Once again, thank you to all my readers, and my reviewers, and their support!

So, here we are at chapter four. So close now. Next chapter is where it finally starts (finally!).

But before we get to that, I had an idea.

I've decided that for the next few chapters, I want to have a series of contests. Not sure why, just thought it would be nice.

There'll be various prizes, of course, and the contests themselves will range from easy to difficult.

The first one is very simple. A question, is all.

What is Mr. Hate's favorite animal?

The hint is that the name of the animal has appeared at some point during the story, maybe only once, maybe several times. First person to guess correctly will get to read the next chapter before it's posted (of course that means they won't have anything new to read next week). Make sure your PM feature is turned on people!

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Harry smiled, and dipped his head as the shaman, Imamu, lifted the necklace over his head to settle it around his neck. It was a construct of thick, polished brown beads, with four yellowing animal fangs hanging around the middle with simple symbols painted on them in black. Whether they came from a lion, jaguar, or some magical creature, he didn't know, and felt no need to ask. He felt the magic settle over him like a cloak over his shoulders, and small, invisible strings of it came winding up his neck to his head, and then to his mind. They pressed gently, carefully, against the giant steel dome that represented his occlumency shield, and he closed his eyes and concentrated, imagining small holes for them to enter through, and then solidified those holes in place so that nothing else could enter, once the strings had found their way in. They swept through his mind, twisting and weaving with one another like a net, and then they settled, and he opened his eyes and smiled at Imamu.

"Thank you." He felt his mouth move in a way that was not quite right to make those words, and knew that they didn't come out in English, though they hit his ears as such.

"You are welcome." Imamu grinned, blackened lips peeling back to reveal yellowing and rotted teeth, and he knew that though the words hit his ears like English, they were not. He likened it to parseltongue; knowing that though he heard and spoke English, no one else did. Imamu backed away with a smile, and went back into the village, not looking back at him, or giving explanation. He knew already anyways. This gift, was a sign from the shaman that he was ready to leave. He and Severus, and Muhammad would be gone by morning.

He had learned a great deal from Imamu, even with the language barrier. The man could have given him this before, easily, but doing so now was a sign of respect. The people of this particular tribe believed in the power of hardships. He had overcome the hardship of not speaking the same language as his teacher (not just here, but in other countries too) and had still managed to learn so much. Now, he was ready to go, and the shaman had given him a gift to help him with future hardship of the same nature.

He sighed to himself, and headed back to the hut they had been living in to pack up, a proud smile on his face.

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His time with the Weasleys and Bruce had been wonderful, and when it was up, he gave some galleons to Bruce, pointed him in the direction of the nearest magical district, and offered him a talisman the goblins had given them, that ensured muggle repelling charms and the like would no longer work on him. Christmas had been a happy affair. Sev and Moo were not really the festive types, and he himself had never once celebrated Christmas before his first year at Hogwarts, and so tended to downplay the holiday also. But the tribesmen had left them alone for the day, and they had rested and chatted in their hut and exchanged gifts. Severus had gotten him a new backpack, since the old one was becoming frayed and worn and holey, and was muggle, despite the expansion runes he had placed within the pockets. It was a leather, or leather-looking, thing with several pockets and very thick shoulder straps. Bruce had offered a small metal charm in the shape of a snake to add to the Russian chain on his wrist with the matryoshka charm. He hadn't been able to afford anything else, and had been so embarrassed about the whole thing, but Harry had loved it. He got Severus some new clothes in exchange (since really, black for everything was hardly practical in a hot area, no matter how many cooling spells you knew). Bruce had received several books, containing general knowledge of varied magical subject. He had been absolutely thrilled with them. He had gotten something for Muhammad, a carved protection talisman, utilizing the simple african runes he had been learning, but almost hadn't given it to him, given the young Arab man's gift to him.

Muhammad, was one of those people who did not have a strong sense of morality. Oh he knew right from wrong, for the most part, and acted accordingly; but to him, unless something was 'really bad', it was fair game. This was the reason he insulted people, the reason he was so brash, the reason he (as Harry had found out a few months into their travels) had no problems pickpocketing from people who had money, and, apparently, the reason he thought it was perfectly fine to stupify someone, and then give them a magical tattoo while they were unconscious.

Thus a section of scaleless skin on Harry's shoulder was now home to a vaguely circular tattoo with Norse origins that was a symbol of protection in battle.

Thus, as they set out on a ship (albeit a very fast magical one) from Namibia to Brazil, he still wasn't talking to him. Served the bastard right for tattooing him in his (magically induced) sleep.

Even if it did look kind of cool.

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Brazil was full of color. In the cities they passed through, there were people everywhere, with large sections of square homes stacked every which way in every available space. Everywhere he turned there were people. They seemed a bit better off here than in India, or in the cities in Southern Africa, and he was much more comfortable when faced with people who were poor and overcrowded, but happy, than he was when faced with people who were starving.

All the same, they didn't stay in Brazil long, and instead traveled Northward, up through Columbia, and Panama, and so on, until they were in Mexico. Harry didn't much care for it there. While the southern and coastal regions were nice enough, the bulk of mexico was still cactus-filled desert, and while he had been fine enough in Oman, Mexico was not the same. Oman's desert had little more than sand and the occasional brumble. The Mexican desert, on the other hand, was filled with cacti and dry, poking plants. Like Oman, it was dry, but where you could dig a gut into the Earth in Oman, using water or magic to form the sand, to take shelter from the heat, the hard dry Mexican desert ground (at least in this area) made that rather impossible.

He sighed to himself, shifting in his seat again as the cart rolled over another bump. This desert, much as he disliked it, had a taste of old magic to it, and it was dangerous to pass through here through magical means. They had taken a car for a time, but now, closer to the border between Mexico and Texas, they found themselves in this cart, bumpy and uncomfortable, and pulled along by two donkeys that looked a bit more on the thin side than was probably healthy. The man pulling them along had been happy to do so for only a couple of galleons, and they were following a magically hidden path that Harry was only just sensitive enough to feel properly, but which the man controlling the cart was familiar with.

The American muggles guarded the border fiercely (supposedly), and this magical path was the only surefire way to get through from Mexico completely outside of their notice. It would bring them to a magical outpost on the border under the control of the American magical Union. They would have to tell who they were, but Harry wasn't worried.

The American Union, was unique in that, while their muggle counterparts were intrinsically involved with the United Nations, the American wizards were one of those few governments not involved with the ICW. They were a stand-alone government, a helpful side-effect of this being that they had no extradition treaties with any other countries. Beyond that, the same government was in charge of the United States and Canada. A single government for the both of them, with slightly differing laws based on the overall muggle population of the area a person lived in. South America, by comparison, was even more of a jigsaw puzzle than it was on the muggle side. North America was well known among the magical population as being a place for refuge, because you were only a criminal there if you disobeyed their laws, no matter what you had done elsewhere.

No one there would care that Severus had killed Dumbledore. It wouldn't matter to them if he had been a serial killer, so long as he never took a life while in their country. Because of that, they could afford to go through the official channels while there. It was, in fact, the reason why Harry had gone nearly everywhere else before coming here, because this was where he intended to settle.

It was the only place where Severus would be able to live openly, as himself, without any officials trying to arrest or take him down. England, as it was, wouldn't be able to take him by force either, because, much like in Russia, doing so would be no less than a declaration of war. In Russia, he could live in Bogdon, if he wanted, but he would never be able to go into a magical town, and openly declare that his name was Severus Snape, and still live as a free man. Thus far, they had gone to lengths to ensure they never had to use his last name, and so it hadn't been a problem. Severus was an old-fashioned name, but few people would think twice about it in the magical world.

Harry thought about the townhouse he owned in New York, and noted to himself that he would need to get in touch with the goblins.

"Knut for your thoughts?" He blinked and looked up, the very man on his mind was looking at him curiously. Harry contemplated for a moment, on how much healthier he looked as opposed to the past. His pale skin had taken on a light tan, his hair was better cared for, and kept up in a loose, messy tie, the dark circles beneath his eyes were long gone, and even those lines and wrinkles in his face were not so pronounced as Harry remembered them being. He looked younger than he was now (or perhaps, given the way wizarding aging functioned, more his age), and there was a soft smile on his face as he waited for Harry to reply, his black eyes holding only mild curiosity.

"I was thinking... That I should apply to take my NEWTS with the American government." It wasn't the truth, but it was still something that needed doing. Sev considered him, and then nodded slowly.

"You should. I believe you could pass them well enough, and you will need to take them before you can apply for your Runes Mastery." Harry blinked.

"My Mastery? I hardly think I'm ready for that..." Severus shrugged, something Harry had only seen him do a handful of times, and only since they had begun to travel together.

"You've spent the last two years working almost exclusively on runes, and seals. I think you're more ready than you think." Harry gave him a dubious look, but leaned back against the wood of the cart thoughtfully.

"Maybe..."

"You're better at them than I could ever be." Muhammad interjected. Harry startled, and turned his head to look at the young man next to him. He had thought he was sleeping.

"Dear Merlin, I can't believe I'd see the day! You! Admitting I'm better at something!" Moo snorted.

"One thing isn't much idiot, don't get a big head." Harry grinned, and his Father's dark chuckles broke out across from him. He stole the cigarette from Moo's hand and took a breath off it, the young Arab grumbling unpleasant things under his breath at him as he was forced to pull out and light another one.

"I couldn't possibly get a bigger head than you. It's practically the size of a dragon's egg after all." Muhammad punched him in the arm, and he laughed.

The desert didn't seem so bad at the moment.

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Once they found themselves within America, it was a simple thing to travel quickly, and they did so, not stopping more than a night or two in any one place, until they found themselves in Las Vegas. It was curiosity that had led them there; as Vegas was known throughout the world.

The city was a mix of long planes of housing and stores, like any other large city, that vanished into the downtown area; all tall or glamorous buildings of some importance lined by traffic-filled streets. The strip, that part of the city which was most well known, was really only a very small part of the whole, though the tall casino buildings made it seem larger than it was, and the stratosphere, in particular, could be seen no matter how far from it they were.

There was always light. During the day, there was the sun, and at night, all the casinos were lit up in glowing neon, some flashing or changing colors, and others just vibrant. A side effect of this that Harry noted, standing near the bolted- closed window of their small hotel room, was that the sky wasn't black, even in the middle of the night. There was no blackness above them, but rather a rolling expanse of a sweltering, dark grey-purple color that gave the illusion that the sky was only stomy, and the sun had not gone down, but was only hidden by dark clouds; despite that the sky was clear, and the sun had been lost to the horizon for hours now.

The illusion wasn't helped in the slightest by the lack of stars. There were almost none. Harry could catch only a small handful of glittering specks above them, even with his strong eyes. The moon too, despite being perfectly visible, looked dulled and small in the sky. The whole thing, outside the light and music and life of the never-sleeping city, was, in Harry's firm opinion, entirely depressing.

Still, Las Vegas was a good city to get lost in, as no one looked at you twice, and there was a large underground (literally) society of magic that had a little bit of everything to it. The hidden tunneling streets were filled with all sorts of magical practitioners, from wiccan naturalists, to voodoo priests, to traditional witches and wizards. It also possessed a union office that would allow Harry to take his test, which was why they hadn't yet left the city.

He eyed the few stars he could pinpoint, and then silently closed the dull green curtains, tired of the Vegas sky and the poor view this room offered; being as they were on the side of the building closest to the smaller one next to it, and so had little more to see than the roof of the other building, and the walls of the other taller ones. He sighed to himself as he got the curtains closed fully.

"You alright?" He startled, and looked away from the curtains to one of the beds. Muhammad was sprawled across one of them, curled up beneath a blanket and laying on his stomach, face half buried in a pillow. Nearly all his form was hidden from view, besides his arms, and the top half of his face. Harry couldn't see his mouth, but Muhammad's eyes were sharp, and the lines of his upper face were set in an uncharacteristic seriousness. Harry shrugged, eyeing the misty form sprawled over Muhammad's blanket covered back. The silvery-blue creature had been a surprise, when he had finally been able to see it. He had always imagined Muhammad as a feline, or maybe a goat, so the dingo was an unexpected thing. It lay on his back, muzzle resting atop crossed paws, dark eyes making it look like a cute puppy, though he had heard enough stories about dingos to know it was hardly harmless. They weren't native to the middle east, and he had wondered at that once. It seemed that region had little say in what a person was inside.

"I'm alright." The words tasted a lie, but weren't untrue either, as Harry wasn't entirely sure what he felt at the moment. The hotel room seemed unusually silent after his proclamation; the constant sounds of cars and music outside mostly drowned out by the walls and window glass. Severus was gone, off doing Merlin knew what and enjoying the first true freedom he had had since they had left Bogdon.

"Need a cigarette?" He blinked at the question, tilting his head to the side. Offering a cigarette with words, rather than just handing him one, was a little like Muhammad's way of giving comfort when he was unsure of the situation. He was not enough of a people-person to offer comfort in other ways without feeling awkward and uncomfortable.

"Not now. Thanks though." Harry chose to flop down on the bed next to Moo rather than take a space on the empty one. The motion made the mattress bounce, and Muhammad was jostled up and down for a moment. Harry stared at his covered legs, his own legs up near the young Arab's face, without really seeing them. A sort of blankness settled over his thoughts and emotions; much like what occurred whenever he meditated, but without the loss of awareness that came with it.

"Worried about your tests?" They both knew he wasn't. After Voldemort, and their travels, the tests seemed like little more than a particularly large stone in a cobbled road he was walking along. They had no real importance or impact for him. He didn't believe he would get impressive scores on them, but he was hardly worried. He had spent the last two years working almost exclusively on runes, with defence of various forms, and the occasional odd spell thrown in. He was decent enough at charms, though his skills in transfiguration were only average, and astronomy was more or less beyond him. He had faith that he would pass everything; though not necessarily with impressive scores in every subject. He hummed in answer to Muhammad's query; the Arab already knew the answer anyways.

"I'm not so restless as I was." Muhammad shifted, maybe turning his head to look at him.

"You want to stop travelling?"

"Not yet. I want to see some of America, and I want to go up into Canada too, if we can. We could go in a circle from California, up into Canada and back down again onto the east coast maybe..."

"I sense a 'but'."

"I think we should stop when we reach New York." There was a pause.

"Why there?" Muhammad eventually asked.

"I own a townhouse there. I'll need to talk to the goblins about it, and maybe have an elf or two come over from Bogdon... I just... I think it would be nice, to leave and see more of the world, but I'm tired of travelling constantly. I think it would be better to stop, and make a home, and then maybe have a time each year set aside for travel, or leave when one of us is restless, but..."

"We have been going for a long time, never stopping longer than needed, never making a home." Muhammad finished for him. "You are tired."

"Yea." He replied even though it had not been said as a question.

"I am tired also. I do not mourn having seen more of the world than the lands of my home, but it would be nice to stop, I think. I am sure Sev is weary also."

"Yea. He always mutters about age now..." They shared a chuckle at the absent potion master's expense, and then Harry sobered. "You would stay, even if we stopped?" His voice lowered to practically a whisper; some place in the back of his mind begged for Muhammad to not have heard the words.

"... Yes. It is good for brothers to stick together, is it not? Besides, I worry for how long an idiot like you could survive without me." He smacked one of the legs in his reach but Moo only laughed at him; his amusement filling the air with a rough crackly tone and reminding Harry a lot of the dry desert where Muhammad was born.

He smiled to himself, and they didn't speak again after that. At some point, he fell asleep, smile still on his face.

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California was beautiful. They passed through new cities and old towns on their way to the ocean, Harry's instincts demanding a visit to the vast water. Everywhere they looked, there was green, but it was not overbearing, as it could sometimes be in other places. There were not plants everywhere, but there were certainly more than there had been in Vegas, and the wild grass and sneaking vines climbing over buildings and walls were a nice change from the lawns of rocks that had been most prominent in Sin City. The state was a strange combination of rolling hills and farms, sprawling forests, towns, cities, old highways, and then, finally, post-card beaches.

They travelled the coast for a time, not stopping until they had found a section of it that was relatively empty of other people. There was a steep cliff climbing upwards to one side of the pale white sands, with a large modern home perched on the edge. Likely, this was a private property, but a couple well-placed notice-me-not charms and Harry felt more than comfortable trespassing. They would be gone before the owners were aware they had been there anyways.

He had taken nearly everything off, and was covered only in the lower half of his armor, so that his chest was left bare of anything beyond the necklaces he wore and Metis' scaled body draped across his shoulders. He had taken his glamour off already, the first time in several days, and he smiled as his clawed toes dug into the sand and his lungs breathed in the salty air. There was a breeze that teased his hair, and a chill on his skin that was offset by the rays of the sun, so long as he stayed still. He twisted his body to the side, looking behind him, and watching as his Father took careful steps across the sand, looking a bit awkward with his feet bare and his tan pants rolled up at the bottoms. He had his arms out, as though he feared the sand would all slip out from under him and cause him to fall. Harry laughed, tail flicking about in happiness, and the potion master stopped and glared at him.

"These sands are not so different from home." Muhammad's quiet voice broke through his mirth, and he looked to his side, where the Arab stood looking around himself at the beach with a smile and a comfortable stance; the beaches of California were not so hugely different from the beaches of Dubai.

"Yea." Harry said, the Arabic word slipping off his tongue with a tone of familiarity. He had learned a handful of words in Muhammad's tongue (a good number of them curse words), and sometimes his speech was supplemented with them. "It's beautiful here." Moo nodded emphatically, not even trying for a sarcastic remark; his brown eyes wide and childlike.

"Do you plan to go into the water?" He smiled as Sev came up on his other side.

"Of course." The man snorted and slapped him on the back.

"Then go." He barked, and Harry laughed again as he ran forward. It was natural to shift mid-run, falling onto all fours in the form of the Mishipeshu. He had not taken this form since the fight against the rotting feline before India, and he growled in appreciation just before he bounded into the water. As soon as it touched his paws he felt a weight lift from his mind (it had been so long since he had been in the water, though he didn't ache for it so badly as he used to), and by the time he was far enough out to submerge himself, he was purring. The deep rumble was hardly heard beneath the water, but he felt the vibration in his chest. The flaps of his gills opened up, and he was given his first taste of the sea water.

He had been to the sea before, during their travels. There had been a bay in Russia, an almost empty port in China, and a place in South Africa before they had gone to Botswana, but it was still as incredible now as it had been the first time. Saltwater 'tasted' differently to his gills from freshwater, but not in the way he had expected it to. He had thought he would taste the salt that first time, had dreaded the thought of it, but he hadn't. It was more of a crisp, slightly sour taste; like eating a green apple. It was fresh and sharp, but not unpleasant. There was only the very barest hint of sand and fish there, as opposed to the constant strong tastes of dirt, plants, and fish that was present in freshwater. All in all, he prefered freshwater, and the 'earthy' tastes of it, but the ocean was still wonderful.

His claws pushed off the dirt, and then his legs came up close to his body, and he sliced through the water like a shark. His pupils grew larger, until they had overtaken so much of his eyes that there was only a tiny green ring around them; working as they were to suck in every available bit of light. The sun shone on the water above him, casting twisting silver reflections of the waves above across his black scales. He swam a bit farther from the beach before stopping, touching his giant paws down into the sand and sticking there with magic. He stay still, eyes taking in the watery world around him. There was little more than sand and the occasional shell. A hermit crab crawled slowly near one of his toes, and a small school of brownish fish came near him. He growled, the unheard sound sending sharp vibrations outwards and startling them badly enough that they turned sharply to swim away from him. He settled himself down in the sand, laying comfortably on his belly, tail twitching behind him. He watched the hermit crab's slow progress across the ground, feeling very little need to move.

Here in the water, he felt truly at peace.

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Harry stared intensely at the small white envelope, soft paper a gentle texture against his fingers, shining gold of the American Ministry's seal being the only mark upon it. They had gotten a hotel room near the beach, deciding to stay for a bit while Harry enjoyed the comforts of the sea. Sev and Moo were off though, the former hunting through American apothecaries, and the latter off at a bar in hopes of going home with a woman.

He hadn't been nervous taking the tests, hadn't cared much at the time as to the impact of those tests, but now that this letter had arrived, was here in his hand, unlikely to be anything other than his results, he felt nervous. What if he had failed horribly?

"Stop it. You killed a Dark Lord and you can't even read a little paper?" He grumbled in admonishment to himself. "Ghabi." He growled at himself and tore the envelope open with a claw, wiggling the papers out until he had them in his hand. He unfolded them carefully, eyeing the topmost page, and took the results in. He blinked. "Huh."

Double O's in runes and Defence, regular O's in transfiguration and charms, E's in herbology, potions, and a general test on knowledge of magical creatures, and an A in astronomy that he had probably only just barely managed. All in all, it wasn't as bad as he had worried it would be. He had managed well enough, despite having never gone through a seventh year of formal schooling.

He smiled, happy for it. Maybe he could try for an apprentice license in runes next. Unlike his Father, he didn't yet think he was ready to take his mastery, but getting an apprentice's license would be the first step on the way to it, and would allow him to do runework for profit, legally. There was no better learning for him than what he gained hands-on, and he could get quite a lot of learning in as an apprentice in runes. It wouldn't be a traditional apprenticeship, since he wouldn't have a master to work under, but there would be people willing to hire him for his work, since it would be cheaper to pay him for it rather than an actual master. He liked the thought of such a thing, since it would let him work for his money, rather than depend on his inheritance.

At the very least it would be something he would be looking into, once they reached New York.

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"You want to live in New York?"

"Mhmm. I've got a place there from my parents. There's supposed to be a pretty big magical population there, and it'll be different than any other place we've been."

"Right." Bruce rubbed the back of his neck and Harry noted the nervous tick with a frown.

"You've been there before right? I remember the Harlem thing..."

"I... Yea... I grew up there."

"Really?" Harry knew as soon as the word was out of his mouth that he shouldn't have said it. This wasn't a subject Bruce was at all comfortable with.

"Yes." Bruce's response was clipped, his jaw tense, and Harry winced internally.

"Sorry brother." Harry muttered, and Bruce sighed, body relaxing as it always did when Harry used the title.

"It's alright. Don't worry about it. So, New York, huh? I think you'll like it there. You'll have to tell me all about Stark Industries when you go."

"Stark? Isn't that- Ah! That's that man who was kidnapped isn't it?" Bruce nodded, taking a sip from the cheap beer he had bought in preparation for Harry's visit. Harry's own was half empty and sitting next to him on the floor of Bruce's tiny apartment. He didn't really care for it.

"He got away somehow. Came back and did a press conference saying the company wouldn't make weapons anymore." He chuckled and shook his head. "A weapons company that doesn't make weapons. I hear they're doing good though. Stark's been making all kinds of advances in machinery and clean energy. Guess that suit of his inspired him or something."

"Suit?" Harry's voice was questioning as he imagined a formal muggle suit in his mind, like the ones Uncle Vernon used to wear to try and impress clients for work, and he tried to puzzle out the connection between the suit and machines and energy. Bruce nodded.

"He built this metal suit thing. I think it's connected to how he got free, but I don't know much about it. They call him 'Iron Man'. It's a step up from 'merchant of death' at least."

"Ah." A metal suit made more sense, sort of. His mind flashed to bits and pieces he had seen of the muggle sci fi movies Dudley used to watch, and he pushed it down. That sort of thing wasn't really within his realm of understanding. "Maybe you could come visit us sometime, and see for yourself." Bruce tensed up again.

"Harry, I don't think-"

"Please? The townhouse is magically protected. You wouldn't even have to leave the building if you didn't want to. I just... It would be a nice change of scenery, wouldn't it?" Bruce sighed.

"We'll see." Harry smiled and nodded. Coming from Bruce, 'we'll see' tended to mean that he would have to fight him tooth and nail on the subject to convince him, and at a later time than now, but it was still better than an outright refusal. He picked up his beer and held it up, Bruce watching him curiously.

"To New York!" He offered with a bright grin, and Bruce chuckled as he clinked his bottle to Harry's.

"To New York." He agreed quietly, eyes just a bit more somber than usual, and they both chugged a mouthful down.

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Canada made Harry question his desire to live in New York. Everywhere he looked there was green. Green and trees. It was, to him, incredible. Even while walking down a concrete sidewalk he felt almost as though he were back at Hogwarts, in the forbidden forest. Som of the larger cities had been built in such a way that they had only taken as much from the forests as they needed to, so the edges of the treeline pressed right up against the ends of the cities and the sides of the roads.

They had gone through Oregon and Washington to make it up into Canada, and had gone slowly, almost lazily, when compared to their previous pace. Eventually, they moved from the larger cities to much smaller ones, something which Harry was thankful for.

The smaller towns held more in the way of those aboriginal people who still practiced their traditional magics, and he found himself speaking with them and learning from them. They didn't practice runes, but they were skilled in protective magics, and those magics were surprisingly complex, relying on specific arithmancy values in order to work. Harry thought of them as simplified and temporary versions of wards, and already he was picking out ways to use runes to amplify them; to work with them to make them stronger. It was amazing the sort of things he learned when he tried.

The town they were in now was particularly small, more a village than anything else. It reminded him of Hogsmeade, and was more or less a conglomeration of cabin-like buildings with a couple of modern ones, two of those being old diners, and the last being a gas station/pit stop that mostly serviced large trucks. The largest construct in town was a big saw mill near the edge, which made sense, since the primary profession here seemed to be that of lumberjack. The people weren't hugely open, but they were still very nice, and there was a Native American reservation nearby, where the people were more than happy to teach him, but not so happy about the thought of letting him stay on their lands.

At the moment, he was off exploring a bit. It was normal that he and the others occasionally split up to go off and do their own things when in a new place, though he conceded that more often than not, he was the one to remain behind at wherever they were staying while the others went off. To be fair, this was usually because he was studying something, whether it be runes, seals, wards, or something based in defence. Here though, with the strong smell of pine in the air, and the huge trees reaching up for the stars of the night sky above him, he couldn't bare to be inside, and so it was Severus, who didn't much care for the outdoors, who was staying at the inn. Moo wasn't even in town right now, but instead had left for Dubai, presumably to visit some friends there and tell them he was moving to New York, or so he had said.

The village had only a single paved road, which cut right through the middle of town and was part of a highway. The rest of the roads were more like stretches of tightly packed dirt that were used mainly by the loggers, and the pickup trucks of the natives who worked or had family in one of the larger places a few miles away. He was walking down one, barely paying attention to his boots as they scuffed the dirt, caught up as he was in the sight of the milky way in all its' beauty, when the sound of raucous laughter caught his ears.

He started, the deep booming noise reminded him of Hagrid when he had had one too many butterbears. He looked around himself, his sharp eyes flicking over old buildings, trees, and a rusted out pickup truck no longer in use, to fall on a little cabin building that was a bit larger than some of the others, lights shining out through the windows. 'Charlie's' was painted in messy white writing over the doorway, and a careful sniff, even with his senses muted by the glamours, brought the burning scent of alcohol to his nose. It was a pub. Or at least he thought it was a pub.

He debated. He had been drunk, once, after a Quidditch game that had resulted in victory on the part of Gryffindor. His only other experiences with alcohol involved relatively small amounts. There was a couple of times during their travels where Moo had snuck him off to dark, creepy little bars in back alleys where he had been afraid that if he drank more than a glass of whatever was put in front of him, that he would wind up literally stabbed in the back by one of the other patrons. He had never drunk alcohol on his own before. A muted cheer and more laughter filled the air, and he smiled. Well, he wouldn't exactly be alone.

He squared his shoulders and headed for the pub. There wasn't even a guarantee they would serve him, considering his age and lack of muggle identification, but the sounds of joy made him too curious not to at least investigate.

The bar was old. It had probably been built around the same time as the town was founded, and it didn't appear to have changed much during that time beyond maybe replacing furniture that had grown too old. The main room was big. The bar itself ran all along one side of it, with old backless stools all in front of it. On the other wall were a few booths, and in the center of the room was what looked like a boxing ring.

The stools and booths were filled with people, most of whom were smiling, and many of whom were cheering and raising large mugs filled with stronger liquid than butterbeer, and bottles with each cheer. The ring was occupied by a large thickly built man with a bushy beard that might have reminded him of Hagrid if not for the red coloring, and an equally muscled man of a shorter stature, and dark hair that was oddly pointed at the sides. They were circling each other at the moment, and Harry looked back and forth from them to the bar as he headed to it and settled into an empty stool between a man that could rival the Hogwarts groundskeeper in size, and a skinny man in a flannel shirt. He watched the two men continue to circle each other, each sizing the other up.

"Can I get you something sweetie?" The voice reminded him of Mum, and made him turn to look behind him. A plump, dark haired woman was smiling at him, the lines on her face suggesting that she did that often.

"I-" He paused. This didn't look to be the sort of place that had a lot in the way of choices, and he wasn't all that familiar with muggle liquor. "Whatever you think I'd like." He said, hoping that was fine. She grinned brighter and shuffled off. A drunken cheer rang out and he turned his eyes back to the ring.

The tall man had tried to tackle the shorter one, and had been flipped onto his back for his trouble. The shorter man smirked at him as he rolled over with a groan. There was laughter as he managed to get back up to his feet, and he glared at the shorter man, not appreciating the humiliation. The shorter man only raised an eyebrow, and Harry chuckled to himself. The expression was so much like the one his father made, though where Severus raised brow tended to mean 'are you really that stupid?' or 'do I even want to know?', this man's raised brow was more like 'do you honestly think you intimidate me?'. It was hilarious, especially as the bearded man seemed to catch onto it, and his face twisted up into a smile that would have looked less out of place on Harry's animagus form than on his human one.

"Here you go hun." He turned as the bearded man began standing, getting ready for another go, and smiled as the barwoman handed him a mug like what many of the others had. He pulled some bills from a pocket to give her and turned back to watch. "Mark's an idiot."

"Hmm?" He glanced at her, and she waved a hand in the direction of the bearded man.

"He's an idiot. Just gonna get himself beat up. Logan don't ever lose." Harry sipped from his drink and watched eagerly, now having names to put to the men.

Mark, the bearded man, charged at Logan, fists swinging. Logan ducked under the swinging fist and punched him hard in the stomach. Harry drank more as he watched the breath visibly go out of him as he stumbled back. He tried again, aiming to grab him round the middle, half bent over as he was, and Logan got in a blow at his face. Harry winced in sympathy as the big man went down with a thud and didn't get back up. Logan scoffed at the man he'd just beaten. More cheers rang out as he tugged off his shirt, drenched in sweat as it was, and swung it to hang over one of the ropes. Harry saw money exchange hands.

He drank more as he watched another contender come up, this one more Logan's size, albeit not as muscular. He wasn't sure what the bartend had given him, but it tasted like bread and wasn't the worst thing he'd drinken. One of Sev's pain potions held that slot.

The new challenger was either smarter than his predecessor, or just less drunk, because while he circled Logun and went at him, he knew enough to dodge and duck his blows. He seemed more concerned with staying out of the way of Logan's defensive blows than worried about dealing any damage of his own. Harry watched Logan, analyzing the way he moved and fought, the way that Mahdi had taught him how to do. He hadn't had much chance to utilize this skill, since his mind didn't work quickly enough to do it in the midst of a fight, and he more often was thrown into things right away, rather than given a chance to see his opponent's workings beforehand.

The man kept his legs wide for stability, but stayed on the balls of his feet and kept his weight slightly bent so as to move when he needed to. When he wasn't trying for a blow, he kept his arms near his body, ready to block. He bobbed and weaved like a boxer, and Harry was about to peg him for a good, defensive one, when he seemed to grow tired of his new opponent dancing around him.

His eyes widened as, suddenly, Logan was on the offensive. His boxer's stance melted into a more fluid one that Harry recognized as a martial art from his time in China, but couldn't give a proper name to, and he struck. He realized that the man had been holding back, because he was a lot faster in that moment than he had shown himself to be previously. His foot went out, and Harry noticed for the first time that he didn't wear shoes, catching his opponent around the ankle. The man he was fighting stumbled, his arms swinging out in an instinctive urge to correct balance, and then within a second Logan had struck him twice, once in the gut, and again in the face, the former with a hard fist and the latter with an open palm that still managed to break the man's nose with a sickening crunch that Harry heard over the bar noises easily. Then he dropped the martial art stance in an instant, moving into what Harry might expect of a brawler as he brought his leg up and kicked the man hard in the torso. He swung back and landed hard. His head rolled a little, and Harry thought the smack into the ground of the ring might possibly have given him a mild concussion.

He took another sip from his drink and leaned forward in his seat, eyes stuck on Logan as more cheers went up, more bets were fulfilled, and a couple men climbed into the ring to drag the dazed man out. Logan's face twisted into a slight sneer before falling relatively neutral again, save for a bit of disappointment in his eyes. It took Harry a moment to wonder why, and then he understood. What the man had just done, how fast he had been, how easily he had moved from one fighting style to another, slipping from defensive to offensive in a split second...

He was skilled. He was trained. Harry had no doubt the barkeep hadn't been exaggerating when she had said that he always won. He was probably at a much higher level of ability than the majority of these people. He realized the man probably felt like the fight had been too easy. He wanted a challenge.

The men in the bar began talking, trying to determine who would go next, and Logan looked around the bar, likely hunting for a new opponent himself. Harry watched him look several of the men up and down, and then, without meaning to, his eyes met Harry's. Harry stiffened in his seat, and tried not to crush his glass as something in him reared up. It was that animal part of him, that same one that had nearly taken him over when that feline creature had came to their camp in Pakistan.

It roared and purred all at once; sensing a challenge and excited about it. Harry pushed it back, working to maintain control. He didn't take his eyes from Logan's brown ones, sensing that doing so would be like backing down. There was something...

Logan's eyes reminded him of that time he had looked into Remus' eyes, when he had been turned into Moony without his potion back in third year. Animal, violent, hungry. He wasn't sure what it was, but there was something decidedly inhuman about Logan. Then the man blinked, and whatever spell his gaze had put Harry under seemed to snap, though he could still feel the animal in him strongly, closer to the surface than it normally was. Logan cocked his head to the side, his mouth turning downwards in a slight frown; his eyes belying his interest. Harry wasn't sure what possessed him to do it, but he set his near-empty mug down on the bar behind him and stood. Maybe it being near-empty had something to do with this new madness of his.

All the same, he marched over to the ring and ducked his head to climb in under one of the ropes. He stood on the opposite side as Logan, and there were cheers and loud speech as everyone noted that he was from out of town, all of them hoping to either watch him have his ass handed to him, or for a better show than usual. Logan shifted from foot to foot and eyed him warily. Harry felt the adrenaline begin to move through his system as the man nodded and put his arms up, accepting his challenge.

He put his own arms up, contemplating that he must surely have lost his mind as they both began to step sideways, circling each other like wolves. Mahdi had taught him how to fight with a sword and a dagger and how to use his other hand for magic. He had taught him how to use his fists and feet in conjunction with a blade, and how to block physical blows from his opponent. He knew how to fight with magic, and with a sword, against magic and sword. He knew from Moody how to duck and roll and dodge and how to be quick on his feet. Purely physical combat, however, was not something he had ever been trained in. His experiences with that went no farther than those times in his childhood when Dudley and his gang had managed to catch him, and he had gotten tired of letting them beat him. He was a scrapper. He had punched and kicked and clawed and bit and threw sand and dirt and mud in their eyes. But his fighting then had all been for the purpose of creating an opening through which to flee, not for the goal of winning.

Yet here he was, facing down a man who was easily Severus' age, and clearly skilled in hand to hand combat.

Yes, he had most certainly gone mad.

Logan was watching him carefully as they circled, trying to get a read on him. Harry contemplated waiting, and letting the other man make the first move, but that had never really been his style. He might have a Slytherin side, but he had always been a Gryffindor, and it was the mark of a lion to charge in headfirst. So he did.

He rushed the man, just managing to make a fist rather than swipe with claws as he tried to get him in the side. His blow was blocked, but he could see the Canadian was surprised by the speed. He didn't let himself stop and instead tried for his face with the other hand. His fist was caught in a palm and Logan grabbed on tightly. Harry made to push, and when that didn't work he tried to pull his hand back, but Logan didn't give an inch. Harry frowned to himself, and brought his arm up to block the punch the man sent with his unoccupied hand. His whole arm shook and the blow made him wince. He scowled. This man was a lot stronger than a normal muggle was supposed to be.

He met his eyes again, doing his best not to project what he planned as he brought a foot up and slammed it into the man's thigh. He was successful, and the Canadian let go of his hand in surprise. He hopped back, creating a bit of distance, and then they found themselves circling again. Logan rubbed a hand on his thigh where Harry had got him before bringing his arms back up and pushing aside any signs that might be perceived as weakness. Harry shook out his now-sore arm once before doing the same, though it still throbbed. Yea, he was stronger than he should have been.

They eyed each other with interest, and he noted a flicker of realization in the other's eyes as he seemed to come to some sort of conclusion. He frowned to himself. Why was he so stro- He blinked, the answer coming to him suddenly. He knew another muggle who was very strong, though he had never had to fight him. Bruce could turn into the Hulk, because he was a mutant, but considering how he had once thought that Harry was one, there were probably all kinds. This man must be a mutant of some kind too.

For the first time, he tilted his head up a bit and sniffed, trying to be discrete about it, though it was unlikely that anyone here would notice, given how drunk most of them were. Past the smells of alcohol and sweaty, stinky bodies, he caught Logan's scent. He smelled like pine wood, steel, and something else. That 'something else' had an animal quality to it, almost like a wolf, or a bear, but it reminded him of that unknown scent that stuck to Bruce.

Yea. He had to be a mutant.

As soon as he had come to this conclusion, he found himself on the defensive, the other man deciding to attack first this time. He was fast too, but Harry was a bit faster, and he managed to duck the palm aimed for his head. The fist that came after it had to be blocked, but he hadn't noticed the foot making to trip him just like the man before until it was too late. Unlike the man before however, he had a tail, hidden by glamours or no, and he didn't need to wave his arms like an idiot to catch his balance. His tail caught him and he bent forwards as he pulled his foot out of the way. The Canadian, not having expected him to catch himself, was caught unawares and pushed back a foot when he got him in the gut. Harry didn't hold back much on the blow, and he had to give Logan some credit when the man only grunted and came after him again.

He was fully aware when Logan seemed to stop holding back, as he found himself almost completely on the defensive. His world became a mix of ducking, dodging, blocking, sidestepping, rinse and repeat. He might have been faster than the Canadian, but it was only just barely, and his speed only helped to keep him from having the snot beat out of him. It was getting harder and harder, though he found that he was enjoying himself. This was good practice, better, certainly, than any spar with Mahdi had been, since the man had still been an ordinary human, and no amount of augmenting strength and speed with magic could ever push the body farther than it could go while still leaving you human. He might have been losing, but it was a slow process, and he was making the Canadian work for it. Logan too, seemed to be enjoying himself, his face taken over by a pleased, animalistic smile revealing sharpened canines. Harry offered a matching grin. A plan curled in the back of his mind, and he thought only once on whether or not it was cheating before implementing it.

Glamours were funny things. An illusion strong enough to fool every sense, muggle cameras, and even the person wearing the glamour; if they allowed it to happen. Glamours were a distortion of light and air, combined with a scent-altering spell, and a texture spell. But glamours only hid, they didn't make things go away, and while they might have been able to make you think something wasn't there, they didn't make that thing stop being there. The texture aspect helped to make sure that if you ran your hand over a glamoured scar, or, say, scales, then you would think they felt like something else; like normal, unblemished skin for instance. But there were some things that glamours couldn't fully account for, and a tail was one of them. Harry had survived school because he rarely got physically close enough to anyone for it to be an issue, and because, when he had, he had made an effort to keep his tail wrapped around his waist like a belt. It was something that had, in the beginning, taken fully conscious effort to do, but which had, over time, become second-nature.

He uncurled his tail now, and batted the invisible appendage against Logan's back. Not hard, not enough to be a blow, but strong enough that the man felt it, and his eyes widened, and he made a half-aborted motion to turn, expecting something to be behind him. Harry used that moment to his advantage, and got him in the chin with an uppercut. He had tried to dodge at the last moment, and escaped the brunt of it, but Harry still got him. He tried to kick him next, and the Canadian stepped back to escape it.

Harry came after him, his fists were blocked, and so was the foot he tried to use to trip him, but just as the man dodged his foot, he wrapped his tail around his ankle. He smirked as their eyes met and Logan went down hard. He made to lean down quickly, trying to punch him, and the Canadian rolled and kicked out at his own leg. He wasn't expecting it, and went down himself. He caught himself with his hands. He pushed up almost immediately, and was on his feet, head swinging to find his opponent, when pain exploded through the side of his head, and the world became more blurry than it had ever been when his eyes were still bad.

He was vaguely aware of noises, and colors, and shadows, as he tried to come back to his senses. It took him longer than he would have liked to realize he was on his side, on the ground, but before he could do anything about that, hands were gripping his upper arms and he was being dragged and lifted. He tried to make a half-hearted protest, but the words were slurred on his lips and didn't really come out right.

Sleep sounded kinda nice right now, so he let it come. As the darkness descended, he contemplated how hard a mutant could hit, and how he should avoid bouts of madness in the future.

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I'm sorry. I couldn't resist having him take a trip to Vegas. I live here after all! It's home! And yes, the thing with the sky is true. I can walk into our backyard at midnight and not need to turn on a light to see everything clearly, even when all our neighbors' yard lights are off. It's crazy.

Anyways. Oh. Hey, look. It's Wolverine.

Couldn't resist that either.

Moving on, good luck with the contest!

I'll see you all next week.

Sincerely,

Mr. Hate