The Wizard of Gotham
Clark Kent was in Wayne Manor holding an ice pack to his jaw while Bruce Wayne listened to his story about his recovery of the Batmobile. Dick Grayson, who was Bruce's ward at least until his parents recovered from their comas, and Alfred both hung out in the background, both attentive but trying not to disturb the discussion.
Clark rubbed at his bruise, marveling. "So this young boy, he
been more than 6 or so, rears back and nails me in the chin and the next thing I know I'm waking up several hours later wearing lipstick and eye shadow with the Catwoman's phone number stuffed in my... err waistband."
Bruce's voice automatically slipped into a typical Batman growl. "So the child with the Riddler and Catwoman knocked you out with one blow?"
It was in somewhat ashamed good humor that the Man of Steel muttered, "Yeah," still working his jaw around the bruise. "I was beaten by a kid..." Clark stated to himself in disbelief.
"So! Like father, like son, huh?" Dick Grayson chirped out.
He got surrounded by shocked stares.
The Boy Wonder merely chattered on, oblivious to the reactions of certain others, "Man! I can recall the first time Bruce hit me in training! I thought I'd be seeing little tweety birds for a week!"
Suddenly, the attention he was receiving registered and Dick trailed off in nervous tension. "Uh, at least that's what it seemed like. What? Didn't you just say that Bruce's son hit hard too? All I was saying is that they're alot like, that's all..."
Bruce Wayne avoided the astonished stare of Superman by directing his gaze to the butler, who coughed into his fist and apologized, "I am afraid, master Bruce, that I may have informed young master Grayson of the existence and identity of a True Heir, lest the young lad should get disappointed about not becoming an inheritor of the estate."
Dick shrugged. "Hey, what do I care? As soon as my parents get out of their comas we're going back to the circus, right? That's where we are happy and can do our own thing. So the old man has a kid, huh? Good for him!"
A twitch appeared at the side of Bruce Wayne's face.
"Bruce," Clark Kent asked, wonder evident in his voice. "Is that a smile I see at the corner of your face?"
Batman, thinking of the possibility of a kryptonite ring or brass knuckles, or even an improvised rock in the fist, quietly resisted the urge to cry out, "That's my boy!"
Clark cleared his throat, speaking mildly, he asked, "And how close is this information to going public? Are there any signs people could pick up on?"
Bruce sighed before admitting, "There are vague rumors already beginning to circulate. Poison Ivy has been parading him around society circles in Gotham where his appearance will inevitably be connected to mine. Gossip columns are bound to begin speculating any day now."
Nodding, Clark (ever the boy scout) resisted the urge to go for his pen - for now. "And how are you planning to control what gets said? Before you answer, I'd like to offer my help. After all, I am a reporter."
Bruce was both pleased and sad as he answered, "And if you are the one to present it, you control how and what information gets released, meaning you get to choose the impression the public gets of this. I see and understand. Yes, I could use your help on this."
Clark pulled out the pen and made a helpless gesture. "Also, it would make my editor and Lois happy if I came out with a real scoop."
"I am sure this qualifies," Alfred nodded, before asking, "More tea, anyone?"
"So get this Catsy, you rob the diamond district... why?" Pamela sipped her iced soda laying on a beach chair beside Selina Kyle as they both watched Harry and Edward Nigma (also know as The Riddler, or more affectionately as Eddie) play tag on the sand, both noting with some amusement that the adult was slipping in some practical lessons on evasive combat techniques into their game.
"That's where the diamonds are," Selina noted, with some amusement as she watched Harry pull off his first intentional teleport - this one to get behind his playmate and tag him.
"Not all the diamonds," Pamela hinted smugly.
"No, but the best ones in the best quantities," Selina found herself actually rather curious about why her friend had even raised the question.
"Are you so sure about that?" Pamela leaned over, dipped a hand into her purse, and came out with a gemstone easily the size of a softball.
"Ooh!" Selina became Catwoman and slinked over to examine the flawless stone.
Not surprisingly, Eddie was there soon afterward. "Wow! Selina, you just about blinded me with your rock!" He spoke to the woman who was presently holding the gem. "Oooh! Now riddle me this: Where can I get one of those? Or better yet, several?"
"There's a simple answer to that riddle, Eddie," Pamela answered with a grin. "I know of a place that has thousands of those. It's called Gringott's. It's a little bank in England, servicing a very small community, and the head of that community is a man named Albus Dumbledore, though most people don't call him by name. That nasty little Headmaster has been robbing my accounts for years, and now I want to rob his, and his supporters, and the accounts of the minions left by another villain who just recently died."
"What kind of security?" Catwoman asked, professional even in her distracted admiration of the gigantic gemstone in her hands.
"Medieval," Pamela snorted. "Eighteenth century locks, at most, with a few dragons kept on guard. The bank is run by a mean little race of metas called goblins, but the real security is provided by a brand of spell called wards - and most of what those wards so is to prevent other spells from working to open the vaults. There are a few exceptions, but I can provide you examples to tinker around and play with, to get a feel for them."
"Why is security so light? And why have I never heard of this bank?" Selina Kyle inquired, coming out from under her Catwoman persona for a moment.
Poison Ivy just shrugged. "It's a secret community of wizards, led by the Headmaster I was talking about. Oh, he doesn't hold all of the power, but he does hold all of the strings of those that do, so he's pretty much behind anything they do. And the reason security is so light is that those wizards don't have the common sense of that crab over there. They're so dependent on their magic that if they can't do something with a spell they often won't do it at all. So all the bank had to do was block access via spells."
"Alright, I'm in," Catwoman declared with a feline grin, with The Riddler echoing her soon after. The world's preeminent cat burglar and the master of puzzles had no idea how unprepared their new prey were to meet them.
Suddenly, Ivy stiffened, and with a quick motion warned the other two Rogues to put the diamond away. They did so, and moments later perceived a man in a blue robe covered with stars approaching them over the sand of the private beach.
"Headmaster! What are you doing here? Don't you have a castle to tend to?" Pamela cried out, and noted the other two Rogues discretely disappeared into the bungalow as she did so.
Albus nodded, not quite his usual, cheery self. "Yes, unfortunately, I'm afraid I find during the middle of a term that I shall have to find a new Professor of Potions, as well as a new Head of Slytherin, as our last one got consumed by a raging case of Athlete's Foot. Now there's very little left of him. We were able to bury him in his favorite teapot. At first I suspected you might have something to do with it, as Poppy tells me that is merely a case of fungus and not very often fatal, but then the cheers of the school as I announced the sad news made me reconsider that perhaps it wasn't a student's prank gone wrong. Some of the muggleborns broke out into singing, "Ding, Dong, the wicked Snape is dead." Then when I called the Aurors in to investigate, they ruled that it was a suicide. Most puzzling."
Pamela blinked twice, before asking delicately, "Did any of those Aurors once have Snape as a teacher?"
Dumbledore nodded in sincere puzzlement. "Yes, both of them. Most amazing. One even confessed that Snape once confided in her that he'd always wanted to die of a case of lethal Athlete's Foot. I was inclined to doubt, but once the story got around literally hundreds of students came forward, and in between their gouts of laughter confessed that they too had heard him express this as his most heartfelt wish. It sounds like every class period he would make mention of it, from the sheer volume of witnesses. Now I wonder if I ever truly understood the man. If that was what he wanted, why did he not choose to confide in me?"
"Sometimes the people closest to you are not the ones to confide in, just because they might be hurt by your message," Pamela said with a straight face.
Ivy watched as the Headmaster forced some cheer to return to his face. "Well, perhaps we can take comfort in the uniqueness of his passing, as most people could not choose to end their lives in such a fashion. It takes a wizard of true expertise and creativity. Perhaps, yes, perhaps he has left a lasting mark after all."
"Yes, of course," Pamela struggled hard to contain her laughter.
"Lily," Dumbledore directed an appeal toward her. "I was wondering if I could prevail upon you to accept a teaching slot until the end of term. You needn't stay longer if you don't wish to do so, but I urgently need a replacement and require some additional time to track down a more experienced Professor to take over, should you not wish to accept the course as a long-term position. But meanwhile our classes are not getting taught."
All was well in England.
The weather was fine in Surrey.
Privet Drive looked peaceful, and in a certain house numbered four, the family had recently come to put their latest crisis behind them. They had all had their shots, the cupboard under the stairs had been plastered over so they could forget that it had ever existed, and Dudley had been given a new chain store model of toy that growled and shivered like an actual weapon which he used to terrorize the neighbor's cats.
Yes, for the moment, everything looked fine for the Dursleys, and the family was settling down to a good, long evening before the telly, where Vernon could forget, for a moment, that half of his income had disappeared since he was no longer playing host to the brat.
Sadly, those plans for a peaceful evening were about to change.
Petunia was in the kitchen with a book open, trying to remember how to cook (Harry had done all of that since he was old enough to reach the counters on a stool). Worse still for the put-upon housewife, nothing Harry made was ever good enough, so in an effort to avoid their mistreatment of him his skills had been ever-escalating, and now she was forced to admit that she had never, nor would she ever, be able to match his talents and the quality of their meals was never going to recover.
Nor was the quality of her formerly prize-winning garden.
Life had been so easy when all she'd had to do around the house was yell at Harry and sneer at whatever quality of work he'd done, then take all of the credit for that work before her admiring neighbors. His first 'toy' had been a dusting cloth, and his first 'game' had been to sweep the floors.
Oh, and he had always tried so hard to win, because to lose those games meant beatings.
Yes, life at Privet Drive just wasn't the same without their human house-elf, and the money they got paid for abusing him; although the family had yet to feel the real pinch on that one. Petunia was not the only one quietly dreading next Christmas or her son's birthday, when they wouldn't have the freak's gift money to spend lavishing on their own son. Nor was she at all looking forward to not being able to throw out all of their old clothes each season to purchase new wardrobes. And Vernon was already grumbling about having to drive the same car two years in a row.
Petunia had already gotten into one screaming fit with her husband over the necessity of having to hire a garden service to replace the work of the boy, since she couldn't be expected to do that much work, only to have him loudly and angrily counter that there just wasn't money for it.
Shots and medical bills from their recent... experience, had soaked up all of the extra from their formerly fatly padded bank account, and without the monthly stipend they were forced to rely on Vernon's paycheck, which was not half of what they were used to spending on themselves each month.
No new clothes, no new car, no cook or live-in housekeeper to make their meals and keep things spotless, a shabby yard and garden and Petunia was not so quietly dreading the loss of status she'd face among her neighbors that year.
She had a perfect image to maintain, after all!
But there just wasn't that much work in her, nor did she care to try. Harry had done five times the amount of cooking, cleaning and yardwork that she'd ever contemplated doing herself, and during the years they'd had him serving them the Dursleys had all grown lazy and dependent upon that boy's labors.
Petunia had even once, very quietly, since then held the thought of asking Dudley to clean up after himself in hopes of retaining some respectability among her neighbors, but wasn't quite brave enough to face the screaming fits he'd surely throw over that one!
Dudley had gotten a great deal more violent now that he didn't have Harry to beat on. And without that freak to blame for things, other neighbors were catching on that it was Dudley who had always been the troublemaker. After all, Harry wasn't there and the troubles just kept getting worse as Dudley sought entertainment in his normal bullying ways, plus outlets for the portion of friendly abuse that had always been soaked up by Harry.
Now her Ickle Duddykins was getting shunned as neighbor moms started to protect their children from him, so he had neither friends nor easy targets. And their food bill kept shooting up as Petunia's growing boy wasn't able to scam or bully treats from the other children any more!
Vernon had even begun to skip the poker games he'd so enjoyed!
Though they all vocally praised his absence, the entire Dursley household was silently missing Harry from their lives. Or, more precisely, the amount of work and money they got from him and the abuse that he'd soaked up had all made their lives so much simpler and more pleasant.
She still had no idea of how they were going to deal with Dudley when his birthday rolled around and they didn't have a few thousand pounds to spare on presents for him.
Petunia was still puzzling over the incomprehensible bread recipe when the lights went out and the power died. Just as she was raising her head to shout something to Vernon, however, she saw a cloaked shape step out of the shadows by the kitchen door.
She had only enough time to inhale to scram before she noted the inky black figure was masked, and that DECENT people didn't go breaking into other's homes wearing such appalling attire.
That could only mean he was a FREAK!!
The air she'd inhaled to scream instead transformed into a venom-filled hiss of angry at the intimidating man approaching her. "You!" Her voice barely contained enough spite to convey all of her rage over the situation those freaks had put her beloved family in. "I might have expected seeing one of YOUR type here! What's the matter?" she mocked. "Boy not... urgh!"
By now Petunia had been backed up to the kitchen counter and a black-gloved fist was around her throat, clamping down just enough so that she could receive oxygen while still lifting her three inches off the floor.
Light from a street lamp outside glinted off the oval encased bat-symbol on his chest, as the masked man growled an inch from her face. "I'm not going to waste any more of my time than necessary. So let's get to the heart of this. What is Poison Ivy planning with Harry?"
For the first time in her life Petunia experienced real fear of a freak. Her eyes went wide and she just mindlessly shook her head in incomprehension.
Batman shook her, grimacing as he whispered in threatening tones just inches from her face. "Your sister, Lily! What does she plan to use him for?!"
Still shaking her head, eyes wide in fear, Petunia still mumbled out, "She... she is dead!"
"Then who do you work for!" Batman again shook his prey.
"The... the Headmaster said..." Petunia's eyes rolled back up into her skull and she began babbling mindlessly, overcome with terror.
Tossing her aside, Batman strode out into the living room where he'd pegged an additional target. Interrogating henchmen was nothing new on his list, and it was vital that he knew more of Poison Ivy's plans so he could plan a more effective counter for them.
He arrived in the room just as the fat man was rising to his feet. "Petunia, I..." A swift punch to the nose sent the man crashing right back onto the couch he'd just risen from.
Once again the Caped Crusader crowded into the victim's personal space, clasping a gloved hand around the throat and speaking in threatening whispers. "Who hired you to take care of Harry?"
"The... the Headmaster," Vernon burbled stupidly, before greed met rising ire. "So, you're here to negotiate his return, are you? Well, we won't take the boy unless you pay double the previous amount!"
Vernon found himself flung across the room very roughly. He found a boot on the back of his neck before he could rise from the curio case he'd smashed into. Again, Batman was whispering. "Why did he hire you?"
"T-t-t to keep him away from YOUR kind!" Vernon sputtered out, rage mixing with terror at this obvious FREAK'S treatment of a respectable citizen like him!
To Batman it was important, for an interrogation like this to work, to cause maximum intimidation while dealing minimal harm, so his subjects could still talk and reveal information. However, at that moment a weapon began to rattle from the stairs. Throwing a batarang and following it up in person, Batman had dropped his assailant before he'd even realized he was being attacked by a small boy.
He felt a little guilt over that, but he wasn't about to show such remorse in front of the two henches downstairs. The fat one was already getting up, and about to swing a cricket bat at him with a wild roar.
A solid kick to the stomach at the end of a jump from the landing took the breath and the fight out of him. However, Batman was already coming to the end of the time limit he had given to himself to conduct this interrogation, and he needed more clues.
The minions were being surprisingly uncooperative on that point. The usual scum from Gotham would have broken already and been singing like a bird. But these two had, at least initially, met him with more anger than terror. That implied far more loyalty than Poison Ivy usually inspired.
Already decided on an alternate route among his options, and grabbing the back of Vernon's head, lifting his face up by the hair, Batman growled into his ear, "Where did you keep him?"
The man's eyes went to the blank plaster wall under the stairs.
Batman whirled and put his fist through the plaster, breaking open the sealed over door with a sharp yank and revealing the cupboard beneath. Inside he found the usual accouterments of a prisoner's cell, including a crib mattress that had been used and old when they'd dragged it from a rubbish pile to put in there. All of the signs pointed to a small boy being kept as a slave in there.
There was no way Poison Ivy would keep a child like this, any child, much less her own. Nor would she pay anyone to.
There was a plot here deeper than any he'd previously been suspecting.
There were two empty bedrooms in this house. He knew, having scouted it out. One was used for storage, the other kept empty as a guestroom. They had the space to keep a child properly, so this treatment was deliberate, and Poison Ivy cared too much about the life she created to even consider abuse of it. But it was also plain that she'd scouted out and prepared this identity herself, including selecting these minions. The plant names were an obvious sign of that.
Still, something else was at work here. Someone else had taken over what Poison Ivy had set up.
Whirling again on Vernon, who had given up on rising to his feet, Batman hauled him off the floor to stare at him eye to eye, fists clenched in the man's shirt as he growled into the face of the man he held inches off the floor using his full on 'intimidate the criminals' scare tactics.
"This Headmaster. Who is he? What is he working toward?"
A bitter laugh from the kitchen caught his attention. There stood Petunia with bruises on her throat and a water glass full of alcohol in her hand. "Ha! As if you didn't know." She took a big swig from her glass, reducing his estimate that she might be planning to use that as a projectile weapon, relying on the alcohol to sting his eyes.
But the woman had very helpfully began ranting. "The Headmaster dumped him here after my dear sister got herself killed, leaving US to take care of the boy. We knew all along he was one of those FREAKS! What with my sister being what she was, all Strange and ABNORMAL!"
Vernon, being what he was, and reminded of what the type of person holding him obviously was, proved that he had no fear at all of those wizards he hated so much and tried to pull back a leg to deliver a massive kick to the hated creature in abnormal clothes.
That got him thrown into Petunia, and the Bat vanished into the night.
Minutes later, officers of the Surrey Police Department knocked on the door, having gotten a call from an important government office about a high level tip they'd received about members of a child slavery ring being found in a house on Privet Drive.
The newspaper story shocked the neighbors. Shocked, I tell you.
Author's Notes: Well, what does Batman DO when he needs information from criminals? And, as far as his evidence was concerned, these were some villain's henches.
Beat them up and hand them over to the law, getting a few clues about the present plot in the process.