A/N: I lied again. Sorry.


A New Man
By Steelbadger

Chapter 4


When Harry stepped off his plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport he imagined what he was feeling must be what it was like to be an inferius. He'd been hoping for some sleep on the journey but that had been neatly nipped in the bud by the absolutely lovely young family who were sat in the row in front of him.

At first it hadn't been so bad. Harry still had a soft spot for small children and when he'd seen the three of them he'd smiled like many of the other adults on the flight had.

Of course the seasoned travellers hadn't smiled. They'd grimaced with remembered pain and discomfort and for good reason. Harry would be among their number next time he saw such a group of small kids.

The first hour or so had been as enjoyable as time in a compressed air can alongside a lot of sweaty or nervous travellers could be. The kid in the seat in front had craned over the back of his chair and grinned at Harry in a way that reminded him of James at that age. There was a funny little exchange between the mother and the child when she told him to 'stop bothering the nice man'. Harry hadn't minded and had said so, she'd shot him a tired smile and here was sure her left eye twitched. Perhaps she could sense what was to come.

Not long after that was when the screaming started.

Just as Harry had been getting himself comfortable to grab some much needed sleep the youngest of the children had decided that now was the time to scream bloody murder about the seatbelt 'not working properly'. Harry had no idea what that might entail and quite frankly didn't care.

It had continued for an hour, on and off, and Harry had first nursed the thought of slapping the little brat with a Confundus charm in the hope that they'd shut up. When hellspawn No. 2 had decided to tag team for the next hour Harry concluded that the world was playing a huge practical joke on him.

Only now that he was without his wand and couldn't just erect a silencing charm about himself did shit like this happen.

That had set the tone for the journey. Every now and then there was perhaps a half hour of blissful silence in which Harry did his level best to catch some shut-eye but without fail the next drama would befall and he would be unceremoniously yanked from his dreams by unearthly screeching.

The seat-belts, their shoes, the colour of the walls, the fact that they couldn't get their hat from out of their luggage, the food; Harry was painfully aware of every single little issue that the hellions found with the flight. He wasn't sure if his restraint could have held out much longer, he had been close to Apparating the little gits out onto the plane wing to see how they liked that.

The end result was an almost catatonic Harry nearly staggering through the labyrinth of JFK in search of the way out. His charms were still up so he had little problem getting by the numerous security checks but it was still a very long and circuitous walk to the main concourse.

He did notice that there were more of them than he'd seen last time he'd come through the airport. It seemed like every door had some check or other. None of them waylaid him, of course, but it was something worth noting. There were two options, either they had had some kind of terrorist warning or they were looking for him.

The former was more likely but the latter possibility certainly warranted a heightened awareness. It was just a pity he was much too tired to act upon it. He didn't really need to act though, he was confident his charms would see him through.

After what felt like a half-hour walk past at least ten separate checkpoints he finally made it outside and ducked into the nearest empty taxi, his sudden presence startling the driver from his magazine.

"Where'd you come from man?" the man cried in surprise as he quickly tried to hide the magazine.

"Hey, I need a hotel," said Harry, ignoring the question. He blinked constantly in an attempt to keep himself awake. "I don't care what it costs so long as you can get me there in the next half-hour."

"Hey, no problem man!" Even through his exhaustion Harry could almost hear the driver rubbing his hands together in delight. "I always wanted to do this!"

What followed would no doubt have been a harrowing journey through the night-time streets of New York if Harry had been able to pay much attention. It rather reminded him of a trip on the Knight Bus back in the heady days of Ernie Prang. The cab ducked between traffic in a way that Harry was sure should have required magic.

Most of his attention was on the radio that the man had playing much too loudly for Harry's liking. Half way through the journey the tooth rattling 'music' fell blissfully silent for a news report.

"Travellers through New York's JFK Airport had to deal with numerous delays today as a result of a bomb threat made by an unknown person. The government official in charge of the investigation has just released a statement saying that it was a false alarm and that there is no additional danger to those wishing to travel through the Airport."

Harry tuned out of the news at that point as he considered that information. It seemed as if his first assumption had been the right one. That was a relief, he didn't really think muggles had the ability to track a well-trained wizard who didn't want to be found but he was willing to accept that he certainly was not knowledgeable on muggle capabilities.

Given it was muggles that had been able to pull him to this universe he really should treat them as a real and credible threat to his own secrecy.

After another fifteen minutes of death-defying and frankly impressive driving he was deposited outside a very nice looking hotel right on the half-hour mark. The driver looked back at him with a broad grin on his face, Harry could tell he'd enjoyed that immensely.

Harry 'paid' with a negligent wave towards the driver who let him out onto the pavement. Harry stumbled a little as he got out due to his extreme tiredness but managed to stop himself from falling.

A number of well-dressed men in suits were hanging around and one came up to offer Harry a hand with his luggage. Of course there was none and so Harry sent him away again with a grunt before walking through towards the hotel doors.

It wasn't until Harry was through the door of the building that he realised just how out of place he was in his rumpled Peruvian-bought clothes. It had a high vaulted glass ceiling that shone a diffuse light down upon the reception area. A flawless mirror-shine marble floor stretched across the wide space and tall columns topped with detailed golden moulding.

He stopped for a moment when he realised the taxi driver had taken him seriously when he'd said price was no object. This was one of the swankiest hotels he'd ever seen. He shook his head in amusement and continued up to the pretty receptionist who was looking at him dubiously.

"Welcome to the Plaza Hotel," she said with a charming smile despite Harry's disheveled appearance. "How may I help you?"

"I'd like to book a room for… ehh… a week?" He wasn't sure how long it would take to find the information he was looking for. If he needed more than a week it was a trivial matter to extend his booking.

"Very well, sir," she said in the same polite tones though Harry could see the doubt flickering in her eyes. "May I ask you your name?"

"Ron Weasley," said Harry easily. If Neville's name was worth comment then it was probably best to avoid it, as amusing as it might be.

She just nodded and tapped the name into the computer. "The fee for seven nights will be $7790. How would you like to pay?"

Harry waved his hand at her, now used to the process. "Of course, not a problem."

Her eyes unfocused for a moment and the smile slackened slightly. "Thank you, sir. If you will wait just a few seconds I will get you your key."

He nodded and turned his back to look out over the hotel foyer. Being late evening it was quiet with only a few men in suits slightly too large for them scattered about. It was likely that they were security, if Harry remembered correctly muggles in America were allowed to carry guns around and the loose suits probably served to conceal them. He resisted the urge to pry into their thoughts with his limited Legilimency, there was a time and a place after-all. It wasn't like he invited others into his own mind.

"Here you go, sir." The young woman had returned with a plastic key card, another hotel employee following in her wake. "Terrence will take care of any luggage you have and see you to your room."

Despite the obvious lack of luggage the porter insisted on leading him through the maze of opulent corridors to his room. The man attempted to make some small-talk, asking what Harry was in New York for and other similar questions but Harry proved to be a poor partner. His mind was fixed on the wonderfully soft bed that was coming closer with every step. He also didn't see the need to treat everyone as if they were old friends, it was a peculiarly American affectation.

He was extremely impressed by the decor and he regretted that Ginny and the kids weren't there to enjoy the grandeur with him. He was sure Lily would have acted every inch the princess she occasionally believed herself to be. He smiled sleepily as he daydreamed about the wonderous expression that would have surely been on her face had she been with him.

He'd have to bring her here when he got back. Perhaps for a family holiday next summer. He had a lot of time owing at work and it wasn't like the country would collapse without his presence any more. The price was pretty steep but he could easily afford it.

When they reached the room Harry was once again impressed by the lavishness of the hotel. It was obvious that the rooms had been redesigned recently to looked much more modern than the rest he'd so far seen. He found that he rather missed the archaic detailing though, he supposed it was his long years in the wizarding world that made him prefer the older styling.

When he'd finished looking about the room and staring longingly at the bed he noticed that Terrence was standing patiently by the door. He was still smiling in that slightly off putting way of people who'd been paid to do so.

"Is everything to your satisfaction, sir?" Terrence asked attentively. Harry got the feeling that something was expected of him.

"Yes, thank you," he said gratefully. "This will be fine."

The porter hesitated a moment before there was a slight flash of annoyance in his eyes and he turned to leave. Harry looked on in confusion as they closed the door behind themselves just a little more forcefully than was strictly necessary.

He shrugged it off, the wonderfully comfy looking bed was calling to him.

o-o

Harry surfaced from his sleep groggily the next morning. Light was streaming in through the still open curtains and he groaned irritably at the impoliteness of it. When he'd at last got the room to himself he had done little more than collapse onto the bed, fully clothed.

The clothes he'd been wearing, which had already looked rather questionable, now looked exactly like they'd travelled half way around the planet and then been slept in. They smelled like it too. If he didn't want to be mistaken for some homeless man he'd have to do something to fix them up, or find something new.

Slowly, he pushed himself off the bed and smacked his lips as he tried to get the taste of the strange aeroplane food out of his mouth. It was a bit like having a hangover only without the headache or the enjoyable night before.

He shuffled into the bathroom and set the shower running as he stared blearily at his image in the mirror. His hair was sticking up in every direction, much worse than his usual morning. One half of it was completely flat on the side he'd been laying on while the other looked much like he'd been hit with an Electrification Curse.

A hand scraped over the beginnings of a beard, six days of growth meant he was pretty close to having a full beard.

All in all he looked like utter arse. He was glad he didn't look like this normally in the morning or he was pretty sure Ginny would have kicked him to the curb ages ago. Well, perhaps not, he was fairly sure she was joking when she'd said that.

He stopped scratching at his beard when he noticed something that caused his heart to clench. His wedding ring was gone. He hadn't even thought of it when he'd been brought here. He'd been naked and without his wand but he'd never thought that his wedding ring might have been lost too. He stared at the pale skin of his finger morosely for a long minute before deciding that it would do him no good to cry over spilled milk.

If he could then he would try and find a replacement for it. He'd also see if he could find some way of recreating some pictures from memory of his family. His loneliness in this universe was something that he felt would hit him pretty hard. It was not often he'd been separated from his family for so long.

But no, he couldn't dwell on that or he'd never get back to them. Small steps add up to big journeys. He just had to keep making those small steps. He looked back up at the mirror and set his sight on the first small step.

He really wanted to get rid of the beard, he'd always hated the scratchy feeling it left him with. He searched through the cabinets and drawers in the bathroom and was extremely happy to find a small electric shaver. He'd never used one before but he knew the basic application.

It took nearly ten minutes for him to be satisfied with the results. It was nowhere near as good as the charm he usually used but once again he'd never tried it without his wand and he didn't really want to explore what that charm could do if improperly used.

He shrugged off his clothes and left them in a smelly heap in the middle of the otherwise pristine floor. He then stepped gratefully into the almost scalding hot shower, for the first time in days he was looking forward to feeling human again.

After more than half an hour under the wonderfully hot waters he finally stepped out and wrapped himself in one of the embossed towels. He looked at the sorry little pile of clothes and tried to work out what the best thing was to do. The idea of putting them back on didn't much appeal to him, after 19 years of comfortable life he was rather used to his clothes not itching or smelling of overweight men.

He finally elected to make an attempt at cleaning them up a little with magic before heading out into the city for replacements. He still wasn't happy about all of his less than legal actions but he reasoned that he had no choice. With no government to go to he was on his own.

He picked them up and walked back into his bedroom only to be stopped short by a surprised squeak. His clothes dropped to the floor, forgotten and he was lucky his loosely held towel did not join them. His hands flexed just slightly as he prepared to perform whatever magic he needed to escape the situation.

"Oh my! I am so sorry, sir. I didn't realise you were still here! I knocked and—" cried a voice with a distinct English accent. It was one of the hotel maids.

Harry quickly sized her up as a potential threat. Small, maybe 5'2" or 3". A slim, attractive build likely favoured by the hotel management. Dirty blonde hair and worried sea-green eyes that were currently flickering between Harry and her own feet. She looked a bit younger than Harry, perhaps late twenties or so at a guess.

Probably not a threat then. His stance relaxed almost imperceptibly and his hands loosened, no longer ready to cast a spell at a moment's notice.

"Don't worry about it, miss," he interrupted her soothingly. "I wasn't listening out for your knock, I've had a rather trying few days and was enjoying my shower."

"I really am sorry," she continued to babble worriedly, seemingly not appeased. "I really shouldn't have come in—"

"Calm down." He made calming gestures with his hands. He had to make a quick grab for the towel that took that opportunity to try and make a getaway. "I'm not going to complain to anyone, OK? I'll just head back into the bathroom and get changed and you can do whatever it is you need to do, yeah? I'm heading out now anyway."

She didn't look convinced but bobbed her head in acceptance of his plan. Harry quickly retreated back into the bathroom and decided to put the cleaning plan on the back burner for now. It would probably take a few attempts and some experimentation before he had any luck with the cleaning charm.

He dried himself off haphazardly and threw the clothes back on. He grimaced as the old familiar smell of sweat and tightly packed bodies returned but he'd just have to put up with it for now.

When he exited the bathroom for the second time he was surprised to find that she hadn't run off in embarrassment but was instead fighting what looked like a losing battle with the sheets of his king-size bed.

Harry watched for a few seconds with a slowly spreading smile. "You want any help with that miss?" he asked eventually.

The reply was muffled by the sheet but he could still hear it. "Oh no, sir. Everything's alright. I usually have a partner for this but he called in sick this morning but I'll manage."

After another minute of amused watching and flapping sheets it seemed she gave up. The hands that had been raised in the air in an attempt to straighten out the sheet dropped to her side in defeat. "Are you still there, sir?" she said from inside the duvet cover.

"I am." He made no attempt to cover the laughter in his tone.

"… could I have a hand?" she asked in a small voice.

Harry let loose a bark of laughter at that. He was actually pretty happy she'd turned up, it kept his mind off other, darker things. "Of course. Here, let's get that off you first."

He was able to pull the bedsheet off her quickly and together they set about making the bed. It was much faster work with two people and Harry took the opportunity to ask a few questions.

"I couldn't help but notice your accent," she said as he worked the duvet into the cover. "Where are you from, I can't quite place it?"

"Oh, all over," she said with a small smile. "My parents moved about a lot. What about you? Somewhere in the South, right?"

"Good ear," he said, a little impressed. "Surrey, actually."

"We stayed around there for a while when I was twelve," she said with some interest. "Guildford, you?"

"Little Whinging," he answered. She looked a little puzzled at that. "Near Dorking."

She nodded thoughtfully and fell silent. As they were tucking the bedsheets in properly Harry asked his other question. "Do you know how I could get to the Library from here?"

"Oh, yes. Just walk down Fifth," she said helpfully. "It's probably about a half an hour walk but you can't miss it. Or catch a cab."

"Thanks," he smiled gratefully. It would have just asked at reception for directions but he still appreciated the help.

"Huh, where are my manners?" he said once they'd finished and he realised he still didn't know her name. He extended his hand to her. "Ron Weasley at your service, it's nice to meet you."

This time the smile was blinding, all trace of her earlier nerves gone. There was an undercurrent of humour there too. "Laura Matthers," she said as she took his hand and shook it happily. "But you don't look like a Weasley."

The hand with which Harry was shaking her hand stopped dead at that but before he could say anything she seemed to realise she'd said something wrong.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said quickly the nervousness now back, full force. "You probably get that all the time. It's just, I've never heard of a real person by that name before. I just thought, you know, that it's from the Harry Potter books and—"

His grip tightened ever so slightly and he saw her eyes go wide in fear. He quickly released her and tried to bring his raging thoughts under control.

"Harry Potter books?" he asked, a slight quaver in his voice.

"You don't know them?" she said in obvious surprise. "They're probably the most successful books ever."

Harry coughed uneasily as he tried to clear the lump in his throat. "Is that so?" he managed to say. "I must have been living under a rock for the past few years. Well, Ms, uhh, Matthers, I really should get going. Thank you for the information."

With that he quickly made his way out of the room and didn't even respond when she called after him.

"Uh, well, have a nice day Mr. Weasley!"

o-o

This was utterly bizarre.

Harry collapsed back in his chair in the corner of New York's huge public library. His name was indeed on a set of books. And they weren't the books he remembered. The ones he remembered, the ones Neville would occasionally read excerpts from, were ridiculous affairs. They were filled with mermaids and dragons and even, in one case, a nundu. Generally Harry battled them, or talked them into surrendering. There was always some pithy 'believe in yourself' moral at the end and a picture of an idealised and annoyed looking Harry Potter on the front cover.

These books had none of that. Well, they did have battles with mermaids and dragons but that was only because Harry himself had had some run-ins with them.

They appeared, on brief examination, to be an almost completely accurate recounting of his days at Hogwarts. Even down to stuff no-one but Ginny, Ron and Hermione knew about like the details of what had happened in the Chamber of Secrets or what he'd said to his parents when he'd gone to meet Voldemort and his own death in the Forbidden Forest. He even looked like the character was described. He wouldn't be surprised if, given the description, someone actually recognised him.

Harry had no idea how to react. The reaction he'd had when he'd found out the books in his own universe had been incredulity. These books were something else altogether. They'd been written by some woman Harry had never heard of.

Was she involved with Aim somehow? That seemed unlikely given how secretive they were. If they had the ability to see into or kidnap people from parallel dimensions then surely they wouldn't shout it to the world by publishing their findings.

Were all stories just the written account of some real person in a parallel reality? Did Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle actually exist somewhere? Harry's mind was tied in knots at the possibilities.

When he got back he was sure the Unspeakables would have a field day with this. Hermione too. The possibilities were literally endless.

Was there a universe where Lockhart's stories were actually accurate?

Probably not. But still. The consequences of such a thing were staggering.

He decided that he needed much more time to think it over. He couldn't afford to skip over something like this, he needed to really consider it. He needed to take the time to let the revelation settle in his mind.

It was unlikely he would be able to do much research on Aim with this thought rattling around his mind and so he made his way back out of the library and started to wander almost aimlessly around the city.

Hermione had once said that according to muggle scientists every possibility did exist, in a way. Harry hadn't really understood what she had been trying to explain but his understanding was that anything that was possible was guaranteed to happen, even if it was extremely unlikely. Somewhere, it would happen. It was like shuffling a deck of cards, it was theoretically possible to end up with the cards in exactly the opposite order to now they had started. Hermione had said that that meant that somewhere, it had happened.

It hadn't been all that satisfying to Harry then but now he gripped that explanation like a drowning man grips a log.

The alternative was too incomprehensible to have even a chance of being true. For a moment he'd thought of one of little Lily's nursery books. In it a princess had wished really hard and the prince of her dreams had come to life out of her book.

What if he was the prince?

It was a worrying thought but it was also obviously impossible. He knew that souls existed as real things and no-one could wish them into being. There were no wizards in this world until he'd appeared, if there was no magic then how could anyone have wished for him? How could he use magic if it didn't come from something within him?

No, it had to be the dimensional travel, as strange as it sounded it was still the most reasonable answer.

He walked for a long time throughout the late morning and early afternoon before he came to another realisation.

He'd completely lost track of what day it was after his displacement and the dozens of time zones he'd covered since his arrival but it was James' birthday.

That was a sad thought. His son had been at Hogwarts on his birthday for 3 years now of course so Harry wasn't really missing that. It was just the thought that he wasn't even in the same universe as them. It was also a bit confusing as in his home universe it wouldn't have been James' birthday at all.

He contented himself with humming a Happy Birthday tune under his breath. That would just have to do.

He had other things he wanted to get done today. He needed more clothes before the hotel threw him out for smelling like Mundungus. His fingers twitched subconsciously in preparation.

o-o

He returned to the hotel later that evening fully fed and with an armful of bags containing a new selection of clothes. He'd taken the first opportunity he could get to dump his stinking Peruvian clothes.

He knew that his hotel probably had a laundry service of some kind but he was now sick of the rough and scratchy clothes he'd picked up barely a week ago. He's dropped them in a dumpster in one of the many side-alleys and good riddance.

He now had real clothes. He'd eaten real food, not suspicious airline stuff and he'd slept in a real bed. He was finally on his feet again despite the momentary setback he'd experienced that morning.

He hadn't been able to find anything on the 'Aim' people, nor had he found anything at all about Killian except a very old news report about 'inspirational people with disabilities', apparently he'd lived in Albany at the time but there was nothing else of use. He had however been able to find some information on Maya Hansen.

It wasn't especially interesting or useful. It was her doctoral website from when she'd been at Harvard. Nothing she'd done, so far as Harry could make out through the arcane academic prose, had anything to do with dimensional travel or anything of the sort.

She had indeed been telling the truth when she'd said she had nothing to do with Harry's situation. It didn't help him much now though. The mobile number given was an old one and no-longer connected and even asking her old co-workers didn't turn up any better leads than he already had.

They hadn't even known about Aim. Instead they'd said she had left to pursue a job at Stark Industries.

The coincidences were mounting. Tomorrow, Harry decided, he would take a closer look into Stark Industries and make another attempt at finding information on Aim. If he had to Confund someone at the library to give him a helping hand then that was the price he had to pay. It certainly wouldn't hurt them and he really needed that information.

Despite the setbacks Harry was pleased. That morning he'd said he needed to start making small steps and that was exactly what he'd done. Tomorrow he would make more and soon he'd have stepped all the way home.

He fell asleep that night hopeful that this ordeal would soon be at an end.