A/N: Hello again. So fairly quick update as this was the rest of the stuff I wrote as a result of the 'ah ha' moment. Updates after this will be a little slower due to dissertations and other such boring things.
A New Man
Harry Potter strolled up to the the check in desks at Jorge Chávez International Airport, only a friend would have noticed the slight tightness in his stride as he crossed the terminal. He rubbed at the faded scar on his forehead, an old habit when he was worried.
He was dressed casually in inexpensive but warm clothes, after his escape a thick winter fog had descended upon the city. He'd had to find himself some more substantial clothes as a result. He was not at all happy with the fact that he'd had to steal them. He had taken a mental note of the shop he'd lifted them from and once this was all straightened out he promised himself that he would make sure they were reimbursed. They did not look like they were all that well off.
It was late morning and the time meant there was no queue and he moved to an empty desk staffed by a young woman with dark hair and eyes.
"Hi, could you tell me when is the next plane to London?" he asked politely. He hoped she spoke English.
The young check in clerk nodded and tapped at her keyboard for a moment. "The next will be in four hours and will change in Madrid," she said in heavily accented English.
"Great," he said with an encouraging smile. "And which terminal will that be leaving from?"
"Terminal three, sir," she supplied immediately. "Would you like to purchase a ticket?"
Harry shook his head, it would be easier just to use his magic to get on without one. It wasn't like he had any money for a ticket anyway. Whatever he did would be illegal in some way. The easiest solution was simply to walk onto the plane under his charms. It was less likely to be noticed by muggles. Buying a ticket meant an electronic trail and he didn't have the ability to clean that up without his wand or any support. Perhaps once he reached Madrid he would 'buy' a ticket. He didn't want to leave any indication to anyone trying to locate him how he had left Peru.
"No thank you," he said and smiled gratefully. He'd learned long ago that people were much more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt when he was free with his smiles. Ginny always huffed and said he was taking advantage, not that she'd really been bothered. She also accused him of passing it on to James, Harry had always felt that was a little unfair. James had come by the ability completely honestly. "I was just wondering. How long is the flight?"
"It is—" she tapped at her keyboard a little more. "—twelve hours to Madrid, an hour layover then two hours to London."
He nodded his thanks and shot her another smile which she returned. "Thank you for your help miss," he said before turning to go.
He walked thoughtfully back out towards the main concourse and thought over his plan of action. Once in Madrid he would have a few options.
He could try and find the magical community there and catch either an international Portkey or Floo connection home or he could take the connecting flight. He could try a long distance Apparition to Paris too, but he suspected that would be outside his range.
His first thought was that catching a Portkey would be much faster than any muggle method but after a bit more thought he decided that the plane may still be faster. He'd never been to Madrid before, or anywhere in Spain in fact, and would have to stumble around almost blindly to find the magical community.
He could either commit a breach of the International Statute of Secrecy and hope his status could keep him out of trouble or he could simply catch the connecting flight to London. He would be home in a few hours, tops and there would be no criminal charges to dodge.
Sometimes the secrecy of the wizarding world could be a real problem. He knew his way around many of the eastern European countries but he'd never actually been south of France before. Perhaps once this situation was handled he should make a whistle-stop tour of the world via Portkey so that this couldn't happen to him again.
As he sat and waited for the plane to begin boarding his thoughts trailed wistfully to his family. It was a strange thing. He'd barely been away from them for a few hours and yet he found himself missing them already. There was also the lingering worry of just what might have happened when he'd been taken.
After a while he glanced at the tv-screens that hung from the ceiling all across the airport. He was taken aback when he recognised the face on the screen.
"... illionaire Tony Stark was attacked by militants in Afghanistan today," the newsreader said as Harry listened. "The military has said that they believe him to have been taken alive and that they have dedicated every possible resource to his recovery."
He watched in interest as they explained a little of Stark's background. A genius and the owner of the largest weapons manufacturer in the world, named as 'Man of the Year' and many other things Harry saw a man that revelled in his fame. That was something Harry couldn't imagine. The report said he was one of the most recognisable faces on the planet.
Harry didn't recognise him at all, except in the memories he'd seen from Maya Hansen. He hadn't realised just how detached he'd become from the greater muggle world. If muggles in Peru were involved with wizards and this man Stark had the ability to create the weapons they showed on the news then that could be a fatal mistake. He decided that in future he'd make sure he at least picked up a muggle newspaper from time to time.
Next up was a debate program and the subject of the day was once again Tony Stark. He watched in interest as the four people argued over how important it was that the man was returned alive. When one of them claimed that it was only fitting that Stark get a taste of his own medicine Harry stopped paying attention with a dismissive grimace. He knew exactly where that argument was going.
He took a quick look at the large clock by the departures board, at least it was getting close to boarding time. He pulled himself out of his seat and elected to visit the toilet before making with way to the plane. He wasn't quite sure how toilets worked on planes, Arthur had once mentioned that they just dropped it out of the bottom when you were done.
He had little desire to ruin someone's day like that. He'd avoid it if he could.
When he'd completed that small task he found himself staring into the mirror like he so often did each morning at home. Ginny always jokingly said he was checking himself out when she saw him. What he was really doing was documenting every small change he could find. He imagined everyone did it, even if they were unwilling to admit it. The first wrinkle, the first grey hair, the first laughter lines and so on.
Ginny said he kept getting better with age, "Like a cheese," she said. He wasn't so sure. It was strange to look in the mirror and see an unfamiliar man looking out. He hadn't changed that much since his teenage years but he knew where to look.
His scar was almost imperceptible upon his brow, visible only because he knew it was there. His eyes were still the familiar vibrant green but he felt they looked more tired and weary now. Hermione said that he looked most like himself when he was playing with little Lily. He agreed. His skin was more tanned and weathered and he was already developing the heavy stubble he would have killed for as a teen. His hair was still a disordered mess but he had, for want of a better term, grown into it. He sighed sadly, he did not regret the years with his family, he would and could never regret them. But the slow aging of his body was a constant reminder that his time with them was not endless.
Ginny, who always knew just what to say to pull him out of his funk would just say, "Then make the most of it." Then she would grin devilishly and his morbid thoughts would quickly melt away.
He splashed some water on his face and left the restroom. He might be feeling lost, adrift and worried about his family but he had to hold it together for their sakes. When he got back home he could break down. Until then he had a plane to catch.
He was still lost in his thoughts but that was no issue. He was able to walk past security desks and ticket checks without even paying attention. Each time he was waved through by the inattentive staff members. No-one noticed him and no-one commented. Sometimes people asked how it was that wizards could live so close to muggles without them noticing. This was why, even without a wand Harry was able to easily avoid interest. The spells used to stay hidden from muggles were some of the most exhaustively researched spells known. Most adults who had frequent contact with the muggle world could cast them as second nature.
He was easily able to find an unoccupied seat in the large aircraft and he settled himself down in relief. It had only been perhaps 7 hours since his awakening in the lab in Lima and he was already feeling tired. He was looking forward to sleeping on the transatlantic part of the journey.
Before making himself comfortable he checked over his charms, he didn't want to be discovered while asleep during the journey. He was unsure what the upshot would be but he didn't want to take the chance. He swore to himself when he realised he'd left out one of the standard procedure muggle concealment spells.
He'd forgotten to mask his presence in cameras. It was a rookie mistake and one the Head Auror should not be making, no matter how long it had been since he'd last been out in the field.
It was a simple spell. Most of the muggle operations spells were simple, the idea was that they should be second nature to any Auror. They did not make the Auror invisible, merely unnoticed. When CCTV had become widespread there had been some concern among the Auror corps at how difficult it might make their jobs. Fortunately the perception altering spells worked through the camera. A picture of him with an aversion charm still caused people to overlook him unless specifically searching.
The problem was computerization. With the increase in muggle ability to search for people using automated systems they wizards had had to adapt. Their answer was a simple blurring charm. All it did was blur the wizard out in any images of them, it was an old charm used to stop unwanted photographs.
It was enough. He had no doubt it caused the muggles a colossal headache. He'd heard from Hermione that the muggle spent millions each year on trying to work out what it was that selectively blurred parts of their camera feeds. Of course they did not look much closer at what was being blurred thanks to the other charms. It was further reinforced by the fact that it was actually pretty normal, the muggles now simply accepted that it happened 'd been impressed by how elegant the solution was when he'd heard it explained.
He just had to hope that Lima airport wasn't that up-to-date or that a single man was beneath notice. He was probably going to be OK, he decided.
He reapplied his spells, making sure this time that he got them all and sat back comfortably to get some shut-eye.
He dreamed of home and light brown eyes that shone with warmth and humour.
He felt a weight lift from his shoulders when the plane finally touched down in London. During the entire layover in Madrid he had been fidgeting and nervous but now that he was home he knew the dangerous part of this unwelcome adventure was over. Now he would be able to go on the attack. More importantly he would soon be home and among his family. He could already imagine little Lily's shout of 'Daddy!' and the furious high-speed hug.
Before the plane had even taxied to a stop he disappeared with a pop, the front gate of his home fixed firmly in his mind.
He reappeared and everything was wrong. The garden was wrong, the street was wrong and the house was wrong. It was… muggle. There was a neatly trimmed lawn with perfectly manicured roses and petunias. The gate was painted matte white and had nothing more than the house number on it. Where was Lily's impromptu art? Where was the perpetual snowman he'd charmed for Albus when he'd cried about how terrible it was that 'Olaf' was doomed to die?
The street was quiet and utterly mundane. There were no children zooming about on training brooms, no pops of spells or strange smells emanating from number three. The house looked soulless and devoid of everything he remembered that made it home.
Harry vaulted the gate and burst into a run across the garden. He didn't stop when he reached the door. Instead he slammed it open, shattering the glass panes and surely leaving a dent in the wall behind it. He didn't care, everything on the inside was wrong too.
The pictures in the hall were of a different family, the wallpaper was drab and boring and reminded him of the wilful mundanity of Privet Drive. The stairs were on the wrong side of the corridor and the carpet wasn't a carpet, it was tiled. No Padfoot bounded up to greet him and there was no sign of a giggling Lily hot on his heels.
"Ginny!" he cried into the strange house, bile rapidly rising in his stomach. "Lily?!"
A startled scream came from a room off the main corridor and Harry jumped again into desperate motion. He immediately burst into the living room as the desperate hope that this was all some strange joke or mistake played in his mind.
It wasn't. A strange woman was cowering in a chair and frantically pressing the buttons on the cordless phone in her shaking hands. The room was completely different to how Harry remembered it. Gone were the smiling and waving pictures of him and Ginny. Of laughing James and serious Albus there was no sign. The pictures of little Lily were nowhere to be seen and her art work which Harry had hung so proudly over the fireplace was gone.
Even the fireplace itself was gone, it had been boarded up and replaced with a fancy looking electric heater. Harry dropped limply to his knees, He didn't want to believe what was in front of him. How could it have happened? What had happened? He refused to believe for a moment that what he saw was real.
"Hello! Hello, yes police, please, help, there's a mad man in my house!"
The panicked and screeching words of the woman meant nothing to him, he didn't care. His whole world was gone. He could feel himself spiralling in towards inevitable destruction. His family was gone without a trace.
No, he wouldn't believe it. They could not be gone. A whole world of magic could not disappear, they had been moved somewhere for their own safety after his kidnapping. He had to find them, he had to tell them he had returned and he would keep them safe.
He had just enough restraint remaining to run out of the room before he Apparated away to the Ministry of Magic guest entrance. He reappeared on a nearly deserted London street near Whitehall with a loud crack. In his desperation he had thrown all caution to the winds, he did not care if he was reprimanded or even if he lost his job. He needed to know his family was safe. There, on the corner of the street, he saw a sight that was a soothing balm to his pained soul.
The phone booth was there. Just as he remembered it, red and crumbling and covered in graffiti. Nonetheless it was the most beautiful thing he'd seen since he'd held Lily for the first time. He sighed in absolute relief and in a few quick strides reached the door. He yanked it open and stepped into the familiar space, it even smelled slightly of piss as it always had.
He dialed the number as his heartbeat finally started to slow down. 62442. He waited.
"The number you have dialed could not be recog—" he slammed the phone down and picked it up again. His heart began to beat forcefully in his chest again as panic gripped him again.
He closed his eyes and took a deep calming breath. Slower this time, making sure he got every number right, he dialed. 62442.
"The number you have—" He slammed the phone down in fear and felt as if the whole world had shifted beneath his feet. It fell from the cradle and dangled near his feet. "—not be recognised, please hang up and try again."
He fell against the back of the booth and cradled his head in his hands. The world was crumbling around him, what had happened? What had they done? The magical world couldn't simply disappear. More than any time in his life Harry was terrified. He had faced basilisks, dementors, death eaters and Voldemort himself and yet the thought of losing his family and his world was the most unspeakable fate he could imagine.
He thought he was strong and yet here he was, almost broken by two failures. He would not give up on his family, on his world.
There was only one other place he could go, the place that had started it all. The place where he had found a home when it seemed the world had wished him gone. Hogwarts. Hogwarts would not let him down.
He disappeared again, this time with a deafening crack that shattered all the panes of glass in the phone box and scattered the fine shards across the empty street as dogs barked in alarm from the nearby houses.
A crack like thunder echoed across a remote valley in the Scottish highlands when Harry Potter returned at last to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
When he returned to where Hogwarts should have been.
Where the gates should have been there was nothing. Where the road should have been there was a sheep path. Where the castle should have been there was nothing but the ruined foundations of an ancient keep, the stone long ago stolen to build dykes that crisscrossed the hills nearby.
At last the manic strength that had been driving him failed utterly and Harry collapsed to the ground. Everything was gone, the entire magical world, his friends, co workers, associates, they were all gone. His family was gone, erased from existence as if they had never been.
He beat the ground until his fists were bloody and he cried his vengeance to the sky. Wind whipped around him as his furious magic tore at the world in desperation. His rage soon gave way to despair and he went limp in defeat.
How long he lay there he did not know. Minutes? Hours? It could have been either. All he knew was that eventually he found he had no more rage to give and no more tears to cry. Tears and anger would not get any of them back, they would not get him back to them. He had to be strong and he had to fight with every breath to find out what had happened and reverse it. He had no more reason to hold back.
When he had awoken the woman had said something about a procedure. What had it been? The only thing he could think of was that he had somehow been transported into a parallel universe. It sounded absurd but it was the only possibility for the evidence he'd seen.
The wizarding world had never existed here, or if it had it had been before even Hogwarts had been founded. It was a world of muggles, muggles who dabbled in science they did not understand.
Why had they brought him here? What purpose could he serve? How had they known who he was even across the dimensions?
He needed answers. That meant he needed to return to Peru. That meant he needed to catch another plane.
The next flight was not until the early hours of the next morning. It was not a standard route as customs in the US were very tight but for a wizard who could walk through those things without being harassed it was the best option. A flight from London to New York and then south to Lima would get him there fastest.
It was eight hours before he needed to catch the flight though and so he decided to sign himself into a nearby hotel. He walked up to the short balding man reading a book at the reception.
"I'd like a room for the night please," he said firmly. It was best to get the room fair and square then use magic to avoid paying.
"'Course," said the man as he lowered his book and removed his feet from the desk. "It'll be £150 for the night. What's the name?"
"Neville Longbottom." Harry decided that the people who brought him here knew his name and that it thus wasn't safe to use. Neville's should be OK though.
"Heh, you mean like the character in the book?" asked the man with obvious amusement.
Harry rolled his eyes impatiently. "Yeah, just like that. Can I have a key?" He didn't have the patience for jokes.
"Yeah, I'll need your credit card, you'll get it back when you sign out." The man turned to the rack of keys behind him.
Harry didn't have a credit card, but he didn't need one. After being hit by a Confundus charm the man forgot that Harry hadn't already given him one and handed him the key before turning back to his book and Harry was completely forgotten.
He'd never heard of a book with Neville's name in it before. Perhaps that was another difference, he could only imagine the number of differences there must surely be without the wizarding world's constant meddling and fiddling.
'Neville Longbottom' did have a nice ring to it though. Perhaps he should look into finding the book. When he got home it might be a good laugh. At least it would get Neville back for all the jokes he kept making about the 'Harry Potter' books that had been written when Harry was still a kid.
He awoke early the next morning and after dropping the key off at the reception he Apparated directly to the airport where he picked up breakfast and a morning paper. He took a seat while he tried to get a handle on just what the differences between the two worlds might be. He hadn't seen anything distinct but that just seemed impossible.
The wizarding world had had a documentable huge influence on the muggle world throughout history. It was impossible that the world would be basically unchanged in its absence.
23rd May 2009
Tony Stark Still Missing
After the attack on the convoy transporting Mr. Stark (38) was attacked on Wednesday there has been a desperate search effort put in place by the US military. There has been no ransom nor execution video issued by his captors and some analysts believe this may be because he is dead. The business world has been reeling at the abduction or death of the billionaire and stocks in his company, Stark Industries, have plummeted. Stark's long time ally and mentor, Obadiah Stane released a statement saying that the company was just as strong as always and that when Tony returned it would be stronger than ever.
The White House has remained tight-lipped on the issue but it is believed that they may be looking in to other companies as their primary supplier. Hammer Industries has seen its stock prices soar in the aftermath leading to some unfounded rumours that the competing company may have had something to do with Mr. Stark's unfortunate circumstances.
Harry skimmed over the rest of the article but he had the distinct feeling he was missing something. He eyes traced back to the beginning and stopped dead.
23rd May 2009.
He'd been taken back in time as well as into a different dimension? Years into the past too, not a small jaunt like he'd enjoyed with a time-turner. The last he'd known it was 2017, now he was eight years in the past.
He had a lot of very pointed questions to ask. When he got to Lima someone was going to have a bad day indeed. Harry usually did not like to spread his displeasure around. He'd make an exception this time.
Agent Maria Hill had never seen anything like this, at first it had looked like a bug but the associated effects were much too strange for that to be the case. Her eyes scanned over the file again as she walked. What kind of technology was needed to selectively blur every single camera in Heathrow? And that was not even the most bizarre part of it. She made her way to to the elevator that would take her to the office of the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It quickly climbed the three floors from her office to Nick Fury's and she flipped the file closed just as the door opened. Fury was stood looking out of the window over Washington D.C. Hill was fairly sure the man did it on purpose, he'd always had a flare for the dramatic.
"Sir, we've got something… strange on the system," she said as she walked across the open space. He turned silently to greet her and she handed over the thin file.
Fury flipped quickly through the images, his sharp eye missing nothing. "It's a blur," he said blandly.
"Yes sir, on every camera there's an unfocused blur. We didn't even notice it until the automated systems flagged it up as an anomaly."
"And why is a blur on my desk?" He looked up from the images.
Agent Hill shifted her weight uncomfortably, this was the leap. "There's something strange about it sir." Fury didn't react and so she continued. "No-one noticed it until the failsafes kicked in. There's technology than can produce an effect like this and the system scans for it automatically as it's suspicious in itself. It then flags them for human oversight, this blur got flagged and then made it through oversight nine separate times before it finally got logged as a system error and got kicked upstairs. It was only then that someone pointed out it could be some kind of SEP field."
Fury raised a single eyebrow. "SEP field?"
She nodded, a little embarrassed about the term. "Yes sir, Somebody-Elses—"
"I know what an SEP field is Hill," he interrupted impatiently. "What I don't know is why you'd assume an ordinary looking blur on some camera lenses is worth bringing to me. And who decided on the Douglas Adams reference?"
"Sir, no-one even notices it unless they're told specifically about it and actively looking for it. Otherwise people just seem to… gloss over it." She pressed her mouth into a severe line. "Now that we've seen it and we have a group working on it the effect is diminished but it's still there. Any new image that we don't know includes the anomaly looks normal, once we've been told about it we can notice it. It's visible across hundreds of cameras and its location is consistent. It matches the effects described in a paper from 2002, that's where the name comes from."
"Anyway to scrub it?" he asked as he took a closer look at the pictures, his interest finally piqued.
"None so far, but we're still looking into it." She shook her head in obvious frustration. "Nothing we've tried so far gets any resolution on whatever it's hiding, we've tried standard photometric analysis and nothing comes out of it."
"Then what do we know?" asked Fury.
"We assume it's a person and probably male, sir," Hill said, the tightness of her voice betraying her annoyance at just how little they'd gained in more than 24 hours. "We were able to deduce his approximate height from parallax and occlusion in some of the frames. Whoever he is he's over six feet so he's probably male."
"Can we track him?" Hill knew that Fury did not like unknowns. He would assign a lot of resources to tracking down this guy. In this case pretty much everything was an unknown.
"The automated system can, as long as there's only one person doing it," she replied. She shook her head. "As soon as we assign a human to review the imagery they find it difficult to keep their attention on the task. We managed to get around the effect by making a list of the locations he's been flagged." She leant forward and picked out the list from the file. "First seen in Madrid exiting a plane from Lima, the system hasn't flagged anything up at Lima. He then got on a plane to London but was never seen deplaning. We were going to write it off as unimportant until it reappeared this morning."
Fury sat back and closed his eye in thought. "Where is he now?"
"We think he's on his way back to Lima. He passed through JFK a few of hours ago and breezed through security like it wasn't there," she said quickly. That certainly got Fury's attention, an SEP field was a hard idea to swallow but something like it could be very useful to S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Director of S.H.I.E.L.D nodded. "I want Agent Romanoff placed on readiness, as soon as we have a face and a location she's on his tail. I want every camera we have watching that 'blur' and if he drops it for a second I want his name, age, race and favourite colour in a file by the end of the hour. Get psychology and tech on working out how that field works and how we can get around it too."
"Sir, it's likely Agent Romanoff won't even be able to perceive the target," Hill pointed out. "From the footage it looks like everyone just pretends he doesn't exist. He may as well be a ghost."
"Then get the researchers working on the problem and have Romanoff briefed on what to expect." He said with an air of finality. "I'm not just going to sit here while some ghost makes a mockery of every security measure we currently have in place."
"Yes sir," said Hill. Fury nodded to her and it was clear she was dismissed and she turned to leave. That was what she liked about working for Fury. The man was never one for half-measures. He understood that decisive action was the only option in the game they were playing.