student suddenly had a floating number atop their heads. Harry looked atop his head to see a floating 7. He probed the figure with his hands, finding out that it was just a hologram.
"Now young cadets, your assigned number refers to the number of your group. Can everyone now please gather around your mentors?"
Harry turned to Hermione and noticed with more than a little relief that she also had a 7 floating above her head. He didn't want to lose his first friend this soon. "Looks like we got lucky."
"Do you really think so?" Hermione responded sceptically as she led him to the front where the mentors stood in a line. "The highest number that I've seen is twelve. The odds that we would end up in the same group are less than nine percent if the numbers were assigned randomly."
"You think it's rigged somehow?"
"Not exactly..." She trailed off as she started to push against the thick crowd. "It just seems so unlikely. Perhaps there is a bias in the program, taking into account our existing profile and prior history."
Hermione then bumped into a solid back. "Mph! Sorry!"
The boy, who had a seven floating atop his head, turned around. The familiar sneer on his face told Harry just exactly who he had been grouped up with. 'Whoever rigged these group assignments can dive in a black hole.'
"Just my luck that I get paired up with freshbloods."
Four others slowly streamed in. It appeared that apart from Harry and Hermione, the rest had some prior experience with magicians. Malfoy of course let his relief about that fact known, even though his abrasive comments didn't exactly go over well with everyone.
"Now if we can just petition to the doddering admiral in charge that there's a mistake in the algorithm we can boot those two freshbloods from our group."
"Oh shut up Malfoy. There will be no nonsense about blood discrimination in our group whatever form it may take." An older voice intervened. Their new mentor approached the three and greeted them warmly. His striking yellow uniform and chiselled face made quite an impression.
"I'm Cedric Diggory and I'll be pulling you through in your first year on the fleet. Can you all please introduce yourselves?"
"I'm Harry Potter." He went first, getting it out of the way as quickly as possible.
"Hermione. Er, Hermione Granger, sir." The girl stammered as she glazed at their mentor's face.
Blondie only drawled, "Draco Malfoy."
Cedric consulted a digital list and confirmed all of their identities. "It appears everything is in order. If you will follow me, I'll lead you to the Great Hall."
They traversed straight to the other side of the great ship that Harry learned was the Helga Hufflepuff. He kept his eyes sharp as he passed lab rooms, greenhouses and many other wondrous sights. Cedric answered a few questions by the first year students but otherwise kept a brisk pace.
After quite a few minutes of walking they reached the other side of the immense vessel. 'How large is this ship?' Harry wondered, but then abruptly stopped as Cedric appeared to walk straight out of an open airlock into open space.
"What the!" He exclaimed, wondering why he along with everyone else in the compartment hadn't been sucked away yet.
Then Cedric's head popped back from the empty expanse. "Oh, I forgot. I have to attune you to Hogwarts. The castle won't show itself to outsiders." He then pulled out a stick similar to Professor Sprout's and tapped each of the first years on the head. "There, you should be able to step through. If I hadn't done that, you would have ended up right into outer space. That actually happens quite a number of times every year."
Hermione and Harry looked positively horrified at the news.
"Don't worry cadets, your uniforms act as an emergency vacuum suit in the event of a decompression or the like. You have two hours of air, plenty of time for the emergency services to retrieve you. Haven't you learned this in basic training?"
The two freshbloods had both embarrassingly forgotten about that. "Don't mind it, everyone makes beginners mistakes. Now let us proceed. Hogwarts awaits."
The oldblood first years walked through the open hole in space as if it were an everyday occurrence to them. As soon as they stepped through they disappeared from sight. 'What if they got vaporized or something?'
After gathering the courage to step forward, Harry went through the gap and found his vision changing before his very eyes. Hermione followed right after and gasped at the impressive sight. Instead of an empty space between the four ships of the training fleet, a floating castle along with an idyllic landscape appeared in a hazy shape, as if it was only half in existence. Cedric and the rest of the students appeared solid, and walked across the pavement with not a single worry that they might fall through and end up in the middle of nowhere.
"H-How?" The girl besides him stammered, her brain frozen from the impossible sight of a medieval castle – it wasn't even vacuum-sealed! – in open space.
"Magic." Harry replied dumbly, having no better answer to offer to his friend. He could already tell that this was going to be an interesting year.