A/N: I do not own Harry Potter. Nor any of the Marvel Comics Characters mentioned herein. But you knew that.
Harry Potter and The Invincible TechnoMage
Chapter Thirteen - Year Two Proposals.
August 13, 1991
Harry woke to find himself standing on a featureless plane tinted in reds and purples. Sitting in front of him on a black throne like chair was a woman clad in a black flowing gown with red highlights in spider motif, the grey haired woman's eyes were covered with a red band of fabric. She turned to face him.
"Good evening Mr. Stark. I am Cassandra Webb. I brought you hear that we might discuss your futures."
The boy nodded and continued to look around the plane he had found himself in. "Weird dream," he murmured. "I wonder what brought this on… Mistress Harkness' lessons today were a bit more intense than usual. This is just… weird."
"This is no dream Mr. Stark"
"Uh huh." The boy agreed. "Maybe it was the curry." He examined the throne the woman sat upon. "I've got no idea what my subconscious is trying to tell me, but this one is a doozey."
A smile creased the old woman's face. "I promise you Mr. Stark, you aren't dreaming. I am known as Madame Web. I brought you here to speak to you about your futures."
A swivel chair appeared next to Harry. He looked at it and smiled. "OK." The boy sat down. "Not a dream. Dream things are happening, but it's not a dream."
"I call this the Mindscape Mr. Stark. I am gifted with the ability to see all the possible futures that may come. Recently I have found myself focused on your futures."
"Futures? Harry asked. "As in plural? How can a person have more than one future?"
"We all have a near infinite number of possible futures Mr. Stark. Every decision you make, every decision made for you changes what your final destination might be."
"Right." The boy agreed in a manner that clearly showed he didn't believe a word she was sayings. "You know it's odd, the colors here are so vivid. I almost never dream in color."
The woman's brow furrowed. "Do you smell that Mr. Stark?"
"Hey lemons. Nice."
"Do you ever recall smelling anything while dreaming Mr. Stark?"
Harry paled noticeably. "No. I've never smelled anything in a dream." He then jerked his hand away from the arm rest of the chair he was sitting on. "Ow!"
"And pain. Have you ever felt pain in a dream Mr. Stark?"
"You aren't dreaming Mr. Stark. Our time here is short, we should move on. You have been offered a place at the Hogwarts School of Magic."
"School of Witchcraft and Wizardry" Harry corrected her while still examining his hand for any sign of damage. Nothing he could see, yet the pain was definitely there. Harry attempted to cast a simple healing charm. Nothing. Yep, this is all a dream, an especially vivid dream, but a dream. Magic never works in dreams.
"Like there's a difference." The woman again smiled. "The offer to attend Hogwarts is a major cusp of your life Mr. Stark. Your exact futures are still vague, but I can tell you that you are yet again going to be the target of a madman."
Harry sat up in the chair. "Yet again? Are you saying that if I go to that school I'll be attacked?"
"Your foe sought you out as an infant, and he will seek you out in the future no matter if you go or if you stay. You will always be his ultimate target, but he will kill many people before he finds you."
"So I should go?"
The woman frowned. "I cannot tell you what you should do Mr. Stark. Your choices are your own. I cannot tell you if you will succeed against your opponent in either case. I can tell you that fewer innocents will die if you indeed attend the Hogwarts School."
Harry shook his head. "I think you've got the wrong Stark. My Dad is the one who finances the Avengers; he could probably take care of this for you."
The blind woman's expression softened. "No Mr. Stark, Mr. Harry James Stark, born Harry Potter to Lily and James Potter. You will be the hero of your story. It is your destiny in all of your futures. For all of their power the Avengers would likely fail. My gift tells me that you are the only one who has any chance of success against your foe."
The boy stared at the woman. "And fewer people will die if I go to this school?"
August 13, 1991
New York City
Harry's alarm buzzed. Six thirty. That was one weird dream. Odd that it wasn't fading as dreams usually did.
The eleven year old rolled out of his bed and stretched, rotating his shoulders and hips. He made a quick stop in the bathroom to brush his teeth and void his bladder. Dressing quickly he made his way out to the lawn to stretch.
Seven am on the dot, the big man arrived.
"Good Morning Trooper."
"Morning Steve. How far are we going today?
"Just a light run I think. Three miles ought to do it."
The pair did their run, and then sparred for an hour. Following their morning workout the man and the boy retired to the house to shower. It was eight forty-five when the pair sat down in the kitchen of the estate for breakfast.
"You were saying something about a weird dream on the run?" Steve Rogers asked.
"Yeah. Really weird. There was a woman. She had to be in her sixties at least."
"Dreaming about older women Harry?" Jarvis teased as he brought a cup of coffee for the Captain. "First Miss Power, and now a truly older woman."
"You're a card Jarvis. If this butlering thing doesn't work out I hear Johnny Carson is retiring next year. It was probably your curry that made me dream about Madame Web anyway."
"Madame Web?" Rogers asked suddenly perking up. "Describe her."
"Like I said, I would guess she is in her sixties, black hair, graying up. She had a red ribbon across her eyes, she might have been blind. There was a sort of… I don't know, sort of a red spider on the front of her dress."
The phone rang. Jarvis lifted the receiver and answered in his best Butler voice. "Stark Residence."
The man listened for a moment. "One moment."
"It's for you Harry."
"For me?" This was odd. Harry couldn't think of any of his friends that would be up this early during summer vacation. He took the receiver and raised it to his ear. "Harry Stark."
"It wasn't a dream Mr. Stark." A woman's voice before the line went dead.
Harry just lowered the receiver and stared at it. Not a dream?
Oh my god.
Filus Flitwick paused to lock his office. Saturday mornings were his favorite times of the week. A Saturday morning meant a leisurely breakfast while burying himself in a good book. This morning had been slightly spoiled by his discovery that he had left the latest of Sue Grafton's alphabet series novels in his office. 'I is for Innocent', such an intriguing title.
Having paused to cast a warming charm on his breakfast; the small man padded his way to his office in slippers and dressing gown. Having retrieved his book he was in the process of locking his office door when an inevitable voice broke the silence.
Filius turned to find Harry Stark with a young first year in tow… Lovegood. Yes, Luna Lovegood.
"Good morning Mr. Stark. I'm afraid my office hours aren't until three."
"This isn't academic Professor," the boy said. "It's a safety issue."
That gave the older man pause. "Safety Mr. Stark? Please explain."
"It's this diary sir. It seems to be… aware." Stark said offering the book.
"When you write in it, it responds" the young girl offered. "It calls itself Tom. He wanted me to kill Hagrid's chickens and seduce Harry." Luna suddenly found the floor to be exceptionally interesting while a blush spread across her features.
His curiosity piqued, Filius wedged his Grafton book under his left arm and accepted the small black book from his student. Turning it over in his hands Filius opened the book to the first page, where he found the name T.M. Riddle written in smudged ink.
The charms master fought to stifle a gasp of surprise. Riddle? "The book calls itself Tom you say?"
Both of the students nodded.
Filius drew his wand and sealed the diary shut with three of the most powerful security charms he knew, then added a fourth he had learned from the Brethren. Sliding the diary into the pocket of his dressing gown he turned back to the children. "Come into my office, I think I need to hear the story behind 'Tom'."
Flitwick gestured at the doorway and it slid open. Albus looked up in surprise. The Headmaster was well aware that Filius had the capability of entering his office so cavalierly, but had never thought that the Charms Master would ever actually do so.
"Albus, we need to talk. Tom Riddle is making his presence known once again."
"What?" the old man gasped, had another wizard been possessed? "What do you mean?"
"One of my new students arrived at school with this." The small man removed the diary from the pocket of his dressing gown and slid it across the desk to the Headmaster.
"Tom's boyhood diary?" The old man whispered when he cancelled the security charms and opened the diary to the first page to see the smeared name. "Odd that it's empty. With his opinion of himself, I would have thought he would have poured his soul into such a book."
"I think he did." Filius said. "Write in it."
Dumbledore blinked at his Charms Master, then took up a quill and in his precise flowing hand wrote; 'I am Albus Dumbledore.'
The words shone momentarily on the page and then they sank into the page without trace. After a moment, something happened.
Oozing back out of the page, in the Headmaster's own ink, came words that Albus had never written.
'Hello, Professor Dumbledore. I understand that congratulations are in order for your elevation to the post of Headmaster. I've not had so many visitors in years. First sweet young Luna Lovegood, then Harry Potter, who shames his heritage by taking a disgusting Muggle name, Professor Flitwick, and now you. How did you come by my diary?'
These words, too, faded away, but not before Albus muttered to himself. "Oh, Tom, surely not…"
"Miss Lovegood tells me that she found this diary among her school things upon returning from Diagon Alley in late July. She knows that it was not among the items purchased by her father on her behalf, and suspects that it came from a chance encounter with 'Uncle Lucius'." Flitwick explained. "She took the diary to be little more than a book carrying a modified Mirror charm, though one with a most forceful personality."
"And how did Mr. Stark encounter the diary?"
"Tom Riddle's personality seemed to be attempting to guide her toward a relationship with Mr. Stark for reasons known only to this book. After the diary made one demand of the young girl too many, she presented the book to Mr. Stark in the company of his usual companions, Miss Patil and Miss Granger. Mr. Stark wrote in the book at Miss Lovegood's direction, and Tom's response had him bringing the diary to me."
Albus used his wand to cut into the palm of his left hand, dripping several drops of blood onto the worn cover of the diary. The ancient wizard then moved his wand over the book in a clockwise spiral while intoning, "ostendo mihi vestri specialis"
A smoky spectral skull formed over the book. Dumbledore's eyes took on a hard glint.
"'Ostendo sum volo' showed much the same thing." Filius commented from where he was pacing. "This makes twice in two years Tom Riddle has made an appearance at our school Albus. Both times since the reappearance of Mr. Stark into our society. Logic tells me that he is making attempts on the boy."
That gave the older man pause. "I'm not certain of that Filius. Riddle's goal last year was the Stone. This," He gestured to the diary. "Seems to be more of an accident than anything else."
"Hmm." The Charms Master murmured in contemplation. "I hope you're right. What are we going to do about it?"
"Someone, quite likely Lucius Malfoy sent this accursed thing to our school. This cannot go unanswered Albus. Think about it. Among the things this book wanted was for Miss Lovegood to kill Hagrid's roosters. Doesn't that ring any bells?"
Dumbledore blinked as he made the associations. "The Chamber."
"You long suspected that Tom was behind the opening of the Chamber when he was a student. Now we have what appears to be a portion of Tom Riddle's soul setting up a young girl to open it again." Flitwick drew himself to his full height and straightened his robes. "This cannot be allowed to stand Albus. At bare minimum, a message must be sent."
"That the appearance of any other examples of Tom Riddle's childhood things suddenly appearing at Hogwarts would likely provoke an unfortunate response."
Filius Flitwick nodded. "I understand how you feel about these things Albus. However, certain truths must be recognized. Lucius Malfoy was a loathsome little boy when he was here, and the years have not improved him. If I find that he had anything to do with sending this abomination into my house, he will regret having ever been born."
"Filius!" Dumbledore protested.
"And I'm informing her father. Xeno deserves to know what almost happened."
"I know your relationship with Xeno Lovegood Filius, but you must know he'll blow this situation completely out of proportion."
"His daughter was almost possessed by a dark artifact Albus, what is the correct proportion for such a thing?"
"Thank you for coming." Harry said from his place facing the tables of the disused classroom.
"What's this about Stark?" Blaise Zabini asked.
Harry looked out at the assembled group of Ravenclaw and Slytherin second years. "I've asked you here to discuss an OWL project idea I've had."
That statement brought silence to the room. The majority of the Ravenclaws had at least tentative plans for their projects, though few were truly happy with what they had chosen. The Slytherins were a harder read. None of their expressions betrayed the slightest bit of interest –or- disinterest. As a group they all seemed to aspire to an outward appearance of utter neutrality.
Harry held up the storage crystal he had been given when the second year Ravenclaws had been introduced to the Ravenclaw Library. "This crystal contains images of the pages of an entire book. The first year Potions text to be specific."
The assembled Ravenclaw students offered expressions that could be summed up as 'Yeah, and?'
"I think we've all heard about the mythical Ravenclaw library," A tiny blond girl wearing Slytherin robes said. "It's already been done. How can this be an OWL Project?"
"The Ravenclaw Library has most definitely already been done," Harry admitted. "Tracey Davis, right?" The girl nodded and Harry continued. "What I'm proposing Tracey. is that we improve on it. This crystal contains images of every page, but that's all it contains. The image resolution is very clear, but page acquisition is very slow, almost two seconds per page. There is no way to search for specific sections; there is no index, no way to relate sections of one book to related information in another."
"That would take a computer to do that." Kevin Entwhistle said. "And computers don't work here…" He paused. "Well yours do, but… How could this be an OWL project?"
"Computer?" Daphne Greengrass asked. "What is a computer?"
"A computer is a mundane device that processes data." Harry explained. "Information is reduced to numerical values and then manipulated at high speed."
"To what end?" she asked.
Harry shrugged. "Information is power. The ability to interpret and extrapolate data is an advantage. I am not proposing that we attempt to duplicate the work my father has done to allow mundane technology to work around magic. I want us to develop a magical computer, a device capable of making the entirety of the Hogwarts Library available to every student in an indexed searchable format."
Theodore Nott looked skeptical. "Even if it's possible, to what end? What you are proposing sounds like it would be a whole lot of work, I don't see the profit in it."
"There probably won't be a profit in it." Harry admitted. "And it will be a whole lot of work. We will be attempting to do in four years with magic what took the Mundanes most of seven hundred years to achieve."
"I don't know Harry." Hermione said chewing her lower lip. "A magical computer? How can that even be possible?"
"The idea of a computer defines a process more than a particular machine Hermione. There have been clockwork computers, steam powered 'analytical engines', I've even seen a computer that works on hydraulics. I'm convinced we can do this. I'm hoping for a team of at least six, but as many of us as I can get."
"Stark," Vinnie Crabbe said from his seat next to Draco. "I haven't understood a single word you've said since you said a whole book is in that crystal. I dunno what you would want from me."
"Vinnie, I think you sell yourself short. Let's be realistic here. I think there's a seventy five percent chance that this project is going to fail spectacularly. We'll probably end up in Hogwarts: A History under the heading Stupidest Idea for an OWL Project, Ever. There's probably a twenty percent chance that we'll end up with something equal to or possibly slightly more capable than the current Ravenclaw Reader. But, and it's a big but, there's a five percent chance that we'll come up with something that no one has ever seen before." Harry shrugged. "It's like my Dad says, no guts no glory. There's going to be plenty of work to go around. If you want in Vinnie, I promise I'll keep you busy and make sure you know what we're doing every step of the way."
Su Li appeared intrigued. "Professor Flitwick did say that a thoughtful methodology was at least as important as a successful project…"
"What makes you think you can do this Harry?" Draco Malfoy asked.
"To tell you the truth, I wasn't sure until last night. That's when I managed to get this working." From his book bag Harry pulled a block of sandstone with dozens of runes carved into its surface. The Raven haired wizard tapped it with his wand. And a light appeared over the top of the block. It hung there for a moment, and then winked out as a second light lit, then the first light joined it.
"What is it?" Padma asked as she watched the first two lights wink out as a third came on.
"This is my proof of concept device. It's an eight bit counter. A basic device that is powered only by the ambient magic of this room." Harry explained excitedly. "This is the first stepping stone to an honest to god computer."
The room was quiet for a short moment as the assembled students watched the device continue to count up in binary lights. The silence was broken by Draco Malfoy.
"Good one Harry, you had me going for a moment there." The blond stood up. "Good joke, unless you're serious, in which case you're crazy. I think I'll stick to the project we came up with on our own." Draco turned to Crabbe and Goyle. "Let's go."
Malfoy's bookends rose from their seats, with Crabbe giving one last wistful look at the counter before following his leader out of the room.
Theo Nott followed Malfoy without a backward glance. The bulk of the Ravenclaws left as well.
Tracey Davis stood up and approached the table where the counter sat, still counting up. "That's binary isn't it?"
"I've read about binary math." The strawberry blond looked up into Harry's eyes. "I'm in. When do we meet?"
"Don't know yet."
"You'll be using runes and Arithmancy." Daphne Greengrass noted.
"And Transfiguration, and more than a few charms." Harry agreed.
"Do you really think you're going to fail?" Millicent Bulstrode asked.
"It's a possibility, but no, not at all. It won't be easy, but if we can get enough people working on it, I'm sure we can do this. That being said, I'm a firm believer in the Great God Murphy, and have to recognize that the odds are against us."
"Murphy?" Zabini asked.
"It's a Muggle thing." Hermione explained. "Murphy's Law tells us that anything that can go wrong will go wrong."
"And anything that does go wrong will get progressively worse." Kevin Entwhistle added with a smile.
"And if you survive the first two laws it's time to panic." Tracey Davis concluded.
"Which is why you build safeties into your hardware, breakpoints in your software," Harry said in a serious tone, "and fail safes in your plans."
"I don't understand." Padma said. "What did you mean by that?"
"Hardware is your physical machine; a safety is a mechanical means of preventing the machine from hurting you or itself. Software is the programming, the code that tells the machine what to do, think of the sum of what you've learned in your life as your brain's software. A breakpoint is a specific point in the code used to stop the execution of the code for testing purposes."
"And the fail safe for your plan is…" Hermione asked.
"I believe we can do this, but to be safe I want the expected result of our project to be a bit less ambitious. I was thinking a calculator." Harry paused while he pulled a pair of off the shelf calculators and passed them around to the students with no contact with the mundane world. "A runic calculator would be invaluable in Arithmancy, Astronomy, and Ancient Runes. Such a calculator would be several orders of magnitude less complex than the full fledged computer that would be our real goal, but would also be a more than adequate project result if we run into problems we can't overcome by the time the project is due for OWLs."
"So we promise a calculator and try to deliver a full computer? I'm in Harry." Kevin said.
Daphne and Millicent shared a look. "And us." Millie said.
Harry looked to Padma and Hermione.
"You have to ask?" Hermione said with a smile.
"When is the first organizational meeting?" Su asked.
Harry grinned. "Saturday after lunch good for everyone?"
August 13, 1991
New York City
Harry sat down from the phone call barely aware that he had done so.
"Problem Trooper?" Steve Rogers asked.
Harry looked up into the eyes of the living legend his mind racing.
"I'm ok." Harry lied in that instant denial common to early adolescents. "Just a friend goofing on me."
That seemed to satisfy the big man, who returned to his meal.
A mad man is after me? Harry's mind raced. Sure, he and Franklyn and the Power kids had gone out and done the hero thing a few times, but this wasn't some costumed idiot chasing Pulse as a member of the Power Pack, this was a lunatic after Harry Stark.
What am I going to do? The boy wondered. If I go, I'm a target, if I stay people die and I'm still a target. What am I going to do?
Who could he talk to? Harry suspected that his father would forbid any action on his part and immediately surround him with the highest security available… An idea that certainly had merit, but somehow seemed wrong.
Harry sat up in his chair, blinking. I'm an idiot. He thought.
Rogers lowered his newspaper. "Yes Harry?"
"Would you mind if I asked a couple questions about the War?"
When speaking to Steve Rogers about 'the War' there could only be a single conflict under discussion. World War 2. Harry knew that the Captain didn't like discussing his past.
"What did you want to know Harry?"
"It's more a question about the choices you made than anything about the war." Harry hesitated. "According to what I've read in the Avengers Database you tried to enlist in July of 1939."
"I did. The day after my twenty second birthday. The recruiting sergeant all but laughed me out of the room."
"The US didn't get into the war for another two and a half years."Harry paused searching for the words, "Why did you…"
"Why was I jumping the gun?" Rogers smiled. "It's hard to explain Harry. You have to remember the times. The Great Depression was easing, but not really over yet, and life was hard. I was attending college and waiting tables, hawking papers, and doing anything else I could think of to pay my way. If I could scrape the money up every Saturday I would go to the movies, sometimes with a date, but usually solo. It might surprise you to know," Rogers said conspiratorially, "but back then girls weren't all that interested in scrawny artistically inclined beanpoles. There were three sources of news in the world then, the radio, the newspapers and the News-Reels at the movies. I didn't have a radio, I usually couldn't afford a paper, but I could usually scrape up the nickel for the movies."
"I've seen News-Reels, they don't really sound like news, all dramatic and stuff."
"Different times Harry. From the papers and from the News-Reels, I saw that there was a sickness in the world, I saw what the Japanese were doing and what the Germans were doing, and what the Italians were doing. It seemed that they were just rampaging across the world and that no one could stop them. Then there were the rumors. Horrible rumors of entire families disappearing the night, never to be seen again." The big man's face darkened. "It wasn't until later I found out that the rumors didn't begin to cover the atrocities being committed. Some of my friends and I had arguments about it. They said it was 'over there' and not our problem. But I knew that when they were finished 'over there' they would be coming here."
"So, you tried to enlist to keep it over there?"
"Yes. It was fairly obvious that we would be in that war sooner or later. There was no way we would have left the Brits on their own…"
Harry nodded. "Fight them there so you don't have to fight them here."
"That was my reasoning." Rogers admitted. "And of course they kicked me out of the recruiting office. It was only because I fit Dr. Erskine's search profile that I was ever selected for Operation: Rebirth." He grinned. "Captain America was specifically created to fight the Axis, so of course the first thing the Army did was assign me to a stateside billet."
"Thank you Steve. That helps, a lot."
"Anytime Trooper." The old soldier never thought to ask how hearing his story could have possibly helped his young friend.
Severus Snape looked across the table toward the Charms Master.
"Remind me to apologize to Minerva. I had no idea how much parchment work my teaming with Evans and Lupin had caused her."
"What about Slughorn?" Filius asked.
"He had me do my own administrative work for the project. Perhaps I should think about doing that."
"I don't think I've seen a project team this size outside of Hufflepuff for decades. Four of your Slytherins, five of my Ravenclaws."
Snape examined the team proposal again. "I'm ashamed to admit that I have no idea what they are trying to do. When I first got this proposal from my students I thought it was a joke."
"I must admit to being more than a little confused by their proposal as well." Filius admitted. "Even the 'proof of concept' device they submitted mystified me."
Septima Vector looked up from grading her papers at the far end of the staff table. "Mr. Stark's proof of concept device demonstrates a basic mathematical function. The fact that he managed to get it to work with only minor help from Bathsheba is just short of miraculous."
"So you believe that this 'Calculator' is a viable project?" Severus asked.
"I believe that if anyone can do it, a team led by Mr. Stark would be the most likely to succeed. I sat in on his sessions with Bathsheba, and the boy is brilliant. He went from knowing nothing about runes to planning and carving that counter of his in three weeks. I also believe that if they succeed, I will be the first in line to purchase one."
"That's a ringing endorsement, coming from you Septima." Snape noted.
"I'll also tell you this: That calculator is just what they're sure they can do. Their actual goal is far more complex."
Severus wasn't sure if he was comfortable hearing that.
"But Luna is alright?"
"Yes Xeno." Filius poured another drink and set it before his former student and one time apprentice on the dueling circuit. "Poppy Pomfrey checked Luna out every way she could think of, and then she called in experts on possession and dark compulsions. Young Luna has been given a clean bill of health."
"Good, and of course Lucius is completely untouchable."
Filius sighed. "By the Ministry. He had invested far too much to fall to such slim evidence."
"Damned Ministry" Xeno Lovegood said raising the glass to his lips. "So how is Luna doing? Taking after Selene I hope."
"She is doing exceptionally well. She only slipped and called me 'Uncle Filius' once, and that was during my orientation session with her"
"Has she made any friends? She has been so isolated since…"
"Her year mates are a bit stand-offish, but she had been taken under the wing of a second year, Miss Padma Patil. She has taken to studying with a subgroup of Second years, Miss Patil, Miss Granger, Mr. Stark."
"Ah, Stark. Good family the Potters. Shame what happened to them. Stark is a good boy?"
"Yes. As soon as Luna showed him the diary, he immediately brought it and Luna to me."
Xeno nodded. "It's not easy trusting authority figures at that age. Does he know Riddle is after him?"
"I told him of his legend myself." Filius colored a bit. "He told me that the story didn't make any sense, and then asked how it came to be that everyone knows a story about a night with a single survivor with no memory of the event."
"Ah, the rare Ravenclaw that questions the source materials." Xeno downed another drink. "What are you going to do Filius?"
The Charms Master refilled both glasses and sipped at his. "What are you going to do Xeno?"
Kristine Granger sat quietly in what she had come to think of as 'her' spot inside Kings Cross Station, waiting to pick up her only daughter from the train for the Christmas holidays. Her spot was a café table strategically placed so that she could keep an eye on the hidden entrance to Platform 9 ¾, and she could keep an eye open for fellow parents. She knew from Hermione that she was far from the only 'Muggle born' at Hogwarts, but so far Kristine had yet to actually meet another parent of a first generation magic user.
Until today. Kristine had been watching the redheaded woman for more than twenty minutes. She was obviously watching the barrier, and as evidenced by the way she dressed, very obviously a Yank. Kristine smiled. From what Hermione had told her of her classmates, there was only one student likely to have an American waiting for him. This presented another chance to learn a little bit more about her daughter's friend.
Kristine rose to her feet and casually made her way to the redhead. "Waiting for Harry?"
The redhead jumped in surprise at the unexpected question. "I'm sorry, was I that obvious?" She extended her hand, "Pepper Hogan, you must be Mrs. Granger?"
"Kristine, please. Pepper? Really?"
Pepper blushed. "It's actually Virginia, but I picked up the nickname in high school and it's all anyone knows me by. So… Do you know as much about Harry as I think I know about Hermione?"
"Well, I've heard at least a dozen one sided conversations on the phone."
"Those are fun. I always try not to laugh. Harry's nursing a major crush on a girl back home and some of the contortions he puts himself through to show that he doesn't really care one way or the other are laughably funny."
"Really? So far we haven't had to deal with that, thank god." Kristine smiled. "In fact we're still getting used to Hermione having friends. She owes that to Harry I think. She never seemed to make friends before Hogwarts. Then the first letter home she was telling us all about her new friends Harry, Neville, Padma, Sue and Hannah." Kristine guided Pepper back to her table.
"Harry really enjoyed the time he spent with your family back in August."
"Glad to hear it. We enjoyed having Harry and Jennifer stay with us." The Dental Surgeon paused for a moment, "So… are you like Jennifer?"
The redhead's eyes sparkled. "No, I'm an Executive Personal Assistant, not a lawyer."
"No, I meant do you…"
"I'm messing with you. I'm not a member of the Spandex set; I'm just a glorified secretary."
Their conversation was interrupted by a small crowd of people exiting the barrier to Platform 9 ¾. Both women rose to their feet.
"Pepper!" Harry called as he rushed to her.
"Mum!" Hermione called as she rushed to her mother. Kristine wrapped her arms around her daughter, all the while watching Pepper doing the same with Harry, lifting him from the ground in her enthusiastic embrace.
A glorified secretary indeed.
Lucius Malfoy appeared at the apparition point of his club with a soft crack, handing his traveling cloak to the waiting House Elf. Draco had arrived home from school and Narcissa was making her obligatory fuss over the boy.
Narcissa's pampering of the boy infuriated Lucius to no end. He had never been a pampered prince. Abraxas Malfoy had seen to that. Lucius' father had made sure that Lucius had understood his place in the world, lessons reinforced by pain.
The only pain that Draco knew was the pain of indecision when he was forced to choose between two pleasures.
"Ah, Lord Malfoy." Amos Cottswald, the proprietor of the club, bowed deeply in greeting. "How can we serve you tonight?"
"Dinner. Some of your exquisite Prime Rib I believe. Then perhaps some entertainment."
"Of course Lord Malfoy. What might your preferences be for the evening's entertainment?"
"Of course Lord Malfoy." The man's tastes were well known at this establishment after all. "This way please."
Lucius slowly woke to darkness, shaking his head. His mouth was parched, his tongue swollen. What was happening? His eyes were covered somehow; he could feel the fabric covering his eyelids.
"Welcome back to the land of the living Lucius." A voice he didn't recognize said in his ear.
"No, don't try to speak; you can't, not for a while anyway." The magically distorted voice continued in a conversational manner. "A most interesting artifact found its way into the possession of a first year Hogwarts student. A diary belonging to Tom Marvolo Riddle as hard as that may be to believe."
The voice changed. Suddenly it was as if his own son Draco speaking to him. "The diary has an embedded soul fragment. Did you know that Lucius? That soul fragment attempted to possess the firstie, but she resisted until she could turn the diary over to the staff. Do you know whose magical signature was all over the diary?"
A solid… something smashed into Lucius' left hand repeatedly, fracturing all the bones in the hand and several in the wrist. The head of the house of Malfoy thrashed on the platform he lay upon silently screaming at the pain.
"It was your signature old friend." Now the voice was that of Severus Snape. "Your magical signature was all over an artifact that attempted to harm a school girl. As you might imagine, that has caused a bit of concern in certain corners." The implement of pain smashed into his right knee, crushing his knee cap and driving shards of the bone into the surrounding flesh. "Everyone knows that attempting to bring you to task for your actions toward the young girl would be pointless." Severus' voice continued.
"You would just buy your way out of facing your responsibilities." The voice changed again to one Lucius barely recognized through the pain as belonging to Argus Filch. "Or claim being under the Imperius again. But we know the truth don't we Lucius?"
Malfoy silently screamed as the bones in his right forearm were crushed. Filch's voice continued. "Now you might be asking yourself why I'm not allowing you see who I am Lucius. If you think about it, I'm sure you will recall the power of the fear of the unknown, from your time hiding your face behind that white mask, all the while under the Imperius of course. You're frightened of me now, and will be even more frightened of me in the future. I've proven I can reach out and take you at anytime, no matter where you are, from your magnificent home to your private club."
"You is mine Bad Master, any time I'se be wanting you." The voice changed to that of a… House Elf? "Youse can wear youse hidey mask. Yous can tell everybodies that Bad Dark Lord is making you slave like Elf with impery magic. I'se don't care. I'se get you anywheres. I'se punish Bad Master. Like this." A blade buried itself in his right thigh.
"I think you understand me now Lucius." The voice changed to that of Cornelius Fudge. "Let it suffice to say that if any other of Lord Thingie's old school things should find their way back to Hogwarts, I would likely become quite vexed with you."
"Whereas now, I am simply slightly annoyed." The voice continued using the tones and speech patterns of Minerva McGonagall as someone twisted the knife in his thigh. "And Merlin himself will not be able to help you should I suspect that you were to attempt to rejoin the forces of darkness… I have always wondered how long it would take for someone to die when I do this…" Something wet was suddenly on the right side of his face, burning, consuming his flesh. It was pain even beyond his memories of the Dark Lord's Cruciatus.
"I trust you understand I am not joking Lucius. Your life belongs to me." The voice changed a final time to that of Albus Dumbledore. A hand grasped Lucius' face. "No, sadly not quite so pretty any longer. The wages of sin and all that. Hopefully you've some skills in the field of glamours, else it might be advisable to stay away from children and the easily startled. Good bye Lucius."
Narcissa Malfoy regally sat at the table and signaled the elves to begin serving.
"Will father be here for breakfast?" Draco asked hopefully.
"I do not know. I've yet to see him this morning. Now, eat up. I've made an appointment for you to pay your respects to Sirius Black this morning."
"Sirius Black? Why am I paying my respects to him?"
"Draco, you need to start paying attention to the world around you. Sirius' has been cleared of the Potter murders, which restored him to his position as the Head of the House of Black."
"I still don't understand Mother."
"Sirius has no heir. You are next in line unless he produces an heir, and his time in Azkaban had had its effect. By paying your respects, you are positioning yourself to be taken as his heir, cementing your claim."
Draco seemed to ponder her words for a moment. "I don't understand, if I am already in line, why would I need to…"
Draco's question was interrupted by Lucius Malfoy flying through the windows of the dining room, his mangled body falling, seemingly lifelessly to the floor.
Draco was shocked by his mothers screaming, and even more shocked by the ruined horror of his father's face.
August 13, 1991
New York City
Tony Stark looked up from his desk. "Harry just in time. Dumbledore should be here in a few minutes, you can tell him to get lost and he'll be out of our lives."
Harry's mind was racing. How was he going to do this? How was he going to convince Dad to let him go?
"Dad, if you've got the time, I'd like to talk to you about that."
An eyebrow lifted toward Stark's hairline. "What's changed? The only reason you would say that is if you've decided you want to go."
Damn it. Trying to fool Tony Stark was such a…
"Dad, I was just thinking it might be nice to be around, you know, people like me."
"Well, you know." Harry suddenly became very interested in his shoes. "I've never met another Magic user that was a kid, you know? New Salem is full of middle aged people. No kids at all."
"You're trying to tell me you want to leave your friends to be with others 'like you'? What's going on Harry?"
"Dad, really, I need to do this."
"You need to? Now I know something is going on." Stark fixed his son with a stare for a few moments. "Harry I attended a boarding school at your age. I can assure you that they aren't as much fun as they sound in books."
The elder Stark considered the situation. Something was up. Harry had a highly developed need to do 'the right thing'. Harry thought that there was something he needed to do at this school, something important. Stark knew full well what Harry and Franklyn Richards had been getting up to with the Power kids. Was this a young hero thing? Is Pulse needed in Scotland?
"Alright." Tony said. "We'll try Hogwarts for a year. BUT, you'll need to maintain your grades in your technical classes. It will mean summer classes."
"Thank you Dad."
"For a year. If your grades slip due to this provincial school's 19th century curriculum, I'll have you out of there so fast your head will swim."
"I promise Dad."
The Security system signaled that Albus Dumbledore was once again on the property.
"You bring him here. I'm going to want some guarantees from the old man before I sign anything."