A/N: This story gets me more entertaining reviews than anything I've ever posted. I've been called racist, sexist, gay, homophobic, and egotistical, sometimes all at once. Hilariously, it seems that there are readers out there who think that my usage of asshole characters like Sofen or Marge Dursley means that I am attempting to validate them or that I am just as racist/dickish/etc. as they are. Imagine that! So I guess that also makes me a murderer, a mutant, a Dark Lord, a Phoenix host, a member of the Fantastic Four, and about a dozen other things, all because I wrote about them!
For those of you who thought that Karla Sofen is an original character, she isn't. The reason I chose not to put who she is in the Marvel Universe in the last chapter is because I wanted more shock and awe when it was revealed.
No Harry in this chapter, sorry. Or perhaps congrats—most of the reviewers seem to hate him, and I imagine that his current trajectory has pushed a lot of people away from this story. Honestly I just don't think people realize how erratic emotions can be, especially since Harry isn't the sociopath that other stories with a more… deranged Harry make him out to be. This Harry is still highly emotional. Which is even more dangerous than if he had none, as many, many Marvel heroes can attest to.
Thanks to my friend Noyoki for helping me with the Tony/Dursleys scene.
The door to Karla Sofen's office exploded with a thunderous boom, shards of broken wood and dust spraying across the office and turning the white carpet grey. Sofen turned away from the window, wine glass in hand, and sent a smirk towards the trio in the doorway. "It's about time. I was expecting you hours ago."
"What have you done with Harry?" Dumbledore demanded, wand trained on the woman. At his sides Remus and Snape followed suite. "We know you've done something to him. To his mind. It's over, Sofen. We know you're a Death Eater."
Sofen threw her head back and let out a laugh. It was a sharp, jagged sound like broken glass. "A Death Eater, am I?" She held her arms out wide, unmarked forearms bared in her short-sleeved button-down, and bared her teeth in a savage grin. "Is that the only explanation you people can think of?"
"Where is he?" Remus demanded, taking a step forward. His face was cold, wand hand trembling with rage. "Where have you taken him?"
"I know what you are," Snape said, ignoring Remus's demand as he too took a step forward. "I know what you want."
"Do you, now?" She cocked her head to the side teasingly. "The wittle bitty wizzy has figured me alllll out?"
"I knew a woman like you," the Potions Master continued, ignoring her taunting. "She too enjoyed in psychological torment of those weaker than her. What did the Dark Lord promise you, Sofen? Money? Power? Did he promise to endow you with the magic you were born without, because not even he could—"
The wine glass shattered in Sofen's hand, and for the first time since they'd arrived she did not look amused. "Is that what you think this is about?" she hissed in a low voice, eyes flashing with golden light. "You think I did this for magic? That I would ever want to be one of you? You are vermin. You are the scum of humanity. The weakest, stupidest branch of the Homo sapien species, doomed to wallow in your own ignorance until you choke to death on your own foolishness."
She took a step forward and the trio tensed, even if she was weaponless and—by all appearances—harmless. "Harry understood," she continued, the anger morphing on a dime to that eerie calm of before. "He's a smart one. I just helped him open his eyes."
"You manipulated him!" Remus yelled. "Professor McGonagall is dead and—"
"—it doesn't matter," she finished for him. She tilted her head the other way. "I've heard about you, Mr. Lupin."
"How do you—"
"I know everything about you. I know that you fear the monster inside of you. You fear your inability to love because of what happened to the last people you loved. They died, afraid and alone, thinking that you were a traitor."
"Stop it, woman," Snape ordered, eyes flicking to the growing shaking in Remus's hand. "You are outnumbered and outmatched. Your mind games will not be enough to save you from Azkaban. You're done."
She turned to look him in the eyes. "Am I?"
There was no warning before light exploded outwards from her every pore, bathing the room with the luminescence of the sun. The wizards cried out in unison as their retinas were seared by the light, all three crumpling to the floor under the brunt of it. Dumbledore threw up a hasty Protego moments before a blast of energy collided with it with an ear-splitting thrum, the vibrations making the room shake and the glass windows blow out.
"'Just a Muggle', you thought."
Dumbledore squinted, vision returning in time to see her sauntering slowly towards him, one finger dragging along the back of the couch and leaving a flaming trail in its wake.
"'Won't be a problem', you thought."
He slashed his wand through the air and an arc of violently red light sliced outwards across the room, cleaving towards her like a scythe—only for her to turn semi-transparent milliseconds before it struck, the spell passing clear through her as though she wasn't even there, her form re-solidifying once it dissipated.
Sofen grinned, irises hidden beneath a sheen of brilliant gold. "'We can take her'."
"That power," the Headmaster whispered, eyes widening in horrified recognition. He had seen it once before, long, long ago, at the hands of a man in service to the Dark Lord Grindelwald. "Moonstone."
The psychiatrist wiggled her fingers and white unfolded across her body, her Muggle clothes burning away to be replaced by a white-and-gold bodysuit that clung to her like a glove, light glittering from every strand of hair. "You might remember my predecessor, Lloyd Bloch," the supervillain said, lifting smoothly into the air in blatant defiance of magical law. "Right-hand to the Dark Lord Grindelwald. Grindelwald foresaw what was coming—the dawn of mutation, the rise of superhumans, the end of the magical race—and sought to use their power, and the power of artifacts like the Moonstone, to keep wizardkind on top. Had you not stopped him, your species would be ruling this world."
"That power drove Bloch insane!"
"He was weak," Moonstone spat out. She curled her hands into fists, light pulsating around them in spheres of gold. "But I am not!"
She slammed her fists together and a meter-wide beam of molten plasma shot towards him, only Remus's quick reflexes allowing him to shove the old man away in time. But he wasn't fast enough to protect himself, and in the blink of an eye the werewolf was vaporized. The energy didn't stop there, burning a hole through several floors before it fizzled out.
"Remus!" The two turned and, as one, unleashed the most powerful spells they knew at her. They struck her head-on and didn't leave as much as a scratch.
Moonstone bared her teeth, eyes glowing too brightly to look upon. "I've gone hand-to-hand with Captain Marvel in his prime! I've taken hits from the Hulk and lived to tell the tale! You think I fear your feeble magic? No." Her eyes narrowed, lowering to his wand. "I know your weakness."
She lifted her fist once more and a younger Dumbledore might've had the reaction time to see the attack coming, to block or dodge, but this was not a young Dumbledore. This Dumbledore could only stare in horror as her hand unleashed a beam of painfully bright light which vaporized the Elder Wand—and the hand holding it—into a billion shards of nothingness, leaving only a cauterized stump in its wake.
"Albus!" Snape cast her a fearful look, this time choosing not to play hero. Instead he grabbed his fallen mentor and Disapparated, moments before Sofen's power disintegrated the entire top floor of the building.
"So you're telling me there's nothing?"
Scott Summers, the mutant hero also known as Cyclops, shook his head, the ruby-quartz of his visor glinting in the light. "Sorry, Stark," he said, "We've scanned with Cerebro. Twice. There are no mutants fitting that powerset and age range anywhere on the planet."
"Could he be blocking it? It's happened before."
Tony couldn't see the mutant's eyes, but he imagined that if he could the man would be rolling them. "This isn't a tech problem. It would take an Omega-Level telepath to block out Cerebro and there are only three of those on the entire planet, two of whom are here in this building. Trust me; this is sort of our area of expertise. Whoever or whatever you're dealing with, they're not a mutant."
Tony sighed, leaning back in his chair. "Damn it," he murmured. That had been his biggest lead. "Thanks anyway. And, listen, about Trask—"
Scott lifted a hand, cutting him off. "Don't, Tony."
"It was my plans he stole and used to make the Sentinels and I just wanted to ask if I could help—"
"Don't," Scott repeated with greater stress, and Tony closed his mouth. The mutant sighed. "Look, you have to understand that things haven't been great for us since Trask did what he did. Not that they were all that great before. I know, intellectually, it wasn't your fault, but honestly it's a bit hard not to hold some resentment when giant purple Iron Man robots are killing people like us in the streets. Us mutants haven't had the best experience with wealthy inventors and to be honest your help would only make it worse. Let us deal with it. Please. This is what the X-Men were brought together to do."
Tony sighed, nodding in acquiescence, and Scott closed the line. Another dangerous weapon hurting people because of something he did. Why did it feel like that was a reoccurring theme in his life?
"Sir," J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke up, "Are you certain that I should not send word to Agent Coulson?"
"Yes," Tony ordered, leaning back in his chair. "This is none of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s business." He swiveled his chair to glance at the camera hanging limply from the ceiling. The EMP had shorted it out and its separation from his systems kept it out when the power returned. One good thing to come out of this mess. "Play it again, J.A.R.V.I.S."
The computer screen flickered for a moment before the image came up, the last image J.A.R.V.I.S. had captured before his systems died. Steven—or Harry, Tony supposed—striding up the driveway, green energy pouring off of him, jaw set in determination.
"What the hell happened to you, kid?" the man muttered aloud. Was it Howard? Had the man somehow managed to interfere even after the grave, setting the kid up to fall? Was it just bad luck? Or was it Tony himself to blame, cursed to destroy anything he touched?
Tony's gaze slid to the scale-model of the Expo, forgotten in the corner of his office. He tugged down his shirt collar, examining the blackened veins reaching out from the Arc Reactor. He looked to the tapes his father had left, untouched in the projector. He made his decision.
And, rising from his chair, he got to work saving his own life.
The white linen of the bandages stood out brightly against the blackened flesh of Dumbledore's forearm, hiding the mutilated limb from view. Snape tied a knot at the base of them and glanced up, hoping to see something beyond utter despair on the aged Headmaster's face, but the expression on the man's face had not changed. "Albus, this was not your fault."
The old man just shook his head. "Don't try and deny it. This was on me. All this. All of it."
"You couldn't have known—"
Dumbledore cut him off with a disturbingly hysterical-sounding laugh, lifting blue eyes. "Couldn't have known? Couldn't have known what, that Sofen was in possession of one of the most powerful artifacts I've ever seen? That she was… what do the Muggles call them… a supervillain? That sending an angry, confused boy into her clutches would turn him into the exact thing I always feared?"
Snape was silent for a long moment. "Mistakes happen."
The Headmaster shook his head, sighing. "Negligence is not a mistake, Severus. I was so scared of Harry's potential, of driving him into the darkness like I did with Tom Riddle, that I stayed away, and in doing so only served to ensure it happened all the sooner."
The Potions Master had nothing to add to that, and so stayed silent, focusing his attention on the stump of an arm. Sofen's power was great indeed; there was no remaking Albus's arm, nor retrieving his wand from oblivion. A prosthetic could be manufactured but it would be no substitute for a wand arm. "Her power. You knew it."
Another sigh. "Yes. Yet another of my past mistakes."
"It wasn't magic. Muggle?" He was reluctant to believe it, but it was the only explanation.
"No, no. Alien." A glimpse at the disbelieving expression he garnered prompted a faint chuckle from Dumbledore. "I was as surprised as you when I heard, believe me. Moonstone… The Moonstone was an artifact that fell from the heavens not long before Grindelwald's rise. Powerful, yes. Like nothing we'd ever seen. It was a man named Lloyd Bloch who was tasked with investigating its properties, a wizard of average intellect and ability. When he touched the Moonstone, though, it… changed him. It absorbed into him and endowed him with great and terrible power. Power that the Dark Lord took notice of."
"Grindelwald's private army." There were stories of them, though Severus had never believed. Stories of a personal squad of people possessing incredible powers that transcended magic. "The Thunderbolts."
Dumbledore's eyes had gone unfocused as he reminisced. "Gellert… Grindelwald was always obsessed with them. The not-Muggles. He was there when we first discovered them, you know. Salzburg, Austria, 1932. A woman with the ability to transform herself into anyone. Human, animal… and a natural body which defied explanation, with skin of blue and eyes of yellow. Not a witch or a Metamorphagus, something… more. A mutant, we would later hear them called. He knew right then that this was the beginning of something different. Something new. And then the Americans created their 'Captain America', and he knew what it meant. The Muggles were no longer the primitive apes our people believed them to be. They were evolving. And if we didn't act fast, we would become obsolete." He blinked a couple times, eyes refocusing as he cleared his throat. "Hogwash, of course. We were never superior to the Muggles to begin with, and the worth of life is not determined by its power."
Snape decided against contributing to that statement, recognizing the subtle reprimand. He, like Grindelwald's first followers, had followed a Dark Lord because he wanted to live in a world where one's genetics determined their worth. A world where being pure of blood, where being a wizard, meant you were important. Not the half-blood son of a Muggle and a weakling. Not that it had mattered; it was clear now that the only supremacy Voldemort had wanted was his own.
"The Thunderbolts were a terrifying force," Dumbledore continued. "Magic gave us diversity of skill, but we had no point of reference, and they had a raw power that vastly overtook our own. We could not disarm these foes, for their power wasn't drawn from a wand or spells. Moonstone was the most frightening. But what I saw from Sofen… even Bloch never reached those levels."
"How did you beat him?"
"We didn't. The others, yes, we were able to overwhelm by sheer numbers, but not him. The original Moonstone fell a full three years after Grindelwald. Eventually the power's toll was too much for him and his mind broke. Last I heard he was under observation in an institute in Italy." A bitter laugh. "I imagine that Sofen had no trouble using her psychiatric credentials to get in."
"Focus, Albus. How do we beat her? How do we find Potter?"
"We don't. Haven't you been listening?" A hint of derangement flickered through the Headmaster's gaze. "It's over. Harry's gone, and now our hope's gone with him. And I… I failed him. I neglected and manipulated him and now he's lost to us. How long until he returns, the third Dark Lord to be brought about by my own foolishness? Perhaps this one will finally succeed in putting me out of my misery." Dumbledore slumped back in his chair, closing weary blue eyes. "It's over. He's gone, Severus. He's really gone."
Tony had been a teenager when humanity had discovered superheroes. They'd always known about "special people", of course—Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch—but they were a one in a trillion, with their abilities and identities distorted by storytelling until no one believed that they were anything more than well-trained soldiers.
The discovery of the X-Gene and the worldwide paranoia about the "mutant menace" which came decades later further distorted humanity's opinion on people with powers, with words like "gifted" and "special" being exchanged for "demonic" and "unnatural." He could still remember sitting in his high school history class and watching a documentary about the day Magneto stole a space shuttle, lifting it right off NASA's tarmac with his control over metal, and his teacher stressing that all mutants were dangerous abominations that despised their evolutionary predecessors and who plotted to wipe humanity out.
And then the Fantastic Four came and changed the dialogue yet again. These weren't teenagers with laser-eyes or toddlers who burned their parents alive when they threw a tantrum; these were scientists. Explorers. Pioneers. Their powers had been earned; at least that's how it had been explained to Tony. They were rare, special, and most importantly unique. They fought aliens and psychotic kings on the streets of New York. They didn't scheme to replace humanity with a better version, and they lacked the threat of evolutionary superiority. They weren't just people with powers; they were heroes. Superheroes.
That was the only thing that kept Tony safe, he knew. People might hate him for his money or his supposedly privileged upbringing, but they respected his intellect. Because, though he might've been born with his father's brainpower, he had made himself into Iron Man all on his own. Agent Coulson had warned him on the day he outed himself as Iron Man that there would be a price to this. "Superheroes don't get private lives," the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent had said. "You cover up, you hide yourself away, and people will get paranoid. Paranoia will turn to fear, which will then turn to hate, and next thing you know you're being hunted down. Just look at Spider-Man."
Spider-Man. According to J. Jonah Jameson, a criminal mastermind who protected people only as a cover for his criminal enterprises. According to the tabloids, a closet mutant with eight eyes and mandibles beneath his mask. According to Nick Fury, a potential asset with equal potential to become one of the greatest evils in existence. Tony had followed the web-slinger's career since it began a few months ago and it astounded him how truly fragile the public perception of their empowered population was. One slip-up, one moment of weakness, one accident… and you were the monster under the bed.
What was Harry Potter's place in that world, Tony wondered? Powers like he'd seen did not come for free. Had he earned them too, in his own way? Were they given, be it by benefactor or villain? Or were they just a twisted side-effect of Howard's attempts to play God?
These thoughts swirled through Tony's mind as he sat at his desk, a simple yellow folder lying closed before him. The tab was number-stamped with the date that had been forever burned into his brain. The day his father died. The day Tony's life began.
Tony fingered tab hesitantly, lifting the cover only to let it drop back down. He'd held this file once before, not even thinking about its significance as he'd filled out the packet of forms contained within. He'd thought that he would never see it again. How wrong he was.
Did he really need to know? He could walk away right now. Throw the folder into the fire and never look back. The boy named Harry Potter was not his problem, hadn't been his problem since the last time he'd seen this folder, and he didn't have to change that. He could hand it over to S.H.I.E.L.D. and let them take care of it. Really, why did it have to be him?
Because I need to know that I made the right choice. I need to know that it wasn't my fault. That I'm not my father.
Taking a deep breath Tony flipped open the cover, dark eyes tracing down the page with exaggerated hesitation. Much of it was meaningless information—weight, eye color, known familial diseases—but it was the extra addition that he locked onto. The addition that hadn't been there last time. Two names.
James and Lily Potter.
Tony studied his face in the rear-view mirror while he waited for the light to turn green. The skin above his lip itched unpleasantly, clean of hair perhaps for the first time since he'd been able to grow anything worth having. A pair of thin wire-rimmed glasses perched on the bridge of his equine nose. Above the glasses, his hair lay straight and tidy over his brow, trimmed to perfection and unmolested by sprays or gel.
The light finally turned and he eased off the break, keeping the vehicle at the posted speed limit. He'd done enough business in the UK that driving on the opposite side of the road didn't bother him, but he could still feel his heart picking up speed. Memory tormented him, the last time he'd seen the child his heart beat in the same frantic rhythm.
He took a breath, then another, forcing the air to expand his lungs to the point he could feel the shift of metal in the front of his chest. A decidedly unpleasant feeling, but one that reminded Tony he'd been through worse. He could do this. By the time he'd gotten his traitorous heart under some sort of control, he made the turn onto Privet Drive.
House after house slowly passed as Tony searched for the right one. The neighborhood fell comfortably within middle-class standards, easing a bit of his worry. It wasn't a rundown slum, and it wasn't the upper echelon where parents couldn't be bothered to raise their own offspring let alone someone else's. All of the homes were well maintained and held that deep sameness homes held in neighborhoods ruled by homeowners' associations. Regulated, he thought distastefully.
Finally, number 4 caught his eye. Tony parked the car precisely two inches from the curb and give himself a final minute of deep breathing to gather his nerve. He'd faced certain death in the not so distant past, this... interview - was nothing compared to Afghanistan.
Holding that thought firmly in mind, Tony grabbed a thin leather-bound notebook and got out of the vehicle. Like his neatly pressed suit, off the rack but serviceable, the vehicle spoke of position. While there were no obvious marks of authority, something about the black car still gave that impression. Not high authority, no, but ground-level power.
Tony forced his lips into a firm line, an expression he'd seen on his father's face more times than he could count. Three sharp raps on the door brought the lady of the house. The woman stood in the door frame and gave him a scrutinizing look, starting at the top of his neatly groomed head before working her way down to the sharply polished black shoes. Then she turned her watery blue gaze onto his vehicle and gave it the same harsh assessment. Tony found himself thankful he'd put so much thought into his disguise.
It didn't take her long to decide he wasn't the sort she could simply turn away with a curt word. "May I help you?" While the words were the picture of politeness, something squirmed unpleasantly in her tone.
"Petunia Dursley? I need to speak to you about one Harry Potter, a child placed in your care when he was—" Here Tony paused, opened the notebook and scanned the notes he'd written in preparation for this interview. "—fifteen months old."
A harsh moue of distaste curled her pristine made up lips. Mrs. Dursley would never be a beautiful woman, but Tony could tell she'd spent a considerable amount of time on the parts of her she could alter. Her hair was in a style a little too fussy for the time of day, and her face held a layer too much of makeup, but she'd managed to draw a certain level of watered down pretty from her to sharp cheek bones. Like the hair and cosmetics, her clothes did the best they could with what they had. A pale peach floral dress hugged her narrow waist, accenting her slender hips but did nothing for her overly long neck.
For all she tried, what little Petunia managed to coax from her looks was spoiled by the sharp-edged personally that bled from her pointed glare and flared around her pinched lips. A splinter of unease threaded through his assessment of the woman at that look.
"Do come in," she said, holding the door open for him. As he passed, he noticed her look past him, eyes darting furtively up and down the road before she shut the door firmly behind him.
Petunia led him to the living room and offered him a seat on a couch as floral as her dress. As he settled himself, Tony let his eyes wander briefly around the living space. It reminded him unpleasantly of the drawing rooms of some of his acquaintances as a boy. The sort of rooms that were both pristine, yet cold, where wealthy women shared tea and thinly veiled gossip. It felt wrong in a house like this, one where the living room should feel... lived in.
Another thing tugged at Tony's unease. While the room felt aloof, there were an inordinate number of photos on the walls. Pictures of a boy child, but one he knew at a glance wasn't Harry Potter. No, this child's blond hair was the same pale shade as his mother, a rotund boy who seemed to throw an inordinate number of fits if the pictures were anything to go by. Looking through the pictures, Tony would never know another child grew up in this home, and the lack of visual documentation of Harry disturbed him.
Hell, even his father had a few pictures of Tony on the wall. Only those ones that showed his achievements, like graduation photos, but still.
"What's all this about? What has that boy gotten himself into this time?" Petunia's sharp tone drew Tony's attention back onto her, and he found himself taking yet another deep breath before he began. Boy. The word grated in his ears, and he had to fight to keep from standing up and demanding to know the truth he'd come seeking. A near-equal impulse almost sent him to his feet in order to flee this cold room and unpleasant woman, questions left forever unanswered.
Instead of doing either, he once again opened his notebook and glanced over his scrawled points. "Ma'am I'm Detective Bronson." At the title even the semblance of the tight smile fell from her lips, though her face showed not a hint of surprise. That made Tony suppress a harsh grin of triumph. Not only had she bought his act, she believed it so fully she hadn't bothered asking for identification. A fake badge sat neatly in his inner pocket anyway, just in case, but he felt a stab of pride that he wouldn't have to use it.
"I'm investigating a string of petty thefts. Harry Potter's name came up more than once during my previous interviews and I would like to discuss the matter with you personally before I move forward with the case." The tone of his voice was purely professional, and Tony didn't hide the way his eyes sharpened as he studied her face.
As a teenager, Tony had a bit of a wild streak. He couldn't remember the number of times a man dressed quite like himself came to talk to his father, and he remembered the sharp sting he felt at how his father degraded him to any adult who had less than a kind word to say about him. The man was two-faced though. If someone asked about Tony without talking down about him first, his father would sing praises about his boy. Tony wasn't willing to risk the same lies during this meeting, so he put out the bait and waited.
She took it. "Just like his pathetic excuse of a father," Petunia sniffed, glaring down her blade of a nose at him. "I always knew nothing good would come of taking in that… that…" Words appeared to fail her here, and his heart clinched at the pure vitriol that flavored the words. Worse, the way she talked about Harry's father had the sound of ritual, something she said so often it fell naturally from her lips without a single thought.
"The jobless layabout that my foolish sister got married to right out of school. Then they had him and he clearly inherited the same terrible tendencies."
The words, and worse that hellishly judgmental tone, made Tony's stomach drop. He could almost hear the sound of his own father's voice echo in her hateful tone.
"Oi, who's the suit?"
Tony almost jumped at the unexpected voice. He'd been so focused on Petunia that he'd failed to hear the large teenager come down the stairs. Ah, the star of all the family portraits, he thought with distaste. The pictures hadn't done the kid justice. He was massive in nearly every way. Tall, perhaps even taller than Tony carrying at least twice Tony's weight. Most of the flab centered around the teen's middle, causing his gut to bulge and forcing butt and massive thighs to strain heroically against the trousers he wore.
Under all the fat, Tony could tell the boy had a hefty structure; his shoulders alone reminded the billionaire of a young bull. While this teen might have been morbidly obese, Tony could tell he wouldn't be the sort to be picked on over it. No, he would be the one holding other kids down while his mates beat the shit out of them.
"Dudders! I didn't know you were still home. Weren't you going out with your friends tonight?" The childish endearment made Dudders roll his eyes in typical teenager fashion.
"That's tomorrow," Dudley drawled, his small blue eyes—clearly inherited from his mother, like his hair—remaining locked on Tony. "So? What's he doing here?"
Petunia stood, her hand fluttered like frail birds at the ends of her wrists before she spoke. "This is Detective Bronson, he's here about Harry."
The way she said Harry's name set Tony's hackles on edge. He fought to keep his face politely distant, professional and kept his teeth locked on what he wanted to say.
Another eye-roll met this declaration, but not even a hint of shock. Instead, Tony watched a slyness spill across the pudgy face and flash in Dudley's cruel eyes. If he'd been a real detective, Tony knew all his 'spider senses' would be going off about the boy.
"What'd he get up to now? He stealing shit again?"
That caused Tony's eyebrow to lift in surprise before another thin line of this family's dynamic fell into place. Scapegoat.
"Yes," Tony said flatly, and felt another twinge of dismay at the wicked grin that stretched the boy's face. Without being invited, Dudley came into the room and plopped himself down one of the arm chairs facing the couch. All of the furniture in the room was bulky, a distinctly odd choice for the drawing room atmosphere, but the sight of Dudley throwing his weight into the chair told its own story. No way would the delicate wood-legged furniture Petunia most likely wanted would survive such rough treatment. "It appears that Harry has been linked to a number of petty thefts."
If possible, the shit eating grin grew. "You going to arrest him? If so, you'll have to wait. He's at that freaky school of his."
"Dudley," Petunia hissed, her eyes flashing heat at the boy. He scowled in reply and folded his bulky arms over his chest, a pout more suited to a toddler instead of a youth of nearly fifteen crossed his lips giving him an oddly angry cherub look. While the rest of him had matured, or at least gotten large, Dudley's face looked too young for his body.
"School?" Tony prompted, wishing now that he'd taken a little more time to prepare for this meeting. He could have but another wave of sick unease pulsed in his gut at the thought. All he wanted to do was show up, find out that Harry's adoptive family was the sort of family he'd always wanted and leave again. Then he could put the whole thing out of his mind and never have to think about it again, except…
Except something went wrong, and looking into the faces of these two he knew in his damaged heart that they'd been the ones to plant the seeds of the damaged young man who'd tried to kill him. Tony fought the urge to pull off his glasses and massage his temples. The headache brewing in his skull felt damn near crippling, and he wanted out of this unpleasant suburban house.
A look of such vitriol and hate passed over Petunia's face when he asked about the school that Tony sat up a little straighter.
"That place hardly deserves the title of school," she spat, her tone hot enough to blister paint. "It's a bloody cult, that's what it is. And no, I can't give you any more details. I also can't call the boy home for you. If you want to arrest him, you'll have to wait until he comes home during the summer hols." Her words broke no argument, slamming the door on that avenue of conversation so hard it made his ears ring.
Still, it was curious, something to tuck away for further study if he decided to dig a little deeper in the future. Tony jotted a few notes down, not that he needed them, but to give Petunia some time to collect herself. It hardly mattered what school the child went to in the end. The whole point of coming here was to learn about Harry's home life and assure himself he hadn't made a mistake all those years ago, that what Harry become wasn't his fault. Please don't let me be like my father.
"Well, petty thief would hardly warrant jail time ma'am," Tony said with a false smile. "Perhaps a fine, and maybe some community service at most. I'm sure we can work out a time and place to get this all sorted out when your nephew returns home."
Again that hateful scowl curled her lips at the reminder of their familial bonds. Tony fought back a wince at the expression. The longer he spent with the pair, the more certain he became that Harry's formative years hadn't been pleasant in the least. "And I suppose we'll be the ones expected to pay this fine, won't we?" she snapped, another layer of fury flashing in her eyes. "That boy has been nothing but a burden since that wretched old man left him on our doorstep."
Every time she said the word boy, it felt like a nail being driven into his heart. He'd only been in her presence for less than half an hour, yet her harsh tone clawed at nerves still left raw from his own father's abuse.
"When he gets home you should move him back into the cupboard where he belongs. I still can't believe you gave that berk my second bedroom." The words held the flavor of an old argument, and set fire to Tony's blood. Rage seared him as understanding dawned. In that instant he knew it wasn't just verbal abuse Harry suffered at the hands of these people.
Some of his anger must have showed in his face because Petunia's went white, showing every bit of the makeup she'd so carefully applied. "Dudley! I think it's time for you to go out and play."
"But Mum," he whined, not wanting to miss out on getting Harry into even more trouble.
"OUT!" Even the outrageously spoiled boy couldn't stand against that tone. With a grunt of anger, Dudley levered his bulk out of the chair and stormed out of the house. He slammed the door so hard that all the pictures of him rattled on the wall. If anyone belongs in prison, it's that one.
The snippy thought wasn't enough to mask his own pain though and he slowly stood up. Every part of him ached almost as fiercely as it once did in a dingy cave. He couldn't stand being here another second. Tony fished a business card out of his pocket and handed it to the woman. It was as fake as the badge, but would lead her to a secure line that only he had access to. "Thank you for your time, Mrs. Dursley, but I need to get going. Please give me a call when Harry returns."
Before she could so much as stutter out an excuse for what Dudley revealed, Tony fled. He only stopped to breath once he'd reached his car, leaning against the warm metal and finally giving in to the urge to remove the glasses and knead his aching eyes. The pain in his head was augmented by the sharp, uncomfortable pressure in his chest that he might have thought was a product of the Arc Reactor had he not known better. No, this was an entirely different sort of pain, and not one that he felt ready to address just yet.
As if on cue his phone began to buzz and Tony immediately took hold of the distraction, answering his secretary-turned-business-partner with a weary, "Yes?"
"Tony?" Pepper's voice was shaking slightly, and though the billionaire's heartbeat quickened in panic, he realized a moment later that it was excitement he was hearing. "You need to get back here. You need to get back here now."
"What is it?"
"It's… it's Captain America, Tony. He's alive."
Tony didn't even feel the phone slipping from his hand to shatter on the sidewalk below.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The continuous beeping of the heart-rate monitor bored its way into Tony's skull as he sat there, heart in his mouth and mind spinning. He felt like that time he'd tried cocaine in college and spent the entire weekend in his bathroom, the whole world spinning and wrong.
It was deceptive, how normal Steve Rogers looked. An ignorant observer would probably label him as being asleep, or at most under anesthesia. He was free of bandages and tubes, only a simple IV marring his form. He'd been given a clean shirt but it was stretched out like a beach ball over his bulging muscles. A small, dark part of Tony hoped that it would cut off his circulation. His short blond hair had been combed by some busybody and even the 70-year-old soot on his face had been scrubbed away. He looked normal. Hell, he looked amazing.
Tony wanted to bash that pretty face in until there was nothing left.
When he was a kid, Tony had loved Captain America. Howard had waxed poetic about the man night and day and his son had eaten it up; dressing as the man for Halloween, writing history reports about him, even keeping a poster on his wall for inspiration. As he'd gotten older, however, he'd begun to lose interest, something that was quickened by his father's spiral into obsession. Soon enjoyable stories about the Invaders fighting the Red Skull became rants about politics and tirades about 'wannabe Caps'. Childhood adoration faded to apathy, and apathy to dislike. Of course there were… other reasons to hate the man now, but Tony would prefer not to think about those. Not so soon after his trip to London.
What would Rogers be like when he woke up, Tony wondered? If he woke up. Fury was convinced that the Super-Soldier Serum would preserve his brain function but the genius had his doubts. And even if the man woke up, who's to say if his brain would even be functioning normally? 70 years was a long time for the human brain to be frozen. Brain damage seemed unavoidable.
There was a chair beside the bed, but Tony couldn't bring himself to sit down, his entire body wired and tense like an animal in the spotlight. Fury hadn't even paused before leaving Tony alone with the Captain, no doubt certain that Iron Man would have nothing but respect for America's First Superhero. Never even consider that he wouldn't like him. That he might hate him. That, more than anything, he was afraid of him.
And hell, Tony had never hated and feared anyone more in his life.
This was the man who had driven his father into obsession and turned Howard Stark into a monster. This was the man whose DNA was responsible for the most horrific thing Tony had ever experienced in his life. This was the man who had, indirectly or not, fathered the same teenager who had tried to murder Tony less than a week before. And this was the man whose existence had turned that same teenager into a monster all his own.
Tony's heartbeat roared in his ears as the Super-Soldier shifted in his sleep, long eyelashes fluttering as he turned his head until it faced the other man, eyes still closed in sleep. Tony stood frozen for several seconds, overtaken by a sudden, all-consuming fear, before he regained control over himself and fled, not even sparing a glance for Fury's bewildered questions as he passed the man in the hall.
Tony swore to himself right then that he would never let Steve Rogers find out the truth about their connection. That there would never be a connection. The legacy of Captain America had destroyed everyone in his family; he wouldn't let it do the same to him.
A/N: This story is one of what I call my "low-intensity" stories, meaning that I mostly write it for fun with little focus on an extended plot, update schedule, or even a very high quality of writing. I always have a few of them around to write when my high-intensity stories give me trouble. Later on I will be posting another low-intensity Marvel story, that one an HP/X-Men. The ideas which are used in this chapter involving Grindelwald and Moonstone are actually a core plot point in my high-intensity HP/Avengers but, given that I haven't yet figured out a cohesive arc for that story, I have yet to really work on it. My current high-intensity is an HP/X-Men that I have been working on for years and am hoping to post soon, featuring a myriad of Marvel properties and encompassing both HP and Marvel universes in totality. I also have an HP/Spider-Man that I write on much less frequently.
To all the people no doubt angry that I made Dumbledore, Snape, and Remus so weak to Sofen, let me remind you of the massive power difference between the Marvel Universe and the HP books. In Marvel, the most powerful characters are capable of planet-scale telepathy, molecular reconfiguration, time-travel, and, oh yea, reality warping. While it is true that witches and wizards have the "jack-of-all-trades" side covered, they don't really have anything close to the power required to be a notable force in that world, especially when facing up against Marvel's main superhuman race, mutants, whose numbers already contain some of the most powerful magic-users in existence. If they ever tried to assert dominion over the non-magical world they would be snuffed out with almost no struggle whatsoever. As such, in bigger stories I usually either a) Change the nature of magic to make it better-suited to the Marvel Universe, or b) Make the Magical World completely divorced from the Muggle side. In this story I just get enjoyment out of grinding them into the dirt.
Karla Sofen/Moonstone – Born an ordinary human, Karla Sofen possessed psychopathic manipulative tendencies from a young age, though she masked them well enough to achieve a psychiatric degree and open a small business. She was known for manipulating clients in order to keep them dependent on her and ensuring her income, such as calling the house of a paranoid client in order to convince her that her husband was cheating so the woman would keep coming to Sofen's sessions. Her credentials would later allow her access to the facility where the original Moonstone—Lloyd Bloch—was being kept, an ordinary supervillain who had absorbed a Kree gravity stone called the Moonstone which granted him superhuman abilities such as superhuman strength, durability, and speed, as well as flight, intangibility, and photokinesis. Sofen used her mind games to convince Bloch that he was a loathsome monster, eventually pushing him so far that his body rejected the Moonstone within him, which she then stole and absorbed into herself. She is a long-time enemy of Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel), owning largely to the nature of her powers making her Carol's near or complete equal. At one point she even succeeded in killing Carol.
1st Captain Marvel/Mar-Vell – Mar-Vell was a warrior member of the Kree, an alien race older than humanity trapped in a bitter war with their enemies the Skrulls. Mar-Vell—as a pink Kree, a separate race to the more well-known blue with a closer resemblance to humans—was chosen to scout out Earth as a potential Kree outpost, due to it being in a tactically advantageous point for their war. Mar-Vell was endowed with superhuman powers and sent to Earth to spy. However, he came to care for Earth's people, and formed a close and eventually romantic relationship with NASA security head Carol Danvers, who was his liaison. Eventually he broke ranks from the Kree Empire's cruel expansionist policy and chose to protect humanity from alien threats, including the (equally if not more cruel) Skrull Empire. Due to humanity's often mispronouncing of his name as "Marvel" he chose the title "Captain Marvel" when he became a superhero. It was due to her activities with him that Carol was exposed to a Kree weapon which enhanced her DNA with his enhanced Kree DNA, granting her powers and inspiring her to become Ms. Marvel. Mar-Vell would later die of cancer after saving the Earth and Carol would change her name to Captain Marvel in memory of him.
The Thunderbolts: Originally a supervillain team masquerading as heroes in order to sway the public to their side, the constant presence of heroics began to instigate an actual change in the villains that made it up. The team later became a home for supervillains working under the supervision of S.H.I.E.L.D. until Norman Osborn, aka The Green Goblin, took it over, eventually using the team to assist him in eliminating the Avengers, replacing them, and conquering the United States.