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The Blood On My Hands... It Scares Me To Death

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Chapter One

New York’s first snow of the year was fluttering through the air, swirling in an icy breeze and melting on tire-warmed streets.  Tucked into a warm café, Harry’s gloved hands wrapped around a hot mug of tea.  He hunched over the steaming drink, staring blankly at the grains of wood on the table before him.  It was coming up on two years now – two years of being here, alone.

Harry reached up to rub the scar that had come to dictate so much of his childhood.  Even though the war was long gone, it sometimes ached with a phantom pain – as if the very scar tissue could remember the terror of The War.  Harry sighed, and pulled his thoughts away from such memories.  There was no use in dwelling on the past.  From what he could tell, his past didn’t even exist here – wherever here was.

“Mind if I join you?”

Harry jumped, spilling hot tea across his hands and table.  With a muttered curse, Harry pulled off the wet, knit gloves that were now burning his skin, and turned to face the stranger.  An apologetic man towered over him, snatching napkins from the table dispenser and offering a handful to him.

“I’m sorry I startled you,” said the man.  Harry waved it away.

“It’s no problem.  I was just… distracted,” Harry mumbled, mopping up the spilt tea.  Quietly, the man joined in, drying the far side of the table and tossing the used napkins in the nearby trash.

“Let me get you another tea – black was it?”

“Oh, it’s fine – “ Harry began, but the man just nodded and made his way to the counter.  Harry took a deep breath and realized his fingers were shaking.  He wasn’t used to being approached any more.  Here he wasn’t famous – he was just a stranger, carrying a set of vivid scars that scared most people away.  Suddenly self-conscious, Harry glanced at his missing finger.  He certainly wasn’t the type strangers started conversation with.

The stranger, however, was returning with a new mug in one hand.  Harry tried to smile but it came out more like a grimace.  The stranger wasn’t deterred.  He set the tea in front of Harry and reached out a hand.  “I’m Steve.”

“Harry,” he replied, hesitating for a moment before offering his mangled hand to shake.  If the man thought anything of it, he said nothing.  The man’s eyes did not linger or stare at the wide scar crossing the left side of his face either.  Steve took the seat across from him and Harry carefully wrapped his hands around a hot mug once more.

They sat in silence for a short while, each nursing a drink and their own thoughts.  Harry studied the man across from him.  He was tall, broad shouldered, and handsome.  He had Malfoy-blond hair cut short and left unstyled.  His blue eyes were clear and his posture relaxed.  Steve gave off an almost Hufflepuff-ish comforting calm. Harry wondered what brought the man to his table.  

Across the room, a redheaded woman lingered in the open doorway as she exchanged partings with the stout man at the counter.  A cold breeze reached across the room.  Harry shivered, huddling down further in his ragged coat.  Steve’s gaze turned back from the street outside and frowned.

“You look cold.”  Steve himself should’ve been cold – dressed in jeans and a blue sweater, with only a yellow scarf to keep him warm  – but he didn’t seem to have so much as a goose bump from the sudden chill.

Harry shrugged.  He hadn’t been able to acquire many things here.  He had arrived in the middle of New York with two galleons on his person and not a single identifying document.  Unable to get a real job, he had done odd tasks, and found himself in and out of shelters.  His coat was thick and patched, acquired from a Goodwill sale’s rack and certainly not in its prime.  Harry huddled over his steaming tea for a moment, but Steve didn’t push any further.

When it seemed they were about to lapse into another silence, Harry bit the bullet.  Meeting Steve’s eyes, he chose to be blunt. “Why did you come over here?”

Steve did not appear to be the slightest bit fazed. “You reminded me of someone I once knew.”

Harry’s brow furrowed.  “I did?”  Without thinking, Harry’s fingers reached up to brush across the raised burn scar peeking out from beneath his scarf.

Steve smiled, his eyes gazing off in a fond memory.  “We served together in the war.”

Harry’s eyes widened.  “The War?”  He couldn’t prevent hope from swelling in his chest.  Had this man fought Voldemort too?  Were there others – ?

“We fought in Germany together.”

Harry’s heart sank as fast as it rose.  His shoulders slumped slightly even as he nodded and took another sip of tea.  Of course it was a muggle war.  He knew better than to entertain such foolish hopes.

“Where did you serve?” Steve asked.  Harry bit the inside of his lip, as he thought for a moment.  Often, he told the small lie that he served in Iraq.  It matched the American muggle timeline, but with Steve he felt the strangest urge to tell the truth.  Avoiding both the lies and the truth, Harry just shrugged.

“I didn’t serve – not in the traditional sense.”  He gazed into his tea, a heavy frown settling across his features as his mind fell back to the War.  “What about you?” he asked, trying to drag his mind away from memories.

“Army,” Steve said.  “And now…” he shrugged with a sheepish smile.  Harry looked at him again, puzzled.  “I’m part of the Avengers.”  Harry froze.

He had seen the Avengers in actions just a one month before when central New York City was attacked – giant Beasts had flown across the sky, and for the first time since coming into this world, Harry had thought it might be as magical and deadly as his own.

Despite his lack of a wand, Harry had turned to face the Beasts.  Someone needed to protect the city. He’d barely had time to run through his options when six strange figures suddenly appeared, leaping into the fight.  Some massive, some well armed, the six quickly proved to be fierce warriors and they appeared to have a plan.  With the city defended, Harry had turned to the civilians.  Screaming and fleeing, the muggles sought safety in buildings only to find them collapsing; they fled to the streets only to be greeted by bullets and flames.  They needed a safe space to hide.

Harry met Steve’s eyes steadily, his voice suddenly hard.  “So tell me, truly.  Why are you here?”

Steve did not flinch nor look away.  Instead he leaned back in his chair, taking up a relaxed stance.  “Just minutes after the portal closed and the Chitauri were defeated, we were notified about a massive quantity of unknown energy coming from Grand Central Station.  When we arrived, do you know what we found?”  Harry said nothing.

“The station was packed with civilians who were scared, but otherwise unharmed.  And while the buildings around the station had suffered severe structural damage - some had even collapsed – the Station was completely unharmed.  You wouldn’t happen to know why that was, would you?”

“Why would you ask me?” Harry hedged with a shrug.

“Well, with energy like that, we were a bit wary.  We kept an eye out incase that same strange energy happened again, and at first we saw nothing.  Rescue efforts and city cleanup kept everyone busy.  But then we thought – maybe we’re looking too big.  Maybe this energy can happen in smaller amounts.  So we looked again.  What do you think we found?”  By this point, Harry’s fingers were white around his cup of tea and his jaw was clenched shut.

“We found this energy has been happening frequently – almost continually – at an incredibly small level,” Steve continued.  “And I don’t think it will surprise you to hear that we found it is coming from you.”

Harry let out his breath slowly and leaned back.  He tapped the edge of his mug before meeting Steve’s eyes.  “I assume,” he said in a deliberately casual tone.  “That you did not come alone.”  Steve nodded, equally controlled.  A think tension had settled between them.  “And, as you have been cordial towards me, I assume there is also something you want.”

“We would like to understand what you did.”

“And?”

“And, potentially, we would like to help you out.”  At this, Harry blinked, then his eyes narrowed with suspicion.  The corner of Steve’s mouth quirked up in a grin.  “It is clear that regardless of whatever your talent is, you’ve been struggling to make ends meet.  And whatever you did in Grand Central Station, you saved a lot of lives.  We’d like to repay you.”

“Who, exactly, is this we you keep referring to?”

This time Steve really did smile, a wide and genuine grin.  “That would be the Avengers.  A few of us are here,” Harry followed his glance towards the stout man by the door.  “But perhaps you would like a chance to meet us all?  We could discuss this further somewhere a bit more private.”

Harry hesitated.  Their interest in his “energy” could very easily turn dangerous.  He had no intention of becoming a lab rat.  But, they had only seen the helpful, protective side of magic so far.  It was possible that they truly were approaching him in a friendly and respectful (albeit curious and cautious) manner.  It was also true that, with the snow beginning to fall, he could use some help.  He did not want to face another winter on the streets.

“If I agree to speak with you, and your team, I will want a few things in return,” Harry said carefully.

Steve folded his hands and fixed him with an attentive stare.  “What are your terms?”

“I retain the right to not answer questions.  There may be topics I will not or cannot answer.”  Steve nodded slowly.  “I will, however, do my best to explain my actions during the attack in a thorough and comprehensible way.”

“And the other terms?” Steve asked, his face carefully neutral.

“For my explanation and cooperation, I would like a place to stay during this winter.  It does not have to be fancy lodgings, but it should have solid walls, a roof, and be reasonably safe.  This will also fulfill any obligation you or your team feels to thank me for protecting Grand Central Station.”

“And?”

“That is all.”

Steve paused a moment, and Harry suddenly something small was sitting in his ear.  He wondered how many people were listening in on their conversation.  “The team is amenable.  We will meet those terms, providing lodgings for you during this winter, and respecting your right to refuse to answer questions during any discussions of your talents or actions during the invasion.”

Harry stood and offered his mangled hand to shake.  “Then, Steve, shall we go meet your team?”

 

The meeting space turned out to be a conference room on the fourth floor of Avenger’s Tower.  Gathered around a large oval table, Harry settled into a comfortably plush leather chair and let his gaze take in the five Avengers sitting around him.  Despite their casual clothes, they exuded a sense of danger.  Introductions were brief and to the point.  Only one Avenger, Thor, was absent.

All eyes turned to Steve to open the meeting.  He stood.  “Harry has set forth two terms for our meeting today.  First, he asks that we respect his right to avoid questions he feels unable or unwilling to answer.  Second, he requests that in recompense for both his participation in discussion of his talents and for his protection of Grand Central Station that he be afforded lodgings during the winter months this year.”  Steve looked around the Avengers.  “Is that agreeable to everyone?”

Those around the table nodded.  “Very well.”  Eyes turned to Harry.  They got straight to business.  “Would you explain how you protected Grand Central Station during the Chitauri invasion?”

Harry took a deep breath.  He knew the Statute of Secrecy didn’t exist here.  He hadn’t been able to find a single trace of a wizarding world – or any other wizard for that matter – since he’d arrived here.  Yet, he remained uncertain what he wished to reveal to the muggles.  He clasped his hands before him.  He would begin simply and elaborate from there.  No use revealing things he would later regret.

“Since the Beasts – Chutauri, sorry – were being dealt with, it seemed the best thing for me to do would be to protect the mu - civilians.        Neither the buildings nor streets appeared safe.  So I chose a central, large, well-known space to focus on.  I could not make all buildings structurally sound.  I went to Grand Station – to the roof – and made it safe.”

Natasha raised an unimpressed eyebrow at his explanation.  She crossed her leg under the table and leaned back in her chair.  “Care to elaborate?” she drawled.

Harry tried to think of the best way to explain it.  They had spoken about ‘energy’.  He would use that term and try to avoid the hassle of calling it magic.  These people would accept incredible things, but the talents they knew all came from science.  “You know I have an unusual energy.” He paused, considering how to phrase it.  “I asked – no, directed – the energy to protect the building.  I made it protect.”

“How?” Stark interjected impatiently.

“The energy… it can do many things.  For small things, I can use words or thoughts, but for big things there needs to be… bigger directions.”  Harry paused for a moment, his hand coming up to rub his chest absently.  He suddenly realized that, in this world without magic, there wouldn’t be a pre-existing hatred and fear of blood magic.  He decided to run with it.  “I used a rune to tell it the energy to do, and I used blood to make it powerful enough to protect the whole building.”

“Blood?” Stark prompted again, an impatient edge to his curiosity.  Across from him, Bruce Banner seemed thoughtful, as if his scientific mind was already calculating reasons that blood might be able to strengthen an energy field.

Harry rubbed his chest harder, feeling it ache at the memory.  “I carved the rune into my skin,” he admitted.  The combination of sacrifice, blood, and runic ritual had amplified his magic far beyond anything he’d felt in this place.  Harry recalled how he had struggled with it, the sudden power writhing in his grasp and seeking to escape.

Gears seemed to be whirring behind Stark’s eyes.  His fingers twitched and at one point he pulled up a holographic screen before a cough and pointed look from Steve made him close it again.

“How did you learn how to direct your energy?” asked Bruce.

“I had teachers.” Harry offered, vaguely.  Discussing school would prove confusing if he also had to admit he was the only one who could do such things here. “And I experimented,” he added, covering his bases.

“There are others with this energy?” Clint asked. Like Natasha, his voice betrayed nothing but mild interest, but his eyes fixed on Harry with an intensity that seemed shrewdly calculating.   Harry trod carefully, aware that both what he said and left out would be noticed.

“There have been a few people who have known about and understood the energy I have,” Harry told him with a casual air he was certain fooled no one in the room.  “It may be a question to skip for now.”  Steve nodded, and a glance around the table ensured the others let it drop too.

“What do you usually use the energy for,” Natasha asked, turning smoothly to a new area of inquiry, “when you are using much less energy?”

“Smaller things,” Harry offered with a shrug, then a mischievous smile quirked at the edges of his lips.  “Would you like me to show you?” Tony leaned forward eagerly, though the others watched more warily.

“If it is safe to do so,” Bruce replied, and Natasha uncrossed her legs, sitting straighter.  He was sure weapons would emerge at the slightest sense of a threat.

Harry nodded.  “Well, sometimes I create a light.”  He snapped his fingers and Natasha flinched.  A small white light hovered above his palm.  “I can patch my coat.”  Brushing his hand over a small rip, he watched as the threads wove back together, leaving a closed but rough seam on the fabric.  Harry considered what other innocent magic he could illustrate for them.  “And I can warm things, like myself or a blanket or my tea – for a while.”  Passing his hand over the water cup beside him, Harry watched eyes around the table widen as wisps of steam suddenly emerged from the previously icy liquid.

“How long have you had this ability?” asked Tony.

“I was born with this ability,” Harry admitted.  “However, I did not start to learn how to use it until I was eleven.”

“That was when you met your teachers?”  Bruce clarified and prompted.  Harry nodded, but did not speak.  He had already closed that topic.

“With this sort of energy, there are many who would employ you.  Why are you living on the streets?”  The constant intensity of Natasha set Harry on edge, but he had been through more painful interrogations than this.  He considered what he was willing to divulge.

He had already told Steve – and by extension, the team – that he had fought.  “I worked with a group for a while,” he admitted.  “They have since… disbanded.”

That was putting it lightly.  The Order had fallen.  A fragmented web of allies had been all the support he and his friends had as they ran.  And now, in this place, they were all gone.  Harry danced around his words, trying to craft a careful story of a war that, on this earth, had never existed.

“Who employs you now?”

“Two days ago, that was Howard Briggs & Sons Construction Crew.  Before that, the SkyRise Builders Company.  Odd jobs really.”  His lips twitched briefly into a smile.  He knew what she’d meant.  At her unimpressed stare, he rolled his eyes.

“I’m not employed like that.  As you seem to have picked up on whatever tech you use to monitor energy, things have been low key.  I stick to day-to-day stuff these days.”

“Why?” Tony pushed.  He leaned forward, his voice entirely unlike the impersonal calm of Natasha.  “I know several organizations that would hire you in a heartbeat.”

“I’m sick of fighting.”  Harry sighed.  “Look, I don’t know what you intend with all this, aside from satiating curiosity –“ he chose to leave out the concern they might try to do more than just ask questions – “but I’m not going to fight for you, or against you.  I did my fighting and I’m done.”  He ran a hand through his hair tiredly.  He had seen so much death and destruction, the inhumane torturing of muggles and wizards alike…  “All I did was protect some civilians when it was needed.”

“Not everyone would’ve done that,” Steve said, his quiet baritone entering conversation for the first time since they’d begun.

Harry smirked, trying to break the heaviness that had settled in the room.  “You guys looked a bit preoccupied.”

Tony snorted.  “Now,” he said abruptly, and Harry had the strange sense that some sort of test had been passed.  “About those lodgings.  You said solid walls, a roof, and relative safety, correct?”  Harry nodded somewhat suspiciously.

“Good.  I have Pepper preparing a room for you.  You mentioned you carved some sort of rune into yourself when you were bubble-wrapping Grand Central.  Sounds quite bloody.”  The abrupt change of topic and rapid-fire of his speech was slightly overwhelming.  “I noticed you rubbing your chest.  Do you need medical attention?  Bruce here’s a doctor, lovely chap.”

Harry blinked.  “I am fine,” he said, absently reaching back up to press on his chest.  It ached, but was in the process of healing.

“Very well.  Shall we?”  Tony gestured towards the door, but Harry did not move.

“I believe what Tony is trying to say,” Bruce cut in smoothly, a smile in his tone, “is that he has prepared a room for you to use in this tower.”

“Can’t get any safer,” Tony bragged with a cocky grin.  Harry wasn’t sure what to say.

“Surely you – who just saved hundreds of civilians single handedly in a stunt so ridiculously moral it makes Mr. Spangles here look bad – wouldn’t expect us to offer you the tin-roofed shack you seemed to be suggesting?”

Harry glanced at the other Avengers.  None of them appeared surprised.  He glanced at Tony again.  “I am not interested in fighting,” he repeated.

“No job interviews, understood.”

“And I do not intend to be the subject of scientific study.  My powers are my own.”

“Not a lab rat.  Got it.”  Harry frowned at the man’s flippant attitude.

“It’s just a room?” he questioned.

“Just a room.”  Harry narrowed his eyes, considering it.  Being in Avengers Tower was either a sign of great honor, or great mistrust.  Harry had the suspicion it was both.  But, he had not told them about apparition and he knew it was possible (although utterly exhausting) here without his wand.  He would be able to flee if he remained on guard.  And should things go well, it truly was an amazing opportunity – to spend a winter safely out of the snow and in a building known for its luxuries and extravagant wealth.  There would be no black mold or cockroaches here.  Harry looked back at Tony, and nodded: “Lead the way.”

 

Harry’s room was right in the heart of the Avengers’ territory.   The Avengers appeared to have multiple floors just for them.  At the top was Tony’s Penthouse on the fifty sixth and fifty seventh story.  Clint and Natasha and Thor had rooms on the fifty fifth, and Bruce and Steve (and now Harry) had rooms on the fifty third.  In passing, Tony mentioned several more floors had been recently renovated and turned into specialized training spaces, and three more were laboratories for Tony and Bruce.

A large common area, which Tony introduced as the Avenger’s Lounge, filled the north half of the floor Bruce and Steve’s floor.  A hallway led into the southern half.  On the left was Steve’s suite, on the right Bruce, and at the end were two small doors.  Tony gestured towards the one with an empty placard.

“We moved the library down a few floors when Bruce and Steve ran out of room.  It’s a bit small but…” he opened the door, and Harry couldn’t help but be impressed.

A double bed sat along the sidewall, decked out in crisp blue linens.  The far wall was completely made of windows.  The other sidewall held a simple wooden desk sandwiched between a small closet space and an open door revealing a bathroom.  It was about the size Dudley’s room had been, and Harry understood it was probably incredibly small in comparison to the rest of the tower, but he grinned.  It was wonderful.

“Now, I know it’s rather bare, and the bathroom is kinda quirky since it’s a relatively recent addition, but – “

Harry cut him off.  “No Mr. Stark.  This is wonderful.”

As if only just remembering where his guest had been living, Tony closed his mouth with a sort of embarrassed grin.  “Well then, I will leave you to settle in.  Dinner is in an hour or so – we generally eat in the commons down here.”

Harry nodded, and Tony left.  Harry left the door open, feeling uncertainty rising with a vengeance in his chest.  Was this intended to be a temporary home for him? Was this a gilded cage?  Was it the Avenger’s way to meet the agreements of their bargain while maintaining surveillance on him and his unusual ‘energy’?  Perhaps more ominously was the chance they simply waiting to get a better understanding of what he was capable of before they tried to restrain and contain him.

Harry shook his head.  He would take advantage of this opportunity.  The agreement said the Avengers would provide lodgings.  It did not say Harry must live in them.  He would stay for now and enjoy the luxuries they offered, keeping his belongings nearby just in case.  For now, he planned to take advantage of the shower.  

Locking the bathroom door, Harry examined the tiny room.   Pale green walls and white tiles created a simple but pleasing space.  A small ornamental bamboo plant perched on the counter beside a bar of soap.  The shower itself was composed of more white tiles with accent marks of forest green and a frosted glass door.  Dropping his backpack in the corner, Harry turned the faucet and began shedding layers.  

He had arrived in this world at the end of a long, drawn-out magical war.  At age 21 he had seen more horrors than he wanted to remember and the battles had left him riddled with scars.  Only 23 now, Harry found it hard to look at his body.  When clothed, it was only the missing finger that drew his attention from time to time, but in front of the large bathroom mirror he found himself confronted with injuries he preferred to forget.  Turning away from his reflection, Harry’s couldn’t help but look at the still-healing wound in the center of his chest.  He had cut the scar open three different times now, repeating the ritual to protect and shield.  The first time was at Hogwarts, and it had healed almost immediately after the ritual was completed.  Now almost several weeks had passed and the rune remained in a scabbing phase, itching and vividly red at the edges.  It worried him.  Looking away, Harry stepped into the shower and closed his eyes.

He had not had such a luxury in days.  A local shelter could offer such options once or twice a week, but it did not cater to the ‘chronically homeless’ as they called people like him who continually skated between temporary, low-paying jobs and unemployment.  He found a small shampoo bottle on a ledge in the shower and enjoyed the sensation of scrubbing the grime from his hair.  It was the same untamable rats’ nest it had always been.  A dab of conditioner helped sort out some of the worst knots and tangles.  Opening the body wash, Harry took a deep breath and reveled in the soothing smell of peppermint.  Even the soaps in the tower felt expensive.  He scrubbed every inch of his body three times over before he truly felt free of dirt and grime.  Looking around, he found a razor and shaving cream waiting for him as well.  With a smile, Harry continued to clean up.

Even after he was scrubbed and shaved, Harry lingered beneath the warm water.   He closed his eyes and sighed.  

A sharp knock on the bathroom door made him jump.  Turning off the water, Harry reached for a towel.  Steve’s voice came from the other side of the door.  “I heard your shower going and realized I wasn’t sure if you had clean clothes yet.  I can show you the laundry if you want.  I brought you a pair of sweats and a t-shirt, just in case.”

Harry’s eyes widened at his thoughtfulness.  “Thank you,” he called back.  “I appreciate that.”

Similar to his showering, cleaning his clothes had remained somewhat difficult while on the street.  Cleaning charms kept both him and his clothes from being too unpleasant, but it did not provide the same sensation of being truly clean; it couldn’t replace good old soap and water.  Toweling dry, Harry listened as Steve’s footsteps retreated and heard his outer bedroom door close.

Cautiously, Harry unlocked the bathroom door and peered out at an empty room.  A small pile of clothes sat folded neatly on the desk, well within arms reach.  Scooping them up, Harry wondered how he might close the wall of windows.  While it was a beautiful (and very high) view, it did leave him feeling slightly exposed.

Steve had provided a pair of black sweatpants and a blue t-shirt.  Harry fished a pair of boxers from his bag and hit them with another cleaning charm.  Tugging on his clothes, he couldn’t help but roll his eyes at his reflection.  What was most likely a form-fitting t-shirt on Steve hung loose and baggy on his thin frame, and sweatpants that surely fit Steve’s long legs reminded him far too much of Dudley’s old cast offs.  Rolling the waistband over a few times, Harry resigned himself to letting the hems drag on the floor.  He was too grateful for the clean clothes to truly care, although the short sleeves and v-neck of the shirt showed off scars he hadn’t revealed in quite a while.

Pulling his backpack over his shoulders and opting to go barefoot until he had clean socks, Harry toweled his hair dry one last time.  Steve’s room was mere feet from his and Harry hoped to take him up on that laundry offer.

A short knock later, and Steve showed Harry the room beside his.  “You’re free to use this whenever,” he said as he opened the door.  The room was about the size of his bathroom and it shared similar touches of affluence.  Two sleek, silver washing machines stood beside two equally shiny dryers.  Their circular interiors glowed with pale blue lights and the one busy dryer was turning over clothes in complete silence.

Steve opened a washer door for him, and a short melody rang out through the room as the electronic screen lit up.  Steve chuckled.  “That’s Tony for you,” he smiled.  “Never does anything halfway.”

Slowly, Harry took off his backpack and unzipped the top.  While there was a mild expansion charm on the bag, it was barely noticeable.  Harry found magic much more difficult to do in this world – possibly a product of this universe, or possibly just because of his lack of a wand.  In any regards, it was nothing like Hermione’s beaded bag; he had fit maybe two extra shirts into the expanded space.  Pulling his clothes from his pack, Harry realized just how worn they were.  His jeans had stains and small tears here and there.  His shirts were faded and worn at the seams.  His jacket was worst of all – but he shoved it into the washer all the same.  Steve made no comments, and for that Harry was grateful.  Everything about the Avengers and their home so far made it clear that money was no issue for the group.  Even the casual clothes he’d been lent were high quality, sitting soft upon his skin.

As Harry shut the washer door, a voice suddenly sounded from the doorway.  Harry whirled around, setting his back towards the wall and his eyes on the newcomer.  Clint, who was leaning against the doorframe, raised his hands in a pacifying gesture.  Steve, who had taken a step back at Harry’s startled response purposefully relaxed his shoulders and nodded in Clint’s directions.

“Detergent’s in the cupboard,” Clint repeated calmly.  Harry wished he could prevent the embarrassed flush spreading across his face at his overreaction.  He reached for the indicated cupboard without turning his back on the men.  “Bit jumpy today?” Clint asked with a grin.

Harry didn’t dignify him with a response.  Clint didn’t seem bothered.  “Quite the set you’ve got,” he continued.  Harry, recapping the bottle of detergent, glanced back at him in confusion.  Steve was sending Clint a discouraging frown, but Clint shrugged and nodded towards Harry.  “Your scars,” he explained. They hadn’t seen anything but his hand and face at the meeting.  “Something did a number on you.”

Harry set the detergent back in the cupboard with a bit more force than was needed.  Yanking on his backpack, he started the washer.  “None of your business,” he snapped, refusing to give into the futile impulse to hide his arms.  He refused to be ashamed.

Steve sighed, “Lay off it, Clint.  It’s day one.”

Clint took another glance at Harry, looking from the wide scars wrapping around his arms to the mangled mess of his left hand.  “Sorry,” he offered.  “Came out a bit worse than I meant it to.”  Harry shrugged off the apology, not sure what to make of the man.  Clint backed away from the door, realizing Harry wasn’t going to expose his back to him any time soon.

“Dinner is in fifteen,” Clint said.  “Tony ordered pizza.”  He headed down the hallway and disappeared into the common area.  Harry glanced at Steve, whose blue eyes gazed steadily back.

“Care to comment too?” Harry snapped.

Steve held his gaze calmly.  “No,” he said.  “Those are your stories to tell, and to keep.”

Harry looked away, rubbing a hand across his left arm where his largest scar ran from his outer wrist over his forearm and disappeared underneath the sleeve of his t-shirt.  Small dots outlined the scar, showing where muggle stitches and staples had held his skin together as they waited for backup and medical support.  Harry shoved the waiting memories further back in his mind.  He would not dwell on memories of a world long gone.  Steve must’ve noticed his darkening expression, for he turned towards the doorway.

“Care to join me in the communal room?  If Tony’s bringing pizza, you will want an early slice.   Some of us tend to eat a great deal.”  Harry didn’t quite understand the laugh beneath his tone, but he followed Steve all the same.

The common area was a massive space.  The far two walls were almost entirely composed of floor-to-ceiling windows. The wall to his right though had smaller windows with shades ready to slide down over them.  A massive TV screen dominated the center of the wall, and in a semi-circle facing the screen was a collection of soft leather couches and a large, low glass table.  The couch area was set lower in the floor with a short twisting stair leading down on either side.

Behind the couches a dining table stood on a higher level, separated by a small glass wall.  An easy slope curved from the table towards the wall Harry currently stood by, and which bordered the back of Steve’s room.  The wall was a complete, open kitchen, with a long granite countertop lined with barstools dividing it from the rest of the room. Scattered throughout the communal space were various chairs and a few small tables.  Harry was sure Tony’s tower would impress him many more times in the coming days.

Steve headed towards the couches.  Harry followed, settling into the corner of a couch facing the elevator and hallway.  Harry had no intention of sitting with his back to any of the Avengers yet.  Not when he had yet to ascertain their motivation behind offering him this new ‘home.’  If Steve noted his slightly paranoid actions, he said nothing of it.  Instead, he leaned back on the couch across from him, and Harry had to marvel at how comfortable he appeared.  Even in familiar settings, Harry had a hard time letting himself relax.

Before the silence could descend into awkwardness or conversation, the elevator doors opened.   Bruce stepped out and walked over to join them.  His eyes lingered a moment on Harry who was perched on the edge of his seat with one hand resting upon the backpack leaning against his leg, but he turned to Steve instead.  “JARVIS said something about dinner?”

“Clint said Tony ordered pizza.”

Bruce chuckled.  “Of course.”  He sat down by Steve and glanced at Harry again.  Harry felt his toes curl anxiously around the hem of his too-large sweatpants.  He lifted his chin defiantly; he refused to be cowed.  He had grown used to covering his scars in this world, but back home he had paid them little mind.  He refused to take any other approach now.  After a moment's pause, Bruce looked away politely.

“Was Tony down in the lab?” Steve asked.  Harry set his hands on his legs, and tried to appear a bit less on edge.  He wasn’t sure he was having any success.

“A while ago,” Bruce shrugged.  “Went up for something and I think he got sidetracked with a new suit feature he’s hammering out details on.”

If Harry had not been facing the elevator, he never would’ve noticed Clint’s approach.  Watching him move, Harry suddenly realized how the man had appeared so suddenly in the laundry.  He was like a cat; his silence was no more purposeful than his breathing.  He simply moved with an innate grace and stillness that left his approach unheard.  Clint was sitting down on a couch perpendicular to Harry, when the redheaded woman, Natasha, joined them as well.  When the elevator slid open once more, Tony swaggered out beside a man carrying an enormous stack of pizza boxes.

Clint must’ve seen the gob-smacked look on Harry’s face, because he was grinning as he stage-whispered, “Don’t expect left-overs kid.  You’ve never seen someone eat until you see Bruce and Steve go at it.”

Harry felt his eyebrows rise in spite of himself.  He glanced back at the incredibly muscular Steve and the more compact but nothing-less-than-fit Bruce.  Bruce blushed bright red, but smiled.  “Elevated metabolism,” he muttered.  Harry remained as confused as before, but didn’t ask for clarification.  For all he knew, it was a sensitive topic seeing how Bruce reacted to Clint’s jibe.

“Alright!” Tony said, as the man finished setting out the pizza boxes and returned to the elevator.  “Here’s what we’ve got.”  He gestured at the stacks of boxes lined up on the kitchen counter.  “Cheese for the simpletons, pepperoni here, Hawaiian is next to Meat Lovers, with Veggie and that awesome pesto-sauce one on the far end.  Remember to use paper plates because it’s my night to clean dishes and I intend to do no such thing.”

With that, Stark snatched a plate and headed straight for the “awesome pesto-sauce one” at the end.  At a more sedate pace, the rest of the Avengers moseyed over to the line.  Harry lingered behind.  What with the Dursley’s approach to feeding Harry, the cultural differences of the wizarding world, and being on the run during the war, Harry hadn’t actually had pizza before he arrived here.  Once or twice in New York he’d had enough money for a slice from a street cart, but he hadn’t been faced with quite so many choices.  Something must’ve shown on his face, because Bruce handed him a plate with some advice.

“Pepperoni is a classic, and I think vegetarian’s the best, but cheese is a nice one to get started with sometimes.”

“Is there any water?” asked Harry.

“Cups are above the sink.”

“Thanks.”  Setting his plate back for a moment, Harry walked around to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water.  With his back half-turned, he watched the Avengers settle back into the couches, chatting with an air of comfort and familiarity Harry suddenly envied.

He hadn’t had companionship like that since –

He shook his head and looked away.  Picking up his plate, Harry took a slice of cheese pizza and hesitantly joined the group.  Setting down his backpack once more, Harry placed his plate on his lap.  Carefully, he took a bite before setting it back down and reaching for a napkin. This, Harry decided, was even better than what he’d had before.

Across the table, Natasha watched Harry thoughtfully.  “Something new?” she asked.

Harry glanced up, still wiping the grease off his fingers.   He felt the eyes of the other Avengers turn towards him with a mixture of confusion and curiosity.  Not all of them had caught the context of her question.  “Sort of,” he admitted.

“New to pizza?!” Tony exclaimed dramatically.  Harry grimaced, but didn’t know if he wanted to correct the man.  “Well, you’ll have to try far more than just cheese!”  Harry wasn’t sure how to respond.  He was hungry, but he also knew too much food at one time was likely to make him sick.  As far as meals went, living on the streets had some strong parallels to summers at the Dursleys.  He had not been eating enough.

“How’d you manage that?” Bruce asked curiously.  “Even Steve here had pizza before he came here.”

Harry frowned at that.  “Even Steve?” he repeated questioningly.  Bruce didn’t seem to get his confusion, but Natasha did.

“What, exactly, do you know about the Avengers,” she asked, wiping her own fingers delicately as she set her empty plate on the table.

“Uh, I saw you fight the Beasts,” Harry offered.  “I know you’re a group that formed to protect against other threats like that.”  At their listening silence, Harry continued.  “You uh, each have a different fighting style.  Clint used arrows.  You preferred guns and martial arts,” he said, nodding towards Natasha.  “Steve has a shield? And also used martial arts I think?  Thor fought with a hammer, someone else transformed and another person was a robot that can fly?  I didn’t get to see it all,” he admitted.  Trying to protect Grand Central had taken every last shred of his attention.  He knew as little about them as they did about him.  For a moment, no one seemed to know where to start.

“Well,” said Tony, clapping his hands together.  “Bruce here was the big green guy, and I am not a robot. It’s the Iron Man suit!  Although, it is not made of iron –“

“It might also be important to know that Steve, Mr. Captain America, was on ice for some seventy years,” Clint said.

“And Natasha was a Russian Spy,” Tony chirped back in.

Bruce looked at Harry’s wide eyes, and seemed to take pity on him.  “Maybe it would help to offer this information in a more… organized manner?”

“Oh!” Tony exclaimed.  The others turned to him, warily.  “The video file!” he said, as though that explained it all.  And, apparently it did.  The Avengers nodded slowly, and Bruce seemed rather impressed.

“The video would actually be really helpful.  It’s a pretty basic overview and doesn’t require clearance like files do.”

Tony rolled his eyes, as if the mere possibility that it wasn’t a great idea was ridiculous. “Grab more pizza if you want.  JARVIS?”

“Yes, sir?” Harry nearly jumped out of his skin.  He glanced around, but the voice seemed to come from nowhere at all.

“That’s JARVIS, Tony’s AI system,” Bruce murmured.  At Harry’s blank look, he clarified.  “JARVIS is like a really intelligent computer.”

“Please set up the video in the Avengers File A16 and run it in the Avengers’ Lounge.”

“Preparing video, sir.”

“Perfect.”  Tony turned back to the group.  “Seriously, grab more pizza before we settle in.”  Clint rushed to grab another two pieces before Bruce and Steve could get their second heaping plates.  Harry took another bite of his slice.   He wondered if this was something he could learn to make.

As they settled back onto the couches, Tony called on JARVIS and the nearest lights flipped off.  The screens above the windows facing them rolled down as well.  The television turned on.

A familiar scene filled the majority of the screen – Chitauri pouring in through a hole in the sky, and six individuals stepping forward to fight them.  A small box stood on the right side of the screen.  It contained a photograph of Natasha and a short paragraph.  Instead of the sounds of fighting, a single voice spoke over the silenced footage.  “Natasha Romanova, known as the Black Widow, was born in Stalingrad, Russia.  Trained as a spy, martial artist, and sniper, she brings unique skills to the Avengers Initiative.  She is a world-class athlete, gymnast, and aerialist and has mastered multiple styles of martial arts.  She has extensive espionage training and experience.  Enhanced by bioengineering, she heals quickly and is resistant to most diseases.  In the field, note her tactical expertise and the adaptability of her fighting style.”

Harry watched with interest as the camera focused explicitly on Natasha’s fighting.  Her martial arts skills were astonishing, and she used a mixture of physical strength, guns, and knives to kill and subdue the Chitauri attackers.  The camera drew away from Natasha as the box on the right changed to an image of Steve.

Born in New York City in 1925, Steve Rogers suffered from several health concerns as a child, and was initially denied enlistment in the US Army.  He later participated in the Super-Soldier Project as a test subject.  Experiments proved successful and Rogers played a key role in both troop morale and leadership during WWII.  At the end of the war, a plane wreck left Rogers frozen in ocean ice.  His body was recovered and thawed in 2019.  Enhancements from the Super Soldier Serum account for Rogers' survival, as well as his continued strength, agility, stamina, and regenerative capabilities.  In the field, note his reliance on physical strength and his skills in protective, defensive, and command situations.”

And on it went.  Harry watched closely as Bruce’s transformations were demonstrated, and Stark’s riches were explained as the wealth of an inventor of both weaponry and green energy.  As the camera focused on Clint’s form, perched upon a rooftop, Harry got a run down of his time in the circus and his stint partnering with Natasha before the Avengers began.  A man named Thor was briefly introduced as a warrior from Asgard who wielded a hammer.  As the narration came to a close, the footage of the fight shifted to fill the entire screen.  Harry flinched as the sound turned on.

Suddenly, the distance afforded by monotonous narration was stripped away.  Full-color explosions blasted across the screen and gunfire filled the air.  Bricks and mortar rained from unstable buildings, and people fled through the streets.  Harry could smell the ash and smoke.  Suddenly it was as if he couldn’t breathe.

“That’s a good place to pause.”  Steve’s voice broke through the chaos and Harry wrenched his eyes from the screen.  The image froze moments later, and silence fell on the room.  The lights turned back on.  “Anyone up for ice cream?” Steve asked, clearly diverting attention from where Harry was struggling to find his breath.

“We have triple chocolate fudge!” Tony said a bit too brightly, leaping to his feet and heading to the kitchen.  Bruce wandered back towards the nearly empty pizza boxes and helped himself to another plate.

“Sounds good to me,” Natasha shrugged, picking up her plate as she too wandered towards the kitchen counter.

“Any more of the butter pecan?” Clint asked.

In a moment, it was only Harry and Steve seated on the couches.  Harry’s hands were clenched white-knuckled on his knees.  He focused on relaxing his hands as he took a few slow breaths.  He tried to pretend Steve wasn’t there.  He felt incredibly stupid, reacting like that to a film.  If anyone should’ve been upset by it, it was the men and women who’d actually been fighting.

As his breathing returned to normal, Harry clasped his hands in his lap.  Steve met his eye and Harry battled back a blush of embarrassment.  Steve looked neither pitying nor judgmental.  “We all have those sometimes,” he said quietly.  “Would you like to join us for ice cream?”

“Going to turn over my laundry first,” Harry said.  Steve nodded, and Harry quickly slipped away towards the laundry where he could finish collecting himself in private.

When he returned, Harry found himself quickly seated on a barstool with a small bowl of chocolate truffle ice cream in his hands.  Five bites in, Tony turned to Harry.  “So kid, you’ve heard our stories.  What about you?  Where’re you from?”  There was an intensity underlying the question that made Harry’s stomach knot.  He knew the more he said about himself, the quicker things could fall apart.  He, his world, his friends… his entire life had never happened here.  As innocent at the question was, it felt like the first tug on a string that could unravel everything.

“I was born in England.”

“Where in England?”

“Surrey.”  No birth certificate, no school records, he thought.  This was going nowhere good.

“Alright.  Any siblings?”

“No.”

“Best friends? Love interest?  Come on kid!” Tony laughed, “Tell me about yourself.”  Harry’s fingers tightened around his spoon.

“There is not much to tell, sir.” Harry tried to keep his voice light and casual.

“Of course there is.  A kid like you… you look like you’ve been through hell!”  At this point the others had grown quieter, noting the tension radiating from Harry’s frame.  Tony pushed onwards though.  “You must have loads of stories to tell.”

“I was born in Surrey, raised by my aunt and uncle.  I met a teacher when I was eleven.  I ended up in a … war of sorts.”

“War of sorts?” Clint echoed, curiously.  Harry grimaced.

“I’d rather not talk about it.”

“And we will respect that,” Steve said firmly, fixing a strong eye on Stark.  Tony moved to open his mouth again, so Steve reiterated his point.  “We are not going to badger Harry about the war.”

Tony huffed and grumbled, but relented nonetheless.  Harry felt a warm surge of gratitude towards the super soldier.  “Fine, fine.  I won’t pester the new kid…  Sure JARVIS can fill me in anyways…”

“JARVIS?” Harry asked Steve quietly.  “I thought that was his computer?”

Steve nodded.  “Sort of.  JARVIS is artificial intelligence, so… sort of like a super computer?  He is present throughout the entire building.  That’s how he can do things like turn the lights on and off and set up the TV.”

Harry frowned.  “So… he is like the building’s consciousness?”  He had a sudden thought of Riddle’s soul fragment in the diary.

“I guess?  I’m kinda new to the whole technology thing myself.”  Steve smiled sheepishly, and Harry suddenly recalled that he’d spent over seventy years in ice.

“That must’ve been a shock,” Harry empathized.  “Where I grew up, we didn’t really use technology.  This stuff’s pretty new to me too.”  If Steve was surprised, he hid it well.  “What else can this JARVIS do?”

Tony, who’d been listening, chose that moment to chime back in.  Leaning across the counter with a glass of whiskey (which had apparently replaced his empty mug of ice cream), he grinned proudly.  “He ordered our pizza, and can book a hotel.  He can search through any database, and can communicate, or facilitate communication, with anyone in the world.  He monitors the energy use of the building, and computes complex mathematical equations...  He can do just about anything short of physically manipulating things.”

“Woah.  And you… created him?”  Tony smile widened even further as he nodded with pride.  The computer acted like a sentient ward, with additional research features.  Harry had never heard of anything like it before.  And the more he thought about it, the more worrisome it began to sound.

“He monitors energy?”

“How else do you think we found you?” Tony laughed, taking another sip of his drink.  Harry suddenly felt rather queasy.

“JARVIS led you to me,” his voice sounded distant to his own ears.  Natasha’s eyes zeroed in on him once more.  Tony seemed to finally realize that might not be welcome news to Harry.

“Yeah, well, without him you’d still be on the street.  How else could we thank you?”

Harry’s ears were ringing.  He listened to the others, their voices oddly distorted.  If JARVIS tracked him… could sense his ‘energy’… his room suddenly looked far less like a gift and far more like a lab rat’s cage.  Were they taking readings right now?  He had used a cleaning charm earlier.  Had JARVIS recorded that too?

Harry was pulling on his backpack before he’d even made a conscious decision to leave.  Of course it was too good to be true.  Unfortunately, his clothes were still in the laundry.  Steve stood as Harry fled.  Natasha’s brown eyes followed him, calculating.  Dry or not, he needed to grab his clothes and leave.  If they had found him before…  Harry’s mind whirred through the possibilities.  He could aparate from the tower, buy himself some distance.  He’d then limit his use of magic until he was well away from New York – out of the country maybe, if he could manage it.

Harry yanked open the dryer door and began stuffing clothes into his backpack.  Only as he struggled to zip the bag shut did he recall he was wearing borrowed clothes.  Reaching up to tug off the shirt, he was paused by a familiar voice.  “Keep it.”

Turning slowly, shirt part way off his shoulders and revealing a massive burn scar on his side, Harry faced Steve.  The man watched him with gentle eyes and a calm body.  “If you need to go, no one will stop you, but you are free to let your clothes finish drying first.”

Harry hovered there, one hand clutching his bag, the other slowly tugging the shirt back down over his chest.  

“It is true,” Steve continued, “that JARVIS tracks energy, and that he is how we found you.  We do not mean you any harm.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed as he surveyed the man distrustfully.  “He monitors energy,” Harry stated.

Steve nodded silently, waiting for Harry to continue.  Every muscle in Harry’s body was tensed, ready to flee.  Yet, Harry hesitated.

“Why?” he began, looking at the soldier who had been nothing but kind to him.  “Why did you offer me a room here?”  His hands trembled with the effort of staying put when every part of him said to run.  But a larger part of him wanted answers.

“I can’t speak for Tony, although I suspect it has to do with his insatiable curiosity.”  Steve sighed.  “You are unique.  I won’t deny he wants to know more about you.  But he does not hurt people unprovoked.”

“JARVIS is a monitoring system.” Harry repeated.

“Yes, that is part of what he does.  You are not here as an experiment, Harry.  We owe you.  Curious though we might be, we did not invite you here to take advantage of you.”

Harry wavered.

“You are free to go at any time, Harry,” Steve reiterated.  “But, at least let your clothing dry.  Get a good night’s rest if you can.  Take advantage of a night off the streets.”

“I could walk out of here – out the front door – and you would do nothing to stop me, and nothing to hunt me down again?”  Harry couldn’t keep the blatant distrust out of his voice.

“That is correct,” Steve replied, still leaning a shoulder casually against the doorframe.

“And no other Avenger or related person or agency would try to stop me or hunt me?”  Harry specified, trying to think of a loophole that the seemingly honest man might take.

Steve sighed, but nodded.  “That is correct.”

Harry took a deep breath.  If it wasn’t a trap, it was an incredibly good opportunity.  He didn’t want to squander if unnecessarily.  And, even if it was a trap, feigning compliance might create a stealthier opportunity to escape and buy him more time. Harry set his backpack down against his legs.

“I think, then, that I would like to finish drying my clothes,” he stated.  Opening his backpack, Harry kept an eye on Steve, watching him warily as if expecting the man to leap forward and restrain him at any moment.  Slowly, Harry re-loaded the dryer and let it start again.  Shouldering his pack, Harry stared at Steve.  The man stepped aside, and walked back towards the common area.  Behind him, Harry slipped into his room without another word.

Harry leaned against the closed door and stared at the room before him.  JARVIS was there, just as he was in every part of the house.  Harry wondered if there were cameras in the room, but he couldn’t see them.  He knew any cameras would be only the newest and highest tech with Tony, and he – with his limited knowledge of technology – had absolutely no idea how to spot them.  Between the potential cameras, the tiny turn-lock on the door, the huge wall of windows, and the lounge full of highly trained fighters just down the hall, Harry felt incredibly vulnerable.  In two strides he sat atop his bed with his back wedged into the corner.  He situated his backpack beside him where he could watch all of the room at once.

Outside, the sky was dark.  He could faintly see snow falling, illuminated by the glow of street lamps and neon signs below.  He was grateful to not be out on the street, renewing warming charms every thirty minutes and huddling somewhere out of the wind or waiting for a bed at the Mission.  Harry let his eyes travel around the small room.  In the dim light, he could just make out the dark of his empty closet space and desk beside it.

Harry stood, walking over to the desk.  It wasn’t attached to anything.  Carefully, he moved it in front of the door and checked the lock.  It wouldn’t hold any of the Avengers out, but it would make enough noise to wake him, even if it didn’t slow them down.

He returned to the corner, pulling his knees up before him.  He reached into his bag, and pulled out a small slip of paper.  He smiled at the faded, frozen photograph.  It was the sole remnant he had from his world. Despite the darkness of the room, he could see Ron and Hermione smiling back at him, their arms over his shoulders.  They had each had a copy, carried in their pockets like a good luck amulet.  He held it gently, touching only the edges.

“I miss you,” he whispered.

In silence, he stared at the image.  In his mind's eye, he could see the image as it used to be – the way Hermione had thrown her arms around each of them before they’d turned once more to face the camera with smiles full of love.  Over and over it had repeated, the hugs, the smiles, the hugs, the smiles…

He did not know how long he sat, lost in his thoughts and looking at the photograph.   Only when his eyes kept drooping and he was afraid he might drop it did Harry slip the picture back into his bag.  He resumed his silent watch, wary and fighting sleep.  But in the silence of the tower, and the dark of the night, he eventually lost that battle and his eyes drifted shut.