There was a lot to be gleaned from someone's bedroom; Clint had learned that fact early in life. There were the shallow observations of course, like levels of messiness. An experienced mind could delve deeper, and necessity had given Clint all the opportunities he needed to become experienced.
Natasha's room was neat without being sterile, but Clint knew for a fact that she was utterly aware of every single item. Once, curiosity made Clint sneak in and rearrange things just to see if she's notice. She had of course, and had snuck into Clint's room in return. It had taken him three days to persuade her to give him back his pants and underwear. It had been his first glimpse of her sense of humor, and he'd found it to be razor sharp, understated, and utterly amazing.
Standing in the semi darkness of Harry's bunk, Clint could only think that it was depressingly empty. Three months was a long time, but it was also no time at all. Perhaps it made sense that Harry had nothing to fill his room with. He had come to them with nothing but his body suit and his weapons, and those were conspicuously absent.
The coffeemaker that had gone missing from one of the break rooms had been given a place of honor on the counter next to the small sink where an array of chipped mugs sat in various states of cleanliness. But that was the extent of Harry's personalization.
Clint knew all about waiting. He knew the look of it in all its forms, especially the subtle ones. Harry was not settled here, but the honest truth was that Clint would have been far more surprised if that had not been the case.
Harry had nothing, and Clint had nothing to give him. It should not have mattered, but it did. His childhood had not been entirely joyful, but Clint still carried small reminders of happier times with him. It was not so much the things themselves, but the memories they held. Even Natasha had managed to hold onto a few of those things, and her childhood had been even unhappier than his. Had they forced Harry to leave his memories behind when they had snatched him off the roof? Clint didn't know, and that fact was surprisingly distressing.
He wanted to know. He wanted to be sure that Harry remained here, another interesting thing that Clint had managed to find and hold close.
His presence here was not a secret, so he didn't move when he heard the doorknob begin to turn. If Harry was surprised to find someone standing in the center of his bunk with the lights off, it did not show. He offered Clint a single unreadable glance and then moved around him like he wasn't there. He began to unload himself of his weapons. First his knives, then his belt of vials, and finally a series of long sharp needles. He laid them out in careful lines on top of the dresser, gaze lowered. Clint stepped closer, examining them with a tilted head.
He reached out to touch one of the needles, but Harry was quicker. Almost faster than Clint's eye could follow, his fingers wrapped around Clint's wrist.
"Not a very good idea."
His accent was strong tonight. Clint grinned before he could stop himself, and Harry rolled his eyes. Harry released him, his gaze on his weapons.
The thought came suddenly, and Clint was speaking almost before it was fully formed. "These are your memories."
For a moment Harry went very still. Then he glanced up at Clint through his wild fringe. His tilted his head in question.
Clint took a bracing breath. "Well, you don't have anything," he said. He motioned at the near empty room. "I guess I didn't realize it until now. But you have those."
Harry's face went very still, his expression unreadable. He had nothing to say, Clint could tell. Natasha had been the same in those early months, and even now there were things that she wouldn't talk about. Clint danced around the topic, and cheerfully landed on another one.
"So," he said. "Where have you been sneaking?"
Harry's face didn't even twitch. "I'm sorry?"
"You found the opening in the basement right? The garbage chute. They'll be watching it now. Thanks for that by the way."
Frowning, Harry turned from him and began shedding the first layer of his armor. This he was less careful with, tossing the thin dark colored kevlar plates in a heap next to his bed. He was nearly bare from the waist up, but was not shy. His scars told a story, just as Clint's scars did. There was a particularly interesting one on the inside of Harry's right arm. It vaguely resembled a burn. It began at the elbow and blossomed out in pale creeping lines. There was another high on=-=- his chest just left of center, smaller and slightly raised. Curiosity made Clint lean closer, but Harry stepped away, tugging a hoodie on in one motion. He perched himself on the edge of his bed, crossing his legs and settling his folded hands on his knee, all while wearing one of the most powerful glowers Clint had managed to wring from Harry so far.
A smart person wouldn't have pushed, but Clint had never claimed to be all that smart. He started to sing, "Mary, Mary, quite contrary. How does your garden grow?"
Harry made a sound like an angry cat. "Fuck you, Barton."
Clint laughed, and collapsed on the bed next to Harry. Silence settled over both of them, and Clint waited until some of the tension left Harry's back and shoulders.
"I have an older brother," Clint said without moving. "Well, had an older brother. My parents…" Words failed him, as they so often did when he tried to talk about this stuff. He shrugged, and out of the corner of his eye saw Harry turn his head. Clint was careful to keep his eyes on the ceiling. "They died when were young, and we were shipped around for a while. Ended up in an orphanage, which was even worse."
"Are you going to meander your way to a point anytime soon?"
Clint snorted. "I'm trying to tell you that I get it."
Harry's deep sigh conveyed his impatience perfectly.
Clint nudged Harry with his elbow. "You're in the waiting period."
"The waiting period. You're waiting for everything to go to shit. You haven't settled yet, because you don't see the point."
"Is that what you know?"
Clint turned his head and met Harry's gaze. "Yes?"
Harry's eyebrows rose. "Are you sure?"
"As sure as I can be," Clint said.
Harry hummed, turning his gaze away in disinterest. Clint let the silence linger for longer this time, and he yawned. Harry shifted next to him, pulling his legs up to his chest and resting his chin on his knee.
"What happened to him?"
"Oh." Clint sat up and stretched his arms above his head. "I killed him."
Harry blinked, and hesitated for a long moment before saying, "That's not what I was expecting."
Clint laughed, and then laughed harder when he saw Harry's confused frown. "My brother was a bastard, and he deserved what he got. If he were standing in front of me right now, I would stab him in the face. Then I'd probably piss on him." He said all of this without dropping his grin, and Harry's frown deepened.
"No regrets? None at all?"
"Of course," Clint said. "Show me someone who says that they have no regrets and I'll show you a liar." He allowed his voice to harden. "But some things need doing. Killing Barney was one of them." Clint nudged him with his elbow again. "Ok, kid. It's your turn. Anything you want, but you have to tell me something. It's only fair."
"I'm not obligated to tell you anything," Harry said.
"No you're not, but I'd like you to."
Harry was quiet for a long moment. "I'll make you a deal," he said. Clint waved him on. "I haven't had a drink in three months," Harry continued. "Get out the hard stuff, and let's do this properly."
Clint was on his feet almost before Harry had finished speaking. "You're underage," he said.
"Not in Britain," Harry said.
"Good enough for me. Come on then. I know where Natasha hides her stash."
Something odd happened then, and if Clint hadn't been watching for it he wouldn't have noticed. Harry's eyes narrowed, and a shrewd look flickered across his face. Clint was careful to keep his expression the same and turned his head. An instant later Harry relaxed, or relaxed as much as he ever did.
"How about we keep this between us?"
"Scared of Nat? It's okay. It means you're smart."
Harry smiled, but Clint wasn't fooled. Harry had not relaxed, if anything he had grown even tenser. "Right," Clint said. "I'll be right back. I think I know where Coulson keeps his stuff."
It took him about twenty minutes, there and back. When he returned, Harry had turned on the lights. He'd also finished getting out of his body armor and had taken out his contacts. He looked almost comfortable, nearly domestic. His glasses did a passable job of concealing the apathetic glint in his eyes and his feet were bare, long slender toes curling absently in the comforter. He was sitting cross-legged, his knives and needles spread out on a large darkly colored oilcloth in front of him. Clint dumped his finds on the bed next to him and settled on the floor next to the bed.
"Coulson's a whisky man."
"That doesn't surprise me," Harry said without looking up.
Clint picked up one of the bottles and screwed open the top. He waved it under Harry's nose. "C'mon, kid. This was your idea."
Harry took the bottle from him and took a long drink. His nose wrinkled as he swallowed, and Clint made a soft surprised noise. Harry passed the bottle back, his lips twisting up into a rueful smile. This one was subtler, rueful, and so much more genuine.
"Surprised?" Harry asked.
"A little bit. This is strong stuff."
Harry hummed and turned back to tending to his blades.
"Okay, kid. You've procrastinated enough. It'll be dawn before we get anywhere."
Harry sighed. "My favorite color is blue."
Clint rolled his eyes. "That's a start." He pushed the bottle at Harry again, and watched him take another large swallow. "What kind of blue? Like baby blue? Turquoise?"
Harry looked up, his head tilted to the side in thought. "You know the color of the sky right before or right after a bad storm? Gray and white and blue all tumbling together? That color."
"Damn, kid. That's almost poetic."
Harry's lips twitched around the rim of the bottle, and placed it in his lap instead of passing it over. Clint didn't call him on it. Instead he claimed the unopened bottle still sitting on the bed.
"You know what color is the most unappreciated? Purple."
Clint had timed it just right, when Harry had been mid swallow. He sat back and watched as Harry choked out a startled bark of laughter.
"Purple is the color of royalty, you know."
Harry cleared his throat, his lips twitching into a smile. "Purple, like lavender?"
"Please," Clint said. "Like damson."
A soft incredulous sound emerged from the back of Harry's throat. "What the hell is damson?"
Clint sniffed primly, and stuck his nose in the air. "It's a color. The awesomest color. It's also a fruit. Educate yourself, whelp."
"I'll take your word for it."
"Okay, you have to up yourself. That's how this works."
Harry's smile was easy and only slightly mocking. Clint was happy to call it progress. "There are rules?" he asked, and Clint gestured with the hand holding his bottle.
"That!" he said. "That right there. Why do you hide it?"
Harry's brow furrowed in confusion and he glanced over his shoulder for what Clint might be talking about.
"Your accent," Clint said. "Why do you try to hide it?"
Harry shrugged. "Habit, I guess."
"No, no. Full answers."
Harry sighed and began putting away his weapons. He handled each lightly, keeping his fingers well away from the blade. Clint watched with interest as he slid his blunt fingernails over the brushed metal handles. He picked one up, fingering the ring at the base, and spun it around his index finger. He did this all absently, his gaze distant.
Clint's smile was fond, and he made no effort to conceal it.
"Why does Natasha hide hers?" Harry asked.
"Nat doesn't have an accent." Harry glanced at him over the top of his glasses, and his expression spoke loudly enough. "She does?" Clint asked. "How did I not know that?" He tilted his head and regarded Harry, who was carefully averting his eyes. "How did you know?"
"It's been conditioned away," Harry said. "But it's there, if you know what to listen for."
"Why are you so bad at hiding yours?" The glare Harry gave him was brief but heartfelt. He didn't respond, and Clint didn't push. "C'mon, kid. You have to give something up. Something big."
Harry finished setting aside his blades, and took a few large swallows from his bottle. It had been mostly full when they'd begun, but it was quickly nearing half empty.
"My parents were murdered when I was a baby, and I was sent to live with my mother's sister." Harry took another long swallow. "She was a bitch, her husband was a fat arsehole, and their son didn't have two brain cells to rub together. They hated me, and it wasn't until I found out that I was a wizard that I knew why." Harry's tone was light. It was not as causal as Clint's, but it was clear that he was largely unbothered by the subject. Or he was trying to be.
"How bad were they?"
Harry shrugged. "They never liked me. They were scared of me, mostly. After…my training, my Master took me back there. I killed them. The only reason their son is still alive is because he was away at school."
Clint shook his head. "Shit, kid. Were they your first?"
"Sort of. Technically my first was when I was a baby, even if it didn't stick." Harry glanced up at the ceiling in thought. "I was eleven the first time I voluntarily killed someone, but I didn't see him die." He paused. "Sixteen was the first time I did it properly."
"I was fifteen," Clint said. "Some bum on the street jumped me for my shoes. Broken bottle." Clint touched the side of his throat.
"Gunshot," and Harry reached around and tapped the back of his head twice.
Clint hissed through his teeth. "That's intense."
Harry shrugged. "Could've been worse."
"Amen to that," and Clint raised his bottle. Harry knocked the neck of his bottle against Clint's.
They drank in silence for a few minutes, both lost to their thoughts.
"Why?" Clint asked.
"Why did he take you back there?"
He glanced up to find Harry watching him, his eyes sharp behind his glasses. After a long tense moment, he sighed.
"To release me," he said. Clint stared at him blankly and Harry made a frustrated sound. He leaned forward, his face becoming the most animated that Clint had ever seen it. "He was releasing me from my past, and the fear I'd felt then. With nothing behind, there is only forward."
Clint took a moment to process that. "I'm the last person who'd judge you for something like that," he said. "And hear me out on this one. Isn't it a greater show of strength to put the past aside without, you know, slaughtering it?"
Harry sat back, animation draining from his face.
"It's easy to forget the past when you don't have to face it. The Dursleys treated me like dirt, and made it very clear that they thought I would never amount to anything. Before they died I made sure that they knew how wrong they were."
"Did it make you feel better?"
Harry's smile was sharp. "Yes," he sighed. "Tons better."
Clint thought about Barney. The satisfaction he'd felt when he'd seen that it was over, and he understood.
"Someone told me once that revenge shrinks the soul," he said.
Surprisingly, Harry didn't mock him. Instead he tilted his head to the side in a wordless question, and Clint shrugged. "It shrinks the soul until there's nothing left. A good man is someone who can release his anger without having to destroy its source."
"I'm not a good man," Harry said easily. "But I know that the Dursleys can never hurt me again, and I negated their existences by destroying them. There's strength in that."
Clint accepted that with a nod. "I'm pretty sure that if I had a soul, it shriveled away a long time ago."
Harry smiled, loose and easy. "Do you regret it?"
"No," Clint said musingly. "And what's the significance of that I wonder?"
Harry shrugged. "We're damned men." He turned his gaze away, expression sobering. "But someone's got to do it."
Clint raised his bottle in a clumsy toast. "Dude, truth." He sighed. "Let's do something less depressing." He pulled a pack of cards out of his pocket. "How's your gin rummy?"
Things got a bit unclear after that. Clint learned that as stoic as Harry came off, he knew a truly impressive amount of dirty jokes —
("Why was the guitar teacher arrested? For fingering A minor." "Oh my god. That's amazing.")
— But the rest of the evening was a giant blur. What had to be hours later, he woke with a groan, one hand coming up to cradle his head in an attempt to keep his brain from trickling out through his ears. The noise that had woke him, sharp impatient pounding on the door, came again, but louder. Clint made a miserable sound and let himself fall onto his side. One hand fumbled out and grasped the edge of the comforter on Harry's bed. It only took a few firm tugs to get the entire thing onto the floor with him. He rolled gracelessly, tucking himself in the tight space under Harry's bed. The knocking came again and Clint moaned.
"Being a bit of a drama queen aren't you?" Harry said from somewhere above him.
"Shut the fuck up and answer the goddamn door."
Clint was careful to keep his eyes closed, but he couldn't help but hear Harry get to his feet and pad over to the door.
"Did you boys have fun last night?"
"Loads," Harry said. "Fun nights, hard mornings."
"But not for you," Natasha said, and her voice was low and amused.
"Clint's a bit of a light weight. I thought for sure that the smell of coffee would get him up."
Natasha's bell like laugh made Clint groan again, which only made Natasha laugh harder.
"It takes more than that."
Harry made a short amused noise.
Listening to them, Clint would think that Harry was completely at ease with her, and she him. But he knew the truth now. They were so similar, even their avoidance techniques. It should have terrified him. Instead it made him want to laugh — to wrap them up and steal them away where they would never leave him. He desperately wanted to think that they're weren't being fake toward one another. He could be mostly sure concerning Natasha. If she didn't care, she wouldn't bother. She was very straightforward that way. Clint's knowledge was a direct result of experience. Time, he thought bleakly. Three months was really no time at all. Or was it an eternity? Either way, it sucked.
Their conversation had continued: Natasha commenting with her sharp humor over Harry managing to get dressed, and drink a pot and a half of coffee without waking Clint. Harry responding, making no effort to hide his accent as he wondered how Clint had managed to get by so long as an agent while being such a heavy sleeper.
Clint rested his temple against his arm, and sighed in contentment. For a moment, just a moment, he lost himself in the soft sounds of their voices. But all things, especially the goods ones, came to an end.
"Coulson's waiting downstairs for you," Natasha said. "I'm sure he's wondering who broke into his desk, but he won't be hearing anything from me. You better go, I'll make sure the mess is cleaned out by the time you get back."
Harry's laugh was low and dusty, like he hadn't used it in a while. The door closed and Natasha's distinctive gait approached the bed. He heard her perch on the edge and he reached out to loosely wrap his hand around her ankle.
"How'd it go?"
"The kid can hold his liquor," Clint said, and then groaned at the sound of his own voice.
"I sat around waiting for you guys all night," she said, her voice chiding.
"He said no."
Natasha went quiet for a moment. "I have to pull back," she said.
Clint made a soft noise of agreement. "I think you intimidate him."
"Do you think?" She sounded frustrated, and Clint squeezed her ankle.
"Let me finish," he said. "You intimidate him because you two are so alike."
Natasha was quiet for a long moment. The foot that Clint was not holding began to bounce in a rare show of nerves. "Is it worth it?" she finally asked and was obviously speaking mostly to herself. "If he doesn't want to be here, then why bother?"
Clint said nothing, but she wasn't truly expecting him to have an answer. After another long moment Clint heard and felt her stand up. "Did you at least find out where he went last night?"
Clint grunted out a negative.
"You drank Coulson's good stuff and you don't have anything to show for it?"
"Next time you can drink with the jailbait. We'll see how it turns out for you."
Natasha huffed out her amusement, and reached down to uncurl Clint's fingers from around her ankle. She paused, and then purposefully pressed Clint's palm flat. Clint tried to pull his hand back, but one of Natasha's hands wrapped around his wrist.
"I guess he felt sorry for you," she said.
"Look at your hand, zaychik."
It was too dark under the bed, so Clint was forced to drag himself at least partially out of the nest he had begun to make for himself. He squinted at his palm, and tilted his head to the side.
"Who scribbled on me?"
"Here's our answer," Natasha said.
"Base Seventeen? Isn't that…" He struggled against his headache. "Shit, that's Rikers. What the hell was he doing at Rikers? How does he even know about it?"
Natasha shook her head. "Don't know."
They stared at each other for a long moment. Natasha wouldn't speak first; she rarely did. Clint sighed, and glanced down at his hand again.
"We should take this to Fury," he said.
Natasha's eyebrows rose.
"They wouldn't burn him just for this. I mean, Fury has to know that he snuck out, and if he really did go to Base Seventeen, there's no way Fury doesn't know about it." Natasha tilted her head to the side in agreement. "So why tell us? He has to know that Fury's on to him; I as good as announced it last night."
"He's young," Natasha said.
"He's only five years younger than me." Clint frowned down at his hand, and was quiet for a long time. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. "We're being played aren't we?"
"Not enough information to say for sure," Natasha said, her voice and expression flat.
"Well where is he?" Clint asked, attempting to finger comb his hair into order. "Let's go wrestle it out of him."
Natasha led the way to where she'd last seen Coulson, but both he and Harry were long gone. They wandered the building for the next few hours, trying to kill time. Eventually Natasha grew impatient enough to break into the ops control room. She zeroed in on the greenest, and most nervous looking probie, and stared at her until she pulled up a list of active ops. There was no indication that Coulson and Harry had left on a mission, which was damning enough on its own. They retreated to Clint's bunk where she sat and brooded on his bed while he pawed through his piles of clothes for something clean.
They should have been training, or going over mission briefs — Clint knew for a fact that Natasha had a backlog of consultation requests. Instead they lounged around Clint's room, and if it felt like someone was missing, neither Clint nor Natasha said anything about it.
The Director had not asked for Phil's opinion, something that was not altogether unusual. However, if given the opportunity Phil would have put this entire thing off, and this was doubly true in light of Potter's recent 'outing.' Their relationship was too new, untested. The only fix was time, but it was often the one thing they didn't have.
It was a short trip from New York to D.C., and Phil spent most of that time surreptitiously watching Potter. Like many operatives, he was able to drop into a light doze almost at will — more of a way to kill time instead of any manner of meaningful rest. Phil left him to it, but split his attention between him and the material he'd put together. There was a lot to cover, and it was too much to hope that nothing went wrong.
If the initial meeting ended without conflict then Phil would consider it a success.
Three quarters into their hour and a half flight, they were hailed by an unknown frequency. Potter opened his eyes, but remained silent as an unknown voice told them to divert from their current course. They were directed to land on the roof of the Franklin Square building. It was an unnecessary show of power, and Phil didn't even try to suppress the urge to roll his eyes. He nodded to the pilot and settled back into his seat.
Two people were waiting on the landing pad. As Phil approached he noted that one of them was a young woman, blank faced with dark hair and eyes. The young man at her side was obviously the mouthpiece of the two. He bowed his head bowed against the wind the helicopter kicked up, and offered Phil his hand.
"Agent Phil Coulson? My name is Jack Stone!"
Phil shook his hand, and wordlessly motioned at the door leading off of the roof. Stone led the way, and Phil had the pleasure of watching Potter and the young woman glower at each other. Potter won, and the woman finally turned her back. Stone turned as soon as the door closed behind them, and offered his hand again.
"Right sorry. Um, like I said, I'm Jack Stone, Level Three Finder. This is Gayle Reyes, senior Auror. We were sent to escort you through the building."
"Thank you," Phil said. Then, "We were surprised to be diverted."
Stone looked uncomfortable for a moment. "Yes well. You're here now. That's what's important right?"
Phil smiled thinly. "Right."
Stone glanced at Reyes, but she wasn't looking back. Instead she had attempted to resume her staring contest with Potter, except he wasn't indulging her this time. Phil huffed lightly through his nose.
"Uh, right well. This way."
He led them to an elevator, and Phil noted with faint surprise that it was far larger than it appeared on the outside. It was the first indication of magic Phil had seen here. Curiosity almost drove him to ask how it had been done, but a quick glance at their guide showed that his attention had settled quite firmly on Potter. It was clear that he wanted to speak, but Potter's resting face was as unwelcoming as ever.
"It's an honor to meet you Lord Potter," Stone finally said. The look Harry shot him could have boiled water. Stone actually flinched back but didn't stay cowed for long.
"I uh…" He looked at the young woman who raised her eyebrows at him. "We visited England and spoke to some of your friends. Madame Hermione Granger sends her regards."
Potter's nostrils flared, his eyes narrowed, and Phil shifted so that he could step between them if it came down to that.
"Your godfather says hello."
All at once Potter deflated. He shook his head, giving Stone one last glare before staring flatly at the elevator doors. Stone sucked in a breath, his expression tentatively concerned. He yelped softly as Reyes dug the heel of her boot into his toes.
The elevator doors opened a moment later and Phil managed to meet Potter's eyes. He seemed fine, annoyed but fine.
The lobby they entered was eerily silent, and Phil took it all in with narrowed eyes. They were met by two men, one of them was wearing a more elaborate version of the uniform Stone and Reyes wore. The other was dressed in a dark expensive looking suit. They were both a few years older than Phil, with twin grave expressions. One of them, the one wearing the suit reached forward to shake Phil's hand. He was a large man, easily six feet, thick around the waist and across the shoulders. He had shortly cropped dark hair and his eyes were a dark flat brown. Phil glanced quickly between Reyes and the man, as he reached forward to take the man's hand. The man smiled, but there was little amusement to be found in it.
"I am High Councilman Reyes. You've met my daughter."
"Yes," Phil said, his head tilted to the side when Councilman Reyes squeezed his hand. Phil squeezed back, and smiled thinly when he saw the Councilman's expression falter. "Phil Coulson, Senior Agent at the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division."
The other man reached forward next. His expression was knowing as he glanced at Councilman Reyes, and he pressed his lips together in apparent amusement.
"Richard Shift, Chief of the Central Magic Defense Agency." His lips twisted ruefully. "CeMDA."
Phil smiled. "SHIELD."
"Good to meet you." Then he glanced over Phil's shoulder, his face growing serious. "And you must be Lord Harry Potter."
Phil's eyebrows shot up, and he turned to Potter in question. Potter glowered between Phil and Shift, as reluctant to speak now as he had been since he'd stepped into the helicopter.
"I gave up my Lordship before I reached my majority," he said through clenched teeth.
Chief Shift's lips pressed together, the wrinkles around his eyes deepening. "Is that so? So what do I call you? Mister?"
Potter was silent for a long moment, the muscle behind his jaw bunching as he clenched his teeth. "Call me whatever you want."
"We call him Agent Potter," Phil said.
"Agent," Councilman Reyes repeated, like he'd suddenly discovered a sour taste in his mouth.
Potter turned that considerable glower onto him, but Councilman Reyes looked unaffected.
"We have a lot to talk about," Councilman Reyes said to Phil.
"Agent Potter, if you'll come this way," Chief Shift said, and motioned the opposite direction.
Potter's eyes narrowed, and he took a step back to stand shoulder to shoulder with Phil. "No."
"There's nothing to be nervous about," Councilman Reyes said, and Phil barely stopped himself from wincing at the condescension.
Potter reacted exactly the way Phil expected, with a scowl so powerful it made the Councilman blink at him.
"My agents visited England to gather information on the situation there," Chief Shift said. "Our investigation stalled. Agent Potter might be able to clear some things up for us."
Phil remained placidly questioning, and Potter went right on glaring.
"We'd thought to move things along by having both meetings at the same time," Shift said. His mouth twisted up into a rueful smile. "But I don't see any reason we can't interview Agent Potter latter."
"No," Potter said.
"Mr. Potter…" Councilman Reyes began and Phil jumped in before he could make things even worse.
"It wasn't my understanding that Agent Potter was here for an interrogation," he said, and watched Councilman Reyes face tightened in displeasure.
"You're here as a courtesy," the councilman said. "Mr. Potter, if you refuse to answer our questions we will be forced to take you into our custody."
Harry took a half step away from Phil, his stance becoming loose, his face dangerous. "Try it."
"Let's all calm down," Shift said.
"Will you come quietly?" Councilman Reyes asked.
Shift sighed loudly, and rubbed a hand over his face. Phil shifted, creating space between him and the other group. He couldn't say he was completely surprised. They had walked into this situation nearly blind, and it was clear the Potter's history in this society was more torrid then he'd said. They had a check-in in twenty-four hours, if they missed if SHIELD would mobilize immediately. It would be too late for them, but Fury wasn't an idiot; he would have contingencies. He caught Potter's eyes, trying to convey that the situation truly wasn't as bad as it seemed. He wasn't sure if he'd gotten the message, but other that saying it aloud there wasn't much else Phil could do.
"Gayle, take care of the mundane. Shift, take Potter into custody."
Potter stepped in front of Phil, his eyes already beginning to glow. "Make one move toward your wand, and I'll slaughter everyone in this building," he said. "Except you," he said pointing at Councilman Reyes. "You, I'll keep alive, even after you beg for death." He rested his hand on his holsters strapped to the outside of his leg. "Look at me and tell me I won't do it."
The young woman made a short angry sound, probably provoked by the threat to her father. Shift reached out and wrapped a hand around her wrist. He was looking at Phil, his eyes wide in a silent plea. Phil toyed with setting Potter loose on them, and if he'd been completely confident in the situation he might have. Instead he sighed, longly and loudly, and touched Potter's shoulder with his fingertips. He'd judged it right, because Potter twitched, his head ticking just slightly to the right so he could put Phil in his line of sight.
"No one is going to take you anywhere without your say-so," he said to Potter, but his gaze was locked with Shift's. "However, if Harry is feeling particularly agreeable, he might answer a few of your questions, if you ask."
"Like hell —."
Phil touched Potter's shoulder again, and amazingly, the agent fell silent.
Shift released Auror Reyes' arm, and turned to frown at her. He continued to frown until she finally shifted out of her aggressive stance. Phil stepped out from around Potter, taking a moment to examine his face, which remained carefully blank under Phil's regard. Later, Phil would reflect over Potter's almost instinctive move to protect him. Now, he cleared his throat and stuck his hands in his pockets.
"I understand that this situation isn't ideal for either party," he said. "Your society has obviously spent a lot of effort to hide from us. There are relatively recent circumstances that understandably lend to further mistrust." Phil paused deliberately, tilting his head to the side. "The world is growing smaller and …" Phil allowed his gaze to track to the ceiling in thought. "Weirder. In two years a new bill will be introduced into Congress."
"I assume you're referring to the Mutant Registration Act," Councilman Reyes said. "That has absolutely nothing to do with us. You cannot —."
"Please," Phil interrupted. He offered the Councilman a thin smile. "Let's pretend that the Registration Act goes through."
"It won't," the Councilman said.
Phil blinked through the spike of annoyance. "Let's pretend," he repeated.
The Councilman sighed through flared nostrils, his heavy brow lowering in clear distaste. "If the Act is ratified, the mundanes will be forced to publicly recognize mutants, but it won't happen. It's a heavy step down a road no one wants to go down."
His implication was obvious, and Phil tipped his head to the side in acknowledgement. The privacy issue was the main platform the Act's opponents stood upon. Even organizations that had remained vague on their stance regarding mutant rights were lending their support to the nay-sayers. Not too long ago, there had been another forced registration, and it hadn't turned out so well for that particular group of people. Phil understood their reasoning. He also understood the need to protect the populace from threats it was ill equipped to handle on its own.
There was no mutant community, no epicenter. Registration was a step that direction. There could be no governance without unity.
Phil's opinions on the whole thing were moot. At the end of the day SHIELD was not a political entity, nor even a policing one. Primarily, SHIELD's modus operandi was to gather information. Control of the manner that information was distributed was inferred. What was the point in gathering the information if it could not be directly translated into degrees of control? Cynical it may be, but the world could not turn without it.
"They may not have magic," the councilman said. "But the American citizens value their privacy too much to give it up."
Phil paused, genuinely surprised by this show of optimism. He narrowed his eyes, examining the Councilman's face, which had closed off as soon as he'd finished his speech. Not optimism, he realized. Denial. That, he was definitely not surprised by.
"The Act is ratified," Phil said. "Every mutant must register, even the ones who don't wish to. Some will try to hide and the US government is then in a position where they have to develop an easy means to test for the x-gene. Something cheap which can be done by someone with little training. They will investigate anyone displaying human plus abilities. Your people have stayed hidden so long because no one was looking for you. That's definitely about to change."
"And what does your organization mean to do about it?"
Phil clasped his hands behind his back and smiled. "We want to help."
"And what can you do?"
"A lot." Phil saw the frustration begin to bloom and spoke again to cut it off at its roots. "Too much to comfortably discuss it in the middle of an empty lobby."
Potter huffed lightly through his nose, but remained silent when Phil turned to look at him.
"Will you answer our questions?" the young man, Stone, asked Potter. "Please?"
The Councilman turned, his brow furrowed in either distaste or disapproval. Chief Shift seemed unsurprised, almost fond.
"Jack here spearheaded our intelligence gathering on you, Agent Potter. All the inconsistencies are driving him crazy."
Phil could not make him do this, and the realization was at its best, unwelcome. Success was solely in Potter's hands, and the unfortunate truth was, Phil did not trust Potter to make the right call. Phil looked at him, and saw that there was a new look on his face. He was frowning, his gaze resting past the group in front of them. He didn't look angry, but pensive. More importantly, he was making no effort to conceal his frown.
He blinked then, slowly, obviously responding to his own thoughts. He glanced at Phil and exhaled heavily through his nose — pronounced, but not hard enough to be a sigh.
"I'll tell you what I want you to know," Potter said. "And that's it."
Stone spoke before anyone else could. "That's better than nothing."
Chief Shift led them up a flight of stairs, and through a door on the landing that could be seen from the lobby floor. It was a little bit like an interrogation room, mirrored on one side with a moderately sized conference table surrounded by a number of padded lobby chairs. Stone sat almost at once, digging through his messenger bag for a notepad and an antique fountain pen. He placed it against the notepad, but when he released it, it remained standing. Phil positioned himself in front of the mirror, watching as Potter slowly prowled around the edges of the room. The young woman, Auror Reyes, had accompanied them, and made a good effort at keeping Potter in her line of sight. Chief Shift didn't bother. He collapsed into the seat next to Stone, groaning like a man twice his age.
Potter did not sit down. Instead he made his way over to a large mirror that occupied half of one of the long walls. He reached out, the palm of his hand a scant inch away from making contact.
Phil had had the unfortunate experience of being electrocuted before. It hadn't been serious, but it had left an impression. Years later, he was convinced that his body had known what was coming an instant before it came. Much like the sensation of standing in the middle of a field during a thunderstorm right before lightning struck, in the moment before electricity shot up through his fingers, up his arm, and across his chest, that was what Phil had felt — a dire prediction of discomfort. The palm of his hand an inch from the glass, his eyes glowing almost superficially, Potter invoked the same sensation. Only, he pull his hand away, and nothing happened.
Phil allowed himself a series of blinks and Potter took advantage of everyone's distraction to pull out one of the chairs. The other one he nudged with his foot until he'd turned it 90 degrees. His booted feet went into the seat, and he folded his hands over his lap. He looked up at Phil, did the heavy breathing thing with his nose, and then turned away.
"Ask your questions," he said, looking down at his hands.
Stone spoke at once, clearly indicating that all he'd been doing was waiting for permission. "Where were you during the period between July of '94 to May of '98?"
Potter looked up, clear green eyes fastening themselves onto Stone. To his credit, the man only swallowed, and otherwise showed no sign of being intimidated.
"I was in training," Potter finally said.
"With the League of Shadows?"
Phil's eyebrows rose and Potter's left toe began to tap idly in the air.
"Someone's been telling tales," Potter said.
"Your godfather mentioned them," Stone said. He leaned forward in his seat. "He had another interesting theory."
"Sirius Black," Potter said, raising his eyes to the ceiling. He drew the unfamiliar name out, rolling the syllables across his tongue. "He's a murderer, you know?"
Stone glanced at Chief Shift, who stared back at him. "I'm not entirely certain of that," Stone said.
"You're an idiot," Potter said, but not altogether unkindly. He paused, foot still tapping. "Where was I?" he repeated. "London for awhile. Moscow. Gotham. Prague. Tel Aviv. Bogota. Asmara." Potter paused. Then said, "That's not the answer you want."
"No," Stone said. "Not really. What were you doing?"
"Killing people, generally."
Stone sucked in a startled breath, but recovered quickly. "Voldemort?"
"I got to him eventually."
Potter shifted his weight lazily, foot still tapping. It wasn't a nervous movement, and Phil ideally wondered what it indicated. He watched it, and slowly a pattern began to emerge. The tapping took deliberate shape. E-M-R-G-C-T-L-D-S-R-I-N-T-S-R-I-C-U-L. It was obviously morse code, but beyond the first abbreviation Phil couldn't make sense of it. Potter glanced up at him, his eyebrows raised. Phil risked tipping his head to the side, but Potter just looked away.
He did not look to Stone, but to Shift, who had remained silent and watchful. "You think your people are being sneaky, but they're not."
Shift's lips parted, but then he closed them, his expression darkening. "What do you mean?"
"You lot have mastered the use of wizarding space." He tipped his head back and spoke directly to Phil. "There's a series of spells that alters spatial relations. It can create entire rooms out of nothing, connect locations separated by hundreds of miles. That sort of thing. It can even shift the location of rooms entirely." Potter relaxed his neck, allowing his shrewd green eyes to land on Shift, while still speaking for Phil's benefit. "The first wizards who traveled here were masters at it, and they use it in ways that English wizards wouldn't even think of. Usually its impossible to tell whether or not you've entered wizarding space." He smiled. "But I've become rather sensitive to that kind of thing."
Phil took a slow breath, and also allowed his gaze to settle onto Shift. "You're telling me that this room has moved."
Potter nodded. "It moved as soon as the door closed."
Phil made use of the chair Potter had abandoned, sinking down into it without lifting his eyes from Shift's. He drummed his fingers on the table, and allowed his anger to bloom on his face.
"I suppose we have no one to blame but ourselves," he said to Potter without looking at him. "We approached their leaders offering our help. How foolish of us to assume that they were being equally forthright about their motives."
Stone was looking between them and Chief Shift, his expression growing more and more concerned. The Councilman's daughter was doing an admirable impression of a statue, her right hand resting against her hip. Chief Shift just looked tired, and perhaps a little bit guilty. Potter sighed loudly, slumping down in his chair.
"Look," he said. "You don't seem like a complete idiot."
"Thank you," Shift said.
"If this Act thing is real, if it happens, you've got to know that you guys can't survive on your own."
"I think you're overestimating my influence," Shift said, his tone as flat as his expression. "Why do you care, Agent Potter? From what I understand, your experiences across the pond weren't the best ones. This debacle can't have endeared us to you."
Before Potter could respond, the door opened. Phil did not move, and neither did Potter. Instead they sat and watched as they were surrounded by uniformed men and woman, all with their wands raised.
Potter let them settle around him before he spoke, a clear show of his lack of intimidation. "Let me make something clear," he said. "The only reason this is happening is because I'm letting it happen. I would keep that in mind."
He turned and glowered at one of the men, motioning with an impatient flick of his fingers for him to step back. The man hesitated for a brief moment, but he went, giving Potter enough room to get to his feet. Shift got to his feet as well, and offered Phil an apologetic look.
"Harry James Potter," he said. "Under the Salem Articles 102.02, I, Richard Shift, Divisional Chief of the Central Magical Defense Agency, take you into official custody for international war crimes, including but not limited to, the murder of Supreme Wugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Will you come along quietly?"
Potter smiled sharply and offered his wrists. "I'll come along," he said.
The young man that Potter had glowered into submission stepped forward. He pointed his wand at Potter's wrists. "Totam Ligaveris." Bright green rings emerged from the end of the young man's wand, and wrapped themselves around Harry's wrists.
Harry's lips twitched, his amusement obvious. He flexed his wrists, and the rings of light flickered. Point made, Potter relaxed.
"Influence or not," he said. "I would take my advice. If that avenue is still even open to you."
Phil stood as he was escorted from the room. He took a long moment to tug the wrinkles out of his jacket, doing up the buttons with steady hands.
He is not alone in the room. Chief Shift has stayed behind, and so have the two original agents, Stone and Reyes. Jacket straight, button's done up, Phil sinks his hands in his pockets and frowns down at his shoes. Someone sucks in a breath. Phil is not interested in who. He raises his hand, and waves the unspoken words away.
"Agent Potter has not been with us long," Phil said. "But he is ours."
He finally looked up, examining each of them in turn. Stone appeared visibly uncomfortable, so much so that he was wincing. Reyes was frowning between Phil and her superior, and Shift…Shift had the air of a man who was trying very hard not to look guilty. He also looked embarrassed. It might have been enough to dispel someone else's anger, but not Phil's. He'd said 'ours.' He'd meant 'his.'
"Your leaders have made an overt hostile action toward my organization, which was acting with the full support of the US government." Implication clear, Phil left it at that. "My understanding of Agent Potter's situation is…tenuous. I would appreciate clarification."
Shift sighed. "Agent Coulson, I'm under orders to erase your memories of this encounter and return you to your people."
Phil tipped his chin down, his brow furrowing. "That would be a mistake."
Shift ran a hand over his face, covering his eyes for a long moment. He sat back down, shoulders rising and falling in a huge heartfelt sigh.
"Understand my position," he entreated.
Phil made a sharp dissenting sound, turning his face away in an uncontrolled show of his anger and frustration.
"I'll give it a year, maybe two, after the Act passes," Phil said. "People have had time to get used to mutants. But this? Magic? People fear what they don't know, and they'll be terrified of you. Forget registration," he continued. "Persecution. Forced segregation. Control."
"We're more powerful than you," Shift said. It sounded like a rout argument. No heat, no personal conviction.
Phil smiled, sharp, and just a little bit cruel. "Twenty years ago I might've agreed with you. You don't seem like a complete idiot," Phil repeated Potter's words, and Shift, impossibly, laughed.
"Thank you," Shift said.
He ran a hand through his hair, and let it settle on the back of his neck. He stared down at the tabletop for a long time, and Phil did not interrupt.
"You'll still help us?" Shift asked.
"My organization will…"
"No," Shift interrupted. "You."
Phil exhaled deliberately through his nose. "My personal inclination isn't relevant," he said.
Shift stared at him, gaze expectant. Phil was pissed enough that he didn't give an inch, even if it wasn't exactly the polite thing to do. Eventually Shift nodded and looked away.
"I'll represent your case to the council. I can managed that much at least."
Phil nodded. "Good. In the meantime I'll make contact with my superiors. I didn't want to mention this before, but any failure on my part to check in within twelve hours would've forced SHIELD to take hostile retrieval procedures. Good thing for you, you made the right choice."
Shift looked too drained to look properly cowed by that, and Reyes was still impersonating a statue. That was fine, Stone appeared more than terrified enough for the both of them. It didn't make it better, but it certainly didn't make it worse.
One auror had tried to touch him as they traveled down through Bureau headquarters. One angry look is all that it had taken. They were careful to take him the short way, bypassing the main offices and the portal room. A part of Harry, the sassy part, wanted to tell them not to bother. He remained silent, moving as directed.
The cell they showed him to was rather nice altogether, and he stepped inside. As soon as the door as closed, Harry allowed his magic to ooze out of his skin. He set it to task on the wards around his wrists. It nibbled at first, the magic unfamiliar, but then it gorged. The green rings disappeared under a wave of black, and on the other side of the door Harry heard the Aurors utter involuntary sounds of distress, and disgust.
"Holy Shit," one of them said, peering through the bars with a wrinkled nose.
Harry snorted and took a single step toward the door. The Auror was at least four years older than him, yet he barely managed to stop himself from flinching.
"Why are you still here?" Harry asked. "I'm not in the mood for small talk."
"I'm supposed to take any weapons you have on you," the Auror said.
"Are you?" Harry tilted his head to the side. He smiled. "Come get them then."
"You're not supposed to be able to use magic down here," the Auror blurted.
Harry looked down at his feet, where his magic had pooled. A mental nudge, had it easing itself back into his hand. It slipped between his fingers, present but not. Solid, but not.
"I'm going to get my supervisor," the Auror said.
Harry watched him go, allowing the magic to settle back under his skin. With a flick, he unsheathed one of his knives. The blade was sharp, so sharp that he barely felt it part the skin of his palm. He clenched his fists a few times to let the blood pool. Then he carefully went to work. He only had to deepen the wound once, and it the whole thing only took a few minutes.
By the time the Auror returned, Harry was sitting on the low cot in the corner, his knives, daggers and bo-shuriken had been laid out neatly just in front of the bars.
"They will be returned to me exactly as I gave them," he said.
Then he lay down and turned his back to them. He closed his eyes, and began to wait.
AN: This is the halfway mark. Thank you for the feedback guys, it really is awesome. The next chapter is already mostly written so the wait shouldn't be has long next time.
Thanks for reading,