Perfect Illusion

Part the First

The night was cool.  Tony breathed in the smell of sand, a distinct, cold, crisp scent.  He’d become used to it over the past several months.  It should have frightened him, reminded him of his captivity—but it didn’t.  Instead, it soothed his soul.  He had come to a realization all those hours working on his suit, before that even—when he was being waterboarded.

Your life was supposed to flash before your eyes when you’re about to die, but that’s not what had happened.  At least, not to Tony.  Instead he had remembered her—remembered Lily.  She had been this beautiful young woman he had met during his London Expo back in 1978.

Lily had been the woman no one else could ever hope to live up to.

What had surprised Tony – when they had first met – was that she hadn’t been a groupie, a journalist, or a scientist in the strict sense of the word.  It seemed she had wandered in off the streets of London into the Expo simply because she was curious.  In her bellbottom jeans and hippie transparent peasant top that that gave away her slim figure rather than hiding it, Lily was a vision of elegance, simple refinement, and unwavering beauty.  Her long auburn hair, falling in natural curls, slicked down past the small of her back, those strange chords hippies wore around the crown of their heads around her forehead.

She had not been what he was expecting.  Lily had been something else and utterly enchanting.

Tony had first spotted her from the stage.  Lily hadn’t been looking at him but at the crowd in confusion, and he had immediately wanted to meet her.  He was just twenty-two, she couldn’t be older than that, and he’d informed his personal assistant, a promising young woman named Pepper Potts, that he’d like to meet her.

Tony had honestly thought that Pepper had failed when after two hours he was still gladhanding investors.  Pepper appeared at his shoulder, a bit uncomfortable, and smiled at everyone – at least giving him a reason to leave.  “Excuse me, gentlemen, I need to steal Mr. Stark.”

His grin got only wider and with a few more promises to meet for cocktails in New York (never gonna happen), he placed his arm around Pepper. 

She immediately shrugged it off.  “I’m not your pimp,” she warned lowly.

“You didn’t find her,” was his only answer as he straightened his tie.

She shifted and flicked her hair.  “I didn’t say that.  I found her in a corner doing what seemed like advanced mathematics in a recipe book with a colored pencil.  I couldn’t make any sense of it, but maybe you will.—Here she is.”  They had walked through a curtain and the breathtaking young woman was sitting there, clearly not expecting anyone to come find her.  “Lily,” (the young woman looked up where it did seem she was holding some sort of recipe pad and was scribbling away on it—Pepper handed over a lined notebook) “Curtesy of Stark Industries.  You shouldn’t have to try to distinguish between your math and ingredients later on.”

“Oh,” she replied in a startled voice with a British accent, taking the book.  “Thank you.  And no one will mind.  I’m the only one who uses it.”  Her voice was slightly bitter.  “Are you needed?”  She looked at Tony.  “I can just—stay here or find a corner or—leave.”

Pepper only smiled at her.  “I’d like to introduce you to someone.  This is Tony Stark, CEO of Stark Industries.”

Lily immediately stood, shifting her two books and pencil, offering her hand.  “Mr. Stark.  A pleasure.  I’m Lily.”

He waited for her to give him a last name, but she didn’t, so he just smiled at her charmingly.  “So, you like math?”

She blushed.  “Quite.  I was trying to work out—”

Well, it was official.  Tony was in love as she showed her calculations on his latest weapon system, which hadn’t been explained as it was only an expo and not a board meeting.  The two ended up in the corner with a pen Tony had in his jacket pocket and Lily’s red pencil, working out sums together, Tony branching out into quantum physics to Lily’s surprise.  She looked at it, quite startled, and he let her take the notebook and just stare at it for a moment. 

“I don’t recognize this.”

His heart sank a little.  “You didn’t—?”

“No,” she replied.  “I studied Advanced Chemistry to the exclusion of other sciences.  If you ever want me to make you a chemical that no one else probably can and not blow up your lab, then I’m your girl.”  Lily gave him an impish look. 

His heart did a flip in his chest.  He’d never had a thing for British accents before—he’d found them pretentious—but hers made his dress pants tighten.

Quickly, she began writing down a complicated stoichiometry equation and then began to solve it elegantly within a few short steps when it would usually take nearly an entire page in a notebook.

Tony looked at it and smiled.  “I see what you mean.”  He looked around and only saw his bodyguards.  “Would you like dinner?” he asked.  “It’s quite late, I know, but we’ve been at this for over two hours, I think.”

“Oh,” she murmured.  “I should probably get home.  I only went out for a walk—”  Lily got to her feet, but he quickly stood with her.

“Let me drive you home, then.”

She smiled at him sadly.  “That’s not necessary, Anthony.”—For some reason, she wouldn’t call him “Tony.”  She insisted on “Anthony.”  (“Names are important,” she told him.  “There is power in a name.”)

“Lunch, then, tomorrow.  One o’clock.  I’m staying at Rose House.  I’ll meet you there.” 

Looking over her shoulder as she left, he thought that her gaze was a goodbye, and that she had slipped through his fingers.

Fortunately, his immediate vision had not been true, but he had lost Lily in the end.

Now, all these years later, when his face was pulled from the water during his initial torture sessions, he could remember that look on Lily’s face, the wistfulness of it, how he had wanted to chase after it, but knew that there was something more to her story that he didn’t quite know or understand. 

It had been fourteen years, and no one had compared to Lily Potter.  He had loved that woman.  He still did.  The betrayal of learning she was married didn’t matter – not when the only option was to walk away from her.  The fact that she had slipped away one day without a word had hurt more than anything and he had spiraled down into his playboy ways, staying away from redheads, not being able to bear it.  Still, all over his bedroom (the one where he slept when he was not entertaining other women for the evening) were photographs of the two of them all over London.

Having survived being held captive, having created the Iron Man suit, Tony knew that Lily was all that mattered.  He knew that she was probably still married, but unless she had adopted children, she didn’t have any.  Whoever her husband was, she had confessed one night through tears that he was sterile and blamed her for the problem.  The first real fight on the subject had caused her to go walking in London the night they had met in the first place at the Expo.  Her husband had gone out with his best mate and (she had later found out) lover to get drunk and she just—couldn’t take it.

No, Lily had never left his thoughts all these years and he wasn’t going to pretend that she had.  He had every love letter she had ever sent him, all in a private safe.  Perhaps she and her husband had reconciled.  Then again, perhaps they had divorced.  He hoped for the latter.

He was under no illusions.  Lily had loved Tony, her husband was abusive and neglectful, and yet there was a loyalty she held for her husband that Tony couldn’t hope to understand or break through without proper research.

But he had to find Lily first.  That was the clear first step.

As soon as Tony got off the plane in California, new and technologically improved from Afghanistan, he looked at Pepper and Obadiah.  “I need a cheeseburger,” he said, “then I need you to find someone for me.”

“We can do that,” Obadiah said, merrily.  “Great to have you back, Tony.”

“Who do we need to find?” Pepper asked, ready to take notes.

“Do you remember Lily from the London Expo of ’78?”

She paused.  “The one with the recipe book and the colored pencil.  I’d only been on the job a few months.—Tony, it’s been nearly twenty years.”

“It’s time,” he answered.  “If one thing being stuck in that godforsaken cave has taught me is that I was a fool to ever let her go.”

Obadiah was looking at him for a long moment.  “This is the mystery woman from when you had just taken over the company.  There were rumors since you were spending all that time in England, but then it seemed to come to nothing.  I thought she was just a bit of tail.”

Tony glared at Obadiah.  “Lily was never a bit of tail.—Pepper, when we get back to my house in Malibu, I have all the information I have on her in my personal safe.”

Pepper looked at him for a long second and then nodded.

After happily eating his cheeseburgers in his town car, Tony immediately led Pepper to a bedroom she had never seen, which was filled with pictures of him fifteen years earlier, and then to the safe.  “I’ll be looking her up through JARVIS,” he said as he unlocked the safe, which held several keepsakes, a bundle of letters that were on parchment of all things, and then a notebook that had belonged to her and had some of her mathematical equations.  There was a small notecard he had compiled once had lost her which had her name, her London Post Office Box, the County she was born, and her birth month and year.

“That’s, Oh Tony,” Pepper sighed as she opened up her portfolio and jotted down the information.  “I’m so sorry.  It’s like she’s a ghost.”

“When I found out she had a husband, though a lying, cheating sonofabitch of one, it made sense,” he answered with a harsh laugh.  “I think he hit her.  She would go missing for several weeks at a time—and—would wince when I touched her certain places.  I couldn’t prove anything and couldn’t get her to leave.—She was everything, Pepper.  I broke when she left.  You can take a picture as long as you get it back to me.”

“Okay,” she responded.  “She lived in London?”

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized she didn’t.  She just somehow happened to be in London when there was the Expo and kept up the charade for as long as we knew each other.”

As soon as Pepper was gone, Tony went over to JARVIS and ran a search on Lily himself.  He hadn’t let himself do this during all the years that she had been gone from his life, but now—after eight exhausting hours he found something, a birth certificate. 

It wasn’t Lily’s.

It belonged to Anthony Howard Potter, child of James Potter and Lily Rachelle Potter, née Evans.  He looked at the birthday and—his breath sucked in.  July thirty-first, 1980.  That left a conception date of October, 1979.  The last time he had seen Lily was Christmas Eve of 1979 when she had been physically ill from something she had eaten.  It must have been morning sickness—

Within moments JARVIS was running searches for Anthony Howard.  He was under the guardianship of Lily’s sister, Petunia Dursley, and was middling at school except in the sciences.  The thought brought a smile to Tony’s face.  After the age of eleven, all records of him disappeared.  There was nothing.  1991 and then nothing.

Frustrated, Tony told the AI to keep looking to try and find something of Anthony Howard, and went to go order Chinese. 

Tony hadn’t even realized he had fallen asleep when JARVIS chirped at him. 

“I think I found him, sir,” JARVIS told him.

Looking up, Tony’s brow arched.

“It appears,” JARVIS continued, “that young Master Anthony does not go by that name.  He’s called ‘Harry’—most likely for ‘Howard’.”

“Thank God,” Tony breathed.  If he had to go by ‘Howard’ instead of ‘Anthony’ then he was glad the kid had a nickname.  The thought of having to use the name ‘Howard’ was just—it made him shiver.  Tony, naturally, appreciated the sentiment from Lily, he really did.  Of course, he also knew that she idolized the men and women who worked on the Manhattan Project, so it wasn’t so much of a leap for her to name their child of his grandfather who worked on the Manhattan Project.  Tony had never confided how much he disliked his father.  He didn’t want to ruin their time together.

A photograph from a recent edition of The London Times came up on screen and Tony looked at the face of a young teenager who could have been his copy except for the glasses he was wearing.  His breath sucked in and a moment later a photograph of Tony was placed beside him appeared, highlighting the similarities between the two young men.

“Why was he in the paper?”

“It was a puff piece,” JARVIS informed him, “on young men who were worth more than ten million pounds and would be on the most eligible list of bachelors in the next five years.  It would appear that young Master Harry was left a fortune by Mr. James Potter.”

Tony blinked.  This was certainly a surprise.  He took in a deep breath and then just looked at the picture of his son.  He needed to call Pepper.  He wouldn’t be like Howard—er, Howard Stark—he was going to be a father to Harry.  If he still wanted to see his mother’s family, then, of course, that could be arranged, but Tony knew this in his gut.  His son belonged with him.

Harry knew that James Potter wasn’t his biological father.  Aunt Petunia had snapped at Uncle Vernon once that the drunk Potter wasn’t Harry’s father, but instead it was a normal person.  Harry wasn’t sure what that meant, but Uncle Vernon looked at him as if he were sizing him up.

“Do you think?”

Aunt Petunia sighed.  “Lily never told me exactly who.  She just said that Harry was named after him.  That’s why he’s called Harry.  So there’s no confusion.”

Although Harry wasn’t supposed to ask questions, and he’d had this ground into him since he was a baby and he knew better at the age of four, he hesitantly asked, “What’s my name?”

Pursing her lips, it seemed like Aunt Petunia was going to answer just this once.  “Howard.  Anthony Howard, Jr.  However, you’re called ‘Harry’.  You got that, boy?—I keep hoping this Anthony, Sr., whoever he is, will show up on our door.”

“If he’s normal,” Uncle Vernon suggested (they were all sitting at the breakfast table, Dudley stuffing his mouth with eggs Harry had made), “perhaps we should leave a paper trail.”

Aunt Petunia looked thoughtful.  “Harry,” she suddenly said, “when’s your next quiz?”

“Numbers?” he asked.  “Friday.”

“I expect top marks,” she responded.

That night he was moved into Dudley’s second bedroom.  He never cooked again. 

When the letters came just before Harry’s eleventh birthday, it was with disappointment that Aunt Petunia looked at Uncle Vernon.

“Well,” Uncle Vernon said, “this Anthony fellow won’t want him now.”

“He still might,” Aunt Petunia stated carefully.  She took hold of a letter and looked Harry in the eye.  “When you go to school, you will not tell anyone that you were named for your father.  You will say James Potter is your dad.  When anyone asks, you will say you don’t know why you were named Anthony Howard.  When they ask why you are called Harry, you’re going to say because your mother liked it.  Is that understood?  If anyone named Anthony Howard approaches you, you will pay attention.”

“Yes, Aunt Petunia,” he answered and she gave him the letter.

Harry read it carefully.  “Magic exists?”

“Yes,” she snapped.  “Your mother was a witch.  James Potter was a wizard.  A freak!  Anthony, Sr. was normal, got it?”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“Good.  Now, your father will probably expect good marks.  I know you like science, but I don’t know if they teach science.  We must do everything to keep your normal father happy.  You got that, boy?”

“Yes’m,” he answered sadly.

As soon as Harry Potter got to the magical world, he found out he was famous.  He rather hated it.  Anyone who wanted to see his scar, he wrote right off.  That included a stuttering ginger top named Ron Weasley on the train before they even got to Hogwarts. 

When the Sorting Hat told Harry that he had the potential to be great, all Harry could think about was that he wanted to be great—for his father.  So, he let himself be sorted into Slytherin House.  His best mate was Theodore Nott III, who understood the importance of family history, although he seemed occasionally confounded when Harry felt the same way (with no evidence to back it up). 

Sometimes, in the back of his notebooks, Harry would doodle, “Anthony, Jr.”

Unfortunately, during his second year, it was Professor Snape who found one of the doodles.

Harry always partnered with Theo.  Draco took to throwing destructive ingredients into Granger’s cauldron, which was always a bit funny, but Harry just bit his lip and tried not to laugh.  Because of this, and his love of chemistry, Harry usually managed to pull the top spot for every lesson.  He didn’t like to think it was cheating—it really wasn’t—he was just benefiting from pranks—but Harry spent hours in the library, working on his essays, trying to excel.  He was looking forward to Arithmancy and Ancient Runes his third year, hoping those would be more mathematically and scientifically oriented.

Snape had him stay after class one day and Harry shared a look with Theo.

“You know,” Snape began.  “I am not one of your adoring fans.  I believe you are as arrogant as your father, though at least you do not disrupt class by throwing in the incorrect ingredients in other students’ potions.”  His black gaze held Harry’s for a long moment.  “I do, however, know a bit about James Potter.  We went to school together.  I know that his father was Fleamont.  I know that your mother’s father was Stephen.  What, then, does this mean?”

He showed Harry the small doodle he had made on the back of the parchment of his homework.

Harry bit his lip and looked to the side.

“There is no Anthony Potter I or Anthony Potter, Sr.,” Snape further explained.  “I am your Head of House.  Your safety is my concern—”

“It’s private,” he stated.  “It won’t happen again.”

Snape regrouped.  “I prefer for my essays to be clean and fresh, but this does mean something.  I do not wish to take it up with Headmaster Dumbledore—”

“Don’t,” Harry interrupted.  “Anything but that.”  He took a deep breath.  “Aunt Petunia told me never to tell—until—”

“Until,” Snape pressed.

“Until my father came to claim me.  James Potter was unable to—have children.  I was named for my real father—Anthony.  We don’t know exactly who he is, so we’re waiting.  We’ve been waiting for my whole life.  I’ve—I’ve been waiting for my dad my whole life.”  His voice was nothing more than a whisper.

Snape breathed out and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “At least Lily had some sense.  I never understood why she married that blasted Potter.”  This was said so quietly that Harry almost didn’t hear him.  “Is that why you’re called ‘Harry’?  Because your father is also ‘Anthony Howard’?”

After a moment, Harry nodded.  “Please don’t tell anyone.”

“No,” Snape agreed.  “I will keep my ear to the ground, though.—No more doodling on homework.”

“Of course, sir,” Harry agreed readily.  “Thank you, sir.”

When he left, he found Theo waiting for him with a few other of his yearmates.  “What was that about?” Blaise Zabini asked.

“Er—” Harry began.  “He wanted to know who was disrupting Granger’s cauldrons.  Obviously, I wasn’t the weak link he thought I was.”  He scoffed.  “As if I’d ever tell.  Watch out in case he goes after one of you next—”

The year passed smoothly and still Harry’s father did not appear.  Harry, however, did not give up hope.  He would always wish for his father.  Sometimes he thought of taking out an ad in The London Times, but he thought that would be a bit much.  Still, he had more than enough money. 

At this point he could only conclude one of two things.  One. Anthony Howard, Sr. didn’t know that Harry existed.  This was the option he was going to go with.  Two.  Anthony Howard, Sr. didn’t want him.  That just wasn’t a viable option.  Harry wouldn’t accept it.  He would never accept it.

He liked to think that his mother would only be with someone if she loved him—and if he loved her back.  Why she would stay with James Potter then was confusing, but Harry didn’t think about it.  The complexities of his mother’s marriage and affair were something he might never understand.  Perhaps, next time he was in Gringotts, he would find a journal written by her.

Of course, when the time came, Sirius Black had to be out and on the run. 

Harry received a long letter from Professor Snape about how Sirius Black had been James Potter’s best friend, and how Snape didn’t know if Black knew if Harry wasn’t Potter’s son or not.  This left a rather sinking feeling in Harry’s gut, but now he knew to be extra cautious.

This year he was spending his weekend where he went to Diagon Alley with the Malfoys. 

The end of the previous school term had been rather—disquieting.  All throughout the year students kept on being petrified, Harry had heard a strange voice in the wall, and then Ginny Weasley of all people had been abducted and then killed by the Heir of Slytherin.  No one had yet to actually find the body.

He’d asked for time alone in his Gringotts vault.  “I want to see if I can find an old journal for around the time I was born,” he explained to Lady Malfoy.  “My aunt talked about it once, and I thought I’d try to find it.”

“Of course,” she replied.  “Take all the time you need.  I’ll just have Lord Malfoy wait in the cart in case you need anything.”

It was easier said than done.  Harry opened trunk after trunk and found nothing of his mother’s—until he came across what appeared to be a love letter.  There was only one and it seemed to be on expensive stationary.  It was signed, “Tony.”

He smiled to himself and he pressed it back into the book of poetry where he found it.  Then something fluttered out of the pages.  It was a picture of his mum, dressed like a hippie, and a man in jeans and a t-shirt, a cleanshaven face and messy black hair just like his.  He looked the spitting image of Harry except for his brown eyes.  They were sitting on the steps of some building, Lily snuggled against him with his arm around her and their fingers entangled.  It sucked the air out of Harry’s lungs.  He turned it over and saw, written in pencil, “Lily and Tony, 1979.”

They were definitely dressed like Muggles.  It was all the proof he needed.  His mother had been in love with another man—and he was a Muggle.  And he was Tony.  Anthony.  Anthony Howard.

Harry slipped the picture back into the book.  He held it close to his chest, swearing to always keep it close.

When he got back into the cart, he looked over to Lucius Malfoy.  “Can I trust you with a secret?  I need to know something—and you’re a father.  I need to ask a father.”

Lord Malfoy regarded him.  “I will do everything I can to guide you.”

“If you had a son—whose mother was not your wife—would you do everything you could to find him?  It’s just, I can’t find my father.  I just know I was named after him.  Anthony Howard.”

For a moment, something ticked at Lord Malfoy’s temple, but then his forehead smoothed as the question continued.  “I would do everything in my power, Mr. Potter, to see that my son was happy and healthy—and I would want him back with me, though not to his detriment, of course.  I would love him too much to do that.”

“Of course,” Harry murmured.  “But it would not be to my detriment.”

“Then, if I were your father, I would fight for you.”  He paused.  “I am here, Mr. Potter, if you need more guidance.  You are the friend of my son.  I know you have never had a father, although you seem to have a phantom of one.”

“Thank you, Lord Malfoy,” Harry whispered, the cart starting up again. 

When they were back in the sunshine, Lord Malfoy turned to Harry.  “You should perhaps know, Mr. Potter, that Sirius Black was whispering, ‘He’s at Hogwarts,’ in his sleep before he escaped.  You should be on your guard.”

Harry swallowed, not liking this at all.  He wanted his father to come and claim him and take him far away.  Then again, Tony was probably British, so he’d stay at Hogwarts.  He loved Hogwarts, he really did, and he loved his friends.  Still, sometimes he wished he could just disappear and become Anthony – Was that too much to ask?

Was it?

Published by excentrykemuse

Fanfiction artist and self critic.

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