Last Time, on SVP, PB: (since I know it's been such a long time!)
"I got a good look at the shooter before he vanished. Wasn't Apparition or portkey either, something new; there was a flash of white light and he was gone."
"Interesting … did you recognise him?"
"Well, I've never seen him before in my life –"
"But? Get to the point, Alastor."
"Spoil my fun, why don't you." Moody retorted, pulling out his hip flask. "He had scruffy black hair, green eyes, and a lightning-shaped scar above his left eye."
Moody took a long pull on his flask, before delivering the punchline to an already stunned Albus Dumbledore.
"Who fits that description, do you think?"
Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
'If You Wish for Peace, Prepare for War'
Act One – Preparation
Hogwarts School, Earth - 1900 Hrs GMT - August 10th 1995
"It can't be." Dumbledore whispered to himself, before focusing on Moody intently. "It can't be."
Moody shrugged and took another pull on his flask. "Don't look at me, I only told you what I saw."
"But you do think it was him."
"I'm an investigator, Albus. I don't have enough evidence to say either way. We don't know what happened to the kid five years ago. He. Just. Vanished. That was it. No evidence of a murder, or a kidnapping, no sightings ever since … well, no remotely legitimate ones, anyway, and the Aurors still investigate most of the more probable ones. I know we've had a couple of imposters since, but they were just attention-seekers or gold diggers, easy to smoke out. And there's something I haven't mention yet. He didn't look fifteen; more like eighteen to twenty or so."
"But … then it can't be Harry, surely?"
"Really, Albus? Do you want me to list the possible ways he could look older than fifteen? Time turner, ageing potion, Muggle surgery, simply having a growth spurt? Normally I'd have immediately named him an imposter, but his scar was concealed by makeup, not put on by it. Had some sort of flesh-toned patch over it; my eye could focus through it but it was there. Why would someone pretending to be Harry Potter conceal the very marking that identifies him as such? Unless he's arranging some elaborate double bluff and is going to pretend to be Harry Potter pretending to be someone else in order to convince us of the former and deliberately is giving us a hint of his existence before the big reveal … which is the kind of overly-complex plan that is going to fall apart the moment someone asks him a hard question."
"What do your instincts tell you?"
"That this is fishy, but not in the same way as the imposters. They were predicable; they did a big flashy revelation, grabbed the headlines, then did their best to stay out of the spotlight when people like yourself and others who knew the Potters started verifying their stories. This one … he's different. He was tailing Remus, that much I'm sure of, but why, and how did he know it was going to be a fight? You don't carry weapons as large as the one he had around in broad daylight in London, he'd have been arrested. He was pre-positioned, Albus! Good vantage point across the ambush site. How could he have known? He can't have been a Death Eater, because he killed one of them!"
"Could he have been aiming for Miss Tonks?"
"Not unless he's got the worst aim in history. I know enough about Muggle weapons to know the kind he was using is accurate, too accurate for that shot, at that range, to be anything other than deliberate. They used to teach Aurors this stuff in the Academy when I went through, but junked the module in the last war because, well, it wasn't at all relevant. Hasn't been reinstituted since. Budget cuts."
"How fortunate you remember it then. Very well. Look into it," Dumbledore ordered. "It is secondary in importance to hampering the Death Eaters, but still important. And don't tell anyone."
"Really Albus? I thought you'd realised keeping everything to yourself doesn't help?"
"Alastor, what do we actually know? We have a possible sighting of a young man who, despite inconsistencies, might be the best prospect of actually being Harry Potter we've had in five years of searching; not that I'm very hopeful, you understand. It's been too long. But what would telling the rest of the Order about it accomplish except to distract them? I may tell Miss Granger, perhaps she can find an explanation in her researches, but we need to focus on the Death Eaters. If he's an imposter, you can use Tonks and Kingsley to feed it to the Aurors and let them handle it."
"And if it's actually Harry Potter? Shooting Death Eaters in the streets of London?"
"Well … I honestly have no idea. We'll suppose we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
"What about the prophecy?"
"What of it? It says, in vague terms, that Harry – who must be the subject of it, given the scar – will be the one to defeat the Dark Lord. If the prophecy is self-fulfilling, a simple prediction of one possible future, then it doesn't matter; we can still kill Voldemort without Harry's presence. If it is genuine and binding, then Harry must still be alive – 'either must die at the hand of the other'. Voldemort was only resurrected two months ago and Severus tells me the Death Eaters have no better idea of where Harry might be than we do. If he had personally killed Harry, I have no doubt Tom would be crowing about it; killing the child who vanquished him last time? Riddle is an egomaniac. I have no doubt he regards his … first death, shall we say, as a personal insult; all the more because it was, rather embarrassingly, both accidental and at the hands, or rather forehead, of a toddler." Moody chuckled at the dry tone.
"And anyway," Dumbledore continued, as a cold smile appeared on his face. "Either way doesn't change our strategy." The sudden flash of the ruthless warrior beneath his usual grandfatherly appearance would have shocked anyone who was not in the Order's inner circle; even Dumbledore's own opponents who still thought of him as a dotty old man despite his skill and proven war record. "Even if the prophecy is genuine, and no one except Harry can rid us of Voldemort forever … it still doesn't protect his followers, does it now?"
Chapter Four - Aiming High
"There is something about killing [...] that is excruciating. It's bound to try a man's soul."
Earth Orbit - 0300 Hrs GMT - August 11th 1995
Harry had attempted to get some sleep, but found it elusive. He wandered up to the cockpit in silence in the early hours of the morning – although it was a rather arbitrary, artificial sort of definition when in space – and sat slumped in his chair in front of the main console, idly paging through intelligence summaries from the nascent espionage network.
Even though as an AI Minerva had functionally endless patience, she still had to say something. "Harry?"
"I'm fine," came the automatic reply. "Anything new on Bra'tac?"
Minerva was having none of that. "Nothing noteworthy," she replied, and powered off the screen in front of him
"Wow. That was subtle."
"You look like hell; let me help." Harry said nothing. "Talk to me, please."
"What am I supposed to say?" Harry snapped, but without heat. "I killed someone in cold blood. Someone who wasn't even aware I was there. I don't even know his name."
"But he was about to kill her, Harry. Your actions saved that woman."
"I know, that and the fact the guy I shot must have been a 'bad guy' are the only things that were mildly not-horrible about yesterday." Harry reclined the chair and stared out of the massive window at the present view of Earth's night-side. "I … I knew, have known for years that this plan would … get blood on my hands. Put red in my ledger, so to speak. Thor and other High Councillors made it clear, in rather graphic detail that even for the Asgard – who are practically the ultimate 'armchair warriors' given their physical limitations – no conflict was bloodless. But the theory and the reality … are very different."
Minerva just let him speak; from his quiet tone and thousand-yard stare, Harry was seeing nothing but his memories. And confronting traumatic memories was one of the fastest methods of psychotherapy to deal with the stress.
"I saw his head … explode. Snipers say they 'reach out and touch someone' through the scope. They aren't lying. It was like he was just a few metres in front of me. Even with all the training, all the VR sims, all the stuff Thor put together to make it as realistic as … Asgardly-possible … this was still completely different."
A long silence followed.
"So, before you ask if I'm feeling 'okay' –"
"I wasn't actually. That'll take time. But are you feeling … better, at least, from talking about it?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I am. A bit. Not much, but a bit." Harry tilted his head towards her hologram. "The worst part, though, is that I know he won't be the last. But I'm not giving up, on this investigation into my past, or the effort against the Goa'uld because of my personal discomfort with killing. No one else has the resources or the will to undertake this fight. Maybe it'll get easier, or maybe not. But someone has to do it, and right now that someone is me."
"I think that's about the best outlook you could have under the circumstances. So, what's next?"
"We spend another couple of days hanging around here, and we put the last satellite in the cargo bay into orbit to maintain overwatch on the subspace emissions, to start building up data for pattern recognition and analysis. I also want to give Tom's scrapbooks back and hopefully borrow some more. I'll continue distributing more surveillance assets around 'Magical' England – which, given the weather, is a serious misnomer – then hop back to Raidho and resupply. Is that drone design done?"
"Done, but needs testing. And I've sent the shopping list to the fabricator."
The Raven was a well-designed little ship, but it was also precisely that – little. Its naquadah reactor was adequate to provide energy to the core functions of communications, the stealth systems and the transporter all at once; these three systems being at the heart of its stealthy mission. It could not, however, power both the cloak and the weapons systems at the same time, and nor could it produce enough energy to run a molecular fabricator. The 'fabbers' used the same basic technology as the matter transporter – breaking down atoms and molecules into digital data, transmitting them through subspace and then reassembling them at a target location or storing them for later reconstruction. The fabricator did something similar, constructing items from atoms and molecules of various elements and compounds that were already stored digitally.
The logistical problem for the Raven was that the manipulation of the chemical bonds between these atoms as they were twisted and shaped into different alloys and compounds required incredibly fine control and a larger amount of energy than the ship's naquadah reactor could provide.
The second problem was space; the Asgard matter fabricators looked tiny, but weren't. The one on Thor's ship, the Beliskner, appeared to be just a pedestal and several of them could be found around that ship including on the bridge; however, much like an iceberg, it was much larger and more complex than it first seemed. The matter storage buffers were pretty bulky, and unlike a hard drive, if they lost power, their contents were eradicated – and the computer processing requirements were enormous – requiring many times the amount of crystal processing cores than the Raven was presently built with … and that was just the small Asgard version.
Harry couldn't use Asgard technology, lest it be discovered, so any usable version of the technology had to be home-built, so to speak, and was considerably less efficient than the original. Harry would, at some point, design the successor generation class of scout ship to the Raven and he hoped to miniaturize the technology enough to put it on board; for now, remotely ordering the large-volume fabricator at his half-finished base in the Raidho system to produce what they wanted and then heading back to collect it was the only option.
"Last night, you asked me to procure an armoury of Earth weapons in order to avoid using offworld weapons here."
"Yeah, I remember. You want to fab them instead?"
"Yes; the fabber can produce the equipment with better materials and higher precision than factory-made weapons. If examined they'll appear to simply be a custom-made variant, which will send any investigation in the wrong direction -"
" – as they run around interviewing specialised custom armourers, looking for the source." Harry finished. "Rather devious. I'm impressed."
"I learn from the best."
"… Thank you? I think."
"Oh, not you."
"Wouldn't you like to know?"
"No really, who?"
Minerva made a motion as if zipping her lips shut, and disappeared from the hologram pad.
"Oh come on!"
Raidho System - 1100 Hrs Simulated GMT - August 15th 1995
Raidho Station was named for a rune of the Asgard language, a partial and somewhat altered version of which was known on Earth as the Elder Furthark runic script. It was written as a stylised capital R, and while in the Asgard alphabet it was simply a letter, on Earth it had come to have deeper symbolic meanings in the Norse religion. At the base of these meaning was 'Journey;' not just a physical move from A to B but also referring to the 'Journey of Life,' ie. learning from your experiences.
Somewhat more tenuously, divination (actually referring to the non-magical version, as in gypsy fortune-tellers in smoky rooms, although from what Harry had read up on the magical version it wasn't much better) which used the mystic 'godly' origins of runes to tell fortunes through 'castings,' (where small stones marked with the runes were thrown like dice) linked it to leadership, integrity and taking the right path, amongst other things.
Of course, Harry didn't give a damn about reading his own future by such idiotic means, but he liked the symbolism behind it enough to name his base after it.
The space station orbited a lonely B-class blue supergiant star approximately nine thousand light years from Earth – reasonably close neighbours, in interstellar terms – and about a day's travel for the Raven's hyperdrive. The system was a 'dead' system with no planets at all, but it did have the remains of some in the form of three reasonably dense asteroid belts at the twenty, fifty-eight and one-twenty light-minute marks.
It had the added benefit of not appearing, to the best of the High Council's knowledge, on any Goa'uld star chart; it would have held little attraction to the System Lords anyway, who preferred terrestrial slave labour-based mining operations, which were ridiculously inefficient but served the Goa'uld's collective 'We are your Gods' masquerade much better.
The station itself was a simple design, a long, thin structure that resembled a blade, oriented vertically to the plane of the ecliptic and positioned just inside the innermost asteroid belt. The reasonably close proximity of Raidho to its star's radiation output would do a good job of naturally blinding the sensors of Goa'uld vessels passing through the outer system. If the station's radiation shields ever stopped working, however … well, the result would not be pretty for any organic life form present.
About a third of the thousand metre long station was not yet complete, still only a bare skeletal network of structural beams that had not yet outfitted with the tangle of bulkheads, power conduits, data networks, environmental or other things that were required to keep a space station functioning, to name but a few. About a quarter of what had already been built and appeared complete was in fact empty, just unused interior space that was open to vacuum, left as such to allow rapid, flexible expansion at short notice in the future. If more than that was required, more volume could be added to the bottom or more vertical 'wings' added and connected with cross-passageways.
What had already been built, however, was significant: a high-volume fabricator, powered by its own dedicated neutrino-ion reactor; nearly a hundred cubic metres of freon-cooled molecular circuitry for Minerva's primary processor cores; and several hangars, three of them at present, each large enough to hold a Raven-sized ship with room to spare. Harry planned on … requisitioning some Goa'uld ships at some point, in case he needed a disguised ship rather than an invisible one, and he wanted to have somewhere to put them when he eventually got around to making that happen.
The construction was completely automated. Mining drones using technology derived from the transporter buzzed through the nearest asteroid belt, stripping useful elements from the resource-rich rocks. While metallic asteroids were rarer than their less useful 'stony' compatriots, and even more rare compared to the carbonaceous rocks that made up 75% of the total, there was still a vast amount of resources in absolute terms; more than enough to construct the station and provide material for the fabricator.
Harry debarked through the Raven's cargo ramp and stepped into the personnel lane, marked by highly visible lines on the deck, to avoid an automated cargo-handling cart, which trundled up into the ship carrying a stack of long thin crates; Minerva was not one to hang around when there was work to be done, for obvious reasons. The cargo was moved aboard physically due to the transporter's margin of error – while classified as a 'precision' tool, because being able to teleport objects across nearly thirty thousand miles to accuracy tolerances of about two metres or so was veryprecise; it was rather ironically not good enough to stack crates efficiently. Besides, using matter-teleportation device for freight handling …? That was just an … excessive waste somehow.
He turned to look at the ship once he reached the wide hatch at the back of the hangar, regarding it with proprietary pride – it was his design, after all. Robotic arms were descending from the overhead, trailing umbilical pipes that plugged into the water, fuel and air tanks to replenish or, in the case of the grey- and black-water sub-systems, remove. Panels to either side of the ship's spine slid back, exposing the modular cells of the life-support system's activated-carbon CO2 scrubbers, which were lifted out one by one and replaced with new ones. Minerva could do a 'turn around' replenishment of the Raven's critical systems in about ten minutes; loading the more specialised cargo would take a few hours, however.
It was an odd sight to see, akin to a baby returning to its' mother's womb. Unlike organic life, however, mechanical constructs require rather more maintenance. That thought made him smile slightly; when he'd conceived of this idea, he hadn't quite appreciated the size and complexity of the logistics involved in even a one-man operation, and Harry was under no illusions that he would, eventually, have to start recruiting for both combat and support operations from somewhere, although the who, how, where and when were not questions he could presently answer.
A few minutes' walk and a short trip in the turbolift brought Harry to the Strategic Information Display Room; the grandly-titled room (Minerva's influence) was, at first glance, a large circular and very empty room with a glossy black-tiled floor. As he walked towards the centre however, the floor shifted as panels slid aside to be replaced by low dome-shaped holographic projectors rising through the gaps, and a shallow ramp built up in front of him, block by block leading up to a low circular dais in the centre of the room.
As he reached that dais, the whole room lit up with a display of the entire galaxy in three dimensions, with him standing in the middle. A vast amount of colour-coded information was overlaid on the map; the current borders of various political entities, locations of key planets, major troop movements, shipping lanes – as many of the diverse and innumerable variables and arcana of grand strategy that could be visualised on a map without it being too confusing from data overload.
"The galaxy's quiet," Harry commented. It was indeed rare to have a moment when at least two of the System Lords were involved in some sort of fighting, be it only a minor border dispute – that was practically entertainment for the Goa'uld.
"It is." Minerva, now full size as opposed to her eight-inch projection when on the Raven, appeared beside him. "Not for long, however. Apophis has now recovered from the defeats inflicted on him seven years ago by Heru'ur; he is preparing an offensive against Cronos to retake territory lost during his last few years of relative weakness. Cronos is aware of the preparations and is countering them with his own."
"How bad is it going to be?"
"Depends on how much of his regained strength Apophis is prepared to commit. If he brings up troops and ships from rear areas to overwhelm Cronos' garrisons with numerical superiority before they can be reinforced, it could be over in three to six months with approximately three hundred thousand casualties total. That is unlikely to be his strategy, however, as removing those garrisons would expose previously secure areas to attack by Heru'ur, although Heru'ur is not prepared for war and would be slow to mobilise given his preoccupation with his border skirmishes with Ba'al."
"Projections on that basis?"
"War with Cronos to last twelve to fifteen months, three quarters of a million estimated casualties."
"And it's not like Apophis gives a good god-damn about his men's lives, now is it." Harry said grimly. "What about the situation with Bra'tac?"
"Hard to say. He's been off-planet a lot, and the bugs can't follow him there. They have picked up some chatter from one of the senior priests that Bra'tac might be retiring very soon; Teal'c is by far the most likely candidate to replace him."
"What do we know about Teal'c?"
"A good bit more than a few weeks ago. Bra'tac took him under his wing fifty-two years ago after distinguishing himself as a squad leader during a battle; the two of them are more like father and son than the usual Jaffa mentor relationships, and the bugs have overheard several more personal conversations between the two even though Bra'tac has mostly switched to mentoring Moac now that Teal'c often has independent commands. Teal'c is the son of Ronac, a First Prime of, rather significantly, Cronos."
"There's history there?"
"Cronos had Ronac executed and Teal'c and his mother exiled for failing to win what Teal'c refers to as an 'unwinnable battle' around ninety years ago. Teal'c vowed to become the First Prime of Apophis in order to have a chance to kill Cronos."
"Well, he's about to get his wish on both counts," Harry mused. "Any evidence Bra'tac has communicated his heretical opinions to Teal'c?"
"Unfortunately nothing concrete. Several more conversations on that topic between Bra'tac and Moac though, and between Bra'tac and his wife Arey'tau, who seems to be his confidante; I think we can confirm Bra'tac really is a rebel, albeit a low-key one. Either that or they've detected the bugs and are putting on an elaborate show for the microphones."
"Can you put a graphic of known movements of Bra'tac and his students? Look for any regular occasions when we can find Bra'tac alone or with Moac if necessary."
"Working on it." The display shifted, becoming a flat, conventional image of Chulak's surface, with urban centres and other landmarks marked on. A series of red dots popped into existence on the various continents, connected by thin lines and with time-stamps next to them. "Found one. Bra'tac mentioned to his wife that he would be spending another weekend out in a wilderness area called the High Cliffs for personal meditation and one-on-one training with Moac. He travels there by ring most of the way, since it's on the other side of Chulak from the city. It's also the depths of winter in that hemisphere at this time of year, and High Cliffs is noted for its rough terrain; good training, in other words. Arey'tau also mentioned this is something she'd rather he'd stop doing; apparently it's a reasonably regular occurrence."
"Is she worried her husband is getting a bit old for traipsing around the woods?"
"Yes. Bra'tac laughed it off though."
"Old warriors like him don't give up until they absolutely have to, and with a Jaffa's symbiote that won't be for some time in Bra'tac's case. How about Earth?"
"Something there too. Just received this a few minutes ago from one of the cameras."
The hologram changed to an image of Diagon Alley, quickly zooming in on someone reading the Daily Prophet. The headline was easy to make out on the high-resolution image: Ministry Decries Rumours of You-Know-Who's Return.
The story below was also readable, and worrying. It was light on facts and heavy on opinions, particularly those of several senior ministerial figures and other 'prominent persons.' The article did not identify the source of the rumour but strongly implied it was linked to...
"Dumbledore again," Harry looked up. "Dammit. Maybe they're just rumours …"
"Or maybe, given the fact that two known former and one presumed Death Eaters were ambushed by a trained force linked to a close associate of your parents … we know they were active against Voldemort in the 1970s, it's not unreasonable to assume Mr Lupin was as well if he was close to them."
"So … both sides are mobilising? If we game that out … if Voldemort has somehow returned from the dead after fifteen years … then whoever resisted him the first time would likely do so again. Crap."
"Its thin evidence," Harry continued, ignoring her sarcasm, "and there are a lot of gaps to fill but it doesn't look good. Either Voldemort's somehow back and the government is covering it up which implies conspiracy with the Death Eaters … which given their level of corruption we know about just from reading between the lines of the public records is not that unlikely … Or Voldemort isn't back, but the Dark- and Light-sided factions are still having fire fights in broad daylight like it's still wartime. If that's been going on for the last decade and a half someone must have noticed, but there's not a hint of it in the Daily Prophet articles or history books we've been using. Dammit, why can't these people use bloody computers?"
"So we can invade their privacy exponentially more efficiently?" Minerva asked dryly.
"Yes! I never anticipated having to divide our attention between Earth and the rest of the galaxy. We're too oriented to spying on a more technically advanced enemy, and the disruption generated by their subspace energy doesn't help either. They're so low tech we'd have to invest more time and resources than I really want to … but we're not exactly pressed for time on the Goa'uld front, and we're in a position to do some good on Earth."
"So we'll focus on them?"
"After one more round of installing more surveillance on the System Lords. How many more satellites have you put in the Raven?"
"Forty-six. Four less than last time, because of the new armoury."
"That's fine. We'll continue working down the priority list while monitoring Earth remotely. Speaking of which, we need an exploit, something more aggressive than cameras and bugs, something that leverages our technological superiority."
"The drones should help."
"Yes, but it's still more of the same. Human assets will be key, given their low technological level; Tom Dickinson doesn't count yet. Lupin maybe, I still think my parents would be a good vector for him … but HUMINT only sees and hears so much …" Harry trailed off, deep in thought.
"Scour the sources we have looking for locations, addresses of known Death Eaters like that Malfoy character," Harry ordered. "We've only got surveillance on the public areas around Diagon Alley and that village in Scotland so far … Hogsmeade, wasn't it? Which seems mostly oriented towards providing retail services to the castle. It's like how we found Bra'tac; we've got to get eyes and ears inside private homes, where people talk more freely – specifically Death Eaters, really, since they're the enemy."
"I'll work on it." Minerva promised. "What about Bra'tac?"
"Good point … we'll start working on him now," Harry decided. "If a civil war is about to kick off on Earth, we have to focus on that as well but not at the expense of the primary mission. Bra'tac is a good candidate for recruitment; he's highly placed, trusted, knows a lot of people very well – well enough to point us in the right direction if he's been planting the seeds of dissent like he seems to have been."
"True … but he is highly placed. Are you sure you aren't aiming a little high; this is your first run after all."
"Hmm. Perhaps. But sometimes you have to run before you can walk."
High Cliffs, Chulak - 0700 Hrs Local Time - August 19th 1995
"Tec'ma'te!" From his hiding place in the snowy treeline, Harry watched Bra'tac's last student, Teal'c, approach the training circle at a run, stumbling in the deep snowdrifts but clearly excited. "Tec'ma'te, Master Bra'tac!"
It wasn't hard to see why; Teal'c's tattoo, of Apophis' symbiote-in-a-circle symbol, had been replaced with a small, embossed gold plated plaque of a First Prime of Apophis, the same as Bra'tac himself bore.
It was early morning, high in the mountains on Chulak's northernmost continent. Snow lay thick on the ground, but it had been stamped into a hard compacted floor in the training circle in the clearing. Around the edge, Jaffa warrior standards – totems surmounted with U-shaped icons symbolising various warrior virtues – stood several metres high. In the freezing mountain air, both the Jaffa and their unseen watcher were dressed warmly; Bra'tac in full armour with a fur cloak and Teal'c in chainmail over thick Jaffa winter clothing. Harry wore similarly ubiquitous Jaffa winter dress, but under it was concealed his temperature-controlled under-armour bodysuit and low-profile armour.
Bra'tac, who had been running through his daily staff kata exercises, lowered his weapon. "Apophis has made you his First Prime." He did not sound excited.
Teal'c's smile faded. "You are not pleased."
"No." The old master turned and walked away from his protégée.
"There is no greater honour among Jaffa than to become First Prime to one's god -"
Bra'ta'c turned on his heel, interrupting the taller man's spiel. "You know as well as I what the Goa'uld truly are. We pretend, men like you and I, so we may advance in rank and privilege, but do not pretend to me now. You know the truth. Can you look me in the face and say otherwise?"
Confused, Teal'c looked away. "My entire life you have prepared me for this day," he said quietly. "Why?"
"I saw the spark of doubt in you, and the wisdom to keep that doubt unto yourself. I saw you play the game with those who would play god."
"If I do not believe in him, how can I serve?"
"Because there is no other choice but to serve. The Goa'uld are powerful. They have seen to it that we cannot live without them, and so it may be for all time. But neither can they live without the Jaffa. We are their true power." For a moment, Harry thought Bra'tac's eyes flickered in his direction, but he couldn't be sure.
"I do not understand."
"As First Prime that power will be yours. When Apophis throws his armies into the fire you will be there to temper his sword. And in so doing, you may save countless lives as I have done in my time."
"And you have done all these things against his will?"
"His will can be made to bend, but not always. I have done deeds for which I cannot forgive even myself. As will you. Men such as you and I have only the comfort of those time we make a difference." Bra'tac stepped forward, placing his hand symbolically over Teal'c's heart.
"Make a difference."
It took a few minutes before Teal'c left; the shock of his mentor brazenly admitting to blasphemy and treason had shaken him but, Bra'tac thought, he saw the reasoning too. If he had judged correctly, Teal'c would be a good First Prime, if not quite in the way Apophis expected him would be.
And now to deal with his other visitor.
Bra'tac picked up his pack and slung it over one shoulder, walking back across the circle towards the path Teal'c had just disappeared back down as if to leave himself. However, as he stepped out of the ring and onto the track he dropped the bag and levelled his Ma'tok staff at the thick undergrowth to the left.
There was a brief moment of silence, before the bushes rustled. A few seconds later they were forced apart and a young man in a hooded cloak of thick winter furs appeared, carrying a wooden travelling staff – sensible in the mountains for keeping one's balance and forging a way through deep snowdrifts. The newcomer could barely be more than twenty or thirty years old if he had no symbiote, and his eyes did not carry the weariness of a veteran of this brutal galaxy.
"Tec'ma'te, Master Bra'tac." The respectful term of greeting rolled off the stranger's tongue easily, but Bra'tac sensed it was not his original language. Not a Chulakian or citizen of Apophis' domain then, and certainly not a Jaffa, since he lacked any System Lord's sigil on his forehead. The ink used to create the tattoos was impossible to remove – although it could be modified with a device made for the purpose, such instruments were rare and closely regulated.
"So you know who I am." Bra'tac's staff remained pointed at the stranger's chest. Oddly, he did not seem concerned.
"I do. And I know of Teal'c, your son in all but blood, and his new appointment."
"So you heard us."
Bra'tac's grip tightened on the staff. "Then I will have to kill you."
The young man raised an eyebrow. "That will not be necessary."
"I cannot risk you relaying what you have learned to Apophis." Bra'tac raised his weapon. "For whatever it is worth, I am sorry."
"I am not going to report you to Apophis, Master Bra'tac," The young man shook his head, smiling, as if the thought amused him. "I sought you out precisely because of your views on your so-called Gods."
Bra'tac's eyes narrowed. "Why should I believe you? You could be an agent of Apophis."
In reply, the young man raised a hand, pressing a switch on the small device he held in his grasp. From it played a recording of Teal'c's voice.
"Master, I … I freed Del'nor," Teal'c's voice said in a rush. Bra'tac could remember the conversation clearly; it had only been just a few months ago … and it had taken place in his house, in an inner room with no windows.
"Why, Teal'c?" his own voice said.
"He did not deserve to die." Teal'c said quietly. "Apophis commanded me to kill Del'nor for the same reason … for failing to win an unwinnable battle. Cronos executed my father for the same reason. To do the same to a friend … I would not have been able to live with myself. I let him go. And just like Va'lar, Apophis said nothing."
There were a few seconds of silence, before Bra'tac's voice returned. "You made the right choice, Teal'c."
The stranger clicked off the recording at that point, but Bra'tac knew that if he had that segment then he must have the rest of the conversation as well … which was even more damning. If he had any other recordings of his talks with his protégées, they would reveal a clear pattern of seeding doubts concerning Apophis' divinity in Teal'c and Moac's thoughts. For the first time in many years, Bra'tac felt his blood run cold in true fear. What did this person want? Blackmail, perhaps? It had been weeks since that conversation with Teal'c had taken place; a true servant of a Goa'uld would have reported it immediately.
"What do you want?" Bra'tac asked bluntly.
"For you to listen to me," was the surprising reply. "Although if you could stop pointing that thing at me I'd appreciate it."
Grudgingly, Bra'tac moved the head of the staff so it was pointing slightly to one side.
"Thank you," the young man smiled. "Out of interest, how did you know I was there?"
"The air is cold." Bra'tac answered shortly. "I saw the mist from your breathing, even in this morning's fog."
"Ah. I'll have to remember that."
"And what is your purpose today, stranger? And in listening to my private conversations?"
"For the latter, the same reason as you had those conversations, Bra'tac. Just trying to determine who to trust."
"And for the former?"
"Because from what I just heard, I now know you can be trusted."
"Oh? With what?"
"How would you like to eradicate the Goa'uld? Help free the Jaffa from their slavery?"
Bra'tac stilled, scrutinising his visitor with wary eyes. "That is a lofty ambition."
"Oh yes, I know. Believe me, I know. But this will not be a quick campaign, nor will it be an open one. I move in shadows, and deal in secrets. With enough and the right information, I can anticipate an enemy's move before it is even made, defeat them before they know they are even at war. Information," his visitor nodded at him, "that you have access to. Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."
"Wise words. Not yours, I suspect," Bra'tac commented lightly, making the young man laugh and nod. "How do I know you don't simply work for Cronos, or another rival Goa'uld," Bra'tac continued in a far harsher tone. "Do you think I was born yesterday?"
"No. I do not expect you trust me without question, Bra'tac. However," he reached inside his cloak and produced a sleek silver weapon, completely unlike any weapon or device Bra'tac had ever seen in Goa'uld possession. "What Goa'uld have you ever seen carry something like this?"
He tossed it to Bra'tac, who caught it by the obvious grip and looked back at the owner. "You disarm yourself?" The man shrugged. "That is either a remarkably brave leap of faith or incredibly stupid."
The stranger said nothing, and Bra'tac examined the weapon. It was, indeed, very unlike anything he had handled before. It fit in his hand much more easily than a zat'nik'tel, and from the notched posts on the top that seemed to line up along the barrel he believed it was probably easier to aim too. Deciding to test that, he levelled it one-handed at the trunk of a nearby tree, lining up the foremost post with the notch between the two rear ones, and pulled the trigger.
He expected a burn mark and a charred crater in the thick trunk, much like a zat'nik'tel might inflict. Instead, the thick tree trunk practically disintegrated, toppling with a crashing roar into its fellows. After another examination, he tossed it back to the unknown man, commenting; "An impressive weapon." Its owner caught it and examined the device with quick, practised movements, checking something on the side before sliding a thin oblong object out of the handle and replacing it with another that glowed red, much like the bolts of an Intar practise staff.
But this was no weak training weapon. That weapon was built for efficiency and concealment; as small as a zat'nik'tel and as deadly – more deadly, really – as a Ma'tok staff. If this man could put such power in such a small object, what other technology might he have at his disposal? And how much? Would it be enough to defeat the Goa'uld?
Bra'tac had known his entire life that the Goa'uld were false gods; his father had taught him that as soon as he was old enough to understand why such knowledge had to be concealed. And he had long accepted that he would never be able to break the stranglehold the Goa'uld had on his people, and had settled for the lesser objective of saving as many lives as he could … but now, might he have found someone who could accomplish such a thing?
"What if I do not help you?" Bra'tac asked suddenly. "What will you do with your evidence of my lack of faith?"
"Nothing," the visitor answered easily, secreting away his weapon once more. "I disappear, and we both forget this conversation ever happened."
Bra'tac raised a sceptical eyebrow. "You will not betray me to Apophis?"
"What would that gain anyone?" the man asked rhetorically. "You are already working against him, to save Jaffa lives in the face of your supposed God's lunacy. That is a good thing, and my request is a simple extension of that."
"And what, exactly, are you requesting I do?"
The young man held up what appeared to be a normal communication sphere, but when he twisted the two halves, it clicked open in his hand. "This is, obviously, a disguised communicator. All I ask is for you to give me information on the Goa'uld. The kind of things a man in your position would know. Apophis' future intentions, locations of bases, particularly ones he wishes to keep secret, supply hubs, shipyards, armies, fleets, anything and everything about the military, economic and political posture of Apophis and his domain. And of his enemies, should you learn it."
"So you can attack it?"
"Eventually. For now I am simply gathering information, building a picture so to speak, so that when the time is right I know exactly where and how to strike best to cripple Apophis. I am gathering the same information on all the System Lords as well."
"And if that information would aid me? Help me save the lives of my Jaffa in battle?"
"If you wish for information on worlds you are targeting for Apophis, simply ask for it in your communications and I will do my best to find out." The stranger's voice softened. "Millions of Jaffa die each year from the Goa'ulds' petty squabbling and deceptions. I do not intend to add to that number if I can help it."
"But you will if you have to."
The stranger shrugged. "The Goa'uld will not go without a fight. And you were right; the Jaffa are the Goa'uld's true strength. Even if I can remove that by fostering rebellion amongst Jaffa of any and all domains, there will still be loyalists. Fanatics. It takes great strength to defy Gods, and the Goa'uld are particularly vicious and capricious ones. Not all Jaffa will have it in them to see that truth."
"No … I suppose not." Bra'tac replied thoughtfully. Then, he came to a decision and stretched out his hand for the not-communications sphere. "Very well. I shall give you the benefit of the doubt, for now. But if you prove false, I will destroy this thing and kill you if I see you again."
The man smiled. "Fair enough."
Examining the inside of the sphere, Bra'tac found it simple enough, with just three buttons, marked with the Goa'uld symbols for 'send,' 'receive,' and 'destroy.'
"Hold down 'send' and speak your message before releasing it," his new associate explained. "When the 'receive' button is flashing, go somewhere private and press it to hear my messages to you. If you believe you have been discovered, press destroy and close the sphere. The edges of the two halves will seal shut and it will appear to anything but a detailed investigation to be a normal communications sphere, although it will not work as it did before and I will bring you another one if it was a mistake. Furthermore, if you are captured, I will make every effort to rescue you and keep your family safe."
Bra'tac scoffed. "That would be foolish in the extreme. My wife knows of my actions and is aware of the consequences if we are caught. I have no sons but Teal'c and apart from you I doubt anyone knows of the beliefs I have encouraged in him. If I am discovered and am in Apophis' jail, you will have no chance of getting me out."
"Actually, it would be relatively easy for me."
"I see." Bra'tac slipped the sphere into his pack, sounding doubtful. "And who should I address these messages too?"
"You can call me Magni."
London, Earth - 1030 Hrs GMT - September 1st 1995
King's Cross is one of London's more famous and important railway stations. Built in 1852 to be the hub of both the Great Northern Railway and the East Coast Main Line, it services most of England and Scotland's most important cities including the old industrial heartlands of Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, York and Newcastle as well as all the way north to Edinburgh and Glasgow. It also sits atop King's Cross St. Pancras tube station, where no less than six different lines of the London Underground cross; this combination makes it one of London's – and Britain's – largest, busiest and most critical transport hubs.
Thus, despite ten-thirty being well past the usual peak hours of commuter traffic, it was nonetheless very busy. The people hurrying to catch trains, or waiting for them represented a veritable cross-section of the diversity of modern Britain … but some stood out more than others.
"Take the guy in some kind of purple African tribal outfit for example," Harry continued his low-voiced commentary to Minerva. "I mean, yes, he could just be a guy who wants to remain in touch with his heritage, but he stands out, and how does that help him conduct surveillance? Plus he isn't exactly being subtle about the way he's watching the wall between Platforms Nine and Ten. The point of surveillance is to be subtle, and that is something he certainly isn't. Neither is that purple haired woman next to him, though at least she's dressed to blend in."
"I've run facial recognition. They're the same two from Wilmington Square a few weeks ago."
"Reaaally … isn't that interesting," Harry mused, "I wonder if they're here to ambush someone … or just security? Did you get any information on whether that ambush was a sanctioned action or some kind of vigilante thing, maybe reports of arrests?"
"Nothing thus far in the local papers."
He was leaning against the tan brick wall twenty metres or so away from the 'portal' into Platform 'Nine and Three Quarter's,' dressed in his usual unobtrusive street clothes but with a Wizarding robe in a backpack at his feet. Minerva had pulled the location, time and date of the traditional journey to the magical school from Hogwart's: A History, so Harry had decided to take a look at the start-of-year journey of the 'Hogwart's Express,' for himself, curious about this apparent two-termly event that seemed to be quite important in the culture of the Wizarding population.
The portal itself actually fronted onto Platform 8, in a thick and apparently solid tan brick wall. He hadn't been inside yet, but since there was no way a full station platform could fit in such a volume, either it led somewhere else entirely, maybe underground or there was some sort of pocket dimension involved. Either way, it was just another thing to chalk up on the list of 'impossible things wizards do before breakfast.'
Hogwart's: A History implied it was camouflaged by 'powerful magic' but did not elaborate on what that meant; whatever it was, it was effective, although not on him, presumably because he could 'do magic' was well. A half-dozen families had already passed through it, and no one around the station had noticed. All of them had had eleven or twelve year old kids, by his reckoning. Probably first-year parents, arriving early to make sure they were on time.
"Heads up, another one coming your way."
Harry looked round to see the family and young girl he'd seen entering the Leaky Cauldron nearly a month before; except they had another child with them, apparently an older brother of about sixteen going by family resemblance. The parents seemed slightly nervous but determined; their daughter, on the other hand, was practically hopping with excitement, and her brother was smiling broadly at her antics.
Harry detached himself from the wall as they passed and followed them. As they paused before the portal he pretended interest in a stand of timetable leaflets positioned against the wall, and overheard their conversation.
"And then you … walk through the wall." The mother said, sounding highly sceptical as she read from some written instructions. Both father and son smirked in unison at her doubting tone.
"Come on mum," the teenager teased, "haven't you ever walked through a wall before? I mean, come on, people do it all the time now. Keep up with the times."
"Mark," his father said reprovingly, but his own amusement came through a bit too clearly. His wife narrowed her eyes at him and turned to her daughter.
"Ignore them, Chloe," she told her firmly, before looking up at the two males of the family. "If you don't want to go first, I'm sure Mark or your daddy will be happy to demonstrate, won't they?"
Chloe cast an uncertain look at the brick wall, bit her lip and nodded shyly. Mother and daughter then turned their looks on their opposite-gender counterparts that, in Chloe's case, practically defined the word cuteness, and in her mother's case promised 'or else.' Father and son exchanged a look that clearly communicated 'damn, they've done it again,' and sighed.
"On our way," the older man said, shaking his head with a smile.
"Thank you, Simon," his wife said sweetly.
"Identified them, by any chance?" Harry muttered to Minerva.
"Working on it. Hacking census and education records."
Simon and Mark stepped through the brick wall with a surprising lack of apprehensive looks. Interesting … they clearly aren't affected by the 'powerful magic' of the portal's defences … if they even exist. Maybe family members are exempt … if it's genetic, they more than likely have whatever marker is required … but how the fuck does a society as backward as Magical Britain know how to manipulate an undetectable biometric security field! I mean, they're ... Victorian at best! And that's being charitable. There's so much … illogical bullshit happening around these people!
Harry elected not to think about it for the moment, lest his headache turn into a migraine.
"According to Census records," Minerva returned a moment later, "there are eighteen family groups in the UK with that combination of names, seven with that combination of ages as well … and got a good match. Simon, age thirty eight, Anne, age also thirty eight, Mark, age sixteen and Chloe, eleven. Surname is Pearson. Checking employment registries … Simon and Anne are both qualified surveyors. Both studied at the University of Reading, class of seventy eight, although only Simon works these days, self-employed as a commercial landlord in his local area with reasonable success. Anne's father is, however, a wealthy retired civil engineer, which allows them to send their kids to good schools. Mark attends Winchester College in Hampshire with slightly above average grades, but since his school is generally regarded as one of the top ten schools in the UK in comparison to national averages he's pretty smart. And Chloe had qualified for an academic scholarship at St. Catherine's in Guildford, Surrey, but according to the school's file on her, the application was withdrawn by her parents … about a month ago."
"I'd say they found somewhere else to send her."
Simon stepped out again.
"Come on, this place is incredible." He stopped, looked around. "I can't believe no one noticed that."
"Neither can I. It's really something else, isn't it?" Anne turned back to her daughter. "Ready, sweetie?"
Chloe nodded and pushed the trolley forwards, her father disappearing back through in front. Harry cast a quick look at the watchers to check their attention was elsewhere and slipped in a few seconds later.
Inside, the magical platform resembled one of the regular platforms of King's Cross … one from the Victorian era, at least. From the vast billows of steam being emitted from an antique, fire-engine red-and-black locomotive to the uniformed porters in matching colours, the whole place felt like he'd taken a step back in time – much like Diagon Alley, actually.
"Wow." Mark's statement from a few metres in front of him summed it up pretty well. It was incredibly atmospheric.
Harry manoeuvred around the family as they made their way slowly down the train platform until he found a small nook he could duck into, pulling the robes out of his backpack and shrugging them on.
"There. Now I'm one of them."
Minerva snorted. "Oh, sure. Like a fox among hens."
"But a well disguised one."
Harry quickly scouted the rest of the platform; it wasn't very large, and nor was it especially busy either, still with twenty minutes to go. There was an open area at the other end marked 'apparition point,' and a large marble fireplace next to it. Harry knew now that apparition was the term used for magical teleporting, and the fireplace was probably part of the 'Floo network.' He tagged the guard's platform at the end of the last carriage with a beacon, clamping it magnetically on the underside, as he wanted to know where the 'end' of the camouflage field-slash-pocket dimension ended – if it ended. As far as he could tell, there was no subspace field running the length of Britain, so he was interested to know how the Wizards intended to conceal the train and the presence of an extra train line in Central London.
That done, he surreptitiously levitated a camera into position high on one end wall so Minerva could see what was going on, then took an unobtrusive position against the wall halfway down the platform and waited.
By quarter to eleven the platform was filling up fast. Harry remained unnoticed in the chaos, with everyone else having their own concerns and ignoring most everything else.
"Heads up. One Lord Lucius Malfoy, his wife Narcissa and their son, ten metres to your right. There are a few other ex-Death Eaters nearby as well, Crabbe and Goyle and their sons."
"You're kidding. He has a son? They all have sons? I'm sure I would have remembered that."
"No joke. I updated his file yesterday with some of the new scrapbooks you got from Tom a few days ago. Draco Lucius Malfoy, born June 5, 1980. Same yeargroup as you! Technically, anyway. I'm sure you would have been best buds if you'd gone to Hogwarts!"
Harry eyed the smartly-attired teenager, taking in the prefect's badge attached to the black-on-black suit, the obsessively combed blonde hair and the well-practised sneer. "Nope, don't think so. Not in this life. Not in any others either."
"Awww, I can see a bromance already."
"Remind me to reprogram your sense of humour when I get back to the ship. Hold on a moment."
Harry left his position and manoeuvred up the platform. Next to where the Malfoy family group was standing was a luggage trolley piled waist high with old-fashioned steamer trunks. Harry knelt down the other side of it, mostly hidden from view as if doing up his shoelace; the Malfoys hadn't noticed him anyway.
"Remember to keep an eye on the Bones girl," Lucius was saying. "Some of your compatriots at Hogwarts are, of course, related to important persons who will only become more important in the future. You know why."
"Yes, Father." Malfoy junior looked worried, but determined.
Trying to catch a glimpse out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed one of the trunks was monogrammed, 'DLM' on a metal plaque inset into the polished oak. Draco Lucius Malfoy …
"I'm proud of you, Draco," Lucius continued, as Harry reached into a pouch and removed a listening device, peeling off the plastic covering the adhesive backing. "You've made some mistakes these past few years, but you recovered from them. Continue to do well and He will reward the family well in a few years' time."
He? Harry could almost hear the capitalisation from the emphasis Lucius put on the word. Voldemort. Got to be.
The listening device was less advanced than the flying 'bugs' but was harder to spot. If discovered it might appear to be a centimetre long strip of sticky tape, which would hardly warrant a closer inspection … which would be required if one was to detect the faint grey lines of molecular circuitry. Harry tagged it onto the side of the 'DLM' trunk before standing and continuing on his merry way as if he hadn't been tagging a teenager's belongings with covert espionage device.
"Sounds like Lucius intends to use his son as his agent at Hogwarts," Minerva commented.
"So am I," Harry smirked, "although I don't think there's any 'intends' about it, sounded more like an on-going thing to me." Harry stepped around a corner and checked he hadn't been noticed. "They notice anything?"
"Negative. All clear."
"I'm fine, mum, I'm fine."
Harry turned again as a voice cut through the hubbub and caught his attention, quickly identifying it as belonging to a brown haired girl a few metres away, who was in the midst of transferring herself from a non-magical, battery-powered wheelchair into a sturdy wooden chair inscribed with a complex pattern, consisting of a variety of geometric shapes and runes, both from Elder Furthark and other, later Germanic runic alphabets.
"I'm your mother, Hermione, I'm supposed to be worrying."
'Hermione' completed her manoeuvre, with her mother's help. Harry could immediately see why she had the wheelchair and the one that he assumed was a magical equivalent: the girl was paraplegic, paralysed from the waist down.
"That's unusual." Minerva's said in his ear. "For all their social backwardness, magical healing is extremely advanced. Not in a conventional sense; I would say that non-magicals have an edge in some areas, but most common conditions can be cured or remedied with a potion or series of them, plus a number of magical-only diseases that can be pretty deadly. Best example: standard practise for broken bones is to vanish the one with the break and regrow it overnight."
"Maybe she's undergoing treatment already then," Harry murmured. "Paraplegia certainly isn't easily fixed in the non-magical world, although that depends on the cause."
"Wait one … I.D. is Hermione Jean Granger, first generation witch, non-magical parents. Again, same age as you. Article from the November 1st 1991 edition of the Daily Prophet indicates her injury is the result of a mountain troll being let into Hogwarts on Halloween during dinner. The students were safe in the Great Hall but she was alone in a bathroom on the other side of the castle at the time, didn't hear the warning and was trapped in there with the thing. Apparently it broke her spine in four places, both arms and legs, most of her ribs, punctured lung, skull fracture, massive internal haemorrhaging … I don't think I need to go on."
"She survived?" Harry hissed, astonished. "How?"
"The article credits the school medical staff with the immediate trauma intervention, as well as several of the teachers who helped stabilise her before a team of professionals from St Mungo's – that's the magical hospital – got their kit together and moved practically an entire operating room from the main hospital to Hogwarts. They saved her life, and repaired most of the damage, but a Category A break between the L2 and L3 vertebrae – the lowest part of the spine, the Lumbar Vertebrae – left her with no motor function in her legs."
"Category A … that sounds … scientific."
"You'd be right about that; it's a term used in normal medicine as well. It means full break, no chance of recovery."
"Does the article actually use the term Category A?"
"Yes, in a quoted statement from the doctors."
"Interesting … that would appear to indicate some magical doctors have cross-trained in normal medicine as well. So why can't they heal her?"
"Wizards call doctors 'healers' by the way. Magical medicine is capable of repairing bones overnight, and muscle within a few days or weeks but nervous tissue is presently beyond their capabilities." Minerva's voice took on a more urgent tone. "Look ten metres left."
Harry looked around the corner again, putting Miss Granger's injury out of his mind. The adult Malfoys had moved away a bit up the platform, talking to other parents, but a confrontation was apparently brewing about where they had been standing.
"Near as I can tell, Chloe Pearson was in the process of moving her trunk onto the train. Some students were standing in the way, and declined to get out of the way when asked politely. Some … uh, words … are being exchanged."
There were three boys of between fourteen or fifteen standing between the train and Chloe and Mark Pearson, who was just setting down her heavy trunk; it was clearly too heavy for her to handle, so her brother had been shanghaied into Sherpa duty. Two of their three obstacles were dressed in Wizarding clothing that even Harry could see was expensive, and the last one was in green-trimmed Hogwarts uniform, meaning he was in Slytherin House. Harry would have bet the other two were as well.
"Don't you know it's rude to interrupt your betters when they're having a conversation?" one of them sneered. It wasn't as impressive as Malfoy's, but it was a good effort.
Chloe Pearson recoiled slightly at the malice directed at her, but a hand on her shoulder from her brother steadied her, and she found her courage. Her eyes narrowed at her tormentor, a good foot taller than her and considerably heavier. "What did you say?"
"Are you deaf, mudblood?" the boy hissed viciously, and one of his sidekicks looked around nervously. Since 'mudblood' was clearly an insult … apparently it was taboo. "I said, don't interrupt your betters!"
It made Harry almost sick to see a kid spit such vitriol at a complete stranger, and at an eleven year old girl at that. Clearly, he'd underestimated the severity of the social tensions between the purebloods and their opposition if these teenagers felt secure enough from punishment that they could throw around taboo epithets in crowded public spaces. A quick glance around revealed a couple of adults might have noticed, but they went about their business without comment, thinking it none of their business; the senior Pearsons on the other hand, who had been chatting animatedly to a small group of other parents, had just noticed something was wrong and were hurrying over.
"When I see any, I'll be certain not to," Chloe said with a deceptively sweet voice that made Harry smirk.
"I think she inherited her mother's sass." Minerva commented dryly.
"Now," her elder brother said calmly, "are you going to display some manners yourself? Let her through, please."
The leader of the group reddened with anger, glaring, and swelled up as if he was about to do something stupid. Harry saw his hand twitch, and a wand appeared in his hand.
Clearly, he was about to do something stupid.
Harry's own hand brushed aside his robes to rest on the grip of his holstered particle pistol. It had been the best choice, since the energy it fired gave off visible light in the red spectrum, which was similar to the 'Stupefy' or stunning spell; the confusion of a fight would hopefully detract attention from his odd-looking 'wand.'
He hadn't really thought about reaching for the weapon; it was more of an unconscious action, but he would be damned if he let an eleven year old girl be the next victim of this madcap world's bigotry.
He needn't have bothered.
Behind the three Slytherins, a door into the carriage opened. "Lazenby. Lofthouse. McGruder."
The speaker in the doorway was a blonde girl, fifteen or sixteen, also in Slytherin uniform. "You're making a scene," was all she said, in a frosty tone. "Don't."
All three boys cleared out immediately, making Harry blink in surprise before he saw the prefect's badge. That explained their haste … to a point, although Harry thought it more to do with her tone, which was pretty intimidating for a teenager.
"Thank you," Chloe said brightly, looking up at her. Harry relaxed his hand, removing it from his weapon.
"No problem," the blonde said, stepping down from the carriage. "Come on then." She tapped the trunk with her wand and gestured for Chloe to pick it up. She did so with both hands, expecting it to be as heavy as before, but the box nearly shot into the air, and her brother had to stop her from stumbling backwards from her momentum. "Whoa!"
"A weightlessness charm," the girl said, with a slight smile at Chloe's wide-eyed look. "Should help you get it aboard. Put it in the second cabin up, tell the other girls in there I told you to."
Mark and Chloe's parents arrived. "What was that about?"
"Just some inbred idiots hassling your daughter," the blonde replied. "I'm Daphne Greengrass, by the way. Prefect, Slytherin House."
Harry's head shot up before he could stop himself. That was about the last surname he had expected; the Greengrasses were hardly on the liberal side of British magical politics.
Harry continued watching as Chloe hefted the trunk, accidentally knocking it on the doorframe, but correcting and pushing it through. That was one hell of a useful charm if it could reduce a heavy wood steamer trunk into something an elven year old could heft around like a paperback book.
"Thanks," Mark said, smiling at his sister's amazement at the magic applied to her belongings. "Those three were more belligerent than I ever expected. I saw his wand … would he have actually … done anything? Turned me into a toad, perhaps?"
"Probably not," the girl replied, looking up the platform in the direction the three had gone. "Too public, even for a truly asinine fool like Lazenby. And toad-turning is a more of a witches' speciality," she continued, deadpan.
Mark eyed her cynically. "Really."
"Oh yes. Why do you think he ran away so fast? It's what we do when boys offend us."
"Well in that case, please teach my sister that as soon as possible."
Chloe's father nodded. "Second that."
"Are you sure? She might use it on you, too …"
Mark and Simon exchanged another look. Anne smirked. "Catch-22 there. Better take the risk, boys …"
"Yeah," Mark sighed. "It's practically guaranteed to be used on me at some point, so make sure you teach her how to turn me back again without a kiss, please."
Greengrass smiled slightly. "Certainly." A burst of high-pitched giggling came from inside the carriage, causing her to wince. "Sounds like she's met Astoria."
Since the conversation was clearly no longer relevant, Harry cast a look around again, making sure he wasn't missing anything else …
His eyes fell on the window of the carriage compartment to the right of the door Daphne had stepped out of, through which the brown-haired girl, Hermione Granger, was regarding him intently.
Their eyes met, and Granger's narrowed in suspicion, then dropped to his side where his holster would have been clearly visible when he reached for it, then met his again.
She saw I was carrying a gun, not a wand.
So, yet another cliffhanger, albeit of the very, very mild variety. Again, I reiterate, PLEASE REVIEW!
Concerning Hermione's injury, I'm not a complete bastard. This chapter originally had a long segment of Minerva and Harry debating the merits of trying to procure a Sarcophagus (or some other offworld medicine) to maybe give her a one-time (and therefore non-megalomania-inducing) treatment to heal her spine, but concluding they couldn't break their OPSEC just for one injured teenager, no matter how much they wanted to. However, the whole section was kind of boring, so I cut it and will probably drop it in later in a much briefer form.
Plus, from a storytelling perspective, insta-fixes are just boring and indicative of lazy writing; you've got to make the characters work for their happy endings!
The inspiration for having a character disabled in this way came from DC comic's Barbara Gordon/Oracle, who (until her recent retcon back into Batgirl) was one of the only disabled characters in comic books and definitely one of the most interesting characters in DC's lineup. Babs Gordon and Hermione are fundamentally similar characters, so it wasn't much of a stretch.
To assuage fans of Hermione: Since she will be recruited by Harry at some point, the OPSEC excuse won't hold forever ... so she will get healed at some point, don't worry. Again, got to make them work for it!
If anyone has any questions, critiques, or want to point out any spelling or grammatical errors, LEAVE A REVIEW or PM ME! Obviously, I can't explain everything at once, for example why Daphne (present here in a manner closer but not identical to her fanon characterisation as an ice-queen Slytherin in public, non-pureblood-supremacist in private rather than being a Pansy Parkinson toadie like in canon) was nice to Chloe and her family. All will become clear ... eventually ...