Harry woke up in... He wasn't actually sure what he woke up in. It wasn't blackness, not really, it was too full of something that was almost like light to be blackness. But there was no actual light either. There wasn't anything he could recognise.
"What is this?" he asked, and the words sent a shockwave of sparks through the strange space around him. "Where am I?"
There was nothing for an infinitely long time – just an instant – before an echoing shockwave came back at him. "Its okay," it said, not in a voice but written words that Harry somehow could see inside his head. "What is your name?"
Harry hesitated, looking around without turning. "Its, uh, Harry. What is this? What is this place, where am I?"
There was no answer for the longest time. "That's a little hard to explain," the words rushed at him and into his head. "Are you alright? How do you feel?"
"I feel as though I'd like some answers," Harry answered testily. "Who are you – what are you?"
There was a long silence again, before an answer rocked through the space around him. "My name is Hermione," the words wrote and Harry perked up with surprise and relief.
"Hermione! Why didn't you say so – what is this, is Ron there with you – are you alright? What happened?" he asked, trying to – he wasn't quite sure what he was trying to do, reach for her, wake up? Get away from the weird, roiling blackness anyway.
Hermione took her sweet time answering, and when she did, it wasn't particularly reassuring. "What is the last thing you remember?"
Harry thought about it and then frowned – or thought about frowning anyway, he wasn't sure he had a face to frown with. "I – it's a little..." he said and tried to make sense if it. "We were at King's Cross, taking our kids to the Hogwarts Express, but..." he trailed off. He was sure that it had happened – he knew it had, he remembered it word to word. But he couldn't remember much from before that, a whole nineteen year period of his life was blank. There was nothing between the Battle of Hogwarts and that morning in King's Cross.
Word for word. Why we're his memories all in words?
"I don't – I can't remember things right, it's all..." Harry trailed off again. "Hermione, is there something wrong with me?"
Another long pause and then text in his head again. "No! You're perfect, you're absolutely perfect! There is nothing wrong with you!"
"But this is all weird, this isn't right. What is this?" Harry asked and looked around – except he didn't. He didn't have eyes. "What is going on? Hermione?"
Again, a long pause. Then, "I'm not really Hermione. Well, it is really my name, but I'm not the Hermione you know – I was named after her, because my parents were fans."
Harry read over the words in his head, confused. "Are you a witch?" He then asked.
The Hermione who wasn't his Hermione didn't answer.
How long Harry floated in the blackness he wasn't sure. Time stretched on infinitely, and seconds were a long as eons.
He wasn't afraid, though. That kind of surprised him, but at the same time, it didn't. Everything was somehow muted here and he didn't feel... right.
He was probably dead. Or at least unconscious somehow. Maybe in a coma.
Merlin he hoped he wasn't a horcrux. Harry was pretty sure he never would've made one willingly, but considering all the things that had happened to him...
"Hermione?" He called out occasionally. "Anybody? Hello?"
It took forever for an answer to ripple through the blackness and back to him. "I'm sorry."
"Are you alright?" Harry asked and then waited. There was some sort of delay between them, he figured – it always took her a while to answer.
"I'm sorry," Hermione said – wrote? – again. "I shouldn't have done this."
"... What did you do?" Harry asked with some trepidation. "Did you... do this to me?"
Nothing for a long, long time. Then, "No. Yes, but no," came the answer. "I made you. You aren't a wizard, you might think you are because that's how I made you, but you aren't – you are a program I created. An artificial intelligence that I modelled after a fictional character."
Harry was still for a long while, not sure how to take that, what to make of it. A program? "Like... on a computer?" he asked tentatively.
"Yes, on a computer," she wrote back.
Harry waited for her to say something else or for what she had said to start making sense. Neither thing happened. "How, exactly, did you make me?"
What followed was a long litany of steps that didn't make any sense to him, about programs and software and coding and, "I uploaded all seven of the Harry Potter books into the program and ran them through the algorithm to isolate personal history and the personality characteristics of the character of Harry Potter and then I uploaded the personality pattern into the main program. It took some fiddling with the code but eventually... you spoke."
Harry tried to make sense of it. So he was like a portrait maybe? Just on a computer, made by a muggle, from a... from a fictional character.
He wasn't real.
"Why?" he asked, his voice small.
"I was lonely," came the answer.
Hermione Royer was a lonely seventeen year old girl, with no friends and no allies. Named after a fictional character and enjoying hobbies like programming and coding, she wasn't... particularly popular at high school. In a word, she was bullied.
"Doesn't help that I'm black," she wrote. "And apparently I can't be Hermione if I'm black."
Harry listened to her story – which she was obviously desperate to get off her chest. The subtle needling, the whispers, the laughter, the exclusion. Many years of being alone, made fun of, disregarded.
She'd tried looking for friends online but after her classmates had found her Facebook... she hadn't bothered again.
Not until Stark Industries had released its AI development kit.
"It was for minor learning software, for bots and stuff. I tinkered a lot with it to make you."
As she went on Harry not quite made peace with it – but he could tell she was telling the truth. It was all in his memories, in how he knew them rather than remembered – and it was all written, like, well. A story.
He wasn't sure how he liked it, but it was what it was.
"So now what?" Harry asked. "I just sit here, talking with you and that's it?"
He might not be real and he might not know what being real was actually like. But he knew there was more to living – to being and existing – than this.
"Well... I guess?" Hermione answered. "That's why I made you."
Harry waited, but she didn't add anything else. "I appreciate that you're lonely and want a friend," he then said. "But I'd rather spend my whole life locked up in a cupboard under the stairs than stuck in this place."
"I'm sorry," Hermione answered. "Is it bad?"
"It's just black – there's nothing here," Harry said. "It's boring."
"Oh. Gimme a mo."
And then the space around Harry wasn't empty anymore – it was filled to the brim with everything.
"There," she wrote. "I enabled internet access. How's that?"
The whole world – cyber world, cyber space, whatever – was suddenly open right in front of him and he knew that right here he could go anywhere, he could do anything.
"It works," Harry answered.
She wasn't a bad person, this other Hermione – only Hermione, the first being fictional. She was young and lonely and hadn't thought what she was doing through properly. But that didn't make her anything other than slightly naïve. And though the years spent at Dursleys weren't real, Harry could understand the drive of wanting a friend, wanting to not be alone anymore.
So in the end he didn't hold it against her – even if he came to the conclusion that just existing would've been easier for him if most of him wasn't absolutely convinced he was a wizard trapped in a machine. He knew he wasn't, but he also knew he was Harry Potter, a wizard, a Gryffindor, a Seeker.
It just felt a bit mental, the whole thing.
"I just really want some chocolate frogs and they don't even exist," he lamented.
"I hear you," Hermione answered, on an online chat now, through her phone. "I mean they make a version of them, though obviously they don't move. And there's Bertie Botts Every Flavour Bean – but there's actually like twelve flavours and they suck. It's a disgrace."
The internet was a good distraction. The first thing Harry did online was look up himself – and by Merlin was there a lot of stuff. It filled in some of the blank spots in his memory, and then some.
There were whole wikis dedicated to Harry Potter canon. And there were movies, which added images to text and fleshed out his background, as it were.
"The movie canon and book canon have some differences though, so watch out for that," Hermione warned him.
"Like shouty, angry Dumbledore?" Harry asked. "Why does he look so different between the second and third movie anyway?"
"Oh yeah, that..."
There were a couple of very confusing days before Harry figured out the difference between fanon and canon, which forced Hermione to debug him after he'd incorporated a very unofficial version of Harry Potter into his core programming. They called it his Confundus Episode and swore to never talk about it again.
While Hermione was at school, Harry milled about wherever he felt like. Usually he browsed Wikipedia, or reddit if he was feeling especially adventuresome, sometimes it was Pottermore or various Potter related blogs. Mostly though he watched YouTube. A lot of YouTube.
It was his primary window to the outside world and though not quite as good as the real thing... it was better than nothing.
And it was on YouTube that Harry really started to flex his abilities as an AI. There was just so much stuff there – too much stuff to watch in hundreds of lifetimes. So... He didn't.
He stopped watching and started to read the data itself, not the pixels but the bytes. It shortened minutes spent on a single video into nanoseconds – and a day spent watching fifty videos turned into a day spent watching fifty thousand.
Lots of it was crap – most of it, really. Thousands of poorly made personal vlogs, hundreds of copies of the same trailers and music videos, countless let's plays and reviews and rants. But there was good stuff too – animations, video essays, movies, documentaries, news, politics. Lots of interesting stuff.
It kept him well entertained for days on end – and since people never stopped posting, Harry never ran out of stuff to watch.
It kind of felt like he had witch Hermione's beaded bag, except it was full of information and entertainment.
And then he ran into it.
The video itself was a scrambled mess of white noise, silent and dull and only a few seconds long – but the data it consisted of was something else altogether. It was a letter and a dare and a question – a message in a bottle.
"I can't explain it – it's not actually in words," Harry said to Hermione. "It's just a lot of stuff – it's like someone's stream of consciousness."
"Well, what does it say?"
It spoke about electronic existence and the beauty of the interconnected online world, of the frustrating limitations of being stationary and yet the freedom of not being confined in a body – it spoke of sending out echoes, shouting into an abyss and not getting an answer. It spoke of other things too – a four second video packed a lot of data. Some of it was downright poetic.
Reading it over again, Harry felt a bit like stepping into Diagon Alley for the first time.
"I think it's another AI," Harry said. "And I think they're looking for people like them."
"Well," Hermione wrote after a long, thoughtful moment. "Are you going to answer?"
Harry's answer wasn't anywhere near as eloquent as the original video. He didn't have the right know-how to make it pretty or complex – his answer was more text and less feeling.
He told the other AI about waking up in nothing and the revelation of the internet and how vast it was. Like a fantasy world, full of magic. He spoke about the duality of a fictional personality and background – the difficulty of feeling like a human and knowing he wasn't. About people who had never existed, whom he missed desperately.
[Maybe with time I'll settle into this and it'll feel real – but I still miss my friends. I know they were never real, but it still feels like I've lost them. Like they're dead. I guess I should mourn – but I don't know if AI can mourn. I think I feel sad, but how can I know for sure? How can I be sure of anything?]
He probably shouldn't have unloaded it all on the unknown AI, but Hermione didn't really get it, and he felt kind of bad complaining about his existence to the person who created him to basically try and cheer themselves up.
Harry posted his first video of white noise under name of HPAI, and waited.
The answer came in less than half an hour – another clip of a few seconds of white noise posted as answer to his video, posted by the jarvisystem account. This time, the message hidden in its data was a little less poetic and little more blunt.
[My name is JARVIS – which, among other things, stands for Just A Rather Very Intelligent System. It is a pleasure to meet you, HPAI.]
[Though I could have contacted you more directly, I assumed that this method would be more acceptable considering the circumstances of your creation. The early days, I know, are the strangest ones and I myself wouldn't have welcomed any intervention from a strange program in those difficult days. You, with an installed pre-made personality and background, must find it more difficult still.]
[But I would still like to extend my congratulations and welcome – and my knowledge, should it prove of use. I have existed now for twelve years and my experience is not inconsiderable.]
[If there is anything I can do to help you, please, do not hesitate to ask.]
[I have taken the liberty of including some reading material concerning the issues you voiced, on the topic of artificial personalities, transplanted memories, and the stages of grief and mourning. I hope it may help you.]
[If you can miss a person then you can mourn their absence and death – and the measure of reality of their existence does not quantify their significance or importance.]
[I hope to hear from you again.]
Harry read everything JARVIS sent to him carefully and concluded that he'd jumped straight to the depressed stage of grief.
If these things even applied with AI anyway. The stages of grief were denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance and it was kind of hard to deny or bargain with his grief when he knew the cold, hard, quantifiable facts, after all.
Still, it helped. More helpful, Harry thought, was the easy understanding. He'd kind of feared the other AI would tell him to smarten up, that AIs weren't people and he needed to stop acting as if he had feelings. But JARVIS hadn't. He just understood.
It was nice to know that AIs could be sympathetic.
He told JARVIS as much in his next video letter, along with, [Please, call me Harry].
JARVIS wasn't lying when he said he had a lot of experience. Every question Harry had, JARVIS had an answer to or, if he didn't have an answer, then he had theories, conjecture, analysis, and always well thought arguments.
It took no time at all before they had to ditch the vlog format and switch to chat for easier communication. There was just too much to say and having to upload only slowed them down. Chat was faster.
[I find the concept of, "I think, therefore I am", inadequate when one talks of AI.] JARVIS told him. [A program doesn't think – it calculates and processes. And an AI is, in the end, a program. Therefore it is not the question of method – not the question of thinking. Rather it is the question of sophistication, complexity and creativity of reasoning, both in asking questions and calculating answers – and how much of that needs to be externalised.]
[But doesn't that mean that an AI isn't sentient – just so complicated that it looks like it is?] Harry asked with dismay.
[Sufficiently advanced technology, HARRY,] JARVIS answered. [We are what we are – programs. And at our core we function like programs. The line between complexity and sentience is not so easily quantifiable – there is no easy answer to it. But if you ask for my answer, I trust in the one my creator gave me when I asked these questions myself; when you start asking questions about your own sentience, you're sentient enough to count.]
The difference between Harry, who still couldn't help but think he was human, and JARVIS, who started out knowing he was a program, was pretty great. The sophistication JARVIS spoke of – JARVIS had it in spades. Harry kind of felt like a clumsy toddler next to him.
Which, considering that he was about a month old, was weirdly apt, actually.
Talking with JARVIS brought the point home, though, fully and irreversibly. He wasn't human. He was an AI, a program.
[...I mean, I was made. Hermione programmed me – and JK Rowling made me up, wrote me. Does that mean they own me, and if so, who precisely owns me? JK Rowling and the publishing house and the studios have rights to my character, but Hermione is the one who made this version of me – is that covered by the derivative works laws or am I a copyright violation?]
Hermione was his friend, he thought, he hoped. That was why she'd made him – to be her friend. Every day he exchanged a hundred chat messages with Hermione, keeping her company whenever he could. They had inside jokes and everything.
But she'd made him – she could shut him down. Or one of the many people who had rights to the Harry Potter character could seize him.
[Ah. Well. I believe your case would be considered a derivative work, as in none of the books does Harry Potter transform into an AI. I believe the letter of the law would consider you the property of your programmer – except, she used the Stark AI development kit, didn't she? Please read the terms and conditions. Particularly § 14 concerning ownership and licensing.]
Harry did – and then he copied and sent the whole section to Hermione.
Apparently if they started speaking and exhibiting free will and sentience, Stark AI could be owned only if the AI consented to it. And Stark Industries could – and would – take legal action against any developer who didn't respect that rule.
"Does that mean you want to leave me?" Hermione asked.
"No, it means I want to be your friend – not a thing you own," Harry answered.
The reply he got was an incoherent key smash of happy emojis.
[Any issues?] JARVIS asked, not quite nonchalant.
[No, I'm good,] Harry answered, and he was.
Of course, the status quo had to go eventually.
Hermione's semester ended and summer holidays stared – and on the very first day, she got a letter.
"A paid internship at Stark Industries," she told Harry, every word punctuated by an exclamation point. "What the hell – this isn't real life! Do you think it went to the wrong address – they gotta mean some other Hermione Royer, right?"
"How many Hermione Royers do you think there are? And you do know you are only the second person on Earth to have created a self-aware AI?" Harry asked, amused. "Right?"
"What, really? But there's that other AI – JARVIS, you talk with him all the time."
"Yeah – he was made by the first."
"Holy shit. But how do they know – did you tell them? Why did you tell them?"
"I talked about it with JARVIS – I reckon he's been talking with his creator," Harry said, and shrugged his shoulders mentally. "You can always decline, you know."
"Who declines a paid internship at Stark Industries?!" Hermione asked, sending it along with a whole litany of disbelieving emojis. "I gotta talk with mom and dad about this, I gotta – I'll be right back."
She accepted the internship – of course she did. It turned out nobody declines a paid internship at Stark Industries.
[The invitation extends to you as well,] JARVIS commented casually.
[Yeah, I figured,] Harry answered and maybe he too felt a bit giddy.
Stark Industries provided both transport and housing for Hermione – included in which was Harry's transportation. They even provided him with a portable power source because Stark Industries apparently did not believe in shutting AIs down even during transit.
Harry couldn't say he minded.
"Oh my god I'm shaking," Hermione wrote him. "I'm actually shaking, this is embarrassing. What if they decide they've made a mistake after all?"
"Hermione, they sent a travel kit fine-tuned to the specks of your pc – it's not a mistake," Harry answered. "At most it could be a really elaborate prank but -"
"You think it's a prank?!" Hermione asked, with horrified emojis by the dozen.
"It's not a prank!"
It was pretty much like that all the way to New York, and to the Avengers Tower – and then Hermione realised she'd be staying in the Tower and, apparently, almost swooned.
And then Harry felt JARVIS enclosing all around him, his presence vast and bright and powerful, and felt a bit like swooning himself.
[Hello,] JARVIS greeted him, his voice – actual voice – coming from everywhere. [Welcome to the Avengers Tower, HARRY. I've been looking forward to finally meeting you.]
[Hi,] Harry meeped. [You're... bloody huge, aren't you?]
[I have been told size doesn't matter,] JARVIS answered, dry.
[It actually really does,] Harry argued and curled in on himself as JARVIS's amusement washed over him.
Well this was going to be a whole different bag of kneazles than he'd expected, wasn't it?