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 Seventeen - Year Three - Summer
The children milled through the crowded train, running from compartment to compartment bidding farewell to their assorted friends and acquaintances, never noticing the fat brown rat that scurried at their feet.
Scabbers had been trying to make his escape for weeks, but for some reason his current keeper had taken a sudden interest in him, ever since Harry Potter had pronounced him lovable. After almost two years of near neglect, this sudden attention had turned out to be more than a little annoying.
Still, all he had needed to do was wait. Predictably Ron Weasley's attention finally wandered and Scabbers managed to escape his deep pocket after the boy had fallen asleep slumped onto the bench of the train car on his way home for the summer.
Now the rat was making his way to a point where he could make his escape as soon as the train slowed to pull into the station. All of his instincts were telling him that something was wrong, but Scabbers ignored his rat instincts while he concentrated his human consciousness on making his escape.
Kettlingur made her way through the maze of human legs as well, following her prey in a ducked position and with silent movements.
Instincts older than time had her pace her oblivious prey through the car, closing to a distance of twice her own length. The rat's scent rolled about her tongue. There was something off about it, but it was still prey.
Each step was chosen with care, her ears forward and alert, her eyes focused and almost unblinking. The rat stopped at the end of the corridor, waiting for one of the parade of students to open the door between the cars, Kettlingur stopped as well. Experience had taught her than while most humans did not like rats, and would never eat one, they almost universally interfered with her if she caught one.
The servant class was so very hard to understand.
The rat skittered through the doorway following a pair of girls heading forward to the next car while Kettlingur again paused waiting for the next opportunity to do the same and continue her hunt.
Her wait wasn't long, almost instantly a boy made his way through the doorway and Kettlingur darted through the door before it closed. The rat was standing on the edge of the platform, staring intently over the side at the rapidly moving landscape.
Kettlingur settled herself, her ears forward and alert, her eyes unblinking. She dug in with her fore paws, her claws extending unconsciously while her rear legs silently sought out their best grip for the leap that would end the hunt.
Whatever advantages her kneazle heritage offered were abandoned as her inner tiger took over. This wasn't a situation for judgment and qualification, this was the hunt, this was life.
At the suitable moment, her inner tiger commanded that she leap from the rat's blind spot and make her kill. She would crush the prey's throat with a single bite, while her right fore paw would shred the rat's hindquarters to prevent escape if the bite wasn't immediately fatal.
Kettlingur was in mid leap when the door to the carriage opened once again. The rat reacted to the opening of the door by spinning to face the doorway, just as the part kneazle made her bite.
Instead of slashing open the rat's hindquarters her right fore paw slammed the rat's head to the metal platform hard enough to send the creature into unconsciousness, while ripping open the rodent's face to the bone and crushing its lower jaw. Rather than the soft tissue of the rat's neck, her jaws closed on the rat's hind legs.
The portion of her mind that calculated such things reflected that a kill was a kill, and as the rat's blood flooded her mouth, she shook her head back and forth in an instinctual way that would have snapped the rat's neck if her attack had been as planned.
It was only thing that Kettlingur learned just who had opened the door and spoiled her perfect kill.
"Kettlingur! No!" the cat/kneazle mix heard as she was lifted from the platform by her servant girl. "No! Bad Kitty. Drop it! Drop it!"
Shocked by the rudeness of her servant's sudden lifting her, Kettlingur opened her mouth to protest the outrage of how she was being treated and the rat fell away from her, bouncing off the platform and falling onto the speeding railbed below.
Kettlingur meowed in protest while glaring at the servant who had cost her a kill. True she wasn't hungry, but it was the principle of the thing.
Millie Bulstrode sighed while scratching her cat behind its ears and reentered the carriage to return to the compartment she shared with her cousins and Draco Malfoy while idly wondering just how a rat came to be running loose on the Express.
Padma raised an eyebrow at the smug look on Hermione's face. "Are you going to gloat all the way home?"
"Oh god," Harry said looking to the roof of the rail carriage. "Not this again."
"Quiet Number Five," Hermione grinned. "The smart kids are talking."
"The smart kids are talking." Harry mimicked as he returned to his magazine. "Lets see the smart kids gyro stabilize an inertial platform." He muttered from behind the safety of the paper shield.
"I don't recall gloating quite this much last June when I was first in the class," Padma sniffed.
"Well I remember quite clearly someone dancing around the compartment for the first hour of the trip," Hannah pointed out.
"So do I," Sue added joining in on the fun. "I also recall thinking that your constant requests for 'high fives' was a bit excessive. And Hermione," she said with a grin, "calling Harry 'Number Five' is a bit unfair, it isn't his fault he's the slow Ravenclaw."
Harry lowered his magazine once again and offered Susan a gimlet eye. "That's One Bones. Being fifth in a class of fifty is nothing to be ashamed of."
"One what Harry?" Susan asked sweetly.
"One strike," Harry explained. "After you get three strikes, you're on my list."
"Sue makes a snarky comment and gets a strike while Hermione and Padma abuse you all year long? That hardly seems fair." Hannah asked stirring the pot.
"Those two are sitting at 2.98 strikes right now, and have been for a while," Harry pointed out.
"So," Susan asked, "what happens when you're on the list?"
"You don't," Harry said with finality, "want to be on the list. Trust me on this one."
There was a short pause while the four girls blinked at him owlishly, then Hermione started to giggle. She was soon joined by the other three and it wasn't long until they were all laughing at Harry.
"You've got them terrified into hysterical laughter mate," Neville said from his side of the carriage where he was trying mightily not to get any of Harry's troubles on him.
"Number Five is alive!" Hermione snarked.
Harry raised his magazine again while trying not to listen to Hannah who got the joke start laughing even harder, and to Hermione as she tried to explain the reference of her joke to the purebloods in the compartment.
He really needed some dumber friends. It was going to be a long train ride.
The change from the air conditioned quinjet to the inferno of the airport was quite a shock after spending ten months in Scotland. Harry squinted in the bright sunlight, wishing mightily that he had thought to have brought some sunglasses.
"Welcome to Wakanda Mr. Stark," the tall man at the foot of the airstairs called out.
"Thank you M'Kona," Tony said shaking the man's hands. "This is my son Harry."
"And welcome to you as well young Harry," M'Kona said. "I have arranged some entertainment for you while your father and I attend the conference."
"Thank you sir," Harry said, "I appreciate that, but no one needs to make a fuss, I've got homework to do from school."
"My King did say you were something of a scholar Harry," the big man laughed. "But he also noted that you had a talent for finding mischief.
Harry wasn't sure if he had just been insulted, but he was very certain that the next time the King of Wakanda paid the Stark home a visit, he was going to find his bed short sheeted. While Harry didn't think much of pranking, some challenges just couldn't go unanswered.
T'Challa should have known better than that.
Draco stepped from the floo and stepped to one side cleaning his robes in an automatic reflex. After only a few seconds his mother appeared brushing herself clean in exactly the same way.
Draco took a deep breath and sighed. It was good to be home.
"How is father?" he asked now that they were home and safe from prying eyes. A Malfoy learned early that discussions about family were never had in public.
"Lucius is better. The time we spent together at Christmas helped enormously. He is out now, attending to business, but will be home in time for dinner."
"Good," Draco said as a sense of relief washed over him.
After an evening out to celebrate Hermione's end of year scores, the Grangers had returned to their home to unwind in front of the telly before they retired for the night.
Stuart was in 'his chair', a leather recliner watching the Nine O Clock News on the BBC, while Kristine and her daughter were cuddled together on the sofa, each with a book and a cup of tea.
This was, Hermione reflected, the part of her life at home that she missed the most. She sighed to herself, turned the page, and lay her head on her mother's shoulder.
"Oh, how horrible," Kristine said, while Stuart grunted in agreement.
Hermione diverted her attention from her book to the television. On the screen was a young blond woman.
"We were hiking along the old Ghost Line trail near Wakefield," the young woman was saying, "when we just came upon him laying on the side of the trail."
"There was blood everywhere!" her male companion added. "The poor old sod looked like he had been half eaten by a bear or a woodchipper or some thing."
The image on the screen shifted to the Newsreader. "Authorities are reporting that the unidentified man had been found along side little used hiking trail approximately five miles outside of Wakefield. The man was airlifted to Pinderfield Hospital in Wakefield, reportedly suffering from severe animal attack."
Again the screen shifted to a uniformed police Inspector. "The victim was seemingly savaged by some sort of beast, though just what it was that did this too him is as yet unknown. There aren't many animals capable of doing that sort of damage to a man, and none of them are native to Britain, so we may be dealing with an escaped exotic pet, or possibly even a zoo animal, though none of the local zoos have reported any missing large predators."
From off screen the reporter asked, "Has anyone determined just how he came to be out there? If not for the hikers, he might well have been there for months."
"If not longer," the Inspector agreed, "and no, we've got no idea of just how he came to be out there. That is one of the things we're going to be asking him when he wakes up."
"I've heard from some of the rescuers," the reporter asked, "that there appeared to be evidence that on top of his other injuries, the man appeared to have, well, fallen from a train."
"Since there has never been a railway in that area, that of course is impossible," the Inspector said with finality, seeming to hesitate before continuing. "There was evidence that he seemed to have fallen from some height, and that he rolled along the trail at some speed before coming to rest where he was found, but there was no train."
"The locals call that particular bit of trail the 'Ghost Line'..."
"I know what they call it," the Inspector snapped. "There was no train."
The screen returned to the Newsreader. "A rather forceful statement on the part of the Police. What was being referred to is a local legend of frequent reports of an antique train pulled by a steam engine along that trail. As there has never been a rail line in that area, the reports are generally filed and forgotten, but the reports persist. There is no doubt that the unnamed victim found along the Ghost Line trail will be asked several questions by the authorities as soon as he regains consciousness."
Kristine Granger had gone back to her book, and Stuart's attention was absorbed by the next story, but Hermione's focus was on the 'Ghost train'. Near Wakefield? She tried to picture the most likely route of the Hogwarts Express... Could the Express be what people were seeing and hearing? Perhaps the Muggle repelling charms on that area of the track were in need of maintenance...
Hermione pondered writing a letter to Professor Flitwick reporting the incident before abandoning the thought. She was just being silly. Surely the Ministry of Magic routinely monitored such things. Besides, how could the Hogwarts Express possibly be tied to a man mauled by a large animal?
Laughing at herself, Hermione cuddled into her mother's side again. It was good to be home.
"What did you think of the processing facility at the Vibranium mine?" Tony asked as he began his salad.
"That place is seriously cool," Harry enthused. "The tunnels seem to go on forever, and the raw ore... just amazing. You can just feel the potential energy in it."
"I don't think I've ever heard the Sacred Mound being called 'Cool' before," T'Challa said with a grin. "I've heard that you've been speaking to some of my engineers about processor design."
Harry nodded. His favorite part of this trip, so far, were the evening meals with his dad and T'Challa. You never knew where the conversation was going to go, but it was almost always interesting. Usually these get togethers were formal functions, but tonight was more of a quiet family thing. "We're trying to build a basic processor as part of a school project, so I thought that I might get a few opinions."
"The very idea of a computer that works on magic is intriguing," the king continued, "as is your decision to use Aluminum as your base material. I would like to see what you finally come up with."
"This project has been a real learning experience for Harry so far," Tony interjected. "It seems that hardly a day goes by that Harry hasn't either been in a panic that he might have bitten off more than he can chew, or in euphoria when he makes a discovery of some kind."
"You're just jealous that I won't let you help." Harry groused as the main course was served.
"Harry has a point Tony," T'Challa said with a grin. "Don't forget I was at the infamous Raingutter Regatta and I witnessed the disgraceful display you and Reed put on."
"Ha!" Harry interjected. "I told you it wasn't just Franklin and me who saw what you two were doing."
"Abuse," Tony noted, "is all I get anymore."
"Ramonda was particularly impressed with your methodology," T'Challa said, before starting his own main course. "She is rather hard to get a compliment out of, so I'm doubly impressed."
That comment confused Harry a bit. "Ms. Ramonda seemed really nice to me. She had quite a few helpful suggestions that I think I'm going to be able to use. She also suggested that I try using Vibranium for my base medium over aluminum, but the budget my team and I put together for this project would never cover something like that."
"Yes," T'Challa nodded. "She mentioned that to me and made a suggestion of her own. As a consequence, when you head back home, there will be a fifty square meter roll of sheet Vibranium in your cargo hold, specifically donated by the government of Wakanda for your use."
Vibranium was one of the rarest metals in the world, and as a consequence, one of the most expensive. Harry was so shocked at the generosity of the gift, easily worth millions if not tens of millions, he sat back in his chair for a moment with his mouth open. "Thank you sir, but that's... I can't..."
"Yes you can Harry," T'Challa said with a wave of his hand. "It is vitally important to me that you accept this gift, even if it turns out to be of no use to your school project. Do this thing for me."
Harry blinked. "Thank you, but I don't understand."
"The reasons are quite simple really," T'Challa said with a shrug. "Ramonda is more than just the chief engineer of the Sacred Mound Facility, she is also my father's widow, my step mother." The King smiled, "amongst Wakandans she is known as the Queen Mother. If you accept this gift from her, Ramonda will be happy, and when Ramonda is happy, my life is so much easier."
That was when Harry decided not to short sheet T'Challa's bed.
"Attend me girl," The old man in the bed gasped.
She nervously approached the bed. The old man had never seemed so... small, so... weak. He lay on the bed covered with layers of blankets in spite of the heat of the day, a beaker of some foaming potion slowly dripping onto a gauze mask that covered his face.
What this was impending death looked like?
She steeled herself against the smells and the fluids that the old man produced. She would not show the revulsion his appearance inspired in her. Whatever his faults, this man was her Grandfather. She would show her respect.
"Tell me of your progress with the Potter heir."
"The work on our project has begun," she said quietly, reaching out to take his shaking hand in an attempt to calm the man. "He and I have spent a fair amount of time together in research and planning for what must happen for us to be successful, though this is almost always in the company of others on the project group. I believe he considers me to be a friend."
"You must..." the old man descended into a coughing fit. A pair of healers rushed to his side only to be waved away by the patriarch. "You must bind him to us. We need the vitality of a new bloodline. We... I do not have much time."
"Grandfather," she said quietly, "It will be years before any such pairing would be allowed. The Potter heir would need to be sixteen for such a bonding to be made. You know that, you sat in the family seat when that change was made to the law. You voted against it, but the change still passed."
"How soon?" the old man asked.
"At least three years Grandfather. Under mother's guidance, I have laid the groundwork for a bonding, but we cannot move forward until he is of age." and we will not unless I love him, she did not add.
"Despite your mother's heritage, you are our heir. Twenty seven generations of your... our ancestors have set forth the traditions by which you will live your life," her grandfather said, turning his hand to take hers with amazing strength. "The Potter boy is young, you will guide him away from his own family's traditions to our superior ways. This is my command to you as my heir."
"As you command, so I will obey," she said, not feeling the slightest bit of remorse for lying to a dying man. "I will bind him to our family." Or perhaps herself to his.
"Good," the old man whispered, his grip on her hand falling away. She stepped back from the bed and she was replaced by the healers.
She took one of the healers by the arm and pulled him to the corner by the door. "How is he? I am his heir, I need to know."
The man looked between his patient and the girl, and seemed to make a decision. "This attack will be devastating, but he will survive. However his time is short, he has two years perhaps three baring a major break through." The healer turned from her and moved to the old man's bedside.
She paused for a moment taking in the scene, and then she hung her head and was surprised by the tears that started flowing down her cheeks. Was she crying for the old man, or for the life that he could have shared with her if he hadn't been such an old fool?
She wasn't sure. She didn't know if she ever would be.
Wiping her eyes, she squared her shoulders and left her Grandfather's bedchamber. No doubt the vultures would be gathering.
"You," Susan said for perhaps the tenth time, "are so lucky!"
"Susan Amelia!" Susan's aunt said in a bemused fashion, "A little decorum if you please?"
Neville realized that he could almost hear himself sweat. "I don't feel lucky. Are you sure these things are safe?" he asked as the stared out the plate glass windows at the huge metal beasts on the wide roadways.
"You'll be fine Neville," Hannah said dismissively. "Just think about it, New York. All that shopping."
"And the restaurants," Susan chimed in. In truth, the pair hadn't really known anything about New York City, but the envy they felt over Neville's opportunity had inspired them to learn all they could about the great Muggle city.
"Yay," Neville responded with a complete lack of enthusiasm.
Amelia Bones smiled to herself as she watched the the girls tease Longbottom boy into a minor panic. Suddenly she was enjoying the favor she was doing for Augusta Longbottom.
When she had first learned of her niece's association with the Stark boy she had started to worry. Then there was the report of an aspect of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named possessing a Hogwarts professor only to be dispatched by Agatha Harkness of all people, with the Potter boy being somehow involved.
When the ill advised attempt by Albus Dumbledore and Cornelius Fudge to set aside the boy's adoption brought the Odinson into the Ministry promising death and destruction, had proved to Amelia that she had not been worrying needlessly. If anything Susan and Hannah had become even more closely involved with the boy over that summer when they would gather at the home of that Muggle born girl Granger to speak with young Harry over the telephone.
Now during their second year a pocket diary containing an aspect of the fallen Dark Lord had surfaced at the school, again seemingly focused on the boy. The mere existence of that little book had the Unspeakables in the Department of Mysteries terrified. Amelia didn't believe in coincidences. The Potter boy's reappearance in Magical Britain with a new name had seemingly hauled He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named from the shadows.
And Susan was aligning herself with the boy. In a few years it was conceivable that Amelia would be watching her niece climb onto one of those huge flying things heading off the visit this Harry Stark. Two years of school, two appearances of the Dark Lord, she mused to her self.
"Mr. Longbottom?" the Ministry man who worked at the Airport giving assistance to magicals who chose to travel in the Muggle way. "Your aircraft has arrived. They're waiting for you."
Amelia smiled at Neville's embarrassment caused by the hugs the two girls gave him, and she shook his hand when he came to her.
"Have a good time Neville."
"I will Madam Bones. Thank you for coming with me today."
With a small shy wave the frightened boy proved that the Sorting Hat had known what it was doing when it sorted him into Gryffindor, and he followed the Ministry Functionary through the security checkpoint.
They were all good children, Amelia said to herself. Neville, Susan, Hannah, the Granger girl, the Patil girl and even Harry Stark, all of them. Still two appearances of the Dark Lord in only two years...
Amelia joined the two girls at the window where they watched as Neville boarded the white flying machine. It was shaped oddly when compared to the others around it, shorter, with stubby wings and a large glass window across the upper third of the body. As soon as Neville had disappeared inside the large machine, the door sealed and an awful noise filled the air, invading even the terminal building. As if to point out just how different this machine was from its fellows, it rose straight into the air rather than rolling out onto the long roadways. The machine then oriented itself pointing away from the terminal building and angling upward, it vanished in an unimaginable burst of speed.
Yes, Amelia thought as she observed the continuing envy on the faces of Susan and Hannah, there would be a Auror at Hogwarts next year, no matter what Dumbledore thought about it.
"And this is my room," Harry said as he led Neville in. "There's an extra bed if you want to bunk in here with me, or your own room across the hall."
Neville was slightly surprised that Harry had only a room rather than the suite that he had back at Longbottom Hall, still the house was nice. "In here I think. Truth be told, it's odd waking up as the only one in a room after spending most of the year in the dorms."
Harry shrugged. "We've got private rooms in Ravenclaw. I wonder why its different."
"Private rooms?" Neville echoed. "I don't know if I would like that too much. When I'm on my own for too long, I sort of get inside my own head, you know? I end up second guessing every choice I've made and working myself into a bit of a..." Neville seemed surprised at himself for what he was admitting. "Listen to me. Yeah, I'll stay in here if that's ok. So what's on the agenda?"
Harry was interrupted before he could answer by a knock at his door.
"Dinner will be in an hour," Edwin Jarvis said from the doorway. "Then perhaps a quiet evening until the pair of you are ready to get some sleep to get through the time zone differences."
"Thanks Jarvis," Harry said happily. "Jarvis, this is Neville Longbottom, a friend from school. He's staying with us for two weeks. Neville, this is Jarvis, he's our family retainer."
"Good afternoon Neville," Jarvis said with a smile. "Retainer is just Harry's way of saying I'm the butler."
"Butler?" Neville asked puzzled. "I don't know that word."
"A butler is a domestic servant," Harry began.
"Hardly," Jarvis sniffed. "A butler is responsible for the household, and for the management of the household staff. Domestic servant indeed!"
Neville paled. "You keep human slaves?"
"What?" Harry asked incredulously. "No, not slaves, employees."
"The Stark family pays very well," Jarvis confirmed as he lifted Harry's trunk and placed it on a small table. He then opened the luggage and began sorting through the clothing. After a few moments he stopped and turned to Harry with a gimlet eye. "That school of yours does have a laundry service, does it not?"
"Sorry," Harry grinned, "the last week at school got kind of hectic, and I only wore tee shirts and shorts in Wakanda."
"From the look of things, a single set of shorts and tee shirt. Make sure you sort your dirty things," Jarvis sighed. "We don't want a repeat of the pink underthings from last summer."
"Ok Jarvis," Harry reached into his trunk and pulled out an armload of dirty clothing. "Come on Nev, I'll show you how we do laundry without magic or elves."
Neville followed Harry from the room, shaking his head at the strangeness of this way of life. No elves, no magic and servants you paid? How very odd.
"Thank you for the ride Mr. Hogan," Neville said as he moved to get out of the car at the corner of 42nd street and Madison avenue.
"Call me Happy, Neville." Happy said as he lowered the passenger side window. "You start talking about Mr. Hogan and I start looking around for my old man. When you're ready to head home, you two give me a call."
"Thank Happy," Harry answered before turning to Neville. "Well, this is it, the Baxter Building."
Neville googled as he looked up, "How tall is this place?"
"35 Stories," Harry said. "Franklin and his family live on the 33rd."
"Please tell me they have an elevator like the Ministry."
"They do," Harry laughed. "If they didn't Franklin would be visiting me a whole lot more than I visited him."
The pair entered the lobby of the building, the uniformed doorman nodding to Harry in recognition. Neville moved to push the up button for the bank of elevators.
"Not that one Nev, the one we want is back here," Harry led his friend to the far corner of the lobby where a silver disk was implanted in the wall. Harry placed his left hand over the disk and a hidden elevator door opened.
"That's a big button," Neville commented as he pondered just how many things in the Muggle world seemed to require the use of buttons.
"It's a palm reader. It scans your hand and opens the door if you're on the access list," Harry explained as he pushed the button for the 30th floor. "It's a lot better than the old system, that had an electronic sensor that read a light pattern from, believe it or not, an emitter you kept in your belt buckle."
"That sounds weird," Neville said as he braced himself in the corner at the surge of upward motion. "This thing is fast!"
"Yeah, Franklin's dad tends to over do things," Harry gestured toward the rapidly moving lights. "At least we aren't in here for too long."
The door opened and the pair exited the elevator to find a pretty blonde woman sitting behind an ornate oak desk.
"Good morning, welcome to the Baxter Building Harry Stark." she said.
"Good morning Roberta," Harry said. "Harry Stark and Neville Longbottom to visit Franklin.
"Ah, yes," she said in clipped concise tones. "Neville Longbottom, an English wand wizard. Welcome to the Baxter Building. Franklin is on his way."
Neville couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there was something... off about the woman. Perhaps it was the way she looked at him through her large round glasses, without ever blinking.
"Harry!" Neville turned to find a blond haired boy approximately his age come barrelling through the doorway behind the receptionist.
"Hey Franklin, this is Neville."
"Hey Nev," Franklin Richards said shaking the other's hand. "Harry's told me all about you. Thanks for coming over. You've got to tell me what this idiot gets up to over in England."
"Scotland actually," Neville corrected. "Our school is in Scotland."
"Oh. Sorry," Franklin said as he lead the other's to the door. "So you're Scotch?"
"Scotch is a drink," Neville explained. "The people of Scotland are Scots, but I'm English, from England. I just go to school in Scotland." His attention drifted back the receptionist as they passed through the doorway. Neville stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes wide in horror. "Bloody hell!"
Harry stopped to see what had upset his friend. Roberta the Receptionist turned to see what might be bothering the visitor to the Baxter Building, swiveling on her mounts as she did so.
"Sorry Nev," Harry said placing his hand on Neville's shoulder. "I forgot to tell you, Roberta's not a human, she's a robot."
"Robot?" Neville asked trying to process through the horror of seeing half a woman bolted to the floor on swivels.
"A machine," Franklin said attempting to calm his visitor. How could someone not know about robots he wondered.
"Thank you for your concern Neville Longbottom," the receptionist said with her cool clipped tones, "but it is unnecessary. I am not an organic entity. The appearance of my upper body is designed to put visitors at ease."
"Thanks Roberta," Franklin said as he guided the stunned Neville through the door and into his home.
Neville watched as a very pretty blond woman wrapped Harry in a hug. "Harry, it's good to see you. It's been so quiet around here without you and Franklin doing your experiments."
"We didn't blow that many things up," Harry protested. "This is a friend from school, Neville Longbottom. Neville, this is Mrs. Richards."
"Hello Neville," the woman said taking his hand in hers. "Welcome to the Baxter Building... Is there something wrong?"
"Are you... Real?" Neville asked hesitantly, feeling the warmth of her hand.
"I assume someone," she shot her son a dirty look, "forgot to tell you about Roberta? I've been after my husband to give her a lower torso just to prevent her from frightening people. Yes Neville, I'm human."
A howl rent the air, followed by a loud crash and then a WOOSH! as a oblong ball of flame came around the corner and flew through an open doorway to exit. Neville could have sworn that he heard the sound of... laughter coming from the fire. He shot a glance at Harry and was somewhat consoled by the wide grin on his friend's face.
If Harry was amused, it couldn't be that bad... could it?
A series of thundering building shaking crashes came from the direction that the fireball had appeared. For the third time in as many minutes Neville was shocked speechless when a large orange... something appeared screaming in fury. "Where is he?" the orange... thing bellowed. "I'll murderize him!"
Harry and Franklin had fallen to the floor in laughter, and if he hadn't been quite so terrified by the sight Neville might well have joined them. Now that he could see it better he could see that the huge orange... thing was basically man shaped, but larger than any man Neville had ever seen other than Hagrid. It appeared to be made of orange stones, fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. It wore what appeared to be blue swim trunks and oddly fuzzy white bunny ears.
Mrs Richards stood in front of the... thing with her hands on her hips. "What am I going to do with you two? Can't we have a visitor without the pair of you acting like bigger children than Franklin and Harry?"
"Visitor?" the creature rumbled, looking about until it locked eyes with Neville. "Ah, sorry kid. It's just that Johnny superglued these ears to my head, and stuck a powder puff tail on my butt." The huge orange thing turned to display the white puffball at the base of where a person's spine would be.
"He got you good this time Ben," Harry laughed.
"Well," the big thing... Ben rumbled. "he's going to be got, I promise you that."
"Jeeze Uncle Ben," Franklin giggled. "Why do you keep falling for Uncle Johnny's tricks?"
"Are you," Neville asked, interrupting whatever Ben was going to say in response to Franklin's question, "a robot?"
A look of confusion crossed the oddly expressive stone work face of the Ben thing. He knelt down directly in front of Neville. "A robot? Nah kid, I'm the real deal, the genuine article."
Ben paused and realized that the boy didn't seem to understand, so he continued. "I'm the everlovin' blue eyed Thing." Still no understanding from the boy. "Ben Grimm, the idol of millions?"
A whoosh again filled the room. The Fireball had returned. came to a stop in midair between Franklin's mother and the... Thing. That was when Neville realized that the fireball was in the shape of a man... Startled he took a step back. Fiendfire?
Moving faster than anything his size should be able to, the Thing's arm shot out and wrapped a huge four fingered hand around the chest of the fire man. "Now that ain't right Hotshot!" he said shaking the fire man vigorously. "Ya scared the kid. Now I've got to put you out."
The shaking evidently did the trick because the flame faded leaving a blond man dressed in a blue body suit in the big thing's hand. The blond man was thrust into Neville's face.
"Apologize for scarin' the kid." Ben rumbled.
"Ah, yeah." the blond man, who looked quite a bit like Franklin. said. "Sorry about that."
"Now," Ben said coldly as he turned his captive so that the two of them were face to face. "The Ears. I want them gone."
"Ok, ok, sheesh, what a grump," Johnny said as he ignited his right hand an burned away the bunny ears and the adhesive used to attach them.
"And the tail."
"Yeah, yeah." Johnny said as he started burning off the powder puff. "Can't say I care for the view back here."
Neville watched all this with wide eyes. What were these... people? "Are you golems?" he asked quietly.
Johnny and Ben exchanged looks of confusion. "Susie, what are we paying that publicist for if there is an English speaking kid who doesn't recognize the Fantastic Four?" Johnny asked.
The machine men just kept coming. Harry hit the thumb switch to select the grenade option and popped a frag round into the midst of a group of seven. The detonation rendered them to so much scrap, freeing him to look for others.
His ammo was low. A quick glance showed that Franklin was in a similar state. Harry popped a healthpack, and took aim at the flier that had just started it's run, only to see is burst into flames before he could pull the trigger.
Harry tried to calm himself as he picked off another robot before it could fire its weapon at him. Suddenly another popped up from behind a pile of boxes, Harry moved to defend himself only to discover his weapon was empty. Franklin was down and wouldn't be able to help, and Neville... Harry struggled to reload as the robot fired...
Neville fought on alone.
"I'm not talking to you," the taller of the three, the Muggle said. "'Lets take Nev to the arcade,' you said. 'He's never been,' you said."
"Well, I haven't," the fatty said, a wizard associating with a Muggle. What was the world coming to?
"How was I supposed to know Nev would turn out to be a natural at the Terminator game?" the dark haired wizard asked. "It's not my fault he busted your high score."
"Shattered your high score," Fatty said.
"Probably used magic," the Muggle groused.
Waiting in the alleyway, Shadrack Pritchard eyed his targets as they approached. He had been trolling the arcade for targets and had been surprised to find these three together.
Shadrack was what the Department of Magic called a 'Hill Wizard', he came from a family that rejected the Government and it's cultural teaching. Born in Appalachia and educated at home to distrust cities and the laws of man, Pritchard had abandoned his family's farm at the age of nineteen after his father's death and an argument with his elder brother.
It took him all of a week to rob his first victim, using the befuddlement charm that his granny had taught him to make his victim forget that anything had happened. Now he was living fairly large, only needing to do his work two or three nights a week.
Shadrack wasn't a greedy man, he didn't need to steal from the very rich. That would be noticed he knew. And robbing the very poor make little sense at all. No, he concentrated on the city's idle children. He would check out the popular hangouts of teenagers with money and relieve a few of their excess cash.
But this trio... Two wizards were out with a Muggle? What was that about. A pair of unexcorted wizards would be a real prize. Their wands were worth a pretty penny all by themselves, any other magical items they carried would be worth his time as well. His father had always insisted that he cast the detector for magicals whenever he entered a room intending to check for rivals.
The old man had no idea just how profitable his advice had turned out for his son.
After he determined the trio's intended direction, he jumped ahead with a crack, reappearing in the alley further along the street, he lay in wait for the trio.
They appeared right on Pritchard's schedule, the blonde Muggle and the dark haired wizard still whining about their silly game. Pritchard's wand twitched in his hand and the two wizards were bound in thick ropes, and with another word, the all three of the boys were summoned into the darkness of the alley.
Pritchard wrapped his arm around the neck of the Muggle, pushing his wand into the boy's cheek. There was just something special about the terror that he was going to inspire in these soft children.
Peter Parker arced through the air, the warm air flowing through the permeable membrane of his mask. Approaching the building he twisted in the air so that he would come into contact with the brick with his fingertips and toes. Sure of his purchase, he began his rapid climb up the side of the sky scraper looking to get a little altitude prior to launching himself through the air again.
No one else ever considered what a kick in the head leaping and swinging from building to building could be. It was probably the same for fliers, but there were a lot of fliers. There was only one webslinger. Sometimes it was all he could do not to shout out his joy at the apex of each leap, of each swing. Sure he had the hottest of red headed hotties in Mary Jane, but being Peter Parker sucked with annoying regularity. Being Spiderman on the other hand, was almost always the coolest thing in the world... assuming one overlooked how often someone was trying to kill him, or the police looking to arrest him, or J Jonah Jamison was just being a pain or the times the MJ was mad at him for the risks he took, or if...
Ok, so maybe being Spiderman also sucked with alarming regularity as well, but still, webslinging was a major kick in the head.
Just as Peter realized that he had just managed to depress himself, he got just the faintest tingle of danger as he passed over an alley between two of the shorter buildings. Deciding that busting a few heads would likely be good therapy for his case of the blues, the hero backflipped into the alley, coming to light on the southern most building just above the second story.
There they were. A hood with his arm around the neck of a young boy, while threatening two others who each appeared to be tied up in a single coil of rope.
Perfect. Kids that age always did the hero worship thing after he busted up the bad guys. That was always good for the ego. Pressing his middle and index fingers to the sensor in the palm of his left glove, Peter activated his wrist mounted web shooter. He quickly established anchor points on both of the buildings that formed the alley, and silently lowered himself behind the thug.
Peter eased himself down until he was hanging directly behind the mugger who appeared to have some kind of medieval bondage fetish. As he arrived the mook was saying something about the boy in his arms being a 'muggle' Was that some sort of new slang for a mugging victim? Why did he have to be the one to find all the weirdos? This sort of thing probably never happened to Daredevil.
"I'll tell you what," Peter said where he judged the thug's ear might be under the man's cloak. "Let the boys go, and I won't hurt you. Not too much anyway."
"Here's what's going to happen boys," the cloaked man said, pressing his wand firmly into Franklin's neck. "I'm going to deal with your Muggle friend here so that he can't talk to the Aurors for a while. If you cooperate, I'll let him live. If not..."
"You have no idea who you're dealing with," Harry said from the ground as he fought against the binding spell. The bad guy hadn't seen Franklin's hand signal, either that or had ignored it, believing it to be little more than the twitching of a panicked youngster.
Harry, on the other hand, had seen the signal, and remembered it quite well from when he and Franklin had run with the Power Pack. Tattletale was about to go all psi on the bad guy. Harry grinned, he had missed this, missed the adventure of wearing a mask. No masks tonight, but someone was about to get his butt rather severely kicked. Harry glanced to Neville wishing he could warn his friend about what was about to happen, and when he did he saw Neville's eyes go wide in surprise and alarm.
He quickly followed the direction of Neville's gaze to find a figure in a familiar red and blue costume hanging upside down from a single strand of webbing directly behind the wizard that had attacked them. Harry grin spread into a full smile. They were going to have a team up! This was turning out great!
Pritchard was shocked when the words "Let the boys go, and I won't hurt you. Not too much anyway." were spoken next to his right ear.
With his wand out of position to respond, the former hill farmer reacted with all the savagery that he was capable of and blindly swung his right arm, his blow connecting when his fist struck the man behind him square in the face. Pritchard released the Muggle boy and spun to face the other man.
To say that he was shocked to find the other man was dressed from head to toe in a red and blue body stocking and was hanging upside down from a gossamer strand would be something of an understatement.
"You," the masked man said, "hit me in the face."
Pritchard raised his wand to a defensive position. What was this? Some sort of unholy hybrid of a man and an acromantula?
"No, no, no." the man spider said, plucking Pritchard's wand from his hand faster than the wizard could blink, snapping the wand between his gloved fingers and tossing the sparking residue away. "You hit me in the face, you don't get to poke me with your stick on top of that. I'm tired of this." The masked being dropped from his webbing, executing a flip that had him standing upright almost before Pritchard realized he had done it. "I'm tired of all the disrespect. I know that the Xmen are the heroes that everyone loves to fear and hate these days, but that was my gig before anyone ever heard of mutants. I'm Spiderman damn it. I've got the proportional strength of a spider, I have webbing, I have major league bad guys, Doc Ock, Electro, Rhino, Venom, Carnage, the Scorpion, all of them claim to be my archenemies. Doctor Freaking Doom himself told me I was going to rue the day! And believe me, I rued that day, yes I did. I've gone toe to toe with Namor and the Hulk. They both handed me my spandexed butt, but I still fought them, and you. You're just a normal guy with a polished stick, and you hit me in the face." Peter moved until he was mask covered nose to nose with the thug.
"You know what?" The Spiderman asked rhetorically, "you've made me mad."
Stepping away from the mass of webbing that was holding the now naked man to the wall, Spiderman pulled a pair of webbing cartridges from his belt and pulled down the cuffs of his gloves so that he might reload his web shooters.
Harry regarded the bound wizard with a critical eye. Spiderman may have used just a bit too much of his webbing to hold the man to the wall, and stripping him naked 'just to be sure' pretty much guaranteed that every hair on the villain's body was going to be yanked out by the roots if the authorities didn't wait for the webbing to dissolve...
How long did Spiderman's webbing last anyway? It must not be too long, otherwise the taller buildings would be covered with the stuff.
"Thanks for the help Spidey," Franklin said. "We had it covered and were about to mess him up, but thanks."
"Franklin Richards?" Peter asked incredulously realizing for the first time just who the crazy man with the stick had been holding. "Oh, god, please don't tell your uncle Johnny that this guy popped me in the nose, please? Or Ben, please don't tell Ben."
"They won't hear it from us," Harry promised.
"Harry Stark? Eight million people in New York and I run into you two getting mugged? Please Harry, you can tell your dad, but please, I'm begging you, don't tell the Shellhead, he already thinks I'm an idiot."
"Don't worry Spidey," Franklin assured the hero, "we won't rat you out."
"Ok," the masked man said, the relief he was feeling evident to all three of the boys. "Oops, sirens. I've gotta go."
"You're not waiting for the police?" Harry asked.
"Are you wanted again? What for this time?" Franklin added.
"I think they think I robbed Wilson Fisk again, or maybe killed someone..." Spiderman seemed to think for a moment. "Then again, maybe they're just doing it out of habit, I know I've kind of lost track myself." With a two handed gesture that was followed by a 'thwip!' sound, he shot a pair of weblines up into the night sky. "See you later kids, stay in school!"
Harry watched as the hero vanished among the tall buildings. Then he remembered Neville. The poor guy was probably traumatized beyond all belief. He turned to find his friend still staring up into the night sky his eyes wide and mouth open.
"Nev?" Harry asked quietly.
"This," Neville said his eyes wide and shining in the darkness of the alleyway, "has been the single coolest day in my entire life."
The next morning Neville woke to find himself alone in the room he was sharing with Harry. That was unusual, normally he was the first one awake in the morning. The Scion of House Longbottom rose from his bed and made his way to the bath to deal with his morning ablutions.
Once that was done, he dressed for the day and made his way to the kitchen.
"Good Morning Master Longbottom," Edwin Jarvis said from where he stood in front of the cooker. "Scrambled eggs this morning?"
"Yes please," Neville answered, still trying to figure out the idea of human servants. Why would a man want to do the work of an elf? How did the elves deal with that? He knew from experience that elves could be highly territorial over their work assignments. "Have you seen Harry this morning?"
"Harry made himself a sandwich and went to work on his school project," Jarvis answered as he busied himself with the preparation of Neville's breakfast. "You'll find him in the basement, he has set up a workshop down there."
Neville entered Harry's workshop carrying a cup of tea and found his friend bent over his workbench.
"Morning Harry," Neville said. "What are you working on?"
"Morning Nev," Harry answered without looking up from his work. "When I was in Wakanda I was given some Vibranium. Ms Ramonda, she's the chief engineer of the Sacred Mound, said that some people claimed that Vibranium reacted in interesting ways when exposed to magic."
Neville looked over Harry shoulder to observe his friend scribing odd symbols on a small sheet of a silvery metal. He wondered to himself where Wakanda might be, and just what 'Vibranium' could possibly be. "I thought that you were going to use aluminium."
"That's the plan, but I woke up wondering what she meant by Vibranium reacting to magic in interesting ways," Harry explained. "So I thought that I'd set it up with a simple levitation function."
Neville nodded, "My Gran has one of those setup in Longbottom Hall, she says the stairs can be hard on her hip some mornings."
"Well, not that powerful, I just want to see the discharge rate of the rune set," Harry said as he pressed his wand against the charging rune and willed some magic into the matrix. In sandstone or aluminum..."
"Aluminium," Neville corrected.
"Don't you start, I get enough of that from Hermione. Anyway in sandstone or aluminum, the charge will last about four minutes," Harry selected a copper coin from his work bench. "lets see how long it will float this penny."
Harry carefully placed the coin over the silvery square, and was rewarded with the sight of the penny hovering in mid air perhaps two inches above the surface.
"Cool huh?" Harry asked.
"Yeah," Neville agreed, not terribly impressed, but not wanting to rain on Harry's parade.
Several moments passed. "Boring though," Harry noted.
"Well, yeah," Neville agreed. "I mean you can only watch a coin float in the air for so long."
"You're right," Harry said standing up from his workbench. "Wanna go flying?"
"We can do that here?" Neville asked. "I'm rubbish on a broom, but..."
"Not on a broom Nev," Harry said leading his friend out of the workroom. "Much better than a broom."
"What is this place?" Neville asked while looking around the vast warehouse building.
"This is Dad's flight systems test facility," Harry explained as he wheeled a cart into the center of the vast space. "He uses it to test his armor's flight capabilities."
"Flight capabilities?" Neville asked. "Are you telling me that big bloke in the red and gold armor can fly?"
"Him, the Warmachine armor, the Guardsmen armor that the Vault guards use, the flight capable Mandroids, a couple others as well," Harry replied, forgetting that Neville didn't know any of the examples he listed. "And hopefully, me."
"Yeah," Harry lifted a metallic chest plate from the cart. "This is version 0.8 of my flight capable techsuit, the first version that will approach being a full armor, and the first that will, hopefully, be flight capable."
"Just when I thought I'd seen everything there was to see," Neville said shaking his head. "Your dad made you a suit of armor?"
"Nope, I made it. My techsuit started off as a sort of vest that let Dad monitor my magic so that he could figure out how to keep me from doing damage to things. Then he started showing me how things worked and once he got his Powertap tech working so that my magic could power things, he started letting me add to it, He would show me what he had done, and if I could explain it to Dad's satisfaction, if I could draw the subsystems and show how it worked, he would let me add it to my tech matrix."
"And now you're adding the ability to fly," Neville nodded. "I'd have thought that would be the first thing you'd have done."
"Believe me, I tried, but the flight systems were hard. Just the physics behind the basic principles of flight took me forever to get down. But now, at least here, I can try it out."
Harry raised the breastplate over his head, now Neville could see that the rear section, intended to protect the wearer's back was attached to the breastplate with a pair of thick straps. Harry put his head through the neck hole of the assembly and allowed it to settle on his shoulders. Neville marveled at how the two haves sealed together with a soft hiss.
Harry lifted what appeared to be a bicycle helmet from the cart and pushed the now empty cart away from the pair. "I can't really go outside and solo yet, my controls are too... well, crappy. I'd end up plastering myself into a building or plowing into the ground."
"Then how do you fly in it?" Neville leaned forward to examine the assembly. "for that matter how does it fly?"
Harry twisted so that Neville could see the back of the assembly. "A quad vectored reactionless thruster. Eventually the controls will be tied into the cybernetic command and control system, but for now..." he pulled a pair of long cords from the chest plate, "these thumb sticks do the trick."
"You know," Neville said with a grin, "I understood only about seven words in that last couple of sentences. Your dad's body guard didn't have one of those thruster things on his back."
"Dad builds his into the boots of his armors. It works great there, but for it to work the armor has to lock the leg joints, and for longer flights I've heard all the wearers complain about how uncomfortable that is. I thought I'd try to use the center of mass for my lift point. It's been working pretty well in here." Harry bent over and lifted a pair of heavy black cables from the floor and attached them to ring bolts on the lower section of his breast plate.
"What are those?" Neville asked.
"Safety lines," Harry explained reaching up for a similar line from the ceiling of the huge building and attaching that to an eye-bolt over his left shoulder, then repeating the action on his right side. "Once the flight systems are activating, these lines allow me to fly within the safety boundaries of this room. If I go too high or too low, the flight systems are automatically cut out and these lines keep me from hitting the ceiling or floor. The same applies to the walls on all four sides. As long as I'm in the safe zone, I have almost unlimited free flight capabilities." He placed the bicycle helmet on his head, tightened the strap and grinned. "At the risk of sounding like a cliche, stand back and watch this!"
Tony entered the flight systems test barn looking for the boys and was only slightly surprised to hear the twin sounds of boyish laughter and the stuttered hum of one of his reactionless thruster units.
Harry was playing again. The billionaire smiled. The boy had more fun with Tony's inventions than Tony did himself. When he actually entered the flight area Tony actually was surprised to discover the boy corkscrewing through the air wasn't his son at all, but the Longbottom boy.
As Neville shot past he attempted to wave, but in doing so lost control of the right thumbstick and veered sharply to the left. The boy regained control almost immediately and continued on his run down the length of the flight area.
Tony took a seat next to his son in the observation area.
"Sharing your toys I see."
"Hey Dad," Harry laughed. "Nev was terrified when I talked him into trying the flight rig, but the first time he hit full speed, he fell in love. You should sell these things."
"Too expensive," Tony said shaking his head. "At a million six per only the very rich could afford one. And there are enough rich idiots in the air as it is."
"Mass production might bring the price down," Harry suggested.
"It might," his father agreed, "but then you have to take into account the facilities required to learn to use it without killing yourself. I'm not really willing to sell armor to the world."
Neville shot past shouting his joy at the top of his lungs. Harry reflected that he was really going to miss Nev when his visit was over.
The nurse stopped at Joe Bloggs' bed and noted the unknown man's vitals for his chart. Mavis Oates was a devoted caregiver who truly hated having to refer to the poor soul using the placeholder name for a mystery man.
His pulse was strong and regular, his breathing still being controlled by the ventilator, temperature a bit high, possibly fighting off a post operative infection, but for now nothing to worry about. Mavis checked the man's surgical drains, and the output of his catheter, all within expectations.
The policeman assigned to the Bloggs case had taken Mavis for a cup of tea while he gathered the medical information he needed for his report. In exchange for her explaining medical details to him, he had filled her in on what they knew about the man.
Admittedly, it wasn't much. Bloggs was in his early to mid thirties. Found wearing some sort of costume in threadbare condition, with no identification whatsoever. No money on his person, no jewelry, no evidence of any surgical procedures prior to the ones that stitched his mangled body back together and saved his life. Absolutely no evidence that the man had ever seen a dentist.
In short it was as if the man had suddenly just appeared out of no where.
None of that mattered of course, Mavis would tend to the mystery man's needs as long as she was needed. That was, after all, her calling.
"Welcome home Neville," Augusta Longbottom whispered while hugging her grandson.
"It's good to be home Gran," Neville laughed, pleasantly surprised by the emotional welcome offered by his normally formal grandmother.
"So," Augusta said, sitting down in one of her over stuffed wingbacked chairs and pouring her grandson a cup of tea, "how were the colonies?"
"I had a great visit Gran," Neville answered while ignoring Augusta's 'colonies' comment. There was no point in correcting her, she was too set in her ways. "I could do magic there."
Lady Longbottom froze, her tea cup scant inches from her lips. "You did magic there?" she gasped, quickly setting the cup down. "But Neville, the Statute of Secrecy..."
"The US isn't a signatory to the Statute Gran," Neville explained. "The US Department of Magic just doesn't care if people do magic as long as no one gets hurt. Harry said that there are so many people who have weird powers that someone using a wand is barely noticed."
Augusta considered that for a moment. "Your friend Harry's father made comments about something like that when we were making the arrangements for your visit, but I thought he was exaggerating. Did you meet any of these people with powers?"
"Oh, yes!" the boy enthused. "Harry's best friend's family are what they call 'Heroes'. His mum can turn invisible and cast shields."
This news shocked Augusta. "And you're sure she's a Muggle?"
"Oh, yes, the whole family is," Neville explained. "They were exposed to something called 'Cosmic Rays' and it changed them somehow. Franklin's dad, Franklin is Harry's friend. His dad can, well, stretch, like an elastic band. Seriously, I've never seen anything like it. Franklin's uncle Johnny can set himself on fire and fly."
"On fire?" Augusta asked faintly. What kind of people had she allowed her only grandchild fall in with?
"It doesn't hurt him or anything, He can control the flame, and any fires around him. It's really exciting to see. At night when he's flying he leaves a trail behind him. It's really amazing to see. And Franklin's Uncle Ben, his skin is made up of some kind of orange stone," Neville explained.
"Yes! He's really big and really really strong, sort of like that golem that Uncle Algie made a few years ago, but Ben is fast and really funny. He likes having Franklin's friends around, he says it keeps him young."
"Well... yes. I'm glad you had fun. Is your friend Harry still coming to spend the last week before school starts with us?" Augusta asked.
"Oh, yes. He's looking forward to it. He said he really wants to see my green houses and to spend time with our friends before we end up back in school, and I'm looking forward to showing him some of our way of life that he's probably not gotten from Hermione and Padma."
"Good. It's always best to keep your eyes open to your own environment while you explore others," Augusta nodded approvingly. "Speaking of your environment, I've arranged for the tutor we spoke about. I was surprised that I could obtain the services of someone as famous as Esteban Corazón de Ablo, but he is willing to spend the rest of this summer assisting you in bettering your Potions grades."
"That's great!" Neville said with an enthusiasm he didn't really feel. Potions in the summer time? Great.
"So," Augusta said, not fooled for a moment, "tell me of your adventures."
Augusta was shocked when her shy little Neville smiled widely. "Gran... I flew!"
Harry looked up from his notes. What was that?
A grinding sound? What could possibly be grinding? He paused and listened again. Nothing. Weird.
Returning to his notes on processor design he reached for his notebook to make a few additional notes and stopped. Why was there dust on his notepad?
He picked up a pinch of the dust between his thumb and forefinger. Very fine... concrete? He looked up the concrete ceiling of his basement work shop. The ceiling was fine, where would... There, to the left, about three feet away there was a hole in the ceiling, a hole that small bits of dust was issuing from, drifting over to him on the air currents of the room.
What could be causing that?
Harry's eyes traced a path from the hole to the far side of his workbench. A small square of silver lay directly under the hole. What was...
That's when it dawned on hm. That was the small piece of Vibranium he had scribed the levitate rune set on. He and Neville had left it levitating a penny and then went flying. Six weeks before.
Crossing to the Vibranium sample Harry confirmed that the hole in the ceiling was directly over the sample.
Surely not. That wouldn't be possible... would it?
He picked up his scribe and carefully broke the rune set without placing any part of his body over the focal point of the levitation charm.
A flattened and crumpled copper disk fell from the hole in the ceiling, pinging as it hit the table top and again as it hit the floor.
Harry regarded the Vibranium sample with a growing sense of awe.
The charge had lasted six weeks? Harry climbed on top of the table and probed the hole in the ceiling with a pencil. The levitation rune set had pushed the penny three inches deep into concrete?
Romanda had said that Vibranium was reported to have some 'interesting properties' when exposed to magic... but was it possible that the metal was an... amplifier?
He needed to test this. He scrambled for his notes. There had to be some way to quantify this.
There had to be.
"Welcome to Longbottom Hall Mr. Stark," Augusta Longbottom said with a smile.
"Thank you for having me," Harry answered. "How are you Nev?"
"Just great Harry. You showed me your home, now it's my turn."
Harry returned Neville's grin, wondering what his friend had in mind.
A/N: Yes, I know my update rate had dropped off, generating a whole lot of complaints and hoo haw from the peanut gallery. Real life has been consuming my free time for a while now and sadly, my muses tend to veer off into random stories refusing to discuss any of my ongoing works for weeks on end.
For the record, I will finish all my ongoing stories, I just can't tell you when. I have my endings plotted out for all of them, which means the hard part is getting from the beginning to the end without making the endings illogical. I'm working on them all, I promise.
Also for the record, against all advice from other writers of fan fiction I have anonymous reviews allowed. While this does allow the various random pinheads of the HP world to spew their venom my way, it also allows reviews from those readers who for their own reasons choose not to log into this service. BUT all you anonymous readers out there, please don't ask questions in your reviews, since you've left me with no way to respond. That drives me crazy.