He hated press conferences.
They were the bane of every sane man. How politicians could be so keen on having them all the time escaped him utterly. Of course, Jack – General O'Neill, he should remember to call him – insisted that it was the ultimate proof that politicians were anything but sane.
Unfortunately, Harry had built up an ever-growing experience with the press as of late.
The unrest in England, culminated in the very public and very unexplainable shotfire – if you could call beams of red and green energy 'shots' – in the middle of London, had forced the SG program out of hiding.
To think that a Goa'uld could have made his way to the heart of their very planet!
There was quite a lot of finger-pointing and buck-passing between the people responsible for the American Stargate and those responsible for the one in Antarctica, but in the end, it was irrelevant who had managed to miss his arrival. The point was that the Goa'uld was here – and doing damage.
In typical Goa'uld fashion, he had declared himself 'Dark Lord of the British Isles': a pattern of ridiculous grandiosity and self-aggrandizement that left little doubt as to his species. Portraying himself as a God-like power, the obsession with gloomy grandiose architecture, a personal guard of invariably masked and cloaked 'Death Eaters'... plus there was the use of alien technology – a lot of it, the techs were going spare attempting to figure out the previously unknown stick-like devices – and the reports of his having 'glowing red eyes' – which, as Jack would say, is always a good indication of a little reptilian activity in the head the eyes belong to.
Yep, it gave everybody in the SG program the kind of happy, tingly feeling only the thrice-damned parasites hell bent on galactic conquest and domination could inspire.
The experts at SGC had managed to identify him with a reasonable degree of certainty as Nehebkau, former servant of Ra; in myths, he was the snake-god who guarded the underworld (hence, most in SGC believed, the ridiculous name 'Death Eaters' for his guards). Of course, Daniel had pointed out that it didn't really take a genius to guess his identity, people's reluctance to say his name notwithstanding: not when he kept surrounding himself with snakes and snake-related items.
This obsession of his was something that irritated Harry to no end, because of his own, special connection with the wondrous hissing creatures. A connection that he had been instructed to keep secret at all costs.
And with good reason...
He determinedly stopped his train of thoughts. This was not the time to take a stroll down Memory Lane, especially when there was a lot of grief to be found along its edges. He couldn't afford to appear angry: too much hung on this press conference.
The SG program was public knowledge now and they needed rather desperately to both reassure the people that it could deal with any alien threat – including that mess over the pond – and convince them that the risk of more such threats wasn't a reason to shut down the Gate and bury their heads in the sand.
As one of the very few part-alien on Earth, Harry had been seized by the publicists with glee: his very human, good-ol'-boy appearance coupled with his rather striking green eyes were, he'd been told, the perfect combination of reassuring and exotic to represent in a good light the alliance and avoid a surge of alien-hatred in the face of the menace.
His quick promotion was part of this – as good a pilot as he was (amazingly good, in fact) he wouldn't have made it to Senior Airman so young if he hadn't been chosen as poster-boy for the whole program.
It was bittersweet, to think he owed his three stripes with the silver star on his blue chevron to the fact that his father wasn't human...
But then, his feelings towards this little fact had always been ambivalent.
SG-1 had just returned from an unexpectedly quiet mission on a small lush world when a very determined-looking kid cut their path, arms crossed over a black t-shirt, which read 'Duct Tape is like the Force: it has a dark side and a light side and holds the universe together'.
"Spit it out," he glowered.
"Is that a present from Cassie?" smirked Jack gesturing at the t-shirt. "Definitely her style..."
"Come on, Jack. I'm not stupid. You've been acting odd for a while now. Trying to say something and then chickening out at the last minute. I've had enough. Whatever this hot potato of yours is, stop trying to dump it on someone else and just tell me!"
An exchange of meaningful look that both irritated and unnerved Harry sobered the four friends.
"It's just that we were planning on waiting until you were a little older to breach this topic," admitted Samantha, ever diplomatic. "But the Command insists that we tell you before you choose whether to enrol at the military school or that school for gifted that contacted you instead..."
Harry watched her reproachfully: "Military school, of course. And I'm ten, you know. And a half! I'm no longer a kid!"
"Alright, Harry," Jack suddenly pierced him with his 'serious-moment-here' gaze. In less than no time, the child was steered into an empty workroom and the five sat at or around the desk.
"You know how you've been allowed to come and go from P6X-2442? Even if technically, you're too young to even be anywhere near the Stargate? The reason is, well..." Jack trailed off, uncertain, looking at Daniel for help.
The archaeologist shot back a panicked gaze: "Ah, hum, well, yeah, that is..."
"We believe that your father was an alien to this planet," Teal'c interjected with his usual, unflappable calm.
Harry stared: "What?"
Well, he wasn't entirely surprised. I mean, he had wondered, of course. Talked it over with Cassie, even. But nobody had said a thing and he'd sorta kinda hoped nobody would...
"It's just that, well, to start with, your father doesn't seem to have existed until he married your mother." Samantha was laying out her arguments with her usual thoroughness. "Maybe he had been forced to change his identity for some relatively normal reason, but..."
Harry flinched. However carefully worded, the meaning of her point was clear. His father wasn't normal. And neither was he. He'd known it, deep down, from the very start – hazy memories of being yelled at for being a 'freak' still haunted him, from before SG-1, before his true life had begun... but they'd never made him feel abnormal here, not until now... he'd hoped...
Daniel's kind voice shattered his thoughts: "But there is your strange ability to talk to snakes to consider..." Harry flinched again. "A human throat just can't produce those sounds... and it's hard for our hearing to differentiate them too... the way the semivocalisms effect the tones is simply..." Daniel's linguistic ramblings were usually funny, but this time, Harry could only feel cold dread uncoiling inside him.
Not human. This was it, they were going to throw him out...
"Hey, it's alright, you know. You're still you," Jack's contribution was so unexpected that Harry took some time to register the words. "Doesn't change a thing, really. Except that you can do that cool hissing at rocks trick. But then we knew that already..."
Harry stared at one of his favourite people ever in wonder. Did Jack really mean...? Could Harry really hope...?
Jack fidgeted a little, uncomfortable under the weight of desperate hope in the green orbs pinned on him. "Besides, you were born on Earth, you know. That makes you a native," he elaborated. "Not that it means much to us. You could have been born in an other galaxy entirely and you'd still be our Harry."
Relief, Harry discovered, was one of the most powerful feelings one could experience.
"You... are you okay with that?" he asked, needing to be sure. He couldn't bring himself to voice his real worry – You don't think I'm a freak? I'm not unnatural? Wrong? - but this was close enough.
The babble of reassurances made him smile: "Course we are!" - "Yes! Certainly!" - "I think it's amazing! Just think of the opportunities for study..."
"I am alien too, HarryPotter," Teal'c's deep voice shocked him – and the others too. They kind of tended to forget this tiny detail. Teal'c was family, after all. Of sorts.
"Alien. Right. So was my wife," nodded Daniel in agreement. "Never been a problem."
"My father, too, in a manner of speaking," was Samantha's contribution.
"See? It's not even that special. Guess you'll have to 'search for your unique identity' the same way every other teenager on Earth does... sucks to be you." Jack's smirk made them all roll their eyes. "Course, you'll have a ton of weird designs to copy if you go the Goth way..."
"Jack, for the love of..."
Harry chuckled at Daniel's mock-exasperation. Now that his fear and despair were vanishing, leaving him light and happy and feeling as if a large balloon was swelling inside him, curiosity was raising its head: "So... my, my dad... he came from Shshhss? I mean, from P6X-2442?"
"Ssshsh... was that the name of the planet in the anguisermonia language?" asked Daniel, instantly excited.
Harry nodded hesitantly, forgoing correcting the mangled pronunciation, even as Jack gave Daniel a strange look: "Angu-what?"
"It means snake-language, Jack," was Daniel's patient explanation.
"Then why didn't you say so?"
Samantha rolled her eyes at them: "Yes, Harry, we believe he did. After all, there is no evidence of some manner of culture that has your abilities on Earth..."
"Well," said Harry hesitantly. "Cool."
"You bet!" they grinned.
Then again, Harry mused, thinking back on days long past, SG-1 was rather used to dealing with aliens.
Telling his best friend had been harder.
Anthony was his room-mate through five fun-filled and gruesome years of Air Force Academy High School. They lived together, learned together, marched in Full Parade Uniform the punishment tours for their most reckless stunts together, were awarded ribbons for the grading cycle together. They had been planning to enter the Air Force together. Harry was amazingly gifted as a pilot – he could fly anything with minimum training (and although few people knew this, his definition of 'anything' was a lot broader than the average teen living on Earth, and extended to include a Tel'tak and even, to Teal'c's everlasting shock, a Goa'uld Needle threader). Anthony was a borderline genius when it came to aircraft engineering and had already started helping out the technicians with minor maintenance long before graduation.
The decision to expose the SG program and Harry's premature induction – he'd always known he'd join eventually, but he'd expected to have to to go through the standard channels, logging hours in enemy airspace and gaining some college qualifications at the very least – had thrown a glitch in their smooth friendship.
So for the first time ever, Harry had decided to violate the confidentiality agreement and tell Anthony the truth.
His friend had stared at him incredulously from the bed he was sitting on, his tall, broad frame looking too big for the room, as usual. Their mates always found it hilariously funny that Harry looked like a geek, complete with thin frame, pale skin and thick glasses, and Anthony, so dark and muscled, could pass for an NBA star, when in reality, it was the other way round – Anthony was the science-obsessed scholar and Harry couldn't be kept away from sports, especially dangerous ones, without employment of brute strength.
"You... are an alien," repeated Anthony at long last.
"Half-alien," precised Harry anxiously.
The silence stretched, and Harry could almost see the gears running in his best friend's head, munching and digesting the news.
"Ok. Fine. Cool."
"What?" Whatever Harry had been expecting, this wasn't it.
"An alien father. That's cool," had said Anthony, suddenly looking perfectly relaxed and at ease. "So how do I go about getting into this 'protecting the planet from ETs' program of yours? 'Cause someone's gonna have to watch your neck during the stunts you're bound to play if they put you on a starship... patch the thing together after you destroy it in one of your crash landings, that kinda stuff..."
"You're okay with this?" asked Harry in disbelief.
"Just like that?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I don't know. Just... I don't know. I kinda expected you to scream bloody murder. Request a change of room on the spot or something. Yell at me for not telling you sooner."
"Nah. Don't be an idiot. I've known you snore for years, nothing's changed."
"Honestly, Harry. I'm cool with it. Really." A pause. "Of course, if you turn out to be a fan of the Chicago Bulls, I'll be forced to throw you out. A guy's gotta have some standards, after all."
"I know, I know," laughed Harry. "Blackhawks forever."
"Ya got it, babe!"
The memory was enough to cheer him and Harry forced another inane smile at the nearly solid wall of reporters as he took his designated seat.
The Air Force press agent, Madeline Anderson, pointed to the first reporter, and the questions began.
"How do you feel about fighting for humans and against the likes of you?"
Great. Such a lovely opening salvo. He didn't recognize the middle-aged, platinum blonde woman who had asked the question. He'd been instructed to use names for reporters whenever he could, but to this one he could only smile and hope it didn't appear as fake as it was.
"I consider myself American, madam," was his easy answer. "Our Constitution says clearly that 'all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States'. It doesn't make an exception for an alien father, that I know of..." he winked charmingly and most reporters laughed with him. Good.
The cameras flashed to life again, blinding him. Just how many pictures did they need, anyway? He managed to smile again, all the while fighting to keep his thoughts from showing on his face.
Another reporter was called upon, a grey-haired man with sharp, shrewd eyes, and he was so courteous, Harry thought he should have known he was leading up to something that wouldn't be pleasant.
"Yes, the government has released a declaration about you being part human and part alien, Senior Airman Potter. They speak highly of you and of your presence in the Air Force. But isn't it true that some of your comrades and superiors are concerned that you are not human enough to be trustworthy? That they worry about your possible reaction during engagements with other non-humans?"
Harry smiled as pleasantly as he could into the flash of lights and thought furiously. Of course there were people who thought that... it was inevitable. He hadn't expected such a blatant attack however.
Besides, part of the taunting and rudeness wasn't really about his father's species. Anthony got insults for being Afro-American. Their comrade Martin Rodriguez had been dubbed a 'border bandit' too many times to count. Sheila Trown and Cathy Weiman had to defend themselves against slurs towards their gender so often they were bored with it. Jonathan Kirby, who was as wasp as it was possible to be without descending directly from the Pilgrim Fathers, got dubbed a 'pansy daddy's boy' and couldn't live it down.
It was normal. It was part and parcel of being in the Air Force. And it wasn't all about prejudice, either. It was... it was about being able to withstand the tension, to keep your cool. If you broke down under a barrage of insults, you'd get yourself and your comrades killed in an actual battle.
And it was an indicator of how much respect you'd managed to earn, and how far you still had to go. Something that worked between different branches of the Army, too. You knew you'd done a good job of a mission when the damn Marines stopped calling you 'Pretty Flyboy'.
Unfortunately, trying to explain all that in this particular setting was likely to backfire. So Harry fell smoothly back onto the pre-arranged list of answers to the expected FAQs Madeline had provided him with beforehand: "There are some among the airmen that see my non-human blood as inferior, I expect. But there are always racists, Mr..."
"O'Connel," he said, narrowing his eyes. "Do you believe that it is racism then?"
"If not racism then what, Mr. O'Connel? They don't want some half-breed guarding their back."
By the indignant murmurs from most of the crowd present, Harry knew he'd played this right. No paper wanted their reporters to look like racists. The line of questioning would most likely be abandoned, and appear on the articles only as some virtuous cock-and-bull pontificating line about the horrors of discrimination. Joy.
Madeline Anderson stepped in, just a hint of nervousness in her tone. "We need to move on. Next question." She pointed to someone else, a little too eagerly, but Harry understood her. They needed to change topics. Of course, there were other topics that were almost as bad.
"Is the terrorist who's taking over England your same species?"
Harry's jaw firmed against his will. This was a hard theme for him, ever since he'd been old enough to understand the truth about the fate of P6X-2442 – his father's homeworld.
It was one of Harry and Daniel's regular, bi-monthly visits to Shshhss. Ever since his father's origin had been openly acknowledged, Harry's interest in the planet had grown exponentially and he'd come to love these excursions through the past of his alien half with the kind archaeologist.
As a child, he'd found the big abandoned city a cross between a great playground, his to explore, and a toy store where everything with a snake on it might turn out to be a veritable treasure.
Later, his perspective had changed, and he'd started to approach the well-preserved ruins like he would an excavated site on Earth, full of curiosity and the hope of piecing the culture it represented together from the artefacts and architecture left behind.
But lately he'd come to wonder...
Before he knew it, the question that had been plaguing him for a while spilled out.
"So where are my father's people now?"
Daniel stopped short, paling under the purplish glow of the twin suns. Harry turned to watch his familiar frame standing, like a hundred times before, amidst the honey-coloured ruins: the bulky uniform, the geeky glasses, the rucksack slung over one shoulder, the fine hair ruffled by the subtly scented wind of the abandoned planet. The stiff tension of his posture spoke volumes to the boy, and what it said was anything but good.
"Janet recommended us to wait until you asked yourself," Daniel forced out with an unconvincing, crooked smile. "I was so hoping it wouldn't happen on my watch, though."
That opening instantly killed any hopes Harry had had of ever meeting a relative of his, however distant. If his father had just been on Earth out of love for his mum, if his people were living in some faraway colony hard to reach like Harry had fantasized, Daniel wouldn't look so uncomfortable and sad.
"They're dead, aren't they?" he asked in a dull tone. "I don't suppose it was an accident, either?"
Just like Cassie's people...
"They were killed," he concluded darkly, closing his eyes on his dashed dreams. "Murdered," he whispered.
Daniel sighed deeply. "The correct term is genocide, Harry. The deliberate and systematic destruction of a race."
The pre-teen flinched. "But... why?" he said throatily.
"We cannot be sure..." skirted Daniel but Harry cut him off with sudden desperation: "Please!"
He took a deep breath and asked again, more quietly, but no less intensely: "Please, I- I need to know. To understand. Why...?"
"I'm not sure a thing like genocide can be understood, Harry. It is a kind of horror that goes beyond what I'm able to rationalize." Daniel had climbed to sit on a half-wrecked pillar of stone. "Our best guess is that the Goa'uld acted upon the threat your ancestors posed to them, through their ability."
"Their... you mean the snake-language," breathed Harry in a dead tone.
The scholar nodded sympathetically. "You don't just communicate, Teal'c's... huh... guest... has inadvertently confirmed for us that snakes feel compelled to follow your directions."
"You mean I can order them about?" asked Harry, confused.
Daniel winced, but nodded. "It is a unique skill in the Galaxy. And one that is, as you can imagine, very dangerous to a race of, essentially, snake-like creatures..."
"So they just... they... they..." Harry had difficulty breathing.
Jack's voice resounded clearly from behind them, making Harry spun around: "So they exterminated every member of the race that threatened their supposed superiority. Down to the last child."
He joined them, his rifle casually slanted to the side and a serious, bitter expression in his small, dark eyes.
"It's better to call things by their name," he shrugged to Daniel's reproachful gaze. "No use in platitudes, not in front of something of this magnitude."
"Down to the last..." whispered Harry, nearly overcome. "But I... that is, my father..."
"Remember the story you heard from that sphere-recorder we found in the central building?" asked Daniel gently.
"The one about the Chosen Couples sent to the Realm of the Stars to save them from... oh."
"We cannot know for sure, of course, but we can guess. If your father's partner had died during the perilous journey... and he'd found himself stranded on Earth... and met your mother..."
Harry had nodded, silent, overcome. He could see it... like a movie, unrolling under his mind's eyes... or something out of a comic book...
"Gives a whole new meaning to the 'starcrossed lovers' cliché, huh?" he tried to joke, though his trembling tone rather gave his distress away.
Daniel gave him a long look. "You've been spending too much time with Jack, kid."
He wrenched himself away from the past and back to the press conference, but his mind was still filled with images of Shshhss. Of Daniel taking him through the crumbling, lifeless streets for the first time after telling him the truth. How everything had seemed so different. So terrible.
"No," he answered the reporter with forced calm. "He is a Goa'uld," that much the SGC had agreed to share openly. "They are the race who destroyed my father's homeworld and exterminated his people."
There was a moment of dumbfounded silence, before a clamour of questions were thrown at him. As the press agent had predicted, they were pouncing on the 'victim of persecution from monstrous totalitarian aliens' angle like starved dogs on a bone. Before long, he'd likely be hailed a tragic hero and wouldn't the public just love that? Especially with the whole 'two worlds one love' theme in his parents' story.
Somehow, it wasn't comforting.
Harry arrived at the transport with barely a minute to spare. The press conference had run longer than he'd expected, the reporters wouldn't stop pelting him with questions. Confound them all. It was a small blessing that he'd been all packed beforehand, or he wouldn't have been able to afford the much needed relief of a hot shower.
His team-mates were already there and greeted him with friendly nods. Harry felt tense, determined, excited. And oh-so-ready.
His team was being sent to England – predictably. The threat needed to be contained before the Goa'uld's reach spilled onto the continent, or further still. All manpower, old and new, was steadily redirected to the British Isles; SGC expected the current guerrilla to bloom into open warfare any day now.
The squad leader, Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne, an old friend of Jack's who had practically watched Harry grow, shot him a challenging look while unconsciously rubbing the familiar scars that ran down his right cheek, testimony of a rough encounter with some less than charming Jaffas: "Scared, kid?"
Harry offered the older airman a lopsided grin: "Yes." This was a war he was being sent too, after all. "Not gonna stop me or anything, if that's what you're worried about, though."
Lorne nodded sharply in acknowledgement, even as Eric Philipson, the youngest on the team after Harry, pretended to be put out at the answer: "Oh, come on. That ain't the spirit, kiddo! We're so gonna totally kick ass. Snakey-creepies ass, to be precise!" he crowed.
"Pride comes before a fall, brat," grumbled Lorne. "Kid's got the right of it. You go in without fear, you're dead before you have the time to get scared."
Major Carl Jades butted in with his usual snotty attitude: "Bitch, please. We aren't even going to be at the heart of anything. Assigned to the most remote corner of Scotland a satellite could dig out... probably because of him," he sniffed with a jerky nod at Harry. "We'll be lucky if we run into a wildcat, let alone an enemy!"
"Can it, Jades," rolled his eyes Eric.
"Whatever." The Major spit to the groung. "But seriously. We'll be bored half to death in the middle of nowhere. What could possibly happen?"
Harry answered dryly: "We could get captured and tortured by Jaffas, be taken as hosts by a bat-shit crazy parasite worm and lose our minds to his manipulations, be forced to kill our friends and comrades if they are blended with the megalomaniac murderous parasite, attract enough attention to bring Earth under attack by the bat-shit crazy parasites' psychotic little worm-friends and indirectly provoke the death of over a billion people, lose control of the nuclear bombs we're supposed to guard that are really only there as a last resort and directly provoke the death of several billions people..."
"That's enough, thank you!" cried Eric laughing nervously. "Blast it, kiddo. How is it that you always manage to come up with the worst case scenarios?"
A quick-flash smile: "I practice," quipped Harry.
"Definitely too much time with O'Neill," muttered Lorne, dropping his cigarette as the EO responsible for organizing the deployment waved them over.
It was too bad that no self-respecting wizard ever paid any attention to the muggle news. Otherwise the wizarding world wouldn't have been so completely unprepared to receive its unexpectedly returning lost saviour...
Because Senior Airman Harry Potter was marching towards his first war mission. In an area of Scotland where the satellites could pick up nothing – but not, as the Air Force thought, because there was nothing there to pick up.
And though he did not know it, and might not have cared too much if he found out either, Harry Potter was marching towards his fate.
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