I know some people are waiting for this to wind up on Pandora so I thought I'd take a second to brief you on how 'right now' is relevant to canon. Pandora will only be visited after the events of the movie. Harry is in the year 2145. Jake Sully didn't even ship out to Pandora until around 2148.
I know that sometimes 'waiting for something to happen' can result in a sort of disappointment with any chapter in which that something doesn't happen, so I hope those of you experiencing something like this can maybe let go of some of their 'waiting' by knowing that it won't be happening any time soon. Please remember that this story has always been about Harry on Earth, not Pandora - even though he will visit eventually. :)
Huge thanks to everyone who comments. You guys and gals are the reason this story keeps going. :)
"Yes, the rumours are true!"
Harry glanced up at the familiar voice, a blurt of sound in a sea of noise. He'd gone exploring again and had found something of home in an over-crowded indoor food court surrounded by shops. All the tables had screens built in (under heavily graffitied glass) but there were dozens curving like ribbons through the air as well. Several of them broadcast their sound 'publicly' - that is, not on private wireless channels for people with chipped ear canals.
Four separate channels on four separate screens all started scrolling the logo for Mary-Jane's show. Shots of her - and of himself - rapidly followed it.
"Mary-Jane has secured the world's first, exclusive live interview with Harry Potter, the mysterious teenage boy found sleeping under the ruins of Stonehenge!"
"You wanna get out of here, boss?" Michael, ever-aware and possibly psychic, shifted to block the view of Harry from most of the rest of the room. As a face amongst thousands, he didn't stand out too much. When that face was having attention actively drawn to it... not so much.
"Yes please." Harry answered gratefully, scrunching up his wrapper and stuffing it into his half-empty drink cup. He took his and Michael's rubbish in hand, leaving his bodyguard to shelter and lead him past the bins and then through the crush of people to the exit of the food hall. In their wake, the advertisement merrily rattled on. He was starting to regret agreeing to even just the one show, no matter how necessary David had made it seem.
"Confirmed by three independent scientific institutes as a perfectly-preserved human from the 21st century, Harry Potter has been touted as a modern-day King Arthur. Streaming soon, we ask all the questions you've been dying to-"
And then they were outside, a mezzanine floor 20 stories in the air that linked three surrounding commercial buildings and the local skytrain station. It was less crowded here due to the dangerously unfiltered air, meaning there were still enough people for an average day on a London street. Despite the unusually strong sunlight, the shade cast by other buildings and the overhanging floors of this one made all the blazing neon signs about the place just as eye-catching as at night.
Cross-hatched metal stairwells took up every corner, zigzagging up walls to allow access to shop fronts built into peoples' tiny studio-apartment homes. Golden light spilled from curtained windows, rosy pinks from adult stores and tiny bars, greens, blues and whites from drug stores and mini-marts. Here, a window full of unlit candles. There, a row of plastic potted plants. Signs in five languages, everywhere. A skytrain thundered past overhead as another one pulled into the station. In the distance, a skyscraper of glass sprouted a mass of thick steel-grey pipes, like a factory was built on top of an office block. Bracketing it were more skyscrapers, residential blocks with windows that didn't open and advertising painted or projected all down the sides.
All of the buildings blazed with light, even through the thin daily smog. They flashed and flickered and glowed. A hundred three-storey advertisements competed for space, blurring together and setting off a headache behind his eyes.
He turned, made his way towards a quiet(ish) corner and leant against the railing. Looking up, the wall of shop windows and electronic signs of the next building over glared down at him. He could see people inside, talking and browsing. Others filed past each other on the narrow sealed walkways outside. Looking down, the walls became increasingly bare and dirty, damaged and rusted and graffitied. There were no shops that he could see, nor walkways. Windows were all closed, some boarded up, others just forgotten behind ratty grey curtains. Further down still, thicker smog - because it was heavy enough to sink - all but obscured the street, though a rainbow of colour deep within the churning mass suggested that street level was just as crowded with shops and people as the 20th floor.
Abruptly he felt constrained. Panicked. Claustrophobic. The walls closed in on him, the floors above pressed down. The mezzanine floor was tiny, and so bloody high up, with nothing sturdier beneath his feet than a crumbling old building. Another train slammed past and he flinched away from it, breathing harshly as his chest tightened and his guts rolled over.
There was a hand on his shoulder and he shrugged it off violently. He couldn't bear to be touched, not when he already couldn't breathe. He dropped into a crouch, curling up even as his chest threatened to tear itself apart if it didn't get some air soon. His hands fisted in the material of his pants, his vision narrowing until all he could see was a scrap of pale, peach-coloured paper that had blown against the railing at some point and stuck. Exposure had made most of the writing on it smudge or fade but it was beautifully not digital. It was normal. It was sane and safe. He focused on it, grimly shoving everything else back and away. Determinedly not thinking about how alien the world around him felt. Not thinking about how fake plants were so normal that they were everywhere, about the thin layer of dust and muck over everything outside, obscured by brilliant lights and floods of people. About the sheer mess of stuff, everything built on everything else, crammed together so that one man's balcony was another's roof, how the space beneath a bridge over a dizzying height was prime real estate, how the human race had built the centre of their lives high in the sky because it was dangerous to live below the smog line - but people still did because they couldn't afford not to.
How everything he'd known and loved - and even not-loved, like the Dursleys - were long dead and gone, leaving him so horribly alone.
Time passed. He wasn't quite sure what happened during it, but by the time he'd come back to his senses, they'd somehow moved to a bench tucked under a stairwell and Michael had his arm around him. Just... over his shoulders, easy and calm, like a friend or a brother. Nobody gave them a second look, or even seemed to notice them in the shadows as they were. The sun was a bit richer now, late afternoon light lending the sky a pollution-pretty colour. Slowly, Harry dropped his feet from the bench to the floor. Straightened his back.
The world was still too-bright and ugly, still too full and loud and wrong wrong wrong...
But he was better, for now. He could handle it again.
He cleared his throat. Without a word, Michael took his arm back and stood like nothing had happened.
Gratefully, Harry followed his lead.
They went home.
Panic attacks like that were, thankfully, rare but they caught him off guard every time. For the most part he'd had them privately in his study or in his room but very occasionally something in the world outside would trigger it and Michael would carefully get him somewhere at least semi-private until his heart rate slowed, his breaths lengthened and his mind cleared.
The first time had been when he'd realised the sky was never blue anymore. Not ever - here, at least. It wasn't cloudy weather obscuring the sky - it was permanent pollution, plain and simple. And it wasn't going anywhere. He'd grown up with his Aunt Petunia cleaning and humming along to Sinatra's crooning rendition of 'Blue Skies' but people his age now wouldn't have the faintest idea of what the song was going on about. It was weird just how much such a stupid, simple thing could affect him.
Sometimes it felt like every time he noticed something unexpectedly wrong, three other things would jump out at him right after.
There was no such thing as spring anymore, or autumn. It was just 'early or late' summer or winter. Easter still happened but it was more commercialised than Christmas had ever been in his own time and it seemed to be entirely about celebrating chocolate and sweets in general.
Marriage seemed to be a quaintly romantic notion, like maybe handfasting had been in his own time. It was something two (or three, or half-a-dozen) people could do if they wanted to make some sort of show about fidelity or love but there was no expectation of marriage anymore, not automatically married parents, no pressure to marry or (near as he could tell) any real reason to marry. Oh, and you didn't just marry the people you were in bed with either. It seemed to be… well, judging by the movies and the net he'd seen, it seemed to be something for everyone. Siblings, friends, people who wanted to live in little clans, heterosexuals and homosexuals and aesexuals - anyone. It was weird.
Another weird thing that took months before he noticed, was a lack of childbirth on tv or in movies. Not that he wanted to see it, Merlin forbid, but more that he sort of thought it happened all the time (courtesy of Aunt Petunia's soaps, always full of men and women fawning over heavily pregnant ladies). But now? He didn't think he'd ever seen it even once except for a late-night show in which being pregnant had seemed like some sort of horrible curse everyone pitied the lady for. And not even for the usual reasons - being poor, social shame, whatever - but because it was somehow something she couldn't undo without dying herself. It was… he'd sat up in bed and just stared, trying to work it all out but it seemed like everyone was really just really really sorry she had to go through with it, that she couldn't abort and go back to her happy tra-la-la life of before. That had been the point when he'd first noticed and after that he couldn't seem to stop noticing.
Nobody got pregnant - or if they did, it was a laughing kind of 'ha ha whoops!' moment followed by a pill or an injection as ordinary as a visit to the GP. Maybe someone would half-heartedly scold them for being careless but… that was it. And when they wanted kids?
Everyone adopted. Everyone. It was like the world of tv and movies existed in some alternate reality where babies grew in orphanages, infinitely produced and selectable like dolls on a store shelf.
Asking Michael just resulted in an offhanded sort of explanation like 'yeah, everyone knows there's too many kids in the world, it's wasteful to make more when you can adopt' and further searching on the net threw up things like fines for people who birthed their own children but financial benefits for people who adopted instead. Gene therapy made it possible for your adopted kid to look just like you (or how you wanted them to look) even if it was hugely expensive and had a lot of activist and religious groups raging about the morality of it all. There were support groups for women who got pregnant and couldn't, for one reason or another, stop. He'd searched for 'baby showers' and found nothing but historical references.
It was just. It was just so alien sometimes. He'd handled being thrust into the future fairly well, he thought, all things considered. He'd had handled losing everyone and everything he'd known (mostly by avoiding thinking about it) in large part because this world hadn't seemed that different to his own. But, it was. Little things he'd trusted to be familiar and steady and normal, weren't. It was like looking down and discovering that your hand had been replaced with someone else's - but it was still pretending to be yours. It got into your head through back doors you didn't know had, eroding what you'd taken for granted.
He started to realise that all the historians badgering him for interviews were right. There really was a huge difference between his time and theirs, in all the little ways that didn't normally get written down. He'd looked it up and found several studies on trends in media and consumer patterns over the centuries, some of which had confirmed - and enhanced - what he'd already started noticing. Marriage was different, sure, but romance was almost gone entirely - at least the way he'd known it. He'd snuck into movie theatres more than a few times during his Dursley-prison summers and he'd overheard years of tv dramas and soaps. He knew what it used to be like and what it wasn't now.
In Harry's time you couldn't get away from the mandatory attractive love interest. Now? Over the last fifty years only five movies had been about romance in the way Harry conceived of it (the beginning of love between two people eventuating in sex and marriage). Only five. More shocking was that several movies he'd seen recently and had assumed to include romance, actually hadn't. Yes there'd been overtures of bonds and love, but it had actually been focused on friendship or 'brother/sister'ly love. Comradeship. He'd just assumed the sex and marriage happened offstage or in future movies or something.
It. Was. Weird.
It had also been what got him to finally agree to meeting the historians and it had been… exhausting. Several weeks of just talking and talking, often with multiple historians and anthropologists in attendance or watching over the net, asking questions that prompted answers he hadn't even known he'd had. He brought digital copies of photos he didn't mind sharing and they brought him even more, asking him questions from how it felt to be ruled by a Queen to what the river Thames smelled like. Everyone had been so pathologically interested, even the pompous nobs who couldn't quite stop themselves from speaking down to him.
His RDA tag filled with message after message, more questions and clarifications and afterthoughts. Several all but begged to be authorised to write his biography (several more, he suspected, would go ahead anyway and publish an unauthorised one once he was a legal adult) and someone knew someone else who was in the movie industry and would he be interested in being a historical accuracy consultant? Or, failing that, meeting with whoever wound up being cast as him for the movie being made about his life?
David had come at his alarmed (and angry) call, sweeping in like a slightly rumpled angel of lawsuits and throwing around a lot of big words that basically boiled down to 'you don't want the RDA as your enemy'. Still, it worked. The movie stalled out until someone could work out a way to make it 'based on a true story' and 99% fictional. Harry chose three of the historians he'd gotten along quite well with to write his biography but made it a contractual condition that nothing about his childhood was to be even hinted at until after he died or rescinded the order. David added a clause whereby Harry also had final say over the content and 'presentation' of the biographies (which meant Harry could make it more about his experiences and less about him), again until his death or rescinded order.
The historians didn't mind too much. All three of them were in it for 'the (social) science' as it were, and didn't mind that their secondary manuscripts probably wouldn't be published until after they'd died too, so long as it was published eventually. For now they just threw themselves into grilling Harry about every little thing (exactly how many drunken monks was the Fat Lady drinking with? What did butterbeer taste like?) and sent him regular updates as they cobbled their books together.
His books, finally cleaned up and produced in both digital and physical format, were an overnight consumer obsession.
Dragons of the World and Magical Botany smashed the bestselling records. Close on their heels were a veritable flood of other titles, all drawn and stretched from his tightly compressed originals. Magical Uses for Mundane Items, Prophecy and You, A Compendium of Charms v.I, and on and on. The publisher was careful not to flood the market with everything he'd allowed them but instead doled it out bits at a time. Incredibly and very unusually for the age, the physical copies sold better than anything else - especially those filled with actual 'spells' or 'magic knowledge' such as the botany or animal books. Everyone wanted to have a real book of magic, it seemed. Shortly after its release, A Beginner's Guide to Potions smashed the sales records again. The publishers started re-running the original books, in fancier and fancier styles with millions of people buying every edition they could.
In a very short amount of time, Harry became very rich.
Unfortunately, right alongside the swell in popular hysteria there came a backlash of the negative kind. He and his books were decried as hoaxes, a scam, a deliberate attempt to generate hype for an upcoming snap or a government plot to distract people from more important matters. The lack of anyone capable of actually doing magic was held up as evidence that his books were fake and so was he.
Completely without his permission, the GLF retaliated by leaking records of their study on the plant matter he'd given them - and their studies on him and his abilities. Video and data evidence - taken from when he'd grown the flamma gout and later tests of his energy output- started popping up and went viral. Groups dedicated themselves to proving them real or false. Deliberately false videos started spreading, made by fans and organised propaganda groups alike.
People started to bring religion into it. Some, very few, hailed him as a saviour sent to redeem (or punish) them all. Many, many more painted him as the devil incarnate, sent to lead them astray or ruin their world. They blamed him for the state the world was in now and used his unnaturalness (half the time contradicting themselves on whether it was real or not) as evidence that he was at fault for everything bad and that he would only cause further disaster.
People started recognising him on the streets, especially those in the same area he lived in.
He stopped going out unless he absolutely had to. Michael started to argue with David over the need for more security.
He kept up contact with the GLF, the historians and anthropologists, his publishers and Mary-Jane from the sanctuary of his study. The talk show host was very sympathetic over the backlash and surprisingly comforting to talk to. She'd seen it (or similar) happen before and they started discussing ways they could disable the worst attacks against him on her show - mostly through demonstrating his magic as both real and not-bad. When he explained the limitations of his ability in regard to personal power - and forwarded her the preliminary findings on that side by the GLF - serve them right for leaking all that other stuff - she got very mysterious and promised to get back to him about 'an idea'.
Life moved busily on.
The plants David had promised him had arrived weeks back and his study was a veritable jungle of hanging, potted and shelved life. All sickly or near-death when they'd arrived, the eclectic collection of leafy and flowering plants were now lush and thriving. He hadn't consciously fed them any magic but between the records the Wizards had left him and the studies the GLF had done, it seemed that he 'oozed' a level of magic everywhere he went - like a saturated sponge. Most of it was lost to the world like how evaporation made a sponge lose water but some of it seemed to 'catch' in things - especially living things - in any place he spent a fair amount of time. To test it he started putting some of his plants in other areas of the house and those in the store room, Michael's room and the bathroom most definitely withered whilst those in his bedroom and study continued to flourish.
The world was too parched for him to unconsciously influence anything more but it was still nice to feel like he could live in a place that was at least a little bit magical without harming the world to make it happen.
A little warier than before, thanks to Michael, he didn't ever physically go visit Buddy, Boxy and Mia again but pretty soon all three of them had his private tag and Buddy sent him all kinds of things - videos, movie recommendations, jokes, news articles, games, sport clips (accompanied by long, angry rants) and, increasingly, face-to-face video chats. Boxy seemed to have some sort of program that picked up her chatter and transcribed it to text before sending it to him, meaning he often got long, rambling, barely coherent narrations of her adventures rescuing 'Princess Harry' and photos of pretty things she'd found that day. Mia's tags were a lot more sporadic and she seemed to find some amusement in sending him links to love/hate cults dedicated to him, statistics for how often sky trains derailed and killed everyone on board, and zero-g porn.
It felt good to be able to talk to them. It never felt forced and they never asked for anything, never even hinted at the hardship of their own lives (and maybe he'd snuck a peak at Michael's research on them, so he knew they weren't doing well) and he wanted to help them but didn't exactly know how. Memories of Ron's (and the rest of his family's) pride were very clear and he didn't want to lose his hopefully-real friends to offence. He thought about just sending them money but he also didn't want to ever have to wonder if they were only friends with him because he paid them to be - but he didn't want to not help them either.
It was difficult - and he was busy - so mostly, he put off thinking about it at all and that wasn't just an excuse, he really was busy! It was only when he glimpsed a gut-punchingly familiar 'September 1st' date on some correspondence that he even realised his seventeenth birthday had come and gone without him noticing.
He was seventeen. Of age in the Wizarding world but still four years away in the modern Muggle world. 148 years ago, he should be entering his final year of Hogwarts. He should be enjoying a world made safe, a year without danger and death. He should be making plans with Ron to go backpacking through Europe as Hermione scolded them for not planning their 'proper' futures. He should be feeling Ginny's soft skin under his hands and trying not to compare her carrot-red locks to Cho's silky ebony. He should be free to cast his magic whenever and wherever he wanted, to get his apparition license and literally pop over the channel to have breakfast in a French cafe every morning.
He should have his whole life ahead of him.
He sighed and tried to shut away the bitter loss of a future stolen. He still did have his whole life ahead of him and just because his best friends and chosen family weren't there (and hadn't bothered to leave him anything as comfort, alone in a world without them) didn't mean that it couldn't be just as or almost as free and fun. Sure, he didn't have even a fraction of the magic ability he'd used to have but he was rich - he could still go backpacking, maybe make some new friends somewhere nobody knew of him. He could meet a girl and feel their skin under his hands - or pay a girl, as Michael frequently reminded him and he tried not to give in and do. (The minimum age for purchasing a lifelike sexdroid was eighteen but even if he could buy one now it wasn't anything he wanted anyone else seeing or knowing he'd done. Mike could rag on him all he liked, it wasn't happening.)
Sitting at his desk and feeling much older and wearier than he should, he tried to refocus on his work. The GLF were insistent that they'd managed to cross-breed one of the more uselessly decorative purification plants (that had a high magic demand due to (badly) singing flowers) with a hardy grass species already known for decent tolerance of pollution. The result was a silvery-blue grass with near-to-nil magic requirement (at least, no more than every other living thing on the planet) that was projected to filter and feed upon all the elements in rain that made it so dangerously unhealthy for humans. It was heavy on water consumption and thus useless as a filter but it would reduce the caustic chemicals seeping into the groundwater and coating the streets even as it beautified industrial areas and lent some social harmony to high-density areas. The best thing about it? As pollution levels dropped, it would die out for lack of nutrients. The risk that the plant would over-grow, spread beyond control and consume too much of the world's water was considered minimal in light of this.
Harry wasn't so sure but the danger of acid and toxic rain was real and present. People who got rained on could be burned or experience severe allergic reactions if exposed for long enough and that which landed on streets or rooftops and evaporated just made breathing more dangerous.
He signed off on it with a note of his concerns and waived his automatic patent rights. He had more than enough money for now and what profit the GLF made for their habitation project (and other things; he hadn't forgotten their reputation as violent activists yet) was more than welcome to be theirs alone if it meant they also held sole liability when it all went bad.
See? He was learning.
He turned back to the latest tag from Mary-Jane. Between his books, the leaked records of his work with the GLF, the surge of hate and support for him and their plans for him to demonstrate some magic, he felt a little more confident about going on the show. Her company had been hard at work promoting their upcoming interview and already her viewership had tripled. Every country in the world would be watching when he went public for the first time.
Volunteers and supplies had come to The Sanctuary from all enclaves, large and small. Normally their violence came in the form of bombs and poisons - weapons that reduced the cost of lives of their siblings - but today they were amassing and checking every gun and rifle they could lay their hands on. Outside, Brothers and Sisters hoping to be chosen to retrieve the Earth Child were throwing themselves into hastily-assembled combat simulations. In the next room, those with relevant experience and/or skill were putting their heads together to work out a plan of attack. Nobody knew quite where the Earth Child had been secreted but they knew the city and dozens of their youngest, tech-savvy siblings had been dutifully following rumours and sightings in an attempt to narrow it down further.
The news that the boy would be appearing on a talk show had been met with cheers. The studios for such shows were public knowledge, if you looked, and the one who had secured the exclusive interview was a smaller company which meant reduced security.
Oh, there was sure to be extra security on-site the day of the interview but extra meant unusual and unusual meant flawed. They had a location and they built plan after plan around it. Once they had a time and date they would tweak it as necessary and deploy. In the meantime they still had plenty of work to do - backup plans of course, but right alongside them were plans to run decoys and distractions, plans for smuggling Gaia's chosen son out of the city with or without his cooperation, plans for where to hide him and how to cover their own responsibility so that the RDA's ruthless and inevitable retaliation would fail.
It was hard work but it was good work. Many of them had never felt so close to their Great Mother as now, never felt as sure and certain of their purpose as in this moment. They would succeed.
The world was counting on them.
As before with the 'selective genocide' thing, the views expressed in this story do not reflect what I feel should be done but rather what I think might happen, socially and culturally, in a world choked by all the problems this one has.
I know I totally committed the cardinal sin of 'telling, not showing' but sometimes it feels like this and all my other stories will never end if I show everything. This chapter let me fast forward about two and a half months. :)
Next up: Fun times with Mary-Jane.