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Harry Potter and the Invincible Technomage
Year Two - Winter Term
A/N: I do not own Harry Potter. Nor any of the Marvel Comics Characters mentioned herein. But you knew that.
“So,” her mother asked. “That’s him?”
She nodded as she watched the boy wave to his friends who rushed forward shouting greetings. It must be nice, she reflected, to have friends. “Yes.”
“The Potters are reputed to be a good family…” the woman said hesitantly. “It’s said that they treat their women well.”
“He’s only a Potter through blood,” the girl said trying to keep her anger under control. “He knows next to nothing about his family. He was raised Muggle, and that’s how he thinks. He’s not going to want any part of this.”
The older woman raised an eyebrow. “You’re unhappy then?”
The girl whirled on her mother, her voice becoming uncharacteristically loud, “Of course I’m unhappy. I’m not a brood mare to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, nor am I a bargaining chip to be used to secure advantage for the family.”
With a trembling hand the older woman brush an errant hair from the girl’s eyes. “I was so afraid that they had broken your spirit love.” She gestured to one of the benches along the wall. “We’ve got a few minutes before the train leaves. I think we should sit and have a talk,” she glanced about, “just you and I, without the input from the family.”
After the pair was seated the woman continued. “No matter what you’ve heard from Eunice, Wesley or your Grandfather, I didn’t trap your father.”
The girl seemed to be focused on the pavement between her shoes. “I never really thought you had Mum.”
“We met on the Express on our way to Hogwarts first year. Illtud spotted me as a Muggle born and was interested in learning about the larger world.” She smiled sadly, “That was the Ravenclaw in him. Your father was always interested in learning new things. Rather like you, little genius.”
“I’m sixth overall in my year Mum, that’s hardly genius.”
“You’ve been listening to the family too much my darling; you most certainly are a genius. It’s your cautious nature that is keeping you from standing out. I suspect that you sabotage yourself to prevent yourself from gaining too high a profile among your classmates, don’t you?”
The girl’s blush was the answer.
“Illtud and I married a week after we left Hogwarts, then we spent a year traveling the world. We only returned to England when I discovered that I was pregnant with you. The family accepted me because your father insisted that they do so, and after all, I carried the heir of the heir. Then the day before you were born Illtud was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up a victim of a raid by the Death Eaters.”
Tears filled the woman’s eyes and her voice became choked. “Your father hung on until after you were born. Illtud loved you so much that he refused to let go of his life until after he could see you. He was holding you when he finally left us both.”
“Now the family tolerates me because I am the mother of the heir. You, my darling daughter, are the heir, and there won’t be another. Eunice is incapable of bearing children and Wesley is quite bent as you well know. Your grandfather isn’t long for this world, which means that the others dare not anger you. You will head the family, no matter what plans your grandfather may make.”
Once again the woman brushed that stubborn lock of hair from her daughter’s eyes. “You are going to be working with the Potter boy on your OWL project.”
“Stark,” the girl corrected.
“Fine,” a faint smile crossed the mother’s lips. “As far as your grandfather knows, you are employing the feminine wiles I am teaching you to entrap the boy. In only five more years you, my darling daughter, will be of age, and you can tell the family to go to hell if you choose to. In the mean time, take the opportunity to get to know him. Perhaps you will find him to be interesting; perhaps you will find what I found with your father with the Stark boy or with another boy in your classes. Perhaps not. The important thing is that you think about yourself and not the family. It will not be long before they are answering to you.”
Harry turned to find a worried looking Vincent Crabbe standing behind him. It was three hours into the train ride and Harry had excused himself from the reunion with his friends to use the facilities.
“Hey Vinnie, what’s wrong?”
“It’s Draco. He won’t talk to Greg or me; he’s just sittin’ in his compartment staring out the window. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ve never seen him like this…” The large boy hesitated for a minute. “You and Draco, you talk a lot, you know? I wuz hopin’ that you might be able to find out whut wuz botherin’ him.”
Harry fought against the laughter that threatened to erupt when he realized that one of the boys widely believed to be a thug in Draco’s employs appeared to genuinely care for his leader. “No Problem Vinnie, I’ll see if I can get him to talk. Lay on MacDuff!”
Crabbe’s brow furrowed. “No, I’m Crabbe. MacDuff is a third year in Hufflepuff.”
“It’s a Mun… A Muggle thing Vinnie, I was just trying to be funny.” Harry slapped the larger boy on the back. “Show me where Draco’s hiding.
When the door to the compartment slid open, Draco never even looked to see who it might be.
“I said I wanted be to be left alone.”
“Since when have I ever cared all that much about what you want Draco?”
More than a little surprised that anyone would say that to him, Draco Malfoy turned to face the newcomer. “Stark. Look, I’m not in the mood.”
“That’s ok,” Harry said sliding onto the bench across from the blond Slytherin. “I don’t care about your moods all that much either.”
Draco turned to glare at Crabbe and Goyle waiting outside the compartment.
“Hey, don’t be that way Draco. Those two are worried about you. You wouldn’t talk to them, wouldn’t talk to anyone at all, so Vinnie found me. He figured that even if you only got pissed and yelled at me, at least you’d be communicating.”
“Why would I get drunk?” Draco asked with a confused expression on his face. “You brought me something to drink?”
The Slytherin’s questions caused Harry to take on his own look of confusion before the light dawned. “Sorry, different slang. In the States, to be pissed is to be angry.”
“No,” Harry shook his head, “that’s different. So, what’s going on? Girl problems?”
“What?” Draco seemed to be shocked at the question.
Harry shrugged, “It happens. I spent a good portion of Christmas vacation moping about and feeling sorry for myself because it turned out that a girl I like thought that I was around so much because I’m her younger brother’s friend.”
“I don’t care about some stupid girl Stark,” Draco said. “I am betrothed to Pansy Parkinson and have been since we were seven years old.”
Harry blinked. “What? Really? People still do that?”
“Yes really.” Malfoy sat a bit straighter in his seat. “If you paid any attention to my points during our debates you would know that almost all the great families set up beneficial marriages for their children. Pansy is going to be my wife, and behaves appropriately. My will is hers.”
One thought ran through Harry’s mind at that moment, that thought being ‘Yikes!’ Would he ever truly understand this culture? “Ok, if it’s not a girl, and it couldn’t be school work, not with your grades, what’s the problem? People are worried about you Draco.”
At first it appeared that Malfoy was going to stop speaking again. The boy’s cool grey eyes held Harry’s emerald ones for a moment, and then Draco lost his regal posture. His shoulders slumped and a worried look took control of his face.
“It’s my father.” He said quietly.
“Father was assaulted, badly injured and horribly scarred. Someone hated him enough to do horrible things to him.”
Harry hadn’t been expecting that. “Is he ok?”
“Father is healed,” Draco continued as if he hadn’t heard Harry’s question, “but he isn’t the same. He won’t speak to me, he won’t leave his suite. He never even comes to meals anymore.”
“Did the Aurors find who did it?”
Draco looked up and locked eyes with the Ravenclaw. “Father refused to report the attack to the Aurors. He barely allowed Mother to call for a healer. Father has always been so strong, so in charge of everything in our lives. Seeing him like this… seeing him… broken. I’m worried about him. I’ve never worried about him, not once. What if he…”
“Draco…” Harry interrupted, bringing Malfoy’s attention back to the here and now, “I only know your dad from what you’ve told me in our conversations, but from everything you’ve told me he’s strong. Something like that can give a guy something to think about you know? But I’m sure he’ll be back to himself before long…” Harry’s voice trailed off as he drew comparisons between some of the injuries his own father had sustained while wearing his armor. Tony too had refused to let the world see him when he was weak… but Tony had never shut Harry out as Lucius had evidently done with Draco.
Draco never noticed Harry’s distraction. “Do you really think so? Do you think it will be alright?”
Harry thought for a moment, wondering just what his relationship was with the blond. Not really friends. He didn’t really like the Slytherin; in fact much of what Draco believed disgusted Harry to his core… Did he view the blond as a competitor? Was Draco an adversary? Whatever they were to each other, Harry couldn’t bear to see the other boy suffering like this. “If he’s half the man you’ve described to me during our debates, he’ll be back to normal in no time Draco, don’t you worry about that.”
Harry wondered if he had just lied to the boy.
Still two cars away from the compartment that Neville and Padma had staked out as theirs for the return to Hogwarts, Harry was making his way toward the last passenger car. The discussion he had had with Draco Malfoy preying on his mind. Was there more that he could do to help the boy? Was just being a sympathetic ear enough? It always had been between Franklin Richards and himself, whenever one of their parents had been hurt ‘in the line of duty’… but Draco wouldn’t be as used to the dangers adults occasionally faced as the children of vigilante heroes, would he?
Harry was so absorbed in his ponderings about Draco Malfoy he almost missed it. Stopping in his tracks he noticed Tracey Davis sitting alone in a compartment.
He had traveled most of the length of the train, and other than Malfoy hadn’t seen anyone else sitting alone. That struck him as odd. Tracey was a Slytherin and as a rule they tended to be a bit stand offish, but she was a member of his team. The very least he could do would be to say hello.
Harry knocked on the door before sliding it open.
The strawberry blonde looked up from her book, “Yes?”
“Just wanted to say hi,” Harry said as he leaned against the doorframe. “I saw you were all alone in here and wondered if you’d like a bit of company.”
“I’m fine Stark,” She raised the book on her lap. “I’m quite used to being alone and I’m using the time to try and get a better understanding of our project.”
Harry eyed the title of the volume, How Computers Work: Processor and Main Memory. “That’s not a bad book,” he said sliding onto the bench across from the girl. “I’ve got a copy of it myself.”
“From my reading, I’ve discovered that you’ve assigned yourself to the most complex portion of the project.”
Harry shrugged. “All the parts are important; the device won’t work without all of them doing what they’re supposed to do. Of the group, I’m the one most exposed to computers and how they work, so my working on the processor design, cribbing ideas from established architecture seemed a natural thing to do.” Harry leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. “I need to ask a favor.”
A single eyebrow lifted. “Yes?”
“I’m going to be asking the group to try and get together for an hour after dinner two or three times a week. If we’re going to do this we all need to understand logic, and to understand logic, I’m going to have to introduce the team to binary math.”
Tracey looked relieved. “I was afraid that we were going to have to learn that on our own.”
“You said at the first meeting that you’ve been interested in binary math. I suspect that you and I will be the only ones who have been exposed to all that much of it. I’d like you to keep me in line during the sessions,” Harry’s expression changed to one of embarrassment. “I sometimes go off on odd tangents and find the people I’m trying to explain something to looking at me with their eyes all glazed over. If I start getting too deep into the topic, stop me.”
“I can do that,” Tracey said with a small smile. “How are you going to start?”
“Bases probably. I’ve noticed that a lot of people have problems wrapping their minds around anything beyond base 10. I suspect that it will take a session or two before anyone is comfortable with binary.” Harry returned her smile. “I’ll probably need to do Octal and Hex at the same time, at least the basic concepts anyway. After bases, I’ll move on to binary arithmetic, then logic.”
“So, you’ve already got lesson plans drawn up?”
“Pretty much, I lifted them from a few books I read when I was first starting to understand some of my Dad’s equipment.”
“What’s it like?” she asked her eyes shining. “What’s it like to live in the Muggle world?”
“I don’t know,” Harry shrugged. “What’s it like living in the magical world? It’s all I’ve ever known. All my life I knew I was somehow different, I could do things that others couldn’t, but then other people could do things I couldn’t. I just tried to get along, you know?”
“I’ve never been out into the wider world,” Tracey said, dropping her eyes to stare at the floor. “I’ve only been to Diagon Alley five times.”
“Tracey,” Harry asked quietly. “Why were you here alone? Outside of class I’ve never seen you with anyone. Why do you always seem to be alone?”
“I’m a half blood,” she whispered. “A Slytherin with a Muggle born mother. I’m not really all that welcome anywhere. I’ve learned to find my company in books.”
“You would be welcome with my friends Trace. They put up with me, you should have no problem finding friends in our group if you’d like.”
“Don’t call me ‘Trace’! I hate it when people misuse my name.”
“Sorry! Pax!” Harry said raising his hands in surrender. “I forget that some people don’t appreciate nicknames. Hermione hit the roof the first time I called her ‘The Herminator’. Back home my friends and I call each other all kinds of things, its intended as fun, but I’ll stop.”
“It’s ok; I just hate it when people do that… So,” she smiled, “tell me about your home and your friends.”
Harry never made it back to his original compartment.
Stark looked up from his desk to find Pepper standing at his door. Damn, how long had she been standing there? Having Harry gone had him too distracted to focus on anything.
“Yeah Pep? Problem?”
“Tony, there’s another Brit here asking to speak to you about Harry.”
“So, not Dumbledore this time?” Stark manipulated the controls on his desk and the display monitor shifted to one of the magically hardened security cameras in Pepper’s office. The image resolved to show a tall well dressed, dark haired, bearded man playing with a… slinky?
“Sirius Black.” Tony breathed.
“Yeah, that’s who he said he was. Here’s his card,” the redhead passed her employer the small rectangle of high quality card stock.
Lover of Women, Wine and Song
Soldier of Fortune – Professional Life of the Party
Orgy planning, natural inseminations and avoiding jealous husbands are my specialties
Special rates for Hen Parties
A smile quirked at Tony’s lips. He turned the card over and was only slightly surprised when it expanded to the size of a sheet of typing paper and new information inscribed itself on the page.
Testimonials from past clients:
Stay away from my wife.
Boy, you are a disappointment and a disgrace to the family. You are no son of mine!
-My dear mother
I told you to stay away from my wife… And my daughter!
Not in the face!
-Another Death Eater
Look at the size of that thing.
Oh Sirius, you were incredible; you've ruined us for other men.
You will rue the day you defied my Black! Your days are numbered.
What are you doing in my house?. . . And get off of my wife!
Damn you, Black.
“I thought you might appreciate that,” Pepper said with a small smile. “I told him that your earliest appointment was the day after tomorrow. He thanked me and made the appointment, and then sat down where he is now saying that he would wait.”
Tony could see that Pepper was hesitating. “What is it Pep?”
“Since that Dumbledore person did something to my mind I’ve been on guard whenever I’ve been around a magical…” Pepper bit her lower lip, as if searching for the proper words. “He hasn’t done what Dumbledore did, but there’s something about him… something that is making me want to… to take care of him.”
“Bastard.” Tony hissed starting to activate the office’s weapons suite.
“Tony, no!” Pepper said. “I don’t think it’s magical, I think its… natural. He puts off the same vibe you do.”
“Tony, every woman you meet wants to please you. This Black fellow puts out the same kind of presence… I don’t know… an alpha male vibe. I don’t think he’s using it maliciously, I just think its part of who and what he is.”
Tony’s brow furrowed as he thought about what Pepper had told him. He’d always known that he had an easier time with women than most men, but… “So he’s planning on sitting there playing with his slinky for two days?”
Now it was Pepper’s turn to grin. “He also has a yoyo.”
Tony sat down at his desk and thought for a moment. “A yoyo? I had no idea it was this serious. Well, I guess you’d best show him in.”
“So,” Tony said after his guest was seated. “What can I do for you Mr. Black?”
The wizard leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “I wanted to get to know you Mr. Stark. I owe you a debt, and I want to get to know the man I owe so much to.”
Tony blinked. He certainly hadn’t expected that. “And what debt do you believe you owe me Mr. Black?”
“Sirius, please. I was ‘Mr. Black’ while in school, never liked it.”
Stark fought against the smile that tugged at the sides of his mouth. He hadn’t liked being called ‘Mr.’ while in school either. “Sirius then. I’m Tony. Now, about that debt?”
Black took on something of a haunted look. “James Potter was my best friend, and Lily Evans was… someone very special…” the man ran his fingers through his hair. “This isn’t coming out right. Let me start at the beginning. I was born into one of the senior families in Magical Britain. Our society is, for better or worse, divided into three camps, the first being the Dark families, those who subscribe to the darker aspects of magic, the magic of pain and death. Powerful stuff. The second camp are the Light families, they for the most part practice the lighter magics, the magic of life and creation. The third and smallest camp is made up of the Neutral families. The Neutrals pick and choose the best application of magic for the situation.”
Black paused for a moment, as if unsure that he should continue. “Politically and magically, the Darks and Lights are fairly well matched. It falls to the Neutrals to tip the political balance one way or the other, and certain powerful individuals tip the balance magically. My family, the Blacks has always been as dark as they come. We’ve a long and bloody history, at some point it was decided that the purity of our bloodline was what made us so powerful, and my family dedicated itself to the destruction of the impure. Muggles, Muggle Born magic users, even half bloods, all were at risk of being attacked by members of my family.”
“You paint a rather disturbing picture Sirius,” Tony noted. “Though I’ve heard most of this before from contacts I have with other magic users who have dealt with the European magical societies.”
Black nodded. “That was how I grew up, and an arrogant little bastard I was too. Then I left home for Hogwarts. I didn’t know anyone, despite growing up in London, the family stayed pretty isolated. My younger brother wouldn’t start school until the next year, and I had three older cousins, all girls, going to school at the same time, but they didn’t want a little firstie hanging out with them on the train. So I was sitting alone when this other boy pulled his trunk into my compartment without even asking, shoved his trunk into the corner with mine, sat down across from me and introduced himself.”
“Yeah,” Sirius nodded, “though he wanted to call himself ‘Jim’ at the time. The silly wanker actually thought that it made him sound ‘cool’. I knew of his family, notorious light siders. He was an enemy. I think I shocked him when I introduced myself. He was even more isolated that I was, his parents, Harry’s paternal Grandparents married late in life, and James was a bit of a surprise. He grew up without any other kids in the area, not even family, but he’d heard stories about the Blacks. I think he half expected me to drink human blood from a skull and I just knew that he only drank fine wines from crystal.” The man laughed.
“So there we were, two privileged heirs of old families, and neither of us knew how to deal with kids our own age. We sat staring at each other for a few moments and the train started to pull out from the station and this girl came in. A little red headed thing, obviously a Muggle Born from her clothing, she stands at the door while James and I kept staring at each other, pretending to ignore her. Both of us wanted to talk to the first Muggle born we’d ever seen, but weren’t willing to show curiosity in front of the other.”
“So this girl, she just looks at the pair of us, puts her hands on her hips and asks: ‘What is it with you two? Are all wizards so serious?’”
“James broke eye contact with me and looked over at her and said, ‘No, just him.’”
“I couldn’t help it. That was the very first time anyone ever did one of those stupid ‘serious’ jokes about my name, and I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. I literally fell off the bench laughing. James started laughing too, and the girl left the compartment saying she was going to find somewhere less insane to sit. We didn’t find out until later that her name was Lily Evans.”
Sirius paused, and then began again. “James and I bonded on the train ride.” The wizard took a long sip from the glass that Tony had placed in his hand. “My first friend. My best friend. It was because of James I fought with the sorting hat to go to Gryffindor house instead of Slytherin like every Black before me. Over seven years James became more than my friend when my mother kicked me out of the house for my ‘weakness’ at fifteen, and James’ dad took me in and treated me like his second son. I stood by James when he married that little girl from the train the summer after we left Hogwarts, and I was the third person to hold Harry, the son of my two best friends… my godson.”
“That was when I started to fuck everything up. That bloody bastard Voldemort was after the Potters, and they needed to hide. There is a charm for hiding things; it buries a secret that needs to be kept in the mind of a ‘Secret Keeper’. The Potters would hide from Voldemort under the Fidelius charm, and I was supposed to be the Secret Keeper… but I had a great idea. I decided that it was far too obvious that I would be the Potter’s Secret Keeper, so we should have someone else do it. We had a friend from school, we were all thick as thieves back then, or so we thought. ‘Let’s make Peter the Secret Keeper, no one would suspect Peter.’ I said.”
“Except Peter sold the Potters, sold James and Lily and Harry out. He had gone over to Voldemort and given our friends’ lives to the bastard. For what, I don’t know. I arrived at the house in time to see Hagrid pulling Harry from the rubble. That’s when I knew, that the only way Voldemort could have found the house is if Peter told him, and that’s when I made my second colossal fuckup in a month. Instead of taking care of my Godson, like I’d promised James and Lily I would, I left him with Hagrid and went after Peter.”
Black’s hand trembled as he drained the glass in his hand. “I cornered him two days later, on a street in Muggle London, I was going to kill him when he blew up a gas line, thirteen Muggles were killed, and I was almost completely insane, telling everyone that it was my fault that James and Lily were dead. Before I knew it, I was in a cell in Azkaban, and Harry was alone.”
“And that’s how Harry ended up with the Dursleys?” Stark asked.
“Yeah. Dumbledore did that, knowing that they hated Lily and all magic users.” Sirius looked up and stared into Tony’s eyes. “Harry was… abused wasn’t he?”
“Yes,” Tony nodded.
“Damn. My fault. It’s all my fault.” The man shook himself. “Then you got him. You took my Godson in when I couldn’t, and you’ve made him a… strong, confident young man. You did my job for me, the job I promised James and Lily I would do. I want to thank you.”
“Sirius,” Tony said, standing up from his desk. “You appear to be a man who could really use a good stiff drink. Are you doing anything for dinner?”
“Well, let’s go. You’re coming home with me.”
“I know you’re busy, I don’t want to impose…” Sirius said hesitantly.
“You aren’t imposing if you’re invited man,” Tony said with a wide smile. “Come on, I’ve got pictures of Harry…”
“What is Harry doing in this one?” Sirius asked shifting the angle of the photo trying to determine what it was showing.
“That was his second grade play,” Tony said with a grin. “He was seven, and was cast as a tree for the play his class wrote about nature. Quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen performed. I’ve got a video of it somewhere, but for maximum effect it has to be seen with the proper audience.”
“Proper audience?” Sirius asked as he picked up the next photo.
“Yeah. You’ll have to see it with Harry in the room. It embarrasses him to no end, which just makes it so much better.”
“That’s just cruel.” Sirius grinned. “I like it.”
“This is the day I took him to that blasted school of yours.” Tony said handing over another photo. “I really hate that school, you know? I will only have Harry for a few years and he spends most of his time in that castle now.”
“Why is he there?” Black asked. “Since we met the first time I’ve found out what Albus had tried to do, and you both were pretty insistent that there was no way he would return last summer when Minerva and I came by. What happened that changed your mind?”
“Excuse me Mr. Stark,” Jarvis interrupted. “It’s getting to half past seven.”
Stark blinked. “I must have forgotten something Jarvis, am I scheduled for something tonight?”
The Butler smiled. “The Manhattan Charity Gala Mr. Stark,” Jarvis replied in his ‘we have company who isn’t family’ manner. “I believe Ms. Potts has you scheduled as one of the presenters for tonight’s occasion.”
“Damn,” the billionaire said shaking his head. “I can’t believe I forgot about that.” A smile crept across his lips. “What do you say Sirius? Feel up to a Charity event?”
“Uh…” the wizard hesitated.
“I know, I know,” Stark said with a wave of his hand. “Sounds boring. Most of these things are, truth be told. This one though, pretty girls, excellent wines, good food, The Manhattan Gala is always a good time. And a decent tax write off.”
“You had me at ‘pretty girls’,” Sirius admitted while wondering what a ‘tax write off’ might be.
“The event is Black Tie Mr. Stark.” Jarvis said quietly.
“Good point Jarvis thanks,” Tony looked Sirius up and down. “We’re pretty much the same size… maybe one of my tuxes will fit you…”
“Or,” Sirius said with his own grin, “you could show me what the outfit is supposed to look like.” He drew his wand. “I am a wizard after all…”
“Tony,” the woman gushed. “It’s so good to see you here!”
Stark turned at the voice, skillfully keeping his distaste for the woman from his expression. “Darlene, it’s so nice to see you again.”
“I just wanted to meet the mysterious benefactor you brought to our little party” the woman said looking Sirius up and down in a manner that left the wizard feeling somewhat violated, and not in a good way either.
“Sirius is a friend of the family.” Stark continued while attempting to lead Black away from the harridan.
“Well,” Sirius laughed after they were clear of the predatory female. “That was unpleasant. I actually feared for my virtue there for a minute, and not in a good way.”
“It’s your own fault for making that sort of donation.” Stark noted.
“You said that twenty five thousand was what you normally donated.”
“Dollars, not Galleons, Sirius.”
“Oh,” Sirius seemed embarrassed. “So, that’s a lot then?”
It was Tony’s turn to laugh. “Enough so that every widow and gold digger in the room has suddenly painted a large bull’s-eye on your back…” the man smirked, “instead of mine.”
“Ah well,” Sirius shrugged. “It does my heart good to know that my donation of Black family monies to a fund for Muggle widows will please my mother to no end. I’m sure she’s howling to wake the dead down where ever she is.
“There you are Stark!”
Turning to find a man with a graying buzz cut and mustache approaching at high speed, an unlit cigar clenched in the man’s teeth, Tony sighed.
“Finally coming out of the closet eh Stark?”
“I keep telling you Jonah, you aren’t my type,” Tony said with a small smile. “Have you met Sirius Black? Sirius, this is J. Jonah Jameson, the crusading owner, publisher and Editor in Chief of the Daily Bugle.”
“You’re the Brit who dropped three hundred large in the collection plate aren’t you?” the man called Jameson asked shaking Sirius’ hand. “Parker!”
A smallish man appeared holding a camera. “Yes Mr. Jameson?”
“Get a picture of your editor with the other two big contributors Parker,” Jameson said throwing an arm around Sirius’ shoulder while doing the same to Tony. “Working headline: ‘Bugle Publisher Leads Charity Triumph!’ Remember that Parker.”
“Yes Mr. Jameson,” the photographer intoned in feigned enthusiasm.
“Jonah, are you really calling the fifty dollars you donated because I forced you to ‘leading” the triumph of this charity event?” an auburn haired woman asked as she stood by the man’s side.
Jameson’s arm encircled the woman’s waist. “Don’t forget the tens of thousands of dollars worth of free publicity Marla my love. You remember Tony Stark, right? And the gentleman beside him is Seriously Black.”
“Sirius,” the wizard corrected. “Sirius Black.”
“Sirius?” the woman asked. “As in the brightest star in the sky? Interesting.”
Sirius shrugged. “My family has traditionally given us names based on astronomical objects. My brother was Regulus for example.”
A loud rapid series of cracks sounded. Sirius began looking about the room. He hadn’t expected fireworks. Those were always fun. His brow furrowed as he noticed that the crowd seemed to suddenly be frightened. That was odd.
On the dais in front of band that had stopped playing a masked man dressed all in black raised his HK94 and let loose with another burst of three rounds.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said speaking into the microphone on stage. “This is a robbery. If no one is foolish, then everyone goes home tonight. Let’s try and keep the stupidity and death to a minimum tonight shall we? If everyone would please form a line and give my associates your wallets and jewelry in an orderly and efficient manner we will soon be gone from your lives.”
As the crowd was being herded into lines, Peter Parker tensed, his eyes searching for a way for him to disappear into the crowd. The tingle of danger from his spider senses had come just a bit too late to allow him to have made his escape before the robbery had started. Still, all he had to do was fade into the background, slide on his mask and webshooters and these idiots would soon discover that they were having a very bad day.
A hand landed on his shoulder.
“You had best be getting pictures of this Parker.” Jameson hissed in his ear.
Damn it, the young photographer thought. He wasn’t going to be getting away this time. By now he had spotted seven thieves moving amongst the crowd. As long as it remained a simple robbery he would have to stand down.
But if things became violent…
The gunshots had Tony suddenly realize that he had left his brief case in the car with Happy.
No armor. Damn it.
He hoped that the gunfire didn’t get Happy running in to the middle of the robbery. There were just too many of them, even for a man of Happy’s talents.
Why had he allowed himself to become separated from his armor?
Sirius watched the thieves move through the crowd. Unlike many purebloods, he was fully aware of the capabilities of the weapons in the men’s hands. The time that Lily had spent introducing the Marauders to the Muggle world had been more than educational.
One of the thieves backhanded an older woman who refused to give up her wedding ring.
That decided it for him. The Muggles had Heroes. Adventurers who fought crime and defended the weak. Sirius had admired the heroes from the movies that Lily had taken them all too. He could do what he needed to do, and hope that the local ministry would confuse him for just another crime fighter, and that with any luck the crowd would as well. No sense causing the Obliviation Squad any more work than absolutely necessary.
He gripped his wand. He was going to need a disguise… But what?
That’s when it hit him. The last movie that Lily had taken them to had been… what was the word? Animated. Still, one of the characters was almost… iconic.
Yes. Sirius knew what his disguise was going to look like.
Watching his men move through the throng of rich idiots, Jason Talbot, the masked man on the stage was pleased with how well this was going. He had been planning this since he had cased the affair while posing as a waiter at last year’s event.
Still, they were on a time table. It wouldn’t be long before the cops showed up, or worse yet, some idiot in a costume. That was the problem with New York; it was hard to conduct a little honest crime without some buffoon with a spandex fixation sticking his nose into it. Five more minutes before he pulled the plug.
“Beware villains!” a voice called out. “For you face… The Wizard!”
Talbot’s blood ran cold as his eyes flicked to the speaker. The Wizard? They had stumbled into an operation run by that sadistic bastard? But rather than the armored scientist, his eyes found a man with a long white beard wearing a powder blue dress and a tall pointed hat pointing a stick at him.
“Who are you?” Talbot asked the lunatic with the stick.
“I told you,” the lunatic responded. “I am,” he paused as if for dramatic effect, “The Wizard!”
Talbot relaxed when he saw one of his men, Jimmy Doyle from the look of him, put the barrel of his weapon against the back of the lunatic’s head. “You ain’t the Wizard fella. I hinched for the Wizard once or twice. This ain’t Wittman boss,” Jimmy called out. “This guy ain’t nothin’ to worry about.”
“There’s already someone calling himself the Wizard?” the lunatic asked.
“Yeah, and you ain’t him.” Jimmy confirmed.
“Oh.” The bearded man seemed somewhat disappointed. “How about ‘the Magician’ is there someone calling himself ‘the Magician’?”
“Not that I know of.” Jimmy said.
Talbot was about to direct Jimmy back to his duties when the lunatic smiled. “Oh, good.” The wand in his hand twitched and Jimmy’s weapon fell to the floor in pieces, leaving Doyle holding the stock and trigger guard. At the same time the man morphed from appearing to be an ancient cartoon version of a medieval wizard to the personification of a stage magician in top hat and tails.
“Halt Evildoers, for you now face…” once again he paused for effect. “The Magician!”
Talbot found the relief he felt when he realized that this man wasn’t the Wizard vanish when he saw the grin on the man’s now clean shaven face. Somehow he knew that this wasn’t going to end well for him and his crew.
When the police entered the room to find the thieves hanging from the ceiling, Sirius apparated to a darkened corner of the room and canceled the glamours he had cast for his debut in North American heroing.
That had been a whole lot of fun. For the first time he understood just why some of the heroes Lily had told them about dressed up like they did.
He found Tony Stark staring at him with an amused look in his eyes. “The Wizard?”
“You recognized me?”
“Yes,” Stark confirmed. “But I doubt anyone else did. Good job. A little theatrical, but good job.”
Sirius had the good manners to at least act embarrassed by the praise.
Sirius found a short black man at his side. “Yes?”
“Agent Coffers, US Department of Magic.” The man presented an official badge. “I’m here to make sure that you’re alright.”
“How did you know?”
“You registered your magical signature when you entered the country if you recall. The local New York monitoring sensitives noted a sudden spike in your magic, and the fact that you were using more offensive spells. We try and keep an eye on our visitors so that they don’t run into too much trouble with our mundane cousins.”
“Am I in trouble?” Sirius asked.
“Trouble? Why would you be in…” Agent Coffers asked, puzzled for a moment. “Oh, you’re British aren’t you? No Mr. Black, you’re not in trouble. When you live in a city where we have people who intentionally set themselves on fire and fly, people who have animated prehensile hair, and even the Sorcerer Supreme routinely operating in the open, enforcing something as antiquated and pointless as the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy would be, well, a bit silly. It would take far more than someone doing magic with a wand to get anyone excited.” The man smiled widely. “I’m just here to make sure you are alright and to ease your dealings, if any, with the local police. Though if you’ve chosen to enter the field of costumed heroics, you will need to register that choice with the Department of Magic as part of any immigration request.”
Tony couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on Sirius’ face.
Albus Dumbledore moved silently and invisibly through the halls. It was now a full day into the new term and there was something… off about the old castle.
It was more than a little disconcerting. It was if there was a subtle drain on the castle’s ancient wards. A drain such as he had never experienced before in all his years as Headmaster. It had begun almost immediately following the return of the students following the Christmas break.
The Headmaster rounded a corner to find a young woman, one he recognized as being Katie Bell, a third year Gryffindor, standing in the hallway and raising a small metallic box to her ear.
“Mum?” she asked the air before issuing forth a squeal of delight. “It works Mum, it really works. It’s so good to hear your voice. This is the best Christmas present you and dad could have gotten me!”
Dumbledore stood in shocked amazement listening to the one sided conversation for several moments before continuing on his way. He had enough contact with the Muggle world to recognize a cellular phone, though he didn’t think they were supposed to be quite that small, and there was no way that one should work on the Hogwarts grounds, much less in the castle. It was with a stunned realization that he made the association with the odd tower constructed on the outskirts of Hogsmeade in the first week of December on property purchased by Chandrahas Patil.
But how was the Muggle device working?
Still pondering this he ghosted into the Great Hall expecting to find the evening study session that young Stark had started to be able to associate with his friends from other houses.
Music filled the air. A lot of music, from several different sources.
Music wasn’t unknown at Hogwarts, there were several Wizarding Wireless receivers in the castle and the Hufflepuff common room even had a hand cranked Victrola that had fallen out of favor by the current generation of students for some reason.
The music being played in the Great Hall however was not coming from a wireless receiver that Dumbledore could recognize, or from a Victrola.
“HA!” a Muggle born 6th year Ravenclaw laughed leaning back from the odd device after inserting a silver disk into its body. The machine began belching out what the Headmaster assumed was supposed to be music. “This is a good one,” the boy informed his Pureblood classmate. “The band’s called Queen.”
Dumbledore looked about the Great Hall. There were at least three other similar machines playing dissimilar music spread about the room, while students were working on class assignments, speaking with friends or just moving to the music in their seats. The ancient wizard spotted individuals with small wires running from smaller boxes to what appeared to be plastic ear muffs on their heads. A few more examples of the cell phone he had seen used in the hallway were in use in corners of the room and small crowds of younger boys seemed to be clustered around individuals holding small devices in their hands with their thumbs working furiously.
Electronic devices working in the castle? This had to be the work of the Potter… Stark boy… but why would he do such a thing?
Dumbledore spent a few moments pondering what his official stand on these devices was going to be before remembering that the first staff meeting of the new term was scheduled to start in five minutes time. Unseen by the students he left the Great Hall on his way to the staff room.
Dropping the charm that allowed him to travel unobserved, Dumbledore entered the staff room to find the assembled staff crowded around Filius Flitwick and staring at a glowing square of plastic perhaps five inches on a side. The Charms Professor manipulated a few buttons on the device and was rewarded by an atonal voice.
“Knight to Queen’s Rook three.”
“It plays an interesting, if predictable game,” Flitwick was saying. “It does seem odd to not have the feedback and interplay between the individual pieces, but for a game when no one is available it’s quite diverting.”
“I see that others have noticed the new distractions that have accompanied the students to our school following the holiday.” Dumbledore said taking his seat at the head of the table. “Did you confiscate that Filius?”
“Confiscate it?” the charms master asked. “The only reason I would have to do that is if it had been used during one of my classes. No, I purchased it at the Patil/Stark Magical Consumer Electronics shop in Diagon Alley.”
“Yes Albus,” Minerva McGonagall said while taking her seat, “from what I understand from some of my seventh years, devices like Filius’ Chess Player seem to have been quite popular for Christmas gifts this year.”
“I was just in the Great Hall.” Dumbledore said, looking over his half moon glasses at his staff. “The ‘study session’ has taken on aspects of a party with music and loud conversations rather than the discussion on subjects and debates it has known before.”
“They’re excited about their new toys Albus, it’s nothing to be getting worried about.” Filius said with a wide smile. “The novelty will wear off and the students will be back to normal in no time.”
“I agree.” Snape said from his position at the table. “These silly toys are simply fads, much like that silly multicolored cube that was so popular a few years ago, or the Muggle metal spring toys and yoyos from my time here as a student.” Snape studiously ignored the fact that Flitwick had caught him attempting to break the record for the most stairs descended by one of the aforementioned ‘spring toys’ in the waning days of his 5th year. “They will be the only thing the dunderheads think about for a while and then they will fade away, like so many fads before them.” Of course being Severus Snape he couldn’t let the topic go without a bit of snark. “Assuming of course the fad isn’t encouraged by the staff…” he said regarding the chess machine with a jaundiced eye.
“Knight to King’s Knight seven” the little chess playing machine’s voice intoned. “Check.”
“Check?” Filius squeaked while peering at the lighted screen. “You sneaky bloody machine.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Daphne Greengrass interrupted. “Are you trying to tell us that one and one make ten?”
Harry managed to keep the grin off his face. He had been expecting that question, but he had expected it to come from Zabini or Entwhistle.
“No, not really, and sort of.” He responded.
“Well, that clears that question up.” Millie Bulstrode snarked.
“Well,” Harry grinned at the Slytherin’s comment, “If by ‘ten’ you mean a one in the second digit to the left of the decimal with a zero in the first, then yes, in base two, one and one makes ten. However almost no one reads binary notation as a string of one and zeros. Most either translate the numbers into decimal in their heads, or read the display in Octal or Hexadecimal depending on their preference.”
“Octal?” Blaise asked.
“Base eight, the notation runs from zero to seven.” Tracey Davis answered.
Harry noticed that Daphne shot Tracey a glare before asking her next question. “I’m sure I’m going to be sorry I asked, but what is ‘hexadecimal’?”
“Base 16,” Harry answered turning to the chalk board and began writing a long string of ones and zeros.
“Base 16?” Hermione asked. “How does that work?”
“Well,” Harry answered moving from his string of numbers to another section of the board. “Getting a bit off topic for this discussion, but I guess that now the question is out there you’ll all want to know the answer. Well, zero through nine are all what you’re used to from decimal. Nine hex plus one is… Anyone?”
“A” Padma answered.
“Yes,” Harry said while writing the numbers one through nine and adding an ‘A’ in the 10th position. “And 9hex plus two is… ‘B’, and ‘C’, and ‘D’, and ‘E’, and ‘F’, then the first digit returns to zero and the second digit becomes a one. In base 16, ten is a decimal 16, in Octal, 10 is decimal eight.”
“So in binary, 10 is decimal two?” Su Li asked quietly from her seat.
“Exactly,” Harry smiled before writing a long list of ones and zeros on the board. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
Padma waited until the last of the students left the classroom they had used for the meeting. She had insisted that Harry go with Hermione and put the finishing touches on the essay he had due for Charms the next day.
“I’ll clean up Harry,” she had said over her friends’ objections.
Hermione had a questioning look on her face, but seemed to understand that she should take Harry back to the common room and leave Padma alone, so she guided the boy from the room, closing the door behind them as the exited.
Padma straightened the tables and cleaned the chalk board with a wave of her wand, then she went to the storage locker allocated to their project and removed Harry’s proof of concept device, the 8 bit counter.
Placing the block of etched sandstone on the tabletop she sat in front of it and withdrew her notes from the Christmas hols. Touching her wand to the activation point, she watched carefully as the first of the lights came on, starting the binary sequence.
Something was wrong, she was sure of it, but she couldn't figure out precisely what it was that was bothering her about the device. There was just something about it that…
The first light slowly faded to darkness; after a moment, the second lit, indicating 2. After along pause, the first light brightened once more, indicating 3.
As the lights continued their stately dance of ordered measures of dark and light, the young witch was more than aware that she might be imagining things, or that she had misunderstood something in her readings on Electronic Computers over the holidays. Further she didn't want to go to anyone with her concerns…
The first three lights all gradually lit up. 7.
Harry never seemed to mind having his errors pointed out during their studies, but her questioning this would be directly challenging him in a field where among their group he was in undisputed subject matter expert. How would he react to being questioned?
Padma bit her lower lip and continued to ponder the counter as the light that signified the number 16 lit and all the previous lights winked out. It was times like this she almost envied Parvati’s lackadaisical attitude toward her studies. Parvati would never challenge a friend.
Was the problem that the counter was just too complex for her to analyze with her admittedly limited experience? Perhaps a simpler device was what she needed to either calm her concerns or generate the evidence she needed to talk to Harry?
From her book bag she pulled the notes she had compiled over the holidays. There had been an apparently simple device she had come across in her research… There, a half adder. The logic diagram showed a device that consisted of the symbol of an AND gate and an Exclusive OR… She then pulled out the notes Harry had given her on the runes he had used to emulate various logic functions.
She rose from her seat and returned to the supply cabinet, selecting a think sheet of sandstone and returned to her chair. On the list of things to do with the project was finding a better medium for their carvings, but for now the sandstone was good enough.
Picking up a stylus, she lightly made the first etchings for the first cluster. She looked up to the counter to see that it had reached 53. This binary stuff was easier than she had thought it would be… but there was something about the counter that nagged at her… something was… not right.
Padma returned to her light etching. She would figure it out.
Following the scent the hound slowly made his way from tree to tree, pausing occasionally to let it be known that he had passed this way with a brief spray of urine against a tree.
Squirrel!, the cognitive portion of his mind chanted over and over, naming the scent and giving an image of the creature he sought to focus on. Like most of his species the dog hated squirrels and delighted in the chase that the smaller creatures offered…
But there was something… odd about this squirrel. The scent was somehow wrong. The mutt lacked the intelligence needed to pin point exactly what might be different or wrong about this scent, but he somehow knew on a visceral level that he wouldn’t be eating this squirrel should he catch it.
Still… the fun was in the chase.
The dog followed the scent trail to a small clearing in the woods to find his quarry reared on its hind legs in the center of the small meadow. With a loud bark he launched himself at the squirrel, only to slide to a haul when the smaller creature didn’t react to his charge.
The tiny squirrel simply turned to face the dog and spread its forelegs wide with an odd look of triumph when the dog’s large brown eyes locked with the blood red eyes of the squirrel.