A/N: This chapter was completed and posted thanks to my uncontainable glee regarding the second trailer for X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Nothing gets me writing like an X-Men trailer. If you haven't seen it, you need to watch it.
"The truth is… I am Iron Man."
The roars of the crowd were cut off as the remote shot through the air, shattering the TV screen. Harry's hand was shaking as he lowered it, fingers curling into a fist so tight he heard his knuckles pop.
No. No, it wasn't possible. It wasn't possible. This couldn't be what was happening. Stark couldn't have survived being kidnapped, couldn't have invented the greatest technological marvel since Captain America, couldn't have fought off a terrorist in a metal behemoth all for… this. All to go on live television and out himself as a publicity stunt.
Harry dug his hands into his hair, clenching his teeth as he paced back and forth across the Dursleys' living room. He knew, he knew he shouldn't have, but he'd begun to hope that Stark might've been changed from what he'd gone through. That maybe he'd, Harry didn't know, have some kind of moment of personal enlightenment or something. That he'd become something more than the billionaire playboy industrialist he'd always been. And yea, he'd stopped making weapons, and yea, he'd done some good stuff too, but this was spitting in the face of all of that. This was about fame and glory, the same way it always was. And to think Harry had been relieved that the man had survived, even daring to hope that the man might…
He shook his head, forcing that traitorous thought away. Nothing had changed. Not really. Stark might be a hero to the people now, but Harry knew who he was under that armor. He knew that people didn't change, not really, and that, with weapons or with a suit of armor, the man would find a way to make money and screw up other people's lives. It was what he did. It was all he did. All that changed was the size of the pedestal he could work from.
"What the bloody hell is this?" cried a booming voice, ripping Harry from his thoughts as Vernon stormed into the room, face already passing the threshold of red and morphing into purple. He whirled on Harry, eyes bulging from his sockets. "What did you do to my telly, boy?"
Once upon a time Harry would've been scared of that look in his uncle's eye, but all he could muster now was a scowl of annoyance. He'd seen things much stranger and more frightening than Vernon Dursley, and the damage done to the Muggle's television didn't hold a candle to the anger he truly wanted to expel.
He made to turn away and Vernon clamped a meaty hand on his bicep. "Don't you turn your back to me, boy—"
Fast as lightning Harry's own hand snapped out, fingers curling around as much of his uncle's wrist as he could manage, and yanked the man's grip from his person. Vernon's eyes went wide in shock and even Harry paused for a moment, staring at the flabby arm trying valiantly to escape his grip. The man's strength—the same strength that Harry had once feared being turned on him—was suddenly nonexistent, his attempts to free himself futile. Blood fled the man's face as quickly as it came, leaving him pale and fearful as he found himself facing a gift of his nephew's that neither had foreseen.
Harry released his grip and the man staggered back, landing on his rear with a thump that knocked pictures from the mantle. He was still staring at Harry in fear and bewilderment, clutching his now-bruised wrist in his other hand, each breath short and tense. Harry's own gaze mimicked the emotions as he looked down at his hand, seeing no physical difference but knowing without a doubt that something inside of him was changing. Into what, though, he had no idea.
"Tony, what the hell were you thinking?"
A flick of the wrist and the blood toxicity projections vanished, Tony looking up from his computer to shoot his secretary-turned-business-partner a frown. "Pepper, remember the little talk we had after the Whitney Frost incident? About knocking?"
"You donated our art collection? To the Boy Scouts of America?"
"Well, yea," he replied flippantly, twirling his chair around and hopping to his feet. "I think it's a worthwhile organization and something that deserves some support."
"But—But I spent years compiling that!"
Tony felt a bit guilty upon seeing the look on her face, but not enough to rescind the donation. "Look, Pepper, it's just art," he said, grabbing a garish blue-and-red Shepard Fairey and tossing it into the 'Dump' pile. "And it's been packed up in some storage place I've never gone to for the entire time it's existed; what would be the point of holding onto it? Besides, it's a tax write-off."
For a moment the redhead floundered, clearly not having expected such a straightforward answer. "Look, Tony," she continued, regaining her composure as she lifted up her tablet, "I need to have a serious talk with you—"
"Can't. Busy." He stuck his hand into the box again and pulled out an eerily life-like robotic arm. "I gotta go through the World War II stuff they sent over for the Expo, see what's still viable. Check this out." He tossed it to her. "Arm from the original Human Torch."
Pepper immediately held it far from her body, all but throwing it onto the nearest table as if expecting it to burst into flame at any second. "Tony, about the Expo—"
"It's great, right? I don't know why I never did it before."
"It is a gigantic waste of time."
He poked his head back out of the box. "I'm sorry, what?"
She sighed. "Tony, the Expo was just your father's way of stroking his own ego for two weeks of the year, and now you've gone and extended it to the entire year? Just to show off Iron Man?"
He straightened, for the first time giving her his full attention. "This isn't just about Iron Man," he told her with uncharacteristic seriousness. "This is about the future. And not just my future, either." For a moment his gaze slid to the box of Palladium cores on his work bench before snapping back to her. "The Stark Expo isn't just about Stark Industries; it's about inspiration. Building a better world for future generations. It's why I've invited all the major tech companies to join in. I want this to be my legacy."
The lines on her face smoothed out, something strange slipping onto her face.
"No," he ordered, pointing at her with a screwdriver. "Don't do that."
"Tony," she began, "that's so impre—"
"Nononono," he cut her off, turning away. "Forget I said anything."
"I'm trying to compliment you—"
"And I'm telling you, forget I said anything."
Pepper let out a growl of annoyance. "You are the most infuriating man I have ever met."
"Man? So there's a woman more infuriating than me? Tell me her name; I need a friend to help piss off that bigot running for Secretary. What was his name? Gray… Gaidon…"
"Graydon Creed," Pepper answered absently, hurrying after as he moved on to another box. "No, but Tony, I had no idea. Why didn't you tell me earlier? If I knew what you were going for I could've helped—"
"Look, Pepper, don't take this the wrong way, but I don't really want your help."
The redhead came to a halt. "What?"
"It's not you," he was quick to explain, "it's me." Then he cringed as he heard himself. "What I mean is, I want to do this myself. It's important to me. That's why I've been having you run the company. I want to make sure the Expo has everything it needs to run for the whole year, just in case I'm not around for the rest of it."
"Not around? Why wouldn't you be around?"
"Oh, you know." He waved a hand flippantly, inwardly cursing his wandering tongue as he dug mindlessly through the junk. "Superhero crises, PR disaster, another ex-girlfriend writing a tell-all expose… you never know with me."
Pepper hmmed. It was not a nice hmm. "Tony, if there's something you're not telling me—"
"Always," he cut her off, giving her his best smile. "It keeps things interesting."
He could only hope 'interesting' was all it stayed.
The city of London stretched out below, hundreds of tiny speck-sized people making their way through the drudge of everyday life. Cars zipped by in blurs of red and white, and in the distance he could see an airplane crawling through the sky past the setting sun.
"Something on your mind, Harry?"
Harry didn't look at the woman, keeping his eyes fixed on the city skyline laid out before him. He could hear her pencil scratching away on her notepad and his hands tightened into fists as he forced down his anger at being forced to come here. "Just tired," he replied.
"Tired? That's what you're going with?"
He turned to scowl at her, holding back the curse before it could burst from his throat. The psychiatrist was smirking now, clearly glad at having earned a reaction, and this time he actually bit down on his tongue to keep from giving in to her goading.
Dr. Karla Sofen would've been pretty if she wasn't such an utter bitch. She looked more like a model than a doctor, from her tied-back blonde hair to the body that Harry was getting at the age to notice, but behind her porcelain features sat an uncannily sharp mind, one that wasn't as easily fooled as other adults in his life. "I'm paid by the hour. I am perfectly content to sit here and wait while that shrew you call an aunt dreams of ways to make your life hell."
Harry's eyes widened in surprise, and the woman's smirk widened. "Yes," she continued, "I know she hates you. That Headmaster of yours must be half-blind to miss how badly she wants you gone. Or he simply doesn't care. How jealous she must be; not only did her sister get the magic and the looks, but the handsome husband and the fame to boot. And here you are, the nephew with everything her son will never have. I'm surprised she didn't just drown you the day you showed up on her doorstep."
"Sometimes I wish she had," he muttered, looking away.
"Of course you do. Why would anyone want a life like yours?"
He shot her a strange look. "You're not going to tell me to 'cheer up' or 'stop talking like that'?"
"Now why would I do that?" She tossed her notepad onto the table beside her, leaning back into the armchair as she crossed one leg over the other. "Your life is shit. Why, if I were you, I'd have already done it. Put a bullet in my brain. Or a spell, as the case may be."
"I'm not suicidal," he shot back.
"Are you certain? You tried to murder a man in broad daylight, directly in front of your teachers—one of whom you also attacked. That doesn't sound like simple anger; that sounds to me like someone who wants to be punished. Do you want me to punish you, Harry?"
He glared at her, refusing to answer. It didn't seem like she wanted one anyway, as his silence only made her more amused.
"Wizards are such funny little creatures," said Sofen, uncrossing her legs and rising to her feet. "Give an entire race the power to conquer the world, and they spend their days turning teacups into gerbils and arguing over which family is more inbred than the others. At least Voldemort had vision; left to their own devices, I predict that wizarding society will have eradicated itself by the end of this century." She stepped to the window, pressing the tips of her fingers against the glass as she looked out over the city. "Look at them down there. Funny little people with their funny little lives, thinking that they're so much more important than they are." She looked at him over her shoulder. "That's their problem, you see. Humans. Wizard, Muggle, mutant, everything in-between—everyone thinks that they matter."
At some point this conversation had been flipped, and now Harry felt as though he was giving her counseling. "Don't they?" he asked, for the first time in a long time unsure of the answer.
"You tell me," she shot back, and just like that he was the subject once again. "You tried to kill a man for a crime he didn't commit. For killing two people you've never met and know nothing about. For all you know James and Lily Potter were xenophobic extremists who ate baby brains and performed premarital intercourse, yet you defended them to the point of murder. If you'd been raised by an aunt who loved her sister and spoke fondly of her I could buy it; but for you? That doesn't sound like loyalty borne from love. That sounds like denial. What are you so scared of, little hero?"
"Sirius Black killed my parents," Harry shot back angrily. "Maybe he didn't cast the spell, but it was still his fault."
Sofen narrowed her eyes, tugging her glasses from her face. "'Maybe he didn't cast the spell,'" she repeated. "Not 'Sirius Black blew up a street full of people', or 'Sirius Black went after Pettigrew instead of taking care of his orphaned godson'." She began walking along the glass wall, dragging one nail over the window panes and making an awful screeching sound. "Harry, do you know what a fixation is?"
"I can certainly guess," he said, watching out of the corner of his eye as she walked past him and towards the bookshelves behind his chair.
"If this was really about Black then there are at least a dozen different things you could use to back up your claim of his guilt. But you've only talked about him killing your parents. Parents you never knew, and who—aside from the two men you've attacked—have no living friends left to have given you any reason to be so enamored with their memory. Even a psychologist could tell that you're not the clingy emotional type. So what has the Boy-Who-Lived found out that's made him build such a wall?"
"I don't know what you're talking about—" Harry started, but before he could finish a pair of manicured talons wrapped around his shoulders, yanking him back against the chair. Sofen's blonde hair brushed his face as she looked down at him predatorily.
"You don't need to lie to me," she crooned, running a finger along his jawline. "What's your dirty little secret? Was Mummy a whore? Was Daddy not your real Daddy?"
"Stop it!" He yelled, trying to pull away only for her to yank him backwards with inhuman strength.
"Struck a nerve there, did I?" Her hand coiled around his jaw, yanking his head back to meet her eyes. "Harry Potter isn't the person he thought he was, so he clings to the only part of his old life that he can. The dead parents. The illusion that can't be broken because it's already inscribed on a headstone. He's angry but he can't express it, so it stays bottled up until the tiniest trigger lets it out."
Unable to move, Harry settled for glaring defiantly at her. Sofen just bared her teeth in a grin.
"Such a bad little boy you are, keeping such a big secret. I wonder what will happen when everyone finds out? Your relatives will kick you out. Your friends won't love you once you're not famous. The whole world will call you a liar and a trickster. I wonder if you'll be suicidal then?"
He broke free of her grip and flung himself out of the chair, falling to the floor under her mocking blue eyes. Unable to think of anything he turned and ran out the door, her cruel stare burning into him long after the door had closed behind him.
Harry wasn't sure why Ron had thought that putting him and Hermione in an enclosed space for several days would be a good idea, but whatever the redhead had planned, it clearly wasn't working. Any actual animosity between them had long cooled, and in its place was an icy apathy that allowed only for the briefest conversations. On some level Harry admired the level of planning it had taken Ron to get the two of them together without either finding out, but on another he was annoyed that the boy continued to try and force what wouldn't be.
The opportunity to attend the Quidditch World Cup was a welcome break to the monotony of his summers, and a brief relief from the terrifyingly perceptive gaze of Dr. Sofen. He'd spent the few days between his last session and his departure terrified of a visit from a now-informed Dumbledore, but whatever game the woman was playing, it didn't seem to involve telling the Headmaster what was going on. The only thing he was sure of was that Sofen was a good deal more dangerous than he had—perhaps arrogantly—believed the Squib to be.
The Weasleys were a very nice family, and though they were poor they were very open with that which they had. No one made mention of Scabbers and Harry, uncertain of whether or not they'd been told who he really was, decided against bringing it up. With them were the Diggory's, including a Hufflepuff boy Harry had never met named Cedric. They didn't speak much though, and Harry spent much of his time either with Ron or wandering through the maze of tents surrounding the stadium.
Walks such as these helped Harry clear his head, and had become an almost daily ritual now that his relatives had abandoned their attempts to make him do their chores. Whatever had happened earlier this summer had evidently frightened them enough to re-instill old fear, returning them to the days of hurrying past his bedroom and doing their best to avoid contact with the strange entity they believed themselves to be related to. He didn't mind, certainly, but it only gave him more time to stew over the mess that was his life.
He gave a firm kick to a dandelion as he circled the perimeter of the camp, following the wandering path formed by dozens of pairs of feet. The burning anger of a few weeks back had turned dull and cool with time, leaving him with a gnawing emptiness that nothing would fill. He was still angry at Black, and he'd thrown out every letter and present the man had sent him, but the urge to see the man dead had fizzled out when he wasn't looking. Sofen was right, in her own harsh way. It wasn't about Black. It was never about Black.
A shrill laugh pierced the air as a small dark-haired boy in an oversized Ravenclaw scarf shot past Harry and into the arms of an equally dark-haired man, who swung the boy high into the air before hugging him close. A stab of bitter jealousy surged through Harry and he stormed past, resisting the childish urge to shoot off a Stinging Hex towards one of the two.
No, it was never about Black at all.
The terrified cry was followed by a sound like a gunshot, and then several tents exploded under the brunt of brightly-colored spellfire. Screams and sobs intermingled as men and women in nightgowns ran barefoot across the grass, dragging terrified children after. Spells and Portkeys were forgotten in favor of their base human instincts as all fled for the woods at the edge of camp, the hooded, masked villains following slowly behind, destroying everything in their drunken game.
"We've got to go!" Percy yelled, following his father's orders as he steered his younger siblings away from the mob and towards the woods. "Everyone stay together! Ginny, with me!" For once his siblings listened to his commands as the swarm of redheads took off through the tents, Harry following close behind. He glanced back at the mob and saw that they had lifted several Muggles into the air, twirling them magically overhead while they screamed and begged for mercy. No one was attempting to stop them, and Harry felt a pang of empathy for their plight.
"Look out!" a voice cried, and before the group could do anything they were knocked to the ground by a shockwave as one of the nearby tents went up in a ball of bright sapphire flame. Everything was shadow and madness, and in that moment Harry caught a glimpse of the culprit, long slivery-blond hair dangling from behind his hood, and fear was transfigured into a familiar burning anger. The Weasleys clambered to their feet and continued their flight but Harry held back, making his way in the opposite direction as he followed the pointed black hood moving slowly through the night.
The Death Eaters had spread out across the grounds, apparently growing bored of Muggle-baiting and deciding to upgrade to outright terrorism. The field of tents was aflame, and in the distance the Quidditch Stadium cracked and crumbled as the magic maintaining it faltered. Their jeers and mockery went unchallenged, with whatever security detail the event once had having been taken down or fled.
Harry's knuckles turned white from the strength of his grip around his wand, footsteps silent as he drew close to the figure with the familiar blond hair. Malfoy was alone now; all the other Death Eaters were too far away to help him. His back was to Harry, wand held loosely in his hand, meaning that it was the perfect time to strike.
With all of Lucius Malfoy's arrogance and excess it was sometimes hard to remember that the man had once been one of Lord Voldemort's most skilled fighters. However, as he turned on his heel, flinging up a Protego and instantly returning a nasty Dark curse, Harry remembered why that was.
The spell melted a hole clear through the ground in the spot where Harry had just been standing, and his hasty Reducto received the same casual deflection as the first spell. Malfoy's face was hidden by the mask, Harry's own hidden in shadow, but the anonymity didn't stop the Pureblood from sending curse after malevolent curse spiraling towards the teenager. Harry's knowledge of magic was formidable but more times than he'd like he found himself dodging curses rather than deflecting them, or blocking when he should have been attacking. Knowledge and power were well and good, but Malfoy's experience trumped his every time.
A blast of emerald electricity was followed swiftly by a ball of bright orange flames, and Harry's brilliant mind stalled as he tried futility to swap defenses in the blink of an eye. A learned dueler could have done it, would have been expecting it perhaps, but Harry was just a child, and had none of the muscle memory he needed. So instead of using his wand he hurled himself out of the way, allowing the flame to collide with the bush behind him and send it bursting into flame.
A horrific screeching sound pierced the air, and both Death Eater and Boy-Who-Lived turned in shock as the air above the bush likewise ignited, fire roaring upwards and outwards to form the silhouette of a burning man. In the light of the fire Harry caught sight of a House-Elf screaming in horror, her flappy skin dripping as she tried to claw what was apparently a flaming cloak from the individual before it was too late. The spellfire was swifter, however, and with one last agonized scream the figure died, invisibility failing as they crumbled to the ground in a blackened heap.
Momentarily stunned, by the time he looked back again Malfoy was gone, leaving Harry alone with a sobbing House-Elf, a corpse, and a well of bottled-up anger that grew deeper by the minute.
"Back again, Harry?"
Sofen had ditched the glasses and ponytail today, the top button of her blouse undone as she smirked at him from her armchair. Harry took a seat opposite her, keeping his face neutral as he met her eyes evenly. "I didn't have much choice in the matter." The hope that Dumbledore would let him off the hook-even with the return of school and the chaos of the tournament-was one that he'd known from the beginning was futile.
The psychiatrist hmmed thoughtfully, propping her head up on a fist as she narrowed her eyes at him. "Something on your mind?"
Her smirk broadened. "Liar. You're wondering why I didn't tell your dear old Headmaster about what we discussed last time."
For a moment Harry wondered if she was really a Squib like Dumbledore had claimed, or if it was all an elaborate ruse to trick him. But he didn't think that Dumbledore was the type. "If Dumbledore thinks he has the answers, he'll stop the sessions. You won't get paid."
"Come now, Harry," the woman scoffed. "Does it really look like I need the money?" She gestured around the room, the office littered with awards and expensive baubles. "I've got dozens of aging supermodels paying me a fortune to convince them that their husbands aren't really cheating on them. You're supposed to be smart."
"I don't need to put up with this," Harry snapped, rising to his feet. "I'm going to tell Dumbledore—"
"Oh shut up," she ordered, smirk vanishing. "We both know you're lying. It's what you do best."
"You're one to talk!"
"Am I? Tell me, when have I lied to you?"
Harry expected an answer to leap to his lips but, as he stood there, none came to mind. "You're wrong about me," he said instead. "I'm not a liar."
"Of course you are. The worst kind, too—someone who lies to themselves."
"Looked in the mirror lately?"
His jaw snapped shut with a click. "I don't know what you're talking about," he whispered, turning away. A glint of light caught his eye and he turned towards the windows, his own face reflected back at him atop the London skyline. Again he looked away.
"No?" She gripped the edges of her armrests, flinging herself to her feet. "There are over eight billion people on Earth. Don't you find it rather coincidental that you bear such an intense resemblance to the couple who adopted you?"
"I know what you're doing," he said, watching her as she circled him like a vulture. "It won't work this time."
"So it worked before, then? Good to know." She pulled a crystal tumbler from the bookshelf, pouring out a generous helping of brown liquid into a pair of glasses. "I'm surprised you haven't wondered about it before. Human doctors can change someone's face with a couple of snips; how hard could it be with magic?" She held out one of the glasses and he took it on reflex, though he made no move to drink it.
"My parents wouldn't do that."
"How do you know?"
"They were good people."
Sofen snickered, swirling the glass for a moment before downing its contents in one gulp. "You're such a child. Holding tight to this false idea of two people you've never met, dragging it around like a ratty security blanket because the world is too scary and confusing without it."
"I know what I know."
"Of course you do. And God is real and the Earth is flat and aliens built the pyramids."
He felt a tick appear in his jaw and rather than give her what she wanted he took a sip of the drink, grimacing at the bitter taste of alcohol though not putting it down. "I'm not a child."
"Then stop acting like one. Dumbledore sends you here because that's how he sees you. That's how everyone sees you. If you want to be taken seriously, then grow the fuck up."
Steam filled the bathroom, bursting from the filled sink in a cloud of superheated water that caked the walls and mirrors with condensation. Harry's bare feet were cold against the tile floor, naked torso chilly even in the moist air, but all of these discomforts were pushed aside as he stared into the eyes of his reflection, his face the only thing visible in the small part of the mirror he'd scrubbed dry. Bright green eyes seemed all the brighter against his dark bangs, his face reminding him that he was so much younger than he felt, still smooth and unmarked. His glasses sat on the counter beside him, likewise blurry, his nose feeling the lighter and emptier without them.
His wand sat in his right hand, damp as everything else in here. The spell danced circles around his thoughts, an uncertain temptation that repulsed and allured him simultaneously, but his wand was like lead in his grasp, and every time he tried to raise it his hand fell short. It had seemed so easy in theory, yet in practice it was a sentence he wasn't sure he was ready for. To do what he was considering—even if he could undo it—would forever change him, he knew. It would rip away the band-aid and bare his soul to the harsh light of day. Perhaps he would be the better for it; perhaps, as he feared, he would not be.
The tip of his wand seemed to shimmer as he whispered the spell, magic pulsating from the tip like heat waves off hot asphalt. There was no burst of color or flash of light but he could feel it sliding across his skin like a serpent, pulling and tugging at his visage. It slid up his arm and across his chest, offering no change he could see but nevertheless making his heart hammer with fear as it rushed across his body, attacking any magic it found. The faucet spluttered and choked as the overflow washed over it, eating away at the charms maintaining the water pressure, but Harry only had eyes for the face in the mirror as the anti-magic found what it had been searching for.
A flash of yellow and Harry was jerking his gaze away, stumbling back from the sink as his hands flew to cover his face. He could still feel it—feel his bones grinding beneath his skin, feel his pupils dilating and muscles stretching—but even the tiny glimpse of change he'd caught was more than he could bear. This wasn't who he was. This wasn't who he wanted to be. Harry Potter was Harry Potter was Harry Potter. His face was the only thing he still had from his parents. They'd changed this part of him for a reason. He had to believe that; to hide him from the war, to hide him from discrimination, hell maybe to hide him from Dumbledore... something. He had to believe that.
"If you want to be taken seriously, then grow the fuck up."
"Damn her," he whispered into his palms. "Damn that bitch to hell." And, straightening, he turned to meet the eyes of his worst enemy.
Steven Howard Stark was not the horrific monster that Harry had perhaps hoped he would be. There were differences, of course—the nose was a bit thinner, the chin wider, the eyes deeper—but not enough to truly make him feel as though it was a stranger's face in the mirror, as he might've preferred. It was a testament to the skill of James Potter that he'd done so much with just two or three transfigurations, and more impressive still that they'd lasted so well. But the skill of the execution wasn't on Harry's mind as he examined every facet of his opposite's visage, hating every square inch of it from the straight (lank) blond hair to the brown (muddy) eyes glaring back at him. There was no James Potter or Lily Evans in this face. And there never would be.
His jaw trembled from the strength of his clenching it and he released his grip on his wand, the thin wooden shaft clattering loudly to the floor. The moment his grip departed the spell cut off, the tingling fading as the older magic reasserted itself. Black oozed over blond like runny ink and brown eyes shone green once again, but now it was just a mask. And Harry could never unsee the true face lying beneath it ever again.
"Mr. Potter, what are you doing?"
Harry held a hand up to shield his face from the bright light of the Lumos, scowling in irritation as he recognized Professor McGonagall's rectangular spectacles glinting in the half-light. He dropped his hand as she stepped closer, a flick of her wand igniting the wall sconce. "Evening, Professor."
"Mr. Potter, it is a quarter to three. Curfew was five hours ago. What possible reason could you have to be out so late?"
His hand tightened around the sack in his grasp, glass clinking within and drawing her gaze. "Fell asleep in the Astronomy Tower," he lied.
"What do you have there?" she inquired, taking a step closer.
"Just some potions bottles."
The Transfiguration professor was not so easily swayed, and her eyes narrowed suspiciously as she took in his mussed hair and shadow-lined eyes. "Mr. Potter, have... have you been drinking?"
He took a step back. "I don't know what you're talking about."
A curse slipped out as he grabbed for the sack as her magic tugged on it, only succeeding in tipping it over and spilling the contents across the floor. Half a dozen Firewhiskey bottles smashed into the stone floor, shattering instantly, and he bit down on his tongue before he said something he'd regret.
McGonagall's lips grew so thin that they vanished from view and behind her eyes he could see a truly thunderous well of anger and—worse—disappointment swelling. "I expected better from you."
"Why?" he shot back, grabbing the bag off the floor and stuffing it in his pocket. "What've I ever done to make you 'expect better'?"
"I thought you were smarter than this. How could you be so foolish? Especially now, when all eyes are on England. The Tournament—"
"Shut up about the bloody Tournament!" he cut her off, dragging his sleeve across his mouth. "I'm so fucking sick of that shit! Everywhere I go that's all anyone can talk about!"
"Mr. Potter!" the professor barked, "You will not use that tone around me! You are an icon, a symbol even more important than the Champions! How could you be so selfish?"
"Sod off you old bitch," he muttered, wiping his mouth again. "You're just as bad as the rest of them. You think I want to be their fucking symbol? Screw the lot of them. Voldemort should've exterminated them when he had the chance."
"You're drunk," she said with a scowl. A flick of her wand and the broken bottles vanished from the floor. "I'm taking you to the Headmaster. He'll sort this out." She made a grab for his wrist but he jerked back before she could grab hold, a maniacal laugh slipping out as he backpedaled out of her grip.
"Dumbledore'll do nothing," he shot back, "just like he always does. He's too scared of scaring me off. Scared I'll become the next Dark Lord. Well congrats, Voldie!" He spread his arms out wide. "Take a look-see at your competition. Shouldn't be too hard, huh?"
"Enough of this," McGonagall ordered, accenting dominating her speech as she grew angrier, wand rising. "I'll give you to the count of three. One."
"I don't have to listen to you."
"You're all fools."
"You should've left me to rot with the Dursleys."
A flash of red burst from her wand and Harry knew no more.
"I don't know what to do, Harry. Please, tell me how to help you."
Harry remained slumped down in Dumbledore's armchair, eyes locked on the whirling silver machines lining the edge of the old man's desk. Little puffs of smoke came out the top of one like a train, and another made small chiming noises as it spun like a top, providing a perfect distraction from the Headmaster's gentle pleading.
"Harry. Look at me."
Harry cocked his head to the side, watching as the one near the edge spun like a waterwheel, threading light and color through the pointy spokes like a spinning wheel. He was reminded of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale and contemplated what would happen if he stuck his finger into it.
"Harry." Dumbledore stuck a hand out, shoving the spindly machines to one side of his desk. "Answer me."
"I have nothing to say to you." Harry replied finally, lifting his gaze to meet the old man's.
His bushy white eyebrows creased in concern. "I can arrange a visit to Dr. Sofen if you'd rather talk to her—"
Harry's derisive snort cut him off. "God, you really are obtuse, aren't you?"
"There's no need for such rudeness."
"Why? We both know that you're never going to do anything about it." The boy gave the man an exaggerated smile. "Doing things yourself has never been your style. And you're all about style, aren't you."
Dumbledore's eyes flicked across Harry's face, trying to puzzle out some hidden meaning in his words. "If I ever did anything to hurt you, I apologize."
"No, but that's just it, isn't it? You didn't do anything. You never do anything." Harry let out a disgusted scoff and turned away. "I'm done."
"Done with what?"
"This!" Harry made a broad gesture. "You. Me. Hogwarts. All of it. I'm done with it."
"You can't leave Hogwarts, Mr. Potter. You're still a minor. You still need to attend school."
"Then answer me this: What would be the point?"
For the first time in all the time that Harry had known him Dumbledore seemed well and truly bewildered. "The point of what?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand," the Headmaster admitted, shaking his head. "We are wizards, my boy. Magic is what we are."
"But why does it matter?"
Dumbledore just shook his head, again not understanding.
Agitation brewing in his gut Harry pushed himself to his feet, pacing the room. "We spend our time here being told that we matter. That we're special; that our magic makes us special. But it doesn't, does it? Not really. Wizards are just as thickheaded, racist, and useless as the Muggles we consider ourselves so much different from. We're not special. We're not powerful."
"You're only a child, Harry, there's so much you've yet to understand—"
"I understand plenty," he cut the old man off again. "I understand that this world has moved beyond us. On one end, a guy who can stick to walls; on the other, a god who consumes whole planets. Monsters capable of punching a hole in a mountain. Mutants who could snuff out our race with a thought. Amongst all those marvels, where do we fit in?"
"The breadth of one's power or the makeup of their genes does not determine their worth," Dumbledore said in a softer voice, hands folded. "That was the belief your parents fought for. Died for."
"Well they were wrong!" Harry snapped, turning away. He looked down, flexing one hand and feeling the unnatural strength coursing through it. "Some people are born rotten. All the way down to their DNA."
Dumbledore actually flinched at that. "You don't mean that. You know that isn't true." It might've been convincing, had he not sounded so afraid.
"You don't know me at all."
And without another word Harry stormed from the room, the Headmaster's ignored pleas silencing as he slammed the door behind him.
"What is and always will be my greatest creation… is you."
Tony's hands shook as he closed the journal, Howard Stark's pre-recorded words echoing in his ears even as the roll of film reached its end and ground to a halt. Something cold and painful had wrapped itself around his insides; the same terrifying fear that he'd felt every time he returned home from boarding school, waiting to see what his father was angry at him for this time. He tried to set his half-empty drink down and the glass slipped from his fingers, shattering on the floor in an all-too-familiar sound that made him leap halfway out of his seat.
"What're you looking at, boy? You wanna say something? Huh?"
Tony ran a forefinger along the back of his hand, the patch of lifted skin reminding him where a shard of his father's broken glass had lodged itself in his skin. He'd been too afraid to say anything to the man, too scared that it would only make Howard angrier. It had been almost a day before he finally had the courage to tell Jarvis what happened and the man took him to the hospital, and only after earning the man's promise to never tell his father what had happened.
"Sir?" J.A.R.V.I.S.'s voice rang out, startling him once again. "Your heart rate is greatly elevated. Is everything alright?"
Tony shook his head, wiping a hand over his face. "Yea," he began, only for his voice to crack mid-way through. He cleared his throat, repeating, "Yea, J.A.R.V.I.S. Just… bad memories."
"Would you like me to contact Miss Potts?"
"No," he was quick to cut in, shaking his head. "No, it's nothing. I'll be fine." He looked over at the whiskey bottle, considering it for a moment before shaking his head. Instead he turned the other way, crossing the room to the scale model of the Expo, dark eyes scanning the display and connecting invisible lines in his mind. The pavilions, the globe, the shape… it couldn't be that easy, could it?
Try as he might to focus, however, his mind began to wander away from the task at hand. His eyes slid from the display back to the projector, feeling a sudden impulsive urge to burn it. Hearing his father's words at the Expo, fully prepared and ready to lie through his teeth to millions of people, he could handle. Hearing his father's voice in the safety of his own home, horribly cruel in its faux kindness, dug into his heart in a way that the shrapnel never could. He was a little boy again, vulnerable and afraid of a man long since dead.
"You'd hate it here," Tony spoke aloud. "You'd have hated Iron Man. Hated me for going public with it. Hated me for upstaging you."
There was no response. Not that he expected one. Even J.A.R.V.I.S. knew better than to try and reply.
"Or maybe you'd be proud. That'd be just like you, wouldn't it? The Stark name immortalized forever, the name behind Iron Man." He ran his hand through the air, imagining it emblazoned on a golden plaque. "You'd have eaten it up. Hell, you'd probably have ordered a whole fleet of them. Your own personal army. Cause that was what this was always about, wasn't it? Power."
Tony turned back to the display, flicking one of the little plastic trees off the board. Again the impulse struck him, this time to watch his father's creation go up in flames. A petty, pointless attack on a man long-dead. Tony had never been religious, but the idea of his father looking up at him as he turned his work to ash was a pleasing one. Because the alternative—using the man's work, born from blood and torment and torture of those weaker than himself—was not something Tony could bring himself to do. He'd learned that already, many years ago, with another one of his father's creations. There were some things he just wasn't strong enough to do.
So, giving the display, Tony turned his back to it, his father, and his so-called legacy. And he walked away.
Harry turned away from the portrait, stifling a scowl at the sight of Professor McGonagall standing beside him. Behind her the staircase stretched down, and in the distance he could hear the sounds of laughter and music. She was still dressed in her formal robes from the Great Ball, the usual tartan replaced with a glittering scarlet and gold. He wondered idly if the other Heads had worn their House colors. He didn't think Snape would go through with that. "What?"
"The woman in the portrait." The Transfiguration Professor gestured to it, and Harry followed her hand to the picture of the extraordinarily old woman in blue, a black cat sitting in her lap like a bad Muggle stereotype. Behind her grew a tree of beautiful, multicolored flowers, frozen in place. He hadn't been paying much attention to it, honestly; he'd been lost in thought and hadn't realized he'd stopped. "The woman who trained the Four Founders, according to most sources. Supposedly the most powerful witch in history."
"Why isn't it moving?" he wondered aloud, not entirely caring about the answer.
"Supposedly she didn't much care for the practice of magical painting. She once told her students that it was never wise to impart a piece of yourself, no matter how small, into an object, because all objects are temporary. Wise words, I think." She gestured to the empty walls on either side of the hall. "That's why we leave this hallway empty. Out of respect."
"You seem to know a great deal about her."
"I studied her a great deal in my youth, and based my Animagus form on her cat, Ebony. I even visited the place she was born, Mount Wundagore, in hopes of finding the famed Wundagore Everbloom." She pointed to the colorful flowers. "Legend says that consuming a single petal can grant you visions of the future more true than any Seer could possibly divine."
"Did you ever find them?"
McGonagall smiled slightly as she dropped her hand. "No. If they ever did exist I imagine that they are long gone by now."
"What do you want, Professor?" Harry asked finally, turning to face her. "Are you here to tell me off for skipping the Ball?"
The woman's smile faded away. "No. I considered it, at first—I thought that you were just doing it to cause a scene—but it's more than that, isn't it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied shortly, turning away. But before he could take a step she grabbed his arm, forcing him to look at her.
"Listen, Mr. Po—Harry. I know I haven't been there for you as much as I should. I'm your Head of House, and this is the first time we've truly spoken since you came to Hogwarts, but... I'm worried about you."
He scowled at her, yanking his arm away. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not." Her usual sternness was gone, replaced with a raw concern that made him feel strange and uncomfortable. "You're in pain."
"It's not!" she all but yelled, shocking him into silence. "It's more than that. Albus tries so hard, but he's too far away to see what's happening. What's already happened. When he was where I'm standing."
"What are you talking about?" Harry demanded.
"I knew Tom Riddle, Harry." She straightened, watching as he jerked back in surprise. "I saw what was happening to him. I saw how alone he was. He wasn't a nice boy, but then neither were so many others, and I always used it to justify ignoring his suffering. He wasn't born a Dark Lord; the world made him into one. The world that ignored him, and hurt him, and twisted him in on himself until all that was left was hatred at everyone and everything else. I could've tried to help, but I didn't. I thought that someone else would, and no one ever did. I'm to blame for what happened to Voldemort."
"I don't need anyone else," he snapped.
"Yes you do," she pushed back just as strongly. "It doesn't have to be me, but you need someone. Anyone. You can't wall yourself off from the world forever, Harry. You can't shut off your humanity."
"Well maybe I don't want my humanity!" he yelled into her face. "Maybe I want to be left alone!"
Her face went very, very sad as she held a hand out towards him. "But you don't have to be. This isn't what your parents would've wanted for you, Harry. They wanted you to be happy. They wanted you to be loved."
"How dare you," he hissed, slapping her hand away. "How dare you tell me what my parents would have wanted!" He took a step towards her and she jerked back in surprise. "Happiness? Love? I don't even know what that means! I spent my childhood being told that I was worthless and unwanted and a freak of nature! It doesn't matter what my parents wanted because they're dead! Dead because of people like you!" He shoved her backwards, feeling tremendous vindication at how she stumbled and nearly fell. "If I become the next Voldemort then that'll be exactly what the lot of you deserve! You abandoned me! You took my parents away and you abandoned me like I was nothing! Well I'm not! I'm not nothing, and I don't need you!" Anger surged through him and he shoved her again, feeling a surge of satisfaction as he watched her flail backwards.
It almost seemed to happen in slow motion. She staggered backwards, arms pinwheeling as she tried to catch herself before she fell, and neither she nor Harry took notice of how far they had traveled during the course of their conversation until the heel of her shoes slipped over the edge of the top stair. For a moment she hung there, eyes wide, before, like the last crimson leaf of autumn, she fell.
Harry could only stand there stunned, frozen with his arms outstretched and eyes wide, as she rolled down the staircase, brittle bones breaking with horrible crunching noises. The fall seemed to last for an eternity before she reached the bottom, head striking stone with a crack like thunder as Professor McGonagall went very, very still.
And with that Harry turned and fled, only the unmoving gaze of Agatha Harkness bearing testament to his sin.
The hour was late as Karla Sofen finished up the last of her patient reports, the barest hint of a smile touching her lips. One of her clients had committed suicide today—the wife of a wealthy business mogul, convinced that her husband was having an affair with his secretary. It hadn't been hard to leave a few suggestive voicemails for the wife to find, nor to edge her closer and closer to the brink. Easy. Too easy. As most things were for her nowadays.
A crack like thunder echoed in the hall and the doctor straightened, setting her files aside as she rose to her feet, hands clenched. Footsteps shuffled towards her office and then suddenly the doors were flung open, revealing a familiar face.
Harry Potter's face was slack in shock, pale skin slick with sweat and eyes wide. He was still dressed in his Hogwarts robes, hair a mess. But what drew her eyes were his hands—shaking and twitching visibly even beneath the haze of dark green smoke rising from his skin, the magical energy making the lights flicker and the door handle sizzle like acid where he touched it. Cracks split his skin all the way to his face, his features seeming to blur and warp as he stumbled into the room.
"Harry," she greeted, the tips of her feet lowering to the floor. "What a surprise."
"I can't stop it," he whispered, staring down at his hands in shock and fear. "I did something terrible and I… I can't stop it." He grabbed at the armrest of the chair and his skin ate right through the leather, carving a gash clean through. He held his arms close to his body, his entire form quivering with panic.
"Calm down," Sofen ordered, crossing the room. She grabbed him by his shoulders—taking care to avoid touching his skin—and pushed him down into the damaged seat, making a mental note to bill Dumbledore for the damage. "How did you get here?"
"I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "I was running, I wanted to get away and then… I was here." He let out a child-like sniffle and she wrinkled her nose in disgust, though she replaced it with an empathetic expression as soon as he looked up. "I can never go back," he whispered.
Her grip tightened on his shoulders as she read his body language, a slow smile worming its way onto her face. "You hurt someone, didn't you."
He didn't reply—couldn't, she imagined—but he flinched in the way that only truth could achieve.
"Killed them, even."
Again the flinch. Again the truth.
"You're a murderer."
"No," he whispered, looking up at her, all his intellect and bravado ripped away. "No, I'm not. I didn't mean—I couldn't—"
"You didn't mean to kill them? It was an accident?" She scoffed loudly, releasing her grip and rising to her feet. "You should know by now that there are no accidents, child."
He looked down at his still-glowing hands. "I'm a monster."
"Yes. You are. You're a murderer. A criminal. A freak."
The boy crumpled further into himself, taking the abuse as only an abused child could. Sofen felt the usual surge of endorphins as her words ground him into putty, stripping away the final layer separating her from his vulnerable center.
"But it isn't your fault."
His head snapped up, green eyes bleeding a bloodstained brown as they locked on her with hope. "It isn't?"
"Of course not. You were doomed to begin with. Look how you were made. The spawn of a lie. Is it any wonder you'd turn out as you did?" She waited for him to duck his head in shame before she added the final blow. "But you can fix it."
Sofen crouched down in front of him, using one forefinger to tilt his chin up so she could meet his eyes. His skin burned hers but she'd dealt with far worse than out-of-control magic, and didn't let it show. "You're Frankenstein's monster. If you want to end the pain, do what all monsters must do: Kill your creator."
Tony pressed the cool glass to his forehead, the ice cubes floating within offering slight relief to his pounding head. The pulsing veins on his neck itched but he held back from scratching, instead staring at the piles of boxes around him as though he could wish them out of existence. Agent Coulson had stopped in already and tried to scare him into working, but not even his surprisingly witty insults could bring Tony to reopen the can of worms that was his father's work. That was a slippery slope, and he'd seen where even the slightest bend in that moral code could lead.
The lights flickered and he withheld a groan. "Give it a rest, Coulson!" he yelled to the microphones he knew were there. "I'm not gonna play Fury's game. Let me watch my legacy die in peace. Thank you." A moment later the lights returned to their normal glow and he slumped back down, removing the glass to down a mouthful of whiskey. On the muted screen before him the reporter continued to gush about Justin Hammer, a countdown on the side of the screen running down the time before his "grand reveal". Tony wasn't sure what the moron was premiering now, but he was pretty sure it would end up being a dud.
Again the lights flared, brighter this time, and static overtook the reporter for several seconds. Tony actually looked around this time, half-expecting to see Coulson standing behind him, but there was nothing there. The hairs on the back of his neck began to rise and he set the glass down, rising slowly to his feet.
Suddenly the lights blew out with loud pops, shattered glass raining down on him as he cursed and leapt out of the way. The TV speakers grew louder and louder until they blew out with a boom like thunder, the glass screen cracking and going dark. All around him the technology of his workshop fizzled and died, often in a burst of color and glass, and by now he had a pretty good feeling that it wasn't Coulson doing this.
"Vanko?" he asked aloud, fully expecting the Russian inventor to leap out from some dark corner. "Nice trick. Localized EMP, right?"
A beat of silence and then a blast of colored light came shooting towards him through the dark. If he hadn't been standing it probably would've ended him; as it was it whizzed past and collided with the armchair he'd only just risen from, and before his eyes the leather began to dry and crack, decaying before his eyes until the entire thing collapsed into a pile of dark dust.
"Okay, not Vanko," he muttered to himself, turning to face the shadows from whence the attack had come. The systems were offline so he wouldn't be able to summon the armor, and even if it weren't he wouldn't be able to maneuver it well within the enclosed space of his workshop. "You obviously know me. Isn't it fair that I get to see you too?"
"You know me," a voice responded, and it made Tony pause. At first impression it seemed to be a man's voice, but it was lighter than he would've expected. Not effeminate, but almost… younger.
"I really don't."
A moment of silence passed and the inventor tensed, fully expecting another attack to emanate from the darkness. But instead all that emerged were footsteps, and a moment later his mysterious attacker finally stepped into the dim light.
He was young, which was what Tony realized first and foremost. There was something vaguely familiar about his face—Tony had a nagging feeling that he'd met this kid somewhere before—but it was just unfamiliar enough to slip through the cracks. Far more relevant, however, was the sheen of green energy pulsating from his hands, making the air around him shimmer like a heat mirage.
"How about now?" the kid demanded.
Hesitantly, Tony shook his head. "Sorry, I'm not great with faces—"
An angry cry burst from the boy's throat and he flung an arm sideways across his body. Tony flinched in expectation of an attack but instead it was one of his cars that bore the brunt of it, hurling itself off the pavement to smash into the nearest wall, flattening instantly. Telekinesis, the man realized in shock. Mutant?
"Harry," the boy ground out, teeth clenched. "My name is Harry Potter." There was a tremble in his voice, and though Tony had at first thought it was anger, he now realized that it was something else.
"What are you doing here, Harry?" he asked in a level tone, keeping his hands in the air. "Did someone put you up to this?"
"You put me up to this!" the boy hissed, taking another few steps closer. The energy around him burned darker and the light of Tony's Arc Reactor flickered dangerously, the metal shards inside of him giving a threatening twitch. "You made me this way!"
Tony instantly flicked through two dozen mental scenarios, each worse than the last. There was a lot that Stark Industries had done under Obadiah that he was still figuring out, but experimenting on kids…
"Look, maybe I can help fix you—"
Harry thrust out a hand and Tony's work station exploded in a shower of metal. "I don't want your help!" he yelled.
Tony went silent for a moment. "Then what do you want?"
"I… I want…" Conflict overtook his face and Harry turned away for a moment, digging his hands through his blond hair. "I need you to leave me alone!"
"Kid, listen to me—"
"I am not your kid!" Harry whirled on him, eyes burning a poisonous green, and suddenly Tony was being hoisted into the air, invisible pressure squeezing him like a vice. It dug into him, burning his skin like acid, and if he'd been able to open his mouth he would have screamed from the pain. The few seconds that it held felt like an eternity, and even when he was released and dropped to the floor he could feel his muscles quivering from the stress of it.
But that didn't matter. Because Harry's words had seared themselves into his brain, and when he looked upon the boy's face again he finally realized why he was so familiar. "Oh my god."
Harry was panting with exertion, bangs sticking to his forehead, but the anger never left his face. "You did this to me," he whispered. "Everything that's wrong with me… it's all your fault!"
"Harry, listen to me—"
Again the boy yelled and again Tony was hoisted into the air, this time banished across the room and into a brick wall like his car had been. Things broke. Not the bricks.
"I hate you!" Harry screamed, eyes glowing. "I hate you I hate you I hate you!"
Once more Tony was flung across the room, this time straight through the protective case of his old Iron Man suits, glass embedding itself in his skin. Around the room his tools and machinery had begun to melt, matter turning to liquid as the prodigal son stormed towards him, uncaring as to what he destroyed in his quest for vengeance. There was nothing Tony could do to stop him and he didn't bother to fight as the teenager gripped him by the throat and hoisted him into the air with inhuman strength, the brown eyes he shared with Tony hidden beneath a cloud of green so dark it was almost black. In that moment Tony could see their shared features, but even more than that, he could see the shared anger, the hatred for the man who created them.
"I'm sorry," he breathed, shaking his head as best he could while the life was being choked out of him. "I'm so sorry."
The boy's expression cracked, anger morphing to confusion. "What?"
The grip on Tony slacked and he collapsed to the floor for the third time that night. "I'm sorry," he repeated.
"No. No, you're not," Harry hissed, taking several steps backwards, the confusion on his face not matching his voice. "You can't be."
"I should've kept better watch on you. I should have found you the help you needed. I didn't."
"Stop saying that!" Again he unleashed a bolt of power and Tony didn't even try to move, but it missed and sizzled through the stone beside him.
"I'm sorry you had to grow up alone."
Another angry blast destroyed the suit of armor nearest him. He took no notice.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to realize that you were a victim in all of this too."
Harry was breathing heavily, the glow gone from his eyes, giving Tony full view of the disbelief there. "But you're not sorry for giving me away," he whispered.
Tony met his stare evenly. "No."
The boy's jaw quivered, hands clenching until the knuckles popped. And then, with an angry cry, he turned on his heel and vanished.
A/N: This is the chapter I've been dying for pretty much since I first had Harry meet Obadiah. This is the biggest turning point of the story, even bigger than the Tom Riddle chapter, and from here on out this story is going deeply AU, and will be more Marvel than HP. I am aware that this chapter will be rather confusing, but bear with me. Explanations for a lot of what has happening is still to come. But I know I'll still get angry demands like I always do.
Graydon Creed: Human son of mutants Mystique and Sabretooth. Abandoned by his parents due to being born an ordinary human, Creed grew up to despise mutants and joined several organizations to try and wipe them out, including running for President before his own mother shot him dead.
1st Human Torch: A sentient android built by an Allied scientist during WWII, the Human Torch was a member of the Invaders (Captain America's superhero team) and fought against HYDRA and the Nazis. His legacy would later inspire Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four to take on the same name.
Agatha Harkness: One of the oldest living magic-users in the Marvel Universe, Agatha Harkness is a witch of tremendous power and influence, as well as unknown manipulative tendencies. She is most famous for training the Scarlet Witch in her magic, only to be murdered by her student when Wanda went insane and lost control of her powers.
Also, yes, that was Barty Crouch Jr. burning to death at the World Cup. Hence Harry not ending up in the Tournament.
If you want to write a review, spare me the tedium of flipping through a dozen "Please update" emails. Those inspire no one. Also, if you want to get pissed at me for what I did in this chapter, remember that 1) These are fictional characters, and 2) I am not getting paid to do this and I owe you nothing.