Strangers in Bars – Part Four
A ring of Tony Stark's mobile phone gave rise to what might be his salvation.
Harry hadn't forgotten the whole 'wizard thing' either and was not looking forward to having words about it – and even if he didn't actually dislike the man, he'd rather not stick around for that, thank you very much.
The older man looked at his phone and then stared sternly at him; "Stay here," he ordered, as if Harry was a particularly dense child, or even a dog. Then the man turned away, answering his phone.
Well, polite or not, Harry Potter was never very good at obeying the rules, or authority figures for that matter – he always made his own way and used his own judgment.
And right now he judged it was high time to leg it.
So he did.
He snuck around and searched for the lift - and when he finally found it he pressed the button for the lowest floor because he knew he was quite high up (Tony Stark was right about one thing at least, the view truly was worthwhile).
The lift stopped and its doors opened. What he saw didn't look too promising.
"Err… I don't suppose this will be the exit?" Harry asked out loud.
JARVIS answered him, at least, "You have reached the floor containing Sir's private labs."
"Ah. Well, let's keep his private labs private, shall we?" the wizard offered agreeably, "Instead, might it be possible for you to order this lift to take me to ground level?"
"I apologize, sir. I have been ordered to lock out the other floors – you may either get out here or go back to the floor you were on earlier."
Which would be the floor Tony Stark was currently on.
Harry leaned back for a moment – if he hadn't been a wizard and fully capable at Apparating out at any moment, he might be feeling a tad peeved. As it was… he stepped out of the lift. "Right then," he said. "Thank you, JARVIS."
It wasn't the AI's fault, after all.
"You are most welcome, sir." JARVIS answered warmly.
With a sigh, Harry resigned himself to exploring another floor until Tony inescapably found him.
The whole place seemed to be pretty much deserted, and the wizard wondered why anyone would need all of this space for their own private use.
He wandered around until he found, to his surprise, that there was a man in one of the labs. This man was obviously busy with… something. There were tons of notes lying about with all sorts of formulas and notations that didn't make the slightest bit of sense to him.
"Err… excuse me?" he ventured, hoping he wasn't interrupting anything too important.
The man looked up. And then just stared at him for a moment. Harry was quite used to people staring at him but as this man was a muggle he couldn't help but wonder what he had done to warrant it.
"What are you doing here?" the scientist finally asked. The words were not actually accusatory, in fact, the man sounded more baffled than anything else, so Harry hoped he hadn't ended up somewhere he really wasn't supposed to be.
Then again, if he had, it was all Tony's fault anyway. And wouldn't JARVIS have stopped him?
"I apologize for the interruption," Harry said, "I'm just a bit… lost."
"You're lost," the man stated. "In Stark Tower, in the private labs."
Harry grimaced and explained: "I went drinking with Thor last night and ended up here. And now, for some reason, Tony Stark is forcing me into a rather unfair game of hide and seek. JARVIS won't let me leave."
"Again, my apologies, sir."
The wizard smiled up at the ceiling, for lack of any other place to look, "No apology necessary, JARVIS, I am quite certain you are not at fault."
"Ok…" the dark-haired man said tiredly, "So you're saying that Tony is keeping you inside his tower against your will?"
Well, maybe that sounded a little bit worse than it was – after all, Harry could leave whenever he wanted to. "Err… well… yes? Although… I did sneak off while he was on the phone, so that might have been a tad impolite of me. And he did arrange for breakfast - there was even a decent cup of tea."
He wasn't even sure why he added that last part – as if that somehow made this entire situation alright. Harry hoped he didn't sound completely barmy, because really, after saying it out loud it all sounded rather off.
The scientist just shook his head, accepting his words easily, so maybe he didn't sound like a daft person after all. That was always a plus. "I feel like I should apologize for Tony – he's really not that bad. He's just very used to getting his way."
"I noticed," Harry answered drily, mostly amused himself. "I'm Harry, by the way. Harry Potter."
He held out his hand and was surprised when the man wouldn't take it. He cocked his head, but kept his hand dangling in the air.
"You don't know who I am." It was a statement and it was filled with something rough and sad.
"Ah. Well, no. But that's what introductions are for," the wizard replied with a frown, wondering what the problem was – and what put that cavern of bleakness into the unassuming man's eyes.
The man just shook his head and told him quietly, "Bruce Banner."
But Harry was stubborn too, so he stepped forward and ever so carefully reached out and gently took the man's hand, giving it a soft but sure shake.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Banner," he said, with a kind smile, because he could sense that there was something rather fragile about this man.
They locked gazes for a moment, and Harry wondered how this muggle saw him. He was used to being viewed as so much more than he felt he was – as some sort of hero or symbol, or a being of immense and undefeatable power, as if he was more than a human, more than any other wizard. But no muggle would know about any of that, so this man, Bruce Banner, would only be able to see him as the Harry that was standing right there.
It felt good to introduce himself for once.
And, of course, that was the moment Tony Stark chose to announce his presence. "Oh good! We're all introduced," the man called out as he swept into the room, "So, Harry Potter, do you know who he is?"
Harry frowned, because from the sound of it, the supposed genius had been standing right there during their introduction. "Bruce Banner," he answered hesitantly, wondering what this was about.
"Yes. Doctor Bruce Banner. Brilliant scientist, one of the top geneticists in the world and also the counterpart to our friendly neighborhood Hulk."
Hulk? As usual, half of what Tony Stark was saying went right past him. Maybe he should really start paying a bit more attention to the Muggle world. Even travelling around for a few months hadn't been enough, apparently.
He focused on what he did understand and smiled at the brilliant scientist, "Oh, I'm sorry. Doctor Banner."
Banner raised both of his eyebrows, full of silent surprise.
Tony Stark wasn't one to stay silent about anything he was thinking or feeling. "Do you even know what I mean when I mention the Hulk?"
Well, no, he didn't. "Is it important?"
"Is it… how do you not know this? How can you have missed something as big and green as the Hulk? Scratch that, how can you not know who I am!" Harry half expected a bigger rant to follow, but instead the man paused and gave him another long scrutinizing look.
"Are you from another planet?" Tony asked him quite seriously.
Harry opened his mouth. Then he closed it without answering, because even though that was an utterly barmy conclusion to take, it was still, in a way, almost true.
"Noooo…." the wizard finally answered, drawing his 'no' out while he thought it through. In a way.
Maybe not a different planet, but Harry was from a different world. The Muggle and Wizarding World were very, very different from each other. And apparently he hadn't been paying enough attention to one of those two worlds.
"Oh my God, you are! I knew something was up when Thor referred to you as a wizard and you didn't correct him. And then you didn't even know who I am. Yes, it makes sense now - you're not from this world. That's the only way you wouldn't know about me."
"I'm not an alien," Harry pointed out, not sure if he was amused or disturbed.
"Details," Tony brushed it off with the wave of his hand, "So what is it then – a different planet, a different dimension, an alternate dimension where I never existed? Another time-stream, where are you from?"
Harry shrugged and answered simply; "Britain."
The ranting genius came to a grinding halt at that. "Britain," he repeated in a deadpan voice.
Bruce Banner let out a small cough that might have been a laugh.
"Born and raised in Britain," Harry affirmed, "This Britain even, in this err… dimension. And time stream. And um, universe."
The genius pursed his lips. "Nu-uh. I don't believe that."
"It's the truth," the wizard offered, because it was.
"Well, there's still something up with you – you won't fool me! Even people in Britain have heard about the Hulk and there's nobody in this world who wouldn't at least recognize my name. And you, wizard-boy, are going nowhere until I find out exactly what the hell is wrong with you."
"That's… a little bit rude. Nothing's wrong with me just because I've never heard of you. Are you really that egocentric?" Harry wasn't even sure why he asked, because obviously the answer was yes.
Of course, the man was also right. But that didn't change the fact that he had a bigger ego than anyone Harry had ever met. And that was quite a feat.
"Tony, you can't kidnap people," Doctor Banner informed the man, as if it was something that needed to be said.
"I didn't kidnap him, he followed Thor home. I just decided that I'm keeping him." He turned to Harry, "You should feel flattered, I don't keep a lot of people around after the morning after. Usually I let Pepper deal with them, actually. Granted you were here with Thor instead of me and I assume that you didn't actually engage in any of the really fun activities, though, who knows what actually falls under those warrior bonds he keeps raving about," Tony looked thoughtful, like he was considering it and Harry decided to stop him before it got any worse.
"I didn't have sex with the bloke, alright? He sounded perfectly happy with his Lady Jane." He didn't add that he'd been somewhat apprehensive about the whole 'warrior bonds' thing too when he let the muscled blond take him somewhere for the night.
"Sir," JARVIS called out, "Agent Coulson is on his way to your current location."
"What? You mean this floor? He couldn't wait in the lobby or something like a normal person? Block the elevator – Agent can wait."
"If I stayed in the lobby, Mr. Stark. I would not be able to speak with you so promptly," a bland voice replied instead of JARVIS.
"JARVIS!" the man in question called out, "You couldn't have warned me sooner?"
"My apologies, sir," the AI said with a deferential tone that was almost certainly sarcastic, "you seemed quite involved in your current discussion – I did not wish to interfere in your kidnapping."
"Kidnapping?" the man in the suit inquired pleasantly.
Doctor Banner cleared his throat. "Ah. We were just discussing this. I'm sure Tony understands by now that it's not alright to keep people in his Tower against their will."
"Does he?" Harry asked dubiously, because somehow he doubted that.
"Hey! It was not a kidnapping!"
"I see, sir. Shall I allow Mr. Potter access to the elevator then?"
"What? No! He's not going anywhere! Besides, we were going to get drunk and exchange battle stories, remember? He agreed to that, so he can't leave yet."
"No I didn't," Harry interposed.
"Well, you didn't protest when I agreed to that, so that's pretty much the same thing."
Well, fair enough, that was true. "I was just too polite to tell you to bugger off."
"Exactly – you didn't, ergo you agreed, ergo you can't leave."
Luckily Agent Coulson chose that moment to interrupt their increasingly childish argument, "Mr. Stark. I am really not that interested in what you do in your own time. Though I do hope that those activities do not include kidnapping either foreign or domestic civilians. I just need to give you these files to read over – do read them and remember that they are classified. I will contact you again soon."
Tony seemed rather insulted by the mild scolding he received from the utterly inoffensive Agent. "He's a wizard!" Stark informed the man, as if that gave him permission to hold a person against their will, "And possibly from a different world, slash, dimension, slash, alternate universe, even if he won't admit it. So really, I'm doing you a favor, keeping an eye on such an individual. That's what SHIELD's all about isn't it? Meddling with people who can do stuff? 'Neutralizing' threats? I don't think you of all people have any right to judge."
Agent Coulson didn't seem offended by Tony's rant. Nor did he seem surprised. In fact, it was rather hard to discern anything at all from his expressionless face. Even so, the wizard tried, because the man was staring right at him. Did this bloke actually believe Tony's outrageous claims?
"You're a wizard?" the man asked him, calm as can be.
Apparently he did believe Stark. These muggles were a very strange group of people. Then again, if they all hung around the God he had spent time with last night that might not be too surprising.
"You know," Harry observed, "I really should have decided against sticking around for breakfast, 'warrior bonds' or not. Thor wouldn't have minded that much. Well, he might have. But he would have gotten over it, I'm sure."
"But then you never would have met me!"
The look that Harry shot the dark-haired man perfectly conveyed the thought 'exactly'.
Tony Stark was unrepentant and smirked at him.
"Right. Well, since we all agree-" the wizard shot a look at the loudmouthed genius, "that kidnapping is not considered a viable course of action. I'll be taking my leave now."
"I will escort you out," the Agent stated, managing to sound both agreeable and firm.
He frowned at the man, "Just how much of Tony's ranting was true? No offense, Agent Coulson, but I have no desire to be neutralized in any way."
"Well, you're welcome to stay," Stark generously offered.
Harry looked at Doctor Banner, because he was the only other person in the room and seemed rather reasonable.
"I'm not that fond of SHIELD either," Bruce offered with a small shrug, studiously avoiding the agent's gaze.
So his choices were the unquenchable muggle or the shady government official. He wasn't too fond of either of those choices at the moment. Well… they already 'knew' he was a wizard. And considering everything he vaguely remembered Thor last night and making some educated guesses as to things he might have said that he doesn't remember.
The secret was pretty much out, wasn't it? Well, the Ministry might not agree entirely with that, but since a God was involved… even if that didn't give him some leeway, the fact that he was Harry Potter probably would – might as well make use of that for once, because he wasn't picking either of these options.
"You are the strangest group of muggles I have ever met," the wizard informed them, because that was most certainly true, "I'm not quite sure whether that's a good or a bad thing."
Though, considering his idea of 'normal' muggles are the Dursleys he was leaning towards Tony Stark's personal brand of odd.
"JARVIS, it was a pleasure to meet you."
"And you as well, Mr. Potter," the AI assured him.
Then, with a quick nod to Dr. Banner followed by a loud crack, Harry Potter disappeared.
He appeared in the hotel room he had been staying in and vowed to avoid bars for the foreseeable future. He had quite enough of drinking to last him a while.
Perhaps he should avoid the entirety of New York for a while too, while he was at it.
Although… he had made Thor a promise to return at some point. Well, the man was a God, he could wait a while – because Harry was not returning to that Tower any time soon.
Not unless he got really bored, that is.