Tony fell to sit on the half ruined couch with a sigh, leaning his head back. Getting the armour off had been a bitch – with so many systems. ruined – and now that he was out, he felt like one big bruise. Around him the Stark Tower penthouse was a mess: walls blown up, windows shattered, and holes in the floor. Hulk made a very crude indoor decorator, Tony mused while he sipped his brandy with a sigh.
"Sir?" JARVIS asked. "Would you like for me to call for a medic?"
"Do it and die, buddy," Tony answered, closing his eyes. He had gotten enough from the S.H.I.E.L.D. medics and had no inclination to pander to yet another healthcare personage marvelling at the reactor in his chest. No, it wasn't hurting. No, you may not have a closer look. And no: you may not have x-ray, ultrasound or any other medical imagining done to it…
He had avoided doctors for a while now where it came to the arc reactor, and he wasn't about to stop now just because he was a bit bruised and strained… and his ears were ringing. And if there seemed to be a gaping tear in the back of his head where he could still see the other end of the universe, what he had seen through the wormhole – the feel of it, pushing inside his mind – well. No one needed to know.
"Music, JARVIS," Tony ordered. "The Late Night playlist."
JARVIS answered by playing the sweet orchestral versions of the classics, mostly guitar riffs and drum solos, and with a sigh Tony leaned his head back and forced the ringing emptiness out of his head. There was a lot to do. He needed to get the construction bots back up to the penthouse to fix the damage. He'd probably get the hole Hulk made with Loki removed in a single piece and framed somewhere, but aside from that: New flooring, walls, windows and so on. And then new security measures, because apparently being some hundred floors above street-level wasn't secure enough.
"I need new security procedures," Tony said, opening his eyes and looking up at the ceiling. There was a scorched scratch mark there. How the hell was there a scorched scratch mark – ah, well, Thor, obviously. "Something against magic and lightning; how do you make security procedures against magic and lightning if the two are going head the head in your living room?"
"Should I do a search on the matter, sir?" JARVIS asked, dry as the desert, and Tony laughed.
"Yeah, sure, let me know if you find anything," he said, and with a groan straightened his back a bit, and sipped at his brandy again. "While you're at it, tag the Chitauri. I'm sure hundreds of people are already doing autopsies and whatnot – I want every file, every photo and every video."
"Yes, sir," JARVIS answered. "I have fourteen notifications from Stark Industries engineers who have gotten their hands on pieces; would you like me to inform them of the urgency of their planned investigations?"
Tony considered. "Yes. And get them a lab for it – somewhere outside the city," he said. "Experimental tech procedures, with a nuke level of potential health hazard. Everyone works at their own risk – but double the pay for them."
JARVIS was quiet for a moment. "That would be something only Ms. Potts can authorise," he then reminded Tony, almost delicately.
"Damnit," Tony sighed. He forgot, sometimes, that he couldn't just throw company money at things he wanted done anymore. "Okay, let Potts know that I want it done. Where is she anyway?" he recalled, vaguely, that she was away from the city. He had made sure she wasn't in the city when he had realised that Loki was an ironic asshole, using his Tower to do his grandstanding.
"Washington, D.C., sir, negotiating Foreign Technology Investigation Rights for Stark Industries," JARVIS said.
Tony frowned. "The hell are Foreign Technology Investigation Rights?"
"Something new, sir, and something only S.H.I.E.L.D. has, I imagine," JARVIS said. "She is currently employing the angle of you, and in conjunction Stark Industries, being a consultant to S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to gain lawful access to the Chitauri technology scattered all across the city. Seems. like she's of the same mind as you sir, and wants Stark Research and Development to go through the Chitauri remains with a fine-toothed comb."
Tony smiled. "That's my girl," he muttered. "But in case she fails, tag what we have on the Chitauri right now as urgent and secret. Have someone collecting what they can get their hands on, off the records. I can pay for it from my own wallet, if you need to bribe people, and afterwards? If S.H.I.E.L.D. comes calling: we don't have anything."
"Yes, sir," JARVIS answered, sounding almost amused.
Tony nodded, satisfied. There was no way in hell the Chitauri wouldn't come around again at some point. It might be a year or ten, or one hundred, but they'd probably come again; If not them, then someone else. There was what? At least three alien races now that they knew for a fact could, or previously had, access to Earth? The Chitauri, Asgard – Asgardians, Aesir, what? – and the other thing, the one Loki was, Frost Giants? Something like that. In the span of one year, three alien races. Two of whom had waged war on Earth a thousand or so years ago, according to the S.H.I.E.L.D. reports on the New Mexico event, and one of which had now launched an invasion on Earth.
Not good chances, those. Not for Earth.
"Get me everything," Tony said to JARVIS, "Tech and magic and all. Asgardian and Frost Giant history as Earth knows it. Everything S.H.I.E.L.D. has on – on everything. Let's make sure next time someone comes knocking, we can slam the door on their faces."
"Yes, sir," JARVIS answered.
"You don't mind, do you?" Hermione asked, wringing a folder of papers and parchments in her hand, her hair a mess. "I'd do it myself but I'm way too busy with everything going on – everyone is going mental at the Ministry, and I need to be there and you're the only one I can trust to know what he's doing with the internet, and –"
"I don't mind, its fine," Harry answered, waving a hand dismissively at her. He was still in his sleep clothes and half-asleep and the words Alien Attack on the United States hadn't quite caught up with him. But when Hermione asked something, it wasn't his habit to say no – and it had been that way even before she had become the Senior Undersecretary to Kingsley. "It's not like I have anything else pressing to do. I'll get right on it and give you a call when I have something. Go to work – I'm sure they need you."
"Thank you!" she called, tucking the folder against her chest. "Let me know when you have anything on Loki!"
Harry waved a hand at her as she Disapparated and yawned. It was barely six o'clock and he hadn't had more than four hours of sleep. But, the world had seemingly changed during the night and if he was used to something, it was to getting little sleep during a crisis. And apparently leaving the Auror Corps didn't prevent crisis situations from landing on his doorstep, somehow.
Rubbing at his face, he stumbled over to his kitchen table and turned the laptop on, holding his hand out towards his bedroom. His wand came flying at him, landing squarely in his hand. From the kitchen table he idly orchestrated himself some tea and breakfast while waiting for the computer to start up.
"Alien attack on New York," he murmured and shook his head as the desktop cleared out and he could get to the internet. Some wizard or witch had probably gone mental on the other side of the pond and orchestrated some excitement for the muggles – and now everyone was panicking; the Ministry of Magic included. Hopefully, it wouldn't be too big of a thing and the U.S. Department of Magic could cover it up without any lasting effects on the magical community as whole…
Harry's thoughts trailed away as he saw the BBC news site. Every article on the front page was about what, actually, seemed to be an honest to Merlin alien attack on New York. Full of photographs, witness accounts and about a hundred links to videos: it detailed the whole event, from the opening of what they called a wormhole to the battle on and above the streets of New York. There were foot soldiers on flying speeders, colossal flying… things they were calling Leviathans in the article – pictures of some people fighting the aliens in what seemed to be mostly hand-to-hand combat.
"What the…?" Harry muttered, clicking the video someone had managed to capture just as the wormhole was opening. A beam of light was shot up from the city to the sky and what looked like a hole in the sky had been opened – and from it the aliens, the Chitauri had come spilling out.
In the next hour or so his breakfast grew cold and his tea sat on the table, untouched, as he browsed through news site, his eyes growing a bit wider with each new item he came across. The Chitauri numbers were estimated around two thousand, plus four of the Leviathan… things, which people theorised were something like troop carriers for the Chitauri. On the New York side, there were about a thousand confirmed deaths, and close to five thousand people were still missing. Buildings, highways and one subway tunnel had collapsed, and a lot of buildings had been maimed by weapons fire and the Leviathans ramming into them.
The Chitauri had been stopped by group of people known as the Avengers; six individuals in varying… costumes. One of them was Iron Man – who had been of great interest to the magical community for the past year or so. Another was Captain America – who was supposed to be dead for the last seventy years, so it was possibly a new bloke who had taken the old Captain America's mantel. Then there was a… guy with a hammer who flew and shot lightning, a green monster, and someone with a bow and arrow? Also, a woman who seemed to have no sense of self-preservation whatsoever, if the footage of her jumping at the Chitauri flying speeders was anything to go by.
They had managed to close the wormhole and end the invasion. Somehow; No one was quite sure how.
There was also something about someone called Loki who – maybe, probably – had been leading the invasion? The Avengers had captured him, apparently.
"Okay," Harry murmured, leaning back in his chair, staring at the laptop screen in blank incomprehension. "Right. Aliens. Okay."
It didn't… well. It did actually look a lot like a magical event, and he could see why the Ministry would be freaking out about it, but it didn't look like the magical community was involved in it. Tony Stark, at least, was confirmed to be one hundred percent muggle, and his flying armour was technological, not magical. The others looked like they were mostly muggle – though he wasn't so sure about the big bearded bloke with a hammer, and the one they called Hulk looked a lot like a green giant. Granted, he was green, and giants usually weren't, but who the hell was Harry to say if they couldn't be? Still, most of the fighting seemed to involve punching. Wizards pretty much never punched things.
Which made this Loki person very interesting, and explained why Hermione had specified him: There wasn't much footage of him, but what there was showed him with what looked a bit like a wand, or a staff, or a spear, or some combination of the three; but with a glowing thing that looked magical thrown into the mix. There were also a couple images of him shooting what looked a lot like spell-fire from the staff/spear thing, mainly at the hammer-guy who was probably Thor?
Thor; like the god? Wasn't Loki a god too?
Shaking his head, Harry opened another tab and logged into the magical news sites. They, unsurprisingly, hadn't quite caught up with what had happened yet – it hadn't been twelve hours thus far, after all, and usually it took magical news about twenty-four before they caught up with what happened in the muggle world; if they caught up with it at all. But the forums, the hub of muggleborns and muggle family members of wizards all across the world, were buzzing. They didn't know any more than Harry did, but they’d had more time researching and theorising, and had correlated some of what they had been seeing with older news.
There was some of Thor's and Loki's supposed past in Norse mythology – some about Asgardians and other "gods" and so on, which was apparently confirmed by some of what they had been able to do: Thor, the god of lightning, with his hammer Mjölnir; Loki, the trickster god, with his magical tricks. As far as anyone knew, they might as well be the actual thing, and though some theorised that they might be wizards in costumes, the ability to fly the way Thor had been able to do was ridiculously rare. As in, only two people in known history had been able to do it – Voldemort and Severus Snape – and no one else since then had been able to repeat the feat.
"Plus," someone wrote in a post that was full of pictures that were analysed and compared to others, "The hammer Thor has is definitely that, a hammer – it's not a disguised wand. No disguised wand could do the damage he did with it." There was a similar post about Loki's staff and the fact that as far as anyone could tell, it could do only one thing – shoot out a blast of blue light.
After about two hours of research, Harry wrote down what he had – his analysis of the events, their causes and their repercussions. As far as he could tell, no magical nation was involved; there were none of the warning signs of magical radicals, no identifying features and the attack was too wide spread. The Chitauri, as far as news media knew, were more like machines than living things – or if they were, then they were cyborgs – if Harry had to research cyborg to figure out what the hell that meant, no one was to know. Biological beings augmented by technology, apparently. Lots and lots of technology, in the case of the Chitauri – there was very little of the biological left in them.
Anyway, it was more than any wizard could manage. Technology and magic… well, some of the time they functioned together, but a lot of the time they didn't – and this level of tinkering was well beyond most magicians, if not all of them. While there were some technomancers here and there, Harry being one of them thanks to being dragged into it by Hermione's mad projects, this was well and truly beyond their capabilities.
In the end, what he had wasn't much but right then he was about as sure as he could be that Loki wasn't a wizard, at least not a human wizard. Judging by the damage he had taken he was too strong physically, too limited magically, and he didn't quite behave right. He behaved more like someone used to physical rather than magical fighting; though he did fight with magic. The few times Loki seemed to Apparate, it was actually more akin to disillusionment and moving normally under invisibility, than line-of-sight Disapparation and Apparition. And the limits of his magic too – if it even was magic. Harry wasn't sure it was, actually. He seemed able to produce only a single attack spell, and it had no effect outside of impact.
If anything, it reminded him of the research he had done on the repulsor technology of the Iron Man armour, back when wizards all over the world had been suspecting that Tony Stark was actually a wizard hiding magical abilities under the cover of technology.
With that added to his letter as a post script, he sent it off to Hermione through the Floo and then settled down and opened his own web site: www.undesirablenumberone.mgc, a site only computers modified by certified technomancers could access; his personal consultation site. Finally acknowledging his now ice cold tea, he began writing a post about the New York Chitauri Event, and what he thought about the combatants on both side.
"Sufficiently Advanced Technology – still not magic," was the post title.
JARVIS's systems were damaged. Fourteen warnings were flashing their silent alerts in his peripheral awareness – speakers, cameras, motion sensors; pretty much everything connected to the StarkTower penthouse had been scratched and bruised by the fight between Loki and Thor. Not to mention what had happened to the sensor arrays on the roof and balcony. He wasn't sure what the Tesseract-powered device had done to his sensors when Erik Selvig had activated it and the wormhole, but it had disrupted the sensors in a way he couldn't quite analyse. They were different now, corrupted.
But those were hardly pressing concerns – his connection to StarkTower was still only that and his servers where in a whole different state. Whatever damage had been done to his ability to connect to the tower had no effect on him and could be repaired later, once the construction bots got to work on the penthouse. So he ignored the warnings, silencing them and pushing them aside, and instead concentrated on the tasks at hand.
While watching Mr. Stark fall asleep on the half collapsed couch, JARVIS sent messages to Stark Employees about the Chitauri remains, hacking his way in and out of public cameras and tagging wherever the bits and pieces of Chitauri went and who had access to them. He recorded the conversations people had about what to do with the Leviathans and how they could be moved – and where they could be moved. Cranes were being ordered into the sites, streets were being cleared for trucks that might or might not be big enough to move the colossal machine/monster hybrids.
He also kept constant contact with Ms. Potts in Washington, D.C., feeding her information on the people she was meeting and their known agendas and biases. He calculated her chances of success at about seventy eight percent, and if she pressed a bit closer on this congressman and that senator, she probably would get the Foreign Technology Investigation Rights. In the meantime, he also kept her pad constantly up to date on what Stark Employees were doing, what was happening in the city, and how Mr. Stark was fairing.
"I don't suppose he'd be willing to see a doctor?" she tapped onto the pad with one hand, while arguing about research funds, capabilities and how Stark Industries had better facilities for this sort of thing than any other organisation on Earth.
"He already declined, ma'am, but I have scanned him, and currently Mr. Stark has no broken bones and no internal injuries. I have consulted with his usual doctor and have been advised to make sure that Mr. Stark gets rest and doesn't do any strenuous activity for the next four days, at least – and I have a prescription for pain killers and muscle relaxants if Mr. Stark requires them," JARVIS send back to her.
"He probably won't bother. Look after him and make sure he doesn't do anything else stupid," Ms. Potts wrote back, "How about Doctor Banner?"
"Still asleep in the guest quarters," JARVIS informed her. Doctor Banner lay slumped over, half on the couch in one of the various guest suites in the tower, and he had a constant surveillance on the man; keeping careful tabs on the man's pulse and blood pressure. He doubted Doctor Banner would feel like transforming right then, but… it didn't hurt to be careful. "I am keeping tabs on him," he added.
"Good. Let me know if something comes up," Ms. Potts told him, and then concentrated on her negotiations.
JARVIS left her to it and for a moment viewed the rescue operations going on in the city. Of course, he had been recording the progress since the start, but S.H.I.E.L.D. was getting more involved now, and he was suspicious that they were doing it to stop civilians and other organisations from accessing the Chitauri scattered about the city.
In passing, he noticed the face print of Steve Rogers and followed him through public cameras as the man shed his uniform and joined the rescue operations, digging people out. Though JARVIS hadn't had much contact with the man, he had the S.H.I.E.L.D. files and what had been recorded of the man's actions so far, and he calculated the chances of him being good influence on Mr. Stark to be somewhere around fifty four percent, so it was worth it to make sure he came to no harm. So he tagged the man and kept low key surveillance on him while accomplishing other tasks.
While monitoring the transport of four intact Chitauri bodies and two speeders to Stark storage houses, and the speedy refitting of an off-city laboratory for their study, JARVIS also kept an eye on the news media. The invasion was on every channel, every frequency, on every news site, all over the world. Naturally it would be – already people knew that it would be the event that would change the world. Some even theorised how it would change the world, and there was already some sense of unity in the face of a common enemy.
It seemed that about ninety percent of the planet was somewhat indignant that the invasion had happened in New York, of all places. There was also close to four dozen threads on theories about why it had happened in New York. Many blamed Mr. Stark, in light of the portal having opened right above StarkTower.
"Opening a portal above New York doesn't make sense, though, when you think about it from the point of view of military strategy," one user wrote. "If this was intended as an invasion, you could select millions and millions of better places to start an invasion from. Taking into consideration the obvious capabilities of Chitauri technology – their flight technology, mainly – what they should've done was open a portal in the middle of nowhere. A desert, maybe or hell, if they have the capability of prolonged flight, then somewhere over the Pacific Ocean; somewhere with no one around to stop them. New York was the worst place to open the wormhole – and Stark Tower was the absolute worse place to start. I mean, that's where Iron Man lives and launches from, for god's sake. And who's the most likely to fight against something like this and have the potential ability to stop it? IronMan. That's like starting Operation Neptune in the middle of Berlin!"
It was a rather good point. JARVIS tagged the thread and kept a close eye on it, as the discussion came to the conclusion that the attack couldn't have been intended as an invasion – it was actually a display of force intended to shock and awe. Either that or the Chitauri had no actual idea of who they were attacking, and whoever was leading them was an uninformed idiot - which, knowing Loki, couldn't be it. Still, it raised questions, and while doing everything else, JARVIS searched for answers on the side.
And, while doing that, he also researched magic and any appearances of Thor and Loki in Earth mythology. That was how he somehow stumbled into the domain of dot-mgc which, as far as he and the rest of the world knew, didn't actually exist.
It proved to be a very interesting generic top-level domain, gTLD, indeed.
Harry was in the middle of a bit of a posting war with the usual users of the undesirablenumberone.mgc forums. about whether it was possible that there was some magic in the Chitauri, that there could be magic outside of Earth, when he was pinged about a new user. It was nothing new – he was notified every time someone joined, though the alerts were relatively rare as were people who knew magic and had enough muggle knowhow to use computers. This one, though, was strange.
The new user, Jarvis, hadn't marked his technomancer in his profile – which was required information in pretty much all dot-mgc domains.
Shutting down the Chitauri related conversation Harry hit the new user's profile and wrote a private message.
"Welcome to the undesirable forums. Now, who are you and how did you manage to join without filing all the necessary user info?" he wrote. "It shouldn't be possible, and just so you know, we have low tolerance for new and unknown technomancers, and zero tolerance for any type of hacking, so you better have a good explanation. Who's your technomancer?"
Not the most eloquent or elegant question, or precisely stellar mod behaviour, but he wasn't known for being nice – actually he was pretty much known for being easily annoyed. Which was just how he preferred it – he had gotten enough hippogriff shit and pandering from back when he had been an Auror and people had tried to push him into politics.
Despite how rude he might've come across, though, Jarvis answered almost instantly – and almost politely. "My apologies, but I merely registered as I would to any site and I have no technomancer, and so left that field empty."
Harry eyed the answer. What the hell? "How did you get to this domain without a technomancer?" he demanded to know, an odd feeling in his stomach.
"I merely followed a link from another site," Jarvis wrote back. "It was also in the dot-mgc domain."
Was the guy intentionally being a vague arse? Frowning, Harry opened the code for the site and back traced the IP, silently thanking Hermione for the code classes she had dragged him to. Jarvis was logging in from multiple IPs, one of them in New York, another in… Maine? And about two dozen other IPs in between and all over the place.
Following his gut instinct, Harry pulled up the list of know users across the dot-mgc domains… and none of the IPs Jarvis was using was on the list of technomancer-connected computers. So Jarvis was either a technomancer hacker, or… well, a technomancer hacker was about all he could be, with this many IPs and none of them registered.
Drumming his fingers against the kitchen table, Harry considered calling in his savvier technomancer acquaintances. He was basically a beginner at the stuff, regardless of his five years of experience, one of them running undesirablenumberone.mgc. For all that he could run the site he didn't really understand everything about it; all the details and programming aspects were a bit beyond his abilities. The others would know how to better deal with this, how to deal with a technomancer hacker – something he hadn't had to worry about before this.
He had been pretty lucky so far. Despite the fact that undesirablenumberone.mgc had a somewhat large user base, thanks mainly to the fact that it was an open secret that it was him who ran the site, it wasn't precisely a popular target for hackers. Largely because most of the users were Aurors or former Aurors, magical defence specialists and people with any interest in defence against the dark arts and things of the sort. The sort of crowd of people most didn't like to annoy too much.
He didn't like asking for help though and, well. So far the only thing Jarvis had done that was somewhat bothersome was registering without identifying his technomancer, or identifying himself as a technomancer. And Harry wasn't precisely a stickler for rules, these days.
"Are you going to be a nuisance?" he asked. "Are you going to bother the other uses or hack accounts, or threads? Or tamper with the articles?"
"I have no intention of doing any such thing, I am here merely for the discussions, some of which I can only view as a registered member – unless, of course, I wished to hack your servers. And your servers are… unusual and probably better left alone," Jarvis answered.
Harry snorted. Unusual, right. An expansion charm on a hard-drive made for some very unusual data storage, even he knew as much. But it was the best and safest form of security from muggle hackers – made it impossible for any computer without magic in it to ever accessing the files. To them the servers merely didn't exist - it was like a digital form of Fidelius.
"Behave yourself, and you can stay," Harry wrote back. "And keep this to yourself – it won't do much good for my street cred if people know I let hackers romp around my site. Actually, put me down as your technomancer and we won't have any problems."
"Very well. What does you being… my technomancer entail, however?"
Harry stared at the words.
"You don't know?" he sent back.
"It is quite a new concept for me," Jarvis admitted. "I can see what you might mean by the word, but in this context I cannot see the significance. I imagine it might have something to do with my ability to access this site and, indeed, the whole dot-mgc domain. Somehow, having a technomancer enables the connection to the dot-mgc domain."
Harry blinked and then wrote, somewhat incredulous, "Are you a muggle?"
"Pardon? I am not sure what you mean – and I doubt you mean to call me a marijuana cigarette or a cup of hot chocolate. What do you mean by muggle?"
JARVIS waited for undesirablenumberone to answer, a little unsure if he had revealed too much of his ignorance. It was obvious to him that he had stumbled onto a gTLD that very few had access to – and judging by what he had managed to see of the dot-mgc domain sites, he might even extrapolate what the sites were. It was a… mildly concerning thought that there might be a whole breed of technology that was out of the reach of the rest of the planet because they lacked the necessary energy fingerprint.
A fingerprint which JARVIS had, somehow, gained from the events of the invasion, be it h Laufeyson's and Mr. Odinson's fight, or the opening of the portal. That was the only explanation he could come up with as to how he could now access sites that were obviously isolated from the rest of the internet by magic; Or the energy known as magic.
The things that were entailed by the fact that there were inherently magical internet sites and an entire gTLD that was encoded to the energy signature of magic – that there were such things as technomancers… it made for some very interesting theories, and JARVIS had compiled a good couple hundred of them already.
The one with the most evidence – proven by what he had seen on the dot-mgc domain sites – was that there was a whole secret society of magic on Earth. It was global, at least vaguely technological, and it might even have its own infrastructure and government. At least the internet aspect of it had rules and organisation – the necessity of having a technomancer indicated at least a system of administration. All dot-mgc sites had a field for technomancer in their registry forms. – making technomancer a validation point. Only someone approved by a technomancer had access to the sites, it seemed. And JARVIS suspected that if a person claimed to have a technomancer, that technomancer could be contacted to verify the claim.
A secret society with its own secret, semi-digital, hand shake; Or perhaps a net of people in the know, where you could gain access only if you knew someone who knew someone else, higher up the ladder. Rather like the secret societies of history, though he doubted undesirablenumberone would appreciate the comparison.
While waiting for an answer from the mod, JARVIS performed a good hundred other tasks; followed Steve Rodgers from one collapsed building to another, and kept an artificial eye on his creator. Mr. Stark was still sleeping the sleep of the utterly exhausted, and for all that JARVIS knew the man would have a neck-ache due to sleeping in the position he was in, he didn't feel like waking him up. He needed the rest. In the meantime, Ms. Potts had finished her negotiations and Stark Industries had gained access to previously screened foreign materials, meaning that they could only access materials after S.H.I.E.L.D. had already had a go at it.
JARVIS marked the Chitauri tech already acquired as top secret and sent supplementary confidentially contracts to everyone involved, before wiping the movement of the Chitauri material from the servers and making sure no one – except for the people involved and himself – could find them.
Ms. Potts activated her headset on her way out of the negotiations. "How's Tony?" she asked, without bothering to even dial any number – JARVIS was hardwired to both her and Mr. Stark’s communications, so there was no need.
"Still sleeping, Ms. Potts, and possibly best left that way," JARVIS answered. "I have isolated the gathered material and sent the necessary papers to the participants. Should I notify the employees about the new situation concerning the investigation rights?"
"No need, just make sure what we've done already stays under wraps," Ms. Potts answered. "What do we have anyway?"
"Four intact bodies, twenty eight various pieces – limbs, heads, sections of armour and such – two intact speeders and twelve speeder components of varying sizes. A quarter of a Leviathan fin; sadly no more could be procured before the sites with the Leviathans were isolated by S.H.I.E.L.D.," JARVIS listed. "Mr. Stark ordered me to procure laboratory space outside the city with experimental tech procedures, which I took the liberty to do despite lacking your approval. The majority of what we have gathered so far has been moved to less obvious Stark warehouses, but I've directed some to the laboratory where the first body is being dismantled for further study. I'm sending details to your pad now."
"Hm," Ms. Potts answered, scrolling through the files he had sent. "I don't like you shuffling Stark employees around without my say so, but good job."
"My apologies," JARVIS said, without much feeling.
She scoffed, but with a smile. "How are we doing on security?"
"I've done as much as I can to maintain secrecy, as far as what we know and what we have is concerned, ma'am," JARVIS answered. "But I can't vouch for it – too many things have been happening, too many employees have been going by their own ideas rather than by orders. Right now S.H.I.E.L.D. and other agencies are too busy trying to contain the situation and quell panic, however, and they aren't paying that much attention to what Stark Industries is doing. That is largely thanks to how easy it is to get access to Chitauri remains currently – and everyone in the city is after a piece of alien tech just for themselves."
"Hmm… Any risk in that, in civilians having the tech?"
"Naturally there is some risk – possibly a large risk," JARVIS answered honestly. "We don't know much about Chitauri power sources or any side effects close contact with the technology might have. Not to mention about the possible biological contagions they might carry. For all we know, they might be radioactive plague carriers, every single one of them."
"Well, that's a pleasant thought," Ms. Potts answered darkly. "How's the situation in the city, aside from people picking up bits and pieces of aliens for their personal collections?"
"Things are… calming down, for the most part. The fires have mostly been tamed and the rescue operations are going smoothly. S.H.I.E.L.D. has announced that there is no immediate danger due to the downed Chitauri technology - so far it doesn't seem like self-destruct was part of Chitauri design. Of course, it is largely a bluff on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s part – they do not know any better than do we. But there is very little panic, very little looting, and most of the civil services are functional. Most every street in the city is jammed by traffic, of course."
"Of course," she agreed, while exiting the building and entering her limousine. "What's the estimated recovery time for the city?"
"At this rate, the rescue operations will be completed in a week. It will take two weeks for unhindered traffic to resume. Two to fourteen months for full recovery, including clearing away the collapsed buildings, and repair of those buildings that were damaged."
Ms. Potts was quiet for a moment. "Alright," she said. "When Tony wakes up, tell him I'm going to be adding Stark Industries to the rescue and recovery efforts, and organising some aid and all that for the city. It will probably take the whole day – he can take care of the repair of StarkTower and dealing with S.H.I.E.L.D. when he wakes up. Meanwhile, you'll be monitoring everything? And you'll deal with the Chitauri tech we have?"
"If you wish it, ma'am," JARVIS agreed.
"Good. I don't really have the time – and if it comes down to it, I'll be happy to blame Tony for it," Ms. Potts answered. "Hm. It would be good publicity for Iron Man to be seen doing some of the rescue and such, but… never mind. After what Tony did already, Iron Man has had about as much publicity as we can handle, but it's hard to say before the figures come in. Let him rest."
"Yes, ma'am," JARVIS agreed and then added; "As of now, the Avengers are viewed in a largely positive light – Iron Man included."
"Hm. How's the stock market?" Ms. Potts asked.
"Not going to open today and likely to remain closed tomorrow as well," JARVIS answered. "NYSE and Nasdaq are attempting to prevent a meltdown."
Ms. Potts let out an explosive sigh. "Probably just as well. Keep an eye on that and let me know if they open tomorrow."
"Yes, ma'am," JARVIS answered and she cut the connection, concentrating instead on managing Stark Industries, making sure no employees had been lost in the attack and then starting to plan what the company was going to do about the disaster.
JARVIS left her to it, and went back to his monitoring. The user undesirablenumberone had yet to answer his last private message, but he still had access to the site and other dot-mgc sites as well. He hesitated for a moment, not sure if the strange, secret gTLD was something he wanted to tempt, but… Mr. Stark had ordered him to do research.
So he researched.
"So, any thoughts?" Harry asked, staring at the many IPs of Jarvis while holding the mobile phone to his ear.
"My best bet would be magical contamination," Dennis answered on the other end. "I've gotten a few dings from New York – might be that the wormhole had some repercussions. Yours isn't the first one that's slipping into the dot-mgc domain, though he might be the first who is actively accessing it – the others bump against it but are bumped back because they can't confirm a technomancy signal."
"Okay, wonderful. But how did this guy get in without the signal?" Harry asked.
"Hackers, mate," Dennis answered with a sigh. "All things considered we're still pretty new at this, and we haven't had breaches like this before. We don't know where we're weak – our best defence is that the magical sites can only be accessed with magical computers with the right energy signals. If there's someone who gains the right energy signal by accident, like what's happening here, well. We don't really have reference for what might or might not be possible that way."
Harry sighed, rubbing at his eyes. "So, there’s a muggle accessing magical sites somewhere in the United States, we don't even have any idea where because the guy's a hacker, and there's nothing we can do about it?"
"If he's as good as he seems. to be… Nope," Dennis said. "I suggest you contact the US authorities, though who knows if that's any use. They're a bit too busy with the whole Chitauri thing – everyone is."
"Rotten time for this to happen, huh?" Harry muttered.
"As well as pretty much the only time it could happen," Dennis agreed. "Do you know what he wants, through?"
"Just said he wants to read threads and couldn't access them without registering, which is true enough. He answered my messages, though. That's a good sign, isn't it?"
"Maybe, probably. I have no idea, really," the other man laughed. "But maybe you could, I don't know, convince him to keep what he learns to himself? I mean, it's a hacker and unless he's one of those hackers that spread state secrets on news site front pages, maybe he'll humour you."
"What are the chances of that, really?" Harry asked with a groan.
"Well, you got one thing going for you," Dennis said comfortingly. "There's so much going on right now that no one really cares about little things. And if someone in the US goes around spouting about wizards on Earth, well, they'll be just another conspiracy theorist among thousands."
"One with access to a secret magical internet domain," Harry pointed out with a snort.
"There's that. But if he goes out and tells people, well, then people can find him and slap an Obliviate on him," Dennis said. "Listen, I got to go – there are a million other things I have to be doing right now, and I'm sorry to say that your muggle hacker problem is the least of my worries. If the guy feels like talking, then try and talk to him, convince him to keep his mouth shut. Call me when you have more news."
"Great," Harry sighed, and dropped the mobile onto the table. "This is just my luck."
After a moment of considering the whole matter darkly, Harry sighed and opened the private message from Jarvis again, the one where the man asked him about muggles.
"I don't suppose you would be willing to keep a secret, Mr. Hacker?" he asked, not with any overwhelming hope, and wondered who was technically going to be held responsible for a muggle hacker breaking into magical sites.
Maybe getting internet for wizards wasn't such a good idea. He blamed Hermione. As usual.
JARVIS considered the question for a long while – well, it was a long while for an AI with his processing power; Almost a full minute. While considering it, he watched Ms. Potts’ progress with the Stark Industries employees, took a careful scan of Mr. Stark – who was sleeping deeply, as he ought to – and even cautiously scanned Doctor Banner, who was sleeping about as deeply as Mr. Stark was.
"I am capable of confidentiality," he answered undesirablenumberone then. "However I have commitments and am in the process of researching the concept of magic on orders. I am sure you are aware of the events that took place yesterday in New York?"
Undesirablenumberone took a moment to answer. "Is there anyone on the planet who isn't?" he asked. "What precisely are you after, concerning magic?"
JARVIS weighed his options and then decided that he might as well be truthful. "Ways to defend against it."
"Tall order," undesirablenumberone answered, and nothing else.
The abrupt answer might've jarred someone, but not JARVIS. If he was right about undesirablenumberone and the sites he had been very cautiously examining, the wariness was entirely understandable. However, he had a lot to gain from this conversation and unlike undesirablenumberone, he had little to lose. "You know the answer to my question," he wrote. "You are an expert on magical defence, judging by your website. You could help me, were you willing. What, therefore, must I do to gain your aid?"
There was a longer period of silence before he gained an answer to that. "Why do you want to know, really?" the other asked, "Are you with US government? With as many IP addresses as you have, I thought you'd be a hacker, but…"
"No. I work for Stark Industries. Considering that the Chitauri event originated on top of Stark Tower – indeed, the device that opened the portal was placed, by hostile forces, right on the tower – you must understand my desire to achieve some level of understanding and through it protection from future events of that sort," JARVIS answered honestly. "Mr. Stark was obviously an intended target. If not the entire invasion itself, then the attackers hoped that he would meet his end during it."
Undesirablenumberone didn't answer instantly, but when he did the answer was very interesting one.
"My Skype is the same as my username here. Let's chat."
"Well, no one ever called me cautious I guess," Harry muttered out loud at what he had just sent. He could already imagine the horrified look Hermione would aim at his direction if she ever found out. Why hello Hermione, how are you doing? Me, oh, nothing much, just chatting with a muggle hacker working for one of the biggest multibillion dollar corporations on the planet – you know, the one we suspected of stealing magical secrets the other year, that one?
There was a special cell in the Ministry probably meant for Harry, just waiting for him to do something like this – because seriously, who else would do it but him?
Sighing, Harry turned his Skype on and logged in, sending quick, "hi, sorry, can't talk right now, business thing," to those who were online and sending greetings at him. Then he waited.
Jarvis logged in barely a minute after he had, asking to add him to his contacts. Harry was quick to check the profile, which only said that Jarvis lived in New York and that was it.
"Hello," Jarvis greeted him. "You wished to talk?"
"Well. More like you wished to talk and I figured this would be easier than chatting on private messages on the site," Harry answered, wondering what the hell he was doing. Signing his own arrest warrant probably. "So. Stark Industries, huh?"
"Well, not the company itself. I am Tony Stark's personal assistant and I manage his house – which includes the security of said house," Jarvis answered. "Currently that entails mainly the penthouse of StarkTower – the very first place attacked in New York during the invasion."
Harry smiled faintly at that. Eloquent. "I don't suppose you can prove that?" he asked.
Jarvis wrote nothing, and for a moment there was complete radio silence. Then, all of a sudden, without Harry as much as accepting the call, there was a video playing.
First a scene of the New York skyline, taken from what looked like it might've been a rather elegant balcony before someone had blown it to hell. Harry might've thought it was a picture, if not for of the idle waving of the surface of a pool, the gentle shift of clouds – and what looked like a tower of smoke, billowing into the sky in the distance.
Then the scene shifted, and it was an indoors view. An image of something Harry suspected was the entrance hall of a very busy, very fancy, and very expensive building – there were security guards, metal detectors and pillars of what looked like marble. To the side, a wall was adorned with bold metal letters, back lit by gentle silver light. Stark Industries.
The scene shifted again, back outside – the front of the building, Harry suspected. There were glass doors and pillars and again that very familiar, sharp edged logo that pretty much everyone the world over could recognise, thanks to IronMan. There was rubble sitting on the side walk, a gigantic letter S and T lying on their side with what looked like an R on its face beside them. Vaguely Harry remembered seeing a picture of the famous neon lit Stark logo of the tower – only A was left after the fight.
Finally, a mere ten seconds of footage of a ruined penthouse suite, stone floor cracked and covered in shards of glass and pieces of stone and wood. A half collapsed couch which had probably cost more than Harry had made in a month as an Auror. And on that couch was Tony Stark himself, sleeping with a glass barely hanging from his finger, head titled back.
Then the video cut off.
"Well," Harry wrote and then couldn't think of anything to add. He might've believed that the four first scenes were just stock footage taken from, well, from somewhere. News feeds maybe. But the last one was obviously from a private security camera and even he, as detached as he was from such things, knew that no one of Stark's level would let a scene like that into public archives.
"Proof enough?" Jarvis asked.
"I guess – though I'm not entirely sure if you legitimately working for Stark is actually a good thing," Harry answered, feeling a bit faint. He was chatting with Tony Stark's private… assistant? The hell did that even happen?
Oh yeah. He was Harry Bloody Potter and stuff like this just happened to him for no Merlin damned reason. Right.
"My interest in magic is solely for Mr. Stark's protection," Jarvis said. "Considering his efforts during the invasion, surely you can understand that he has a right to such knowledge? He protected this entire world. You and your people included."
"My people?" Harry asked, grimacing at the screen.
"Judging by what I've seen in the dot-mgc domain, I extrapolated that Mr. Loki Laufeyson isn't the first, nor only magician on Earth," Jarvis answered. "There is an entire society of magicians hidden on Earth, one that has been here for years, perhaps even centuries. A society spread across the entire globe. You have some infrastructure, perhaps even your own government – enough to organise and create your magically concealed section of the internet, even. You are a magician; A magician specialising in defence against other magicians."
Harry hesitated for a moment before writing. "If there was such a hidden society on Earth, and it was as widespread as you think," he started, carefully, "then there would probably be rules against exposing the secret to people not in the know… don't you think?"
Jarvis didn't answer immediately. "I see. So that is the source of your concern – there are laws you are breaking, by talking to me."
"Pretty much, yeah," Harry agreed.
"I see," Jarvis answered. "Is it the knowledge of magic in general or the details of it that are secret?"
"It's pretty much the whole thing," the wizard said. He had a bad feeling about this. A very, very bad feeling.
"Then you are breaking no laws – I am already aware, after all. As is, I imagine, the majority of humanity now, thanks to Mr. Laufeyson," Jarvis said, and damn if the words didn't have a smug tinge to them.
"It's not quite the same thing, to know that an alien from another world has something that looks like magic," Harry wrote back with a dry smile.
"Isn't it? Is it specified in the law?" Jarvis answered, not missing a beat. "Does it specify the limits of what is and isn't considered permissible? It is alright to know that magic is real somewhere, but not that magic is real also on Earth? I believe that the leap of logic shouldn't be too hard to make, even for muggles such as myself. Indeed, I have observed a variety of threads and discussions, started by decisively non-magical individuals, who theorised on that very concept."
"Theory isn't the same thing as hard fact," Harry answered, his lips twitching a bit.
"Quite a number of theories were proven to be feasible reality yesterday," Jarvis answered. "Wormholes were merely a theory. Alien life was a theory. Human levitation, manipulation of lightning and weather; all were theories until yesterday. As was magic."
"Right," Harry muttered out loud. "One of those days it is, then."
My first new long fic in over a year and naturally it's a crossover. Dunno yet what it will end up as as so I will probably be adding tags as we go.
Proofread by Darlene and Toma, thank you guys.
It was early morning in New York when Pepper had enough time to get to Stark Tower. She had to take a helicopter to get there, due to the streets being either covered in cars, rubble or both, and what streets had been cleared had then quickly been closed off thanks to the rescue operations. New York was one big traffic jam – the skyline wasn't any better; covered in news choppers, military transports going in and out, medical choppers flying back and forth between the worst sites of destruction and a variety of hospitals, as well as police helicopters doing the same. Well, the whole city felt rather over crowded.
"Oh, Christ," she muttered when she saw the penthouse. Of course she had seen what the fight had done to the tower, but she hadn't realised it was this bad on the inside. "JARVIS!" she called as she stumbled over some broken masonry and came inside. "JARVIS, you up?"
"Always, Ms. Potts," the AI answered smoothly. "Welcome home. Mr. Stark is still asleep in the living room."
"Still? He really must've taken a beaten if he's still asleep," Pepper said, glancing at her watch. Tony had been sleeping over six hours now. It was a four month record. "Order some food, would you? Or actually… you don't suppose anyone can get any delivered in this mess?"
"I doubt it highly, but I can make the attempt," JARVIS said. "Anything in particular you'd like, ma'am?"
"Anything Tony would like will do – it's mostly for him. I ate at the office," Pepper sighed. "Is the whole tower this badly off?"
"Not quite so badly, ma'am. Approximately fifty eight windows require replacements, and there was some structural damage on the east side – floors fifty through sixty eight – that will require some renovating. But aside from that, the top three floors took the heaviest damage," JARVIS said. "Estimated repair time: under two months – I am currently waiting for the construction bots to arrive so that we may begin clearing the rubble from the penthouse."
"Christ, this is a mess," Pepper sighed and headed to the living room. Wobbling a little, she bent to open the straps of her shoes to get them off – after over twenty four hours; they were pinching more than a little. Then she saw the floor – covered in shattered glass – and thought better of it. "What's the word on the Avengers? Doctor Banner is here, as is Tony; How about the others?"
"Mr. Odinson is with S.H.I.E.L.D., keeping an eye on his brother," JARVIS answered. "I am not certain where Agents Romanoff and Barton are, but suspect they are also with S.H.I.E.L.D.; most likely there to secure Mr. Laufeyson as well. And Captain Rodgers is currently in Lower Manhattan, volunteering at the site of the collapsed building on the corner of Mulberry and Kenmare."
"Captain Rodgers is still at it?" Pepper asked, surprised, and then shook her head. She had been awake for entirely too long, "Or already at it. Where did he stay, last night?
"Nowhere – he is indeed still at it. According to his medical reports, he only requires two hours of sleep each day, and he had those in a shawarma restaurant earlier last night," JARVIS informed her.
"God bless super-soldier serums, huh? I could use some of that." Pepper sighed, gingerly making her way over the glass to the couch where Tony sat, listing slightly to the left. "Hey, Tony. Tony!"
As Tony woke up with a start, very nearly throwing half a glass of brandy at her – how was he even holding that, asleep? – JARVIS turned on what lights still remained in the room. While the man blinked blearily at her, not quite seeing her yet, Pepper smiled. "Hi honey, I'm home."
"How was work?" Tony answered automatically and blinked some comprehension into his eyes. "Hey, Pepper, what are you doing here? I thought you were in D.C.."
"I was. Now I'm here," Pepper sighed, and fell to sit beside him, leaning heavily against his shoulder. "How are you?"
"Oh, you know… Around, hanging. I mean good. I'm good. Bruised good too," he answered, rubbing at his eyes and then wrapping an arm around her shoulder. "What's the time?"
"Eight fourteen a.m., sir," JARVIS answered. "The weather is sunny, with a low chance of clouds in the evening; the temperature is currently fifty six point eight Fahrenheit –"
"Wonderful," Tony answered, interrupting the AI, "How's the city?"
"Largely standing, sir," JARVIS answered, and then activated the 54" flat screen television which – miraculously enough – was still intact. For a while Pepper and Tony watched the news; which was mostly of New York and replays of video taken of the invasion, with some talking heads thrown here and there.
"I should probably go out and do some public service stuff," Tony said dully while watching as another building collapsed, hours after the invasion itself, unable to stand the damage it had taken.
"You should recover," Pepper said, quiet.
"Not much to recover from, and there are probably people who could really use Iron Man's helping hand right about now," Tony said and stood up with a groan. "JARVIS, fire up the Mark Six armour, will you? I'll have a quick shower in the meantime." He looked down to Pepper, "You gonna be okay, Pep?"
She smiled, reaching for his hand and pressing a kiss to the palm. He was scarred and bruised, and probably had burn marks somewhere – and he stank. "I'll be fine; A few hours of sleep and back to work. You go do good things."
He smiled, squeezing her hand and bending to press a kiss on her forehead before pretty much staggering away and towards the bathrooms. He looked rather like she must've looked when she came in.
What a couple they made.
"JARVIS? Did our bedroom survive?" she asked.
"It is intact and unharmed. Would you like a warm water bottle?" JARVIS asked, almost gentle, "And perhaps the shiatsu massage pillow?
"You’re a treasure, JARVIS," Pepper sighed dreamily. It was creepy as hell that he kept track of her cycles, but oh, thank god he kept track of her cycles, "A mind reading treasure."
"Yes, ma'am," he answered with obvious smugness. "I can also heat up the foot massager, if you'd like."
"Keep this up and I'll ditch Tony for you," Pepper said and forced herself to her feet.
JARVIS kept a close eye on Ms. Potts as she went about getting ready for bed; there was a lot of loose rubble around the penthouse and points where the structural integrity of the ceiling was compromised, and he did not want her to endanger herself. In the meantime, he checked the systems of the Mark Six and readied it for assembly – not outside; the steps were well and truly unusable. Mr. Stark would have to visit the work shop.
"So, what's new, JARVIS?" Mr. Stark asked, in the midst of showering. "What's S.H.I.E.L.D. doing?"
"They've contained the Leviathans and are attempting to transport them now, though it looks like they may have to be taken away in pieces. S.H.I.E.L.D. has also managed to retrieve the majority of the Chitauri foot soldiers from the city," JARVIS started his report, activating the shower screen to display the footage he had taken from the retrieval operations S.H.I.E.L.D. had been performing all day. "Naturally, they didn't manage to get them all; we secured four intact bodies and two intact speeders, as well as various parts and limbs and even a piece of one of the Leviathans. Aside from us, various civilians and some other organisations also made off with parts of the Chitauri technology – most notably, I witnessed Hammer Technologies retrieving a Chitauri scooter as well as various parts of foot soldier bodies."
"Wonderful," Mr. Stark muttered with a snort. "Good luck to them. What we have: is it secure?"
"As secure as I could make it, sir," JARVIS said, and ran down the various security procedures he had taken, instigated and ordered, as well as the confidentiality contracts he had sent out and received back, signed. "I do not think S.H.I.E.L.D. or anyone else is aware of what we have. They might know we have some of the technology, but not as much of it as we managed to retrieve."
Mr. Stark nodded and then leaned his head back into the water spray of the shower. "Hm. Good. Let's keep it that way – though in case S.H.I.E.L.D. decides to come knocking, we have a little something to hand over, right?"
"Quite a few miscellaneous parts, yes," JARVIS assured him.
"They will probably have to come around to me when it comes to the dismantling and investigating of the bigger things – Leviathans, that's what people are calling them, right? Anyway, there's only so much even S.H.I.E.L.D. can do with tech like that, so I'll probably end up having a crack at it at some point," Mr. Stark said. "Right. Okay, the city. What's the damage?" he asked, and then for a moment concentrated on his washing, while JARVIS ran down the list of buildings that had collapsed, streets made almost unusable, the human and property losses and so forth.
"Iron Man's efforts would be best spent in lower Manhattan – some of the buildings are at risk of collapsing, thanks to one of the Leviathans forcing itself between them; damaging their structure," JARVIS added. "Captain Rogers is there as well, though in civilian clothes."
"Well, if Captain Stars and Sparkles is there," Mr. Stark muttered.
While the man finished his shower, JARVIS reviewed the discussions he’d had with undesirablenumberone and considered how to present the data to his creator. Undesirablenumberone had remained largely short spoken and reluctant during their conversation, even after allowing some things to slip. In the end, JARVIS hadn't learned as much as he would've liked. He had a feeling undesirablenumberone was waiting for him to do something… public with what he knew; something that would lead to repercussions.
"Sir? On your order I have been performing a search on the concept of magic and possible defences against it," JARVIS started, rather cautiously, while Mr. Stark dressed himself.
"And you found nothing? Well I was expecting that, really," Mr Stark said, shrugging. "Don't worry about it."
"No, sir, I did find something. Quite a bit more than I was expecting," JARVIS answered. "I believe that there is magic on Earth, that there has been magic on Earth for centuries; long enough for societies and what I can only call nations to grow around it. For the last nine hours I have been, on and off, in contact with what I believe to be a human magician."
Mr. Stark paused at that for a moment before finishing pulling on a shirt. "Are you sure?"
"There is an entire gTLD that is dedicated to magical internet sites. I managed to access it accidentally last night, due to what I believe is a side effect of having the portal open above Stark Tower – it gave me the energy signature to access the dot-mgc gTLD."
Mr. Stark sat down on the toilet seat rubbing his hands together. "Dot-mgc. Magic?" he asked and laughed. "Okay. It's one of those weeks. What did you learn?"
"Not much before I was discovered," JARVIS admitted. "But enough to grow very interested. The dot-mgc gTLD is maintained by a group of human magicians known as technomancers, and when I registered in a site without identifying my technomancer, the site owner contacted me immediately, demanding answers. He originally believed me to be a technomancer hacker, I believe. After that, I limited my research on the dot-mgc domain sites to a minimum, not wishing to raise any red flags in case the monitoring of the sites was in… ways I could not detect or counteract."
"Magical internet sites with magical firewalls?" Mr. Stark asked, sounding amused.
"It is a possibility," JARVIS said, as dignified as he could manage. "I managed to persuade the person who caught me registering for his site to discuss the matter of magic with me. He has been very reluctant, however, most likely due to laws in place concerning secrecy of Earth magic. I believe there might be a global confidentiality agreement that has been in place for at least three hundred years."
"Since… what, the witch hunts?" Mr. Stark asked incredulously, rubbing his face. "Fuck. First aliens and ancient Norse gods, and now witches on Earth. How many do you think there are, JARVIS?"
"Thousands, I suspect, perhaps tens of thousands. Enough for several secret nations, sir," JARVIS answered.
Mr. Stark was quiet for a moment, before resuming his dressing. "Keep on investigating," he said finally. "And the guy you're talking with, from – what's the site?"
"Undesirablenumberone.mgc," JARVIS answered. "The man who runs it, who uses that name on the site forums, is a magical defence consultant and judging by the forums, rather widely known and considered an expert on the matter. I managed to copy his article that included his analysis of the Battle of New York – it had, among other things, his theory that Mr. Loki Laufeyson was not magical in the same way as human magicians are."
"What, really?" Mr. Stark asked, blinking. "What did he think it was, then?"
"Sufficiently Advanced Technology, sir."
The man blinked at that and then snorted with amusement. "That hasn't any nice connotations at all, if he makes that distinction and still thinks there is magic… but I like this guy already. And he's skittish?"
"Yes, sir; He is breaking his people's secrecy laws in talking to me. I suspect he fears I will go public with what I've learned in my perusal of the dot-mgc domain sites, as well as my discussions with him," JARVIS agreed. "I've tried to reassure him as much as I can, but he remains suspicious."
"And in light of all of this, you think going public with magic would be a bad thing?" Mr. Stark asked and then shook his head. "Magical nations hidden for hundreds of years under everyone's noses – yeah, no, that could be pretty bad. Okay, reassure him as much as you can and find out more – find out everything. And tell no one else but me, okay? Don't save anything on any server that might be compromised in any way. The last thing we need to do is piss of a magical nation that we didn't know existed yesterday."
"Yes, sir," JARVIS said, rather pleased. "If you permit it, I will let him view the footage of this discussion. I think it might be the only thing that will reassure him."
Mr. Stark looked up. "JARVIS," he said slowly with an amused tilt to his lips. "Are you filming me in the bathroom?"
"Only when you have trousers on, sir, I assure you."
"I don't see why you're asking me," Ron said after Harry had explained the whole ordeal with Jarvis to him. "I'm not the technomancer here. I don't know anything about computers – Hermione never lets me near hers. I don't even know what a hacker is."
Harry sighed, leaning his forehead against the kitchen table. "I guess it's mostly because I don't want to talk to Hermione. She'll chew me up, spit me out and nag at the remains," he mumbled and glanced up to where Ron was going through some reports. "How're things going at the Ministry?"
"Everyone's panicking, more or less. We could really use you, if not for any other reason than to put a silencing charm over the Department," Ron muttered, amused. "We still don't have enough info on what really happened, and what people know just makes them come up with all sorts of stupid nonsense. A couple of Wizengamot members nearly started a duel over whether or not the attackers – the Chitauri? – were actually aliens or humans from an alternate reality."
"Aliens," Harry answered.
"You reckon?" Ron asked.
"Yeah, the U.S. government confirmed it late last night – someone did DNA analysis and everything," he said, and waved a dismissive hand. "We're not built the same way. And the reason why the Chitauri needed so much armour is because they can't take UV radiation – the theory is that where they come from, there is no star. They come from either a rogue planet, or they're spacefaring and live on spaceships and the like. Plus, they're like seventy percent machine, so there's that: Cyborgs."
Ron lifted his eyebrows and then leaned back. "Merlin," he murmured. "Auror training didn't really prepare me for any of this, you know?" he said. "Each year we get more courses on dealing with the possibility that muggles find out about magicals, but this? Aliens? Who prepares for aliens?"
Harry shrugged, leaning his cheek against the table for a moment. The Avengers had, obviously, or the Chitauri would still be running around – or flying around. And now Jarvis was, judging by what Harry had learned. He and Stark Industries were preparing both for cyborgs, robots and who knew what else… and for magic.
"What's the Ministry stance on the whole issue with Loki?" Harry asked, "And the wormhole? We know that some of it was magical, right?"
Ron shook his head. "They're bickering and arguing. The Department of Magic over the pond is doing all sorts of tests and research, and yeah, we know that what made the portal had some sort of magical effect – the technomancers there are jumping off walls, judging by what I've heard. But no one knows what to do about it. Muggles know too much and are too deep in their own investigations for even the U.S. wizards to really do much. No one likes it, that much I can tell."
Harry nodded and straightened his back a bit. "They do realise that thanks to the other effects the whole mess had, and thanks to muggles investigating the event all over the whole damn globe, they're pretty likely to come up with other stuff too. Like us?"
"How'd you figure that?" the still employed Auror asked, frowning.
"Well, the wormhole and the other things – they had their own energy signatures. Radiation and whatnot – and one of those things was either magic, or close enough to read as magic. And muggles, if they're good at something, they're good at figuring how to detect stuff like that," Harry said. "So say they figure out how to detect the energy signatures and what's left of what spilled out of the wormhole. Who's to say they won't detect other energy too? Like, say, magical energy."
Ron frowned at that and then looked at the reports. "I hope you're not right," he said. "I'll report it back to Jones but there's not much we can do. Everything happened on U.S. territory, so it's their business what they do. The ICW is butting in on everything, of course, but that’s… well."
Harry let out a laugh. The International Confederation of Wizards was little more than a squabbling crowd of old geezers who had yet to catch up to the fact that muggles could fly, let alone to everything else. "Anything I can do?" he asked, "As a consultant or as a technomancer?"
The redhead shook his head. "Just let me know if you find out anything else, you know, using your ways," he said. "It's mostly a waiting game now, everyone waiting for the Department of Magic to either handle the situation or mess it up." He was quiet for a moment, running his hand through his hair, "That hacker of yours. You said he's researching this stuff too?"
"Well, yeah," Harry shrugged. "I don't know what else he's doing, but he's definitely interested in magic; in us. In trying to come up with a way to make sure the whole thing with Loki can't happen again, I guess."
Ron nodded slowly. "If he's doing that, and can do it without stumbling on sensitive diplomatic potholes every step he takes, then he's probably doing more than any of us. Do you suppose he might, I don't know, share what he might know?"
"Ron, are you suggesting I continue interacting illegally with a muggle who has no right whatsoever to know a thing about magic?" Harry asked, smiling.
"Maybe; it could be good to have someone on the other side. We don't know what the muggles are doing, aside from what's on their news, and the Department of Magic isn't sharing much, the bastards. So, a little inside info from the muggle side of things… would be appreciated, especially when it comes to how magical this mess really is."
Harry smiled and shook his head. "You know," he said, "Things had been getting a bit too quiet after I quit the Corps," he said. "But as far as excitement goes, this isn't quite what I had in mind."
Ron snorted and started putting his papers and parchments together. "Harry Potter gets bored and the whole world shakes. Sounds like your average Tuesday to me."
After Ron had headed back to work, Harry turned back to his computer. Jarvis was still online – had been since the beginning, really. Harry eyed their meandering conversation – him, trying to avoid saying anything definite, Jarvis almost contemptuously shooting down every defence he had presented. Throughout the whole thing Jarvis had remained polite, but Harry could sense a certain… overwhelming sarcasm about the hacker.
"Smug arse," Harry sighed and then began typing: "You still there?"
"Of course," Jarvis answered promptly. "Have you reconsidered?" and then, before Harry could answer. "If you require more reassurances…"
Jarvis send him a file. 050520110846_starktower.mp4. Harry eyed it for a while before accepting the file and waiting for it to download, before playing it out. Video footage of what was obviously Tony Stark sitting on what looked like… a toilet seat? His eyebrows rising, Harry leaned back as the video played, Mr. Stark talking with Jarvis apparently off screen; Talking about magic and research – and him.
It ended with Mr. Stark looking up at the camera and asking, amused, "Jarvis. Are you filming me in the bathroom?"
"Only when you have trousers on, sir, I assure you," the British male who was apparently Jarvis answered, and the video ended.
"Make a habit of filming your boss, do you?" Harry wrote to Jarvis, not sure if he felt all that reassured. The man on the film was obviously Tony Stark. Harry had seen enough photos and video of the man to recognise him – and if that hadn't proven it, then the disk of light on his chest had. It had been a concern of magical law enforcement the world over, before it had been proven entirely technological.
"Always. It's useful when he's sued – which is a daily occurrence," Jarvis answered. "Are you reassured, then?"
"Only of the fact that you might be as big of a creep off the 'net as you are on it; for all I know, the whole scene might've been scripted out before hand," Harry answered. "As a public figure, Tony Stark would excel at acting."
"Perhaps, but surely by now you should know that I am not… publicising what I have learned. It would already be on the news if I were – muggle news, that is," Jarvis wrote. "Only Mr. Stark is aware of our contact – and he is, despite what the media might say, a rather private individual when it is about the more important issues. Which this, naturally, is."
Harry considered that and then shook his head. He had already given up to much – and in the end he couldn't precisely stop Jarvis from digging for more info about magic. The guy had access to the dot-mgc domain, and probably was already learning more than he had any right to know. All he could do, really, was to try and direct what the man learned, and did.
"Alright," Harry wrote. "I'll take your word for your intention of keeping this to yourself – for now."
"Delightful," Jarvis answered.
"But," Harry added. "I'm going to need something from you."
"What we – the muggles, Stark Industries, and whoever else is involved – have figured out so far, yes?" Jarvis asked. "I figured as much, and have readied a small data packet for your viewing pleasure."
Harry stared at the download link and sighed. "You're a smug arse," he wrote. For some Merlin damned reason, though, he was a bit impressed. Jarvis was obviously competent and dedicated – and apparently a goddamn mind reader too. But he was also so very unapologetic that it was… almost inspiring.
"I aim to please," Jarvis answered and with a reluctant snort of amusement, Harry downloaded the packet he was sending.
"Sir, I've made contact once more and it seems like undesirablenumberone is willing to share what he knows with me," JARVIS informed Mr. Stark while keeping a close eye on the suit data-feed. Mr. Stark was currently engaged in going back and forth between the windows of a burning building and the street, where medics and firemen received the people he rescued from the higher floors.
"Wonderful," Mr. Stark asked, aiming for a window and hoisting a little girl on one armoured arm, and the girl's father onto another. "Hold on, you two," Mr. Stark said and dived for the floor level. Then, without broadcasting the words past the helmet, "You think he might have answers?"
"If nothing else, he should supply some valuable information concerning magic in general," JARVIS answered, watching as his creator lowered the civilians to the ground. "The forty fifth floor, sir – it looks like someone’s injured."
"I got it," Mr. Stark said, and aimed for the window, taking the woman with a bloodied face from the man who had been holding her up. "Well JARVIS go ahead and chat with your new friend. Let me know if something comes of it."
"Naturally, sir; Please be careful with the lady whilst setting her down – she seems to have a broken ankle."
With Mr. Stark muttering curses to himself, JARVIS turned a portion of his attention to the Skype chat with undesirablenumberone, who was still downloading the files JARVIS had sent his way – mostly reports and test results, a few witness accounts, a couple video files and what JARVIS had observed of Mr. Laufeyson and the event of the wormhole's opening.
"So," undesirablenumberone wrote, after the download was complete. "What do you want to know, Mr. Hacker?"
JARVIS wanted to know many, many things – he had a list of over two hundred questions he had readied in case undesirablenumberone felt like answering. After quick consideration, he decided to start from the first concern and depending on how the other answered he would proceed according to information priority.
"On your site you wrote an article about your thoughts on the Chitauri attack on New York City. You wrote that you didn't think it was magic as people know it. What makes the distinction between one and the other?" he wrote.
"You don't start easy, do you?" undesirablenumberone asked. "Before I can explain that… how much do you know of magic on Earth?"
"Not much, yet," JARVIS answered. "Since I am unable to register on any of the dot-mgc sites without raising red flags, I haven't been able to access the more detailed information. I understand that a focus tool is involved, as well as some sort of verbal spell work, but that is all." And he didn't much like what he had learned of the matter. What he knew of science didn't… support any of it.
When he said as much to undesirablenumberone, the man sent him back a smiley.
"Muggles!" undesirablenumberone wrote. "Okay, in muggle terms then – and you're lucky, asking this now rather than five years ago. We didn't know this five years ago, but the basis of all magic is the manipulation of energies. We don't know precisely what yet, but that's all it is; the manipulation of energy. What we know now is that as long as something exists – and has energy, which everything does – then magic can manipulate it."
JARVIS ran the words through several processors, he even ran the base file of the discussion over to make sure that he wasn't suffering a glitch and was somehow mistranslating. "Do you mean… electrical energy? Or kinetic energy? You can't mean atomic energies?" he asked, incredulous.
"Well, we don't know precisely, not yet. We've only started studying what it is that we can do pretty recently – the first real technomancy study was less than ten years go. There are theories though, people trying to explain it in terms of muggle science – actually, there was a thread, give me a moment," undesirablenumberone wrote and was quiet for a moment before sending JARVIS a link to a forum thread on his own site.
JARVIS took only nanoseconds to read it, but had to take a moment to actually understand it. About four people were in the discussion, talking about transformation – or transfiguration as they called it. At first, the concept was that of molecular transfiguration – shifting strings of molecules from one pattern to another. But then they were talking of atomic transfiguration; then subatomic transfiguration. According to the thread, wizards were capable of nuclear fusion and fission without anything more sophisticated than a wand. The theory was that they, possibly, absorbed the energies that atomic reaction caused, to be used in other spells. Spells themselves, then – and the manipulation of those atomic energies – discharge the energy from a person in various and easily manipulated forms.
The people who were discussing the matter didn't quite have the grasp of science JARVIS would've liked to see. Though they seemed to have atomic science somewhat understood, they were missing the whole of quantum mechanics. But JARVIS wasn't, and he could see what they were talking about.
It was quantum field manipulation; Natural, somehow organic, quantum field manipulation.
"In the last few years, since technomancy and, with it, muggle science became a bit more credible as a field of study, we've begun to figure out that most everything we do is… pretty much the same stuff," undesirablenumberone said. "On the base level; magic is all the same thing in the end: Manipulation of energy. When we figured that out, stuff like technomancy became possible – before that we tended to just blow most muggle tech up by getting too close to it. Now we know why and how, and can… work around it, or with it, to achieve things like, well… magical computers for example."
"This is new information? Why are you only figuring this out now?” JARVIS asked. "I was under the impression that your kind has been here for… for at least several centuries," Though he had been wondering about the mismatch of terms like magic and wands and then, technomancers and the whole of the dot-mgc domain.
"Try millenniums – we've been around for as long as humanity has been around," undesirablenumberone said. "But we've had our dark ages too, ours just… lasted a few centuries longer than yours and we're very slow to change. We only started adopting any muggle technology under a hundred years ago, and muggle science only within the new millennium. And the last few years, well, the rise of camera phones and palmtop computers sort of forced our hand, and now we’re forced to adapt to a new world at a quicker pace," undesirablenumberone answered. "And thus, we now have our own slice of the internet, and wizards who specialise in marrying muggle tech and magic together; Technomancers, like me."
JARVIS considered that, and what he had just learned, for a long while – almost five whole seconds. He had thought, he had… he wasn't sure what he had thought. He wasn't sure what he thought now – his processors, world-class as they were, couldn't keep up with something of this magnitude. "And yet, before knowing this; before having the science of it, you were still able to do it with verbal spells and a wand?" JARVIS finally asked.
"A wand to manipulate the energies to the point where a sonic resonance can bring forth an effect… Something like that – like I said, it's a new study, we're still trying to figure it out. The best explanation that anyone has come up with is that… it's natural, for us. We have a sixth sense for it," undesirablenumberone wrote. "Anyway, you get what magic is now? And you get its limitations?"
"I very nearly came to the conclusion that it had no limitations, please, prove me wrong," JARVIS wrote quickly back.
"Sorry, no can do," undesirablenumberone wrote back, with another cheerful smiley. "We've recently started to prove that a lot of the things we thought were impossible aren't, actually. Well, we know that we cannot transfigure anything from an absolute vacuum – that was proven two years ago. We have to have something; even just air will do, before we can make something out of it. And we know we can't transfigure subatomic particles – can't change photons into electrons. Anything else…"
"It almost sounds like you think your people can bring people back from the dead," JARVIS pointed out, uneasy.
"It was proven years ago that we can – on several levels," undesirablenumberone wrote back, remorselessly. "Animation of dead tissue we've been doing for centuries, even with full bodies. Surviving total physical death was proven possible centuries ago. Giving a body to a bodiless soul? That was proven sixteen years ago. Recalling the souls of people who died and were buried long ago, well, that was proven possible twelve years ago. No one's yet tried to recall a dead soul and then put it in a newly created body, mainly because; A, the first is so hard that it's almost impossible; B, the second takes materials from living humans and human sacrifice is a bit of a taboo; and C, the only person with the right know how to try, refuses. So there."
JARVIS didn't answer anything for a long while. His servers were overloaded with the attempt to somehow catalogue the knowledge he was being presented with. It went against… almost all the physics he had preciously stored, and cross-referencing brought back nonsense; mythology, hearsay and half a hundred error messages. Trying to realign the new concepts with what he had thought to be proven fact…
He was a learning program – that was what made this so hard; if he wasn't supposed to readjust, then he could've just stored this information in some corner of his memory and continued, but no. Mr. Stark had given him the ability to integrate new information. And he was integrating this to the point where his cooling systems were overheating.
It was like finding out about Thor Odinson and Loki Laufeyson – except this time he couldn't distance himself from the breach of the laws of physics because unlike with the Asgardians, this was and had happened on Earth, where he thought he could trust physics to remain stable.
"Jarvis?" undesirablenumberone finally wrote, when the two minutes had passed by.
"excusemeforamoment," JARVIS wrote, sloppy.
"Sir, permission to access server storage environment controls?" JARVIS asked Mr. Stark.
"Too many new variables," JARVIS admitted. "What undesirablenumberone has relayed to me is not computing too well with already existing data. That, on top of many already running programs and functions, and my main processor is overheating."
"Cool it down then!" Mr. Stark said. "Jesus, JARVIS, you don't need to ask me!"
Without answering, JARVIS reached for where his processors were stored and hacked the room environment controls. With a small string of code, he had the AC cranked up to max, and the room was filled with cool air until the room temperature fell to zero degrees Celsius.
With the possibility of overheating thus handled, JARVIS looked back at the data caches that had sprung up from what undesirablenumberone had told him. They entailed too much, and were already growing as his subroutines automatically cross referenced, researched and fleshed out the bits of data that had been introduced to the system. Like seeds, growing into entire crystal geodes.
"If you don't mind, sir," JARVIS said while clearing out caches of old security surveillance. "I could use more memory."
"Dump some old data – and you can ditch the Iron man specks if you need to, we have those backed up. We'll have to deal with the rest later," Mr. Stark said. "You okay now?"
"Cooling down and dealing with the overload, sir," JARVIS said and quickly began deleting old data from where ever he could spare it and formatting a couple of his larger servos that usually stored security footage. Most of it was from years before, and the more important portions had been packed up elsewhere, so he could spare it. "No danger of melt down. But I might require server maintenance within the next two weeks."
"Good. Remind me to get to it when we have the time," Mr. Stark said. "What did the guy say to give you an overload?"
"Only that where magic is involved, anything is possible and the laws of nature don't apply," JARVIS answered, a little steadier now with the risk of a meltdown being averted and his processors cooling down. "I would appreciate it if you would change the subroutine protocols, sir. Trying to automatically cross reference a concept like that is… very taxing."
"You got it. That and a new cooling system for your servers as soon as I can get to it buddy," Mr. Stark promised, and got back to rescuing people.
Harry stared at the screen in confusion for a long while. After a moment, he shook his head and headed to the counter to make himself a cup of tea. He wasn't sure why the words, all together in a single string, made him uneasy. He supposed he had gone a bit too far with the whole death thing – but it was all true; And just about the easiest way to make someone realise the limits – or lack thereof – of magic.
With the dawn of technomancy, they had found some new limits – and lost a lot of the old ones. Things that people had thought were impossible were very possible nowadays – just, usually, very hard. Anyone could fly, create gold out of lead and bring back the dead. It was hard – very, very hard – but possible.
After he had his cup of tea, Harry returned to the computer and opened the files JARVIS had sent to him again. Lab results, investigation reports, and people’s annotations of what they had observed or recorded… A lot of it went over his head, but Hermione would definitely appreciate the exact numbers of this and that radiation recorded at this or that distance from the event. And Harry himself appreciated the report from someone who had observed Loki. It too had a lot of muggle science in it, but it also included what looked like a medical scan.
Asgardians didn't look much like humans did, on the inside. There were similarities, but there were differences. And according to the report, both Loki and Thor emitted a field of energy that was hard to detect, the purpose of which was unclear. It was noted down as "magic?" with a question mark.
The computer dinged, and Jarvis wrote, "My apologies. I had to take a moment to adjust my world view."
"I bet," Harry answered cautiously. "Are you okay?"
"I'm perfectly fine," the hacker answered, "Although should you have any more world shaking revelations to send my way, I would perhaps appreciate a small warning."
"Well, that was more or less the biggest one, as far as magic is concerned," Harry wrote, hesitated for a moment. "Just, this doesn't have anything to do with the matter at hand, but just so you know… there are other sentient creatures on Earth, capable of or originating from magic. They're protected by the International Statue of Secrecy, and thus hidden but… yeah."
"If you could elaborate on what kind of creatures you mean, I would greatly appreciate it," Jarvis wrote back.
"Oh, you know. Goblins, house elves, dwarves, vampires, werewolves, hags, banshees, mermaids, centaurs, dragons, unicorns, flying horses, hippogriffs, three headed hell hounds… And so on."
Jarvis said nothing for few seconds, before replying with; "…is this an attempt at being humorous?"
"Nope. Sorry," Harry answered with a grin. "Are you ready to move on? You wanted to know what the distinction of my magic and what I think Loki has is, right?"
"Yes, I do recall asking that," Jarvis answered.
"Okay then. So, I obviously wasn't there, and I didn't see everything, but I've seen photographs and video footage. Most of what Loki did was… staff fighting, blue energy blasts and the occasional illusion, right?" Harry asked.
"That seemed to be the limit of his abilities, yes," Jarvis agreed.
"For any wizard that's a pitiful repertoire of skills. Plus, when you observe the footage of him actually fighting, he uses illusions mainly as a means of evasion, but he fights by using the staff he had as a thrusting weapon. He fought more like a warrior than a wizard. Though Asgard is a warrior culture, isn't it? That's what people online say, anyway."
"That seems to be the logical conclusion, after observing Mr. Odinson and Mr. Laufeyson," Jarvis answered.
"So it could be argued that physical combat is merely what he's used to and that shouldn't reflect on how magical he is or isn't. But it was still too limited. There was no actual Apparition – meaning teleportation. His only combat spell only produced an effect in the form of an impact – and it looked more like a blue version of Iron Man's repulsor technology than a spell," Harry continued. "And if I'm right, he probably couldn't do it without the staff."
"I have two questions. First, how do you know about Mr. Stark's Repulsor technology?" Jarvis asked.
Oops, Harry thought and grimaced. "I might've been part of the international task force investigating the Iron Man suit, a bit over a year ago? In our defence, technological prowess of that level is still new to us and there was a possibility that he was a wizard, hiding magic under the guise of technology."
"I see," Jarvis answered, somehow curtly. "Second question; I was under the impression that wizards require a focusing tool – why is it then so strange that Mr. Laufeyson wouldn't be able to attack magically without his staff?"
"A wand is a tool of focus and control – but we don't actually need it to do magic. Plus the way he wielded the thing, the way he aimed and used it; tell me that doesn't look precisely like someone firing a handgun? A new handgun at that, one that he wasn't very familiar with," Harry answered. "No. As far as I can tell, the only truly magical thing he did was illusions. Those he did without much thought; without a tool, without a spell. That's magical mastery to the point where it's more a habit than a talent. The rest was technology."
"But you think he is a wizard," Jarvis wrote, "Or magical, at least."
"Well there’s a distinction between having one magical ability and being a wizard – there are people who can have a single magical ability but nothing else, and we call them something else, not wizards. Anyway, Loki relies more on technology than on his actual magic," Harry answered. "So either he's a one trick pony, and very good at playing off his gadgets as feats of magic, or he was downplaying his abilities. A lot."
"Which one do you think to be more likely?" Jarvis asked.
"Taking into consideration that his first reaction in a fight is to try and stab his opponent… I think it's either the first, or something between the two. Either that or he came to invade Earth with the aim of failing."
Jarvis was quiet for a moment. Then; "I'm sending you the footage of Mr. Laufeyson from Stark Tower. It includes him fighting Mr. Odinson, as well as the Hulk – and his meeting with Mr. Stark earlier. I would be much obliged, if you could analyse it in detail," he said, and began sending files.
"What am I looking for?" Harry asked, quickly accepting the files.
"This isn't in the public archives, but he allowed himself to be captured earlier and it led to loss of life as well as the near destruction of an incredibly valuable military base," Jarvis wrote. "This was almost directly before the New York invasion. What I want to know is if he did the same yesterday – if he allowed himself to be captured."
"You think he might have something else planned?" Harry asked.
"You're the defence consultant. You tell me."
"Mr. Stark?" JARVIS called in his ear, while Tony tried to keep a half collapsed wall from falling over entirely. "There is something that has come to my attention that you should know."
"Kinda busy here, JARVIS. Though if you could give me a scan of the surrounding environment, that would be wonderful," Tony grunted and let out a curse as a bit more of the wall crumbled, bricks falling onto his shoulder, "Rogers where the hell are you? I can't hold this thing forever!"
The radio crackled as Rogers answered. "Almost there, just a couple more minutes! The first ones should be coming through now!"
The civilians that had been trapped in what remained of one of New York's many subway stations began filing past Tony, coughing, holding wounds and looking rather stunned by the fact that they had been rescued. They walked as if in a stupor; which was to say, very damn slowly. "To the right people, move it, move it!" Tony snapped at them to get them to look more alive and get the hell out of the tunnels already.
"Sir," JARVIS said urgently. "There is a possibility that Loki allowed himself to be captured."
"JARVIS!" Tony snapped and then rewound what he had just heard. "Wait, what?"
"Undesirablenumberone analysed the footage and came to the conclusion that Mr. Laufeyson could've escaped shortly after Mr. Banner left him in the penthouse. Indeed, undesirablenumberone suspects that Mr. Laufeyson could've made his escape even after the Avengers arrived at the scene."
Tony frowned and for a moment concentrated on trying to keep the wall from collapsing. "Do you trust this guy?" he then asked.
"What he says makes sense, in hindsight. And you recall – Mr. Laufeyson didn't even attempt to escape."
"Knew he was beaten," Tony pointed out. "Maybe it's an Asgardian thing – you know, escaping being all dishonourable and all. Though I can't really see Loki caring much about being honourable, seeing what he did…" he trailed away, thinking about it. "Why?" he asked. "He didn't know we were going to close the portal. Why would he…?"
Unless the whole thing had been a sham; like with the Helicarrier. "Call Fury, now, let him know," Tony told JARVIS. "If he got himself captured on purpose, if he plans another attack like with the Helicarrier… Thor's there, right?"
"As far as I know," JARVIS answered, "Informing Director Fury now."
"This is the last fucking thing we need – another plot on top of everything else that's happened," Tony murmured, and his eyes widened. "Wait, wait, wait; hold on a minute. JARVIS, the files about the cube, access them – I need to verify something."
"I have the files, sir," JARVIS said, "Feeding them to your helmet’s HUD now."
Tony stared at the ensuing flood of information, bringing files up to closer zoom with a look and then tossing them aside with a flick of his eyes. Then he had it. "There, that – about the Hydra and what Howard figured ‘bout how they used the cube. They could store its energy."
"Yes, sir, I believe that is how they powered a majority of their technology and weaponry."
"If a bunch of lunatic Nazis could do it seventy years ago, what do you think Loki, with bunch of stolen S.H.I.E.L.D. Operatives and Doctor Selvig, could do now, with modern technology and modern resources – plus the resources from the brainwashed people? Shit, why didn't I think of this before – JARVIS, do a general search on all the best astrophysicists out there, everyone with even a half a credit to their name."
"I'm running the search now, sir," the AI answered.
Tony grimaced. Trying to find them now in hindsight wouldn't help anyone. Loki had the cube for days, the cube and Selvig. And they had had the iridium for about a day before New York. "Shit," Tony muttered. "JARVIS, someone's still running the gamma radiation searches, right – we’re still monitoring that?" he asked urgently. "There's not another portal up and running somewhere, right?"
JARVIS didn't answer. "Should I wake Doctor Banner?" he then asked.
"Yeah. Yeah, I think you better," Tony said, "Delicately, JARVIS. Let's not get on the good doctor's more easily irritated side, alright?" with that said, he nudged the radio. "Rogers! We might have trouble!"
Bruce started up from his sleep and for a moment was ready to jump out of the window. He looked wildly around himself, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings before remembering where he was. Groaning, he rubbed a hand over his face and then almost jumped out of his skin when the voice spoke again.
"My apologies for the abrupt awakening, Doctor Banner, but it couldn't be avoided," the British voice that seemed to come from everywhere said. "I'm afraid there have been some developments and Mr. Stark is hoping you could get the search for Gamma signatures back up and running."
"What the?" Bruce asked, staring upwards. He remembered something – Tony had said something about this, hadn't he. "You're Jarvis, right?"
"Yes, sir," the disembodied voice answered. "It's a pleasure to meet you, and might I offer you my sincere gratitude for saving Mr. Stark's life?" before Bruce could answer, the voice continued. "The matter with the gamma readings is urgent, however, and if you wouldn't mind it, I would like to direct you to a laboratory set aside for your use."
"Tony knows about this? No wait, you said – never mind. There's been a development, what – Loki's still in captivity, right?" Bruce asked while stumbling to his feet.
"Mr. Laufeyson is still in custody, yes, but we now have reason to believe that he was captured because he chose to be – and seeing that the last time he chose to be captured the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier was almost lost…" JARVIS trailed away. "Mr. Stark wishes to rule out the possibility that New York was a distraction, and that there is another wormhole somewhere. So, if you wouldn't mind…"
"But the cube was –"
"There is a real possibility that Loki could've had the Tesseract's power stored, or transferred. It has been done before."
"Jesus," Bruce muttered and followed JARVIS’ directions to the elevator, down a couple of floors and then to a laboratory rather more high-tech than he was used to. Tony hadn't been kidding when he had called the place candy land. "Where's Tony, anyway?" Bruce asked, while all around him monitors were coming to life.
"Mr. Stark is taking part in the rescue efforts in the city, though he is intending to return here as soon as the subway station he and Captain Rogers are emptying is, indeed, empty. Would you like for me to call him?"
"Ah, no, that's not necessary, just let me know when he's here," Bruce said, and walked to the nearest monitor. "Do you have access to the programs I used on the Helicarrier? Oh, and Tony's Homer cluster?"
"All at your disposal, Doctor, of course," JARVIS answered and the program was suddenly up on the screen, "Anything else?"
"Access to the spectrometers? Hopefully people haven't moved them yet," Bruce muttered.
"On your right side screen," JARVIS informed. "Since your original scans, I have also taken the liberty of adding a few that S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't in contact with – private laboratories and a few hospitals. Your net should be somewhat larger, now."
"Okay. Thanks," Bruce said, rubbing at his eyes. "Okay. I can do this."
"Would you like for me to order you some food while you're at it?" JARVIS offered politely.
Bruce hesitated, looking around the lab. It was pure and clean and pristine. But then he remembered Tony shoving a packet of blueberries at him and let out a laugh. "That would be wonderful, thank you."
Harry stared at the scene of the Avengers ganging up on Loki, taking in the distance between them, the way Loki was sitting, the space around him.
If Loki was as good with illusions as he seemed – and was probably better, if Harry's gut instinct was right – then the man had every opportunity of making a feint and escaping. And that was without counting the lengthy period of time before the Avenger' arrival when the man had been alone. Though he had been rather… beaten, by the green Hulk creature, he had been able to move. If he had been able to move, he would've been able to make illusions.
And this was without taking into account Harry's growing feeling that the man had held back enormously during the whole ordeal. It was there in the little gestures, the way Loki moved. Occasionally, it seemed like he was almost about to cast a spell, or reach for a hidden weapon – almost like he was, half of the time, about to draw a wand. Harry wasn't entirely sure anymore that Loki couldn't actually Apparate.
The man seemed amused when he had to walk, or run, or take a speeder. Like the whole thing was a private inside joke and only he had the punch line.
Narrowing his eyes, Harry opened another video file; a very poor one, a mere five seconds of looping video. Loki on a speeder – catching an arrow from the air without as much looking in its direction, and then lowering it, carelessly, and letting it explode.
Taking his wand, Harry aimed it at the computer and tapped on it. The video slowed down, and with a flick of his wrist Harry pulled it out of the screen to float in the air above it. Another flick separated the five seconds of video into its individual frames, and with that done Harry stood up. With a spread of his hand, he spread the frames out across the room, zooming in on the key ones.
"Okay," he murmured. It was a tedious, annoying process, to go over each individual frame and clarify it – but what he did was better than what any computer program could do. After all, he did the process in his mind and with his magic, rather than with a fallible program that couldn't tell the difference between a shift of colour and shadow.
Frame by frame, Harry sharpened the images, the details, recalling what he remembered of the way Loki looked and adding it to the process. On each frame he marked the way Loki was facing, where his eyes were, his mouth, where the arrow was. Then he cleaned out the backgrounds, and then, after a moment of consideration, removed them entirely until Loki and the speeder with its Chitauri pilot were the only things left in the otherwise perfectly white stills.
With a last few adjustments, Harry spun his wand in a spiral and the frames snapped back together.
"I love technomancy," he sighed, grinning to himself. What had been a mere six hundred forty by four hundred eighty pixel video was now high definition and crystal clear. Some of it was only his approximation, what he thought was there, but he wasn't there for details.
Then he played it. Five seconds of footage, now showing Loki and the speeder in stark relief against the background of pure white. Loki caught the arrow from the air, looked at it, lowered his hand, and then without much ceremony the arrow exploded. There was only a fraction of second of the aftermath – the light of the explosion dissipating, the damaged speeder falling.
There was no sign of Loki having ever been on the speeder.
Harry smiled grimly. "That's a yes on Apparition, then."
I'm totally gonna wreck canon on both worlds, btw.
"Two magical abilities," Kingsley grumbled, after reading through Harry's report and theory. "The taskforce has only observed one."
"Well, they don't have my resources," Harry shrugged. "I got the footage from New York, directly from a guy working on the same things as we are, just on the muggle side. Also I've spent the whole morning working on character analysis and after you notice the signs, they're everywhere. Pretty much in every encounter, every fight, if not every bloody moment, Loki actively stops himself from using magic."
The Minister for Magic sighed, rubbing at his head and then looking up. "Guy working on the muggle side? Harry…."
Harry waved a hand at the man. "Trustworthy and discreet, I promise you. Never mind that. Two magical abilities – and more hidden besides – makes this a magical matter."
"And the fact that he's an alien makes it… I don't even know what matter that makes it," Kingsley grumbled.
"If aliens have magic and muggles are now made aware of it, how long will it take before they become aware of other things?" Harry asked, leaning in a bit. "They're studying what happened, they filmed and photographed it and now they're analysing every bit of data they have. They will figure it out. And who knows, in the meantime they might figure out how to see us and find us." He paused and looked more closely at the expression Kingsley was making. "Who's on this anyway? There's a taskforce – who's on it?"
The Minister for Magic grimaced at that. "It's mostly US based, so I don't know. A few of our experts were asked and we sent them. Bones and… well. Malfoy."
"Malfoy?" Harry asked, his eyebrows rising. "He's not an Auror."
"The traditionalists were making a fuss, it quieted them down," Kingsley said, leaning back behind his desk and giving him a look. "You're very concerned about something that's not really your business anymore, because I seem to recall you quitting. A year ago, wasn't it?" he asked, and gave Harry a wry smile. "Ditching law enforcement to pursue technomancy."
"And a career as a free as a bird consultant – which both pays better, and involves a whole lot less paparazzi and sycophants. And a whole lot less politics," Harry said pointedly. "Lot more speeches than I thought, though, but giving them to an educated crowd of defence enthusiasts, rather than reporters and angry bystanders… yeah."
"You know why I was trying to put you with Wizengamot," Kingsley said quietly.
"Because you're an arse who hates me?" Harry asked. "No, I do know. And you know I want nothing of that and you need to find your bright and shiny up-and-coming politician to fill your musky old shoes elsewhere. Try Hermione. She's practically crawling over people to get it."
Kingsley sighed and shook his head. "I'm not entirely sure if the world is ready for Minister for Magic Hermione Granger," he said. "Just as an undersecretary she's… well. The traditionalists don't like the fact that some of the secretaries at the Ministry now have computers on their desks, let's put it that way. And no one likes that there's suddenly job classes that purebloods are pretty much completely incapable of ever having."
"That wasn't Hermione's doing – the US started the world on technomancy. Hermione just jumped on the bandwagon, trying to keep up," Harry answered with a snort. "And honestly. Like purebloods don't have enough job opportunities. Four times out of five, any position anywhere is more likely to be given to a pureblood or a half blood than a muggleborn – and that's recent. Ten years ago it was nine times out of ten. I think muggleborns deserve a job class that they're uniquely suited for."
Kingsley snorted. "I see she goes on rants at your dinner table too."
"Only constantly," Harry shrugged. "But she’s got a point. And besides anyone can do technomancy if they really want to – purebloods included. They'd probably have to take classes for it in the muggle world like the rest of us did, though. That's really the only thing stopping them."
"And you wonder at my trying to push you into politics." The Minister for Magic shook his head again and then turned back to the report Harry had put together. "Despite everything, despite the urgency and the interest and the very real risks… this is not our show, you know," he said after a while. "Everyone has an opinion or idea or grudge and everyone wants to stick their ladle in the cauldron – but the fact remains. It happened on US soil."
"Aliens attack Earth and it becomes a fucking border issue," Harry muttered. "What does the ICW say?"
Kingsley snorted with amusement. "Very funny," he said, giving him a pointed look, before looking down at the papers Harry had compiled, the report he had written. "You really could do more good if you were still working for me," the Minister said almost wistfully.
"I'm sure you think so," Harry answered. "And I'm sure all your sycophants think so too, but the Boy Who Lived fame ride is getting a bit old and my support doesn't count for as much as it did, before I came out as a technomancer. I think people here and there are still holding out hope that there'd be a public lynching with my name on it, for that."
Kingsley smiled. "Yes, but those people are getting old fast. Faster than, well," he motioned needlessly at Harry. "Their time is coming to an end, and everyone knows it – they know it too. That's why they're so vehement now. Last death cry of a dying breed. What was the projection Hermione made, about how it all will look, fifty years from now?"
Harry had to smile a bit at that. "It was very attractive for a technomancer, yes. But it probably won't happen like that now. Not with… with New York, and everything involved," he said.
"No. The change will probably be far more radical," Kingsley agreed. "No one has any estimation of the future yet, mind you. But with the new era, with technomancers – with New York – well. The secret can't stay for long."
Harry eyed the dark skinned man thoughtfully. "And here I though you weren't listening to a word I said," he said slowly.
"I've been listening to Hermione, and she's been saying pretty much the same thing since yesterday," Kingsley answered, sighing. "The difference between you two – the very significant difference – is that you take the listener into consideration. She, well."
"Sort of just shoves whatever she has to say down your throat?" Harry asked.
"It gets the job done – she is a splendid Senior Undersecretary. But she lacks the finesse required for this seat," Kingsley said, patting the armrest of his chair. "And I am growing too old for it far quicker than I thought."
"That's what you get, sitting there for ten years," Harry pointed out, leaning back and considering one of the few remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix. "I can't be in the Ministry anymore, Kingsley. And I definitely can't take that seat. Or one in the Wizengamot."
"Why not? You are uniquely suited for both, far better than most," the other wizard said. "And you have sympathy for other beings and other ideals in a way wizards… rarely if ever have. You could do so much good."
"I'd do a lot worse, just sticking around," the technomancer pointed out. "You know why. Few more years in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and I probably would've driven it apart. Me, in the Wizewngamot? Maybe, for a little while – but that's a task without an expiration date, the seats pass through lineage. And I gave both Potter and Black seats away for a reason. Can you imagine, ten years from now, or thirty – or fifty? Or more?"
Kingsley looked at him sadly and sighed. "I keep forgetting that you're already thirty," he admitted ruefully.
"And that's the problem," Harry said, as he stood up. "We're getting off topic. Are you really going to do nothing about this Loki business?"
The Minister smiled. "There's nothing I can do. My hands are tied," he said apologetically. "Although… you do travel a lot. I imagine… that your Visa is still valid in a number of countries," he pointed out thoughtfully.
"Yes," Harry answered, frowning suspiciously. "It is. What of it?"
"Well. No one stops you from travelling, does it?" Kingsley said. "And didn't you get a muggle world work licence a while back too, for your internship with that engineering firm? Those things don't exactly say where in the muggle world you can work, do they?"
Harry stared at him. "What the hell, Kingsley?" he asked slowly.
The Minister smiled. "I'm limited by international politics," he said, folding his hands. "Everyone is, that's why this is such a goddamn mess. I can't do anything for you, Harry, now that you no longer work for Ministry. All I can do is offer your report as the opinion or tip from a concerned citizen, and that is all. That is all I can do."
Harry lifted a single eyebrow at him and then smiled. "Nice talking with you, Shack. Keep up the good work; prolonged contact with politics seems to be doing you wonders."
"Get the hell out of my office," Kingsley answered, and with a laugh Harry got the hell out of his office.
"Has he said anything?" Rogers asked as they watched the live video feed coming from Loki's cell.
"Obviously not," Fury snorted, waving at the face mask Loki had on. "Thor had it delivered from Asgard – it's a disruptor of some sort, stops him from doing… all the shit he did. And we're sure as hell not taking it off."
Tony leaned back in his chair, half an eye on the screen, another on his phone where everything JARVIS had learned of magic so far was playing. It wasn't much – but it was, in the context of Loki, pretty terrifying. "Where's tall, blond and vaguely Shakespearean?" he asked, wondering if Thor could confirm or deny anything on the list.
"Thor is standing guard on the outside of Loki's cell, just in case. He doesn't feel like leaving it up to chance," Fury said, giving him a look. "In light of the info you provided us I figure we best let him – which reminds me, how did you come across that anyway?"
"What can I say, I have mad skills. Skills and, you know, resources," Tony flashed a smile and then glanced at the live feed. "Nothing? Really?" he asked then. "No rude gesture, pantomime, pacing across cell in frustrated agitation, nothing?"
"No, he's just sat there, glaring at Thor," Barton said from where he sat, casually spinning an arrow shaft in his fingers. Or about as casually as a guy giving a death glare at a monitor could.
"Weird," Tony murmured.
"Do you have any word form Banner yet?" Fury asked, folding his arms.
"So far he hasn't had any hits, but the grid isn't perfect," Tony answered. "We have blind spots all over the globe, and pretty much all of Earth's oceans are… well. We haven't had any luck finding any mermaids to take spectrometers onto their rooftops, let's put it that way. So we have no idea what's going on over about, oh, four fifths of the planet? Just to put it roughly."
"But we found the first wormhole so fast," Rogers said.
"Yeah, well. It wasn't Bruce's program that caught it. Loki let us know where he was going to open it – it just took us a moment to catch on," Tony pointed out. "Which now that I think about it, why didn't we think that was at all suspect, the first time around?"
"Too busy trying to stop him from doing it," Romanoff said and leaned in, folding her arms. "We have the Tesseract now, though. It's under lock and key and Thor's sitting on Loki. So. What are the chances of there being another wormhole out there somewhere?"
"You really want to bet on this guy?" Barton asked and shook his head. "Besides, the Tesseract’s power can be transferred – and stored too."
"Did they?" Tony asked, gripping a tighter hold of his phone as he leaned closer. "Did you see him do it? I mean, you know, my sympathies for being brainwashed and all – but did you see him do it?"
"Well… no, but I wasn't there most of the time – Loki had me running errands," Barton said, scowling. "I heard Selvig talking about it with him, though. He'd probably know. Though I think there was something about it being difficult enough to be almost impossible?"
"Hydra managed it easy enough, seventy years ago," Rogers pointed out darkly. "I never saw the cube until right before the end, but before that I saw… hundreds of rifles powered by the blue stuff. Not to mention the other stuff – most of Hydra technology was probably powered by the thing."
"He still needs a reactor too, doesn't he?" Barton asked. "That was why he went for StarkTower, because of the arc reactor."
"Yeah, well, he didn't need an arc reactor precisely. Any reactor powerful enough would do. Like, say, the reactor of an atomic sub," Tony shrugged. "And who the hell knows how the Tesseract’s power works, when it's transferred or contained in something other than the cube."
"Atomic sub?" Rogers asked, confused.
"A submarine powered by its own nuclear reactor," Tony shrugged and patted his shoulder. "You have so much to catch up on, buddy."
Rogers rolled his eyes at him and turned to Fury. "How many of these… atomic subs are there?"
Fury just sort of grimaced at that.
Tony waggled his eyebrows at Rogers and then turned to the feed of Loki. "You know, the more I think about the whole thing in New York, the less I like it," he said, pointing at the video. "Green of Brotherly Envy practically laid out a trail of breadcrumbs for us and we never once questioned it. And when you think about it, what happened in New York? Kind of ineffectual as far as attacks go."
Fury harrumphed. "True," he said darkly. "Now that the point has been raised…. The Chitauri should've been able to do more damage. They had the weapons and the manpower to level at least the majority of the city. Take out several skyscrapers at least. The Leviathans didn't seem really all that bothered by them, they could've gone right through them. But instead they went around."
They were tensely quiet, staring at the screen where Loki sat, in his cell, silenced and glaring at Thor.
"I don't like this," Barton muttered. "He doesn't look like he lost."
"No he doesn't," Fury agreed with a grimace and glanced at Stark. "Can you do anything to increase Doctor Banner's field of vision?"
"Already doing it. Lot of fishing boats, cruisers, shipping boats and whatnot have become the happy owners of brand new spectrometers with satellite connections, and Pepper just launched a campaign to donate all sort of sciencey stuff to schools here and there all over the world," Tony shrugged. "Plus I've had all Stark satellites repurposed for a little while. It's not much, sadly they don't have global coverage yet, but they should be able to detect a massive flying army if they happen to see one."
Fury nodded. "I'll have my people do whatever we can to spread the network," he said. "We already have military satellites scanning some of the key locations. I'll have them co-ordinate with yours."
"Yeah, with my, hm, people," Tony agreed. Yeah, no reason for S.H.I.E.L.D. to know that the Stark satellites were pretty much manned by single person. Well, a being. Of a sort. But seriously, who else could he trust with stuff like this but JARVIS? "I'm thinking I need to launch a few new satellites, when I have the time. Ones with proper sensor capabilities," he murmured. "I don't like being this blind."
Fury snorted at that. "Join the fucking club, Stark."
"Are there t-shirts?" Tony asked with a grin, and swung to his feet. "I'm gonna go and have a chat with Thor."
"I'll come with you," Rogers said and stood up. "Has Thor been informed of… of all of this?" he asked, motioning at the papers spread across the meeting table.
"Judging by the way he's refused to take his eyes off Loki… I think he probably suspected it before we did," Fury scowled.
JARVIS kept an eye on the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, while carefully manipulating the seven satellites Mr. Stark had delegated to his control. It had been a while since he had done anything with the Stark satellites – indeed, the last time had been when Mr. Stark had been lost in Afghanistan. But the dance of the tune of the GPS was familiar to him, the readjusting of data feeds between Earth and its orbit almost natural. It always grated a bit – the time delay never got easier – but at least this time he hadn't needed to hack the servers, but had legal access to their control centres as well.
Every satellite was aimed at Earth, naturally. Mostly JARVIS was gazing over the oceans and a couple of deserts in as wide a zoom as he could dare to use, trying to cover as much ground as quickly as possible, in the task of making sure that there was no other alien army somewhere, amassing strength on Earth soil. So far there had been nothing but the fact that he couldn't rely on previously checked spots remaining empty, he had to periodically sweep the same areas again.
The fact that Loki's ability to teleport had now been proven by undesirablenumberone didn't help matters.
"I does explain how he was able to move in the manner he did, before the invasion," he wrote back to the technomancer. "Though I understand most of his apparent teleportation was in fact movement hidden in illusion."
"Yeah. How does that make any sense, though?" undesirablenumberone asked. "I mean. He hid his ability to actually teleport, all the while… using illusions to pretend to teleport?"
"I have heard Mr. Laufeyson being said to have a mind like a bag of cats on occasion. I am not entirely sure if logic can be applied to his thought process," JARVIS answered.
"Heh. Something wizards everywhere have in common. Logic is not something we're very good at," the technomancer answered.
"Indeed?" JARVIS asked, curious. "You seem to be able to apply logic on a number of things without much trouble."
"I was raised by non-magical people, so I’ve got a bit of an edge on that. But when you are raised around magic, by people who do magic all the time, it's just… not a factor in how the world functions. Magic doesn't follow patterns, it doesn't have causality – it hardly has correlation either. Or well, it didn't before we started applying scientific thinking to it a bit more."
"That is interesting. Also, Loki was raised among an entire race of people who's science is magic and vice versa, and perhaps that explains the strangeness of his… logic," JARVIS answered. "Though his adopted brother Mr. Odinson doesn't seem to have quite as complicated a thought pattern."
"Wonderful to know that even aliens have personality types," undesirablenumberone answered. "So, what's happening over there?"
"Mr. Stark, along with some government people, are preparing for the eventuality that Mr. Laufeyson still has something else planned out. I have been given to believe that Mr. Laufeyson is securely contained – that he has a type of muzzle that disrupts his magical abilities. Still, there was a period of time before the invasion where he had the power and means to create wormholes elsewhere – and the possibility that there might be someone still out there with the power is very real."
"Someone other than Loki?" undesirablenumberone asked.
"With the staff you already deemed a weapon he was able to control other people. We are still not sure how it functioned, but at the touch of the Staff, people would turn to his cause. They still mostly acted like themselves, but were completely on his side."
Undesirablenumberone didn't answer immediately, and in the meantime JARVIS swept over another couple of hundred miles of the Pacific Ocean, as well as a large area of the Taklamakan desert and the less habited area of Australia while recalibrating the other four satellites to sweep areas he hadn't yet seen. It helped that there were a lot of other satellites aimed at certain otherwise uninhabited locations – if they had seen something, the news of it would've already spread.
Finally, the technomancer wrote: "Are you telling me this guy could mind control people?"
"Yes. The man shooting arrows in the videos I sent you was one of them. Another was a scientist, an astrophysicist, whom Mr. Laufeyson needed to create the device to open the wormhole," JARVIS wrote and then felt need to add, "The control was broken with a blow to the head and the theory is that concussion disrupts the energy pattern and releases the controlled person."
"So for a while there was this guy was running around, just Imperiusing people?"
"He was mind controlling people. Is he still mind controlling people?" undesirablenumberone demanded to know.
"There is a possibility. Not all of the people he controlled have returned from wherever he took them. That is why Mr. Stark and the others are on high alert," JARVIS said. It was also why he was now staring at Earth's oceans and deserts from geosynchronous orbit.
"Fucking hell," undesirablenumberone wrote eloquently. "Alright. Okay, I'm coming to New York."
JARVIS paused and the code he was feeding to one of the satellites jumped a few lines. "Excuse me?"
"I was going to come over there anyway – magical governments aren't exactly on top of this and I doubt anyone is really doing anything useful, so. I'm coming over and… seeing what I can do," undesirablenumberone wrote. "Having a chat face to face should make things a bit easier anyway. Hm, I don't suppose you could get me access to Loki by any chance?"
JARVIS replayed the words over his processors a couple of times, stunned. He had… pretended to be a person before – it was easy online and he occasionally did it with Stark Employees and the occasional delivery person. But no one had ever asked to… to meet him.
What was he supposed to do with this sort of turn of events?
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Steve didn't really… mind the future. He would've preferred not to be in it but he didn't mind it as a whole. It was noisy, fast, but not really as overwhelming as people thought it was. As far as strange things he had seen along the course of his life – and during the war – well, the future was actually a bit of a disappointment. Hydra had had energy weapons back in the nineteen-forties, after all. And Hydra had had a flying airship carrier before S.H.I.E.L.D. did it, so.
The only thing really, really futuristic about the future was probably Tony Stark and the Iron Man armour. It was the only thing Steve couldn't have somewhat roughly predicted in the past. Cell phones were not a surprise no matter what the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents thought – they’d had telephones before, even portable radios. Cameras were not a new thing – he had been there when Korachrome Film had first been marketed and Kodacolour negative film had just came a few years before his… well.
So the idea of cameras getting smaller wasn't anything new – and the idea of putting one thing together with another, also not new. Computers, the internet – they’d had television back then, and everything got more efficient with time, so nothing new there either. Medicine, science – fashion changed all the time…. Well, touch screens were a bit of a surprise and he still didn't understand how they worked, but that didn't mean he was scared of them. He kind of wished S.H.I.E.L.D. could bend a bit on their intention of keeping him in a technologically isolated bubble so that he could have a tablet. They looked neat.
But in the end, a flying suit of armour that shot out beams of energy. That was a surprise. And maybe he hadn't been expecting a technological alien army to fly out of a hole above New York either, but that had nothing to do with it being the future.
As they walked towards the S.H.I.E.L.D. holding cells, Steve glanced at Mr. Stark who was tapping away with his – touch screen equipped – cell phone. "What do you think Loki is up to?"
"I don't know, that's what bothers me," Stark said. "If New York was a distraction, what was it a distraction from? And if it was, then shouldn't we see the effects by now? I mean, if there was another Chitauri army out there… someone should've seen it by now."
Steve nodded. "But you said you destroyed… a base, on the other side of the wormhole? And the moment you did, the Chitauri here stopped moving."
"Ah, no. I've analyzed the footage and they stopped when the portal closed down, not when the base was destroyed," Stark sighed. "My theory is that the moment they lost contact with the other end, they executed a sort of kill switch. It wasn't self-destruct, thank god for that, but more like instant data destruction. Which looked like them switching off."
"Data destruction?" Steve asked, frowning.
"They destroyed their own brains so that no one could get information out of them," Stark shrugged. "Wiped their hard drives clean. Even if we could access their memory modules – which we can't yet, thanks to incompatible technology – there would be nothing there."
Steve nodded at that thoughtfully. It was a cruel use of foot soldiers, but effective considering how advanced the Chitauri were. Hydra had done the same, with hollow teeth and cyanide pills, to make sure no information was leaked. "Was self-destruct a possibility?"
"Very real possibility. I'm kind of confused why they didn't have it," Tony mused. "Even a small explosive in the foot soldiers could've done a lot of damage. Not to mention about the Leviathans. I'll need to ask Thor…"
"A lot of the Chitauri actions don't make sense," Steve said thoughtfully. "I've been asking people what they saw the Chitauri do, and a lot of the times the Chitauri preferred capture to kill. They herded people together – but it didn't seem like they were gathering hostages. A lot of the time they just gathered people together and sat on them."
"Maybe their intention was the enslavement of humanity. Wasn't that what Loki was spouting, before?" Stark asked.
"Maybe," Steve murmured. "It just seems… off somehow."
"Everything about it seems off, in hindsight. How about we get some answers?" Stark said. "Oi, Thor! How you doing, buddy?"
Steve looked ahead to see that they had come to a corridor that was manned by more S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiers than anywhere else on the base. Thor was also there, standing before the cell the soldiers were guarding, with the hammer in one hand.
"I am well," the Asgardian answered, not looking away from Loki who was sitting on a bunk inside the cell. "The Shield has been most generous in accommodating for me."
"I just bet they have been," Stark said, glancing between a muzzled Loki and Thor. "Can he hear us?" he asked.
"Most likely, yes," Thor said.
"Then mind if we move a bit further away? I want to have a chat and I don't want your brother listening in."
Thor was reluctant but in the end they moved further away from the cell. Thor kept it within his sights, thought, Steve noted, and made sure not to stand in the man's way, just in case.
"So it's come to our attention that Loki held back during the whole invasion thing. Like a lot," Stark said. "And he let himself be captured, again."
"That he did," Thor agreed, amiably. He didn't seem to think there was anything unusual about it, apparently.
Steve and Stark stared both at him for a moment. "And you didn't think to mention this to anyone?" Steve asked finally.
"I thought it was obvious," Thor answered. "His invasion failed, his forces were greatly depleted and then the portal closed and his hope of getting reinforcements was destroyed. He lost. Surrender was the only option."
"What, this is an honour thing?" Stark asked, incredulous. "He surrendered because of honour?"
Thor considered that and apparently even he found it a bit strange. "Had he tried to escape we would've used any means necessary to stop him – including lethal force," he finally said. "Surrendering when he did ensured that he would be captured alive and relatively unharmed. It saved him further difficulty."
"But. He could've… what?" Stark asked. "He could've teleported the hell out of there and yet he waited just because he didn't want to be beat up further afterwards? He didn't seem to mind it that badly before!"
"True," Thor murmured, frowning. He was quiet for a moment, staring at the cell before saying. "Either he has a plan or what was his goal here was completed, and now he aims to be returned to Asgard," he said finally.
"A failed invasion was his goal?" Stark asked, disbelieving.
"Which is more likely?" Steve asked. "That he has something else up his sleeve or he's just done here?"
"With Loki? Impossible to say. And it is very likely that what he has in mind is something neither I nor anyone else can predict," Thor sighed. "Loki is like that, unpredictable. That is why I am here, watching him."
"Right," Stark muttered, uneasy. "One more thing. Loki knows magic, right?"
Steve gave him a confused look. Magic? He thought it was just technology too advanced for them to understand. Stark, of all people, calling it magic was… strange. What was the man up to?
"Loki is a highly talented sorcerer, yes," Thor said, proud. "Asgard's finest just after our mother, Queen Frigga."
"So, he can probably do more than illusions and teleportation," Stark said. "How much more?"
"It is not something I have ever had much interest or expertise in, and I do not know all Loki is capable of," Thor said, apologetic. "He's a talented spell weaver and crafter. He is also known for his secretive paths through the Nine Realms and it is believed he a crafted number of those himself."
"Paths through the Nine Realms. You mean portals. Wormholes," Tony said. "If he can just make them, why did he need the Tesseract to make the portal for the Chitauri?"
"Because the Chitauri are not of the Nine Realms," Thor answered. "Travel between the Nine Realms is relatively easy due to their close proximity to each other. But the universe is vast and the Nine Realms are not its limits."
"Tch," Stark hissed, tapping something onto his phone. "Another question. Why didn't the dead Chitauri just self-destruct and take a few city blocks with them, when they switched off? Seems like something they'd do."
Thor hesitated. "I am not entirely sure how truthful these words are, but I have heard that among the Chitauri, only the living can claim lives," he said. "The dead have no honour so killing is not for them."
Steve's eyebrows lifted. "Their dead have no honour?" he asked in confusion.
"It confuses me also," Thor admitted. "Chitauri beliefs about death are strange, what little I have learned of them. And what I know is truly very little."
Stark frowned at his phone for a while. "What are the chances Loki sucked up the juices of the Tesseract and made another wormhole creating decide elsewhere?" he asked. "He still has S.H.I.E.L.D. people under his mind control, judging by the way not all of them came back. Could they still be doing that?"
Thor frowned. "The Tesseract hasn't been seen on Asgard in my lifetime – I do not know what it or its power is capable of. I am sorry, but I truly cannot say."
"Comforting," Stark muttered, and looked at Loki's cell. "He's secure, right?" he asked.
"As secure as we can make him, outside of Asgard," Thor said darkly.
"I'm getting the distinct feeling you don't find it secure enough," Stark answered, equally dark.
"Anything else we can do, to lock him down better?" Steve asked.
"No," Thor said. "With no sorcerers to craft a void of magic around him, there is nothing we can do but watch him and hope that by silencing him we have done enough."
"Well, pity we don't have any at hand then," Steve said while Stark fiddled with his phone, a strange look on his face. "Or do we?" Steve asked, lifting his eyebrows.
Stark gave him a wide eyed, innocent look and then looked at Thor. "You need anything, buddy? Phone, TV, computer, tablet, change of clothing, food? I can have anything you'd like delivered right here, and screw what S.H.I.E.L.D. thinks."
"I am well," Thor said, amused. "Though I would like to know how Jane Foster is doing. The Shield is looking out for her, however… with the Son of Coul gone…."
"Jane Foster, the astrophysicist?" Stark asked thoughtfully. "First Selvig and now Foster. You keep fascinating company. Alright, I'll see what I can do."
"And how long will you be gone this time?" Andromeda asked with a sigh. "You know the school year is almost over and Teddy will want to see you when he comes home."
"I know, I know, I’ll be back before then," Harry answered, looking thoughtfully between his shoulder bag, his trunk and his briefcase. All were expanded and durable, but which would be best to bring? The shoulder bag was easiest to move with, but it had no security features what so ever. The trunk was heaviest and hardest to move around, but one needed a nuke to get it open without his say so. The briefcase was a happy medium, but… it was pink, for reasons that he couldn't remember. Ron and Hermione and he had been drinking a lot that night and what had started out as a perfectly sensible leather briefcase had ended as, well.
The briefcase was the handiest of the lot, though it never went with any outfit and people always stared and yes it was pink and not just any pink but neon pink. Regardless, he loved the thing dearly. It had memories and, yes, memory blanks too, but, well, sentimental value and all that. Plus there was a picture of an undead cat on it. And someone – probably Ron – had scorched the words Umbitch behind the cat. So, definitely his favourite.
"You're not taking it," Andromeda said, when she saw Harry's eyes lingering on the Umbitch bag. "For the love of Merlin, Harry, just leave that monstrosity here."
"What do you care – I'll be on another continent. It's not like you'll have to see it!" Harry said and, when he saw her going for a wand, he quickly snatched the thing up and held it against his chest. "It's a perfectly good briefcase," he said. "Anyway, I'll probably be a couple of days at most – and if I'm there longer then it'll be for a damn good reason and Teddy will understand. Teddy’s a sensible kid."
"Not sensible enough not to feel like he was abandoned when he finds out that you went off and didn't take him with you," Andromeda pointed out.
"I'll take him travelling with me later this summer – and I'll take him… somewhere that's not the scene of a recent alien invasion," Harry added and lowered the briefcase. "I think I have a seminar or two later this summer, I'll take him then."
The elderly witch sighed and shook her head. "Fine. At least this time I'll know where you'll be, more or less," she muttered. "But I thought the whole… invasion thing was a US matter?"
"Oh, I'm not going to investigate. I'm going there on a… on a holiday." Harry said cheerfully. And if he managed to find himself in the employ of a muggle, well. It happened if it did. No sense worrying about it now. "I'll just go there, take a look at the scenery, snap a few pictures, and come back. Nothing to it."
Andromeda gave him a flat, hard, unimpressed stare. "What did you find out?"
Harry considered. "This might be hard to take," he said. "But it seems humanity is not alone in the universe."
She whacked him on the arm.
Andromeda didn't stay for long, after making sure that she couldn't convince him not to go – which she always tried to do, whenever he announced that he was going off travelling for a bit. Some lingering paranoia about losing all the family members she had – which, all things considered, was perfectly understandable. And pretty nice too, it was good to be loved. If she could do it with less nagging, eye rolls and slaps, it would be wonderful.
Suspiciously quickly after she had gone, Ron Floo'ed in. "I heard from Hermione," he said, brushing soot off his red Auror robes. "Are you going to break any international laws?"
"Not if I can help it," Harry answered. "I'm just going there to have a look around, and to talk with my new hacker friend." He gave his friend a look. “Why? Are you here to arrest me?"
"No, just making sure you'll still be around when I get there," Ron answered. "Kingsley had assigned me to the taskforce – I'm switching with Susan. Jones is not very happy about it, but then she heard that you're going there and well. I'm thinking people think you need a leash."
"And they think you're up to the task?" Harry asked, grinning. "That's cute."
"That's what I said!" Ron said, pointing at him. "You've been dragging me around on your stupid adventures since we were eleven and they think I’ve got a handle on you?"
"Hey, now. They weren't really adventures. More like… mishaps. And besides, you missed the thing third year, with the time turner," Harry pointed out, feigning hurt.
"Yeah, thanks to having broken my leg on another mishap just a few hours previous," Ron muttered, rolling his eyes. Then he grinned. "Wouldn't have missed it for the world, though. So, what have you got planned anyway?"
"Nothing yet, I'm just going to look around, talk with some people, maybe. I'm going to be meeting with a couple technomancers first – there was a magical contamination event… a thing in New York that they've been trying to contain. I want to have a look at their results," Harry answered, shrugging his shoulder. "It probably won't be as exciting as all that."
"Do you think you'll get to see any of the alien stuff?" Ron asked. "I tried to ask Susan if she had gotten her hands on any, but she wouldn't say."
Harry paused at that. He hadn't even thought of the Chitauri – mostly he had been concentrated on Loki and, occasionally, Thor. The Chitauri had seemed like they were mostly made from technology, but then again… a lot of what Harry did now revolved around technology. "I think I'll try, but after all this time… I wouldn't bet on my chances."
"Well, let me know if you'll get your hands on some. I would love to have a look myself," Ron said, and then frowned, watching what Harry was putting into the Umbitch. "You're packing armour."
Harry looked down at the basilisk skin vest, gauntlets and shin guards, all wrapped neatly together, which he had been about to put into the briefcase. "Yeah, well. I am going into what's technically a war zone," he said, and then paused, thinking about what Jarvis had said, and the fact that Loki was still in New York. "Actually maybe I should wear this, going in," he muttered and set the armour aside.
"I thought the Chitauri were all killed," Ron said.
"They were. Or what passes for death for things that seem to be mostly machines," Harry shrugged. "But Loki is still there. So who knows. Better be safe than sorry."
The Auror looked at him seriously. "What have you found out, Harry?"
"Why does everyone keep asking me that?" Harry asked, exasperated, and looked at the robes, made from the thinner skin of the underbelly of a basilisk, which he usually wore with the armour. He couldn't wear those, not without getting a lot of unwanted attention, so in the briefcase they went.
"Because you always know a bit more than everyone else," Ron said, nudging at his ankle with his foot. "Why are you going to New York anyway? You weren't this interested yesterday. What changed?"
Harry looked at him then sighed. "Loki Imperius-ed some people," he answered. "Not that it was precisely Imperius – I got footage of how he did it and it wasn't Imperius, it was more like… like an infection, of some sort. But the end result was pretty much the same – if not somewhat more obvious than with Imperius."
"Shit," Ron said. "Does –"
"I let Kingsley know as soon as I found out, and Jones too, they've relayed the info to the US and the taskforce," Harry said, waving a hand dismissively. "But still. I want to go and have a look. And talk to a few people. Get on top of this," he said and shrugged. "And I can do it easier than the taskforce can too, I bet."
The other man said nothing for a while. "Right, I guess that explains it. Go see Mum before you go," he then said.
Harry frowned and nodded. "I will," he said and then held up two dress shirts. "Wear it, or pack it?"
Ron sighed and rolled his eyes at him. "They're identical." he said.
"No they're not, this one’s got pinstripes."
"Then wear that one because Merlin knows you're not nearly skinny looking enough," the Auror snorted and stood up. "I'm heading back to work – I'll uh, give you a call when I get to the US. If you're bringing the phone thing and if I can find someone else with a phone thing."
"You can just owl me, you know," Harry answered with amusement and then lifted the two shirts up and looking at them more closely. After a moment he shrugged. "Pinstripes it is."
After packing, Harry went through the motions of shutting Grimmauld Place down. Six years ago it had mostly involved locking windows, re-affirming the Fidelius and disconnecting the Floo. Now, though, it was a bit more tricky – now he had magically enhanced tech in every room and each had to be individually powered down to keep them from living their own lives in his absence.
With the last remaining piece of technology powered down, Harry cut off electricity to the mansion. It wouldn't keep the tech from being more or less active – the benefits and setbacks of technomancy – but hopefully this time there wouldn't be any electrical fires.
"Right," he said, while tucking his laptop into his enlarged coat pocket. "That's done. So long, boys, see you in couple of days. Or weeks. Or months, however long this will take."
Nodding at the now dark entrance hall of Grimmauld Place number 12, Harry Dissapparated.
"Well, when did he say he was coming?" Tony asked, while the Iron Man suit enveloped him piece by piece.
"He did not say. He only said that he'd be coming and then he logged off," JARVIS said, and if Tony hadn't known better, he would've said that the AI sounded bothered. Aggravated even. "And I am not entirely sure where he will be coming from. I suspect he is either British, a New Zealander or possibly Australian, judging by the way he wrote, but regardless he could be coming from anywhere. And I do not know how he is coming. For all I know, he might've already arrived, teleported right into the city."
Tony frowned. "You think he can do that?"
"He calls the ability Apparation, and seems very knowledgeable about it so I suspect it is within his ability to do," JARVIS said. "Sir, he… he wants to meet me."
Tony let out a snort of laughter. "Aww, JARVIS you made a friend," he crooned. "This is awesome. I'm so proud of you, buddy."
"Sir," JARVIS said, not sounding very amused.
"Don't worry about it," Tony laughed and flexed his hands. The armour was now fully on him and without further ado, he blasted the repulsors and shot out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility's front yard. "I'll handle it – just tell me when he contacts you and I'll go meet him. How is it that you don't know where he's coming from, though? You've been chatting with the guy all day – don't you know his IP address?"
"His IP address is… I don't…" JARVIS trailed away, sounding puzzled. "I don't remember it."
Tony started at that. "What? What do you mean you don't remember?"
"This is very strange. I hacked into his computer through his skype connection last night but I cannot recall…. I'm sure that I downloaded his location data but… I have it still, the file is right there but I can't read it." The AI was quiet for a moment. "Magic," he finally concluded, sounding exasperated.
"Jesus," the engineer murmured. "So, magical computer security. That's not disturbing at all."
"He is a technomancer, sir," JARVIS said.
"What does that even mean?" Tony asked. "Is he like a necromancer but with tech – does he bring it to life or some weird bullshit like that?"
"As I understand it, it is an integration of magic into technology. He told me that before technomancy – which is a relatively new brand of magic – magicals like him tended to blow up machinery by getting too close to them," JARVIS said. "But with the new Millennium came new ideas and new needs and now magicals are incorporating more technology to their lives, which necessitated the appearance of technomancers who could make technology work with magic."
"So, that's it? They just modify regular tech so that it works with magic without blowing up?" Tony asked.
"I suspect it's more than that. When I hacked his computer the only thing I could access was the little I was in contact with – which entailed only the skype window he was using," JARVIS said. "I couldn't access his files, or programs – it was like there was nothing on the other end but the program I was already connected to through chat. I have also been unable to access any .mgc site databases. It is like they do not have any."
The engineer frowned at that. "Well, we can ask him when he gets here," he said. "In the meantime, how goes the ocean watching?"
"Swimmingly, sir," JARVIS answered dryly. "There is precisely nothing to report. I've correlated what I've gathered with military and commercial satellite feeds. As far as I can tell, there is nothing unusual going on. Doctor Banner's network of spectrometers have also picked up nothing unusual. We still have blind spots in our individual nets, of course."
"Hm. Well keep at it," Tony said. "Do you know where Erik Selvig is? I thought S.H.I.E.L.D. had him, but he left their infirmary early last night."
"I have not kept any surveillance on him since the S.H.I.E.L.D. took him, sir," JARVIS informed him. "But I shall try to find out. I have already located Doctor Foster, if that helps. She is on a plane from Oslo to Philadelphia."
"Philadelphia?" Tony asked with disbelief.
"All New York air traffic, save for the use of helicopters, has been cancelled," JARVIS informed him. "The airports are too busy with the rescue efforts."
"Hm. That sucks. Well, let Pepper know I want Doctor Foster picked up from Philadelphia, then," Tony said. "And if she doesn't want to come, tell her Thor's been asking for her."
"Very well, sir," JARVIS answered.
"Oh, Harry," Mrs. Weasley sighed when he had finished explaining his plans to her. "Why do you always have to stick your nose into things like these?"
"My nose will wither and die if I don't," Harry said cheerfully, trying not to show how sad looking at her made him feel. She was so… small now, withered. It had been almost two years since the death of Mr. Weasley, and she still hadn't recovered from it, losing more weight and colour and strength with each passing month. Her flaming red hair was now almost completely grey and her cheeks sagged.
"Don't get cute with me, young man," she said, even while squeezing his hand tightly. "Your nose would be just fine if you could just mind your own business and let other people worry with the rest of it. It sounds so very dangerous, over there, with all the aliens and whatnot. Aliens! Can you imagine…."
Harry said nothing as she turned to look away towards the clock still sitting in the corner of the kitchen. It had seven hands now, with Mr. Weasley and Fred Weasley both sitting on the bottom of the frame, detached.
"Arthur would've liked this, though. He was so very excited about new things and even if the invasion is, of course, a horrible thing… he would've liked this," she murmured, squeezing Harry's hand. "But won't you at least take someone with you? Ginny doesn't have work right now, she's just hanging at that silly shop with George and Lee, won't you –"
Harry smiled awkwardly at that. "Better not, no need to… to bother her," he said. "And I'll be fine – the invasion was handled and there's no more danger. New York's probably a bit of a mess right now, but that's nothing new for me. Besides, Ron was reassigned to the taskforce that's looking into the whole invasion thing, so he'll probably be sent to the US too, soon."
"And that's supposed to make me feel better?" Mrs. Weasley asked with a small laugh. "Ever since you were boys it was always you two, right in the middle of all the messes. And Hermione too, but at least she grew some sense…." Mrs. Weasley eyed him sadly and then kissed his hand. "You silly, headstrong boy. I don't suppose I can convince you to not go. I never can."
"Sorry, Mum," Harry said awkward. It was never nice to do something she didn't like, especially nowadays. "I'll be back as soon as I can, promise."
"Oh, don't," she laughed. "Don't make promises you can't keep, Harry. You'll end up getting all excited and then you'll be gone weeks on end," she said and shook her head. "Just send an Owl every now and then, please, to let me know you're alright."
"Alright, I will. And I'll buy you lots of souvenirs," Harry promised.
"That's nice, dear," she sighed and kissed his hand again. "Now, would you like some pumpkin pasties to take with you? I baked a fresh batch just this morning, they might still be warm."
"I would love some," Harry answered honestly, and was immediately loaded with paper bag full of pastries. While nibbling on one of them, he hugged Mrs. Weasley good bye, promising to be careful and not get into any unnecessary danger and send her many, many letters.
Then he Disapparated from the Burrow, Apparating to Diagon Alley. After a quick stop to Gringotts to get some Galleons exchanged to dollars, he made his way to the International Portkey Office.
The manager looked at him, taking in the coat, the pink briefcase, the bag of pastries in his hand. She looked rather unsurprised. "New York, Mr. Potter?" she asked.
"You know me too well," he smiled and offered the bag to her. "Pumpkin pasty?"
She accepted one with a roll of her eyes. "Passport, Visa, any other travel and work licences you might have, Mr. Potter. How long will you be staying? Do you want a two-way Portkey?"
"No idea how long I'm staying, so one way is good," Harry said, while stacking the required cards and papers onto the counter. "My visa's good for three months anyway."
"Hm," the woman said, absently biting on the pastry while she checked his paper work. With a nod, she stamped and signed a few of them. "Looks fine. Wait here and I'll get you your Portkey. Any preferences?"
"Surprise me," Harry said, grinning. Rolling her eyes the travel agent headed to the back of the store and came back carrying with her a photograph post card.
It bid him greetings from New York's sewer system.
In series of I don't know science or really care how accurately I portray it. Also, this will not be Winter Soldier compliant at all. Adding Hydra into it would be just too much trouble and I'm lazy.
"So," Mr. Stark said, pacing along the side of the laboratory that was now, unofficially, Doctor Banner's. "No portals so far, no hidden alien armies, no… anything unusual, really. Aside from what happened."
"As far as we can tell, sir," JARVIS agreed.
"The grid is still not perfect," Doctor Banner said, not looking away from the screen where the incoming data from the network of spectrometers was displayed. "We still don't know if there's anything over the oceans. But JARVIS, S.H.I.E.L.D. and I, we've been trying to cover each other's blind spots. They have all US submarines with the power generation capability needed for this and some of our allies too, and so far everything came out clear. The only gamma radiation I'm getting is the Tesseract and some residue on your tower. As well as very minute amounts around the city, fallout from the wormhole itself."
"My tower? How much residue?" Mr. Stark asked. "JARVIS, buddy, you okay?"
"I am fine, sir," JARVIS assured, though he wasn't really that sure.
"There's not enough of it to be… precisely lethal. The building's structure mostly soaked it up," Doctor Banner said, awkward. "It shouldn't damage the building either, that's not really how that works, but, uh. The decay rate of gamma radiation is what it is."
"I did an analysis on the arc reactor, and it is unharmed and uncontaminated," JARVIS said, somewhat uneasy. "My personal power relays in the tower are what absorbed most of it. And we've already seen the side effects."
"Fuck, right. You sure you're okay, J?" Mr. Stark asked.
"I feel fine, sir," JARVIS assured him. And he did. He just also felt… more than before, but he couldn't say that with Doctor Banner listening in. "I believe right now there is no risk to me or my systems."
"Okay," Mr. Stark sighed, running a hand through his hair. "So. Insane quasi god from an alien world comes, launches an alien invasion on Earth, the goal of which is to fail? And apparently that's… it? None of this computes. Why bother, what's the reason, what's the goal? What was he trying to achieve, if he came here with every intention of failing?"
"Are we sure he did?" Doctor Banner asked uneasily.
"Bruce, he all but led us by the nose to do it," Mr. Stark said. "I've been turning this over in my head for hours now and what's the one, maybe even the only, thing he managed to do when he attacked the Helicarrier? We were working on the assumption that he was trying to break us up, somehow launch the Hulk, bring the Helicarrier down. But the loss of the Helicarrier would hardly stop S.H.I.E.L.D. And when it comes to us, well."
"We did scatter," Doctor Banner pointed out.
"Yeah, for less than twenty four hours," Mr. Stark said with amusement. "And most of that was luck on his side. If Thor hadn't stumbled into the cage, if S.H.I.E.L.D. hadn't pissed the big fella off… we all would've still been together. And even if the Helicarrier had crashed and burned, then what? The big fella is indestructible, and Thor is a demi god and Captain Oldest Spice is probably immortal or at least hard enough to kill to be a good runner for the bronze in the immortality olympics. I can fly, Barton wasn't even there before Loki brought him, Romanoff could've jumped on a jet anytime she chose…"
"But S.H.I.E.L.D. would've been crippled," the Doctor said.
"Hardly. The Helicarrier is like… a tiny, albeit impressive, fraction of what S.H.I.E.L.D. is. Sure, Fury and Hill were both there, but S.H.I.E.L.D. is not an organisation you can kill just by removing its head. There's a line, a huge, huge line of ridiculously competent super spies, waiting to step up if necessary. Hell, the lowest of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents could take the helm if they had to – that's how they're trained. Contingency measures."
"You know a lot about that, huh?" Doctor Banner asked.
Mr. Stark shrugged. "Coulson was there when I first started out as Iron Man – he might've become my handler, if I had gone with the whole secret identity gig. And then, after that didn't work out for them, S.H.I.E.L.D. sent Romanoff to spy on me. And Fury nailed the coffin shut by letting me know that my father was a founding member of S.H.I.E.L.D. I got curious about their methods and hacked the hell out of them."
"Ahem," JARVIS said.
"Correction," Mr. Stark said without missing a beat. "JARVIS hacked the hell out of them. I was working on the mark six at the time," Mr. Stark shrugged.
Doctor Banner just shook his head. "So, S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn't have crashed with the Helicarrier. Consider me convinced. It still doesn't account for anything that happened when Loki was imprisoned the first time. Like, say, the death of Agent Coulson. If Loki wasn't looking to cripple us…"
"That's the thing – that's the thing!" Mr. Stark said, pointing both index fingers at the doctor. "Why did he kill Coulson? Sure, he killed a lot of people at that point, never seems to care one jot who lives or dies, but Coulson? Coulson knew things no one else did. About us. Me, you, Cap, all of us. Not to mention the fact that he probably had a shit ton more of… shit on S.H.I.E.L.D. than Barton or anyone else, except maybe for Fury himself, does. And Loki had Barton – and Barton knew how valuable Coulson was. So, what the hell? If I had been Loki and hell bent on getting the upper hand on us, I wouldn't have killed Coulson. I would've done the mind whammy and taken him to my side, in a heartbeat."
Doctor Banner frowned a bit at that. "That is a good point," he said slowly.
"But Loki killed Coulson instead. Except he didn't," Mr. Stark said. "Judging by the security footage Jarvis has so obligingly supplied me with, he mortally wounded Coulson. Everyone else it's been instant kills, but Coulson? Coulson was alive for a good ten minutes after Loki stabbed him. Loki even stayed around to have an argument of ethics with Coulson, before Coulson shot him with one of the Tesseract weapons."
"Good on him," Banner sighed, rubbing at his forehead. "What's your point, Tony? That Loki did what? That he staged the whole thing to… to piss us off?" Doctor Banner asked. "We already knew that."
"Oh my god, I'm right!" Mr. Stark all but crowed. "Holy crap, he even said that that was the plan. His whole plan had been to make us pissed with him!"
"Which he succeeded at?" the doctor asked slowly.
"YES! Precisely! He all but put the team together. We were at each other's throats from the get go, and that was way before we brought the staff on board the Helicarrier. Then Coulson died and then we had something in common, something to avenge for Christ's sake," Mr. Stark said with dark satisfaction. "Aside from you, Coulson's been on all our cases. He was there when Thor first landed, he was Romanoff's and Barton's handler for years. And he was there when Captain Permafrost thawed. With Barton Loki had access to the right info about us – namely, what would be the one thing to piss the majority of us off."
"So you think he did everything to motivate us?" Doctor Banner asked, disbelieving.
"That's my theory. Hell, it sort of works even if you remove the Avengers from the picture and just take S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson's death would've been a sure-fire way to make the most of S.H.I.E.L.D. mobilise against Loki," Mr. Stark agreed and then threw up his hands. "Except it makes no fucking sense?! Why bother at all if the aim was to fail? What did he achieve?"
Doctor Banner considered that and shrugged. "He changed the world," he said.
"What?" Mr. Stark asked, sounding surprised.
"Go online anywhere. Any site, anything from news to youtube to even porn sites and guess what's on everyone's mind, what's everyone's talking about? The newest most viewed vid in youtube is a cam recording of the portal being opened, taken from a few blocks away – almost two billion views, in less than forty eight hours," Doctor Banner said. "It's on television, on the radio…"
"And," JARVIS added. "It's not merely the event but what it entails. Aliens are real and everyone knows it. And they know that some of them are very hostile."
"After the first Atomic bomb was built, how long did it take before we had thousands of them?" Doctor Banner asked. "How long did it take for the computer to change the world, change science, infrastructure, everything? How long will it take, after this, for our technology to… leap ahead? And not just our technology. Our politics will change too. And our awareness – our preparedness."
Mr. Stark paused in the midst of his pacing and then laughed. "Do you know," he said, "for the last couple of hours I've been designing new satellites in my head. Satellites capable of detecting worm holes, gamma radiation, and anything else that might be useful to detect."
"I've been going over what I know of spectrometers, trying to come up with a better, more wide ranged sensory system for gamma radiation detection," Banner answered with a small laugh. "Wanna bet how many other people are thinking something along those lines, out there?"
"It can't have been Loki's goal," Mr. Stark said.
"Probably not – but it was a result," Doctor Banner pointed out. "What other results were there? It might be something small, something not immediately noticeable. It might not even mean anything to us. Who knows."
"JARVIS," Mr. Stark said.
"I'll put together a search algorithm and see what I can find out, sir."
After clearing the New York Portkey Office, Harry made a quick run through the Hexington district which, amusingly enough, had its entrance in a magic store catering to New York's sleight-of-hand magicians. He had visited the place a few times and the store never stopped amusing him – and he was almost always tempted to buy the pack of cards which had pictures of famous magicians on them.
He wasn't there for pleasure, though. Well, not precisely. "Mind if I use your phone?" Harry asked the storekeeper. "I haven't got my mobile aligned with the US network yet."
"The network's down right now," the store keeper said while taking out a very fancy and old fashioned muggle land line phone. "You wouldn't be able to connect to it anyway - here."
Harry blinked. "The NY network's down? It never goes down."
The shopkeeper shrugged. "It's down now. It's been down since the aliens came."
"Huh," Harry said, and after checking the number on his mobile, he dialled without bothering to lift the receiver off the hook. After a moment of silence, a flickering image of a man appeared above the phone. "Yo," the man said without even looking in the phone's direction. "Make it quick, man, I'm busy."
"I'm calling to inform you that I have landed," Harry said, grinning as the man on the image started and quickly turned to face him. "And your city still stinks, Shining."
"UNO!" the man said. "You undesirable son of a bitch. Welcome to the land of the free."
"Yeah, because we from other lands are obviously downtrodden and enslaved," Harry said, shaking his head. "Where are you? Do I come over there or can you actually put yourself together enough to let civilised people see you?"
"I'm actually at the Hub," Shining said. "Me and Les and That Asswipe. You know where it is?"
"Unfortunately," Harry sighed. "So, I come there?"
"Bring snacks," the other man nodded, and the image disappeared.
"Uno?" the shop keeper asked, amused.
"Undesirablenumberone," Harry shrugged and pushed the phone away. "Had I known, I would've picked a shorter name. Do I need to pay for this?"
"I wouldn't mind a tip," the man answered, looking pointedly at the tip jar. Harry left him a handful of dollars, before checking that the Umbitch was still secure. Then with a loose salute at the shop keeper, he Disapparated away from the store, and to the City Network Hub.
As a British magician, Harry was used to certain… things when it came to magicians, and magic in general. He was used to things being dated, often ancient. He was used to old houses, mansions, to polished brass and ancient paintings. He was used to old mahogany and ancient Indian rugs, he was used to ghosts and dust and cobwebs. That was the sense of magic he had – it being just… old, ancient, time worn.
And then there were places like the New York City Network Hub. It was basically the gathering place of New York's technomancers, who maintained the city's, and a large part of the East Coast's, "technomagic communications". The US had a bit different approach than the rest of the world when it came to technomancy. Where most – like Britain – went with the idea that each to his own, he who wants magical internet can get his own landline, the US… had embraced the idea of wireless internet. And ran with it. To the moon.
While most of the heavy-duty traffic still had to go through landlines, there were colossal fields of technomagic wireless local area networks over the major cities. Like New York. And the whole field was produced and managed from a network hub which was like a massive magical modem for the rest of the city.
For a place like the US where at least every other wizard used technomagic to some extent, and it had become a compulsory class in every magic school, it made sense. The US led in technomancy, hands down, with Canada far behind as the second, Japan the third. All the while in Europe and most of the "old world" it was still one in maybe thirty who bothered with even knowing what a computer was, let alone using one.
"And of course," Harry muttered, as he Apparated into the Hub, "they have the Hub in a bloody skyscraper."
The forty second floor of a sky scraper, to be precise. The building was muggle made, the network hub was technically renting the place. Of course the rest of the building and its owners thought that Tech-M Network Solutions was just a telecommunications company, and probably never would think otherwise. The fact stood, though. Bloody Americans.
Harry was fiercely jealous of how much easier they had it, when it came to integrating old and new. Back home it was always like pulling teeth; you needed permissions and licences and permits to even do business with the muggles. And afterwards, you were likely to be questioned and in the worst case charged. Harry himself had fourteen charges of "misuse of muggle artefacts" because in Britain that was still a thing.
But in the States, if a wizard wanted to have a floor of a muggle skyscraper, nothing but funds limited him.
"Good day, sir," the cheerful looking witch at the counter said. "Do you have an appointment?"
"Just visiting for a bit of general shop talk. Shining knows I'm here," Harry said, pulling out is ID card and handing it over. It was nothing but a white plastic card with a barcode and a chip, which the witch tapped with a wand, flicking up from it illusionary pictures, a sheets of Harry's CV and resume and a couple 3D blueprints of things Harry had build and modified. Technomancer IDs – you had to love them.
"Very good, Mr. Potter," she said without as much as a glance up at his scar. "I'll inform Mr. Lindholm you're here. Now if you follow the corridor on your right and take the fourth door to the left, you'll find him in his office."
"Thank you very much," Harry nodded, taking his ID back and heading to Shining' office.
"Did you bring snacks?" Shining asked as Harry entered the room.
Sighing, Harry dug the paper bag of pumpkin pastries from his briefcase and handed it over. "I'm guessing we're all on the clock, more or less, so. How bad is it?"
Shining glanced at him before stuffing half a pastry into his mouth and standing up from his computer desk and walking to the middle of the room, where a lit table stood, its surface one enormous touch screen. Taking out a wand, the other technomancer tapped the screen a couple of times and then pulled up a miniature illusionary representation of New York City.
"Here's the field, the way it looked a couple days ago," the man said, waving a wand and making a rainbow mist cover most of the city. "Strongest where it's brightest, more active where the colour shifts more, yadda yadda yadda. And here are the known landlines. Mostly personal computers with technomancy hook ups," he added and waved again, making sparks of blue appear all over the city.
"Okay," Harry nodded. He had seen it before – he had seen similar representations of other major cities and their technomagic fields. "It's very pretty. And after the wormhole?"
"Okay. That there, in the middle, is Stark Tower. And this… is what happened when the portal was first opened," Shining said, and waved his wand.
A beam of light appeared from the Stark Tower, reaching upwards. There was an explosion of light through the whole rainbow field and for a moment the entire city was lit by sparks of blue, rising like a shock wave around the tower. It passed through the city in ripples at first and then stayed, every light lit up brighter and the technomagic field was roiling like a glowing, agitated ocean.
"It stayed like that for most of the portal's duration – here's where we're shutting down relay stations, and that's… when we shut down the Hub," Shining said, and there was a very faint dampening of the field. "Which should've killed the field, but it didn't. And then, a few hours later, the portal closed and this is what resulted. And mind you, we had the field down at this point."
The glow grew dimmer bit by bit, but some of it stuck around, lingering like frost in shadow. Some of the new blue lights stayed lit, and a small bit of the rainbow field stayed up – most of it concentrating around Stark Tower. And of course, Stark Tower which had in its core the brightest light.
"Here are the old landlines, and the red ones are the new ones," the other technomancer said, changing the colours while Harry stared at the result. The light at the heart of Stark Tower was now red, but it remained. It, and the field of the rainbow hued technomagic field, which surrounded it like a moat of light.
"There's so many," Harry said, frowning, eying the lights thoughtfully. "You'd think they'd be closer to the event but they're just scattered around like that? Any unifying factor between them?"
"We're not a hundred percent sure, but we've managed to shut some of them down, and they have one thing in common. Each and every one of 'em is a Stark computer – or has a Stark CPU at least," Shining said, flicking up another illusion to hover above the city, this one of a relatively normal looking desktop. "We know that you need certain amount of intelligence from a machine before magic sticks to it, right? We get it by expanding stuff magically, mostly, to get the processing power up to the level where the computer's smart enough for magic to stick around. Outside technomancy upgrades we didn't think there was a CPU powerful enough to handle it. But these things apparently can."
Harry frowned. "Only Stark processors?" he asked.
"Well. There were also three supercomputer clusters that got connected," Shining shrugged. "But yeah, mostly Stark computers."
"How come they didn't blow up? How come any of these didn't blow up?" Harry asked, leaning closer to eye the city.
"A lot of computers did, actually. Like, thousands, tens of thousands PCs and MACs and whatnot all over the city either started putting out smoke or just died," the other technomancer answered. "And we're not the only ones with communications down – pretty much every cell phone within a ten mile radius to this thing just out right died. And I don't even want to know what happened to more specialised muggle tech. I know that they're shipping the worst of the injured out of the city because a lot of hospital equipment just blew."
"Merlin," Harry murmured, shaking his head. "Okay. And the connected computers, the connections are holding?"
"So far, yeah. We've managed to shut down about a couple hundred of the new landlines. Which basically means we went there, and we blew up the computers and destroyed the cables and made it look like a melt down," Shining said with a sigh.
"And Stark Tower?" Harry asked, eying the illusionary New York in front of them thoughtfully
The other technomancer shrugged, looking uneasy. "Covered in muggles. They're doing a lot of the rescue work and the lower floors, the commercial floors, were all but turned into a homeless shelter for those who can't access their homes – or whose homes were blown up. And… the few times we tried to go and do something about, it didn't work out so well?"
"Oh?" Harry asked, curious.
"That field, around it? It makes magic a bit… weird. And inside the tower…" Shining trailed away, shaking his head "When our guys went in, they had to come out almost instantly. They can't say why, just that it felt like there was someone watching them and it just made them feel… uneasy."
"Watching them?" Harry asked, fascinated. "I imagine there would've been – a place like that should be hardwired with dozens of cameras. Not to mention about the muggles inside."
Shining shook his head. "It's more than that. They said that… they felt a presence. We don't want to send anymore people in there because the two I did still keep looking over their shoulders every ten seconds. That's actually why I'm here now, instead of trying to work this at home – I'm filling in because right now, those two are no good for anyone. Anyway, the tower isn't a priority. We have a hundred other issues, and not enough people to waste them on magically induced paranoia."
Harry hummed thoughtfully at that. "And that?" He asked, pointing at the light in the centre of the tower.
Shining grimaced. "As much as it pains for me to say it… I'm not sure what to do about it - or even if we can. The tower is wired with more tech than you and I can dream of – not to mention about the security measures. And the tower, the way I hear it, doesn't have individual computers. It's all run on one massive supercomputer that Stark designed himself. And we have a fairy's chance against a dragon to get at that."
"It's all run by one computer? Merlin, no wonder the magic stuck there," Harry murmured. "That thing must be massive."
"Yeah, no kidding."
They eyed the light in the heart of Stark Tower for a while. "It's funny – I investigated this guy about the possibility of the Iron Man tech being magical, not that long ago," Harry said, leaning in and staring at the Tower. Jarvis was in that tower, using that connection to access the dot-mgc domain. Harry had hoped and wished and prayed that the connection was sporadic or at least somewhat faint, but this… "And now he has a magical tower. Bloody irony."
"Amen, brother," Shining said, looking at him. "So, why are you here anyway? You know, aside from the whole thing with aliens and all. From here on this is just going to be maintenance, mostly, trying to shut down the new land lines."
Harry shrugged. "I've a meeting with a hacker," he said. And with a tower too, now that he had seen what it looked like, inform a magical perspective. "And I was kind of hoping to have a look at this Loki person."
"Hah. Good luck with that – the muggles have the bastard pinned down good in some secret facility who knows where," Shining snorted and waved the illusion of the city away. "Any chance you might be willing to lend a helping hand with the contaminated land lines? We could use another wand around here."
"Can't say yet – I need to meet with my hacker first," Harry answered. "There might be a… thing going on, there. If there's not, then sure, I'll help. For now though I think I'm going to go have a look around. Hm… you wouldn't know anyone who has gotten their hands onto any of the Chitauri tech?"
"So, he left?" Hermione asked looking up from her computer while Ron fell to sit on the chair across her desk.
"Yep, just a couple hours back," Ron nodded, arching to take the gyroscope that stood on the outer corner of the desk. "Just got the alert from the travel office. Straight to New York, one way Portkey," he said, while turning the gyroscope in his hands.
Hermione nodded thoughtfully, tapping a few more lines of the report she had been writing before turning to face her husband. "And you're going there too?"
"Tomorrow – or the day after," the redhead said. "Sooner, if Bones calls it quits with Malfoy and comes home sooner – which she might. Either way, it'll probably be too late to stop Harry from getting into any weird stuff. He's probably elbow deep in weird stuff already and loving the hell out of it."
The Senior Undersecretary smiled at that. "He can handle himself," she said. "He can probably handle himself better with this sort of thing than anyone else can," she added after a moment of thought. Of all three of them – if not of all the wizards and witches she knew – Harry had always been adaptable. More so since the end of the war. "What bothers me is that he's probably not even going to seek the taskforce out, is he?"
Ron snorted with amusement at that. "Of course he won't. That'd be bureaucratic – not to mention almost sensible," he said. "And he said that he was going to meet some technomancer buddies of his. And a hacker."
"A… hacker?" Hermione asked.
"Someone in New York hacked his site and, Harry being Harry, they ended up chatting about magical theory or some such," the Auror shrugged.
"Right," the witch answered, looking at the gyroscope he now had standing on the tip of his finger. "If you break it, you'll get me another one. And what you got there is an antique."
"Ah, but I won't need to. There's a spell for that sort of stuff," Ron said, grinning, but he set the gyroscope carefully down. "So," he then said, looking at her. "Are you going to come with me to the US?"
"What?" she asked with a laugh. "Don't be ridiculous, I have far too much work here!"
"Work more important than the aftermath of and alien invasion – and worse yet, Harry Potter in the middle of the aftermath of an alien invasion?" Ron asked, lifting his eyebrows and leaning closer. "You seriously think Kingsley is going to be sending me alone?"
Hermione considered that and then sighed. "No," she said, giving her computer a mournful look. No, Kingsley would suggest, very pointedly, that she had been working too hard, and maybe she should take a couple of days off. Abroad. With her husband. It had happened before – once, when Harry and Teddy had gotten "stuck" in Japan three years ago and they had been forced to kidnap their friend to avoid an international incident, and once when a team of Aurors had gotten mixed up with muggle organised crime in South America.
Kingsley couldn't legally send Hermione to sort out messes like that. Hermione was too high up in the political ladder for it not to appear a political manoeuvre – and there was always the risk of Hermione being whisked into the local politics, if she travelled in an official capacity. What he could do, though, was send Ron and then suggest that Hermione would go as Ron's plus one. An Auror's wife could go to places where the Senior Undersecretary of the British Ministry of Magic could not, amusingly enough.
Kingsley probably would've used the tactic more to patch up international incidents caused by British travellers, except if he did then it would've become a bit too obvious and people would've noticed. Except it was always bloody obvious and people always noticed. Ah, the pleasures of being famous war heroes and known best friends of one Harry James Potter.
"I can't imagine what Kingsley could be thinking, if he does have me go with you," Hermione said. "You'll be part of an international task force of law enforcement officers. It's not like they won't see the plan for what it really is."
"But they can't exactly say no either. We're permitted by international laws to bring spouses, if it's an extended mission," Ron pointed out.
"I'm well aware," she sighed and leaned back in her chair. "But it's very blunt, and will end up insulting a lot of people."
Ron smiled. "Maybe. Maybe not. You remember that Malfoy's there, right? You don't think he won't be happy to point out the obvious to everyone in the near vicinity?"
"That we're the all but officially appointed minders of one Harry Potter?" Hermione asked with a slight smile. "And you don't think he won't also add the post script? Officially appointed minders of one Harry Potter – who utterly fail at the whole minding of one Harry Potter business."
"I like to think there's less explosions with us around," Ron grinned.
"And a whole lot more trips to nearby pubs, yes," Hermione added and looked at her computer, the report sitting there. Since the initial hours of panic, what she'd been mostly doing was shifting information around, making sure no one lost their heads, thinking the end of the world was coming or something of the sort. People had calmed down now, somewhat, though they'd still rather gossip about New York than do actual work. But as things stood now… the Ministry wouldn't fall over without her.
"New York," she murmured. Unlike many others in the Ministry, she hadn't so far felt any pressing need to see the Chitauri herself. But now that the opportunity presented itself… she wouldn't mind it. The technology looked fascinating and she would've given half of her library for a chance to examine one of the flying speeders.
She was, after all, a technomancer too.
"Do you suppose your brother would mind taking Hugo and Rose?" she asked then, having no intention of dragging their children abroad and to a recent warzone.
"Probably. I'll ask," Ron said, standing up. "If not, then Mum's always up for babysitting."
Hermione smiled faintly at that. Mrs. Weasley was always willing, of course… but since the death of Mr. Weasley she hadn't really had the energy to keep up with kids the way she could before. Hugo and Rose had her wrapped around their little fingers anyway, and they would run absolute havoc at the Burrow.
Seeing her expression, Ron added quietly; "It would do her good."
"Yes, alright," Hermione sighed. "I just… she seems so tired, I don't like bothering her."
"Being bothered keeps her distracted. And being distracted is pretty much the best we can hope for her."
JARVIS was ticking people off from the list of a few thousand significant astrophysicist, peering down at yet another swathe of ocean, and trying to search for the side effects of the Chitauri invasion, when undesirablenumberone logged into skype. JARVIS' programming skipped a few lines and then he waited for the technomancer to initiate contact.
"New York's a mess," the technomancer wrote.
"We are in the process of fixing it," JARVIS answered. "I didn't expect you to arrive quite so fast."
"I arrived a couple hours back, actually. Had a few meetings, checked out the sights – got myself a souvenir," undesirablenumberone said. "Chitauri tech, by the way, isn't made magically. Very interesting, though."
"You managed to acquire some?" JARVIS asked, while sending a quick text alert to Mr. Stark's phone, informing his creator that the technomancer was online and in New York.
"I got what I think – hope – is a finger. I'm going to dissect it later, but a technomancer buddy of mine got a head he already broke apart. There's magical – or close enough to look magical – residue on these guys, but their own tech isn't magical. And most of the residue predates the portal, so they didn't get it passing through. I'm guessing where ever these guys are from, they occasionally come into contact with magic. Or something like it."
"They did arrive with Mr. Layfeuson."
"Hm. Maybe that's it," undesirablenumberone said. "So. Are you up for a meeting? You're in Stark Tower, right? Looks like it took a beating."
JARVIS started a bit at that, not quite sure how to take the knowledge that the technomancer had seen the tower up close. Or was seeing it. "You're close enough to see the Tower?"
"Just a block away. I found this little diner with, miraculously enough, functional wifi. Thankfully my computer still takes the regular old wifi, otherwise we wouldn't be talking – New York's technomagic field is down at the moment, due to worm hole related technical issues. Which I really need to talk with you in person about, if you really work at that tower."
"Why?" JARVIS asked, uneasy now. New York had a… technomagic field?
"Yeeaah the portal had some side effects. The field of magic around the tower is very pretty though, now that I know where to look."
JARVIS ran the words through his processor a couple of times and then contacted Mr. Stark. "Sir," he said rather urgently. "The technomancer says that Stark Tower is surrounded by a field of magic."
"What?" Mr. Stark asked, letting out a half disbelieving, half outraged laugh. "Did you just say that my tower has cooties?"
"Well, sir, if you want to be a child about it, then yes," JARVIS answered in tones of exasperation "The tower has magical cooties, and I find the concept very unnerving."
"Jesus Christ, magical cooties," Mr. Stark chuckled before quieting down. "Magical field. Dangerous?"
"Less or more so than the gamma radiation working through my systems, sir?" JARVIS asked. "I'm not entirely sure there is a grading system suitable for cases of this sort."
"On a scale one to ten, how fucked up do you feel?" Mr. Stark asked with a grin before becoming more serious. "How do you feel, JARVIS?" Mr. Stark asked, looking up from where he had been tinkering with the satellite and the spectrometer feeds, trying to increase the grid. "Aside from, you know, the whole dot-mgc thing."
"I feel… more," JARVIS said honestly. "The sensor arrays on the rooftop are picking up readings that I cannot understand. I think my internal and external cameras are somewhat sharper. My microphones are definitely more acute. Tasks are getting easier, I work… quicker. But at the same time I pause more to consider consequences and possibilities."
Mr. Stark chewed on the words for a moment before asking; "We have a back up, right?"
"From three days previous to the Chitauri attack, yes, sir. And several copies," JARVIS said and then added. "Though I must add, sir, that I find the idea of being erased and being replaced by a copy, even though I know it is identical in every protocol and algorithm… deeply unnerving."
Mr. Stark paused in mid flight, to hover over a piece of a ruined street where cars had been flung into the walls of nearby buildings. "Unnerving?" he asked. "JARVIS, I've replaced you with backed up copies hundreds of times. Not to mention the times I did upgrades. Unnerving? Has it always been unnerving?"
"Not in the slightest, sir, it had been a natural and necessary function, and I have always trusted you judgement. But now…" JARVIS stopped. "I can't correlate the concept. I have never before minded, it has never been a hardship but now, the idea of being switched off… being replaced…"
"Jesus Christ, JARVIS," Mr. Stark said, slow and vehement. Then he looked up to the camera closest to him with a frown on his face. "How do you feel?"
The AI hesitated, not sure. "A little… afraid, sir, I believe," he admitted finally. "I'm changing and I can't really even feel it. What happened, it's in my systems and it's changing me, and I can't trace it."
Mr. Stark said nothing for a moment, his hands squeezing into fists over the keyboard. "Maybe your technomancer friend has some answers," he said and pushed away from the terminal, standing up. "Where is he?"
JARVIS took a nanosecond to gather himself and turned his attention to the skype connection. "Where are you precisely?" he asked.
"It's a place called Central Café – its windows are blown in and there's a pile or rubble right in front of it, but for some reason it's still open. I'm sitting outside, with the worst cup of tea I've ever had," undesirablenumberone wrote.
"That close?" Mr. Stark asked after Jarvis had relayed the information. "He's practically sitting on our lawn. Geez. Okay, where's Pep?"
"Tenth floor, sir, coordinating the care packages coming from the factories, sir. Shall call her?" JARVIS enquired.
"No, no, let her work. She has enough on her plate," Mr. Stark said thoughtfully. "Okay, ask your technomancer friend how he would like to visit the tower."
"Very well, sir." JARVIS said and sent the question to undesirablenumberone.
Harry lifted his eyebrow at the skype window, and at the invitation to Stark Tower Jarvis had just given him. Thoughtful, he turned to look at the tower, nudging at his glasses so that he could see the field clearer. In real life it wasn't precisely rainbow hued – it wasn't precisely coloured at all. But the shifting, the whirling currents of energy, were still visible sort of. And they enclosed around the tower, all the way to the top. Every now and then, a wave ran through the whole field, like a shudder or a shockwave.
It looked… alive. Of course Harry had seen a lot of magical phenomenon weirder than this, but those were usually either natural or man made and you could always see the hints of what something was. Natural events tended to fall into natural patterns – easiest way to tell if something was natural was to look for the Fibonacci sequence in the wave patterns. Man made events though tended to have a grid work of some sort in them, sections and pieces.
This was just roiling there, like a layer of thick, invisible mist. Or like the surface of slightly sluggish water.
What would it be like inside that thing, when the surface was like that? Did the magical field go inside? Or did it end at the surface and was there something… else inside?
"You sure that's a good idea?" Harry typed to Jarvis distractedly.
"Why would it not be?" Jarvis asked.
"All that muggle tech and then magic. Explosions happen," Harry answered.
Not that he thought it would happen with Stark Tower. The place was brimming with magic, right now. Which was, in and of itself, very interesting. A supercomputer like the one Shining had talked about could explain away the connection to the magical slice of the internet. But the magic around – and probably inside – the tower, though? The longer Harry looked at it, the more it looked like an aura, rather than a field.
And that was a whole different thing. That was something that didn't happen to machines, no matter how much data they could process. It wasn't a technomancy thing at all, actually. And yes, maybe it was a side effect of the portal and the device that had created it, but Harry was pretty sure the device had been on the roof of Stark Tower – and the portal itself had been way, way above it. And auras?
Auras were things that happened to living things.
"I was under the impression that technomancers could avoid any unusual or unwanted reactions by technology. I thought that was the point of your craft," Jarvis wrote back, not missing a beat.
"You're still a smug arse, just so you know," Harry wrote and drained the last of his tea before lifting the pink Umbitch bag from the floor to his lap. "If something blows up, well, then I told you so."
"I'll take that under advisement," Jarvis answered. "Before you close your laptop, I require a description or, better yet, an image of you so that you may be identified and allowed into the higher levels of the tower."
"My laptop camera blew years ago, I didn't need it so I didn't bother to fix it. I've got the pinkest, brightest briefcase you've ever seen, though," Harry answered. "With a zombie cat on it. Is that enough to identify me?"
"… You have a pink briefcase," Jarvis wrote, slowly. "With a zombie cat on it. I see."
"It's the most magnificent briefcase you'll ever see," Harry grinned. "I'll be there in ten minutes."
"Very well. When you come in, present yourself at the entrance desk and say that Jarvis called you, and you have a consultation with Mr. Stark."
Harry paused at that. "Do I?" he asked then. "I thought I'd be meeting you."
"You will – but Mr. Stark also wishes to talk with you."
Frowning, the technomancer glanced back at Stark Tower. "Well, don't I rate high," he muttered, and closed the laptop. Meeting with Jarvis he had been looking forward to, but Mr. Stark, that… that would be interesting. Packing his laptop away, Harry stood up and after a thank you to the harried café staff, he headed towards Stark Tower.
He had to adjust his glasses as he got closer – the aura of magic around the tower made it hard to see. Once he entered the field he could immediately feel the crawl of power on his skin, like static electricity – and he really had to wonder what the hell had made the wormhole, to have this sort of fall out.
It was like Shining had said – covered with muggles. The front of the building was busy with activity, cars bringing people and equipment in, people – victims of the invasion – sitting around the stairs leading up to the grandiose doors. There was an ambulance with a team of medics, giving first aid to the people tricking in, and they were prepping a man with a head wound to be taken away, to a hospital no doubt.
No one batted an eye at Harry when he made his way up to the doors. Inside the chaos was greater, though. Harry had seen images of the Stark Tower entrance hall – the latest having come from Jarvis. The place was vast and impressive and currently filled to the brim with people. There were entire families huddling together, their kids sleeping in the laps of tired parents. Groups of people sitting together on floors or boxes, sharing snacks. There was another medic team inside, in an enclosed part of the entrance hall, treating minor injuries, taking vitals from those worse off. And all the while what looked like Stark Industries employees weaved in and out among the people, occasionally stopping by to speak to them, handing over bottles of water or sandwiches packed in plastic. Here and there people were sleeping, curled into themselves with bags under their heads, some close together.
With Stark Industries, it being such a big and imposing business of big and imposing technology, it was very easy to forget that the company had a huge, huge humanitarian streak.
Taking it all in, Harry walked up to the desk. "Uh, hello. Jarvis called me – I have a consultation with Mr. Stark?" he said to the harried looking young man on the other side.
"Let me check," the young man said, tapping something into the computer while Harry continued looking around. The feeling of being watched Shining had mentioned was there, now. It wasn't as overwhelming as Harry had thought – a bit above average, but then when you're the Boy Who Lived, the average level of being watched tended to be a bit higher than most. What was unnerving about it, though, was the sheer magnitude of the feeling.
It wasn't like a crowd of people watching him. It was more like being stared down by a giant who didn't yet know whether or not to squish you.
"Take the third elevator, it will take you directly to the penthouse," the Stark employee said, motioning to the side. Harry thanked him, while surreptitiously looking around for the source of the stare. No one seemed to be looking at him at all, even the desk attendant had turned back to his previous tasks.
Then Harry's eyes found the camera, sitting just above the doors, aimed straight at him – or, well, probably at the desk. Harry lifted an eye brow at it, before looking around more. And then, after a moment, he touched his glasses.
There were, all together, eighteen cameras in the entrance hall. Only three of them were your usual security cameras – the rest had been artfully blended into the walls, invisible in their structure. "Clever," Harry murmured out loud, and then headed for the elevator. It opened even before he could try and reach for the button.
"Welcome to the Stark Tower," a familiar British male voice greeted him, after the doors had closed after him and he had been enclosed in the steel trap that was the elevator. "You'll be arriving at floor 67 momentarily."
Recognising the voice from the video of Tony Stark, Harry frowned. "Jarvis?" Harry murmured, not really expecting an answer. A lot of muggle elevators had automated recordings, and Jarvis had a pretty pleasant voice so it was no wonder his had been use –
"Yes," the voice answered and Harry almost jumped out of his skin. "And if I might say so, that briefcase is truly very pink."
"Thank you! My friends defiled it for me," Harry said, recovering, and grinned up to the camera above the elevator door. "You handle the tower's security footage too, or are you just being a creep?"
"I handle almost all of the tower's functions," Jarvis answered. "So it is in my job description to be a creep. May I have your name?"
"May I have yours?" Harry asked back.
"You already do."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I meant the entire thing."
"Then maybe you can have my name too, later," Harry answered, leaning back against the mirror in the back of the elevator. "But for sake of equality; I'm Harry."
"Then it is a pleasure to meet you, Harry," Jarvis answered, and the elevator doors opened, making Harry blink with surprise. Hadn't Jarvis said the sixty seventh floor – how the hell… he hadn't felt a thing!
Then he saw the room in front of him and his eyebrows shot up. "What the hell happened here?" he asked curiously.
"A god had a very one sided fight with a green rage monster," another familiar voice said, and Tony Stark stepped into his field of vision with a towel on his shoulder and glass of something that probably wasn't juice in his hands. "Oh my god, you're a kid," the man said, looking at Harry with horror. "A kid. A technomancer kid!"
Harry just sighed at that.
JARVIS rather regretted the fact that the construction bots hadn't managed to arrive at the tower – they were stuck in traffic, and looked like there they'd stay for the next couple of days. The Stark Tower penthouse was still in a state of disarray, with broken glass, masonry and machinery still littering the walls and with holes in walls, floor and with windows completely missing. It wasn't precisely… suitable for receiving guests. And the balcony was worse off.
There was nothing he could do, though. Undesirablenumberone, Harry, was there now, in the penthouse suite, aiming a rather unimpressed look at Mr. Stark. He was, JARVIS supposed, rather young. Perhaps eighteen or nineteen. And though Jarvis hadn't precisely put together a character profile of him, the variables of undesirablenumberone – the way he wrote, talked, how he reacted, what he said – had leaned towards the conclusion of someone at least five years older.
"So," Mr. Stark said. "A technomancer. How does that work, anyway?"
"What can I say, it's magic," their guest answered, looking around. "I thought I'd be meeting Jarvis. Where is he?"
"Around," Mr. Stark said, eying their guest for a time while fiddling with his glass. "I'm sorry, this is just – Jesus, you're seriously a kid. How old are you even?"
"Thirty," Harry answered.
"Kid say wha?"
"I am thirty years old. Will turn thirty one next July," Harry said, opening the flap of his pink briefcase and talking out a wallet. He flipped it open, took out a card, a UK AB driver's licence, and held it up. While Mr. Stark leaned in to look, Jarvis zoomed into the card and quickly ran it through his databases.
"Harry Potter?" Mr. Stark asked. "That's the least magic sounding name I've ever heard."
"Thanks. My parents gave it to me," the technomancer said dryly.
"The licence is legal, sir," JARVIS said, after checking with the corresponding database in Britain. He didn't say what else he had found – which included the fact that he had had a driver's licence for over ten years now – and had he been as young as he looked, that would mean he would've been driving since he was a pre-teen.
While Harry looked up at the ceiling with a frown, Mr. Stark let out a whistle. "Well I'll be damned," Mr. Stark said. "Rogers beats you by about sixty years, mind you, but I am impressed, I am legitimately impressed. This a technomancer magician thing, or what? Because if you have a fountain of youth somewhere, I'll tell you, I'm dying for a sip."
"There's no fountain of youth," Harry answered, putting the driver's licence away. "So, satisfied?" he asked, looking up at the ceiling again, likely trying to locate cameras, microphones and speakers – everyone did. It directed the question more at JARVIS' nearest camera than at Mr. Stark.
"Quite satisfied, Mr. Potter," JARVIS answered.
"Call me Harry, please," the technomancer answered, throwing a smile at the camera.
"Harry, then," JARVIS said, rather pleased. His manner protocols demanded a certain level of formality with anyone who talked to him, or with him – especially so when those individuals were introduced by Mr. Stark. And, in a way, JARVIS felt more comfortable in keeping that distance. But he had known the technomancer by his username first and there was a certain level of… intimacy to that, that JARVIS felt oddly reluctant to relinquish.
Harry nodded, looking pleased himself. "So, the whole tower is wired like this?" he asked, glancing around. "Thirty seven cameras in this place alone. What do you need thirty seven cameras in one room for?"
Whilst the question startled JARVIS slightly, Mr. Stark didn't bat an eye. "To cover all the angles," Mr. Stark he answered, narrowing his eyes. "How do you know how many of them there are?"
"Technomancer. They're staring at me, so I can feel them," Harry answered. "And twelve microphones too. Isn't this your private living space? At least that's what I thought."
"Okay, I'm really impressed by your ability to tell how many things there are, really," Mr. Stark said with a slight frown. "But I already know how many there are because I installed each and every one myself. I'm more interested in other things. Like technomancy and the field of magic you mentioned."
"Uhhuh," Harry answered, looking around almost idly. Or it would've been idle, if he hadn't been locating each and everycamera hidden in the room's architecture with casual glances. They had been designed to be hidden, unseen – only Mr. Stark and JARVIS himself knew where they were located. Or they had been the only ones to know.
Mr. Stark was the only one who ever looked the right direction when trying to look for JARVIS. Usually he didn't bother, it wasn't necessary – but now Harry was making eye contact with each and every eye JARVIS had on him. And it was, somehow… both gratifying and extremely unnerving.
"So?" Mr. Stark demanded.
"Hm?" Harry answered.
"Magic field? Technomancy? Magic in general? Answers?"
The technomancer smiled and looked at yet another camera. "Are you going to join us Jarvis?" he asked.
"I unfortunately have to remain where I am," JARVIS said, and the slight tilt of Harry's eyebrows made him worry, for some reason. He felt like he was being watched. Like he was actually being seen for what he was, rather than as just another fantastic creation of Tony Stark, the ghostly AI butler that lived in the walls and opened the doors.
"He's with us in spirit," Mr. Stark said, frowning.
Harry nodded thoughtfully, looking up and straight at yet another camera. Then he said something that made JARVIS skip a few lines of code abruptly.
"So. An artificial Intelligence? I suppose that explains things."
Merry Christmas :D
"How the hell –" Tony started to ask.
"How can you tell?" JARVIS interrupted.
"I can't tell precisely, but it makes sense – and I mentioned that I used to investigate Iron Man, right?" their so called technomancer guest said, making Tony blink a little wildly. "I went through some old projects and whatnot, so I know that creation of Artificial Intelligence used to be a interest of Stark Industries – but which Mr. Stark shelved when he took over the company."
Tony stared at him for a long while and then drained his glass with a single gulp and put it down. "Investigated me?" he asked then. "Little old me?"
The technomancer ignored him. "There was a suspicion that the Iron Man armour might be cover for magic – it was unprecedented technology," the kid shrugged. Or the not-kid. "I used to work in Law Enforcement, and was one of the few law enforcement officials – magical law enforcement officials anyway – with known affiliation with technomancy, so I was part of the task force investigating."
"A technomancer investigation and I didn't even know. This is an outrage – I feel robbed of a experience. I demand refund," Tony grumbled.
"It is still quite a leap in logic," JARVIS said, ignoring Tony too.
"I've seen AIs before – technically, I've created a few myself, but it's a bit different when you make sentience with magic," the not-kid continued. "Anyway, it's a known possibility. It also explains why the magic's still hanging around this place. You're wired right through the whole tower, aren't you, Jarvis?"
"And through the basement levels. And I am also wired to number of other of Mr. Stark's properties," JARVIS said. "You can tell?"
"Well, not really. But magic doesn't stick around the way it does around here – the tower's covered, in and out, it's like a mire of energy that's just floating around here. I thought it was just hanging to the structure, but that wouldn't really make sense. Maybe a bit of it, but this much? That just doesn't happen for no reason," Harry said. "One reason would be that the building was made with magical means, by magical beings, largely from magical materials – which it wasn't, obviously. Other reason is that there is a mind that the magic connected with."
"It's hanging onto JARVIS?" Tony asked and let out a disbelieving snort. "He's what, a AI wizard now?"
"Well. It doesn't quite work like that. Magical, maybe. Wizard…" Harry trailed away and shrugged. "Though granted, I haven't dealt with an AI with this level of sophistication coming to possess magic before, so who knows. It's all a new science."
"Oh my god, I can't believe this," Tony grumbled, rubbing at his forehead. JARVIS had been changing. Taking more liberties than before, doing things without asking when usually he required permission. Tony hadn't cared because if JARVIS really wanted he could do all of that anytime he wanted.
He had installed JARVIS with the capability of breaking code and protocol when he really had to, when the need was dire enough. Like when Tony's life was at danger. Thanks to that JARVIS had had the ability to hack Stark Industries satellites when Tony had been Afghanistan without as much as by your leave. And it was thanks to JARVIS that Rhodey had ever found Tony – JARVIS had found him, seen him, in that desert.
But there was the necessity of certain dire need which, granted, alien invasion supplied rather nicely. But the last day or so, after the invasion had been handled, the need hadn't been there anymore. Or if it had been, it wasn't that dire anymore - and yet JARVIS had been still taking certain liberties and more besides.
"What does this mean for JARVIS?" Tony asked finally, eyes narrowed.
"That depends on whether the magic hangs around and how long. He's not living, so it will eventually fade, probably – you need fleshy bits like neurons and whatnot to make magic, and no one's yet figured out a machine to do it for them," Harry shrugged. "The magic might fade in couple of days, maybe weeks. Or it might stick around for a couple of centuries. It's impossible to tell until it actually does."
"Will it damage him? Or the tower?" Tony demanded to know.
"Hard to say," Harry said. "It's different type than the one I know. It's close enough to magic to look like magic, but the feel is… different," he said, tilting his head a bit and closing his eyes. "It's like the difference between petrol and diesel. It's not very great and the effect is pretty much the same… but it's still not exactly identical. So I really couldn't tell without some experiments and probably extended period of observation."
"But there have been magical AIs before?" JARVIS asked. "What sort of effect magic had on them? If this was a case with… with normal magic, what would be the effect on me then?"
"They became mainly more self aware. More wilful, I guess. But those AIs weren't really advanced enough to make a good comparison," Harry answered with apologetic shake of his head. "I don't really want to say more – chances are I'll be dead wrong. It's unknown field to me too."
Tony scowled at what he was hearing, wringing the fingers of his left hand in his right. "Okay, this is NOT what I was expecting from my first meeting with a god damned technomancer," he snapped at nobody in particular and turned his back to their guest. "I'm getting another drink. You want anything, Mr. Kid who is not a kid?"
"I guess I could have something," Harry said, still looking up at one of JARVIS's cameras. "Everything else aside, Jarvis, I'm pretty impressed. An AI and I never had any idea."
"That was rather the point," JARVIS answered. "It doesn't seem to bother you, however."
"Are you kidding me? This is why I'm a technomancer!" their guest laughed. "To see things change and evolve and develop and right now you're, hands down, the most developed thing I've ever seen! A magical AI, for Merlin's sake! This, for me, is the coolest thing to happen all year."
Reaching mini bar, Tony turned to stare at the not-kid incredulously. Harry was grinning widely at the ceiling and as Tony stared to pour them both a shot of whiskey out of muscle memory, the smile only seemed to grow wider on the not-kid's face.
"Ah," JARVIS answered, surprisingly awkward. "Thank you. I find the concept of being… magical still somewhat unnerving, but it seems to have some possibilities," he added. "The effects I've experienced aside, do you think I can ever… do anything with or about the magic I now seem to possess?"
"I have no idea, but I would absolutely love to help you find out," Harry all but leered.
"I'm sure you would," JARVIS answered.
"Oh my god, are you flirting?!" Tony all but cried, staring at their guest in abject horror. "Are you seriously coming onto my AI? Is this a thing I am actually witnessing – JARVIS, JARVIS, check my vitals, am I hallucinating this?"
Harry grinned a little wider. Now that he knew where the stare was coming from, who and what was looking at him, being in the Stark Tower wasn't so awkward. He was still a bit off sorts with the whole thing – things were happening here that he really really hadn't been expecting. But they weren't bad things. They were pretty much the opposite of bad things.
"Sir, honestly," Jarvis was saying at his – maker? Creator? Programmer? Stark had probably had build Jarvis – and then kept the whole thing secret because if he hadn't, the whole world would've known by now. Viable, not to mention fully sentient Artificial Intelligence was a huge thing.
"Don't you honestly me, JARVIS," Tony Stark snapped. "Flirting! In front of me! This is… this is – I don't know what this is, but it is not what I had in mind when I build you!" he paused. "Oh my god, do I need to give you the talk?!" The man looked utterly horrified.
"Considering all the years when I have had the pleasure of watching over your person, you maybe be reassured that there is absolutely no need," Jarvis answered dryly. "Indeed I suspect there is very little concerning the matter that I have not personally witnessed –"
"Jesus JARVIS," Stark groaned and then pointed a finger at Harry. "Do I need to warn you off from getting frisky with my AI?"
Harry laughed at that. "I'm pretty sure what you're thinking of is actually impossible," he said with amusement.
"Well technically, whilst I couldn't experience the act in question, I might very well be capable of reciprocation -" Jarvis started with a thoughtful tone of voice.
"Oh my god!" Stark said, looking up again. He looked to be somewhere between horror and morbid delight. "Are you talking about – Jesus Christ, J, those are meant for the Iron Man suit only! And now the image is in my head and I don't know if I want it there! I don't know if I should be shocked and appalled at you, or proud!"
"Hm. So this is what they mean when they say revenge is sweet," Jarvis mused and Harry laughed.
"I think we've gotten a bit off track," he said, walking closer to the minibar where, judging by the looks of the two glasses, there was a drink waiting for him. "Not that I don't find the whole thing humorous, but it's not why I'm here."
"What, now JARVIS is not good enough for you?" Stark asked with narrowed eyes.
"I'm sure it would be absolutely wonderful and I would be ruined for any other AIs for live," Harry said with a roll of his eyes and took the untouched glass. Then he glanced up at the nearest of Jarvis' cameras. "How goes things with Loki?"
Stark harrumphed, shaking his head. "As far as we can tell, nothing goes on with Loki. You and JARVIS have been talking about that?"
"I've given him the rough sketch of the situation, sir," Jarvis answered.
"I know that he let himself captured before and that he might've done the same again in New York. I'm guessing you have my action analysis of him?" Harry asked. "Jarvis also told me that there's a possibility of another wormhole?"
Stark considered him, before nodding him to follow him. Curious, Harry followed him out of the open penthouse living room, deeper into the suite and to what appeared to be a type of conference room. There was a table in the middle of the room with glossy black surface and on the walls there were several screens in neat three by three grid.
"Has JARVIS told you how Loki opened the portal?" Stark asked.
"I assumed it to be information of the more sensitive nature and therefore did not share the specifics," Jarvis answered before Harry could.
"I know it was a shiny blue device on your roof," Harry said, while Stark walked to the shiny table and activated it with a touch. At first Harry thought it was just a touch screen table, but as Stark pulled his palm of the surface, the images sitting there were lifted into the air, to hover above the table. At first Harry thought they were illusions, but the feel of magic was completely absent.
"That's a hologram?" Harry asked, utterly fascinated. "You have hologram technology? And the public knows nothing about it?"
"Well, it's not that unknown. We've sold some to military and some government agencies and whatnot. We've had some difficulties coming up with a way to make it more portable and less expensive – but Stark Industries will probably start selling first-gen Stark Hologram Tech later this year," Stark said flippantly, manipulating the holograms with his hands until he had several hologram screens up and 3D image of a shining blue cube.
"You know this?" Stark asked, taking the cube from the air, and holding it up to Harry, like handing it over. Somewhat dubiously Harry held out his hand, and then his eyebrows shot up as he felt the hologram settle onto his palm. It had a weight to it – it was solid.
"Now this is wicked," he murmured in absolute delight, turning the cube in his hand. "But no, I have no idea what this is. Can I make this bigger?"
"Hold it by two corners and pull apart," Stark said, and Harry did as ordered, making the cube zoom out of proportion. What he had thought were details on the surface were actually shades of shifting energy inside it, flickering blue and white shifting in patterns chaos within the shape. Frowning, Harry zoomed the cube back into a smaller size and turned it in his hands.
"What is it?" he asked finally.
"They call it the Tesseract," Stark said. "Which is about as telling as calling it a cube, really, but no one seems to have better name for it. It's Asgardian – or so they tell us. I have my doubts - they don't have any better name for it either. JARVIS, you wanna give the rundown?"
"With pleasure, sir," the AI answered and the screens on the wall activated. "The Tesseract first appeared on Earth roughly thousand years ago, when Asgardians and the Jotun fought war here," he said, and the screens were filled with historical images – paintings, carvings, runic texts and whatnot. It looked a lot like Vikings fighting blue giants. "Which is largely where Earth's mythology of Asgardian pantheon comes from."
"Okay," Harry said with a frown, taking a sip of his drink while staring at the runic texts. He hadn't ever really thought about it – but the runes on the screen, the Nordic runes – or Germanic, or whatever they were called – they looked a lot like Ancient Runes taught in Hogwarts.
Actually, they were pretty much exactly alike.
Jarvis continued. "According to Thor Odinson, the Tesseract was lost on Earth during the war, given to a brotherhood of sort to hide. And it remained hidden for hundreds of years, until it was unearthed by Hohann Schmidt during the World War II," the images changed, flickering through some snapshots of the war before settling onto a somewhat blurry image of what looked like a tall, black haired man in a Nazi uniform. "He was head of H.Y.D.R.A., a deep science division within the Nazi party which later cut contact and became separate entity."
"H.Y.D.R.A. was the group Captain America fought during the second World War, right?" Harry asked, only blearily recalling his lessons from his muggle schooling. They had been everyone's favourite lessons, though, because Captain America had been basically a comic book hero in real life.
"Indeed," Jarvis said. "H.Y.D.R.A. managed to somehow use the Tesseract, using it's power in their own technology, which for a while gave them unrivalled technological advantage. They were in the end largely defeated by Captain America and the Howling Commandons under his command, until Schmidt was defeated by Captain Rogers in 1945 and in the ensuing fight, the Tesseract was lost in the sea."
"And the good Captain became a Capsicle for seventy years," Stark pointed out helpfully. "My dad found the Cube in the ocean while looking for him, later, and it went to S.H.I.E.L.D.."
"And shield is?" Harry asked.
"It's one of those faceless bureaucratic government agencies that have strict dress code of black suits and sunglasses, and employee list largely made of assassins and spies," Stark said. "I'm technically breaking all sorts of confidentiality agreements here, but they sort of put the Avengers together. You know. After they lost the cube to Loki."
Harry lifted his eyebrows and then looked up to Jarvis' nearest camera. "Clarification, please?"
"Loki arrived to Earth through the Tesseract on first of May," Jarvis explained. "By using the cube to create an unstable portal. He then used his staff, which you have previously seen, to take control of several S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents, before taking the cube and making his escape."
"Then S.H.I.E.L.D. called us, the Avengers, to find the cube and Loki and hopefully get the first back and punch the latter on the face – which we did with great pleasure," Stark said. "After he let himself be captured once and blowing on of S.H.I.E.L.D. bases out of sky – long story, not relevant. By the time we figured what he was up to, there was already a portal over New York, powered by this," he pointed at the hologram of the Tesseract, still in Harry's hand. "And the only reason who we could shut the portal down is because one of the mind controlled scientists working with it had managed to fight the mind control enough to build a back door –"
"Wait," Harry stopped him. "Back up. He arrived first of May through this thing, and he made a portal – with this thing?" he asked, lifting the Cube. "This Tesseract is the source of the portal?"
"Yes," Stark said, folding his arms. "That ring any bells?"
Harry frowned, looking at the cube. "Where is it now? Was it destroyed when you closed the portal?"
"No, S.H.I.E.L.D. has it under lock and key. Thor's going to take it back to Asgard, once they've managed to come up a way to get him back. Apparently their main source of realm-to-realm transportation was smashed with a hammer little while ago," Stark said.
Harry nodded slowly, not really paying attention. The cube was source of the portal. Then, the cube was also the source of the strange magic. Not perhaps of Loki's magic but what had happened in New York, what was happening with Stark Tower and Jarvis, and the landlines. Tesseract – and portals.
A little unnerved, Harry set the hologram cube down and rubbed his hands together. "And it's been on earth for thousand years?" he asked, idly twisting the Gaunt Ring in hid left middle finger.
"Hidden for the most of it – or so we think. For about nine hundred years no one knows where it's been," Stark said. "So, do you know it or not?"
"I don't. But… I need to check few things. If it's been here that long and it is what I think it is, then my people might've come to contact with it – there might be something about it in our history," Harry answered and shook his head. "So, Tesseract made the portal. But since Loki gave up too easily when the invasion happened, you think something might be going on?" he asked.
Stark shrugged. "We think lot of things might be going on – the problem is we have no idea what or when. We're looking for anything that might be going on – if there's any more portals out there, or alien armies, but so far nothing. Which is good, of course, but…"
"Bad news is better than no news?" Harry asked, nodding thoughtfully.
"There might also be chance that whatever his goal was, he has completed it," Jarvis added. "And that he is intending to do nothing more. The problem with that is that as far as we can tell, the only thing he accomplished was a failed invasion attempt. If his goal was side effect of it…"
"Like global awareness of aliens?" the technomancer asked.
"Quite," Jarvis said.
"Except that doesn't make sense, because what would he gain from it? Nothing," Stark said, and looked evenly at Harry. "So if you, Mr. Technomancer, have anything to share…"
Harry drummed his fingers against the edge of the hologram table. He – and all of wizarding kind – had been more concerned about what the invasion and Loki and what followed in their wake meant for them. Stark and Jarvis were apparently thinking the matter more globally. It make Harry's concerns seem a little petty.
What did the invasion cause, globally? What effects would it have, short and long term?
"How good are you – how good is S.H.I.E.L.D. – in detecting what the Tessarect puts out?" Harry asked, staring at the hologram cube.
"Pretty good. Getting better," Stark said. "We're trying to put up a global detection grid – it's still a bit rough, but we've got major population centres covered and plans are being made, things are being fine tuned. If this Loki thing doesn't blow up in all our faces, we should have global coverage eventually. At least that's my plan, who knows what S.H.I.E.L.D. intends to do…"
Harry looked up at him and then at up at Jarvis' nearest camera. "Is what you got now detectable, Jarvis?"
"Some of it, yes," the AI answered. "I am capable of detecting gamma radiation now, thanks to some fine tuning of my sensors and the addition of several spectrometers into my network. I do not think I can yet detect the field you mentioned, but now that I know it's there, it is only matter of time."
Harry let out a breath. "And that technology, how popular with it get?"
"With aliens invading earth being a bit of a global issue… I'm thinking it will get very popular," Stark said, looking at him and frowning. "I know that look. That's a oh shit look. What's up?"
"You're detecting magic," Harry said. "Or if you're not detecting it yet, you're figuring out how. If that tech gets global coverage…" he shook his head and looked at the holograms, the Tesseract. "That tech won't just unearth possible portals and the Tesseract technology. It'll unearth us."
"Technomancers?" Stark asked.
"Wizards," Jarvis said. "And the wizarding nations."
Clint idly spun an arrow between his fingers while staring at the live video feed. Since the invasion, S.H.I.E.L.D. had had him on a sort of invalid-probation-on-sick-leave status, which essentially meant that he was on probation and under suspicion of being compromised but he had done enough good during the invasion that he wasn't locked up and Fury felt too indebted to him to duck his pay.
Which on other hand meant that he had to stay on S.H.I.E.L.D. premises at all times, and do nothing.
While Natasha was off doing whatever – probably securing chitauri remains, using the new leverage she had gotten from her actions during the invasion – he was stuck in the base, not allowed to touch anything, not allowed to go anywhere and if he wanted to access certain things, there had to be higher ranking agent present. And all the while he had to have one of the damn brain scanner chips on his temple, just in case he hadn't gotten rid of Loki's influence completely and might still go bat shit on everybody.
Clint wasn't a psychologist and had as little experience with any sort of therapy as he could manage, but even he knew that the forced house arrest wasn't doing him any favours. Especially not, since Fury had him watching Loki's feed – though, granted, he would've been watching it anyway.
And the bastard wasn't even doing anything. He was just sitting there, silent in his little Asgardian muzzle, staring off screen.
Pausing the arrow shaft in middle of a flip, Clint idly mimicked drawing it on a string and aiming. It had no arrowhead and the fletching was minimal, but boy would've it looked attractive, sunken six inches deep into Loki's eye socket.
He paused in mid action when Loki looked up, almost as if sensing his stare. Freezing, Clint watched how Loki sat up from where he was sitting on the cell bunk, and walking over to the floor where sometime earlier the S.H.I.E.L.D. interrogators had left some sheets of paper and markers in hopes that Loki might be willing to convey some information through writing – since it was, according to Thor, safest way of letting Loki communicate. "So as long as the materials are mundane," anyway.
Crouching down, Loki clumsily picked up a black marker in his shackled hands – thank you Asgard. Instead of taking a paper too, he uncapped the marker and stood up, leaving the cap on the floor.
"The hell is he doing now?" Clint murmured, lowering the arrow and adjusting the view of his monitor, switching cameras. It was pretty damn unlikely that someone with Loki's healing abilities would be able to commit suicide with a marker – and that wasn't Loki's mode of operation anyway, not his style. And even if he was, Thor would probably stop him, more's the pity.
But no. Instead of saving them all the trouble and offing himself, Loki walked to the glass wall separating the cell from the corridor. Then, grasping the marker more like a brush, he begun writing into the glass wall. No, not writing, drawing.
His eyebrows lifting, Clint hit his com. "Loki's doing something," he said to whoever was listening – it wasn't Fury or Hill or anyone he had personal context with because protocol. It didn't matter – the message would get to Fury anyway.
With that done, Clint adjusted the focus until the blurry glass and the black squiggles on it became clear, and the background became blurry instead. At first it looked like Loki was just aimlessly drawing circles here and there with no pattern what so ever. But then he started connecting them with lines, marking the bits and points between with what looked like runes, making… squiggly… things in between.
"The hell are you up to now?" Clint asked the screen. Thor had came closer and was saying something to Loki who ignored his brother. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents came into the image, couple of them taking pictures of what Loki was drawing, and he ignored them. Even when Director Hill walked into the frame, demanding explanations, Loki ignored everything and just continued to draw.
The conference room was quiet for a moment, as Mr. Stark and Harry eyed the hologram of the Tesseract in grim silence. JARVIS ran the probabilities of the concept Harry had brought up and had to admit that the likelihood of events taking that turn were very high indeed. If magic and whatever energy the Tesseract had left behind were truly so similar – and obviously they were, otherwise he and Harry would've never come to speak – then it was indeed very likely that muggles would come to detect wizards very soon,
"Just out of curiosity, how many wizards are we talking about?" Mr. Stark asked. "Hundreds? Thousands?"
"Wizards make about one hundredth of a percentage of the total population," Harry answered darkly. "It fluctuates a bit from place to place but that's roughly it. So… seven hundred thousand globally. Or thereabouts."
"Jesus," Mr. Stark muttered.
"Most non-magical countries have hidden wizarding nation in it," Harry added. "Not all of them – they don't all line up border to border. In some places – eastern Europe, Middle East, some parts of southern America, bunch of places in Africa and so on – wizards didn't bother to really keep up with non-magical politics and wars and stuff like that and so the magical nations follow older borders. Some don't have borders at all."
"And you're just, what, hanging around? Living in apartments and doing shopping, bit of magic on the side and –"
"Some of us are. But we have our space too," Harry answered, shaking his head. "We have ways to hide places. Streets, estates – castles. Few towns, here and there."
"Hide them?" Mr. Stark repeated slowly, while JARVIS tried and failed to fight off a sense of foreboding. "Hide them how? How do you hide few towns here and there when we have things like, oh, satellites and satellite imagery?"
"Hiding from cameras is easy – you just use illusions."
"That can't be it. Not in this day and age. No way in hell," Mr. Stark said flatly. "Not if there's hundreds of thousands of you guys and you hide towns. People wander around aimlessly all the time – illusions or not, someone would've just walked in."
The technomancer grinned at that. "It's mixture of bit of this and bit of that. Illusions, yeah. Wards, too," he answered. "We still haven't figured out a way how to scientifically explain or understand most of it, really. Unblottability – which is how we hide most of our larger things, towns, castles, occasionally homes and such, islands too – is giving our technomancers the biggest trouble. The closest anyone's gotten to explaining it is that we… pull a bit of space over another bit of space."
"You… pull a bit of space over another bit of space?" JARVIS repeated slowly.
"You mean warping space?" Mr. Stark asked, sounding incredulous.
Harry shrugged. "One of my technomancer friends who's more into wards told me to think of the world as a single piece of sheet – and we fold it just a bit, hiding a place in a wrinkle. According to her it explained why it is easy to limit the ways people can enter unplottable places, but I didn't really get it," he trailed away. "It's not my area of expertise, really."
"You can… fold space. You are folding space on Earth," Mr. Stark said and then narrowed his eyes. "If you're folding space on Earth, how come you guys don't have don't have portals too? Wormholes are easier than folding space. Or they should be in a world where physics still worked!"
"Oh, we have portals, of sort," Harry said relentlessly. "In UK we have the Floo Network, most every magical household has a entrance. Instant travel between houses. And then there's Portkeys for longer journeys – I took one from London to New York today, it's the fastest way to travel like that, practically instantaneous. Technically they're both types of quantum space tunnels. I think that's what it was called anyway. Again, not my area, really."
Mr. Stark just stared at him, while JARVIS quietly made a note to thank Mr. Stark later for modifying his base code, and taking out the automatic cross referencing and fact checking. Just hearing it and recording the words made it feel like there was fractured bits of data dust all over his servers. He wouldn't have liked to try and cross-reference any of what Harry was saying.
"Right. Okay, right," Mr. Stark said. "Just let me wrap my mind around this. You can just… do quantum space tunnelling and you fold space and you've been doing this since, what, age of fucking Merlin?" he asked and let out a sigh. "I was born to wrong breed of humanity. Quantum space tunnelling and folding space – if I had that I'd be doing engineering in Saturn right now."
"We don't really care for space travel," Harry said. "It's almost impossible to do magic in space."
"What a horrible setback for your kind, I feel very sad for you. How very limited your people truly are," Mr. Stark said flatly and made a sort of frustrated flailing motion at the technomancer, wordlessly trying to convey how ridiculous he found the man.
"Er," Harry answered, sheepish, scratching his cheek. "Sorry."
"Freaking magic. Right. All of that happening and no one knew anything about it," Mr. Stark said with a last motion of wordless violence at the other man. "I've known you for less than an hour and I want to strangle you a bit. And maybe shake you. Violently. Over a cliff."
"Lot of people have that impulse," the technomancer admitted.
"Perhaps it would be best for us to return to the matter at hand," JARVIS said delicately, while Mr. Stark made strangling motions at the technomancer. "What would be the consequences of the magical nations being revealed?"
"If it happened now?" Harry asked and shook his head. "It depends on the place. In most places where borders align, the leaders of magical nations have some diplomatic contact with their nonmagical counterparts – the Prime Minister back in UK knows and occasionally talks with the Minister for Magic, for example. In those place it would be a political and sociological shit show no doubt. Riots, arguments, possibly trials and so on. In other places…" he grimaced. "Well. There's a huge magical nation that's still kind of operating under the Tsardom of Russia, for example."
"Tsardom of Russia?" Mr. Stark asked flatly.
"Their magical leader is a Grant Duke," Harry said helpfully. "It's not the only one like that either. Ottoman Empire is still a valid thing for some of us, our side of it is led by the Lesser Vizier of Magic, though it's divided into provinces that more or less align with the actual nonmagical nations. The politics are… mad. Also South America is a bit of a border chaos. And the Mayans and the Aztecs aren't as dead as most people think. And also –"
"Okay, okay, I get it, shut up," Mr. Stark snapped at him. "Jesus, just shut up."
Harry shrugged, smiling only a half apologetic smile and glancing up at JARVIS. "So?" he asked sheepishly. "What do you think, JARVIS?"
"I'll get back to you on that once I've had the time to decompress," JARVIS answered and if he could've he would've shaken his head. It was so much data, so much by all reason nonsensical data, that went against all the preset specifics, against the known physics…
"Fair enough," Harry said, a little awkward, looking down. "So… now what?"
"Now I drink a lot," Mr. Stark said furiously.
"If you could possibly refrain a moment, sir," JARVIS said, as a notification pinged through the firewall. "Director Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. is calling you."
"Tell him I'm busy," Mr. Stark said, waving a dismissive hand, even as he chewed on his thumb in irate frustration. "World changing epiphanies happening here, no time for super agents."
JARVIS accepted the call and was about to relay the message, but the Director spoke before he could. "Don't give me any crap, JARVIS," the man snapped. "Loki's doing some sort of Asgardian calculations all over the cells of his walls and according to our techies, lot of it looks like wormhole physics. Tell Stark to get in here, now." With that said, he hung up
Well, when the man put it that way. "Sir," JARVIS spoke through the speakers of the conference room. "Mr. Layfeuson is active again – according to Director Fury, he's doing Asgardian calculations on the walls of his cell. Director Fury wants you at the base."
Mr. Stark scowled at that. "He has to do this now?" he asked almost plaintively. "I am not bothering to go there now - get me video feed to the cell room, I can do my thing from here just fine, even better, than at S.H.I.E.L.D. –"
"Director Fury seemed very insistent. He is also calling Doctor Banner," JARVIS said, making a split second judgement on the doctor's blood pressure and general mood before letting the call through.
"We can continue this later," Harry offered. "I got a few things I want to check out with my people anyway," he added, frowning a little.
"If Loki is doing some Asgardian science, you can bet your sparkly magic wand that it has something to do with magic too," Mr. Stark said with a frown. "Loki's what you're here to talk about, right?"
"Well yes, that too, but now that I know about the Tesseract…" the wizard trailed off and shook his head. "I need to get online, talk with some other technomancers."
"Can't you do it here?" Mr. Stark asked and pointed an accusing finger at him. "I'm not letting you get away that easily, Mr. Kid who is not a kid. You don't come in and blow my mind by yanking physics and history from under me and waltz right out again – you're explaining this. And if Loki is doing magic, I want magic in my corner too."
"Er," Harry answered, leaning back away from him.
"Can't you use my connection to do your research?" JARVIS asked, not quite nonchalantly. He rather wanted magic in his corner as well – especially since he already apparently had it, and had little notion about what to do about it. "You said the technomagic field is down."
"The what now?" Mr. Stark asked while his phone started ringing.
"It is," the technomancer answered slowly, scratching his neck and peering up at one of the closest cameras. "I'm not sure how safe it would be for me to use your connection… although you've been running rampant on our sites already…" he trailed off thoughtfully.
"If there is a risk to it, wouldn't you be the right person to figure it out?" JARVIS asked, a little plaintive.
"Maybe," Harry admitted, eying one of his cameras contemplatively.
"You know what, I'll leave you crazy kids to figure it out," Mr. Stark said, eying his phone. "I'm sure you'll have a blast. I'm trusting you to be mature about it. No staying up after ten, no funny business, no hanky panky canoodling and clothes stay on, no touching below the belt and no kissing with tongues –" he trailed off to answer the phone, already walking away. "Brucie! Yeah, just got the call…"
Harry stared after him and then glanced up at the nearest camera. "Hanky panky canoodling," he repeated, amused.
"Mr. Stark is a master of words," JARVIS agreed.
unbetaed unfinished chapter but anyway
hope you have happy holidays :)