A/N: Very nearly done the exams and wotnot. Shadow of Angmar will see an update 'Soon™'.
A New Man
Harry was starting to feel like an animal in a cage. It was as if the world was conspiring against him to keep him in one place. After more than a month of exhaustive research on all the potential sources he had turned up very little.
He'd been able to find out was that 'Aim' was actually 'A.I.M.', an acronym that stood for 'Advanced Idea Mechanics'. It was such a seemingly small thing but his general unfamiliarity with the computers needed to do the research had made it much more difficult. He'd tried to get some help from the library employees or other members of the public but it really hadn't worked out.
They'd been willing enough to show him the ins and outs of how to use their computers, even if they did shoot him incredulous looks when he admitted to not having used one for more than twenty years. Unfortunately the Confundus charm proved to be utterly useless when it came to the matter of getting them to help him in a more concrete way.
Put simply it didn't last long enough to achieve much and it made them fairly useless at the process anyway. The kind of research he wanted to do required real logical thought and the Confundus charm was specifically designed to temporarily circumvent it.
So it had been down to Harry and his two fingered pecking at the keyboard to find what he'd been looking for. It took him more a long time. Finally, now, though he had something to go on.
A.I.M. had been set up by Aldrich Killian in 1997 as a research organisation with the stated aim of improving the lot of humans everywhere. There was nothing special about it, a few buried reports and glossed over press releases that contained a lot of very flowery and optimistic language.
It was a nice idea but it looked very much like they'd lost their way in the twelve years they'd been operational. Or perhaps they'd merely lost sight of exactly what constituted acceptable sacrifices. Perhaps he would ask when he finally caught up to them.
Whatever it was now the company had previously been listed at a suburban address in New York state for three years before dropping almost completely out of sight. Its website now showed only the logo and some blurb about science being the solution to all the world's ills.
After a month of nigh fruitless searching Harry was about ready to climb the walls. He'd put all thought of the strangeness of the 'Harry Potter' books into the back of his mind. Dimensional weirdness could wait until he was back home.
He leaned back in his chair in the library and absentmindedly fiddled with the ring he'd pilfered a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to paper over that particular crack. It wasn't the same of course, it was worn wrong, it felt wrong and it simply looked completely wrong. But when he was working and bored he often played idly with the ring and the lack had grated across his mind every day until he'd finally given in and stolen a replacement from one of the many jewellery shops around New York.
That had been the one day he'd allowed himself to become distracted from his task. Despite not actually bringing him any closer to his family the action had felt good. Harry hated sitting around inactive and the weeks of research he'd slowly slogged through certainly felt like inactivity to him.
This weekend he planned to finally take action again, and this time it would hopefully be constructive. He was going to take a look at the address that had first been listed as the corporate address of A.I.M. It was a long shot and he expected to find nothing but his next step was to fly the breadth of America to try and get some information from Stark Industries. He couldn't Apparate that kind of distance and so he was once again reduced to muggle transportation.
Outside the library he flagged down one of the hundreds of yellow cabs and climbed into the back seat.
"Hey, I need to get to Albany," he said as he took his seat.
The driver turned in his seat and looked at Harry as if he was insane. "Are you shittin' me? That's like three hours each way, asshole. No way I'm taking you there."
Harry was a little worried by just how little guilt he felt when he flicked his wrist and the man shuddered as the charm rolled over him.
"Hey, man, it's your money, yeah?"
Harry smiled humourlessly to himself. No, it wasn't.
He knew he'd become a little too accustomed to being able to Confund people into giving him everything for free. A month of free food, clothes and accommodation, not to mention an expensive ring, had long ago began stretching the limits of his moral flexibility. Perhaps it would be better if he found some way of getting hold of money. He'd decided against it before but now that it appeared the stay might be a long one he might have to rethink it.
He really didn't want to rethink it though, making himself at home here felt like a tacit acceptance of his extended presence in the wrong universe. He didn't accept it and he wouldn't. Each night he fell to sleep wondering what his kids were doing and each morning he awoke and for a brief moment worried where Ginny had gone.
Eighteen years of marriage had worn a deep groove in his psyche and it was not one that could be smoothed over by a month or two away from his family. Not that he wanted it to be smoothed over.
Albany really was a beautiful town. Lush green trees lined every road and pleasant-looking American-style wooden frame houses were scattered haphazardly around. Each was surrounded by a large area of well-maintained and short-clipped grass.
The greenery reminded him a little of his own home in South Wales. Where the towns and villages in Wales often felt like they'd been draped across the soft hills and valleys of the country like a gentle blanket Albany felt more like it had been built in a park. It was green, yes, but it didn't feel quite so natural to Harry's mind.
Still, it certainly beat the constant hustle and bustle of New York.
The address he was looking for proved to be a house much like all the rest. Timber framed and clad and set inside a little manicured square of green. Harry imagined this was what Little Whinging might have looked like if it had been in America.
Harry hopped out of the car with a negligent wave of his hand sending the driver on his long journey back to New York. Harry could easily Apparate the distance back, he'd done some working out and decided he could probably make the trip across continental America in perhaps 6 jumps. It was a real pain in the metaphorical backside but it was better than taking a plane if he found he needed to return to New York for some reason.
He walked up the short path towards the porch and looked over the house with a critical eye.
It did not look to be occupied, which he thought might be unusual for such a well-to-do neighbourhood. The windows were heavy with dust and there was little sign of life anywhere nearby. The lawn and plants set around it had been maintained by someone though and it wasn't up for sale so whoever owned it obviously paid someone to keep an eye on it.
He removed the aversion charm that had been a constant fixture for the last month. He'd been getting sick of it in all honesty. He knew he needed it when he was walking around as he had been as he was sure someone out there would be looking for him. That didn't stop him beginning to resent the distance it put between him and everyone else.
He hadn't spoken to anyone at all outside of his search since the maid on his first morning. He'd actually had a little hope that she might return but it wasn't to be, evidently the mortification she'd felt at walking in on him while he was showering had kept her well away. That or his reaction to the 'book' revelation.
Either way, he figured removing the aversion charm might help in this situation. He wasn't sure but if this place was anything like the Americanised Little Whinging it appeared to be it was likely he could get a lot of information from a nosy neighbour if he couldn't find anything in the house.
He knocked on the door, largely for the look of the thing as it was obvious that there was no-one in, and waited a minute before making his way around and behind the house. The back garden was large and again perfectly kept. There was a small shed at the far end, which proved to be empty and a broad deck about the back door. Otherwise it was empty and featureless.
He took a peak in through on of the back windows and saw nothing of interest, just dustsheets cast over furniture as he'd expected.
He hadn't thought this little trip would be worth much but he'd had a sliver of hope the current occupants might at least have known where he might be able to find Killian.
"Hey over there," called an interested voice from one of the neighbouring gardens. It had what Harry would identify as a Texan twang. "Can I help you?"
Harry turned and found he was being watched by a late middle-aged man wearing jeans and a plaid shirt, he couldn't look more like a stereotypical American if he tried. From his stance Harry could tell the man was a little suspicious of him.
"Hey, I was given this address," he said trying to look confused. "Looking for Aldrich Killian, you know him?"
"Sure, I know him," the man replied with a single nod. "He's not been back here in years, who gave you this address?"
Harry reached up and scratched the back of his head as he walked closer to the man so that they didn't have to raise their voices. "Well, he did." He smiled self-deprecatingly. "But it was about ten years ago, told me to look him up if I ever changed my mind."
He was playing this conversation completely by ear but he'd done sting ops before with less to go on. All he needed to do was give the man just enough information to draw his own conclusions. Harry didn't know enough to paint the man a picture, but he could give him the outline and wait for him to fill the rest in himself.
"Heh, that's a long time to change your mind," the man commented. "But come on inside and I'll see if I can find the contact number he left last time he was here."
The man turned for his house and gestured for Harry to follow when he stopped and extended his hand. "Oh, by the way, I'm Jack, pleasure to meet you."
"Harvey," said Harry as he shook the proffered hand. Now that it was obvious that his friend's names might be recognised that particular in-joke wasn't quite so amusing. "Thanks for the help."
Jack made a shooing gesture and said, "Ahh it's no big thing. Al was always a good kid so I figure he wouldn't want you left hanging."
Harry followed him into his house and was directed into the kitchen where he took a seat and looked around.
His knowledge of muggle kitchens had sadly waned since his departure from Privet Drive but it seemed fairly normal. It was large and obviously the core of the house in a way an English kitchen usually wasn't. It was a bit of a clutter, and Harry marked him as a man who probably lived alone. A couple of light coats were hung up by the door and one had an ID card for the company 'Koenig and Strey' affixed to the lapel.
"You want a coffee?" Jack asked and Harry nodded in assent. He would have much preferred tea but he really didn't trust an American to do it right.
"That'd be lovely, thanks," he said.
Jack bustled around the kitchen as he prepared the drink and made some small talk with which Harry joined in, enjoying his first proper human contact in more than a month.
"So you from England then, huh?" he asked in interest. "Been over here long?"
Harry shook his head. "No, not long. Just arrive last month, I've been getting my business all wrapped up in New York," he said and smiled as if remembering a happy time. "And a bit of a holiday too I suppose."
"That's swell. Great time of year for it too," said Jack authoritatively.
"Seems so," Harry agreed. "So you've known Killian since… when?"
"Oh we go way back." Jack chuckled fondly. "I moved out here when he was a kid. Used to help his mum with him. She had a hard time when he was younger."
"Yeah, little Al didn't have the best start in life," explained Jack as he sadly shook his head. "He was a sickly kid, Mary always had a hard time keeping up. He was a fighter though, damn impressive."
Harry nodded quietly and Jack set the coffee in front of him.
"You just hang fire here and I'll see if I can't find that phone number," he said as he moved passed Harry.
As Harry sipped at gingerly at the still scalding coffee he pulled a face, it always struck him as a waste of good caffeine to put it in coffee. That said, as far as these things went, it was better than the 'Starbucks' he'd experimented with once when he was in New York.
"So Harry," Jack called from the next room. "What was the idea that had Al so excited that he'd wait ten years for it?"
"Hmm? Oh." Harry cast around for an idea and settled on the only one that might sound plausible. "I had an idea for contacting parallel universes, but my funding got axed last year. And we're so close too."
"Parallel universes, huh?" Jack replied when he was interrupted by a clattering noise. "Shit, ah, sorry about that. Parallel universes? That's a bit off the wall even for Al."
"He took a bit of convincing, but the science is sound." Harry tried to inject the kind of enthusiasm into his attitude as he'd so often seen from Hermione. It was difficult when he knew so little credible science.
He heard Jack returning and began to turn to face him.
"Well, friend, I hate to cut this short but you're gonna have to put your hands on your head now."
His host was standing in the doorway with a shotgun held in his hands and pointed directly at Harry. He raised his hands slowly and unaggressively. He reached out with his weak Legilimency and quickly realised the man was pretty scared.
"Hey, now, what's this for?" asked Harry in his most diplomatic tones. He didn't want the guy to get twitchy. Twitchy with a deadly weapon was a very bad combination, he had no desire to catch a shotgun cartridge to the face. He wasn't sure it would be deadly, magic users were impressively sturdy after all, but it would certainly put a crimp in his plans.
"Well now, Al put out word someone by your description might come snooping round," said Jack, his voice low but Harry could hear the slight quiver. "So we're just gonna sit here quiet like until the grab team turns up."
There was a chance he might still be able to get a little information from the man. Harry knew he'd have to be careful when trying to disarm him as he was clutching the gun with white knuckles as if he expected it to try and attack him. Harry wanted to try and calm the man down a little before he made his move.
"Hey, that's fine," said Harry and he kept his hands open where Jack could clearly see them. "So you work for A.I.M. then?"
"On and off," said Jack before he glanced at his watch.
"How long until they arrive?"
Jack raised the gun threateningly and Harry tried to back off while sitting down. "They'll get here when they get here, no more talking."
"Hey, I'm just trying to work out what's going on here," Harry said placatingly. He wasn't particularly worried about the man shooting him for talking. He obviously wasn't the killing type, the way he was holding his gun and his thoughts were more than enough proof of that.
"You and me both but ain't neither of us getting answers," Jack said firmly as Harry watched him try and bury his fear beneath bravado.
So Harry had the choice again. Take Jack down and see if he could find anything of use in the office he'd been searching, or sit tight and wait for the bag-men. Waiting was much more attractive now than it had been just after his arrival but it was still much too risky. It was obvious that they were looking for him and if that was the case they might do something he couldn't defend against.
It was frustrating but keeping his mobility and ability to act was still the best way to pursue his journey home. He closed his eyes in annoyance he'd wasted enough time here already.
The pop of his Apparition was drowned out by the thunderous roar of the shotgun as Jack panicked. The chair Harry had been seated on and part of the table were reduced to kindling by the blast and wooden fragments flew about the room.
Harry reappeared in the same instant just a few meters behind where Jack was standing. For the briefest moment he stared in amazement at the flying remains of the chair he'd been sitting on before he thrust his arm out to cast a banishing curse.
Jack was thrown across the room into the kitchen cabinets and before he could recover the shotgun was torn from his death grip by a yank of magic. The gun clattered to the ground at Harry's feet and he kicked it away and into the room behind him.
"Sorry about the mess," he said to the stunned man. He felt a little guilty. This guy obviously wasn't front line personnel. "But I really don't have time for whatever it is that's been planned for me."
Jack groaned from where he lay among the ruins of his kitchen. Harry suspected that he'd probably broken something in the collision. A wizard would likely have been fine but he'd allowed himself to forget how fragile muggles could be.
Just to make sure the man didn't move Harry levitated the fridge on top of him and turned away to look through the office for anything that might be useful.
A gun safe stood open against one wall, a box of shotgun shells had fallen out when it was opened and they were scattered across the floor. Harry was most interested in the heavily built writing desk against the opposite wall.
He rifled through the drawers and came up with a very large stack of bills and other mundane things. He put those to the side and kept looking, there had to be something worth looking at.
After looking through what felt like the minutia of the man's financial life Harry slammed the last door shut with a growl. There was nothing at all of use in any of them. A few pay-cheques from Koenig and Strey and some other company called Omnitech was about it. From what he could see of the Omnitech payments they looked like some kind of under-the-table agreement. That might be a lead for him to look at.
There was nothing from A.I.M. or Advanced Idea Mechanics or even from Killian directly but the Omnitech payments looked pretty suspicious to Harry. He was no genius in the area of finances, the wizarding world, after all, wasn't exactly complicated when it came to the matter of how their economy was run. Aurors also had almost nothing to do with financial crimes. The Goblins usually dealt with that kind of thing themselves and in ways that ensured such attempts to subvert the system were very rare indeed.
The closest he'd ever got to a financial crime was when a young muggleborn had tried to take advantage of the gold exchange rate in the muggle world. The Goblins had found out almost immediately and the kid had known the game was up. In an attempt to avoid the Goblins justice he'd actually walked into the ministry atrium and pulled his wand on the passers-by. Harry had been in the hall at the time and had dropped the man before the second curse had passed his lips.
No-one had really been hurt and the man had been released later that day. The Goblins had picked him up and that was the last anyone had seen of him.
Despite his lack of experience in the area he still felt he felt he had a good gut for the suspicious though. Something about those cheques was speaking to him.
He crammed a collection of them into his pocket and went back out to check on Jack whom he found still groaning and trying weakly to push the fridge off his body with one hand.
"I wouldn't bother," Harry said conversationally. "Just wait until your friends turn up. How long now?"
Jack just stared at him, confused and scared, which prompted Harry to try and get some idea of his thoughts. His mind was a bit of a mess and memories were flickering in and out of sight as he tried to recover from the concussion he'd obviously suffered when Harry had thrown him across the room. That was good, it would make his recounting of what Harry had done less clear and he wouldn't have to silence him more permanently.
There might also be an advantage to letting them know what Harry was after. They needed to know who they were dealing with if he was going to cow them into doing as he demanded. A little threat might be a benefit. He wasn't some kid for a set of children's books. He was Harry Potter, Head Auror. That was something they would have to learn.
"I suggest you tell Killian that it would be to his benefit to open up communications and lose the guns," said Harry firmly as he stared directly into Jack's eyes. "He'll find I can be very persistent, and even more unpleasant if he doesn't."
Jack nodded rapidly, his eyes wide and fearful. He was saved anything more when the front door slammed open, the sound followed by the reverberating noise of boots on wooden floors.
"Help!" cried Jack desperately. "I'm in here!"
But Harry was already Apparating away, happy that he'd finally achieved something.
Harry was in a thoughtful mood when he reappeared in his hotel room with a pop. His reflection was instantly shattered.
"Oh, shit!" cried a male voice behind him.
He spun on his feet to locate the source of the voice and found a very tidy looking man with short-cropped dark hair wearing a perfectly tailored black suit. Harry wasn't familiar with muggle dress but he'd done a little work that had involved muggle law enforcement. This guy looked competent. His first thought was 'Unspeakable' but that was obviously not true. He was no wizard; no self-respecting wizard would ever carry a gun. Much more important though was what he was doing with that gun. He was drawing it in his surprise.
In a moment Harry was reacting. A hand shot out in front of him and caused the gun to leap from the other man's hand. His eyes went wide in shock as his weapon flew across the room into Harry's waiting palm. Harry opened his mouth to question the man but before he could speak though the situation degenerated further.
An explosion of light, sound and rushing air from the door threw Harry from his feet to land by his bed. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it and saw at least six heavily armed and armoured men swarm though the ruined doorway one by one.
"Stand down, sir!" one of them shouted aggressively as they tried to spread out across the too-small room.
Harry was having none of it, with an almost imperceptible flick of his hand the bed and nearest furniture leapt from their places to fly at the unknown assailants.
Only one opened fire and Harry watched in puzzlement as what looked like darts embedded themselves in the furniture and walls of the room as all six attackers were knocked over by Harry's improvised attack. The unexpectedness of Harry's attack meant none of them came close to hitting him.
Before everything could get even worse Harry decided he'd spent enough time in New York. In the next moment Harry disappeared, this time with a slightly louder pop than the one that had announced his entrance. The time from his appearance to his departure had been no more than twenty seconds and he left behind him a scene of impressive destruction.
Director Nick Fury raised his eye-patch and rubbed at his bad eye tiredly. He looked back up at Deputy Director Maria Hill.
"Agent Ward claims he appeared out of nowhere without any warning, sir," said his deputy dutifully.
"Teleportation." His voice was deadpan.
"That's what Ward claims. I'm not so sure. It's possible his perception filter just stopped the team from noticing his return," said Hill logically.
"Can we confirm either hypothesis?"
"I think so, the room was thoroughly bugged and the hotel has cameras in every hall. It'll take some time to get passed his ability but she can check it out," Maria said positively.
Fury nodded once. "That still doesn't explain why there's a half destroyed room in the Plaza Hotel."
"Ward panicked, sir." Fury could see that she was just as annoyed about that as Fury himself was. "He hit the panic button and the support team breeched the door."
Fury merely sat in silence as he waited for the explanation.
"The target then used some kind of telekinesis to disarm Ward and throw his furniture at the support team," she finished. Fury blinked.
"Teleportation, telekinesis, anything else?" he asked a little acerbically. He'd had a team watching the man for weeks and nothing of the sort had been reported.
"No, sir. He then teleported away. We've no idea where he might be."
Fury sat back in his chair and stared into space for a moment as he ran through the information. The new powers were extremely worrying. Had he been concealing them? Or, more worryingly, had he gained them only recently?
The perception filter was concerning enough. If more than one person had access to such an ability then much of S.H.I.E.L.D's ability to track their targets could potentially be compromised. Teleportation was simply unacceptable. It meant potentially that nowhere was secure. This man could appear in the Oval Office or Fury's own office at the Triskelion without warning. He was a greater potential threat than Banner with that ability. At least Banner's alter-ego was seemingly animalistic and undirected and could be escaped. A man who could travel miles in seconds and bypass any security rendered their defences utterly useless.
The only possible upside was the personality profile they'd built up over the last few weeks. Private and solitary, yes, but also polite and deferential. Fury didn't much care about the petty crimes the man, whom some joker had dubbed 'Subject Potter', had committed. He was concerned about the security implications of his abilities.
In the month they'd had him under surveillance Fury had been getting periodical updates on his actions and whereabouts. They'd made for uninspiring reading. The man spent his life at the library researching a think tank called Advanced Idea Mechanics. The team in charge of the investigation had run a brief check on the company and had found little of interest to S.H.I.E.L.D. Some shady business practices, to be sure, but nothing that stood out as a threat.
Romanoff had been pulled off surveillance after just a week. The mission in Odessa had gone bad, their contact had been taken out by some mercenary and Fury had assigned Agent Romanoff to track him down. 'Subject Potter' had just proved to be uninteresting.
Eventually Fury had given the surveillance team the clear to initiate contact. They wanted to get a better handle on the man's abilities and to do that they needed to bring him in for tests. The psych profile they'd built up suggested he might be amenable to the soft approach but evidently Agent Ward had messed that up completely.
"Take Ward off the team," he said eventually. "Set him to work tracking Banner in Greenland for a while."
Hill nodded in understanding. Such an obvious failure couldn't go unremarked. "Yes, sir."
Fury thought for another long moment before coming to his conclusion. "Put Coulson in charge, this has just become one of our top priorities and I don't want any more fuck-ups."
He trusted Coulson to get the job done. Trust was a rare coin in S.H.I.E.L.D but Coulson was reliable in the extreme. He also represented a significant dedication of resources.
This time Hill didn't question the choice, she knew as well as he that teleportation was bigger news than anything else on the threat radar. She took a note and Fury dismissed her silently as he rose from his seat and went to stare out over the Potomac again.
"Oh, and Hill?" he called just as she was about to leave the room. "Change the name. We're not hosting a convention here."
She paused for a moment and turned back. "Yes sir."
Fury watched the door close behind her and turned back to the window. "Subject Potter," he muttered with a wry tilt to his lips. Sometimes the tech nerds let their imagination run away with them.