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."