Harry did not like bullies.
He had a severe dislike of people who enjoyed making other people, weaker or more vulnerable then themselves, feel hurt, alone or frightened. It might have been a remnant from his childhood – most of which was spent running away from Dudley and his gang. Or it may have been something that had always been inherent in him – his 'saviour-complex'. But it made him want to protect others from harm and that caused him to run head-first into trouble more than once, because he was never going to allow that trouble to hurt anyone or anything he cared about.
Not if there was a way he could stop it.
So it really shouldn't have been a surprise that, even in a different world, he would end up in just about the same-old position. A part of him wanted to blame Fate for always putting him in impossible, dangerous situations… but he couldn't deny that he walked into them with his eyes wide open most of the time.
Like now, for example.
Standing between his sort-of-friend and a group of armed military looking men (and a woman) he still couldn't help but wonder just how he always managed to kick the biggest hornet nest around without even trying.
"I really don't appreciate people threatening my friends." He said mildly, as if there weren't a dozen guns pointed at him and Bruce.
"No-one is threatening anyone," the woman said calmly – the supposedly soothing statement directed not at Harry, but at the unassuming man behind him.
Harry wasn't exactly inclined to believe her, though. Mostly because she didn't lower her gun an inch.
A beat of silence settled between them and for a moment Harry wondered just why these people hadn't moved in any closer – hadn't taken them out, or tried to in any case.
Bruce didn't have any weapons and had always had this air of carefulness and harmlessness around him and Harry didn't have any weapon either, at least not any in sight – not any that these Muggles would recognize, and he knew that his short, still somewhat skinny frame didn't exactly scream 'dangerous'. Neither of them looked like any sort of threat whatsoever. So why would they hesitate?
Either these people knew things about him that they couldn't possibly know – or there was something going on here that he didn't know about.
Considering his life, both options were equally plausible. He was used to people knowing who he was without him telling them anything, but this time he was leaning towards the latter. After all, he had only been in this world for a year, and though that would be more than enough time for him to get into enough trouble to have a few military organisations after him he had actually managed to keep a rather low profile.
Sure, he was Harry Potter and attracted danger to him like a magnet, but it was Bruce whose eyes were always scanning his surroundings furtively. He had suspected that there was more to the reclusive doctor than met the eye – had suspected that for some reason Bruce felt hunted because Harry recognized that look, recognized that nervousness, that fear. And because he recognized it, because he knew why the man kept his distance – kept pushing him away with the fear of him actually going this time masked behind the fear of him staying – Harry had decided to stick with him. Because back then, he'd had Hermione and mostly Ron as well to count on – to guard his back against those that hunted him even while they hunted the Horcroxes themselves.
Harry had had his friends, but Bruce didn't have anyone and looked at him with eyes both desperate and resigned – trying to get him to leave for his own safety and yet aching for the companionship he offered. So Harry stuck around, no matter what Bruce told him, no matter how many times Bruce tried to ditch him, telling himself it was for the best. No, Harry didn't let his new friend get rid of him so easily. Because no-one should have to face something like that alone.
So Harry stayed, hero-complex running high, because Bruce was a good man, a kind person and whatever shadows from his past were chasing him, Harry was sure that the bloke didn't deserve them.
But it seems that they had caught up with him none-the-less.
"Right." He finally said, breaking the silence and making the red-head actually give a little twitch in surprise. "So you're not here to threaten Bruce." He didn't believe her, but he generously decided to give her that benefit of the doubt for free. "So why are you here?"
"We just want to talk. We need your help, Dr. Banner."
"My help?" Bruce asked sceptically.
Harry couldn't help but add his own opinion; "And this talk involves guns, why?"
The woman momentarily moved her eyes from Bruce for the slightest moment to glance at Harry, before turning her observant gaze back to the mild-mannered doctor. Harry noticed his friend's uncomfortable shuffling beneath her stare.
"He doesn't know." She said, something carefully hidden beneath her confident tone.
"No," Bruce confirmed with a hint of anger in his voice that made the woman take a step back "he doesn't."
"That's dangerous." The woman said, but her voice was soft and held no real accusation – only the statement of a fact.
"So is pointing guns at people." Harry pointed out, because even though he didn't know what, exactly, it was that he didn't know – he did know that this conversation was bothering his friend a lot.
His eyes left the woman's and turned to Bruce.
The painful mix of anger, guilt, fear, shame and desperation that Harry could read so clearly in his friend's face was too familiar for him not to recognize. It said all that needed to be said – Bruce hadn't wanted Harry to be involved, hadn't wanted to put an innocent person in danger but didn't have the heart to push him away anymore. There was also the fear that as soon as Harry knew just what this was about – that he would leave. That he would run.
As if there was anything in the world that could make Harry turn away from a friend in need.
"We just need your help to find something" the woman said, voice still carefully soft. "Afterwards you can leave."
"You'll really just let me go, huh?" And a part of Harry ached, because there was no scepticism in his voice – just a tired resignation, knowing that the answer would be 'yes' but that the real answer would be 'no'. And Bruce shouldn't be forced into this, shouldn't feel so bloody tired of running and hiding that he actually considered agreeing with this. He shouldn't feel like he deserved this – as if this was what his life had always been going towards, what he had always been running from and now that it was finally here, he did not have the strength to even fight it. To even try.
And the red-head gave him the 'yes' he didn't want to hear – the assurances that meant as much as her earlier assurance that they weren't being threatened. And Harry stood silent, a part of him seething but he didn't know what it was that he didn't know and all he knew was that it didn't matter what lies that lady spun – didn't matter what plans or deadly weapons she had tucked up her sleeves, because Harry had his own plan.
He could see the dismissal in her eyes, the way the guns were aimed almost entirely at his friend and he was given little more than a cursory look. He wasn't a threat here – he wasn't an issue. Just a bystander - someone who didn't know what was really going on here. Except that he did know – he knew enough, because he knew Bruce and he knew lies and he knew being hunted and in the end this was Bruce's choice.
But Harry had his own choice to make, had already made it, because he had never liked bullies and if Bruce was going – was going with these people and their soothing lies and empty eyes, then Harry was bloody well going with him.
So he stood there – outwardly completely calm, too calm in the face of all these guns but it seemed these military people didn't notice because their full attention was on his quiet, unobtrusive friend. And he waited, his anger growing silently in his gut, for the answer, the resigned agreement he knew was coming.
Bruce said yes.
And that was when he finally spoke up.
"So, where exactly are we going then?"
The lady blinked, as if a part of her had forgotten he was there – no, not forgotten, just written him off as unimportant because he didn't know whatever it was that he didn't know. But now she turned her attention to him, even if a part of her was still focussed more on Bruce – who took a small step forward when the armed lady answered him. "I'm afraid you cannot accompany us, Mr. Black."
Mentally he filed that away, that they had done their homework on him and had probably found what information they could in this world – information he had planted, created with magic and of which he had no idea if it held up against their scrutiny.
But that wasn't important right now. He shrugged underneath the woman's stern gaze, impossibly casual for this situation. "If Bruce is going, then I am going too."
"I'm afraid I cannot allow you to be privy to classified information. And where Dr. Banner is going is very much classified. You don't know what is going on here, sir. This had nothing to do with you, Mr. Black – go home." Her empty voice gained a hint of warmth – was painted with a hue of doctored kindness as she smiled at him; "You can meet up with Dr. Banner afterwards." Her smile was as fake as her words – it was not a smile at all, just camouflage, dress-up, little more than a costume.
His eyes slid over to Bruce, who gave him a nod and his attempt at a reassuring smile. It didn't come out quite right, though – the twist of his lips looked painful, awkward as if it came from a person unused to smiling (but that was wrong because he had seen Bruce smile, had heard him laugh – a short, surprised sort of sound, but one he had heard often enough these past few months), so it looked like this was not a smile either, but something far more tired and far more sad.
Harry turned his eyes back to the red-head. "This has everything to do with me – Bruce is my friend. And I told you before – I don't appreciate people threatening my friends," Harry said as matter-of-factly as he could. "And you're wrong twice over – because I do know what is going on here – maybe not your secrets, or Bruce's secrets for that matter. But I know enough. I know that you are threatening my friend. And if you believe that I will leave him alone in your care… well, then you are quite mistaken."
He gave his own smile, and his smile was real – it was filled with dark amusement, because it was funny – it was funny that despite not knowing whatever it was that he did not know, these Muggles were still far more ignorant than he was. Because he was not simply threatening them. He was not lying or posturing or implying anything else but a simple truth. If they took Bruce and left him behind, Harry would follow. And if they broke their word – if they didn't let Bruce go afterward, well, then Harry would just have to rectify that mistake.
And he could see that behind her slight frown, something was creeping into her eyes, something cautious and slightly wary because now that she was paying attention to him she knew that there was something behind his eyes as well; something behind his calm and his silence in the face of secrets and threats and guns and lies.
And Harry could tell that she sensed the danger hidden within him, even if she did not understand what gave him the power to back up his words. Now, instead of the innocent, ignorant bystander, Harry was suddenly counted as a real part of this confrontation – even more dangerous because he was an unknown, because she did not know what power was hidden beneath his unimpressive frame. And as a few of the guns slid his way, he knew that she was going over this situation in her head – reviewing his words so far, taking the anger that coated his voice when he accused them of threatening his friends as a far larger threat.
Her eyes turned to Bruce again, to the tenseness of his stance and the way he had stepped forward, protectively, when she started talking directly to Harry. He could see the calculation behind her eyes and was surprised when instead of engaging she chose to back down.
"Very well," came her gracious capitulation. "It seems you will both come."
As they followed the armed guards, Bruce sidled close and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Harry – this… um, this may not have been such a good idea. You can still stay behind, you know, because this is – this is not-"
"Bruce. I told you before, didn't I? That you weren't getting rid of me that easily?" He smiled warmly at the man, but his friend didn't return it, he looked worried – a lot more worried than he had when sealing his own fate and agreeing to come with these people.
"This is dangerous, you know. I – I am dangerous, more dangerous than you can imagine. And I should have told you – I should never have dragged you into this." And Bruce looked miserable and angry – angry at himself. And the soldiers surrounding them tensed – worried, perhaps that Bruce would spill his secrets – or was it their secrets that Bruce was holding?
For now it didn't matter – Harry would find out eventually. No, right now the self-hate and fear in his friend's stance meant everything. And Harry understood why it was there, because dragging your friends into your troubles, into danger by your side – that was not a good feeling.
So he laughed, freely and openly as he had many times in their acquaintance – as if he hadn't been wholly misplaced in this world, as if Bruce was not being hunted, as if no guns or soldiers threatened them. "You haven't dragged me into anything," he said finally, his voice soft but amused, "I walked into it myself, eyes wide open. I may not know everything about you or your situation, but I've hardly told you my full history myself." His smile melted into something less pronounced but far more powerful – something strong and steady and real. "Bruce – you're my friend. The rest of it will find its place later." Harry lifted his eyes to Bruce, meeting that shy, hunted gaze; "Trust me. Let me make my choice if I wish too – let me choose to trust you in turn." And for Harry it was really that simple – it was really just that. Trust, friendship – the things he had always depended on back home and couldn't do without in this world either.
Bruce looked at him for a long time, with that calm assessing stare of his. Then, finally, he gave Harry a single nod of the head that, for its solemnity, reminded Harry far more of a bow.
The wizard blinked, a bit thrown by the oddly charged silence between them. And for a moment Harry couldn't help but wonder what the man had read in his eyes – had he seen Harry's soul as clearly as Harry could see him? Because right now, in this silence, the wizard could see a warmth and hope that had not been in his friend's eyes for a long time – settling in after a long absence.
And this time, as Harry smiled, his smile was returned by Bruce with a true smile, small, awkward, but real.
And Harry nodded and understood the words Bruce didn't manage to find. Because putting your friends in danger was one of the worst feelings in the world. But having them by your side when you're in a rough spot and knowing that they were there willingly and with all their heart – that was one of the best feelings in the world. Any world.
And no matter the secrets still unvoiced between them, the armed guards that didn't dare come too close to either of them and the piercing stare the deadly woman threw both of their way – Harry happily jumped into another dangerous situation.
Maybe Fate had it in for him, or maybe he had the bad habit of somehow, instinctively stepping into the biggest, craziest situation possible without a manual but somehow it had always been worth it in the end.
As both of them were guided to a small plane, Harry looked over to a nervous looking Bruce - the one real friend he had made since coming to this world - and figured it already was.