The first draft - the very long first draft - of this chapter was terrible. It was basically one very, very long infodump. When I got around to rereading it I discovered that I found my own story terminally boring. That was clearly not good enough, so I deleted nearly fifteen thousand words and started from scratch.
In pursuit of making it better, I've time skipped quite a bit of stuff. Military/covert ops require vast amounts of preparation to accomplish properly, and setting up major campaigns - even one-man ones - require even more, I would imagine. So I skipped all the 'infrastructure' stuff - setting up a base, resource gathering, ship designing and other stuff (basically, I wrote an RTS game, and concentrated on the boring parts. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't very interesting!) was was previously 'in' and jumped to the first stage of the action.
A/N 2: I'm using normal Stargate terminology for the various bits of applied phlebotinum: invented elements, minerals and technology used on the show, even if the SGC obviously hasn't yet named the things themselves, since they don't exist in the storyline yet. This is mostly so I don't confuse myself, let alone you guys who aren't privy to my leaky memory and meandering thought proce-s-s … where was I again? Oh, right …
Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
'If You Wish for Peace, Prepare for War'
Act One - Preparation
Great events don't happen instantly.
A widely populated galaxy is a chaotic place. While instant communications are available, they are expensive and reserved for high-priority messages, and only for use by the most influential individuals.
In the Milky Way, this means the System Lords by default, along with their immediate underlings and strategic-level military assets; fleets, armies, capital ships.
However, the rest of the galaxy operates on a principle of rumour and courier-vessel delivered messages. This has functioned adequately to date, and is easier for the System Lords to censor and surveil.
However, it does tend to mean that small events are … lost in the chatter, so to speak.
And small events can snowball. They grow, multiply, and become an unstoppable tide.
And if those in charge are too blinkered, arrogant and assured of their race's unassailable position of power … well, they may well not notice the 'tide' until it is far, far too late.
Now … let's think, really hard … who does that describe?
Chapter Two - Small Events
"Getting the operational plan properly worked out by reconnaissance in advance is crucial to the subsequent success of any operation."
Chulak Binary System, 1300 Hrs Local Time - July 30st 1995
Chulak was one of the old worlds, established when the Goa'uld first moved humans off Earth. It had been Apophis' combined homeworld, capital world (not necessarily the same thing), central military depot and trade nexus for that entire time, throughout his rise from a minor fleet commander in service to Ra to being a System Lord in his own right.
As such, it had always been fiercely defended, on land or on space. With a total planetary garrison of nearly fifty thousand Jaffa and with a dozen battleships on duty in orbit, attacking Chulak through just the Stargate was a suicidal proposition. To do so would be to ignite a combined response of orbital fire, ground troops and bombing from Death Gliders and Al'kesh. Despite this known and assured security, the Jaffa Ha'tak crews remained alert with all the thoroughness and dedication their race was known for, even though nothing had happened on this picket for thousands of years.
They still didn't see their unknown enemy's arrival. Or his exit, for that matter.
Chulak was a binary star - the planet orbited around Chulak-A, and the dwarf star Chulak-B orbited -A at a distance of almost twelve light minutes. An oddity of orbital mechanics meant that they orbited at roughly similar rates, so -B was always on the far side of -A from the planet. Nonetheless, the two stars' combined radiation ensured Chulak's climate was one of daily extremes - hot days, cool nights.
Thus, when a small purple hyperspace window opened behind Chulak-B, the radiation output as well as the sheer distance hid it from the probing sensors of the guard fleet.
But … nothing emerged from the hyperspace window.
Or at least … nothing appeared to emerge from it.
Chulak Prime, Surface - 0100 Hrs Local Time - July 31st 1995
Twelve hours later, a Jaffa patrol stomped back up the road leading away from the Stargate.
The ground troops were however, unlike their shipborne counterparts, considerably less attentive. For the ship crews, standing watch over Chulak was relatively new - the fleet here formed a major component of Apophis' strategic reserves, and thus ships were often dispatched on special missions, or to reinforce other sectors, and were thus rotated through various assignments often enough to keep things relatively interesting.
The ground troops, however, had been deployed here for years, and in some cases - given a Jaffa's long lifetime - decades. This was not a bad thing from their point of view; with such steady duty, many of their families had moved to live with them, or they had found wives and settled down.
However, inaction breeds lethargy. And lethargy leads to mistakes.
So although the Jaffa on the ground performed their duties with the mechanical thoroughness they always did, like any troops assigned to monotonous duty - even 'elite' troops - they had slackened off on the little details. A squad was always on sentry duty around the 'Gate on four hour shifts. As such, a relief squad walked this road and back six times a day.
And nothing had ever happened.
They no longer expected anything to happen, no longer believed anything would happen.
A figure - more of a indistinct silhouette, really - darted across the road behind the patrol as they passed out of sight up the track. Patrol doctrine would have called for point and trailing teams of three or four, mostly to catch out exactly this scenario. The Jaffa on Chulak didn't bother with that any more, focusing instead to coming off duty and returning to their families.
The squad that had just replaced them had already taken the long-established sentry positions, standing in pairs - one facing in, towards the gate, and the other outwards, to watch for people - spies, in particular - who might try to break through the perimeter and escape via the Stargate. The ground under their feet was worn bare by the continual presence of guards standing sentry in those exact positions, chosen decades if not centuries ago as the most suitable watch-posts.
The infiltrator had already mapped their positions and sight lines, particularly the patches of dead ground they couldn't directly see, and ghosted past the guards, through small valleys and gullies towards the gate.
Fortunately for him, his mission did not require physical access to the Stargate; with the thirty metres of open ground that separated Chulak's 'Gate from the nearest available cover from view, that would have been difficult to achieve on account of the half-dozen sentries watching it. The guards were lax, but still awake. They could be knocked out, but that would defeat the point of covertly infiltrating the site; bored and inattentive they might be, but the sentries would - probably - notice if trouble quite literally knocked them over the head.
Reaching the base of a large tree, the man removed a backpack and pulled out a small flat board, which floated gently out of his hand and silently ascended into the upper branches of the tree … which just happened to overlook the gate and dialling pedestal.
The flat, flexible panel adhered to the tree trunk where it touched down, quickly taking on a reasonable facsimile of the texture and colour of the bark on its outer surface. The only part not so camouflaged was a tiny, unnoticeable camera lens, oriented to point towards the 'Gate.
The rest of the night passed without a hitch. Another camera was emplaced, facing the 'Gate clearing from the other direction, to provide both another viewpoint and a backup to the first. A relay transmitter was also put down, a featureless black box about a foot long, buried in a wild, unvisited valley on the route back to the extraction point.
It was the not the first time the arrangement had been deployed. The cameras were possessed only of a directed microwave transmitter that, while heavily encrypted and utilising a microburst transmission technique to increase security, were limited in range to five or so miles; enough to reach the subspace relay, which could send it anywhere in the galaxy.
Powered by solar and ambient thermal energy, the surveillance devices would activate on sensing the gate's power-up sequence, which began when the ring began spinning to engage the first glyph. It would record video of the transport - incoming or outgoing - and forward that video for analysis by an AI system, providing intelligence on troop movements, VIP's who might pass through, and suchlike. Naturally, if a System Lord suspected his 'Gates were under surveillance, the search for any such devices would no doubt take place on the gate and dialling pedestal themselves; being almost a hundred metres away, the camera was very unlikely to be discovered.
It wasn't the only surveillance activity going on in the system. On the way in from the hyperspace entry point behind Chulak-B, the intruder had installed a cloaked sensor suite on one of the lifeless moons of a gas giant in the outer system. Far more powerful and sensitive than the Goa'uld ships' systems, it would be able to passively detect, track and identify any ship passing through the system. The same AI system receiving the camera's images would be able to make reasonably accurate guesses at their destination from the trajectory of the hyperspace windows.
Upon reaching the pre-selected extraction point, the infiltrator performed one last check around, using his armour's built-in sensors to check there were no human life-signs or detectable surveillance within visual range … and vanished in a flash of white light.
In orbit, a small volume of … well, nothing, really, moved.
Behind a sophisticated multi-layer bubble of subtle electromagnetic countermeasures, heat exchangers and holographic projectors, a sleek jet black spacecraft cut through the vacuum like the blade it resembled.
From above, its shape would be best described as similar to a leaf-shaped blade, a delta-winged shape with a central fuselage that could roughly be divided into three sections. It began as a blunt tip, broadening and deepening before narrowing again into a thinner central section, running back to the stern where it again bulged out. The forward section consisted of three decks - command and operations at the top, crew quarters and life support in the middle, and an armoury and cargo access on the lowest. The centre section was a single-level spinal access corridor, with large storage cells set into both walls and floor. The rear section was a combined engineering space - power generation and engines in one double-height deck. The wings were narrow, adding to the 'blade' impression; they were more for increasing useful internal volume than for producing lift, which was unnecessary with the use of anti-gravity systems for atmospheric flight.
It departed radically from the geometric, tetrahedral shapes favoured by the Goa'uld, and from the hammerhead designs of the Asgard. This configuration might have made the craft look ungainly, but this was not the case. This ship was all curves and sinuous lines, which suited its' purpose, and its' design philosophy.
Approximately twice the length of an Al'kesh, and with a roughly equivalent armament, the ship was optimised for stealth. It was not designed for heavy combat; surprise raids, or ambushes of lone enemy ships perhaps, when the advantages were stacked in its favour, but this craft was intended for the lonely darkness of espionage and infiltration missions, not the Wall of Battle. This ship was a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, but no less deadly for it.
It was christened the 'Raven' and was, at present, the only one of its kind, designed with a singular purpose in mind.
To run rings around the System Lords.
The young man who would use it for that purpose sat slumped in one of the secondary chairs in the cockpit, watching data flow across the displays. Despite his seeming inattention - one might have been forgiven for thinking him asleep - he was still absorbing it all, even as his mind followed other trains of thought; the next day's mission, or how the new data he was reading affected his longer-term plans.
It had been three months since Harry had begun this mission. In the spirit of 'victory follows preparation,' he'd had much of the groundwork prepared before leaving the Ida Galaxy. The Raven had already been designed, and thus had only taken a fortnight to build with a molecular fabricator. The rest of the time had been spent hopping between major Goa'uld worlds, installing the beginnings of what would become a truly massive surveillance network.
He had now covered all the major capital worlds of the top fifteen Goa'uld, most of their shipyards, Jaffa training grounds, and trade worlds. Eventually, the objective was to cover the entire Goa'uld gate network, giving real-time, galaxy-wide intelligence on the tactical and strategic movements of the System Lords. Even without access to the most powerful Asgard technologies - 'powerful' unfortunately often being synonymous with 'obvious' - Harry still had a decided technological edge over the stagnant, overconfident parasites.
And he planned to maximise that advantage to the hilt.
A shower of multicolour pixels above the hologram emitter to one side of the screen announced the appearance of his AI helper - one of the aforementioned advantages. Given the vast amount of data already streaming in from the network - and that volume would only increase - it would be impossible for Harry to keep up with it all by himself.
Originally a fairly dumb Tollan 'Virtual Assistant,' upgraded beyond all recognition by some of the best Asgard cyberneticists and modified with a human-based personality core, 'Minerva' was the one concession to using an obviously Asgard piece of technology that the Council had made.
That had been partly due to the impossibility of doing this mission alone, but also, somewhat counter-intuitively, for security. Despite wanting to avoid any hint of their involvement, the Council had decided that an AI, particularly of Minerva's type, would not betray him or indeed be capable of such a thing; and 'she' was coded to self-destruct before discovery if so required.
Paranoid, some might say - but if the mind-stealing snake-people really are out to get you, 'paranoia' rapidly becomes common sense.
Tin hats, however, are not required.
Oh, and there were no Goa'uld called Minerva; Harry had checked. The parasites had been kicked off Earth well before the Roman culture started to develop. Periodically, Goa'uld had returned to Earth to kidnap new cultures including, amongst many others, the Roman 9th Legion, but they had never stayed long and had thus not any real influence on the cultures involved; the last group abducted had been a small force of Crusaders in the Twelfth Century. Even though there were of course connections between 'Minerva' and the Greek goddess 'Athena' - who was a Goa'uld, currently in service to Cronos - Harry considered the ideas behind the mythology to be more important than any peripheral connection to an enemy.
Minerva the myth was associated most with wisdom, justice, and defensive war, amongst other things - although that last one might better be interpreted as 'justified' war, as much as war ever could be such a thing. All of those things Harry considered worthy, and his selection of 'Minerva' as the AI's name was a reflection of that; the fact that the Romans borrowed heavily on the false identity of a parasitic megalomaniacal alien to construct their goddess' identity didn't devalue or taint those ideas or concepts in the slightest.
"One more mission in this stage, Harry."
Minerva took the serenely beautiful appearance of the classical depictions of the goddess she was named for, normally a flowing dress and cape but periodically including golden armour and weapons, usually whenever they were in range of enemy forces. Her long straight hair was bound by a gold circlet, matched by a gold torc necklace, the bright metal contrasting with her Mediterranean colouring; light brown skin, with eyes and hair so dark they were almost black.
The image was strikingly impressive, if however somewhat lessened in impact by the fact she was only about eight inches high on the hologram pad.
An owl occasionally appeared as well, a symbol normally associated with the goddess of wisdom and defensive war, but Harry had asked her to mute the damn thing because the hooting was pretty bloody irritating after a while.
Her clothing sometimes changed colour or styles too - when Harry had asked why, the question had elicited the rather acerbically feminine response, "Just because I'm digital doesn't mean I can't dress well."
Minerva was still a 'young' AI, being about a year old. Harry had floated the idea of this mission a long time ago, all the way back when Thor rescued him. Despite this, he had been focused on his education, and the initial preparations for returning to the Milky Way had fallen to the Supreme Commander, who had, with his usual foresight, commissioned Minerva to aid Harry. Her development had taken several years, as Hermiod and Kvasir had wished to achieve their usual standards of perfection regardless of the delay. Minerva had been introduced to Harry about six months before arriving in the Milky Way, so they could start working together before getting into the thick of it.
In a human culture, the war with the rogue AI 'Replicators' would probably have resulted in a backlash against any form of research in that area. But as Thor had pointed out with typical Asgard precision, the Replicators weren't exactly an 'intelligence,' but more of an instinctual synthetic animal, simply acting on a programmed command to create more of themselves ad infinitum with no thought to the consequences of that action.
Minerva was a designed, sentient intelligence, with hard-coded safeguards against aberrant behaviour, and unlike the Replicators was capable of learning; specifically meaning a process of observing, adapting and reacting to stimuli or information rather than relentlessly following a singular purpose, as the Replicators did, to upgrade themselves and increase in number. More importantly, she was capable of understanding morals and ethical behaviour. And she had a sense of humour ... although that still needed some work. She had been explicitly designed for the purpose of this mission, being optimised for strategic and tactical analysis, but also for being a mentor and friend.
Deep space was a lonely environment at the best of times, and Harry was under a heavy burden in addition to that. Arguably the most important of Minerva's duties was to make sure he didn't crack under it.
Harry didn't take his eyes from the screen, showing a summary of shipbuilding schedules for the enormous orbital construction yards around Soma-Kesh, one of Heru'ur's most valuable territories; they had just begun a new fleet of Ha'tak battleships, ordered by Heru'ur's 'father' Ra, the Supreme System Lord.
"I know, Minerva. Also one of the most risky yet. Apophis' security is better than most."
The surveillance scheme on each target world was threefold - in space, on the 'Gate, and of the population themselves. This last one was the most risky; both in implementation and operation.
The devices used were microbots, a relatively simple application of existing technology. Harry would drop a large box containing thousands of the mosquito-type robots as well as another relay transmitter somewhere in the centre of a Goa'uld city. That night, the 'bots would fly out and do their best to locate the homes of important personages in the local power structure - low-ranking Goa'uld, Jaffa Primes, priests and so on and so forth - and find somewhere innocuous to perch, to listen and observe.
If after a few days the occupants of the house chosen seemed inconsequential, the bugs would be directed to move on. Harry had done his best to pinpoint key buildings from orbit, and the people he was interested in spying on - priests, First Primes, and so on - often marked their houses quite distinctively; it shouldn't be very hard to locate them.
Technologically, the microbots were simple but effective. Their hardware was not especially complex, and was built with technology available to any of the System Lords. They were also marked with Goa'uld symbols, usually that of the greatest rival of the owner of whichever world they were planted on, so any that were discovered would lead the System Lord being spied upon in the wrong direction. Their programming was quite sophisticated, however, capable of recognising when they were near discovery and attempting to evade it; if unsuccessful, their processors would be automatically wiped, leaving no useful or identifying data.
They were programmed to look for rafters or the undersides of tables, the kind of places that were not often searched, and where they would not be easily discovered. Powered thermoelectrically by the ambient air temperature, they would remain in place, relaying what they heard to Minerva for analysis. She would notify Harry of anything interesting - tactical or strategic intelligence of course, but also any potential assets, human or Jaffa, who could be turned against the Goa'uld as moles, sleeper agents or saboteurs.
The trouble with the microbots was getting them in place. To maximise effectiveness, they had to be placed as close to a city's centre as possible, to maximise the coverage of the short-ranged transmitters in the spy-flies. That usually meant a heavily populated or frequented area, and thus using a matter transporter was out. The distinctive white flash and slight chime would be far too obvious, and would prompt investigation.
Thus, Harry had to do it personally. On foot, dressed as a follower of Apophis. It wasn't as hard as it sounded; he had 'valid' travel permits - meaning 'really good fakes' - to prove he was from another world, which excused his unfamiliarity with Chulak.
With that task done tomorrow, Harry's 'Phase One' of installing surveillance would be finished. He would leave it there for a while, partly to gather intel before his next move but also to field-test the technology and work out the kinks before starting to roll it out across other worlds; in the meantime, he intended to visit his homeworld and start looking for answers on his own history and powers.
"What do you expect to find on Earth?" Minerva asked.
"Ever curious, aren't you?"
"It is a core part of my programming," The AI responded, primly. "I wouldn't be much help as an intelligence analyst if I wasn't."
"To be honest, I don't know what to think," Harry answered her first question. "If there is a 'secret culture' as Loki believed, they will know what I am, and what I can do. Also, it lends extra importance to the defence of Earth."
"How so? Beyond the obvious, it being your homeworld, of course."
"You know the capabilities Loki observed. Defensive barriers of energy even Asgard sensors couldn't penetrate from the outside. Teleportation. Due to the first one, even Loki - who spent decades looking for and researching them - didn't know much more than that. I myself have exhibited low-level telekinesis - which is fairly reliable, if tiring - and I remember doing that teleportation trick once accidentally when I was about seven, and turning a teacher's hair blue of all things, but I haven't been able to manage either again. Can you imagine if a Goa'uld found out about these powers? About where they came from, and where they might find more hosts capable of such feats? I dread to think what Nirrti might manage with such 'test subjects.' She might well become unstoppable."
Minerva nodded, her holographic visage grave. Nirrti's continuing obsessive search for a perfect host was a major facet of her psychological profile; the horrors perpetrated on the peoples of her domain in that cause over the past few thousand years were whispered about fearfully throughout Goa'uld space.
"Not just Nirrti, but any Goa'uld. And your own history?"
Harry stood, and moved towards the rear of the cockpit, moving into the next compartment back, an operations room. Minerva materialised on the small pad next to the larger holographic table that dominated the centre of the room, currently showing a astrographic chart of the Chulak binary system, with red and amber target hacks to mark hostile and civilian craft respectively. A lone blue icon blinked in low orbit above Chulak; the Raven itself.
"I've had ten years to think about what little I know. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia called me a freak, that their actions would 'beat the freakishness out of me.'"
From the hologram pad, Minerva watched him stand over the desk against the port bulkhead, and look down at the faded but still legible parchment letter Harry had been holding when Loki kidnapped him. The utter dispassion of his tone when describing his relatives' treatment of him worried her, but not yet enough to bring it up.
"It's the end of July. My fifteenth birthday, actually. Kind of crept up on me."
"You work too hard."
That got a little smile. "Don't see anybody else here, Min."
The AI crossed her arms. "What am I, chopped liver?"
"You've been at the Earth databases too much."
"It's your homeworld, originally at least. I would have been remiss not to have learned …" Minerva paused, and glared. "Stop distracting me."
Harry raised an eyebrow at her. "Should I find it worrying that the AI my entire mission depends on is ... easily distracted?" He wasn't worried; Minerva's subroutines that mimicked natural conversation had no impact on the efficiency of her unseen or unheard tasks, such as -
"No, you shouldn't. I was distracted precisely because I'm monitoring transmissions from all the surveillance networks already deployed, and the signal traffic around Chulak, and am simultaneously accomplishing approximately two thousand three hundred and twenty other tasks."
"Okay, okay." Harry raised his hands in mock surrender. "You are the greatest, you are indispensable. Ego stroked sufficiently yet?"
"I suppose. We goddesses need a lot of ego stroking." The AI sat on a chair which appeared behind her - again, mimicking natural behaviour with commendable accuracy. She focused on Harry again, taking in his slightly nervous expression. "That was a joke."
"I hoped so. Given who, or perhaps what we are fighting against, would you please tone down the goddess jokes?"
"Um. Good point. Anyway, I was concerned. Nearly missing your birthday is hardly a good sign, Harry. Plus, describing yourself as fifteen is just plain wrong."
Harry grinned. "I know. Going to be fun to explain to anyone on Earth who might know me, isn't it?"
"How are you going to explain a five-year absence? Or the fact you look at least twenty-one?"
"Hopefully, I won't have to. I simply don't look fifteen. Unless they're already suspicious they simply won't see Harry Potter, runaway kid; which is what I'll start using as an excuse in about five years time, once my 'age' catches up to my physical appearance. Provided I want to tell anyone at all that I am Harry Potter at that point, of course."
"I have no reason to think the name is well known; either as myself or for my surname. I doubt it, in fact; there is no chance a scion of a famous or wealthy family would end up with the Dursley's without someone, a relative or social worker or whoever checking in, surely. For all I know theydid, and the Dursley's managed to hide me; they managed to hide everything else they did to me from even the neighbours. So no, I don't expect anyone to be looking for me, or for the name to ring bells. But if 'Harry Potter' is a missing fifteen-year old, I'd rather keep it that way. Being dead or missing is a fantastic cover."
"You want me to prepare some alternate identities?"
"Yes, that'd be good."
"Multiple nationalities, primarily English speaking ... British, American, Canadian, Australian or New Zealander … university student would probably be the most convincing for my appearance and age."
"Understood. I'll work out the details now, and hack the relevant databases to insert the data when we reach Earth. On another topic … you said you have no idea what to expect … I doubt that."
Minerva rolled her eyes. "Not to stroke your ego, but you're very good at this, Harry. You must have formed some sort of conclusion even with the limited amount of data available."
"I suppose." Harry leaned back against the desk. "Loki's conclusion from his observations was that this society is secretive and secluded, which I agree with, although to what degree he did not venture a hypothesis. I certainly hadn't heard of any such thing prior to my kidnapping, but given my quality of life there that isn't terribly surprising. More tellingly, there isn't even so much of a hint of even a conspiracy theory regarding these communities in the databases Thor copied, even in the ones belonging to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. They're five years out of date though; that may have changed.
"From the letter, these 'wizards and witches' are clearly organised - they have a school, and an 'International Confederation of Wizards.' The British ones at least seem to have an honours system in the 'Order of Merlin, First Class,' which would suggest at least a peripheral connection to the Monarchy at some point in the past, to grant the charters for such things. This 'Albus Dumbledore' character, the school's Headmaster seems to be very attached to his various other titles as well - 'Grand Sorcerer,' 'Chief Warlock' - although what they pertain to I have no idea. No telling how much they interact with the present-day British government, either. Again, they don't appear in any official databases, even MI-5 or MI-6, but they might keep such things exclusively on paper for extra security; they've done it before."
"Anything else?" Minerva asked. Harry smiled; she did this a lot, drawing him into conversations that were basically an opportunity for him to think out loud. It was educational for both of them; for Harry, to get his thoughts in order, and for Minerva to learn how he thought, to anticipate him in the future.
He turned back to the desk, spreading the yellowed parchment pages of the Hogwarts letter. "As for the rest? I'm concerned. A cloak? Dragon-hide gloves? And the fact they still consider their powers magic? Sure, current Earth science can't detect subspace energy, so they wouldn't be able to categorise it, but surely they've moved past the idea that magic could possibly be an explanation for anything? Surely they've undertaken some sort of investigation into the source of their abilities, or do they just use them without thought to possible consequences? That possibility in particular worries me. It implies a … blasé attitude that hardly bodes well for any sense of … responsibility. With great power comes great responsibility, after all."
Minerva wore a satisfied little smile. "So … by you 'don't know what think' … you meant you had actually put a lot of thought into it?"
Harry snorted in amusement. "Yeah. Apparently without realising. Anyway, you just want to meet the Deputy Headmistress."
"Who shares my name? Of course. I've no doubt she's an erudite and competent woman to the core, much like myself."
"Careful, Min. Soon there won't be enough room in the ship for your ego and my air, and much as I like you, I do prefer breathing to your 'erudite and competent' company."
"Fine. Be that way. See if I care." The 'goddess' stuck her tongue out in a manner distinctly at odds with her dignified appearance before vanishing, leaving Harry laughing, the weight of responsibility lifted for a precious few moments.
The next day didn't include much laughter, although it went without a hitch. Harry beamed down into the depths of the forest in the late afternoon, hiked up onto the main track, and his passport plaque got him though the outer perimeter without comment.
At the southern city gate he had to dodge a column of Jaffa along with the rest of the crowd, scattering out of the way of the marching soldiers. They were led by two of the Serpent Guard, Apophis' personal detachment and the most elite members of his Jaffa forces; Harry's current estimate put them at divisional strength - around 20,000 men. This was a mere drop in the bucket compared to Apophis' total forces of around five or six million - the innumerable detachments spread across literally hundreds of worlds of course made it impossible to be entirely accurate in those estimates. Being inducted into the Serpent Guard from the rank and file, however, required either attracting Apophis' favourable notice, or the sponsorship of a senior and distinguished Jaffa commander - usually both.
Both Serpent Guards in this patrol had their helmets retracted; one revealing a wrinkled, elderly Jaffa, his bald head covered with a metal skullcap and his tattoo of Apophis' symbol overlaid with a solid gold version of the same, but implanted into his skin. That made him Bra'tac, Apophis' long-standing First Prime of nearly fifty years and his most trusted Jaffa subordinate. It also made it likely Apophis' was in residence on Chulak himself, not that that made Harry's mission any different. He wasn't intending to risk his cover by approaching the heavily-guarded palace or attached seraglio.
Many First Primes were feared and hated by both the rank and file and the civilian populace of their masters' domains. Taking their 'God's' behaviour as an example for their own, they all too often tended towards brutality as a leadership technique. This was nothing new to those under them, and was usually accepted as a fact of life.
Bra'tac however was well-known to buck that trend, his authority stemming from his mens' respect for his experience, skill and honour on and off the battlefield rather than simple fear; that attitude had been passed onto the civilians of Apophis' domain. He was well liked on Chulak; a native son who had risen to the highest ranks of the Jaffa.
His clan was considered to be a great military family, one which had consistently provided skilled soldiers to Apophis' forces for generations, and several of his ancestors featured prominently in the oral epic tales that were a major part of Jaffa culture, much like Homer's Iliad or the Aeneid except they had happened; exaggerated perhaps, but very much real and not mythical.
Furthermore, Bra'tac was often referred to as 'Master Bra'tac;' a title much like 'Sensei' or 'Sifu' on Earth in that it was used to refer to a man known to be wise and honourable, but in Jaffa society it was bestowed by the community rather than any formal structure. Using the title fatuously or to stroke a superior's ego was frowned upon, and to force subordinates to use it when the general consensus thought it undeserved could completely destroy that individual's reputation if word got out. It was, Harry thought, an important indication of Bra'tac's widespread popularity that he was referred to as such not just on his homeworld of Chulak but throughout Apophis' territory, and even in other Goa'uld's domains.
The tall, dour-looking Jaffa next to Bra'tac also wore the Serpent Guard's bulky armour, but Harry didn't know much about him; the intel on Bra'tac had come from his time training with the Tok'ra operative Lantash and his host Martouf, who had made sure he knew the key players. The dark-skinned man behind the First Prime was mostly unknown. Just a name - Teal'c - and that he was Bra'tac's protégé of several years, an up and coming Second Prime.
The patrol passed, and normal traffic resumed. Harry slid out of the shadow of a column he'd managed to get behind, and merged into the flow once more.
Truth be told, he welcomed these little excursions. Of course, he could do without the, 'behind enemy lines' part, but still; Chulak was one of the oldest and grandest of Goa'uld-Jaffa worlds, and its capital city reflected that. Built almost entirely of a dusky ochre sandstone, the multi-level mountain-side metropolis of several million looked like some mythical city out of Arabian Nights - even though the elegant classical architecture showed more of a Greek influence than Egyptian or Arabian styles. It even broke the boundaries into 'beautiful,' especially when illuminated by sunrise or sunset. Indoctrinated, oppressed race the Jaffa may be, but Harry could find no hint of the ugly reality of their enslavement to the Goa'uld in their architecture.
No ... that reminder came in the form of the pyramidal ship perched on the landing platform built at high point of the hill the city was built around. Gaudy, tacky, overdone; one didn't need to know anything about the Goa'uld to know whoever owned that had no taste, an enormous ego and was clearly compensating for something.
Harry waited for nightfall, filling the time by - subtly - playing tourist. Chulak was, to him, a symbol of what the endgame of this grand plan would be. It was a thriving city - the marketplaces were full, the spaceport was continuously active, the city itself a marvel of engineering for all that it had originally been built by hand and human muscle thousands of years ago. If the Jaffa had managed to create and maintain this place despite the oppression of the Goa'uld, with their capricious, violent nature and constant, internecine warfare, then Harry could easily believe that whatever they might achieve free of all that would surpass anything he could possibly imagine.
When the light faded, he made his way to a residential district a few streets from the main temple to Apophis and into a side alley. A quick check to make sure he was unobserved, and he was up, over the wall and into the back yard vegetable patch of an unoccupied house - he'd checked for life signs from orbit, and Minerva continued to monitor the area for him.
He removed the box, and activated it. The very slight droning buzz of the cloud of little microbots filled the air for a few seconds as a hatch opened and they flitted out, zipping away to their first targets. Then he buried the featureless black box in the very back corner of the garden - another subspace relay, as the first relay was too far away for the tiny pseudo-insects' transmitters.
The Asgard were capable of building subspace communications devices that were far smaller than the ones he was using. Unfortunately, they were also, once again, very obviously Asgard in origin, and so Harry had been forced to design his own, using crystal computing technology like the Goa'uld and a liquid naquadah power source that would last a decade or so. Playing on the Goa'ulds' relentless need to tag everything they owned - even their people - the boxes, like the bugs, also had misleading icons marking them as as the property of rival System Lords.
Exfil was easier than getting in; just walk right out the main gate. For the fourth time in two days, a lonely patch of forest was lit by a white flash, and he was gone. Next stop, Earth.
Earth Orbit - 1930 Hrs GMT - August 2nd, 1995
Harry rolled the word around in his mind, testing it. He wasn't quite sure if he should consider Earth home anymore. He knew literally no-one on the planet; well, except his relatives and they really didn't count. He'd lived as much of his life - in sidereal measurements, anyway - in a different galaxy as he had on this planet, and the eleven years he'd spent here had not been happy ones.
But … it certainly was beautiful. Harry was sitting in the pilot's chair of the Raven, the seat tilted back and slid to the rear, allowing for an uninterrupted view of the stunning panorama above him. The cockpit of the Raven would be more suited to a fighter jet than a deep-space ship of any kind; a sweeping window of transparent polymer so huge the pilot would actually have to twist around in his seat to see the top or back corners of it, protected by the slight blue glow of a forcefield.
Harry considered just about any view in space - even if it was just the plain, endless starfield - to be a vista beyond compare; the nearly 270-degree-horizontal by 100-degree-vertical canopy was his indulgence to that. Besides, good visibility for the pilot was never a bad thing. The Asgard scientists and officers who'd looked over the design for him had termed it a structural weakness, a massive risk if enemy fire were to make it through the shield. Harry in turn had pointed out that the Raven could easily take on even multiple targets of a Tel'tak size or smaller without much risk, and if he encountered a Ha'tak, his first tactic would be to run … and if the enormous main plasma cannons of a Ha'tak were to breach the shield, they'd practically vaporise the small ship anyway. One viewport wasn't going to add any exploitable weaknesses.
His recently established orbit was over the mid-Atlantic right now; there was a storm building up south of the Cape Verde Archipelago. He could clearly see the beginnings of the spiral pattern already, which probably meant it was going to be a large one. The Raven continued moving steadily up over West Africa and Europe, the timing coinciding with the sweeping line of nightfall. On the left side of the line, the world was still blue and green, interspersed with arid brown; on the other, he could trace the outlines of countries and seas by the man-made constellations of lights from cities and towns.
"Welcome home." Minerva appeared on the holopad on the pilot's station. "What's the plan?"
Harry reached out and touched a screen. The stunning image was immediately overlaid with a wraparound heads-up display, projected onto the canopy. Blue icons indicated where the sensors had picked up subspace emissions of a type similar to those observed by Loki; that incoming data had been matched against copies of Loki's sensor recordings. Solid blue indicated no change; blinking indicated a new contact. Some were flickering on for a brief few second, then turned white, before disappearing; these fleeting contacts were probably those teleporters Loki also observed, although Harry had no way to track whether or not they were arriving or departing. Yet.
"First, analysis. Can you compare what I'm seeing right now, the subspace readings, against Loki's data in relation to the fields' strength, then and now?"
"Certainly." Measurements of the subspace fields' strengths appeared next to the icons. "What are you looking for?"
"The letter doesn't say where I should purchase those school supplies, but there must be a store somewhere. That means a commercial retail area, a 'magical' shopping street in other words. These 'witches and wizards' are clearly hidden from the rest of Earth, and hidden very well. Find the strongest sources in the UK, particularly in London, and rank them. Then compare the visual imagery from our sensors against the subspace readings … and for good measure, also compare it against Earth's own satellite imagery and maps."
"Done. The strongest source in the UK is actually in Scotland, in the moors a few hundred kilometres inland from Aberdeen, but there are several powerful ones in London too. The largest seems to intersect with the London streetmap on Charing Cross Road."
"What about the imagery?"
"The one in Scotland … a ruined castle. The subspace emissions form a wide symmetrical bubble around it. It almost looks like a forcefield, actually."
"Well, castles are defensive installations, so that seems likely. No telling what kind of effect the field might have on the ship's systems. The Charing Cross field seems to be long and narrow in shape … and neither our nor local satellite imagery shows anything at all out of the usual. No ruined structures like the castle … no gated off private streets or anything like that."
"They've ... shifted a whole street out of phase?" Minerva sounded apologetic. "That's about the only possibility I've calculated that is worth mentioning. Doesn't explain why there isn't a gap in the rest of the cities though, surely?"
Harry stood. "Field trip, I think."
"Understood. You will find one of the prepared cover identities on the desk in your quarters, along with covert comms and sensor gear."
"Thank you. What about - "
"You will find an appropriate outfit as well."
Harry eyed the hologram as he turned in the doorway. "I know I don't have any 'Earth clothes' … where did you get them? Or do I not want to know?" His usual attire, when not playing at Jaffa, was the black bodysuit that formed the underlayer of his armour, with black combat trousers and boots for his sense of decorum's sake that were quick to get out of should he need to get into his equipment quickly. The bodysuit was made out of a 'smart fabric,' temperature-controlled and very comfortable, but also clearly not run-of-the-mill street clothing.
"Beamed them out of a few storage warehouses that didn't have lifesigns or cameras inside." Minerva shrugged. "I don't think Messers Marks or Spencer will miss them."
"Let's not make a habit of stealing, shall we?" Harry said rhetorically as he turned to leave again.
"So … you don't mind me hacking into classified databases, but lifting some jeans from Marks and Sparks is taboo?" Minerva's image followed him on the projector pads from the cockpit, through Operations and down the steep stairs into the crew quarters deck. "Double standards much?"
"The CIA, NSA or whoever will never detect your intrusion. What did you describe hacking their most encrypted servers like again?"
"Like trying not to look through an open window that's right in front of me."
"Exactly. But the M&S thing is physical evidence. They might catch it in a check of their inventory. Even if they don't know what happened, there'll be a record. And if you do it too much, there'll be a pattern. And that means someone can track us, or at least where we were or what we wanted. Admittedly, they'd have to be bloody smart to do so, but such people do exist, and the data will be out there."
"Operational security is about making sure you cross every t and dot every i. There is no issue too small, and no detail too insignificant. If we get complacent, someone will hand Ra our heads on a platter." Harry paused. "Well, my head, anyway. You don't have one, after all."
"Oh, I'm not worried then."
London, Earth - 1400 Hrs GMT - August 5th, 1995
For the next few days, dressed in casual clothes - jeans and a dark jacket - and wearing glasses, which were actually a heads up display, since he didn't need them any more, Harry reconnoitred the Charing Cross Road anomaly. The energy readings had led him to a disused shop front slightly further up the street, between a bookshop and a record store. At least, it had appeared disused as he approached, and to Minerva from orbit. As he had stepped to within a few yards of the door, however, the blank hanging sign had suddenly become an image depicting, of all things, a figure in a pointy hat stirring a cauldron over a fire … with a leak.
Minerva had questioned his sanity, as she had seen nothing. Regardless, Harry had fallen back, unwilling to charge ahead without more information - there was something clearly odd about that building. Across the street he had set up a covert camera of the same type he was using to watch the 'Gates, to give Minerva a better viewing angle than from orbit, and waited.
Stakeout … was … boring …
They were on the second day - August 5th - of stakeout when they finally got a hit. A very short and oddly dressed man hopped off at a bus stop just up the road, clearly leading a small family, parents and a daughter, towards the store. Harry was sat at an outdoor table of a pub called 'The Porcupine' on the corner of Charing Cross Road and Great Newport Street, appearing to be using his phone, the remains of a sandwich in front of him. There was a large volume of foot and vehicle traffic, and the Porcupine seemed a popular place for a quick lunch break, so he blended in without difficulty.
About eleven years old. Harry knew Minerva would be recording everything, so he didn't need to do anything as obvious as take surveillance photos. About when I got my letter. His eyes narrowed, watching the little group like a hawk as they approached the storefront … and went in, the short man ushering the others through in front of himself like he knew the place.
"What just happened from your angle?" Minerva asked in his earpiece.
Harry raised the phone as if talking into it, but spoke quietly anyway. "What do you mean?"
"They just vanished as they crossed the threshold of the door. One moment, they're stepping through, then they're gone. Completely vanished, even from thermal. The storefront is glass; even though it's got sheets over it the thermal camera should be able to see through."
"That's odd. I could see both the kid and the father inside as the door swung shut. Have another look, frame by frame."
"Checking." It took about a second. "Best as I can describe, there's a line, exactly where the door is. There's several frames as each person steps through where they appear to be cut in half. Each person's entry is marked by a very slight uptick in subspace energy from that exact spot, but that uptick is so small that it's well within the statistical baseline we've already measured. If it hadn't happened exactly as each person stepped through the door, I wouldn't even mention it."
"What did you make of the guy in the lead?"
"Achrondoplasiac dwarfism, perhaps?"
"Perhaps, but I meant what he was wearing."
"Three piece with bow tie, moustache, very old-fashioned round frame glasses. Might have been a popular look in the 1930s, but very anachronistic now."
"Wait and watch, or go in behind them right now."
"Keep watching. Start running every test you can think of."
So watch they did.
Several more groups passed through, all with a set of parents and an eleven-year old child - one more that morning with a tall, thin woman with a severe expression and grey hair pulled back in a bun, dressed in a long, old-fashioned dress, and another two in the afternoon, both women again. One was Caucasian, with dark red hair and a scarlet cloak of all things, with a similar severe expression to the previous guide, and the second was a dark skinned woman in similarly odd clothing but in yellow-gold fabric, which could be taken for a traditional African outfit of some kind. It certainly looked somewhat less out of place than the other three persons' century-out-of-date apparel.
"I can still detect lifesigns within about two metres of the edge of the subspace field. Beyond that the interference causes them to fade out. I've also noticed that no-one on the street seems to even look at the storefront, let alone go inside."
"It is abandoned, or appears to be so. Why would they look at it?"
"I'm an AI, Harry. I've analysed the line-of-sight of every passer-by in the nearly forty-eight hours the camera's been there. Apart from the four groups who've gone in, not a single person even so much as looks at the store. Doesn't that strike you as odd?"
"It does. And there's no graffiti on it, which I would expect for an abandoned storefront in this neighbourhood. Do you think it's possible that there's some kind of attention-diverting effect in place. Could they … actually create a 'someone else's problem' field?"
"You need to stop reading Douglas Adams."
"When you can build me a Point of View gun that works on the Goa'uld, you can tell me to stop reading Hitchhiker's Guide because then I'll be living it. Until then, I'll read what I like. Have you devised any way of seeing through the interference?"
"Possibly, but I need readings from inside the field. I don't think silicon-based electronics will fare very well with the EM interference being given out, though. Crystal and neutronium based systems are unaffected by EMP effects, but I can't tell if they'll work inside this."
"Got it. I'm coming back up to the ship, and I'll go in tonight with some equipment."
London, Earth - 0100 Hrs GMT - August 6th 1995
In the very early hours of the next morning, Harry eased open the door to the storefront. He wore the same as before, only underneath a black cloak Minerva procured from who knows where; it seemed the best thing to blend in without being restrictive.
Since the letter said school didn't start until 1st September, and it was only a few days after the same date Harry had received his own letter back in 1991, then it wasn't unreasonable to believe these 'guides' were people responsible for helping newcomers - or the newcomers' children - find their way into this 'hidden society,' to help them get the school supplies, assuage their worries about this new and unfamiliar turn in their lives.
The inside of the store was … Harry blinked, remaining in the door for a second to take stock before moving further inside.
It was a pub, and quite clearly not a store of any kind. A bar at one end with, with tables occupying the rest of the floorspace; one long trestle for large groups, presumably, and smaller round ones for individuals. A number of dark archways marked either other rooms or alcoves in the walls. A fireplace at the far end from the bar was dark, but clearly saw a lot of use. The whitewashed walls were uneven and somewhat shabby, marked by age and smoke from the fire, and were hung with a large number of picture frames.
It was clearly an old structure; much older than it appeared from the outside. The exposed oak beams and whitewashed walls were characteristic of Tudor architecture, while the exterior matched the late 1870s Victorian style of the rest of the street. Someone had kept the camouflage up to date, even if the inside remained the same.
Harry could ... feel something in the air … the subspace field, he theorised; it was disconcerting, though, like a sixth sense he didn't realise he'd had up until that point. He supposed made sense; since 'magic' was the source of his powers, it didn't seem unreasonable that he would be able to peripherally sense the enormous strength of the apparently permanent field he'd just entered.
He moved slowly across the room, sticking to the shadows; the clear moonlight lit up patches of the room through the windows even in the darkened room, and he avoided those patches.
"Sitrep," he muttered to Minerva, who was also watching through the camera on his fake glasses.
"Some subspace interference." The AI's voice was crackly, slightly disconcerting on the usually crystal-clear communicator. "Give me a moment to compensate. Your lifesign just vanished from sensors, just like the others, but I'm still getting telemetry from the equipment and health monitor you're carrying."
An abrupt noise from Harry's left caused him to take a quick glance around, looking for a hiding place. Too late.
A door off to one side of the bar banged open, just a couple of metres from where Harry stood, revealing a hunchbacked figure holding a stick with a glowing tip, pointed at Harry.
"Who're you then, and why're you sneakin' around?"
Shielding his eyes from the bright light, Harry thought quickly. He'd already noted that the parents and kids with their guides didn't come out again through the Charing Cross door he'd just come through, and the subspace field that this pub appeared to act as the entrance to was far larger than any such establishment would ever require … both of which would imply this was a front, and he could be …
"Just passing through." There. Sufficiently vague but hopefully precise enough to avoid further questions, like …
"At this time'a the night?" The hunchbacked figure twitched the stick up a fraction. "Wait a minute … that scar!"
Harry's eyes widened, then narrowed. In his ear, Minerva said quietly, "Unexpected."
The figure continued, unaware of the response he had just incited. "You're Har - "
Harry was already moving, drawing his weapon - a silvery particle pistol, barrel glowing with red energy - from a concealed holster under the jacket and cloak. One quick step had him within arms reach of the man's arm, pushing the stick up and away from himself with his left hand, and he pushed the muzzle up under the man's chin, forcing him backwards into the low room behind the bar, which turned out to be a private sitting room. A door at the back led to a bedroom, and another probably to a bathroom. Which meant it was probably the owner's own rooms, and that meant the man in front of him was the proprietor.
Harry heeled the door shut as he passed and used his superior height and weight to back the man up against the wall. The light from his stick, now illuminating both of them, revealed him to be a completely bald, hunchbacked, wrinkled old man, eyes now wide in fright.
"Now," Harry growled quietly, putting as much menace into his voice as he could - which was quite a bit, as Martouf was a good teacher, "instead of blurting out whatever you were about to say to the whole world to hear, why don't you finish what you were going to say … quietly."
"Umm …" The man burbled, eyes flickering between the scar, still clearly visible, and Harry's cold green eyes. The sharp light of the stick-thing from one side threw the far side of his face into shadow, giving him a particularly intimidating look. "You're … Harry Potter?" The last part was in a whisper, and in his uncertainty, phrased as a question.
"And what does that name mean to you?"
"You're … the Boy-who-lived! The one who defeated the Dark Lord, You-know-who! Fifteen years ago! Then t-t-there was a big hooh-ha a few years ago when you were found to have disappeared! Right around the time you were supposed to attend Hogwarts!"
Dark Lord? And no, I don't know who - if he tells me it's Sauron, I'm walking out and never coming back.
"Define, 'a big hooh-ha'?"
"The M-ministry put out an international notice to all the other ministries that you had gone missing. The A-a-aurors were out searching the country for weeks."
Interesting, confirmation of the international organisation at least. Aurors … searching … equivalent to police or army maybe?"
"Why all the attention?"
"Y-you don't know?"
Harry relaxed a bit of pressure. "If I did, would I be asking?"
"Well … when you were just a baby, you killed the worst Dark Lord we'd ever had. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named killed hundreds, but when he tried to kill you, the spell reflected. No one really knows what happens, but you were found in a half-destroyed house, with his clothes and wand next to your crib, with that scar on your forehead."
He-who-must-not-be-named? They won't even say his name? Must have been bad. And 'the worst Dark Lord we've ever had' … are they a regular occurrence?
"Okay." No, it was most certainly not bloody okay, Harry didn't understand a thing, but he was just going to have to roll with it. "So who are you?"
"I'm Tom … Tom Dickinson ... I own and run the Leaky Cauldron."
"All right." Harry slowly removed his weapon. "I apologise for manhandling you, Tom. I don't like being surprised."
"That's … fine." Tom rubbed his jaw, apparently forgetting the fact Harry had been the one sneaking around his property.
"Now," Harry gestured at the sitting room couch, but didn't holster his pistol, keeping it slightly out of sight beneath the ridiculous cloak. "I'm sorry about the late hour, but we need to have a talk."
"Now?" Tom put away the stick, and clapped his hands twice; the room's candles and fireplace bust into life. "I suppose … say … aren't you a little old?" The stick, light now extinguished, was in his hand again. "Harry Potter should be younger than you are."
Harry knew the age thing would come up. "Little accident along the way."
"Ah …" Tom relaxed, for some reason accepting that complete non-explanation at face value. "Ageing potion?"
"Something like that." Harry waited until the old barkeeper had seated before taking the chair facing the door. "I've been … away, for a few years. Kidnapped, actually, in 1991."
"So they were right?"
"The papers, the Daily Prophet, they've run with that theory ever since, although the Ministry never confirmed anything. The Quibbler had its own version, something about it being the 'Greys' that took you but no one paid any attention to old Xeno. He's a bit of a crackpot."
Greys? Roswell Greys? Oh, this Xeno isn't quite as much of a crackpot as you think. I going to need to look into that.
"Yeah. I got rescued, but stuck around with my rescuers for most of the last five years. I came back here to get some answers, about my family, and about … magic."
"Well, that a lot of things, but I'll do my best, Mr Potter."
For almost two hours, Harry listened to, and asked questions about the English magical world. He heard about his parents - you look like your father, but you have your mother's eyes - what little Tom knew about their school days - charmer, Lord Potter was, or so I heard, and your mother was one of the smartest students Hogwarts had ever had - and their sacrifice - dead in a car crash, what a load of dragonshite, if you'll excuse my French.
He did, eventually, get the name 'Lord Voldemort' out of Tom, but just the words clearly terrified the man, so he let it alone after that, turning to happier subjects, like Hogwarts - grand old castle, up in Scotland - and the Ministry - most are good sorts, but more'n a few bad apples amongst them lot too - and some more recent history - heard some rumours about troubles up at Hogwarts these past few years, and there some stories in the Prophet, too.
Eventually, the old barkeeper rose to start his day, waving off Harry's apologies for keeping him up all night - least I could do, young man, you needed to know these things - and led Harry into the back yard of his pub to show him the entrance into 'Diagon Alley.' Harry watched in barely concealed surprise at the retracting doorway and the street revealed on the other side - a street that clearly did not appear anywhere in modern London. Fitting in with the Tudor style of the Leaky Cauldron, the Alley was a ramshackle collection of shale-roofed structures, some leaning at some improbable angles. It had a certain charm, however, even dark and deserted as it was.
"Thank you, Tom." Harry said as he stepped through, then turned back. "If you don't mind, one more favour."
"Of course, Mr Potter."
"Don't tell anyone I was here. Not your friends, family, or even people you trust. I don't like attention, and I'd rather stay under the radar for the moment."
"Under the what?"
"Uh … never mind. I'd just like to stay hidden for the moment."
"Well, certainly, I suppose. I was planning on telling Dumbledore, the Headmaster. Back when you first went missing he asked me to keep an eye out, if you ever wandered in. A long shot, he called it at the time, but said he was trying to cover every possibility."
Why would a school headmaster have anything to do with searching for me, if these Aurors were already at it? Although … he does have all those other titles, maybe that has something to do with it.
"Well, I've no idea who he is, so could you hold off on that please?"
"He's a good man, Mr Potter. Maybe a bit off his rocker, but a good man."
"I'm sure, but still. Tell you what, hold off on telling him for now, and when I've got my bearings, in a few days I'll come back and you can introduce him?"
Tom smiled, nodded and returned to his pub, leaving Harry alone in the entirely deserted Alley. It was still half-five in the morning, after all.
"Minerva?" The AI had stayed quiet throughout the conversation, either letting Harry get on with it uninterrupted, or because she was cut off by the subspace field. Harry wasn't terribly worried; all he had to do was leave via the Charing Cross entrance, but it would hamper his recon if Minerva couldn't analyse things on the fly for him.
"Still with you, Harry." Her voice was still getting interference, but it was better than before. "I've compensated as much as I can without making some hardware changes. Better EMP shielding should do it, but that can wait. I'm getting telemetry from all the audio-visual surveillance devices you're wearing, but I'm still not getting any sensor readings or lifesigns from outside the zone. I know you're there, but I can't see you there. It's a bit disconcerting, how well these barriers work."
"No equipment disruption?"
"The silicon-based kit you took in to test my theory is all frozen up or fried completely. The crystal tech is working, albeit at slightly reduced efficiency and clarity of signal, and the communication signal is a bit scratchy as you can tell."
"Can't lock on without a lifesign. Turn on the transponder beacon."
Harry tapped a small black box on his belt that immediately showed a little red LED, indicating it was active. "Done."
"Signal received." Minerva sounded relieved. "Anything you want transported from inside a subspace field will need to be tagged with a beacon. We've only got that one you're wearing and ten spares in storage though. Use them carefully."
"Put it on the resupply list. What about transporting in?"
"Won't be possible unless there's an active beacon to lock onto."
"Give me a minute." Harry looked around, and spotted a narrow side alley between two buildings, which he entered. "Transport one of the spare beacons and a 'Gate camera out of storage to me."
The two devices appeared in a white flash at his feet. Minerva had clearly made her best guess at ground level, working off the beacon on his belt and his known height, but was off by a few inches. Both fell and bounced with a clatter that made Harry wince, but didn't seem to attract any attention.
"I'll find a good spot to set these up, then we'll have our own private entry point."
"Good thinking. That Leaky Cauldron entrance is an obvious ambush point if someone worked out it was the only way you knew to get into this 'Diagon Alley.' And what a name! I bet these people think they're a right laugh."
"Start working on a design for some kind of recon drone, something we can slip inside these fields without actually having to physically infiltrate them." Harry ordered, making his way down the aforementioned Alley. "Give it a beacon, because the present ones don't have that … maybe a beacon that can be dropped off, and the usual sensor and surveillance capabilities."
"I'll have it done by this evening."
It took a while, but Harry eventually found an apparently unused little space, barely wider than the side alley that led to it, behind 'Madame Primpernelles' Beautifying Potions.' The transponder, now active, went on the ground behind a trash can, while the camera he just levitated up slightly above head height, the powerful adhesive backing attaching it to the brick wall of the adjoining building. From there the wide-angle lens could watch the transport area and detect if anyone would see his arrivals … or be waiting in ambush for him.
That done, Harry beamed back to the Raven, to go over the considerable amount of information Tom had imparted to him.
"That went well." Minerva said after Harry had returned, and quickly skimmed over the 'Goa'uld Watch' reports.
"It did." Harry leaned back in the desk's chair. "Objective has been confirmed to exist, and located. Covert transport through the barrier is established, and a friendly local contact met. But there are some considerable issues to be surmounted."
"Indeed there are." Minerva smirked, "Like the fact that despite having never heard of these people and having spent most of the last five years off the grid in a different galaxy, even if they don't know that, you are still a major celebrity for something you have no recollection of."
"Messed up, isn't it?"
"Beyond all belief."
"But so very … human, as well." Harry mused. "A child makes the perfect hero, wouldn't you say? An innocent. No ... politics involved. A child is separated from all that, separated from any prejudices; people don't like a hero who has different opinions to theirs, and a baby doesn't have any opinions at all except wailing. Well," he amended, "any prejudices except the hatred of whoever supported Voldemort, presumably. In reality, either something entirely different happened, or I was just a toddler who survived what no-one else had before. That doesn't make me anything except lucky."
"Harry … I'm sorry about your parents. I know you haven't believed the car crash story your relatives fed you for several years, but this is …"
"Unexpected, I know. And you don't need to say anything, Min. You weren't even initialised at the time. And their sacrifice, for me … without even knowing about it, I think I've taken a pretty good first few steps towards making sure my parents' deaths weren't in vain. Knowing their story just makes me want to be even more worthy of it. Besides, from what Tom says, Voldemort's no longer around for me to track down and terminate with extreme prejudice. Which is a shame, but probably for the best, for me. Revenge, although poetic, isn't the most … stable motivation."
"Yes, I'm glad you recognise that, and I agree; freeing a galaxy would be a fitting legacy for Lily and James' son."
"Glad you think that, because you're going to be right there for all of it."
"Probably going to be doing most of it, too." Minerva shot back with a smirk.
"Whatever. Something interesting just occurred to me though."
"Tom referred to my father as a Lord."
"He did … I wonder where we can find out more about that. Your father's name isn't in the non-magical peerage list; do you think there's a whole separated magical nobility? Does the Crown have any influence?"
"It's not really important for now. I'll keep looking around Diagon Alley later, and try to get some background on this Dumbledore guy. Have you had a look on the other side?"
"It's an odd name. I've got a reference to a 'Dumbledore,' no first name given, in some old documents dating to the Second World War, but only in passing."
"Minutes of a meeting between Eisenhower and some of his senior commanders shortly after the Battle of the Bulge, re-discovered in an archive and declassified in the late 1970s, converted to electronic format just two years ago. The impression I get is that this Dumbledore was some kind of high-level independent agent or commando, perhaps SOE, or maybe a spymaster in control of such agents. The exact line, spoken by Eisenhower, is 'Dumbledore says he can maybe disrupt their logistics, but it's not his primary objective, and he doesn't want to break his peoples' cover unless it's critical.' Patton responds with derision, saying that he still can't believe Eisenhower is putting up with 'that crackpot old fool.' Montgomery moves the conversation onto something else. That's it."
"Interesting ... you think it's this 'Albus Dumbledore's' father?"
"It's a distinct possibility."
"Well, we can ask him at some point," Harry decided. "It probably isn't relevant, but might indicate a magical component of World War Two that was completely left out of the history books. Anway, ops plan for the next few days; Diagon Alley again later, just to get a feel for the place in the daytime, then tomorrow we'll check out that castle in Scotland that Tom all but confirmed was Hogwarts itself."
London, Earth - 1200 Hrs GMT - August 6th 1995
Harry decided to catch a few hours sleep before returning, so it was midday by the time he reappeared in the Alley, and it was a remarkably different place. Bustling crowds filled the street, dressed in odd, old-fashioned clothing, apparently based around what those in 'the real world' would refer to as academic robes, but rather more creative in their colouring, and usually worn over even more old-fashioned three-piece suits or, for the women, gowns and dresses of various period styles. Pointy hats, usually askew at the top, were also very much in evidence.
The stores, previously dark and drab, were as colourful as the people, selling all kinds of weird and wonderful substances, devices or, apparently, ingredients.
Eye of newt and toe of frog, perhaps? Wool of bat and tongue of dog too somewhere, probably. I wonder if Shakespeare had some peripheral knowledge of the magical world ...
Clearly 'magical' shops selling wands, cauldrons, and … flying broomsticks, apparently … were sited side by side with others selling rather more prosaic stationary, confectionery or clothing. Harry just leaned in the side-alley's entrance, unnoticed and unassuming - and his scar covered by an adhesive patch matched to his skin-tone. A few people glanced at him, but moved on. He had no specific plan, just to get used to the tone of the Alley and its people, the better to blend in and appear to be a local. Besides, from the transactions going on at some of the street stalls near him, he had none of the local currency. No way in hell those gold coins were Pounds Stirling.
He caught snatches of conversation from shoppers, but none of it seemed especially relevant. Then:
"In the Alley you'll find all of the stores required to purchase your supplies …"
The short teacher was back - Tom had confirmed him as Filius Flitwick, Charms Professor at Hogwarts, when Harry had asked some leading questions - with a different family in tow. As they passed, with the four-foot-nothing Professor playing tour guide, Harry detached himself from the wall and merged into the flow behind them, staying close enough to hear his high-pitched voice, which carried quite a way even with the throng.
A guided tour for newcomers would be rather useful.
After seeing the bank - Gringotts, doesn't get any more reliable than the Goblins, you can get your muggle currency converted there - Ollivander's Wand Shop - highest quality wand-maker in Britain - and seeing the rest of the Alley, Harry detached himself from that group when they started heading in to purchase their kid's school uniform at 'Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions,' heading back to transport site and thence to the Raven.
"More problems." Harry slid into the chair in the Ops room, turning to face Minerva's projection.
"Yeah. Operating budget - not just in this 'Wizarding world' with their crazy coins, but in the regular parts as well. What's the most secure way of holding funds here on Earth?"
"Most secure? Make lots of gold bars and put them in the cargo hold of the Raven. Difficult to pull off a heist in orbit."
Harry rolled his eyes. "That wasn't what I meant and you know it."
"You meant private, away from scrutiny. For that, a numbered account is probably what you're looking for. They're not completely private, but much more so than usual. Swiss and Austrian so-called 'offshore' banks specialise in this, as do other banking havens, as it's illegal in most jurisdictions. The Swiss banks in particular are noted for being very closemouthed about their clients' financial affairs. To open such accounts, they always require a physical meeting to verify identity. After that, they don't keep personal data on their clients beyond the bare minimum; if you have the right codes, you can access the account."
"Open accounts in all the banking havens you think are appropriate." Harry ordered. "Attract less attention, hopefully. Then target accounts belonging to … less reputable persons, shall we say. Columbian drug lords or terrorist groups, for example. Hack them and … appropriate some funding for this op. Do it in small increments, a penny here, a pound there. Or cents and dollars, probably. They'll probably notice eventually, but you can make it utterly untraceable, right?"
"Yes. I must say, those double standards are showing though again, Harry."
"True, I'm a hypocrite," Harry shrugged, "but it's for a good cause. Try to make sure no one will get hurt over this. Obviously I don't want this traced back to us, but I'd rather some other poor sap doesn't get the blame for it either. I suspect these … individuals might be more than a little annoyed if all their not-so-hard-earned cash goes missing suddenly. Can you make that happen?"
"I'll do my best. Scotland?"
"Yeah. Give me a topographic image."
One appeared over the central hologram table. "Hmm … have you figured out a way to compensate from outside the subspace field, so cameras can see in?"
"Not yet, and I'm not hopeful either. It's a very effective defence. Getting more readings from the Hogwarts' field might help, give me something to compare Diagon Alley too." Minerva shrugged. "You know my system isn't optimised for scientific analysis. I rely on interpreting data gathered by others for that kind of thing, and no-one has ever encountered subspace fields like this before, let alone extensively analysed them."
"Yeah, I know, do your best." Minerva's weakness, if it could be called that, was what the Asgard scientists called 'progressive specialisation.' She spent the majority of her time and processing capacity running simulations of future galactic politics and military scenarios based on every possible variable imaginable, and was now also updating them constantly with the information the new surveillance network was gathering.
The longer she spent doing that, the better she got at it, just like a human doing the same job; the ability to learn was a function of her sentience, artificial though she was. However, although Minerva was, in human terms, a genius in many areas including the sciences, that didn't make her omniscient. Her lack of specialisation in and therefore lack of experience in scientific analysis, however, meant she was incapable of making intuitive leaps of logic that might occur to a scientifically specialised AI, and visa versa.
"Okay, we'll work around that. I'm going to do this in armour, with an enhanced sensor module. Three objectives for tonight: first, to verify that this is indeed Hogwarts, and my ability to physically access it. Second, I want to get a more sensitive sensor pack inside one of these fields, to get better readings, and third, to test whether or not the armour's computers are affected, just in case I need to fight in one of these fields. Insertion point … here." Harry tapped a spot on the image. "I'll carry an active transponder beacon at all times."
Scotland, Earth - 2300 Hrs GMT - August 6th 1995
A flash of light announced the arrival of a heavily armoured figure at the foot of one of the enormous, ancient conifers that still populated the few remaining Scottish forests.
A few small creatures scattered at his appearance, but after checking his sensors and a visual scan, Harry determined he was alone. He made his way north-east, downhill towards the lake that Hogwarts Castle was apparently built next to.
The Castle's subspace field was considerably stronger than that of Diagon Alley, although apparently with different effects as they could still see it - a ruined version anyway - from orbit. Since 'Castles' usually meant 'defended,' Harry had decided to don full armour.
The armour was, quite possibly, a greater technological feat than even the compact and lethal Raven. It was multi-layer system, the closest thing to powered battle armour Harry could manage without an actual exoskeleton. It could shrug off the Jaffa's zat'nik'tel blasts without difficulty, and the outermost centimetre-thick plates of trinium-carbon alloy gave decent - but still imperfect - protection against the high-velocity, high-temperature plasma shots of staff weapons, so although being hit by one of those would likely be highly unpleasant and/or capable of maiming him, he'd probably survive.
Heavy-calibre gunfire too would be uncomfortable but survivable; if an Earth military force tried to take him down for some reason, they'd need anti-tank missiles or light artillery at least.
The true advantage of the armour was not, however, in the advanced protection - although that was very welcome - but the incredible tactical and situational awareness it imparted; it wasn't just protection for him, but for the in-built sensors and the computer systems that linked Minerva to it as well. With her aid, behind the full-face, featureless gloss-black visor Harry could 'see' in not just the visual spectrum, but in infra-red, thermographic, EM and - pending some so-to-be-applied upgrade - subspace spectra too, and she could display for him a wealth of relevant information, such as maps, intel, estimated enemy intentions and movements, health readouts for himself or others and more. Weapon telemetry also fed into the HUD, enabling him to aim reasonably accurately even when moving or in less-than-stable firing positions.
His weapons, too, would certainly make Earth's collective militaries drool. Harry was still field-testing a number of different designs, so tonight he carried a five millimetre railgun in a marksman's rifle configuration, with an under-barrel particle attachment. On low power, the multi-purpose attachment would have the same stun effect as his sidearm; on the highest setting, which was considerably more intense than the pistol was capable of, it would melt a six inch hole in two-inch thick rolled steel armour. He would only get one shot out of the micro-fusion cartridge on that setting, however.
The hike down to the lake was interesting, but uneventful, even though he'd detoured around a rather large thermal signature that Minerva claimed was some kind of mutated super-arachnid. Harry hadn't wanted to stay around long enough to find out if the spider the size of a small house was friendly or not, so he'd taken the long route. Investigating that could go on the to-do list. A long way down the to-do list.
Mild arachnophobia had nothing to do with that decision, of course.
The castle was far from being a ruin. The silhouette of more than a dozen massive towers stood in stark relief against the yellow-red sunset on the western horizon, atop a huge cliff over the lake. Hogwarts Castle was actually more like several castles, Harry observed, as it was built on several different rock outcrops which were accessed by drawbridges or more solid stone arches.
"Minerva, you still seeing a ruin?" The AI would be observing through his helmet cam, and through the enhanced sensor suite he was carrying as a backpack module.
"Yes. I take it you aren't?"
"Far from it. I wonder if the illusion effect would still hold if I were to go inside it?"
"Bit ambitious for tonight, wouldn't you say?"
"Perhaps. Term's out, I doubt any students are around."
Harry retreated back into the forest to stay out of sight as he worked his way around the south and west sides of the lake; it was well past last light by the time he reached the nearest access detouring around a small, hut - the light and smoking chimney indicated occupation, he was soon approaching a narrow, rickety covered bridge - so rickety, in fact, Harry couldn't work out how the thing was staying up - which led from a hillock bordered by large standing stones, over a chasm into a courtyard adjoining the castle proper.
Harry loitered at one end for a few moments, weighing up his options. He'd already done what he'd intended to do - confirm the existence of Hogwarts and his ability to get inside the subspace 'bubble' that - he'd thought - defended it, although it appeared to only be a camouflage effect. A very sophisticated one, to tell the truth, but not such an obstacle after all ... unless he was missing something.
There didn't seem to be any alert or opposition to his intrusion. Why not?
Minerva piped up half-way across the bridge, sounding rather more nervous than usual - and the comm signal was more degraded than usual too. "Harry … silly question, perhaps … but what are you standing on?"
Harry looked down, at the planks, then up, at the roof in confusion. "A bridge."
"Ah. Good to know. To the camera, you appear to be standing on air."
"So you still can't see the castle?"
"Negative, just the ruins." The AI's frustrated tone changed abruptly. "Contact rear, forty metres and closing on the end of the bridge."
Harry took off running, into the castle, aware that he was making considerably more noise than he could afford; the bridge was exposed, however, and whoever it was would have a direct line of sight to him in just a few seconds.
The bridge ended in the middle of one side of a courtyard; directly opposite, on the far side was a massive and imposing set of wooden doors. Harry dodged right, slipping behind a pillar. There were no other decent hiding places; the only other exit from the courtyard were the wooden doors, clearly shut.
Heavy, stomping steps announced the arrival of the contact, who soon appeared from over the bridge.
"I could'a sworn there was somethin' there," he muttered. Even without looking Harry could tell this guy was probably very large; to describe his voice as 'bass' would be an understatement, and his footsteps on the shaky bridge had sounded like near-seismic events.
Harry slid his hand down to the under-barrel stunner, and turned the power up slightly above the 'normal' stun setting. It really wasn't the introduction to Hogwarts he'd had in mind, but he didn't want to get caught sneaking around either.
"Hmm. Must'a been nothin'." He stomped away across the courtyard, and Harry manoeuvred quietly along below the low wall until he felt he could risk a look. He nearly swore out loud - the man wouldn't have heard anything, because of the sealed helmet, but he suppressed the urge. Nonetheless …
The heavyweight guy was more than just heavyweight, he was fucking huge.
"How big is that guy?" He asked Minerva. A box opened on his visor, tagging the man with an amber target icon, for unknown/civilian … and providing a box of 'vital stats' as provided by the armour's sophisticated sensors. At reasonably close range they could determine all kinds of useful things, like species, presence of a Goa'uld symbiote, whether or not they were armed, detecting tells if someone was lying, etcetera. Since most Milky Way non-human sentient races were humanoid, and quite a few could pass for human - or hijack them, for that matter - the first two of those were critically important.
"Very," was Minerva's deadpan reply. "The helmet cam's working properly. I think you passed through the camouflage layer. That castle is very impressive."
"That it is." Harry said, still focused on the giant. This guy was eleven and a half feet tall; his internal skeletal structure and organ placement indicated he was human, but his muscle density was twice that of a baseline human. "What else can you tell me?"
"Tallest human known to have lived was only eight foot eleven, this guy is significantly more than that. Maybe some kind of mutation due to magic? He doesn't seem to be suffering from any of the health issues connected to gigantism." Minerva replied speculatively. "And that doesn't explain the extra muscle density."
The tall man reached the doors and called out, "Draco dormiens!"
"Draco? That's not an Alteran word but dormiens is 'sleeping'."
"Dragon, Harry. It's Latin, not Alteran."
"Oops, sorry. I wonder if it's just a voice password, or actual voice recognition? No way to tell right now; what's the readout on the 'magical' interference?"
"It's been steadily getting worse since you crossed into the field, and began increasing exponentially as you crossed the bridge."
"Estimated distance until I lose contact with the Raven?" Harry really didn't want that; the armour's major advantage was the link to Minerva. With her managing the systems, she was quite literally the eyes in the back of his head, and provided the answers, when she could, to the weird and wonderful … or bloody dangerous things the universe might throw at him.
"Can you track the source of the disruption? We've been moving around the perimeter for a while, can you use that to triangulate?"
"Not yet. Subspace energy sources aren't usually this … messed up. I know I said the crystal computers fared better than silicon, but that didn't mean they were working perfectly. The strength of the subspace interference around this place isn't just interfering with broadcast signals, but the internal crystalline components as well, which is making things difficult. Give me a few minutes to crunch the numbers."
"Alright." Harry watched as the heavy oaken doors swung shut behind the giant man with a resounding, echoing bang. It certainly fit the ambience of the place. "I've seen enough for tonight. I'll set up a camera on the door. Beacon in the woods still working?" Harry had dropped another beacon in the forest, at the closest point to the castle that was still in heavy cover.
"Yes, it is."
"Good. I realise I haven't exactly done much tonight, but time is on our side for this. Beam up."
"What's the next move?" Minerva asked, as Harry reappeared in the cargo bay.
"Well, how's the funding coming?"
"You have an appointment in Zurich to open a numbered account tomorrow morning, zero-nine-hundred local time, which is one hour in front of UK time. Obviously, they require verification of your actual existence before creating the account, even if they don't ask any questions about you afterwards. You have similar appointments at two-hour intervals in Luxembourg, Austria and the Cayman Islands, in that order. The first two are in the same time zone as Zurich, and the Cayman Islands one is at fifteen hundred Zurich time, zero-eight-hundred local."
"Lovely." Harry grimaced. "Meetings with bankers. All day. Such fun."
"Stop complaining. You just go and open the accounts, and I'm going to make you rich. Just sit back and enjoy one of the biggest … and most boring heists in Earth's history."
Zurich, Switzerland - 1000 Hrs Local Time - August 7th 1995
The Zurich appointment went smoothly. Minerva's flawless false identities, this time passing Harry off as 'Steven Johnson,' a young software entrepreneur who'd struck gold in the booming internet phenomenon, were examined and approved without comment.
She had constructed a detailed backstory for him, and had pre-infiltrated the bank's network so that when they ran their background check, not only the basic, expected information like school and employment records showed up, but also news articles about his 'innovative company,' that aforementioned company's - fake - website and even a false contact number in New York. A similar scene played out in the three other appointments, all under different identities.
Minerva was targeting the six largest Columbian and Mexican drug cartels, an Albanian sex trafficking ring and Hong Kong's Sun Yee On, some of the most violent brutal criminal networks in the world … and the Dursley family, whose accounts she drained all the way down to a basic subsistence level in one go. The Dursley family's savings were quickly pin-balled through the financial system to hide the trail, winding up in Zurich Cantonal's account just a few minutes after Harry left.
Why? Well, if Vernon Dursley were to go to the authorities, they would of course have to have access to his financial records to investigate … which would reveal the not-inconsiderable amount of money he had embezzled from Grunning's Drills.
The money transfers against the criminal groups were more subtle, facilitated not by a brute-force hack but the actual, correct passwords, which meant the banks involved had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the transfers when questioned. Minerva's interference, however, meant that the transactions - which would normally require the bank be notified in advance or otherwise take several hours or even days to be approved, were done so instantly and without alerting either the bank staff or the account holders, as she was faking the relevant authorisation procedures from both ends.
She had bounced the transfers through a large number of dummy regular accounts and front corporations, the amounts far too small for anyone to take notice of - international banking regulations only required the reporting of transfers over ten thousand dollars.
Each of the gangs in question maintained hundreds of accounts and invested in dozens of businesses of varying legality, and that wasn't counting the senior gang members' own personal accounts, which were also fair game. Stealthily, money began disappearing as Harry had suggested: a cent there, a dollar there. By the time the Triads noticed - always the most organised of the eight - six weeks had passed. By the time the Albanians had cottoned on, eighteen months had passed, and Minerva had diverted a sum total of two hundred and seventy million US dollars from all of them. As a finale, she phoned in some anonymous tips to local law enforcement, just to keep them on their toes.
AIs were so very, very useful to have around.
Even though several of these gangs cooperated with each other on a regular basis, none found out about the others' misfortune; all chose to conceal their loss so no one might think them weak, and try to move in on their turf. They did each try to track down the thief independently, but Minerva was far, far too smart for that. No electronic evidence was left, no trail of transfers for anyone to follow.
Various law enforcement organisations also eventually heard; they were not without their own sources on the inside. Once they were done having a good laugh at their enemies' expense, they too did their best to track down the hacker or hackers who pulled this off, less they strike again at a more legitimate target. However, even with INTERPOL coordinating, the investigation went nowhere.
Late that afternoon, Harry returned to the Alley that afternoon to convert some non-magical currency into the Galleons, Sickles and Knuts Tom had explained to him. Equipped a satchel full of cash - formerly belonging to the Dursley's, which had made him laugh at Minerva's well-deserved revenge on his behalf - and a chequebook, Harry went straight to Gringotts.
Half an hour later he was the proud owner of a bottomless wallet - some sort of pocket dimension effect, Harry was sure, although he could't think how it would be maintained without some sort of power source - and several thousand galleons. He hadn't really analysed the prices the day before, so he deliberately took more than he expected to need.
He shouldn't have worried. With only about half an hour before the stores in the Alley closed, he bought some bland, generic, off the shelf wizarding clothes from a second hand store - the cloak was adequate, but a bit ridiculous in midsummer - and the basic, First year spell books and other volumes of recent magical history, explaining truthfully enough that the latter were for personal interest, and glibly lying that the rest were for a younger brother.
He'd then returned to the Leaky Cauldron, to pick up a copy of the Daily Prophet. Tom spotted him reading it and came over; further to being a goldmine of information the day before, Tom turned out to be a collector, with scrapbooks of Prophet articles dating back nearly since he started running the pub several decades before. He'd leant Harry his books for 1975-82, covering the war which took his parents' lives, and the fallout from its ... unexpected resolution, and 1991-3 which included his 'abduction' and the aftermath of that, too. Harry suspected Tom was going to be an incredibly useful connection to have - the Cauldron was a popular establishment, and bartenders often heard more than their customers thought.
That done, Harry returned to the Raven to pore over his new sources, to catch up on the basics of this society, so he didn't appear to be a total idiot when he started poking around deeper inside.