The mid-July day was sweltering, the drought inescapable, and a heavy, oppressive silence lay over Privet Drive. The only person who remained outdoors in the heat was a skinny, fifteen-year-old boy currently lounging as comfortably as he could in a flowerbed outside number Four. He had short black hair and round spectacles, and looked a little gaunt, as though he had recently hit a growth spurt and had not yet filled out properly. His clothes were torn, baggy, and faded, and rather made him stand out amidst the generally well-dressed inhabitants of the suburb of Little Whinging.
On the whole, Harry was rather proud of his hiding place, uncomfortable though he was, lying on the dusty dirt, with his arms visibly crisscrossed with dozens of scratches from the rosebush he had brushed past to get here… It was due to his location that he would be able to safely overhear the TV news without his aunt and uncle snarling at him. Any other boy might, perhaps, have been congratulated for taking an interest in current events, but as Harry's mere presence was a bugbear to the Dursleys, actively having to see him only ruined everyone's day.
Harry watched Mrs Figg, a mad old former babysitter, amble slowly past as a commercial jingle played over the TV's speakers. Finally, the opening notes of the music that heralded the eight o'clock news reached Harry's ears just as the sun began to disappear behind number Seven across the street, and Harry's stomach clenched. Perhaps tonight—after a month of waiting—would be the night…
"For our first story this evening, numbers of demonstrators outside Westminster Hall are growing, as a group calling for mutant equality continues their petition to the Houses of Parliament."
"Give the freaks a nice sit-in with the constable for disrupting Parliamentary business, I would," snarled Uncle Vernon over the end of the newsreader's sentence. "Right to petition belongs to normal, decent people!"
Outside the window, Harry sighed. If anything that Voldemort was behind had happened, it would surely have been the first item on the news; death and destruction were more important than demonstrations to Parliament.
Still, Harry thought the mutants made an interesting contrast to the wizarding world—really, the public reaction to the recent rise in mutant activity was about the same as the feared response to the breaking of the Statute of Secrecy. The only difference being that the mutant population was scattered, and so lacked a hidden world to support them.
Harry didn't have much of an opinion either way about mutants. He couldn't exactly blame anyone for having a strange power they didn't understand, or feeling that a strange destiny had been forced on them, now could he? Harry figured that, despite whatever prejudices people seemed to have against mutants, they weren't that different from wizards, overall.
He could almost hear Hermione's voice in his head — Honestly, what does it matter if they have some special powers? So do we; any wizard can fly, using a broomstick, or conjure water from thin air! Why should it seem odd to us if a mutant can do something similar?
Belatedly, Harry tuned back in to the news broadcast: "—and finally, Bungy the budgie has found a novel way of keeping cool this summer. Bungy, who lives at the Five Feathers in Barnsley, has learned to water ski! Mary Dorkins went to find out more.
Harry rolled his eyes. If they had reached water-skiing parakeets, there would be nothing else worth hearing. He prepared to crawl out from under the window, when suddenly he heard a loud, echoing crack that broke the sleepy silence of the suburb like a gunshot.
A cat streaked out from under a parked car and vanished around the corner. Harry leapt to his feet and drew a narrow wooden wand from the waistband of his jeans, as if he were unsheathing a sword. Unfortunately, he was still under the windowsill, and the top of his head crashed into the open window before he could fully straighten up.
Blinking his streaming eyes rapidly, Harry tried to focus on the street to spot the source of the crack, staggering drunkenly out of the flowerbed. Seeing nothing, Harry stuffed his wand hastily back into his jeans and stomped down the street away from number four, not caring about Uncle Vernon's bellowed demands that he return, or his dire warnings that Harry had better not be back later than Dudley.
Harry was sure the cracking noise had been made by someone Apparating or Disapparating. Every few steps he glanced back over his shoulder. Someone magical had been near him as he lay among Aunt Petunia's dying begonias, he was sure of it. Why hadn't they spoken to him, why hadn't they made contact, why were they hiding now?
Every day this summer, as Harry had measured the four solid weeks he had been trapped at Privet Drive, had been the same: the tension as he searched for a discarded paper or snuck around to hear the news, the expectation, the temporary relief, and then mounting tension again…and always, growing more insistent all the time, the question of why nothing had happened yet. Voldemort had returned! Why was he laying low?
As far as Harry knew, Voldemort much preferred a shadowy but direct approach, as the last wizarding war had been fraught with Death Eater attacks on wizards and muggles alike, with killings highlighted by the Dark Mark, and the Death Eaters and Voldemort always slipping away, uncaught. But there had been nothing of the sort all summer, and Harry had likewise heard no news of their own side, the people opposing Voldemort. In short, Harry had been completely cut off from the wizarding world for a full month, and he was sick of it.
Hearing raucous voices approaching, Harry paused. Then, recognizing them, he slipped into the shadow of a nearby alleyway, that connected Magnolia Crescent and Wisteria Walk. It was a shortcut to and from a nearby park where Harry often went during the day to get away from number four, and consequently was frequented by Dudley returning home from a night out with his gang. He heard Dudley call goodnight to his friends at the other end of the alley, and footsteps as Dudley began to walk down the darkened track between the tall privacy fences on his way home. As he stood waiting, he barely noticed that his head no longer hurt at all.
Harry debated simply staying where he was, pressed against the wall. Dudley would most likely pass straight by him, as night was falling in earnest now, and Harry could avoid a confrontation and stay out as late as he wished. For a moment, childishly, he considered sticking out a foot to trip his cousin, but decided against it. While Harry was not remotely afraid of Dudley anymore, he knew that either action would most likely end with Uncle Vernon following up on his threat to lock Harry in the shed if he came home late again, let alone if he "assaulted" their precious Diddykins.
Then, when Dudley was less than ten feet away and Harry had finally decided to simply shadow him back home, it happened. Dudley gasped, a sudden bitter chill swept through the alley, and all light—from the streetlamps to the fat moon overhead—vanished.
"Wh-who's there?" Harry heard Dudley call. "What's going on? Is that you, Freak?"
"Dudley, shut up!" Harry snapped back in a whisper, turning on the spot slowly.
"I kn-knew it!" Dudley half-shouted, half-whimpered. "But you're not supposed to u-use it outside that freak school you go to! I've g-gone blind! What did you d-do to me?"
"I didn't do anything, you idiot!" Harry growled back. "There's something comi—" But before he could finish, Harry heard the sounds he had been dreading. The whisper of a cloak trailing on the ground, a slight disturbance in the air…and a long, slow, rattling breath like a drowned man's final gasp.
"Is that y-you?" said Dudley, his voice rising in panic. "C-cut it out with that D-Darth Vader shit. P-Please." Suddenly he was pleading. "Please. No. Don't tell Dad. Don't l-let them find out ab-bout meee…" Dudley trailed off in shudder.
"Dudley!" Harry hissed. "Where are you? Get over here so I can protect you! Lumos!" Harry's wand tip suddenly lit like a torch, casting a narrow beam of light across the mouth of the alleyway where he stood. He pointed it down the alley and repeated, "Dudley! Come here!"
The wandlight illuminated Dudley's back, but he didn't reply. He was backing slowly away from something further down the alley. As Dudley moved, apparently without realizing, toward him, Harry saw what his cousin was retreating from—two impossibly tall figures in hooded cloaks, from whose cowled depths the rattling breathing issued.
Harry was frozen in shock at seeing Dementors here—Here! In Little Whinging! The most thoroughly nonmagical place Harry knew of!
Dudley stumbled backwards and tripped. He threw up an arm to protect himself as the Dementors bore down upon him. Dudley screamed, and seemed to shrink somewhat, to diminish. At the same time, one of the Dementors leaned down, and knocked his hand aside. As it did so, however, its trailing cloak burst into flame. The burning dementor retreated, receded, and its fellow seemed to hesitate. That was all Harry needed.
Focusing on the happiest memory he could think of—not easy considering the summer he'd had so far—Harry pointed his wand at the Dementors and roared, "Expecto patronum!"
A silvery stag erupted from the lit tip of Harry's wand and charged the Dementors. The patronus passed right through Dudley, who had scrambled to his feet again, and lowered its antlered head. The silver prongs caught both Dementors in the chest, driving them back down the alley, where they swooped away in defeat, one of them still trailing smoke.
"W-wh-what happened?" Dudley said, stopping a few steps away from Harry as the streetlights behind them burst suddenly back into life, and the moon and stars seemed to suddenly reignite. He was still staring down the alleyway, apparently not even caring that he had his back to Harry with his wand out. "What w-was that?"
"Dementors," Harry breathed.
"I…I saw…like shadows. Darker than black. Reaching out for me."
Harry blinked in surprise. Muggles couldn't see Dementors; he was certain of it. It was one of the reasons Voldemort favored them so much. But Dudley was not describing Dementors correctly—they were dark, yes, in their black cloaks, but they did not appear incorporeal. As Harry knew well, Dementors were all too real.
"They…eat happiness," he summarized for his cousin. "I learned to fight them two years ago."
"I felt like I'd never be cheerful again. I h-heard voices. Mum and Dad saying…" Dudley trailed off, finally shambling around to face Harry, who quickly extinguished his wand and returned it to the waistband of his jeans.
Before he could think what else to say, Harry heard running footsteps at the far end of the alley. Not wishing to answer awkward questions, he seized Dudley's sleeve and pulled him across Wisteria Walk and back onto Privet Drive. Dudley shivered, which made Harry aware that he too was soaked in cold sweat.
"Have you got any chocolate on you?" he asked Dudley. His cousin stared at him stupidly for a moment, then shook his head.
"Not allowed…" he mumbled. Harry could have kicked himself—of course, this would have to happen only after Dudley had been on a boxer's diet for a year.
"Well, you need it," Harry said firmly, taking in Dudley's pallor. "My teacher and the school nurse recommended it after dealing with Dementors. I've got some upstairs. Come on."
He led the unresisting Dudley around the house to the back door, and then upstairs to his bedroom. Dudley collapsed in Harry's desk chair. As Harry dropped to his hands and knees to crawl under his bed, he pondered that Dudley probably would have smashed the chair to pieces if he had done that just a year ago. Now, Dudley honestly looked a bit gaunt. Harry wrenched up the loose floorboard under the bed, and pulled out a wrapped bar of Honeydukes' Best Chocolate.
Crawling back out, he unwrapped it, broke off a piece for himself, and passed the rest to Dudley. Dudley took the candy and just stared at it, then at Harry. Harry held up the piece he had broken off and very deliberately took a bite. When Dudley still didn't move, Harry rolled his eyes and said, "Come on, 'Big D', you've eaten more than that on a cheat day before. Go on, eat it. It'll help," he finished, thinking fondly of Professor Lupin as he echoed the man's words.
The faint smile fell off his face when he remembered that Lupin was leaving him as much in the dark as Ron, Hermione, Sirius, and everyone else. The good news was that Harry's sudden scowl apparently frightened Dudley into eating the chocolate. He took a large but hesitant bite, then moaned as Honeydukes' Best melted in his mouth. Dudley devoured the rest of the bar quickly, then got slowly to his feet, his eyes still fixed on Harry.
"You…saved my life," he said quietly.
"Not really," said Harry, a little awkwardly. "It was your soul the dementor would have taken…that's not remotely comforting, is it?"
Dudley, whose eyes were wide, shook his head, looking pale again. Sliding back to the floor, Harry pulled out another bar of chocolate before pounding the loose floorboard back into place. He got to his feet, dusted himself off, and tossed the second bar to Dudley.
"Eat that too," he advised. "And be careful, out there. They were probably after me, but…" Harry trailed off, realizing what was likely to happen now. He had used magic outside of school. There was probably a letter from the Ministry on its way to him, right now. In fact, given the Ministry's attitude toward him at the moment, there might well be Ministry officials on their way to the house to expel him at that very moment…
Turning his back on Dudley, he opened the window so that any owls arriving could get into the house without tapping at the glass of one of the windows downstairs and upsetting his Aunt and Uncle. Then, he began throwing his belongings pell-mell into his school trunk, which stood open at the foot of his bed.
"What're you doing?"
Harry paused in the act of flinging One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi across the room. He had completely dismissed Dudley, and hadn't realized the other boy was still in the room.
"As Uncle Vernon likes to remind me," Harry answered slowly, crossing the room to instead stack the book inside the trunk, "Wizards are not allowed to use magic outside of school before we come of age. It's a law—The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. As this would be considered my second offense…" Harry snorted—his 'first' offense had been due to a hover charm cast by the house-elf Dobby—and placed Achievements in Charming into his trunks as well. "I'm probably going to get into trouble with the Ministry of Magic. Again."
"What will they do?"
"I don't plan to find out, frankly," said Harry, forcing the lid of his trunk shut. Fortunately, Hedwig was away, so Harry was able to pack her cage into his trunk along with everything else…though it made for a tight fit.
Before he could say anything else, however, two owls swooped through the open window. One was a small screech owl, which bore a letter from the Ministry of Magic. Harry took the letter from the owl, noted the return address in the Improper Use of Magic Office, and promptly stuffed it into his pocket. He knew what it would say and did not much feel like facing it. The second owl, a handsome barn owl, which bore a very short scroll from Mr. Weasley, warning Harry to neither leave the house nor surrender his wand.
Harry frowned. How was he supposed to refuse to surrender his wand if Ministry officials came calling. He'd have to use magic to resist them, which could easily turn into duelling—if he did that, he'd be lucky to escape arrest, much less expulsion. But, perhaps if they already thought he was gone…
Harry opened his trunk again, and dug through it until he found the soft silkiness of his father's invisibility cloak. This he draped on the edge of the bed before sitting down on the trunk to reread Mr. Weasley's hasty note. A small scuffing noise then alerted him that Dudley was still in the room.
"I've been instructed not to run," Harry supplied, in answer to his cousin's raised eyebrow. He was surprised—he would have figured the sight of just one owl would be enough to send Dudley scrambling for the safety of his room. Although, given what he had already faced tonight, perhaps Dudley just didn't have it in him to be scared by post birds anymore. "By my best friend's father, who works for the Ministry in a different department."
"What's going to happen now, then?" Dudley asked, carefully eating the second chocolate bar. There was something else that had changed—a year ago half the bar would have been smeared over Dudley's cheeks instead of in his mouth.
"I don't know, Dudley," Harry sighed. He pressed his palms to his forehead. Dudley scuffed his feet again when Harry looked back up at him, apparently marshaling his thoughts or gathering his courage for what he was about to say next.
"So…you must have seen—"
But his words were drowned out by a rumbling impact that shook the whole house. Harry heard Uncle Vernon's muffled swearing from downstairs, and the pictures in the hallway falling to the floor, glass shattering. He leapt to his feet and dashed to the window again. Outside in the street stood…a giant robot? It stood in the shape of a man nearly twenty feet tall, and seemed to be made of enormous plates of red and purple metal. It looked to Harry like something out of one of Dudley's video games. It turned slowly on the spot until its glowing red eyes faced Harry's window.
"Targets acquired," the machine rumbled in a dead, metallic voice. "Surrender and come quietly." The robot's arm then suddenly extended straight toward Harry, who dove away from the window and behind the bed.
"What the f—" Dudley shouted, as Aunt Petunia screamed from downstairs.
"Dudley, run!" Harry yelled, bounding to his feet and whipping the invisibility cloak around himself. He pushed Dudley ahead of him out of the room and down the stairs, then roared "Get out the back door!" at the elder Dursleys, both of whom were standing, frozen, in the sitting room, staring out through Aunt Petunia's net curtains at the robot's monstrous purple feet. Dudley rushed forward to grab their hands, and the entire ceiling started to collapse inward.
Harry drew his wand at once. "Wingardium leviosa!" The falling debris, which might have crushed all three of the Dursleys, suddenly flew upwards to shatter against the robot's face. It staggered back a step, and the Dursleys were finally spurred into action. Before they could so much as cross the room, though, there was a tremendous BOOM that cut through the air before a plane came shooting out of the distance. It landed directly on Privet Drive, and half a dozen people piled out of the hatch.
"New targets acquired," rumbled the robot. "Unidentified mutants: stand down and surrender, you are under arrest."
"Not gonna happen, bub!" roared one of the newcomers.
"Targets confirmed hostile." A loud beep came from the robot's chest. "Backup requested."
The Dursleys, who had almost reached Harry, had stopped again, staring back toward the street and the people who had emerged from the jet. One man, apparently the leader, wore a dark blue outfit with gold straps and a similarly gold-colored visor, set with what looked like a reddish crystal. He glanced at his fellows and began snapping orders.
"Wolverine, stay with the Blackbird! Dazzler, drop the Sentinel! Nightcrawler, retrieve the targets! Jubilee, cover him!"
Before any of the others could respond, all of them had to dive out of the way of a narrow beam of energy which fired from the sentinel's hand, tearing up the road. What might once have been a fountain of water from the pipes below the street emerged as a mere trickle, evidence of the ongoing drought.
The leader's hand flew to the side of his visor, which suddenly emitted a red blast like the sentinel's, knocking the robot back a step. A young woman, not much older than Harry and wearing a short brown jacket, stepped forward to join him. She clapped her hands together to form a finger-gun, and fired a pinkish beam of her own at the machine. Staggered, the sentinel came crashing to the ground in the middle of the cul de sac at the end of Privet Drive, fortunately not crushing any of the houses there.
"Do not be afraid," said a woman's voice in Harry's head. A gasp from his left told him that Dudley had heard it, too. "We are here to help you both. The sentinel is here for you; we must take you away from here so that your family will be safe. I will explain the situation to them; please take the hand that is offered you."
Before Harry or Dudley could begin to wonder what that meant, there was a loud pop and a burst of foul-smelling smoke behind them. Harry whirled around and found…something extending a hand. The person before him had blue fur all over his body, pointed ears, yellow eyes with no apparent pupils, and a narrow, whiplike tail. However, true to what the voice had said, he was offering each of them a three-fingered hand to grab. Still, neither boy immediately took his hand, until a girl's voice said, "Well, hurry up, won't ya?"
Another girl about their age—in a banana-yellow trenchcoat of all things—leaned out from behind the blue person and gestured at them impatiently. "C'mon, while the sentinel's down and before its buddies arrive!"
Harry slid his wand away and hesitantly took the offered hand, looking at Dudley. Dudley, however, was looking over his shoulder at his parents. Uncle Vernon was purple-faced in rage, and Aunt Petunia looked like she was about to faint.
"MY OWN SON!" Uncle Vernon bellowed, bringing a shaking finger up to point at Harry. "YOU DID THIS, DIDN'T YOU? WASN'T ENOUGH TO BE A FREAK YOURSELF, YOU HAD TO GO AND TURN DUDLEY INTO ONE TOO? GET OUT OF MY SIGHT, THE BOTH OF YOU, AND NEVER COME BACK!"
Dudley paled, and reached behind him blindly for the blue person's other hand. The moment he did so, the girl grabbed the strange boy's shoulders and said, "Let's go, Kurt!"
In the blink of an eye, Harry found himself immersed in another choking cloud of smoke. As it cleared away, he saw that he was now standing at the foot of the ramp leading up to the jet.
"Go on, now, into ze Blackbird," the blue-furred boy ushered them in a faint but distinct German accent.
"We're clear," shouted the leader. "Everyone fall back!"
Harry and Dudley were pushed into seats by a short man with wild hair. "Buckle up, kiddos, because we're blastin' the hell outta Kansas," he rasped.
The leader took the pilot's seat, while the brown-jacketed girl sat in the copilot's chair. On Harry's other side from Dudley sat the blue-furred boy who had retrieved them, while the girl in the yellow jacket and a graceful red-haired woman took the seats facing them. The wild-haired man raised the ramp, before leaning against the wall next to the final seat, which was already occupied by what appeared to be a blue-furred yeti.
Harry was afforded one last glance at Privet Drive, the entire front of number four more or less torn off, before the jet rose and all he could see was the night sky. Then, all at once, everyone was flung to the limits of their safety harnesses.
"Course locked in, autopilot engaged," called the man in the pilot's seat, apparently to the passengers at large. "Destination: home. ETA 78 minutes."
Finally, the acceleration eased, and everyone was able to sit up properly again. Harry looked around. Dudley simply looked terrified. The short man who had shoved them into their seats looked bored. Everyone else was looking at the two of them eagerly.
"Er…" said Harry awkwardly. He supposed he should be used to feeling eyes on him, given his fame at school, but he never liked it. "Thanks, I guess."
"You guess?" said the girl in the yellow jacket, a little skeptically. "Like you had that under control?"
Harry shrugged. "I could have dealt with it," he said. "Not easily though. So maybe you're right, and I should just say, thanks."
"No problem," she grinned in response, pushing her pink sunglasses up to her forehead to reveal dark, almond-shaped eyes.
"So, er, where are we going?" Harry asked after a moment, since Dudley didn't seem about to break the silence, and everyone else was still staring at him.
"Somewhere safe," said the pilot, rotating his chair so that he could face Harry and Dudley. His voice was suited to command, Harry thought. It was also, he suddenly realized, American—in fact, most of their voices had been. This raised a rather pertinent question in Harry's mind.
"Where, though?" Harry insisted. Privet Drive was only perhaps an hour from London by broom, and though he wasn't entirely sure where The Burrow actually stood, he, Ron, Fred and George had reached it in less than three hours while flying Mr. Weasley's old car.
"Headquarters," said the girl in the short jacket, likewise spinning her chair to face them. She blew a bright pink bubble with her gum, and popped it loudly.
"Knock it off, Punk Rock," growled the wild-looking man from the back of the plane. 'Punk Rock' smirked; evidently it was an ongoing byplay.
Finally, the red-haired woman across from them spoke up, this time in her real voice instead of in their heads. "We're returning to Westchester to meet with the Professor."
"In Cheshire?" Dudley asked. Harry blinked, having had no idea Dudley knew anything about geography.
The woman smiled. "No, dear, in New York." Both boys' eyes widened, and they spoke at the same time.
"I can't leave England!" Harry blurted out.
"You can't get there in seventy-eight minutes!" Dudley cried.
"One at a time," the leader said. He pointed at Dudley, "First, we're currently flying at three-and-a-half times the speed of sound, so factoring for wind resistance it will actually be just over an hour and twenty minutes. Second," his finger now tracked over to Harry, "Is there a particular reason you don't want to get away from that sentinel, no matter how you planned to 'deal with it'?"
Dudley looked dumbstruck. Harry frowned. "There's…things…I've got to do," Harry explained. "I've got to stay. If you could drop me off in Devon, I can take care of myself until school starts. I've got to go back to school" he added lamely.
Harry could not see the man's eyebrows behind his suit, mask, and visor, but he was sure they rose; the man's disbelief was almost palpable.
"How very…persuasive," the leader said finally. "Regardless, you are both being evacuated for your own safety. We came as quickly as we could to retrieve you both, before you could be captured by the likes of the sentinels or whatever the local chapter of the Friends of Humanity calls itself. Before you could be hurt or exploited or killed simply for having special abilities. Like us."
'Like us?' Were they all wizards? Was this how American wizards dressed and acted? Harry, busy raising his own eyebrows, did not see Dudley's eyes widen in shock. "Not like it would be the first time," Harry grumbled.
"I'm very sorry to hear that," said the red-haired woman. "Rest assured, you will be safe with us, and nobody will hurt you like that again."
"Fat chance," Harry snorted. "We're at war."
"War?" questioned the leader.
Harry was getting more confused by the minute. "I'm Harry Potter," he clarified.
"Nice to meet you, Harry," the woman replied. "My name is Jean Grey." There was not a flicker of recognition from anyone in the plane.
"Do you…not know who I am?" Harry asked slowly.
"Should we?" asked the girl in the yellow jacket.
Harry's mind whirled. These people couldn't be wizards; even the foreign wizards at the Quidditch World Cup last year had recognized Harry. He had grown to realize that he would never escape his fame, even before Voldemort became fixated on him once more. But none of these strangers showed any sign that they had heard his name before. Harry nervously flattened his bangs and shook his head.
The leader and Jean looked at each other for a moment. Plainly, they did not believe Harry's current denial.
"Who exactly are you?" Harry hastened to ask, eager to draw their attention onto another subject.
The other two continued their wordless exchange for a few more seconds, before the leader gave a tiny sigh and straightened up. "My name is Scott Summers; if you'd like, you can call me Cyclops," he said, tapping his visor gently. "My copilot is Alison Blaire—"
"Stage name Dazzler," she interrupted, popping another bubble and grinning at the growl from behind them.
"Jubilee," said the girl in yellow, giving a peace sign and winking at Harry.
"Kurt Wagner," chimed in the blue-furred boy she had been with. "In ze circus, zey called me Nightcrawler."
"Dr. Henry McCoy," said the yeti-like creature in a pleasant voice. "Callsign Beast, for obvious reasons."
"And finally, the grumpy one by the door is Logan, codename Wolverine," Jean finished, since Logan did not seem eager to speak up. Instead, he snorted and pulled a large cigar from the pocket of his leather jacket. He bit off the end and clamped it in his teeth, but did not light it, for which Harry was grateful.
"Now then," Jean finished. "If you are Harry, then this must be your cousin, Dudley, yes?"
"Y-yeah," said Harry. He glanced at his cousin himself. "Er, you all right, Dudley?"
Dudley, still looking pinched compared to normal, now appeared pale and shaken. "Y-you're all…" he stammered, looking around the jet. "L-like…m-me?"
"Like you both, yes," said Jean comfortingly.
Dudley looked at Harry. "He's not like us," he told Jean. "He's…different."
"Er," said Harry, more baffled than ever. "Do you know them, Dudley?"
Dudley, for his part, turned to Harry and whispered quickly, "It's a secret, what you are, right? About…you know…what happened in the alley? And your school?"
Harry nodded slowly, not sure where Dudley was going with this.
"They must have got you by accident because of that," said Dudley, his voice a little steadier at last, though still sounding shocked. "I bet it's easy to mistake."
Harry, still lost and a bit surprised that Dudley has figured something out before him, asked, "Mistake for what?"
"For…For a mutant."
Harry blinked in surprise again, his mind whirling as fast as Cyclops had said the jet was flying. Dudley was a mutant? That would explain Uncle Vernon's parting words. So the strange abilities that all these people had exhibited were mutant powers? Glancing at the two passengers with blue fur, he supposed that made sense. And they thought that he was a mutant? Dudley probably had a point, they must have mistaken his magic for a mutant ability, but as magic was a secret, he couldn't very well demonstrate it to correct them.
And with every passing moment, they were getting further away from Britain, his friends, and Hogwarts.
Harry nodded to Dudley, then turned to Jean and asked, "When can I go back?"
"Well," she said, sounding surprised. "Once your power is under control, I suppose would be the soonest. Usually people stay on with us, though. It's easier for our kind, at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters."
Harry pressed on, "And that's a school for…" he glanced at Dudley. "For mutants?"
"That is correct," Jean said. "Professor Xavier is very gifted himself, and he has made it his mission to extend any help he can to young mutants, especially those who are just coming into their powers, who often find themselves neglected or even abused."
"You look the part more than he does, frankly," Dazzler put in. Harry raised an eyebrow. Dazzler popped her gum, ignored the grumbled threats from Wolverine's corner, and clarified, "No offense, but you're pretty skinny. Your cousin looks like he's got some square meals in him, at least."
Neither Harry's nor Dudley's slight wince went unnoticed by the others.
"Anyway," said Harry, trying to get control of the conversation again. "I'm not going to sit here and pretend I'm normal, but I'm not a mutant."
"…Each takes his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
'As good go anywhere,' they say,
'As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day…
But no hearing."
Beast's mellifluous voice seemed to fill the plane as he recited the poem. He smiled a fanged smile at them and clarified, "George Herbert, somewhat paraphrased."
Harry tilted his head, thinking over the poem. "You…think I'm in denial?" he asked finally.
The fanged smile widened, but Harry found it friendly rather than threatening. Rather than an affirmation, though, Beast simply added, "We know what we are, but know not what we may be. Shakespeare, of course."
Harry sighed. "I know exactly what I am; it's just not what you seem to think."
"What are ya, then?" Jubilee asked.
Harry sighed. "I can't tell you." Again, Harry could practically feel the disbelief around him. "It's not that I'm trying to be all mysterious or that I'm not grateful to you all for helping us back there, but it's against the law for me to tell you."
"Against what law?" Cyclops asked. "Whose law?"
"Well…our law," said Harry awkwardly, hanging his head. "It's called the International Statute of Secrecy. The full name…would actually violate the law itself to tell you. Sorry."
They were all staring at him now, even Dudley. Perhaps he was surprised that wizards really had laws? That sounded like something he might have absorbed from Uncle Vernon, despite the evidence to the contrary.
"He's telling the truth, Scott," said Jean suddenly. Harry looked at Cyclops, but the man was instead looking toward the back of the plane.
Following his gaze, Harry found himself looking into the scowling face of Wolverine. After a moment, the feral-looking man shook his head and growled, "No change in his scent or his heartrate. He's bein' honest, Slim. Or he thinks he is."
"We won't press you, Harry," Jean told him, drawing his attention back onto her. "Neither you nor we are in any sort of danger right now, so we'll let you discuss this with the Professor. If he agrees, then we won't bring up…your secret…again. Still, according to our scans, you register as a mutant despite…whatever your secret may be. Cerebro has hit some distortions before, but has never been wrong yet when it comes to detecting young mutants as strong as you two." She gave them both a gentle smile. "The combination of energy and brainwaves that mutants give off is very distinctive."
Harry, finding his mouth open, shut it and slowly shook his head. If there was a chance, even a chance, that they were right…well, he had to know. And if they were wrong, there was bound to be somewhere in America where he could buy some floo powder or make contact with the wizarding world again; they would be able to help him get home.
And what about Dudley? Harry glanced sideways at his cousin. If Dudley was a mutant, it was probably for the best that he get away from Vernon and Petunia, at least for a little while.
Not wanting to talk anymore, Harry leaned back and shut his eyes, giving one last smile to Jubilee, what was still grinning at him. He heard her strike up a conversation with Wolverine, but given his poor sleep habits the summer so far, Harry was unsurprised to find himself drifting into an uneasy sleep.
A/N: Crossovers are just too much fun.
I don't know if the rest of the Marvelverse is going to figure into this story, since I'm mostly going to be focusing on the X-Men. Note that despite the "all media types" tag, I am going to be showing a lot of my own interpretations of these characters. In the X-Men's case, this is heavily influenced by the (cheesy but awesome) oldschool cartoon, but will not be shackled by that show's canon. I will probably be playing fast and loose with characters' ages, but then again, it's X-Men, so you might not even notice.
Finally, as noted above, pairings are not yet finalized, as I want to see how the characters play off each other first.
A/N 2: Edited slightly to reduce the frankly ridiculous number of people I brought out to deal with one lousy sentinel. Honestly, seven is still a bit much, but there is are at least story-reasons for there to be that many.
A/N 3: 16 March 2015: Edited again to contain less quoted text.