A/N: It appears I may have lied about the update speed. But seriously, don't expect any more to come this fast. Honestly.
A New Man
Heavy rain lashed Harry's plane as the pilot set it down with an uncomfortable jolt. The flight arrived late at night and Harry had managed to get some sleep on the second leg so he was ready and prepared to go. He was back in Peru and this time he was going to be much less polite.
While the plane was still taxiing along the main runway he disappeared unnoticed from his seat with a pop. This time he had procured a ticket, this time under the name of Lee Jordan. While he found the thought of using Neville's name amusing and a welcome distraction from the situation at hand he also knew it certainly wasn't a good idea to travel under a recognisable name.
He was taking a calculated risk by Apparating before disembarking. He was sure that there would be a record of him stepping onto the plane in New York and if someone was paying close attention it was possible that they would notice that the headcount wasn't the same once they reached their destination.
He felt that those were pretty long odds though, and even if someone did notice they almost certainly wouldn't know what it meant. On top of that he was hopeful that he would be able to get more information this evening.
He doubted the journey home would be as easy as simply asking, or even demanding, to be sent back but today would be a significant step in the right direction.
He reappeared outside the building he'd escaped just three days ago. It was a fairly unobtrusive low-rise office block. There were small clues to its unusual purpose when he looked closer.
For a normal office block it had the most up-to-date security Harry had ever seen. The glass of its windows was nearly an inch thick and Harry suspected it could stand up to a lot of punishment. There were bollards placed strategically around the entrance to ensure that a muggle hit-and-run style attack would be doomed to fail. It was, basically, a fortress camouflaged as an office block. It also looked like there was a small army of security guards on duty in and around the building. Of all the security measures they would be the only slight concern, if they were competent.
The issue with aversion charms was simple, they worked best in crowded environments. In an empty room they would provide very little help, he would need to ensure he kept an eye on the guards. He wasn't especially worried about what they might do if they found him, even something as simple as a summoning charm would deal with them in a pinch. If he wanted he could tie them up with a single gesture much as the Voldemort possessed Quirrell had been able to do when Harry had encountered him in his first year at Hogwarts.
No, the concern was that it would be a distraction.
He reapplied his charms in the hope that they might still provide some benefits and waited for the patrolling lights to move away from the window on the floor he'd been held. That seemed a good place to start.
With the quietest of pops he materialized in the office just as the patrolling guard left. That should give him a few minutes to search.
It was soon obvious that his search may be a waste of time. Despite the number of guards in the building he could find no documents or anything that would be of use to him. The place had seemingly been cleared out in just the couple of days he'd been away.
Nevertheless he methodically went from desk to desk and searched each drawer for anything that might give him a lead as to where his kidnappers had gone. Each one was as empty as the last and Harry had to restrain himself from slamming the drawers shut after a few minutes of fruitless searching.
All he found was a discarded and forgotten pen hidden below one of the desks. He looked at it for a long moment before deciding it might be of use.
It was one of those cheap pens given out by companies in the millions. Made of thin black plastic and stamped with a fading Stark Industries logo it looked much like the ones Vernon had always left sitting around the house. It was Stark again though it might be a coincidence; given just how large Stark Industries was it was likely that a lot of these pens existed. On the other hand it was better than nothing.
Harry grumbled to himself over the fact that as an Auror he'd never learned any crime-scene investigation spells what might be useful in the muggle world. He knew any number of spells for tracking the presence of wizards at a scene. He could work out what length of wand had been used by the spread of a cutting curse, he could tell the wand wood from the shade of the burn, he could even tell apart a few of the cores with some spell work. But muggles couldn't be identified by their wands. Things like fingerprints were a very niche area and Aurors, as dark wizard hunters, never needed to know them.
He elected to keep it. He couldn't remember how long fingerprints would keep on a surface but he was pretty sure he had some time to research how muggles did fingerprinting.
Of course then he had to find someone with access to a fingerprint database. This was all becoming more complicated by the moment.
As Harry straightened up he saw the torch of one of the wandering guards appear in the doorway on the far side of the room and he quickly ducked back down. After a quick check he realised that this guard, like the last, was patrolling alone. That was a mistake. They probably had some periodic call-in system in place so that any absence would be quickly missed but that was nowhere near as effective as keeping the men to squads of three.
He quickly decided on a plan of action. He waited as the man moved slowly and methodically through the room. Harry had to shift position a couple of times but thanks to his charm work and the ever shifting shadows being cast by the guard's torch he went unnoticed.
Finally he heard what he was waiting for, he heard a faint crackle from the man's earpiece and the quietly spoken response.
"Twelve in zone 3D, stamp-code A74G, clear."
That was Harry's cue. With a flick of his hand the torch jumped from the man's hand and into the corner of the room. A moment later the earpiece flew from his head into Harry's outstretched palm. Then, before he could react, thin ropes sprang out of the air and bound him tightly. Barely two seconds after signing in the OK signal the guard found himself helpless on the floor as Harry Potter stalked up to him, eyes glimmering in the darkness.
The man tried to shout for help but Harry had made sure some of the coils of rope gagged him. Even so Harry flinched at the unwelcome noise, the rope around the man's neck slid tighter until his cries were choked off. It wasn't exactly standard procedure, but Harry was now well beyond the scenarios in the Auror handbook.
"Now, none of that," said Harry with emotionless calm. "We wouldn't want us to be interrupted. I might get spooked and do something crazy."
The ropes slackened slightly and the man seemed to understand Harry's threat as he didn't immediately start shouting again.
"Good." Harry nodded in satisfaction. "Now I have some questions. If you're helpful then I think both of us will leave here satisfied."
The man nodded slowly. Harry doubted the man was sincere, the memories playing over behind the man's eyes were ones of sustained violence. That was much as Harry had expected, even if he had hoped for someone more pliable.
"Where did everyone go?" With a slight gesture Harry relaxed the ropes gagging the man.
"I don't know!" Harry could hear the frustration under the man's words. "We're just here to bring you in if you come back."
Harry looked at the man for a long time. It was hard to judge his truthfulness through the waves of rage pouring off the man. It was best to be sure. The ropes around his neck tightened again until he almost passed out. Just as the man's eyes went wide and he groped for a last breath they slackened. The man coughed and spluttered as he took deep desperate breaths.
"You see, that wasn't helpful." Harry kept his voice reasonable. Shouting would obviously be counterproductive, a measured and level tone made it seem like he was more familiar with this kind of thing than he really was. "Perhaps you'd like to try again?"
"Fuck. You," the man said through his coughing fit. "I don't know. It's compartmentalized."
Harry didn't react outwardly but internally he was pissed. He hated efficient criminals.
"What was the plan when you caught me?" he asked, trying a new direction. "Where were you to take me?"
The man's face spread into an ugly grin. "Nowhere. We were to secure you and await transport."
Shit. He had to resist the urge to punch that shit eating grin off the guard's face. What did he do now?
For a moment he considered simply handing himself in. It would certainly get him where he wanted to go but everything in his Auror training rebelled against it. He would be walking blind into an unknown situation in an unknown place and surrounded by unknown enemies. It was a Bad Idea.
He leaned low and let some of his anger bleed through. "I suggest you tell me something useful or mine might be the last face you ever see." The ropes started slowly constricting again.
The man's eyes went wide and flickered around room desperately for something that might keep him alive. As the rope slowly tightened his breaths became faster and shallower until he was gasping empty mouthfuls of air. He whispered something Harry couldn't hear.
Harry loosened the ropes just enough to allow the man to speak.
"Killian," the man gasped as he tried to pull in a great lungful of air.
"And?" Harry returned to his level persona, he didn't want to give anything away.
"He's the boss," the man said quickly. "Or he's calling the shots anyway."
Harry looked into the man's eyes with a dispassionate gaze, nineteen years of Auror work had given him a lot of time to practice his poker face. Inside he was very pleased indeed.
"And you think that's useful to me?" he asked blandly.
"Well, yeah. I mean, he's the boss," the man said uncertainly, his eyes wide and pleading. "Stan said Killian built Aim from the ground up. If you can find him you'll be able to find out anything you want to know."
Three names. Maya Hansen, this 'Killian' and his company, 'Aim'. That was more than he'd had before but it was much less than he'd hoped. He also had a potential link to Stark Enterprises to explore.
Was that enough to work with? He didn't have much experience of tracking down information without simply going through government channels. There had been that one lecture Hermione had put on at the Ministry explaining the capabilities of the muggle's internet but he'd never had cause to use it. It simply wasn't useful to the magical world as the Statute of Secrecy precluded putting any wizarding information on such an open platform.
He could probably 'convince' someone to give him a hand.
"So. Uhh. Can I go?"
Harry refocused on the matter at hand. Letting the man go would be a mistake. Too much knowledge of Harry's abilities, something they evidently knew little of given how they had organised their defence, was a bad thing. But he couldn't wipe the man's memory and no amount of confounding would make the man forget what Harry had done.
"—ksh twelve check-in."
His eyes went back to the earpiece still held in his hand. In a moment he decided to let the man decide his own fate. Harry extended the earpiece to the man and nodded, a stony look in his eyes.
The guard's gaze darted from Harry to the earpiece and it seemed he understood Harry's unspoken offer. He licked his lips nervously.
"Twelve in zone 3E, stamp-code G34D. Clear."
There was a pause.
"3E clear, confirmed."
Harry saw the man relax almost imperceptibly at the response and for a moment the man's eyes slid to the door by which he'd entered. Harry sighed, he'd probably sent the duress code, whatever it was. That meant Harry had a minute, tops before some muggles with guns tried to capture him.
What a waste of time.
"Well, I did gave you the choice," he said regretfully. It had been a long time indeed since he'd had to kill anyone and he'd never killed anyone he had at his mercy. But now that he didn't have the Auror force and the British Magical Government behind him it was a completely different business. He couldn't afford to let them know how much Harry knew or did not know. Something as precise as an Obliviate certainly couldn't be done wandlessly. That left only one unpleasant option.
He waved his hand to pick the man up and then quickly threw him against a nearby table. His neck struck the edge and his spine made a sickening cracking noise. The man's eyes and mouth went wide but he could say nothing, no sound escaped. Harry looked away for a few seconds it took the man to stop gasping for air and tried to remember why he had to do what he was doing. Soon the man's struggles stopped and with another gesture the ropes dissolved into the air.
He looked around the room for a moment, thinking quickly. He could no doubt easily incapacitate any of the reinforcements sent, apparition and thrown desks were more than enough to deal with some muggles.
Would there be any value in it though? Probably not. Given the competence they had already displayed he suspected that no-one here knew anything about how he'd been brought here or why. It was unlikely they even know where the 'transport' would take him. Giving himself up still was not a risk he was willing to take.
He grabbed the body and disappeared with a loud pop at almost the same moment as all the lights on the floor burst into life.
He appeared in a nearby alley and stopped for a moment to blink away the spots that had been left by the sudden light. He had to admit that had been a pretty good move, they might even have got some shots on him if he'd intended to stay.
He dragged the body of the man into the shadow behind one of the large bins scattered along it. He quickly went through the man's pockets for any more information he could find.
A wallet, a lighter, a pack of cheap cigarettes, a phone and some kind of photo card ID.
The ID card was completely plain. It had a face, a number and a bar-code and that was it. No name or company logo or any other distinguishing information. Harry put it to the side as probably useless.
In the wallet was a small amount of money, some of it US dollars and the rest was probably Peruvian currency as it had 'Nuevo Sol' written on it. There was a US driver's license for a 'Warren Bramley', some debit cards and, finally the grinning picture of a young blonde haired girl who looked no more than five.
Harry stared at the picture for a long moment, the realisation that he'd just killed some other little girl's 'Daddy' while trying to return to Lily was a heavy one. He closed his eyes and shook his head to clear those thoughts. Everyone had family, even evil bastards, he knew he couldn't let something like that keep him from doing what had to be done. It did make it harder to decide what to do with the body though.
His first thought had been to chuck him in the nearby sea or something but the thought of the little girl never knowing what had happened to her father made him rethink it. If he just left the body then surely someone would find it and his family would get some closure. Harry wasn't sure if they would be able to get much information on his abilities from the body but it was unlikely. Everything Harry had done to the man had been physical, if he'd had much in the way of martial arts training he could have done it without magic.
That was probably the best. He decided to keep the wallet though he elected to leave the picture with the man's body. It simply felt right.
He turned his sights on the phone. He was no expert in such things but it was some kind of smartphone. He sighed in relief when he found access to it wasn't locked, breaking in to electronic systems was another thing that was definitely not on the list of required skills for an Auror. The sum total of his knowledge on the matter came from another of Hermione's lectures on recent developments in the muggle world.
He checked through the contacts and made a quick note of some helpful looking numbers. The one titled 'Work' might be useful if he could work out where it went. Most of the rest looked like family and friends. He felt another pang of regret when he saw one number titled 'Sharon ' but quickly pushed it aside.
On the spur of the moment he decided to ring up the 'Work' number. He was disappointed again. It was some kind of automated system, the person ringing up was asked to leave a message, along with some confirmation code, which would then be passed on to the relevant people.
The level of security was pretty impressive really. Harry decided there was little else he'd get from the man. He quickly smashed anything electronic the man had had on him then sat him upright against the wall so that he looked like he was merely asleep. He pressed the photo of the little girl into the man's breast pocket and stood up with an air of finality.
Given just how little information he'd been able to gather this evening he elected to return to the building. Careful not to get caught in anything unexpected he Apparated to a place well down the street first and then to a rooftop overlooking the building.
In just the quarter of an hour he'd been gone it had become a hive of activity. Three black SUVs were arrayed along the street outside and he could see a group of men in body armour and carrying automatic weapons walking back and forth between the building and the vehicles. The lights throughout the building were on and in the room he'd visited he could see a team of men bagging every little thing they could find, there wouldn't be much.
Harry watched them work for more than two hours and he felt tiredness set in. He'd been constantly on the move for more than four days by this point and though he'd managed to grab some sleep on the planes and in the hotel in London the jet-lag was starting to get to him.
He couldn't stop paying attention now though. If he could follow this secondary team to wherever it was they'd come from he might have a proper lead. He missed the tracking spells he could have used had he had his wand but with Apparition and aversion charms he would be able to keep up with them without much difficulty.
It wasn't until the following morning that it looked like they might finally be ready to return to wherever it was they'd come from. Harry took a quick mental note of the number plates and decided on the primary target should they split up en route.
He chose to follow the one they'd packed the 'evidence' up into. The other SUVs were just full of the heavily armed men, they probably didn't know anything more than the one Harry had interrogated. Whatever evidence they'd gathered was certainly going somewhere where people might know more.
He followed them carefully through the city streets and, as he'd expected, they soon split up. He stayed with the one he'd designated before time as it moved through the slowly increasing traffic on Lima's early morning streets.
It soon became clear that wherever the vehicle was going it wasn't in Lima as they joined the main motorway out of the city. Harry was hard-pushed to keep up with his short Apparition jumps. The buildings around the motorway were slightly further away than he felt comfortable with and the streets nearby were much too busy for him to Apparate to even with his charms.
He'd have to do something drastic. Whoever was driving the car was almost certainly the person Harry needed to question.
He Apparated once again, this time he took a risk and appeared nearly three feet from the distant rooftop he'd set his sights on. He grunted in surprise as he dropped to the ground but quickly recovered and set his eyes back on the target. The high-end black SUV wasn't difficult to see, it stood out very obviously among the older vehicles on Lima's roads.
Carefully but with as much force as he could manage he reached out to the front tire of the SUV and yanked it as hard as he could with a summoning charm. The SUV swerved abruptly as the steering wheel spun suddenly and broke out of the surprised driver's grasp. It smashed into the back end of the car it was overtaking sending debris and broken metal and glass skittering across the road. Both cars spun wildly across the lanes, the back end of the other, much older car almost completely destroyed. Harry Apparated closer and with another application of magic lightened the SUV for a moment causing it to flip over onto its roof when it caught on a curb.
After a few long seconds of crashing, screeching metal and surprised horns from surrounding cars the SUV slid to a halt. Harry quickly Apparated in close and yanked the door open. He shot a Confundus at the driver and two other occupants before doing his best good citizen act and pulling the man out and helping him hobble to the sidewalk.
"You OK there?" he asked, his voice dripping false concern. "You need me to call anyone?"
The man shook his head fuzzily. The accident and Confundus charm together had done quite a number on his faculties. "Nah, Eric hit the panic button already. They know it's a bust."
Harry thought he could already see where this conversation was going and his hand clenched unconsciously. "What's a bust?"
"The drop," the man replied as he palmed his eyes in an obvious attempt to clear his head.
So they were probably just dropping the evidence off at a prescribed place, it was likely it would then be picked up by some other courier and taken to the final destination from there. Harry shook his head at the impressive, and annoying, paranoia being demonstrated there.
"Why was it so important?" he tried.
"I dunno man, some guy broke in or something and they wanted to know how," the man said impatiently, he obviously felt it was unimportant. "Guy was kidnapped I think. Didn't find fuck all anyway."
That pretty much settled it. This whole trip had been a bust so far as Harry was concerned. A connection to Stark, a guy called Killian and some group called Aim wasn't much to go on at all.
"You ever heard of Aim?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, they're the guys that hired us," the driver said slowly as if thinking it over. "Some kinda Think-Tank. Government backed, I think."
Harry nodded. That, at least, might be helpful. If they were a legitimate business then there would be information to be found somewhere even if it was obvious their operational security was extremely tight. If he could find the connection between Killian and Aim he might be able to get an address and from there it should be much easier.
It did mean he'd probably need to return to the US if he wanted to find out more. The prospect of another 14 hour flight was not a pleasing one.
Blaring sirens caused Harry to look up as a police car pulled up to block the road around the accident and he decided he had as much as he was likely to get.
The driver was unlikely to remember Harry as anything more than a helpful stranger and so Harry patted him on the shoulder and walked inconspicuously away from the scene. No-one noticed his departure, just as no-one had really noticed his presence. Magic was a truly formidable force when used against muggles.
Harry decided to catch the next plane back to the US. He was exhausted and tired and he knew he'd close to dead on his feet by the time he got back into America but once there he'd be able to get a hotel room and work out just what day of the week it was supposed to be. The human body wasn't meant to travel through so many different time-zones in such a short time.
"What do you have for me Agent Hill?"
"Director Fury, we think he may be headed back to the US," Hill said quickly as she passed over a file. "We've been watching Lima for any sign of the camera aberration and it just turned up getting on a plane back to JFK."
"Do we have any way to identify him in person?"
"We don't know, sir." Maria Hill shifted her weight, uncomfortable to admit to the failure. "We have an image, it's in the file, that we think might be him but the techs can't think of any way to get around the perception filter once the Agent is on the ground."
Fury pulled out the image in question and examined it closely. Taller than average, maybe 6'2". Mid length black hair, glasses, athletic build. Probable age range 30-40. He didn't look like much. Were it not for the confusion his little tricks were causing Fury wouldn't have given him a second glance.
"That's not good enough." He looked up. "I don't care if we have to talk Romanoff through every damn step, we need to find out how he's doing what he's doing."
Hill winced. "I don't think that will work either, sir."
Fury raised his eyebrow, prompting her to continue.
"If he has that field up we'll have just as much trouble following him as she will," she explained.
"Then what do you suggest?"
Hill was quiet for a few seconds before she gave an unsure reply. "Well, one theory is that something obvious or unusual might render his field ineffective. If he make him break cover somehow we might be able to follow him."
"And how would we do that?"
"One of the techs suggested staging some kind of attack."
Fury's eye widened ever so slightly in surprise. "Are you suggesting we set up some kind of terrorist attack inside our own borders?"
"It's the only idea the team had, sir."
"Well it's a shitty idea!" said Fury, his voice raised. He stood up from his desk and stalked to the window.
"Well we can just wait for him to break cover himself," Hill pointed out. "If we keep an agent near his general location he might be able to catch him when he does."
Fury sighed in frustration. So it was a choice between terrorizing innocents and just sitting back and hoping. "Very well, do what you can to steer Romanoff into his general location. Then, I suppose, we just have to hope he slips up."
When Hill didn't immediately accept the order and leave Fury turned around and fixed her with a knowing stare.
"What is it Agent Hill?"
"Are you sure Romanoff is necessary here, sir?" she asked, meeting his eye. "Wouldn't she be of more use extracting our source from Odessa?"
"Do you know another agent with enough experience to track someone we can barely even notice?" he said reasonably.
She shook her head. "No, but there's nothing to suggest she'll have any more luck than any normal field agent."
"You're familiar with her history, are you not?" Fury asked as he walked back over to his desk and sat down. She nodded. "Of all of our people she is the one most familiar with this mental manipulation and subversion. I disagree with your assessment. Is that all Agent Hill?"