AN: I recently started a new collection here on ffnet with outtakes from this story. If you care to read them, you can find the collection as 'Outtakes: Blue Magic' via my profile. Updates there will be infrequent and short. If you have a preference for a scene that's alluded to in the main story and would like to read it, drop me a note and I'll see what I can do. Most things I only mention in passing are fleshed out in my mind at least.
Fair warning: Most snippets I post there have been taken out of the main story for a reason and are generally unbeta'd (or only slightly beta'd). Obviously I won't post anything I consider atrocious, but some of it will be quite pointless. This story is already getting longer and longer as it is - no need to further clog it.
This chapter gave me fits. I had to wrap up the Dumbledore scene, give a justification why Harry and Liara don't simply run for the hills that will hold well into fifth year, and… well, you'll see.
What I realized is that I really have to rework most of the earlier chapters. I'll probably get to it after this one. I can't say how long that will take me, but it shouldn't be too long.
As always, a big thank you to my awesome beta Aella!
Last Time: Yule Holiday, Boxing Day 1st part
This Time: Boxing Day 2nd part, Yule Holiday continued
"Thank you, sir," Harry replied politely. Then he carefully opened the lumpy package and pulled out a silvery grey cloak and Albus started sipping his tea, prepared to enjoy the spectacle that was sure to follow. Harry's eyes grew wide while Remus' face showed fondness, no doubt reminiscing about the times he had seen the invisibility cloak in action. The female audience merely looked on with ignorant curiosity.
Until Harry whipped the cloak around and his body vanished, leaving only the head floating around at which point they yelled out in surprise.
"Wicked! It's the Peverell cloak!" the boy cried in delight.
Albus promptly started choking on his tea.
Chapter 16: Answers
Thursday, December 26, 1991
Remus jumped out of his chair and started thumping Albus' back until the coughing and the burning sensation in his throat subsided.
The aged Headmaster waved the younger man off, thanking him distractedly, still in shock. This was not what he had expected to happen. The name Harry had given the cloak...
"Excuse me, Harry, but where did you hear that name?" the normally unflappable wizard managed to rasp after he had gathered himself again.
"Well, that's what my father called it in his journals. Apparently it's been in the family for ages," Harry said dismissively as he pulled up the cowl so that his head vanished too. "Nice! I can still see everything clearly! How does that even work? Here, Liara, check it out!"
He threw the cloak almost nonchalantly to his guardian who ran her gloved fingers over the flowing material in rapt fascination before she threw the cloak over herself and vanished.
"What… What else do you know about this cloak, Harry?" Albus asked, half-expecting the answer already. It was unsettling that James had possibly known all along and never told him.
"It's supposed to be perfect," Harry replied with a shrug, still trying to get a glimpse of Dr. T'Soni's hidden form. Dumbledore was tempted to tap his glasses with a spell so he could see her, but he refrained, instead focusing on Harry as he continued to speak. "Homenum Revelio doesn't work and neither does a whole bunch of other spells, but dad wrote that somehow you and someone called Mad-Eye Moody could see him under it. How did you do that?"
"Ah… You will find that when you get to be my age, you'll have learned many tricks," the old wizard deflected. It wouldn't do to tell the boy that he was only able to detect James because of the Elder Wand, the power of the Hallows canceling each other out. "As for Alastor... let us say he has especially good eyesight, now that he has lost one eye."
"You mean like Odin?" Hermione asked; her first contribution so far. Her earlier anger had apparently been supplanted by curiosity.
"Not precisely," Albus chuckled, glad that at least they didn't question his ability. "He lost his eye in some fight during the last war and I was only too happy to fashion him a new one, which actually works better than his old one, I'm proud to say.
"But what else has your father written about the cloak, Harry? Has he mentioned any other names for it? I would be curious to compare notes."
Harry eyed him slyly and in that moment he realized that the boy knew exactly what he meant; knew even more than he knew. It was disconcerting and humbling. Albus didn't like it.
"What, like 'The Cloak of True Invisibility'? Or maybe 'Death's Own Cloak'?" The grin on the boy's face was dancing with mirth. "You don't believe in fairy tales, Professor, do you?"
"Some stories have a kernel of truth," he replied sagaciously, proud of himself to have kept his composure, despite the fact that his fears had been proven true. Out of the corner of his eyes he noticed the sudden look of understanding coming over Remus. Of course the werewolf had grown up in the wizarding world and would know the Tale of Three Brothers. Albus wondered if he would have to do anything in this regard.
"That may be so, but sometimes stories can be harmfully misleading," the sudden reappearance of Liara T'Soni failed to startle those present, aside from Miss Granger who was clearly out of her element, but listened with rapt attention.
"Doesn't matter. In this case I know the story is rubbish, because my father wrote about it in his journals," Harry snorted. "It's well documented in our family journals. Beedle the Bard was a friend and drinking buddy of one of my ancestors, Geoffrey Potter, great-grandson of Ignotus Peverell. One night they tried to make up the most outrageous story possible. They were rather piss… err… drunk when they came up with the story about the cloak. My father thought it was one of the greatest pranks ever."
Albus felt like he had been slapped and forced to take one of Poppy's vile concoctions. All those years and the story about the Deathly Hallows was just the product of a drunken night's revelry?
For a moment he couldn't think and was only dimly aware that Miss Granger had asked what story they were talking about and Remus giving her a short summary. By the time the retelling was finished, Albus was coherent enough to mumble, "But the Deathly Hallows are real. The cloak exists."
Harry continued to mercilessly debunk the tale. How Ignotus - a miserable, paranoid old man instead of the humble, wise youngling - created the cloak; his last great work with which he hid from imagined thieves. In the end he didn't even trust his son or granddaughter with his secrets and took them to his grave. He might not have sought to evade death specifically, but the cloak was a tool born of fear and not wisdom.
Antioch's story was the most faithfully recorded. He had been a violent, boastful man, who created the wand to win the many duels he fought. However, he didn't die stabbed in his sleep, but because someone outsmarted him in a duel. The wand certainly wasn't unbeatable. This was probably the easiest revelation for Albus to swallow as it mirrored his own experience with the Elder Wand.
It was Cadmus Peverell's story that had been twisted the most. Ever since his sister had been killed Albus had wanted nothing more than to apologize to her. With the Elder Wand in his possession he was continually reminded of the existence of the one artefact that would allow him that chance, but the Resurrection Stone was not intended that way. More than the cloak it was born of man's eternal folly - the conquest of death. It wasn't meant to summon the souls of the dead, but the living. Cadmus wanted to tether his own spirit to it, so as long as it remained on his body he would not die. It was just another soul anchor - not quite a horcrux and not quite a phylactery.
The Resurrection Stone was a failure, its ability to summon the dead an unintended flaw.
Albus could only listen in slack jawed, morbid fascination as his four current companions deconstructed a tale, a belief even, that one way or another had determined the course of his life since he had met Gellert Grindelwald almost a century ago. Of course he hadn't taken the story as literal truth even back then, but it was astonishing how wrong they had been, and how right. He still couldn't speak, so he listened how they calmly discussed the Hallows' creation, how James had theorized that runes must have played a role in at least the cloaks construction, despite that they were notoriously difficult to work into clothing and no visible marks.
Albus was horrified. He didn't want to believe his ears, but sadly this was exactly the type of humour he expected from all three Potters he had known before Harry. They all had liked to have a quiet laugh about the ignorance and gullibility of others as he knew all too well from having shared some of those laughs with Harry's grandfather and great-grandfather.
The subject of the Hallows however couldn't hold the younger generations' attention for long. Remus was the only one that grew up hearing the story and to him it was never more than that. To the rest it was of even less significance. With a supreme act of will, Albus put the matter aside, metaphorically shoving it down the stairs to the cellar of his mind and barring the door. He would need to think on the revelations later, but now was not the time.
"Fascinating," he finally croaked with a smile that he knew was feeble. "I would very much like to read your father's findings, Harry, or perhaps, if possible, even the original sources. However, I came here today to talk about something else."
"Sure, I can put a report together, if you like," Harry promised. It wasn't what Albus had wanted - access to the journals themselves and he cursed himself for not checking when he had the chance - but it would do for now. He could always ask again later.
"That would be kind of you. Now, onto matters more recent. Do you remember what you wrote in your essay on the House Cup?"
"Of course! What's wrong with it?"
"Wrong is perhaps not the word I would use," the Headmaster explained. "There were many good thoughts in it, but it sparked a rather vocal controversy among us teachers. What I'm interested in, however, is how you came to your conclusion. It did not paint a very favourable light on Hogwarts."
"What conclusion?" Remus asked and Albus gave them all a short summary, watching Dr. T'Soni closely for any reaction. She, however, remained stoic.
"I don't feel it's motivation that's lacking," Ms. Granger said after Dumbledore was finished. "Honestly, I think most of them are just lazy, especially Ron."
"You only think that because you're already motivated and naturally curious. You strive to learn as much as you can, but not everyone has that same goal," Liara gently rebuked her. Then she turned toward Albus, apparently she realized what he really had been asking. "I have talked with Harry about this already when he asked me for my opinion. Frankly, I'm not convinced that Hogwarts is the best choice for his education. As it is, he'll have to work hard to catch up on his own studies over summer."
"And what, pray tell, are those studies?" Albus asked with the faintest trace of anger, carefully kept in check of course. He was proud of Hogwarts and the criticism rankled him, especially since he knew through his many international contacts that his school ranked among the best in the world - certainly better than the Ministry sponsored schools in Britain. However, he did notice Harry shooting his guardian a strange look - surprised and hurt at first but then she squeezed his hand and he nodded in sudden understanding.
"Mathematics, science, culture, languages,... there's a substantial hole in the education provided by Hogwarts," the woman enumerated. "And from a pedagogical point of view Hogwarts is deeply lacking as well, even compared to non-magical schools."
"You won't find those as separate subjects in any magical school," Dumbledore said, shaking his head. "And I assure you that Hogwarts offers one of the finest magical educations in the world. Most of our teachers have completed their masteries and we are proud of having a very comprehensive curriculum available for our students. Hogwarts is the best place to learn magic."
"Yeah, right," Harry snorted. "Don't get me wrong, I like Professors Sprout and Sinistra, but I can't see the point in learning how to pot plants or play connect the dots. I mean, Herbology and Astronomy are nice and all, but I don't see why we need them. They take up so much time… And don't get me started on Snape. I would get more things done if I studied Potions on my own... Oh wait! I do! He might not be so blatant in his bullying any more, but he still can't teach."
"It's Professor Snape, Harry, and those subjects have been part of Hogwarts for centuries," Dumbledore countered, largely ignoring the Severus issue and Harry's antics for the moment. "And I assure you that the knowledge involved in those subjects is important."
"Maybe so," Liara replied. "Perhaps they were once useful skills to have. Mr. Lupin, how often do you have to draw up star charts?"
"Umm," Remus stammered, startled by being addressed so suddenly. "Not since taking my NEWTs, I suppose. I know they are used in some rituals, but since they are banned by the ministry… I only know of them because of my Defence Mastery.
"But I do grow a few spices in my backyard," he finished lamely, trying to defend his alma mater.
"Are they difficult to cultivate then? Are there dangerous plants that require careful instruction? Are they even magical?" the woman countered and Remus could only shake his head. "Your school doesn't provide Harry with half the education he needs, Professor, and most of the rest is superfluous."
"That's not what you said the other day, Liara," Harry mock-admonished her.
"Harry…" the woman replied warningly, glaring at him.
"I for one would gladly hear the unvarnished truth," Dumbledore put in. He wanted to understand this Dr. T'Soni and her beliefs better, even if they were inconvenient.
"Fine." Until now the Doctor's face had remained passive, sometimes even pleasant and she had spoken softly, despite her words. Now she frowned and her entire face displayed her disapproval. The change was so sudden, Albus was convinced that the woman had just shed a mask.
"Your teachers don't teach, instead they pump their students full of knowledge without giving them the tools to do anything meaningful with that knowledge. Some do even less. You have a whole school full of children armed with deadly weapons, yet you do not teach them to use their powers responsibly. Your punishments only teach them not to get caught and there are no ethics taught or even discussed. You let bigotry run rampant in your halls and encourage division. In my opinion, Hogwarts is one step away from a serious incident." Liara's audience, except Harry who has heard it before, was shocked.
"Furthermore, Harry's life has been at risk three times already. Bad education we can somewhat negate, injury or death we can not. Unless steps are taken to ensure his safety, he will not be attending your school any longer."
Albus' face blanched. He had expected some harsh words, but threatening to pull Harry from Hogwarts? It would be an unprecedented disaster for the school, a severe declaration of mistrust by the most preeminent student in a very long time. Rita Skeeter would have a field day.
"I can assure you we strive to ensure his safety," he finally answered her challenge. It was actually something he had wanted to bring up himself, he just hadn't expected such an ultimatum. "I hope Rubeus has put your mind to rest regarding his cerberus to rest already. I would like to point out that I did warn the students at the beginning of the year and steps had been taken to ensure no one wandered there out of idle curiosity…"
"We didn't know we were in the forbidden corridor!" Harry interrupted. "Honest!"
"Harry, be silent for a moment. The Professor is right that partial blame lies with you," his guardian admonished him. "Although that still doesn't justify keeping such a dangerous beast in a school."
"There are reasons for Fluffy to be there that I can't share with you. Besides, a student intent on exploring would not be in any grave danger. It's rather difficult to overlook a dog half the size of the room when one opens the door," Albus replied with a chuckle, desperate to bring some levity back. He could see that his answer wasn't entirely appreciated but he pushed on regardless. "As for quidditch, we will keep greater control over those from outside the school. Additionally, Professor Snape has graciously offered to referee the next Gryffindor match..."
"Are you out of your mind!?" Harry exclaimed. "Snape's not going to be fair! Gryffindor..."
"Harry…" Dr. T'Soni warned him with a glare, then turned back to Dumbledore. "I must agree with Harry. Better screening of the spectators seems like a good idea, but why have Professor Snape as the referee? Is he such a good flyer?"
"Severus?" Remus snorted. "He's about average on a broom, I guess, unless he got much better since our school days. He never really played quidditch either as far as I know. He was always more of a watcher."
"Then I understand your proposed action even less," T'Soni continued. "Why make a novice referee responsible for the safety of one player, while he has to watch thirteen others to do a job he is not competent in?"
"I was hoping the closer proximity would allow Severus to counter more effectively, if something would happen again," Albus said with a sigh. He could see now that the idea had been ill advised, but it had sounded reasonable when his potions professor had presented it. "I actually intended to attend the game myself as a further precaution."
"That's kind of you, but wouldn't it be better to station Professor Snape somewhere just outside the playing field, ready to intervene and actually capable of watching Harry?"
"Perhaps," Dumbledore mused, stroking his beard in thought. "It does sound like a good idea. Would those modified arrangements be acceptable to you, at least for this school year?"
"They would, but what about the troll?" she asked. Albus completely missed the sly glimmer in her eyes.
"Ah, yes. I'm sure you will be happy to hear that truly dangerous creatures - except Fluffy, I suppose - will not be housed inside Hogwarts' walls any longer. The accident from Hallowe'en will not repeat itself."
"So you still claim it was an accident and not a deliberate distraction, unleashed by someone who wants to steal the Philosopher's Stone?"
Albus, who had just started to relax again after all the shocks, suddenly stilled. His eyes widened for a moment then narrowed in suspicion, the mask of the kindly grandfather gone. When he spoke, it was in a flat, dangerous voice. "How do you know about the Stone?"
His change in demeanor didn't go unnoticed. Remus and Hermione eyed him with wide, slightly fearful eyes and subconsciously tried to slide away from him in their seats, just a bit. Even Harry seemed to be affected, until another reassuring squeeze of his arm calmed him again. He was still weary though.
Albus' current verbal sparring partner however seemed unaffected. Even without legilimency Albus could tell that she too was angry and not the least bit intimidated by him, or at least hid it very well. That came as a bit of a surprise. Very few could claim to not have quailed even slightly under his anger directed at them.
"Hagrid told us, Professor," Miss Granger blurted out. "He didn't mean to, he just said that Fluffy guards something belonging to Nicholas Flamel. With that information it was easy to figure it out. We're sorry."
Dumbledore sighed, his anger dissipating. Of course it had been Hagrid. While the half-giant could keep a secret better than most gave him credit for - after all only a handful of his closest friends knew about his parentage - he was entirely too trusting towards those he cared for and tended to let his guard down - and of course he adored children. A good thing really, most of the time, as Albus found that trust was already too rare, but right now it was somewhat inconvenient.
"It's quite alright, Miss Granger," he said, somewhat mollified.
"I can't fathom why you would put something like that in a school," Dr. T'Soni accused. "It's bound to…"
"Let me make one thing perfectly clear," Albus interrupted, looking and sounding like the powerful wizard he was. The kind you crossed at you own peril. "What happens behind the closed door on the third floor does not concern you. You have my word that the students are protected and no harm will come to them because of the stone ... as long as they do not go where they are not supposed to venture."
Hermione sat in her temporary bed, back resting against the headboard and a book propped up on her legs, which she had pulled close to herself. She couldn't actually read this particular book, the one Harry had gifted… returned to her only a few hours prior, as it was written in Latin, much to her disappointment. Hermione couldn't read Latin, except for a few words here and there that she could guess the meaning off, but she could look at the pictures of magical plants and animals and compare them to those she knew from her school books. She was also familiar with the anatomical diagrams from her parents' medical books.
The book was written on parchment - vellum as she remembered was the proper Latin term - something that was a bit irregular even in the magical world for all but the oldest tomes. Newer publications were printed on paper for some reason, only hand written notes and important correspondence merited parchment apparently. The book wasn't very long, only about two hundred pages or so, with an even mixture of drawings and text. The ink was somewhat faded and had flaked off in some spots, but the book was still easily legible.
The leather binding was cracked but both the inscription and the decoration - which looked disturbingly like her family's coat of arms - were easily discernible. There was also a rather large red gem inlaid into the front. Hermione wasn't sure if it was a ruby or just a semi-precious stone.
It was impossible to tell how old the book was exactly, there was no identifiable date written anywhere, but she knew that Merlin died sometime during the sixth century. If Mr. Lupin was right and the book was written by Merlin's mentor, then it could be anywhere between fifteen and sixteen hundred years old, given the lifespan of wizards. It was really, really old and therefore incredibly valuable. And the wizards had just decided that it was their right to take it from her family.
There was a soft knock at her door. Her 'Enter' admitted a tired looking Liara, now again in her more casual clothes and without makeup. She had earlier explained that it was hellishly difficult to get rid of and started itching like mad after some time.
Hermione felt a great deal of sympathy for the Asari. After Dumbledore's declaration concerning the stone the evening had effectively been over. The ancient wizard left almost immediately, recognizing that he was no longer welcome. Remus lingered for half an hour longer, just staying long enough to make short work of the dishes with his wand to everyone's relief.
After the two men were gone, Liara had let her mask drop and Hermione realized how much strength the confrontation with the Headmaster had cost her. Her hands had been trembling.
"Is everything alright, Hermione?" Liara asked, getting a nod in response. Then she noticed the book. "Do you need help translating that book?"
Hermione considered the offer for a moment. "No, but thank you. I would like to try on my own first," she replied. She didn't know why she declined but she wanted to be the one to uncover the books secrets.
"Oh." Liara fidgeted. She seemed a bit put out by the rejection. "I know there are a dictionary and some course books down in the library. I'm sure Harry would lend them to you, if you like."
"That would be really helpful, thank you," Hermione mumbled. "It's just… I have to do this on my own. I need to know… I don't know what. I don't know what to think about any of this. And I don't like not knowing."
Liara sat on the edge of her bed, smiling shyly at the girl. For a moment an awkward silence stretched between them.
"I'm sorry you had to see this bit of unpleasantness tonight," Liara finally said. Hermione immediately knew she was talking about the confrontation with her headmaster. "We suspected Professor Dumbledore would try something like this ever since the summer and I feel badly that you were caught in between."
"It's alright. He was rather rude, showing up uninvited," Hermione brushed off the apology. "Would you really do it?" she asked after a moment.
"Take Harry out of Hogwarts," the young witch voiced her fear. She hated sounding so small at that admission, but the truth was she was scared she would lose her only true friend. Without Harry around she feared their housemates would start ignoring her again. They were friendly enough these days, but Harry was the glue that kept everyone together. With him gone she would end up alone again, not really fitting in with any of the groups that had started to form.
"Honestly? I don't know yet. It mostly depends on Dumbledore now," Liara said gently. "Today I deliberately provoked him, attacked his pride and showed him that he's not in control. It might have been foolish to do so, but we don't want him interfering too much. Of course I'm concerned for Harry's safety, but we knew from the beginning that there might be people trying to harm him."
"You really don't trust him,do you?" Hermione asked. "The headmaster... I mean, he's Albus Dumbledore! Everyone says he's the greatest wizard since Merlin! But the things you said today… It made me wonder. Hogwarts - the magical world - really isn't what I imagined it to be."
Liara's lips thinned in distaste. "Professor Dumbledore, like every politician, has an agenda. He likes being in control, yet fears actually taking it. I don't yet understand why that is. No, we don't completely trust him. There are too many inconsistencies. Why has he left Harry in the muggle world with those horrible relatives? Why did he not allow him any contact with his magical heritage? Did he want Harry to arrive at Hogwarts completely ignorant? Why did he use an illegal ritual trying to locate Harry and bring him back, risking his own companion, a member of a very rare and powerful species in the process? And what is he thinking, bringing the Philosopher's Stone into a school?"
"Then why come here at all?" Hermione asked, perplexed. "Why risk exposure?"
"Because, despite everything, we still believe that whatever his agenda, Dumbledore is not intentionally malicious. And… but perhaps you should join us for this, Harry," the Asari explained, looking pointedly towards the door. Harry, or rather Harry's disembodied head, appeared, the boy having thrown back the cowl of his newest toy.
"How did you know I was there?" he scowled.
"As if I would tell you all my secrets," Liara smirked, patting the spot next to her on the bed, inviting Harry to sit. "There's far too much mischief you can get yourself into with that thing already, something we will talk about in a moment."
After the boy had settled down and getting his hair ruffled, Liara turned back to Hermione. "You asked why we are still here. Partially so Harry can learn magic. We realized early on that he needs competent teachers. There are many magics that are difficult and dangerous to learn. Have you heard of Apparition?"
Hermione and Harry both nodded. They had overheard the sixth and seventh years talking about it recently. Going from one place to another with a snap - well, more like a crack - certainly sounded very cool.
"Apparently, accidents - called splinching, leaving body parts of you behind - aren't uncommon with novices. It sounds very gruesome and dangerous but according to the literature is a pretty routine issue that is easily rectified. The problem is you need a qualified wizard to reverse the damage," Liara explained. "At home we wouldn't know how to help Harry if the same happened as he studies on his own. He would be severely constrained in what he could learn safely."
Both Harry and Hermione paled. Teleporting sounded wicked, but neither of them fancied losing a limb in the process.
"The other thing… Hermione, do you know why we try to keep my nature a secret? Why Harry can't tell you where he spent the last four years?"
"Because there are laws against revealing yourself," Hermione answered immediately.
"The law? Goddess, no," Liara replied startled. "It's true that there are such laws, but we are well past the point where we care about them."
"But I thought we aren't supposed to interfere with less advanced species?" Harry asked, perplexed. Hermione creased her brow, recognizing the new hint and trying to fit it into the puzzle.
"Yes of course, and that's why we have to proceed very carefully, lest we impose our morals and culture onto Humanity," Liara agreed distractedly. "But you're forgetting about magic."
"Oh my god!" Hermione suddenly exclaimed, all the pieces clicking into place. "It's the Prime Directive! You are an alien! An extraterrestrial!"
Liara whirled around to stare at the girl whose hands had flown to her mouth. Hermione could tell the Asari wanted to deny the accusation, but her reaction had given her away already. Something in Hermione's expression must have told her it was futile to protest, her mouth opened and closed again immediately.
For a long moment nobody said anything. Hermione was looking from Liara to Harry and back to Liara so fast it seemed she was shaking her head in denial. Harry was watching Hermione uneasily, once in a while darting a worried glance at Liara, but the Asari paid him no mind. Her eyes flickered over Hermione's face, as if she wanted to take in every subtle expression, always returning to her eyes as if she could divine through them if the secret would be safe with Hermione.
Suddenly Hermione gasped as she had another revelation and started to giggle. The other two stared at her in confusion and bewilderment. It was Harry who asked the obvious 'What?'.
"I remember you now! You were in the papers!" Hermione said in between giggles. Of course that statement did nothing to calm down either Liara or Harry.
Finally Hermione regained her composure enough to share the story, how the University often invited guest speakers from all over the world to present - as her father put it - slightly-silly subjects. Four years ago, there had been a speaker from the States talking about aliens and as usual, Hermione had researched the topic beforehand as much as a eight year old could - meaning she had gone to the library and read everything she could find, including some dubious papers. That had originally sparkled her interest in science-fiction, but it also led her to two stories about two boys being accosted by a 'blue-skinned woman in robes' and 'a woman with short, blue tentacles on her head'.
"I remember that!" Harry cried out with glee. "I thought it was the wickedest thing ever when you put Dudley into that stasis field. And I remember how you freaked out in that shop!"
"It's just…" Hermione had another fit of giggles. "That man - Agent Mulder? - he's supposedly an expert on aliens and the one time there's real proof of them he completely dismissed it! He explained for five minutes how you couldn't have been an alien and now it turns out that you are!"
Harry laughed and even Liara couldn't help but smile a bit.
"So nobody really believes in those pictures?" she asked, still slightly nervous.
"Oh I wouldn't worry," Hermione stated authoritatively. "There are hundreds of stories about people being abducted by aliens; thousands of pictures showing aliens or spaceships. Nobody takes them seriously."
"That's a relief," Liara sighed.
"So, Harry, as the only real alien abductee, I have to ask, did they experiment on you? Did they poke and prod you with all kinds of sensors in all kinds of places?" Hermione asked sweetly and broke out into a new batch of giggles.
"Only when he's intentionally annoying," Liara quipped. "Or when he's fumbling his figures. That reminds me, I wanted to invite you to join our training tomorrow so that I can evaluate how bad a job Harry did in teaching you."
"Hey!" Harry protested.
"Anyway, you finding out what I am makes it imperative that you understand what's at risk, and apparently Harry needs a reminder to," the Asari stopped the teasing abruptly. "It's getting late and you both need to sleep, but this can't wait."
"But I have so many questions! I can't just go to sleep! Where are you really from? How many alien species are out there? When did you find us? What does your spaceship look like?" Hermione gathered steam to ask as many questions as she could, but Liara didn't budge, although she did promise that they would talk more tomorrow, after the Asari had had a chance to talk with her mother.
Patience didn't come easily to Hermione, but now that she had figured out the heart of the secret, she could wait. Besides, Liara did offer her answers, perhaps not to the questions that were on the forefront of her mind after the revelation she had, but questions she had asked herself nevertheless.
Hermione's disenchantment with the magical world that had begun on the night of Hallowe'en continued to grow, as Liara explained her concerns that the secret of the magical world would not hold for much longer. She explained that from what she knew about sociological development, the muggle world would grow smaller, more connected, and decentralized. It wouldn't be enough to just obliviate innocent muggle bystanders, or trust that small oddities like accidental magic would be overlooked. The true advent of personal computing and the global network that went with it would take care of that.
The question was, what then? Liara doubted that magical society could reintegrate itself into the muggle one. They used to pose as gods! And even after Merlin's ban on wizarding rule they remained powerful. There would be a conflict, and considering World War II could largely be blamed on a wizard wanting to rule both worlds, the Asari felt justified in her fear that it could end very badly. Especially since the rise of Voldemort had confirmed that while many of the wizarding elite might disagree with his methods, they did agree with the principle idea. How would they react when push came to shove and there was no more middle ground?
However, if that was all, a minor - by galactic standards - civil war among a species, the T'Sonis wouldn't have involved themselves with Humanity's problems. The real problem came after. Liara felt comfortable enough to reveal that by her estimate, Humanity would reach the stars - and thus become part of the galactic community - inside three centuries - probably less. Even if they didn't, the slow expansion of the Citadel races would sooner or later reach Earth, and in turn the secret of magic would be exposed to all.
When they had discovered Harry's strange powers two years ago, Benezia had been concerned. Here was a power - a personal power even - that couldn't be explained by the Galaxy's current understanding of science. Magic - and sometimes they had jokingly referred to it as such even before Harry's acceptance letter - blatantly violated everything they knew about the inner workings of the Universe.
Back then they had no idea of the true scope of things. Now they did, and they were scared.
In his quest to contact Harry, Professor Dumbledore had sent a bird, a living being without any further protection, halfway across the galaxy. It arrived with pinpoint accuracy, without as much as a ruffled feather, in Matriarch Benezia's study and judging from the date on the letter, Fawkes' voyage took him less than a day. Dumbledore hadn't known where Harry was before he sent the phoenix, and although they had since then learned, that the specific ritual used by the Headmaster had severe limitations, the fact remained that magic had bested the mass relays - the pinnacle of scientific ingenuity the galaxy still struggled to comprehend - without even really trying. What else was it capable of?
Magic had the potential to eclipse the discovery of the Mass Effect, but it was too alien, too personal. The Asari, more than anyone else, knew that personal power made others uneasy. They carefully cultivated a nonthreatening image, deliberately downplaying their power, going as far as withhold their power from even themselves.
Still, everyone knew that the Asari, especially their Matriarchs, made the most powerful fighters in the galaxy.
The Asari had a reputation of being mediators, and that reputation was well earned through hard work, but even they had their dark sides and were no less susceptible to fear of the unknown.
The Turians would consider the magical side of Humanity a serious threat, perhaps rightly so, and would advocate their destruction. The Salarians would agree, as it was their doctrine to eliminate a threat long before it became a problem. They would however secure a few 'specimens' for clandestine study beforehand.
No one wanted to speculate how the Asari would act. Equally uncertain was how Human society would evolve. Would the magicals be in charge? Would they have been wiped out or driven into deeper hiding?
The T'Sonis were in agreement that one way or another, the discovery of magic would be the single most important event in galactic history since the disappearance of the Protheans. It had the potential to escalate in a war that would dwarf the Rachni wars and the Krogan Rebellions, and just as likely would end in another genocide. If ignorance was allowed to sow fear unopposed.
It also offered an unimaginable opportunity for advance. If magic could be replicated it could mean peace and prosperity for all - although that was a very optimistic vision.
That was what was at stake. That was why Harry and Liara were on Earth. That was why nobody could know.
"What can I do to help?" Hermione asked after absorbing everything. She felt faint after all the revelations of the evening. She needed time to process everything, figure out what it all meant, but she knew that Liara was sincere. There was a danger - and an opportunity - so great it was difficult to comprehend.
"For now you can keep Harry out of trouble," Liara replied, nudging the boy and giving him a half-playful, half-serious look. "If you were able to figure it out, others might too. Help him avoid tripping up because he doesn't know the etiquette or letting something slip he shouldn't. I realize that it's unfair to expect so much from Harry, and now you as well, but I hope you realize we have little choice." Both children nodded.
"Harry, I want you to stay out of trouble. That means no more pranks. It might be too late to stop your rivalry with Draco Malfoy, but try not to make it worse. We don't want to attract more attention than necessary. Above all else, no biotics except in your room and only when you're certain nobody's around."
"Yes, Liara," Harry and Hermione chorused, although Harry was audibly reluctant.
"You were right, mother," Liara said after they had greeted each other. "Dumbledore showed up today and he reacted more or less like you predicted."
"So he swallowed the bait. He'll probably try to contact you soon, probably during the first week of the new term," Benezia speculated. Liara had sent her a vid of the confrontation that had taken place that evening, recorded through Harry's eyes.
"Yes, the school is obviously his weakness," Benezia said, half to herself after she had finished watching it. "I find the way he reacted after Harry identified the cloak troubling. There is obviously more to those 'Deathly Hallows'. He took Harry's revelation far too personal. And the business with the stone… Hopefully he will offer up more information when you meet him again."
"Do I have to?" Liara asked, even if she had resigned herself to her fate already. "Today made me remember how much I hate this backstabbing business."
Benezia shook her head but reminded herself that her daughter wasn't her. Liara understood how vital her role was, even if she didn't like it. Over the years she had trained her well enough to be ready to handle it. In the past Benezia would have scolded Liara, however gentle, and been disappointed. Now she could understand and accept her daughter's reluctance to follow in her footsteps. She would either come around in time, or not, but she would always remain her daughter.
"There is another thing," Liara said carefully. "Hermione figured out our secret. She knows where I come from."
Benezia sighed in resignation. "Oh bugger… Well, I guess it was only a matter of time. Still, I thought it would happen after Harry's first year or near the end of it."
"You are not angry?" Liara asked, surprised by her mother's restrained reaction.
"At what? Or whom? Anger doesn't change anything now and it could have been much worse. You know as well as I do that we will need allies in the future. Miss Granger is an excellent starting point."
"So what should we do about her?" Liara asked.
"What have you told her so far?" Benezia wanted to know. Liara gave her a concise summary of her talk with Hermione and Harry.
"A bit more than I would have, perhaps," the Matriarch judged her daughter's actions. "But I suppose you managed to impress the need of secrecy in both of them. For now, continue to build trust but don't overwhelm her. I don't think there is anything you can really say that could do any real harm at this point. After all, right now she's just a child herself, as new to the magical world as Harry and mostly disconnected from her old world. Perhaps in the future she can be included more."
"Well, I have enlisted her to keep an eye on Harry. She does seem a bit more responsible than him," Liara conceded.
Sunday, December 29, 1991
Alexandria, hidden behind Mars
"Ouch," Liara cried out in slight pain, rubbing her backside.
"Want me to go again?" Harry asked, wand pointed at her, obviously enjoying himself immensely. "You didn't cry out as loud this time. Is the barrier working? Or are you just starting to enjoy it?"
"Who's enjoying what?" Tika asked as she entered the lab on the Alexandria.
"I'm not enjoying getting struck!" Liara exclaimed. "I think it's no use. My barriers don't work either, just like the shields."
Since the day after Boxing Day they had been hard at work, trying to figure out magic, but their progress was limited. Quasi non-existent, in fact.
The problems were many. They lacked any kind of proper scientific framework to start with; no handy scanners to measure magical energy or even a theory how such a scanner would work. The texts in Harry's library weren't any use either. Those that bothered with it at all treated magic in a philosophical way. Sure, they asked where magic came from or how it worked, but the answers they gave were entirely unsatisfying. They talked about souls, blood, and magical cores, about ley lines and the influence of the stars. Except for souls nothing was proven, only postulated. In a funny inversion the existence of the soul was not only taken for granted but supported by heaps of proof, some of which was quite disturbing.
Liara had gained a much higher respect for the history of science. When she had sat that course in university, her mind had understood how momentous those advances had been, but only now could she really appreciate the real genius of those inventors and discoverers. Constructing a scientific theory from nothing was incredibly hard work.
But the circumstances weren't the only things at fault. Harry, Tika, and Liara herself were ill equipped to solve this mystery. Harry, of course, was still a child and with only a scant few months of magical education. He was smart and he did have a few brilliant insights, but nobody expected him to come up with all the answers.
Tika was a talented engineer, but her knowledge was mostly practical. Like everyone that had to work deep in the bellies of ships capable of intersystem travel and relay jumps, she had a fair understanding of the physical principles involved - none of which were applicable to their current problem.
That left Liara as the only formally educated scientist, even if her field was archeology. Unlike her Human colleagues however, Liara was well versed in several advanced theories, spanning a multitude of disciplines ranging from computer science to physics. Human archeologists only ever encountered less advanced civilizations while her objects of study were generally as advanced as the Asari or even more so. They dealt with stones, pulleys, and printing presses - she dealt with adaptive nanomaterials, autonomous mining machines bigger than some cities on Earth, and topological quantum computers.
Despite this, Liara was becoming painfully aware that her branch of science was not what they needed right now. She was used to dig for clues, fit them together into a theory that could then be tested by searching for additional clues. She now understood why some natural scientists considered her field fuzzy, as it relied on actually finding those clues as opposed to construct experiments to produce the data themselves.
Liara sucked at coming up with experiments.
Right now, for example, they had tested if biotic barriers acted any different than kinetic shields as far as magic was concerned - i.e. not at all. The best way to accomplish this that they could come up with involved her creating that barrier - obviously - and Harry hitting her with a spanking hex - the magical equivalent of a spitball that bored school children hurled at each other when the teacher's back was turned.
An unorthodox solution necessitated by a problem they had run into: how to gauge magical power or the attenuation of spells.
They had discovered that after traveling a hundred metres, a simple spell like the aforementioned spanking hex would lose much of its power, but that was in no way a novel concept. Even Harry's first year defence text mentioned that distance was one of the best protections as even the worst curses lost their effect after some distance. It was all very qualitative though, no simple textbook rule like 'A spanking hex cast with 100 thaums affects a target 100 metres away with 50 thaums of power'. There was no magic-o-meter that assigned numbers to spell effects, to how powerful it had been performed, how strong it was when it arrived, or even how strong in general a particular caster was at any given time. They had to rely on crude methods that involved a modified light spell and industrial strength welding goggles as a way to estimate fluctuations in Harry's capabilities. So far they were able to validate that a focused Harry could produce an almost twice as bright light as an exhausted Harry and that overdoing it gave him a blinding headache, similar to what happened when he ate freezing ice too fast.
And of course they had to rely on her being hit by Harry's spanking hexes, one of the very few spells in Harry's repertoire that didn't produce a binary result, affected her directly, and that was also somewhat measurable, even if it was a subjective assessment of relative pain levels. On her bum.
"You know, maybe this would be easier if we could see how a magical shield reacts to a spell," Harry said. Liara snorted. She knew what Harry was trying to do: selling her Hermione's full inclusion into their little project. In all honesty he was probably right. Going forward they would need at least two magicals and Hermione was probably a better candidate than anyone else, even if Liara would have liked someone more experienced. Aside from that she liked the girl.
But even an additional person who could perform magic wasn't the solution to all their problems. They still didn't have a means to actually record what was going on beyond some bright flashes of light, trances of Eezo in enchanted objects and potions, and the obvious results of the spell cast. They suspected that Dark Energy was the answer, or at least part of it, but nobody could measure Dark Energy. It was a theoretical concept, explaining the obvious effects of a physical process. It couldn't be seen or measured - after all, that's the whole point of calling it 'Dark' in the first place.
Truth be told, they knew about as much about Dark Energy as about Magic.
"Let's try it again one last time," Liara said. "Tika, could you give us a countdown? I want to put up the strongest barrier I can, but it's only going to last for a second."
Tika did and with a cry of 'Pulso!' Harry sent the cream coloured spell towards Liara who was wrapped in scintillating wisps of blue light, the visible spillover from the huge energies that at this short moment would protect her even from an onrushing skycar.
In hindsight it was probably a bad idea. The concentration required to form and hold that strong a barrier even for a fraction of a second was just too high. When Harry's spell slipped through her barrier and struck her bum, Liara cried out, more out of surprise than actual pain and her concentration faltered. The barrier dissolved, violently, bowling over Harry and Liara, depositing him on his own arse and her on her knees. Tika who stood a few paces away from them merely staggered.
"Ow," Harry and Liara moaned in tandem, both rubbing their respective backsides.
"Erm... Liara, are your pants supposed to be red with white polka dots?" Tika asked, barely restraining her laughter.
"What?" Liara cried, perplexed, twisting to see where the spells had struck her. "Harry! Did you do this?"
Harry just shook his head in negation, his eyes wide.
"Harry, tell me the truth. This is serious," Liara demanded again. Her patience had taken a steep dive over the last days. "I promise I won't get mad, but this is neither the time, nor the place for pranks."
"No! Honest, I didn't do this!" the boy cried in outrage at being accused. Liara scooted over and scrutinized him closely. After a moment she nodded her head once, apparently convinced of his honesty, and pressed a small kiss on his forehead in apology.
"I guess, that's our answer then. Barriers do apparently influence spells, just not in a way that makes any sense," she sighed. "Tika, I could really use some good news right now. I fear I'm going mad otherwise."
"Well, I don't know about good news," the Quarian said cautiously. "But I did finish with the cloak for now. It's truly remarkable."
"I'll take it, even if it's unlikely to help my headache," the Asari replied, resigned, as she picked herself up and slumped into a nearby chair.
"Apparently its silvery texture is something like a hologram," Tika started her report. "It's only there if the last holder of the cloak wants it to be visible. Right useful that, or you would run a real risk of losing it. It's mostly subconscious which is remarkable in itself. Somehow the cloak knows if it's supposed to be visible or not."
"Sounds like what my Nimbus does," Harry put in, referring to his broom knowing to jump into his hand when wanted.
"Yes, we know that some magical items can do that. What's really interesting about the cloak is that it's perfect. Any electromagnetic radiation passes right through it. I've tried the whole spectrum, from radio to gamma waves - no attenuation at all and not even a hint of refraction.
"But that's not the strangest thing! You both know that you can see the outside while under the cloak, so it must duplicate the light coming in. I tested it and it does! Do you know what that means? Free energy!" the Quarian cried in excitement.
"I seriously doubt that this is the only instance of free energy when magic is involved," Liara replied exasperatedly. It wasn't that the concept really bothered her, the mass effect was much the same, really. The only reason why it wasn't used to create electricity was the relative scarcity of eezo and some long-term issues. "It's an interesting discovery to be sure, I just fear we are in over our heads here and I don't really know what else we can do. At this rate it's going to take centuries and I for one had planned to go back to my Prothean ruins at some point."
"Liara, can I go play a vid-game with Bob and Primus?" Harry asked, his enthusiasm waning. Liara understood. They had been at it for hours and this was supposed to be a holiday for Harry.
"Of course you can. We'll continue tomorrow. I should really go back to studying the pensive anyway. That's more my expertise after all," Liara gave her permission and Harry ran off to his room.
"How is it going with that?" Tika asked, gesturing at the stone bowl resting on the table in front of Liara. They had found it in the secret room beneath Potter Hall.
"Not very well. I've started reading up on them and their creation, but it involves a lot of runes," Liara sighed in frustration. Tika moved behind her and started massaging the Asari's shoulders, eliciting a surprised, but grateful, moan. "Fortunately, Harry was able to perform the spell that reveals them but it's still an incredibly complex system: relative position, size, cluster geometry, subscript, superscript, inscript, linking, layering - and it's not just like writing a computer program, nevermind how easy it is to think of it like that. During charging the runes the crafter has to focus on the intent behind his work, sometimes completely altering what's written. For example, the runes to emit light are very similar to those detecting light, and in theory a simplified version of one could be used to perform the other if the crafter so wanted. Harry can't yet perform the spells necessary to reveal that difference. It's like I'm missing every second word in a text and what's left is mostly gibberish."
"Have you tried it out yet?"
"Not yet. I still have to read up on mind magic before I can allow Harry to extract any memories. That could go horribly wrong," Liara said, shaking her head. "There's just so much to do and I don't know where to begin."
"About that," Tika ventured carefully. "I think I may have found something that might help us out. You're still convinced that magic is somehow linked to Dark Energy, right?"
"It's the only thing that makes sense. I don't know if eezo is a magical byproduct or an active element, but enchanted items have it in them. So does Harry, apparently. What have you found?" Liara asked, her curiosity re-awakened.
"It may be nothing, but I remember about five or six years ago there was this Salarian Professor - Professor Solus - who claimed he had discovered a way to measure Dark Energy."
"Why haven't I heard anything about this?" Liara asked perplexed.
"Well, it was only news for a month or two - should have been about the time when you were still on Earth the first time - but then more and more physicists denounced the Professor's theories - a few even tried it out and got nil - and the excitement died down pretty quickly."
"That doesn't seem to help us much," Liara said with a frown.
"Yeah, if it was just another failed theory, I wouldn't have brought it up, but Solus didn't give up his theory. He continued to tell everyone that he was right and they just did the experiments wrong. He became a bit of a laughing stock on the extranet, that's why I remembered him. He was so convinced that he gave up his career and became an outcast. I reckon he didn't do that for nothing. It might be worth a shot."
"Perhaps you're right," Liara mused, then she sighed as she realized she had just burdened herself with more work. "I'll look up his work when I get the chance."
Wednesday, January 1, 1992
Headmaster's Study, Hogwarts
Albus Dumbledore was brooding, something he hadn't done in decades, and that was cause to indulge in it more than just a little bit. He was ashamed to admit that the meeting with Harry and his guardian had gotten to him. He had told himself beforehand not to underestimate the mysterious women that had effectively hidden Harry for a very long time and he still got more than he bargained for.
True, he had gotten what he wanted - a foot in the door and insight into their views - but the truth was a hard pill to swallow. Albus wasn't used to being questioned and it galled him.
Deep down he admitted to himself that he was playing a dangerous game with Quirrell, but wasn't it better than the alternative? Hadn't he taken every precaution after the troll incident to keep his students safe? Quirinius was watched carefully, by him, by several portraits, and by the other head of houses, especially Severus. He had even asked the house elf that cleaned the man's chambers to keep an eye on things. No, better a little risk now than having to deal with another Dark Lord so soon after Voldemort.
However, it was more than being questioned: he had been challenged, doubt was cast at his school and him by association. He wondered if there was some truth to it. In the magical world, nobody questioned the safety of his school, but the T'Sonis wouldn't know that. They didn't know about the danger magic posed. They didn't know that Hogwarts was the safest place to learn magic. He would have to rectify that. Perhaps they could find a compromise, but that meant he had to be open to constructive criticism. His reputation alone wouldn't carry him very far in this matter.
For now he would wait until the new term started. The new rules for the House Cup would go a long way to show his general willingness to listen. If Harry wasn't on the train, then he would react, but he didn't want to appear too desperate.
As you may have noticed, I'm not terribly fond of the Deathly Hallows. The artefacts themselves are fine, just poorly presented in canon in my opinion. For six years Harry's cloak is just like every other invisibility cloak - and no one caught on that it's special? Harry (or probably Hermione) never researched invisibility cloaks in general? Well, I think someone (*cough* Hermione *cough*) did, considering how fast she connected the dots in book seven, but nobody made the connection before it was painfully obvious? No one tested how one could detect someone under it? What about the marauders before them? Or the generations upon generations of Potters before? I find that highly unlikely. So in this story James (and all the Potters before him) knew. I can imagine them having a good laugh at all those questers, including Dumbledore.
I'm not really a fan of that whole Master of Death thing either, though there are some stories that delve into it that I greatly enjoyed. Foremost is probably 'Coming Back Late' by alchymie/Paracelsus (which has sadly been on hiatus/discontinued for some time now) from whom I took the inspiration for this alternate use of the Resurrection Stone (although there it wasn't the main use).
So I nipped that whole thing in the bud. No Master of Death in this story. Sorry.
Though they are powerful items that will become useful in time, they are no different than the Mirror of Erised or the Goblet of Fire in that they are unique (for now) and powerful.
Oh, and a phylactery is a soul anchor similar to a horcrux that doesn't require the splitting of the soul. It's more like a tether. Of course it has other disadvantages. I always believed that there had to be alternatives to the horcruxes or Dumbledore would have known right away, with only the number being uncertain. Either that or he always knew exactly what he was looking for, which is certainly a possibility, just not one I follow in this story.
I hope I gave you a plausible explanation why Harry and Liara are on Earth and are taking the risks they do. It's not just scientific curiosity. I think their fear is justified considering the background of Mass Effect (and HP). Genocide, sterilization of an entire race, letting another almost-genocide happen, accepted slavery/piracy, total war against a species because they didn't observe laws they couldn't possibly know about… In the games themselves you can actually perform genocide no less than three times - five times actually, if you count the "baddies".
The Mass Effect Galaxy isn't the most tolerant place.
Another thing I would like to mention: Dark Energy is the canon explanation for the Mass Effect. 'Dark Energy' is the astrophysicists' way of saying: 'Well, the expansion of the universe is accelerating. No clue why. Must be some unknown energy that does that.' The problem is, Dark Energy can't be directly observed (yet). It's minuscule on a local scale. According to wikipedia the mass-equivalent of the solar system's entire Dark Energy supply comes to about 5 tonnes. I should say that there are two promising models that could explain Dark Energy, but that's all they are. We don't know if they are true. And we don't know anything about the mechanism behind it (well, Zero Point Energy is a good contender, but that's Quantum Physics, which is notoriously difficult to reconcile with General Relativity).
I've mentioned it before but it bears repeating. Canon is messed up by the fact that it starts as a story for children and ends as epic fantasy. I've read on some author's profile page that Dumbledore is a plot device. I couldn't agree more, and he isn't the only one. Strangely it's only in sixth and seventh year, the two books that I consider the weakest, that he becomes an actual character. If you view all seven books from the epic-fantasy angle he's quite the manipulative bastard, which makes it easy to bash him.
I try to deconstruct the canon Dumbledore and rebuild him the way I think he's supposed to be. Inherently good and honourable (and to an extent trustworthy), but also very fallible and generally not the person that should handle a war. If he sticks to being a teacher and headmaster it would be fine (something he would actually prefer), but people expect him to be something he isn't: a leader, a pacifist general. Add to that his controlling tendencies and him being burned in the past so he's actually afraid of taking too much control and you have a very confusing and explosive mix.
I repeat: He's probably the worst person to actually handle the war. Sure he knows a lot. As an advisor he's invaluable. As the one calling the shots? Not so much. Basically, I consider him incompetent in this regard.