Author's Warning: Possible trigger - talk of suicide is present in the chapter. If you would like to skip the discussion of it the section starts with "I talked to Strange today" and ends with "I think I'll live."It is nothing major, there's just talk of it.
If anyone ever has any trigger warning they would like me to warn them about at the beginning of the chapter just let me know and I'll start warning from now on.
It was the last day of September, and the sky was overcast. Harry walked up the steps to the front door with her arms full of grocery bags, but stopped when she spotted a package on the top step.
The package was a yellow envelope – the kind that had cushioning to protect whatever was inside during the shipment. It bulged in the middle, created by some rectangular casing inside. On top of the bulge was Harry's address, written on a Stark Industries mail slip.
Harry bent down to get the package, glad that Luna and Rolf were at their lab for the week; she really didn't want them to ask why she had received a package from Tony Stark.
She entered the house and walked into the kitchen, grocery bags hanging off of her arms, the package in her hand. Placing the bags on the counter, Harry turned her attention back to the package, the bags forgotten.
She tore into the envelope, her eyebrows drawn in confusion. Reaching in, she pulled out the box inside – it was a little bigger than her hand and completely white.
Tossing the envelope onto the counter, Harry opened the box to find a phone and a charger neatly packed inside. Harry felt her eyes widen, her head tilting to the side as she pulled out the phone to inspect it.
It was a sleek, touch screen phone that had a screen on both sides. She pushed it with a finger and felt the screens slide apart, until they were fully extended to create a long phone, a screen and the back of a screen showing on both sides.
Harry was intrigued by the phone and she continued to see how much it would move – at the fully extended position she continued to push, which caused the top screen to fold at the corner where it was connected with the bottom screen, and she slid it along the top of the bottom screen. It slid from an 'L' shape, to a 'T' shape, to a reverse 'L' shape, which then was able to fold to a 'V' shape so the two screens were now on the same side, pointed at Harry's face.
Harry ran the phone through the motions a few more times, moving it from the 'V' position back to its starting position and back again. She was curious about how the phone was able to move with such fluidity, considering there didn't seem to be a track for it to slide along.
After a few minutes of inspection, Harry found the power button on one of the screen's backside. The phone took no time to turn on, and her surprise and curiosity continued to grow when the main screen of the phone only had two buttons – 'SR' and 'TS' – on its blue background.
Taking an educated guess, Harry pressed the 'TS' button, pretty sure that it would connect her to the creator of the phone.
"Ah, Harry, I was wondering when you were going to call."
Harry was greeted by Tony Stark's face on the phone's screen. He was sat in his lab, his grinning face conveying all his smug cockiness over his working invention.
"Sorry if I kept you waiting; I did just get the phone," Harry explained, leaning against the counter, her right hand out so the phone could capture her face.
"The package was delivered on your doorstep an hour ago – how did you just get it now?" Stark asked incredulously.
"I've been out," Harry told him.
"At this time of night?" Stark asked sounding almost like a chastising parent.
"It's ten in the morning," Harry replied, quirking an eyebrow at Stark.
He looked at Harry, his face falling into deep thought.
"JARVIS, what time is it?" Harry heard him call out, his face turned away from the phone.
"5:15 in the morning, Sir," JARVIS replied, causing Stark to look back at Harry, his face confused.
"Must I remind Sir about time differences depending on a person's time zone?" JARVIS asked in a tone that conveyed how much he thought Stark was being an idiot.
"No, I remember," he replied. He started to pout as he looked back at Harry.
"Do you need to sleep?" Harry asked, concerned at how much the genius was acting like an idiot.
"Sleep is for the week – weak…whatever," Stark said, waving his hand as if he could wave off the concern Harry was feeling for him.
"And besides, new phone, I should tell you about it," he continued quickly before Harry could interrupt.
"Basically the line is encrypted through JARVIS, so we can finally communicate without worrying about being hacked or listened to."
"That's great," Harry said. She felt relieved; her worry about how she was going to communicate with Stark and Banner without unsavory people listening in was assuaged.
"The encryption only runs through the phone, though, so don't call me on any other line," Stark continued as he typed something into his computer, his phone propped up on something so all Harry could see was the underside of this chin.
"I made phones for you, myself, and Rogers, so you can talk to your boyfriend whenever you want to now."
"He's not my boyfriend," Harry said, rolling her eyes.
"You know, you and Spangles say that so much that I find it hard to believe," Stark replied as he glanced down at the phone.
"Well, we're not," Harry said, trying to convey through her tone that the current line of conversation was over.
"Are you doing okay?" Harry asked when Stark didn't reply with a snappy retort. He continued to type away at something, his eyes focused on a screen she couldn't see.
"What? Oh, yeah, I'm just finalizing this AI; a couple SHIELD agents are coming in to get my robot in a few hours and I need to make sure that nothing is going to go wrong," Stark explained, his eyes still glued to the screen.
"Well, I think I should let you do that," Harry stated, not wanting to keep him away from his work.
"Right, probably a good idea," Stark replied absent-mindedly.
"Hey JARVIS, could you make sure Stark gets some sleep?" Harry asked, knowing that the AI could hear her from the phone.
"I'll try my best Miss. Peverell, however I can't guarantee I'll be able to accomplish the task; rest assure, I shall inform Ms. Potts about Sir's all-nighter," JARVIS answered, causing Stark to frown.
"Well, I guess I'll hang up now," Harry said, causing Stark to look back down at the phone.
"Right, talk to you later," he said, about to hang up.
"Thanks for the phone, Stark," Harry cut in before he could.
"Yeah, well, the phones were mainly for me – maybe now I'll finally get my questions answered," he said, brushing off her gratitude with a practiced ease.
Stark hung up after that. Harry stood in the kitchen, the phone once more displaying the main screen with the two buttons on it. Smiling, she powered off the phone and pocketed it before going to put the groceries away.
The phone didn't ring and Harry was about to try to figure out how to redial when Steve's face came up on the screen. He looked flustered, as if he had been trying to figure out where he had placed the phone; his face lit up, though, when he saw it was Harry and not Stark.
"Hey Steve," Harry greeted, waving her hand at his face on the screen.
"Hey Harry," he greeted back, sitting down on his bed.
"How have you been?" he asked, pushing something away so he could have more space.
"I've been good. I'm actually in Washington DC right now," he replied, looking off to the side before looking back at his phone.
"Why?" Harry asked, her eyes narrowing in confusion.
"Fury has another mission for me and I agreed to help," he answered simply. Harry nodded her head, not sure why he would agree to anything Fury wanted him to do but keeping her objections to herself.
"That sounds –" Harry trailed off, not wanting to say anything rude now that she could actually talk to Steve whenever she wanted.
"I know," Steve saved her, knowing how she felt about Fury and SHIELD in general. "I only agreed because I'm going to be going after HYDRA bases – me and a team of SHIELD agents. The team and I will be answering to ourselves mainly, so we won't have to deal with SHIELD as an organization too much."
"You'll still have to answer to Fury," Harry remarked.
"Yes, but that's a given though," Steve commented, shrugging nonchalantly. "Outside of Fury, we'll be on our own. And besides, we'll be going after HYDRA so it's not like my team and I will be called away to clean up random messes that SHIELD made like before."
"Well, as long as you're comfortable with it," Harry said. She knew that Steve wouldn't have agreed to the mission if he didn't want to do it in the first place – she just wanted to make sure for his benefit.
"I am," Steve affirmed, causing Harry to smile.
"Alright. Good luck with that," she replied; he smiled in response.
"Do you know who's on your team?" she asked, trying to get more information out of Steve.
He grabbed the back of his neck briefly before his arm fell back down to his side.
"I requested Sam to be on my team, but besides him I have no clue," Steve replied. Harry felt her eyebrows raise at his admission.
"At least Sam'll be there," Harry commented; Steve had told her briefly about Sam Wilson, so she was happy that he would have a friend on the team with him. She was concerned about him not knowing who else was going to be on his team, but there was nothing she could do about it.
"I'll meet the rest of the team later tonight. I'm sure if I have any objections to one of my teammates that we can find a replacement before going out into the field."
"I would hope so," Harry said. She could hear the finality in Steve's tone signaling that he was done discussing his mission with her for the time being.
"So what are you up to?" he asked, changing the subject.
Harry looked around the living room from her position on the couch; she was lying down, so she couldn't see everything, though she did have a view of the television.
"I'm bored out of my fucking mind," she confessed, looking back at Steve. "There's only so much daytime television I can watch before I'm tempted to just gouge my eyes out with a spoon."
"Where are Lorcan and Lysander?" Steve asked, trying to hide a smile at Harry's dramatics.
"They're at school. I have to go pick them up in about an hour or so. Honestly if it wasn't for them I'd be gone by now – I was not meant to be a stay-at-home-anything."
"Well, I'd invite you along to go HYDRA hunting, but I know how much you hate SHIELD," Steve said in a joking tone.
"If you're serious tell me now, because that offer is really tempting – even if it does means I'd be working for the organization that forced me to be homeless again," Harry replied, staring at Steve like a dog that stares at a ball that is about to be thrown.
"If you come along then you wouldn't be able to use magic. You'd actually have to fight with your bare hands, or use a gun," Steve told her.
"Oh what, you think I can't fight hand-to-hand or shoot a gun?" Harry asked him; she felt a twinge of anger at his insinuation that she couldn't fight without using her magic.
"Harry, you've never shot a gun in your life and your hand-to-hand is impressive for a beginner, but it's not something to brag about," Steve told her, not sure whether he was being too harsh or too lenient with his critiques.
"Oh, is that so?" Harry challenged.
"Yeah, pretty much," Steve replied, a ghost of a smirk on his face.
Harry huffed and folded her arms over her chest. She levitated the phone above her head, glad that her magic wasn't interfering with it.
"Sorry they didn't teach muggle fighting techniques at Hogwarts," Harry complained, her pride wounded.
"Seriously, though, do you want me on your team? Because I'm one more episode of Loose Women away from accepting any job offer that isn't house-sitting," Harry continued, looking imploringly at Steve.
"That can't be right," he said, waving away her dramatics.
"Steve, I'd be tempted to join HYDRA if they asked," she replied.
"Bullshit," he said.
"Okay, not HYDRA," Harry backtracked, "but you get my point."
"Why don't you go out for a walk, or use magic when no one is home?" Steve asked.
"I have – I am," she replied, waving her hands in front of the phone so Steve could see that she wasn't using them to hold it.
"I just can't be cooped up in a house day-in and day-out. Now I know how Sirius felt. And I actually like this house," Harry continued, looking around at the living room once more. Steve gave Harry a sympathetic look; he knew what had happened to Sirius, about how her godfather had gone to rescue Harry and her friends when she was fifteen, only to be killed in the process.
"And I can't imagine what it's like having to deal with Luna on top of everything else," Steve added, causing Harry to hum in agreement.
"Yeah, that's difficult," she said, getting up into a sitting position, grabbing the phone from the air as she did so. "I'm just glad she isn't around all the time, what with her job and all. I don't know what would be better: if Luna was exactly the same as my Luna, or as it is now, where Luna is definitely not my Luna."
Or not completely like her Luna: the two Luna's both had a passion for animals, though her Luna was more passionate about the undiscovered creatures of the world, while this Luna was more interested in studying whatever animal or creature was placed in front of her – her Luna was more interested in discovery, and valued wisdom and bravery, while this Luna was more interested in dissecting, and valued knowledge and rules.
"You'd probably slip up more if Luna was exactly like your Luna," Steve said, causing Harry to nod in agreement.
"And we can't have that," she replied sadly.
The two were silent for a few seconds, each lost in thought.
"Has Stark told you about the robot he was working on?" Steve suddenly asked. Harry looked at Steve briefly before she thought back, trying to remember if he had or not.
"He talked about an AI earlier when I talked to him. I think he's told me in passing about a robot he was working on," Harry replied, not entirely sure if he had expressly told her but knowing that he had been working on one nonetheless.
"Why, have you seen it?" Harry asked, intrigued by Steve's line of conversation.
"Yep," Steve answered, nodding his head.
Steve told Harry about the GUARD, about the trial fight, and about his unease. Harry listened to his story, her apprehension growing the more he talked about it.
"We're probably uneasy because we're still knew to all this technology," Harry told Steve after he confessed his worries about the robot.
"Besides, the only robots we've ever seen have been in movies, and those always end in a robotic uprising," Harry continued, trying to inject humor into the conversation.
"I guess," Steve replied, though he didn't sound convinced.
"I'm sure nothing bad is going to happen," Harry told him, causing Steve to look at her with raised eyebrows.
She didn't sound very convincing – she didn't feel very convinced.
"So, tell us about how you came here."
Harry sat on her bed, her room was warded with enough sound-proofing spells that no one would be able to overhear her conversation with Banner and Stark. It was one in the morning, and Luna and Rolf were actually sleeping in their bed for once, not to mention Lorcan and Lysander who were sleeping in the next room. She did not want anyone in the house overhearing this conversation.
"It was through a dark ritual. The only reason I'm here is because I stepped into the ritual before Schmidt could," Harry said, beginning to answer Banner's question.
"What's the difference between a dark ritual and a regular ritual?" Stark asked, interrupting her flow of explanation.
"Dark rituals require blood sacrifices," Harry explained. "And before you ask, dark magic is generally any magic that is corrupting, too powerful to control, or infringes upon the rights of others. Corrupting magic varies depending upon the witch or wizard – for instance, some spells corrupt some more easily than others – but the other two are easier to discern."
"So this was a dark ritual because it infringed upon the rights of others by killing them?" Banner asked.
Harry had the phone levitated in front of her; she had it folded out to the 'V' position, so she could see Banner on one screen and Stark on the other despite the fact that they were both in the same room; it was like talking to a folded panorama picture.
"Yeah, that's why it's dark," Harry answered. She watched as Banner nodded his head before going back to his note taking.
It was fun watching Banner and Stark work in the same lab – Banner relied more on taking notes with a pen and paper, while Stark was typing away on a holographic tablet of some sort.
"What was the ritual?" Stark asked, looking up at his phone briefly before going back to his tablet.
"It was some old, untested ritual that Schmidt stumbled upon one day at work. It didn't have a name, but it did have a description. I didn't actually ever see the page the ritual was written down on, but Schmidt's colleague, Unspeakable Daniels told me about it when I went to question him.
"The ritual called for seven sacrifices – two had to be poisoned, two had to be stabbed, two had to be hanged, and one had to be beheaded. Apparently each death corresponded with all the ways someone can die: poison represented bodily death, so death by old age, diseases –"
"And poison?" Stark interjected.
"– And poison," Harry said, rolling her eyes. "Stabbing corresponded to bleeding out and death through ruptured organs; hanging corresponded to suffocation; and beheading, is, well, beheading."
"What is the point of all the death? Why try to enact all the ways someone can die?" Banner asked, his voice showing his discomfort at the subject of conversation.
"Because the point of the ritual was to call upon Death to transport someone to a universe of their choosing. To do that, you have to get Death interested in what you're doing, which requires killing a bunch of people," Harry explained.
"And the people killed –?" Banner asked, trailing off at the end of his question.
"Are people who are ordinary in your world but extraordinary in the world you're traveling to – the whole thought behind it is that the ordinary souls that Death collects are drawn to the worlds that they are extraordinary in, so if all seven of the people are extraordinary in the world you want to go to, they'll all make their way over to that universe. The souls lead the way, and Death takes the person across to the new universe."
"That sounds highly unscientific," Stark cut in, his face showing his disbelief that such a ritual exists.
"Well, welcome to the magical world –what's the point of being scientific when the laws of physics no longer apply to us?" Harry asked sarcastically, causing Stark to huff and Banner to give a small smile.
"Why would Death even lead the person across to a different universe? Also, Death?" Banner asked, looking up from his notes.
"Death, in my world, is sometimes seen as an anthropomorphic figure – for instance, the Tale of the Three Brothers is a children's story about three wizards meeting Death one day. It's actually a really good story," Harry trailed off, thinking about the three brothers, and how she took their last name for her own in this world.
"And as for why Death would take the person to a different universe – the ritual says that the person Death will take is a 'servant of Death,' who is 'pure' enough that they don't actively pursue Death. So Schmidt took that requirement to mean that he couldn't be the one to do the killing – so he ended up using a lot of Imperius Curses," Harry continued, thinking back to all the people Schmidt had put under the Imperius Curse so he could achieve his goal.
"Whoa, wait. First, what does 'servant of Death' mean? And secondly, what's the 'Imperius Curse'?" Stark asked, looking up from his tablet to stare at Harry, his eyebrows narrowed in confusion.
"A 'servant of Death' is just someone who has killed people – so I'm a servant of Death, Schmidt's a servant of Death, I'm pretty sure you two are servants of Death," Harry said, watching as the two scientists looked at each other before looking back at Harry.
"Yeah, probably," Banner agreed, his tone regretful.
"I used to be called 'Merchant of Death,' so being a 'servant of Death' sounds like a demotion," Stark joked, causing Harry to smile faintly.
"And as for the Imperius Curse, it's one of the Unforgivable Curses. The Unforgivables are the Imperius Curse, the Cruciatus Curse, and the Killing Curse – they are the three most powerful and dark spells in the wizarding world and using any one of them can get a witch or wizard locked away in prison for life.
"The Killing Curse is the only self-explanatory one: it kills – that's its entire purpose. I know of many spells that kill people, but those all have counter curses that can get rid of the spell before it's too late; the Killing Curse, on the other hand, does not have a counter-spell and is the only one that instantly kills its target. It leaves no marks, no possible causes of death - healthy people just drop dead once hit. The Cruciatus Curse is a torture curse – it inflicts excruciating pain on its targets and if someone is under it for long enough it can drive the person insane.
"As for the Imperius Curse, it's a mind-controlling curse. Whoever is under the Imperius Curse does whatever it is the caster wants them to do without protest. I think it's the worst of the three, purely for the fact that someone could order you to kill your entire family while under it and you would happily comply. Well, that's not entirely true – out of the three, the Imperius Curse is the easiest to throw off."
Harry thought back to her fourth year where she had been the only one who was able to throw off the Imperius Curse during the first Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson for the year; Neville had also learned how to throw it off, but that only happened when he had faced Voldemort at the graveyard.
"I don't see how you can throw off the Killing Curse," Stark interjected, trying to throw humor into the situation.
"Well, you should talk to my friend Neville – he survived it twice, though that might be due to his weird relationship with Voldemort. To be honest, I'm still not entirely sure how Neville survived the Killing Curse, but he did," Harry said with a shrug.
"So Schmidt used the Imperius Curse to get people to kill our counterparts?" Banner asked, pointing to himself and Stark when he referred to the counterparts.
"Yeah – well, except for Stark's death. Stane was a willing participant in that case," Harry explained, watching as Stark's lips curled in disgust.
"Of course he would," he sneered, still bitter over what his Stane had done to him only a few years prior.
"Right, well, anything else about the ritual we should know about?" Banner asked, trying to divert the conversation back to the topic at hand.
"I could draw up the runes used for the ritual, however I don't want to get back home by using it," Harry answered.
"Well, we don't want to have to enact the ritual either, so we're good there," Stark replied; he no longer looked angry but his voice was still strained from his previous thoughts.
"We can try to research possible ways to get you back to your universe without having to resort to magic," Banner told her, causing Harry to nod in understanding.
"I've tried that when I first got here, but to be honest I didn't understand everything I read. So if you're up to it, go ahead," Harry said. She was relieved that she wouldn't be the one having to research theoretical physics anymore.
"I can try and get in touch with that Dr. Strange, see if he has any knowledge about traveling to different universes," Stark said, going back to his tablet.
"Who's Dr. Strange?" Harry asked. She had never heard of the man before.
"He's some doctor who is now apparently a sorcerer or something. SHIELD has a file on him and I looked at it to see why it had such a high clearance level on it. If his file is accurate then he could be of some help."
"This world has sorcerers?" Harry asked, taken aback.
"Apparently," Stark replied, just as skeptical as Harry felt.
"Alright, ask if he can help – but don't tell him about me," Harry said, not wanting anyone else to know about her situation.
"Geez, it's like you guys can't trust me to keep a secret. Do I have to remind you that I had been the CEO of a weapon manufacturing company for years? That no one has gotten a hold of my designs for any one of my Iron Man suits? I can keep a secret," Stark declared petulantly.
"Need I remind Sir of the time he showed the schematics of the prototype of the Jericho missile to that one journalist after you had slept with her?" JARVIS cut in, causing Stark to pout.
"Okay, first of all, the design was never going into production so I didn't reveal anything of importance. Secondly, she was pretty good with her hands –"
"Alright, no –"
"We get it Tony –"
"She wasn't the best –"
"Only making it worse –"
"Can we get back to what we were talking about?" Banner asked with a pleading look on his face.
"Right, good idea Bruce," Stark said, pulling out a bag of trail mix from what seemed like nowhere. "I actually have a question for Harry."
"Go on," Harry said, her hesitance clear on her face.
"How does magic work?" he asked, popping a handful of trail mix into his mouth.
"That's difficult to explain – especially since I don't know," Harry replied.
"Can you try to explain it? Or at least tell us how you're able to do magic but others can't? Is it genetic? Did you perform some ritual to get it? Can anyone perform magic?" he prodded, handing the bag towards Banner, who took a handful of trail mix for himself.
Harry sighed, trying to get her thoughts in order.
"Understanding how magic works – what it is, how we are able to use it – has been studied for thousands of years in my world and yet no one has a definitive answer for any of it. As for how wizards and witches are able to perform magic, I think I can explain that. This is purely based on what I know about wand lore and my experiences with magic – whether it's factual or not doesn't really matter at this point.
"For simplicity, I guess you can see magic as a part of your body. You're born with magic, so it's purely genetic. Using magic is almost like working a muscle, but most witches and wizards use wands which help regulate how much of your own magic you end up using. It's rare that someone with a wand will use enough magic that they become exhausted, but it's been known to happen. Personally, since I don't use a wand I've become exhausted a few times. It's akin to working out until your muscles can't take the exercise anymore – at a certain point your magic stops working because you're too tired to use it. If you try to keep using magic past that point then you can die from it – something about your magic breaking free from your body and how that act of breaking free can destroy you.
"I know of one case of someone's magic breaking free from their control, but she was young when it happened to her. When witches and wizards are young their magic isn't fully developed nor is it cemented within their being like adult witches and wizards. Therefore the girl was able to survive, but she was driven insane afterward and she never was able to control her magic. I never met the girl, she died a couple years after the incident, but her brother was my headmaster at my school, and I did interact with her portrait a couple of times.
"I can't really explain magic outside of that. I mean, I know theory about how transfiguration works or charms or any other subject, but I don't know why it works. Sorry I can't be of more help."
Harry finished her explanation, knowing that they would continue to question her. Her mind was elsewhere, though, thinking back to Arianna Dumbledore and her tragic life.
"What's the theory behind transfiguration?" Stark asked, interrupting Harry's dark thoughts.
Harry gave a sigh.
"I really wish Hermione was here," she said wistfully, "Hermione is a transfiguration prodigy and would have loved to explain all the theory to you. As it is, I suck at transfiguration, so sorry in advance for the poor explanation."
Harry spent the rest of the night trying to explain how transfiguration works to Banner and Stark.
It did not go well.
Harry was sat on the floor of Lorcan and Lysander's room. Besides the furniture, she was the only thing still on the floor. The twin's laughter filled the room; they were floating about four feet off the ground, their toys floating in the air besides them.
Harry looked up at her handy-work, unable to contain her smile at the shrieks of laughter the boys were giving at their flight.
"Higher!" Lysander demanded between giggles, his body spinning in the air as he tried to perform a roll.
"Any higher and you'll hit the ceiling," Harry warned them, though she did add an inch or two to their height.
Lorcan zoomed past his brother, his body in the 'Superman' pose. Lysander, still spinning in the air, laughed harder at his brother's antics.
Harry let out a chuckle and would have missed her phone ringing had it not been set to vibrate.
"Hello," she answered, looking down at the screen to see Steve.
"Hey Harry," he greeted back with a smile, which fell into confusion when he heard the twins. "What's going on?"
"Oh, just goofing around with the twins," Harry replied, angling the phone so he could see the flying boys.
"Say hi, boys," Harry told them, watching as Lysander was still spinning while Lorcan played with his toys while in the air.
"Hi!" they said, not knowing who they were talking to but still doing as Harry said.
"Do you really think that's wise?" Steve asked, judgement clear on his face as Harry turned the phone back to her.
"What? They're fine," Harry said, waving off his concern.
"Harry, they're floating in the air," he said pointing out the obvious.
"Yeah, and they're fine. They're less likely to run into walls this way," Harry remarked, thinking about all the times the twins had banged their heads against the walls while they played.
She was pretty sure they were going to give themselves permanent brain damage if they kept it up.
Steve was not amused.
"Harry, you're using magic on them," he told her, finally getting to his qualm of the matter.
Harry rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, I've levitated them off the ground so they can experience what it feels like to be astronauts, it's not like I'm torturing them or anything," Harry said, defending her actions.
"Harry, Lysander is spinning around uncontrollably," Steve pointed out looking at her like she was missing the point.
"Well that happens to astronauts sometimes," Harry said, though she did wave her hand towards Lysander, causing him to be hoisted up by his ankles to get him to stop spinning around.
Snape might have been a prick, but Harry had to admit that his spell, levicorpus, was really useful.
"Besides, they asked me if I could use magic on them – I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have their consent," Harry told Steve. She gave him a stern look, one that displayed her feelings about Steve questioning her judgement when it came to using magic on children.
In short, she was pissed.
"Right, I'm sorry, I know you wouldn't be using magic on them if they didn't want you to; I guess I'm still equating magic with Loki," he apologized, though Harry could still see his apprehension with her willingness to use magic on the twins.
She frowned at his admission about Loki, though she couldn't fault him on his association. Loki is the Norse god of magic, and he did use magic when attacking the Avengers in New York – his magic just wasn't the same kind that Harry could do.
"Listen, I'll put them down when they ask. As of now they're still having fun."
Lorcan was talking to Lysander, who was still hoisted up by his ankles. Seeing his beat-red face, Harry waved her hand, causing Lysander to slowly rise up into a laying position; he'd be able to control himself from there.
"Good," Steve said, nodding his head in approval.
"You really need to stop questioning me on my use of magic, though. Honestly, you'd think after watching my entire life that you'd know by now that I don't abuse my magic. Over seven years of actively fighting against those who do, I'm not going to become the people I hate," Harry told him, jabbing a finger at the screen in a mock-scolding fashion.
"Well, you know, 'you either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.' I just want to make sure you haven't gone to the 'dark side,'" Steve said, putting air quotes around 'dark side.'
Harry's lips twitched into a smile, unable to hold back her amusement at Steve's antics.
"Did you just quote a line from that Batman movie to me?" she asked him.
"My team and I watched it last night for our 'team bonding movie night'. Apparently they all thought that I hadn't seen it yet and I didn't want to correct their assumptions. I mean, it's not that bad of a film," Steve said, shrugging his shoulders.
"It's not a bad movie, but it's not the greatest," Harry critiqued. Steve nodded in agreement.
Harry and Steve had once spent a weekend devoted purely to watching superhero movies – which meant it was just the two of them watching Batman and Superman movies, one after the other.
"Yeah, it's a bit hard to sympathize with the Batman in that movie – I think I'd prefer to hang out with Stark than Wayne," Steve gave his two cents, causing Harry to give a laugh.
"The Adam West Batman was probably my favorite out of all the incarnations," Harry said, "it was just so ridiculous that it was good."
"I know what you mean. I preferred watching his Batman than any other version as well. It's just nice that they don't try to take themselves too seriously," Steve added.
"As opposed to the current ones – I think I would have liked the movie more if Batman didn't have that stupid gravelly voice," Harry said.
At a particularly loud shriek, Harry looked up to the two boys to see that they were arguing over one of their toys. Holding out her hand, Harry summoned the toy, causing the two to look over at her in confusion.
"If you two can't play nice then I'll put you back on the ground," Harry warned them, placing the toy down next to her. "Now apologize to each other."
"Sorry," they said, which sent them into an awkward silence.
"Is there a reason why you called or are we just going to discuss Batman movies?" Harry asked, looking back at the phone to see Steve's amused face.
"If I wanted to discuss superhero movies I'd be talking about Superman," Steve told her.
"Of course you would," Harry said, rolling her eyes.
Steve loved Superman, not because Superman was extremely powerful but because Clark Kent was a genuinely nice person.
Kind of like Steve.
"And if I wanted to talk about superhero movies, I would talk about Wonder Woman, except they don't have any," Harry said, angry over the discrepancy between the number of Batman and Superman movies versus the number of Wonder Woman movies.
Steve hummed his sympathies; he had already heard her rant once before about how unfair it was that the only time Wonder Woman was ever in a film was if it was a Justice League film.
"Anyway, I called to update you on my situation," Steve said, changing the subject before Harry could rant once more.
"I figure you're no longer in DC?" Harry asked, looking at what little background she could see around Steve on the phone. He was no longer in his room in DC, and she could hear a distant hum of airplane engines.
"No, I'm on a plane – a really fancy plane, actually. It's a mobile headquarters of sorts, it allows my team and me to travel to all the HYDRA bases with minimal discomfort," Steve explained, looking around his assigned room on the plane.
"That's nice," Harry commented, not sure what else she was supposed to say.
"Yeah, it is. Anyway, since I'm on a plane surrounded by my teammates it's probably not wise for us to talk on the phone very often," he told her, though Harry could hear that he didn't fully believe his own warning.
"Steve, are you trying to tell me that I shouldn't call you?" Harry asked, mock-offended by his suggestion.
"Yes," he said, nodding his head, "after all, it wouldn't be good if I was on a mission and you called me."
"That would be bad," Harry agreed. "So does this mean I have to wait for you to call?"
"Basically," he replied, "that way I can be sure I'm in a secure place where I won't be overheard. We can't have anyone find out about you, after all."
"Obviously," Harry said, trying to hide her smirk at all the sarcasm that was coming from Steve.
Steve looked as though he was going to say something else, however before he could their conversation was interrupted by a loud 'BANG.' Harry shot to her feet, her body falling instinctively into a defensive pose, her grip on the phone tight in her fist.
At the sound of crying, though, Harry relaxed minutely – Lorcan was crying, his hands covering the top of his head as he drifted away from the wardrobe. Lysander, who was once again spinning uncontrollably, decided it was the perfect moment to throw up while in the air.
Harry took in the scene and gave a sigh. She held her hand out towards all the mayhem, and gently lowered it towards the ground, causing all the objects that were floating to fall down gently to the ground, including the two boys. With another wave of her hand, Harry vanished the vomit before it could hit the ground.
"Hey Steve, I'm going to have to go," Harry told him, Lorcan's crying mixing in with Lysander's tears.
"Did you fuck up?" Steve asked sarcastically.
"Very funny," Harry retorted. "I'll talk to you later."
"Remember, I'll call you," Steve said before saying goodbye and hanging up the phone.
Harry sighed and put the phone away.
She had been having such a good afternoon, too.
"What was my counterpart like?"
Harry looked up from her rune diagram to look at her phone where Tony was looking at her curiously. It was six in the morning, yet Harry was talking with Tony on the phone – it was almost like he didn't understand the concept of sleep.
Granted, neither did Harry.
"He was twenty-five years old, tried to hit on me when I first introduced myself to him. He was intelligent; his father was the head of the US Department of Magical Law Enforcement, so he had a lot to live up to. He hated all the pureblood bullshit and actively rebelled against magic; he loved muggle engineering and tried to learn as much as he could about it. All in all, he wasn't too different from you," Harry explained, going back to her sketching of the runes she remembered from the ritual.
"So he was a wizard?" Tony asked, a far-away quality to his voice.
"All of the Avenger counterparts were – Loki wasn't, though, which I find extremely ironic," Harry replied, looking at Tony critically.
"What were the others like?" he asked, looking curiously at Harry.
Harry blew out a deep breath, not sure where Tony's line of questioning was coming from.
"The only counterparts that you know personally that I interacted with were you, Pepper, Howard Stark, Stane, and Loki, though Loki was technically dead at the time and I really just interacted with Schmidt through Loki's body – that's a long story I don't want to get into right now.
"To be honest, I don't know what the others were like. All I had was a file for each of them telling me basic facts about their lives. Like, I know Banner's counterpart was a werewolf, and that Steve's had suffered from a deadly disease, but I didn't interact with them.
"If you want to know what they were like – to gauge how similar everyone is – then I can tell you about everyone's wand wood."
Tony looked at Harry, his eyebrows quirked with curiosity.
"We had wands?" he asked.
"Well, your counterparts were magical – of course they had wands," she replied, looking at Tony like he was an idiot.
"You don't have a wand," he pointed out, "why did we have wands but you don't?"
"Technically I do have a wand – its yew."
"I'm not a wand," Tony cut in, a smirk on his face, causing Harry to roll her eyes.
"Very funny," she told him as she withdrew her yew wand from her mokeskin pouch. She held it up for Tony to see, and she watched as a look of intense focus came over his face.
"Why would discussing wands help tell us what our counterparts were like?" Stark asked, his curiosity needing to be sated.
"Because wands choose wizards and witches, not the other way around; wands have personalities of their own created in part from the wood chosen for the wand and the core of the wand, and they tend to pick owners with certain attributes. Ollivander, the wandmaker I knew and became friends with, wrote me a detailed analysis of what attributes each wand wood looks for."
"Why did he do that?" Tony asked, going back to his computer.
"Because I asked him to. When I became an auror I knew enough about wand lore to know that wands pick the witch or wizard, so I asked Ollivander more about it. He wrote me the analysis and it helped me apprehend the right people. After all, if a witch has a wand that binds to a person who is never supposed to perform a dishonorable act then she probably isn't the dark witch I'm looking for," Harry explained, placing her wand next to her on the bed and going back to her runes.
"That's smart of you," Tony remarked.
"Thanks," Harry replied, smiling slightly at the compliment.
Many of her colleagues thought she was wasting her time learning about what each wand looked for in its potential mate, but her track-record of apprehending dark witches and wizards had shut most of them up.
"So what was my counterpart's wand?" Tony asked after a moment of silence.
"Hornbeam," she replied, automatically.
"What kind of tree is hornbeam?" Tony asked, perplexed.
"No idea," Harry replied with a shrug. "Hornbeam wands pick those who have one or multiple obsessions that the owners make great discoveries in. Ollivander's wand, for instance, was hornbeam and he was extremely passionate about wands – so much so that he became a wand maker."
"I don't see how that applies to me," Tony said, continuing to type something onto his holographic tablet.
"Are you – are you kidding me?" Harry asked, baffled. "We are talking on phones that you created, done so through an AI that you created, you are working on the most advanced piece of technology I have ever seen and you build full-body metal suits for the hell of it. Stark, you are obsessed with technology!"
"I wouldn't say 'obsessed,'" he countered, "I would say 'passionate.'"
"I don't care what you want to call it, the wand fits," she responded.
"Whatever," Tony said shrugging his shoulders, though Harry could see on his face that he was deep in thought. "You said you met Pepper and my dad's counterparts – did you see their woods?"
"Yeah, I did. Howard had walnut, which chooses highly intelligent people who tend to be innovators and inventors; Pepper had black walnut, which chooses those with good instincts, powerful insight, and who are honest with themselves and others."
"Huh," Tony said, no longer typing. "What about Bruce?"
"He had hazel," Harry replied. "Hazel wands pick those who understand and can manage their feelings. Hazel wands have a quirk where they'll absorb magic given off by their owners when they are angry or disappointed and the wands will discharge that magic unpredictably."
Tony was silent for a few seconds before letting out a laugh.
"So Bruce's wand was basically the Hulk?" he asked with a grin on his face.
Harry thought about it for a second before also grinning.
"Yeah, basically," she replied. She watched as Tony descended into thought, and Harry could practically see the wheels turning in his head.
"What about the others?" he asked, secretly plotting.
Harry thought back on the other Avengers and tried to remember each of their wands.
"Thor had cypress, which is a wood associated with nobility and chooses those who are brave, bold, and self-sacrificing. Barton had cedar, which chooses those who are loyal, perceptive, insightful, and are generally people you don't want to mess with. Romanoff had alder, which is an unyielding wood and chooses people who are helpful, considerate, and likeable – alder likes pairing with people who have opposing natures to the wand wood itself, and it is also best known for having owners who can perform non-verbal spells with ease.
"As for Steve's counterpart, his wand was rowan, which pairs with people who are clear-headed, pure-hearted, and virtuous. Ollivander also commented that those who possess rowan wands are never evil, the owners are great with defensive spells, and that they tend to out-perform others in duels.
"Merlin, that would be Steve's wand," Harry finished up, thinking about how accurately rowan fit her friend's personality.
"That's all of their wands," Tony exclaimed, looking at Harry as if she made up all the descriptions. He was impressed, Harry could tell that much.
"I'm guessing that your counterparts were pretty close to your own personalities, considering the wands fit you lot so well," Harry remarked.
"I don't know – Natasha's wand doesn't sound like it would fit her. Is there any wand that would fit someone who is cold, calculating, and aggressive?"
"Probably, but they aren't found in alder," Harry replied, shrugging her shoulders. She had never met Natasha Romanoff, neither in this world or her own, so she wasn't sure how well the wood fit for her.
"What about you?" Tony asked after a few moments of thought.
"Holly, elder, and yew," Harry said, holding up her right wrist, left wrist, and the wand respectively.
"If I had an actual wand – with a real core and everything – then my first pick for wand would be holly, followed by elder, and lastly yew," Harry explained, twirling her yew wand between her fingers.
"You didn't say anything about a core," Tony said, his eyebrows drawn in suspicion and curiosity.
"That's because the core of a wand only really matters for certain woods – most of the time the core will just tell you whether or not someone is more powerful or is more prone to accidents. Cores tend to not matter in regard to someone's personality – unless their wand is chestnut. If the wand is chestnut then the core matters, otherwise the core of a wand doesn't tell you anything about the owner."
"Okay, fine," Tony said, trying to placate Harry, "but do you know what my core was?"
"Phoenix tail feather – if you must know," Harry replied, rolling her eyes as she did so.
"Do you know the others?" he implored. Harry could see that he was secretly pleased by the core of his wand, though she didn't know why.
"No, I don't. The only reason why I know of yours is because your counterpart told me. Your counterpart was a real prick," Harry told him with a glare.
Tony shrugged off Harry's accusation about his counterpart. "And what do your woods mean?"
"Holly picks those who need help overcoming anger and a tendency for rashness. Elder chooses those who are highly unusual and it tends to be associated with bad luck. Ollivander's description of yew wands doesn't tell much, but he does say that yew wands never choose an owner who is mediocre or timid. All three woods are also extremely rare, which I guess is interesting."
Harry tried to explain her wand woods in the most off-handed way possible, if only because she didn't particularly like talking about herself. She remembered when she had first read Ollivander's analysis for each of her woods, and she recalled the sinking feeling she felt when she realized that all the descriptions pointed towards her having some special destiny or a special kind of notoriety.
She didn't like to think of herself as some powerful or superior person, she just wanted to be normal – or as normal as one could be when they have magic.
She thought back through each description; she was glad that her first wand choice would have been holly – it seemed to be the least arrogant of the bunch. Elder, on the other hand, would apparently only choose witches or wizards who were the superior of their peers, and that the owners of elder would be marked for special destinies.
She wasn't sure whether traveling to another universe counted as a special destiny; yet again, she wasn't particularly sure she was on a spiritual quest, which was another attribute of those chosen by holly.
Harry stared at her elder bracelet as she thought, and she suddenly remembered another attribute of elder wands.
Harry felt her face heat up.
"What are you thinking about?" Tony asked, drawing her out of her thoughts.
"What?" Harry asked, confused.
"You're completely red – I didn't know you could blush," he replied, pointing to her face; it felt incredibly warm. "What are you thinking about?"
"It's nothing," Harry answered, rolling her eyes, willing the blush to leave her face.
"No it's not – is it something about your wood?" Tony joked, wiggling his eyebrows at the innuendo.
"Yeah, it is. I don't want to say it because you'll make fun of me," Harry declared, glaring daggers at Tony.
"Why? Does it have something to do with Rogers?" he asked, ignoring her glare so he could smirk at her.
"No," Harry affirmed, running a hand through her hair.
"So it does," he said, grinning evilly at her.
Harry cursed at her inability to lie.
"It's not important," Harry tried to dissuade Tony's inquiry.
"Oh, right, sure it's not. Then I guess you'll have no difficulty telling me about it," he said sweetly, and Harry knew he got her on that one.
"It's just another fact I recalled about people with elder wands – nothing else," Harry told him.
"What's the fact?" Tony asked, his tone challenging.
Harry sighed and looked away from Tony in order to contemplate whether she should actually tell him or not.
"People chosen by elder tend to have a powerful affinity with those chosen by rowan," Harry explained. She watched the realization spread over Tony's face.
"So when's the wedding?" he asked with a smirk.
"Powerful affinity does not mean romantic love, jackass," Harry rebuked with a roll of her eyes.
"It doesn't mean it doesn't, though," he replied, causing Harry to pause momentarily to comprehend what he meant by that.
"We're not dating – we're just friends. Members of the opposite sex can be friends just like members of the same sex – there doesn't have to be anything romantic about it at all. If anything that fact just explains how Steve and I became friends so quickly," Harry stated.
"Right," Tony said, drawing out the word in disbelief, "well, just to let you know, I need at least three weeks prior notice for any special events, so when you and Captain Spangles want to tie the knot give me advanced notice so I can plan his bachelor party."
"You are not planning Steve's bachelor party," Harry said, pinching the bridge of her nose out of frustration.
"That's exactly what the future Mrs. Captain Spangles would say," Tony replied with a grin.
"I fucking hate you," Harry told him, though she didn't mean it.
Thankfully that was the end of the conversation.
"Well, that was a bust."
Harry and Steve were talking on the phone once more, Steve having called while Harry was making dinner for herself and the boys.
"I'm guessing your first raid didn't go very well?" Harry asked, glancing briefly over to the phone before going back to sautéing vegetables.
"The base was empty – completely wiped clean of everything. The only good thing that came out of it was that I now know that Sam, Hall, and Thirteen can follow orders," Steve replied.
Harry could hear the humming of the plane accompany Steve's words, which meant that he and his team were currently traveling to a new location.
She hummed, thinking back on Steve's description of his teammates to know who he was talking about. Harry already knew about Sam Wilson from Steve's account of his life in Washington DC. Amy Hall was the pilot and combat expert for the team – according to Steve she was a small bundle of energy who was extremely deadly during a fight. Thirteen was the highest ranking agent on the team who was great with computers and even better in a fight; she didn't want to reveal her full name to the team, so instead of calling her by the pseudonym she used when she had first met Steve, he and the rest of the team started to call her by her moniker – Agent Thirteen.
They could have referred to her by her first name, Sharon, but until Steve knew what her last name was he wasn't going to refer to her under any name outside of Thirteen.
"Well, following orders is always good. As for the empty base, I'm not really surprised by it. HYDRA would be foolish if they didn't move after being ratted out on," Harry responded, turning the heat down to let the vegetables simmer.
"I knew that they wouldn't be there, it's just irritating to be proven right," Steve complained.
"Yeah, the only time it's irritating to be proven right is when it's about a bad situation," Harry agreed, looking at Steve.
He was scowling, looking away from the phone as he descended into thought.
"So what's next? Are you going to raid another empty HYDRA base?" Harry asked. She quickly checked the chicken that was cooking in the oven before popping her head back into the phone's field of view.
"Probably – it's safe to assume that every location we got from one of the HYDRA agents is going to be empty; at this point, though, it's all we have to go on," Steve answered with a sigh. It was clear to Harry that Steve wasn't looking forward to the inevitable dead end he was heading towards.
"Well, who knows, maybe you'll get lucky; maybe some low-level HYDRA agent didn't do their job properly and left behind something top-secret at one of the bases you're going to be raiding," Harry said, her voice oozing with fake-happiness.
"That would be nice," Steve said, ignoring Harry's tone in favor of focusing on the positive.
"In the meantime, what are you lot up to?" Harry asked.
"We're having another team-bonding night," Steve said, glancing out the plane window briefly. Judging by the amount of light that came through the window, Steve was currently in a part of the world that was already experiencing night-time.
"Are you watching another movie?"
"No, I think this time we're playing Jenga. Malcolm insisted that we play it," Steve replied, barely containing his eye-roll.
Luke Malcolm was the scientist and technician for the plane – anything that involved science or math was his responsibility.
"Is Jenga that tower game?" Harry asked, still not confident on her muggle board-game knowledge.
"Yeah, it's the game where you remove planks from a tower without causing the tower to fall over," Steve explained. Harry nodded along as she stirred the vegetables.
"I bet I'd be really good at that game," Harry joked, giving Steve a challenging smirk.
"I think keeping the tower up through magic is against the rules, Harry," Steve chastised with a smile on his face.
"I bet you that the makers of the game didn't take magic into account when they made the rules," Harry rebuked, turning off the heat for the vegetables in the process.
"Harry, are you looking for a loop-hole? That doesn't seem very Gryffindor of you," Steve replied, causing Harry to gasp in mock-hurt.
"Steve, there is no need to bring my house into this," Harry said, affronted.
"Though it isn't very Gryffindor, you're completely right about that," Harry continued, shrugging her shoulders in the process. "Did I tell you about how the Sorting Hat almost put me in Slytherin?"
"No, you haven't. Are Slytherins known for looking for loopholes?" Steve asked in amusement.
"Slytherins are known for a lot of things – looking for loopholes is one of their specialties," Harry answered.
"What made the Hat decide to put you in Gryffindor?"
"I asked to be put there. It considered Slytherin but I didn't want to go to there, so it put me in Gryffindor instead. It was a good thing it did – I'm much more of a Gryffindor than a Slytherin," Harry said, turning off the oven and letting the chicken finish cooking in the left-over heat.
"So why the sudden showing of your Slytherin side?" Steve asked, his tone playful.
"One, I always have my Slytherin side showing it's just dwarfed by my Gryffindor traits. Two, I have been talking to Tony a lot recently," Harry said, turning her full attention back to Steve and off of the food.
"Since when did Stark become Tony to you?" Steve inquired, his head tilted out of curiosity.
"Since he keeps calling me at three in the morning in order to question me about magic."
Steve seemed taken aback by the information, his eyes narrowing.
"Why don't you tell him to call you later? It's not unreasonable to ask and you both need the sleep," Steve said, his voice dripping with concern.
Harry shrugged, waving him off.
"It's fine. Besides, I'm already awake when he calls, so it's not that big of a deal. It's not like I need much sleep and he'd already woke me up once – I highly doubt he wants to do it again."
"Really? What happened?" Steve asked mischievously.
"What do you think happened? I yelled at him. It's a good thing I was by myself – I was screaming bloody murder at him," Harry replied.
She thought back on the incident: she had been having a good sleep – one that lasted past the first completed REM cycle – when she was rudely awoken by Tony, who wanted to ask her a question about charm theory. Needless to say, Harry spent a good thirty minutes yelling at the billionaire alarm-clock.
Harry usually gets the necessary amount of sleep through powernaps – sleeping for more than an hour is a rare occurrence for her and not something she likes to gives up.
"I wish I could have seen his face when you started to yell," Steve said, his tone wistful.
"It was priceless, though it could have been better. I guess he's had enough experience with scorned women that he isn't completely thrown for a loop every time someone starts to yell profanities at him," Harry replied, causing Steve to chuckle lightly.
"You have a point," he said with a grin.
Harry was about to say something else, however Steve's sudden change of posture had her holding her tongue.
He got up from his seat, and walked out of the phone's field of view, leaving Harry alone to look at his vacated chair. She could hear mumbled voices coming from behind Steve's phone, followed by the door closing.
Steve walked back into frame, picking up the phone as he did so.
"That was Malcolm – Jenga starts in five," Steve explained. He had a frown on his face, though whether it was because he had to cut his conversation with Harry short or because he had to interact with a hyper-active Malcolm, she wasn't sure.
"Good timing – dinner's ready," Harry said, nodding towards her finished food.
"I'll call you later," Steve replied, already making his way to the door.
"Alright, have fun playing Jenga. Remember, don't do anything I would do," Harry told him, knowing full well that she didn't get the saying right.
She watched Steve's eyebrows narrow in confusion.
"That's not –" he began, though he stopped when he finally understood what she was saying.
"I don't think I can magically keep the tower up," he told her with a smirk.
"Then you're doing what I told you to do," Harry replied, rolling her eyes at her friend.
"Call you later."
"I talked to Strange today."
Harry looked up from her runes to look at Tony, who was eating a sandwich at his desk. It was half-past two in the morning, which meant it was still pretty early for Tony to be bugging her.
"What did he have to say?" Harry asked, her heart picking up speed in her chest.
She, Tony, and Bruce had decided to seek out the supposed sorcerer to see if he knew of a possible way to get Harry back to her home. If Strange didn't know of any way then Harry would have no other options than to accept the fact that she would never go home.
"He said a lot of bullshit, to be honest. He kept rattling on how he didn't have time to talk to me about his special craft – that he had more important issues he had to attend to regarding mystic powers that be or something. I asked him about alternate universes and if it was possible to travel between them; he seemed curious as to why I would ask – don't worry, I didn't tell him about you – I just said I was interested for the hell of it.
"He didn't say anything about alternate universes, but I did have to listen to him lecture about different dimensions and how he has intimate knowledge of many of them because he's gone to a few himself. To be honest, if the guy didn't have his own SHIELD file, I would have written him off as a loon. The guy is crazy and really full of himself," Tony said, concluding his found information.
"And that's saying something, coming from you," Harry said, trying to bring humor into the situation despite the fact that it felt as though her heart had been snapped by a rubber band.
"Very funny," Tony said, waving his half-eaten sandwich at her.
Harry felt her heart twinge in disappointment. Talking with Strange lead to a dead-end; at this point she wasn't sure what she would do. Reenacting the ritual not an option, and while she suspected that the Zodiac was one of the Infinity Stones Schmidt had been looking for, she couldn't be sure of it unless she actually saw it in person.
And even then she couldn't be sure; after all, how does one go about confirming the existence of the Stones? How can she be sure if it is a Stone and not something else?
"Well, that was a bust," Harry commented, staring at the runes she made.
Tony wanted to learn more about runes, and Harry was happy to oblige his curiosity – she actually knew a thing or two about them, unlike transfiguration.
"I know. I wasted a perfectly good afternoon talking to the guy," Tony complained, though Harry could tell his interests had been piqued by his conversation with the sorcerer.
"Thanks for trying," Harry told him. "I would have said forget it if I had known the guy was going to be an arsehole."
Tony waved off her thanks, instead returning to his work.
"Eh, it just means we're going back to the drawing board," he said, typing away on something that in no way resembled a drawing board.
Harry felt a surge of gratitude spring from her chest – it was nice to know that Tony was willing to continue the research, even if all they were finding were dead-ends.
"Thanks," Harry whispered, loud enough that Tony could hear it. He glanced at her, giving her a tight smile that was gone as soon as it had come.
They worked together in silence for a few minutes, Harry finalizing the defensive rune sheet she was making to show Tony how runes could be used to create magical protections, while Tony continued to do something or other on his computers.
"Hypothetically speaking," Tony began, breaking the silence, "if we can't find you a way back to your universe, how likely is it that we'll find you dead in a ditch somewhere?"
Harry looked up and into the phone, her face displaying how weird she felt the question to be.
"Are you asking if I'd be suicidal if I couldn't find a way back home?" she asked incredulously.
"There's nothing wrong with it if you would be. Everyone gets down sometimes. Hell, Bruce had tried it once – though it didn't exactly work. I'm asking just to see if we need to start thinking about putting you in therapy or something," Tony said as if the subject matter was no big deal.
Harry sat back in her bed and contemplated Tony's question. She had been living in this universe for almost two years and never once had she contemplated killing herself.
But was that because she had hope? Hope that she would find a way home and that she had just been delayed along the way?
If she no longer had that hope, would she consider it?
She would want to say that she wouldn't, that she would be able to live on despite knowing she would never see her friends – her family – ever again. But she thought back on her past behavior: of her running off after Bellatrix Lestrange after she had killed Sirius, not stopping her pursuit despite Neville's insistence, not stopping it even after her Cruciatus curse failed, not moving out of the way when the killing curse was about to hit her. She thought about her seventh year, about how some days she wouldn't care if she lived or died as long as she had completed her objective for each day; even with the hope that Neville, Ron, and Hermione would be successful in destroying all the horcruxes that still didn't stop her from almost getting herself killed day-in and day-out.
Despite never being suicidal, Harry has never been one to think about her mortality before diving into a life-threatening situation.
"It's less likely than you think, but more likely than it should be," Harry finally answered, hoping that her projected odds of suicide put Tony's mind at ease.
He nodded his head at her answer, probably already having guessed it. Silence fell once more as Tony went about his work, while Harry sat in thought.
"I know that I'm not likely to ever return home," Harry spoke up, causing Tony to look at her. "I think I'd be able to come to terms with that fact if I just knew that everyone back home was okay – that they were safe and will have long, happy lives. I just want to know that they are able to move on, and that they know that I will always love them – that I am eternally grateful that they were my friends, and that I am so sorry to have missed all the good parts of our lives.
"I'm going to be missing weddings, and my godson's life, and spending the rest of my life with everyone I consider family. If I could just know that they are living their lives – that they're happy – then I think I would be able to move on."
Harry felt a deep ache in her heart, and she knew that if she was to stand in front of the Mirror of Erised at this very moment, then she would see her friends all happy and loved – all of them forgiving and understanding of why she did what she did.
Harry wiped her eyes and she wasn't even angry when she felt moisture coming from them – she was just sad.
Tony had stopped working while she spoke; he looked sympathetic, and his face had no hint of the usual arrogant mask he normally wore. Harry didn't know whether to be surprised or not. She knew he had a heart, he just doesn't show it often enough.
"If you're this broken up about never seeing them again, how do you think your friends feel?" he asked, trying to make it come off as a joke but failing spectacularly at it.
"They probably think I died on the job," Harry answered, "and if they think I'm dead then they'd know that I'd be happy.
"I'd be with my family if I was dead – they'd have no reason to mourn my loss."
"Outside of the fact that you aren't there anymore," Tony said, not liking how easily Harry wrote off her own importance in her friend's lives.
"Yeah, but they'd only be mourning me, and they'd have each other to rely on. They'd be able to move on quickly. But for me, I'd have lost them all. I'd need time to move on, and I might never be able to."
"So, what's the likely-hood that you'd commit suicide?" Tony asked once more, no longer joking.
Harry thought about her life: about Neville, Ron, and Hermione; about Luna and Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys; about Teddy and Andromeda, and Tonks and Lupin and Sirius and her parents; about Hogwarts and her classmates and her professors; about Steve, Tony, Pepper, Bruce, Lorcan and Lysander, this universe's Luna and Rolf.
She thought about them all.
"I think I'll live."
Harry was asleep. She had been sleeping for four hours now, and was due to sleep at least another three. It was a solid sleep, a dreamless sleep, one that was rare in her life. She had the house to herself; Rolf, Luna, and the twins were off visiting Luna's family for the week – something about a mid-November celebration that was a family tradition.
So Harry slept in the quiet house, sleeping like any other normal person would.
And then her phone rang.
Growling, Harry woke-up, her hand snatching out to grab the phone like it was the Golden Snitch.
"I swear to Merlin, Stark, I am going to castrate you the next time I see you," Harry threatened with her eyes closed, her voice still groggy from sleep, her hair more of a mess than it normally was as it surrounded her face.
"Harry," a whispered voice said, causing Harry's eyes to snap open.
Steve was sat in a bed that wasn't his own – probably a hotel bed. He looked terrible: he was extremely pale, he had bags under his eyes which looked sunken and distressed. He looked like a child who was afraid of a storm.
"Steve, hey," she said, immediately alert.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up," he apologized. Harry saw his neck move as he swallowed the lump in his throat.
"Hey, no, it's fine. What's up?" she asked, propping herself up in her bed. He reminded Harry of the time she found him in the library reading up on the Holocaust – like he had had a run in with a dementor.
Steve didn't answer; instead he just sat and stared at the phone in his hands, watching Harry. Harry let the silence be as she waited for him to answer.
After a few minutes of no answer, though, Harry felt as if the comfortable silence was not helping Steve get his feelings out.
"Steve, I can't help you if you don't tell me what's going on," Harry said, her tone soothing yet firm.
He didn't respond at first, which worried Harry. After a moment, though, he started to speak.
"They knew we were coming."
"Who, HYDRA?" Harry asked, prompting Steve to further discussion.
He nodded in answer.
"We were looking into another one of their bases, expecting it to be empty like the others. At first we thought no one was there because it was cleared out. Once we let our guard down, that's when they decided to spray us."
"What?" Harry asked, not sure what he meant by 'spray.'
"The room we were in started to emit a toxin into the air – we were all affected by it," Steve explained. Harry did not like the far-away look he had in his eyes.
"Is everyone okay?" She asked. She really hoped no one had died.
Thankfully, Steve nodded.
"Everyone is alright; they're a bit shaken-up, but none of us were physically wounded in any way," Steve answered.
Steve's assurance did not ease Harry's worry.
"You seem pretty shaken-up yourself. What did the gas do?" Harry asked.
Another pause of silence – Harry was starting to hate the quiet.
"We all passed out, and we all started to hallucinate. From what Malcolm has found out so far, the toxin causes its victims to pass-out while simultaneously stimulating the amygdala to create a fear response."
"And that means?" Harry asked, though she was pretty sure she had an idea about what had happened.
"We were unconscious, feeling extremely afraid, and we started to have hallucinations to explain why we were feeling fear in the first place," Steve explained. He was equal parts tired and self-deprecating.
"Shit," Harry said, not sure how else to respond.
"Yeah, that pretty much sums it all up," Steve replied.
"What happened after? Did you just wake up or did someone have to give you an antidote?" Harry asked, trying to get the full story of the failed raid out of Steve.
"No antidote was needed – we just woke up on our own. Malcolm thinks it was in its early stages of development because our bodies flushed out the toxin through our sweat. I was the first one up since my metabolism is faster than normal and I was able to get the others out of the base and into fresh air. It didn't take long for them to wake up after that.
"It just seemed really weird to me that there were no HYDRA agents who were there to capture us while we were unconscious. Sharon thinks it was supposed to be a warning and Malcolm thinks that we were supposed to be guinea pigs for the fear toxin."
Harry nodded, thinking that both Thirteen's and Malcolm's ideas were valid.
"And what do you think is the reason that they left you alone?"
Harry knew that Steve had a theory – one that was most likely the correct one, based on her past experiences.
"I think that there might be some HYDRA agents still in SHIELD. If we had been captured, then HYDRA could have used us as a bargaining chip for information. But if there are still HYDRA agents in SHIELD then there was no need to take us hostage," Steve explained.
"If the HYDRA agents wanted to keep their cover then they'd still have reason to take you hostage. The whole point of being undercover is to blend in – I'm sure having Captain America as a hostage would be enough of a distraction that SHIELD wouldn't even know that some rogue agents were hacking into secure files," Harry countered. She believed Steve, but she knew how useful it was for someone to argue against a budding theory – especially if the theory seemed outlandish at first.
"I'm sure that SHIELD would be on higher alert for hackers when dealing with hostage negotiations – what's the point of keeping a hostage alive if the captors end up hacking into secure files? HYDRA had no need to capture my team and me because they still have agents in SHIELD," Steve said with conviction.
"They could have captured you to kill you lot. I think HYDRA would count your permanent death as a major victory for their side," Harry argued.
"If HYDRA wanted me dead then they would have had agents there to kill us when we were unconscious. But we were the only ones in the building – the toxin was dispensed by an automated system," Steve stated.
"Maybe the toxin was supposed to kill you all; put you in such a state of fear that it induced a cardiac arrest or caused you to suffocate – like if you had been in a room full of carbon monoxide."
"If the toxin was supposed to be poisonous then I highly doubt it would have gone through our system without causing any lasting harm."
"I don't know, you still seem pretty shaken-up; that's pretty lasting harm," Harry pointed out.
Steve gave Harry a look that practically screamed "that's not the point."
"What I mean to say, is that if it was to induce a cardiac arrest or some other life-threatening reaction then it would have taken effect when it was still in our system – which means we would have died while unconscious. Since we all woke up with no lingering toxin present in our system then I'm sure that the toxin is meant to be nonlethal. At least, at this stage of development it is," Steve explained.
"So you think Malcolm is right? That they were testing it on you?" Harry asked, placing her head in her hand.
"I think Sharon and Malcolm are both right, but I think they're thinking narrowly. If SHIELD is still compromised with HYDRA agents then it would explain why we keep finding empty bases, or why we weren't captured earlier today. I feel like every location we have been given by SHIELD was just a dead-end, that we had been led on this wild goose chase that is supposed to distract us from what's really going on."
"Then why use the toxin on you lot today? Why not just have you arrive at another dead-end?" Harry queried.
Steve was silent for a second so he could gather his thoughts.
"To put us on another false trail? We found some information at the base and so far it's our only proper lead to what HYDRA is planning and where other possible bases are located. It seemed as if it had been left on purpose, but we're going to have to check it out because we've exhausted everything SHIELD can tell us. It all seems convenient and planned. I don't know, maybe I am still being affected by the toxin – I feel worried and anxious and for all I know it might just be a side-effect of the toxin and not caused from the realization that SHIELD is still compromised."
"No, I think you're onto something here. I wouldn't be surprised if HYDRA is still present in SHIELD. It's a spy agency filled with people who lie for a living – I found it highly unlikely that SHIELD had been able to weed out all the rogue agents the first time around, it's not that big of a jump to think that HYDRA's still there," Harry agreed.
Steve gave a sigh, closed his eyes for a few seconds before looking back at Harry.
"If HYDRA is still in SHIELD then that means that a lot of the higher level SHIELD agents are HYDRA, and they had the ability to write off other agents as safe when they weren't. I had thought it was bad when the small group of HYDRA agents had made themselves known during the whole Zodiac incident. But they were mainly low-level agents with some higher-ups involved; if there are enough HYDRA agents in higher-level positions then it's safe to assume that I can't trust anyone at SHIELD – again."
Steve finished his declaration looking warn down, as if his world had just collapsed around him once more.
"I'm sure you have people at SHIELD you can trust. You have your team, for one. And even though I hate the guy I highly doubt Fury is a HYDRA agent – if he is he's the greatest fucking actor the world will ever know," Harry said, trying to cheer Steve up. It worked marginally, if the ghost of a smile on Steve's face was anything to go by.
"Thanks," Steve said after a few moments of silence.
Harry looked at him in confusion, causing Steve to smile slightly.
"Thanks for playing Devil's advocate," he elaborated.
"Oh, right, no problem," Harry said, waving off his thanks. "It was fun; my friends and I did it all the time while we were in school. I know firsthand what it's like to have a crazy theory and have everyone question where it came from. It's actually really nice to have someone argue your points with you so you can think everything through."
"Yeah, I tried to bring it up to Sam and Sharon, but they both wrote me off as being paranoid," Steve explained.
"Ron and Hermione were like that when Neville and I thought that Draco Malfoy was a Death Eater during our sixth year. Neville was like that at first, too, but I had persuaded him easily enough – Ron and Hermione were much harder to convince. I wouldn't worry about Sam and Thirteen – either they'll come around to your line of thinking or you'll get to say 'I told you so' when you're proven right. Or one of them could be a HYDRA agent, in which case your life is about to get a lot more interesting," Harry joked.
"At least I'd be doing something, then, instead of just exploring empty buildings," Steve replied, self-deprecatingly.
"When did Thirteen become Sharon?" Harry asked, changing the subject in an attempt to lighten the mood.
"Since I overheard her whispering her name as she was waking up from the toxin," Steve explained. His face was set in a stern expression, as if he didn't want to talk about it with Harry.
"Why was she doing that?" Harry asked, finding her behavior odd.
"She said that she was being tortured in her hallucination. When agents are taught how to handle being tortured for information they are told to repeat their name and other trivial information instead of revealing anything of importance," Steve explained.
"She's afraid of being tortured?" Harry asked incredulously.
"Torture is scary. I don't blame her for being scared by the thought of it. The fact that she has her training so ingrained means that she's at least worked to combat the fear," Steve said with approval in his voice.
Harry couldn't disagree with Steve's reasoning – torture was definitely worse than death.
"It's a reasonable fear to have; I guess I just don't find being tortured as scary as I should. Probably has to do with the fact that I've been tortured enough that I no longer find anything scary about it," Harry explained, shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly.
Steve looked saddened by Harry's admission, but he didn't comment on it. Harry was grateful for his silence.
"So, what's her name?" Harry asked, once again trying to change the subject.
"I'm going to wait to tell you," Steve replied, causing Harry to look at him, her eyebrow raised in askance. Steve rolled his eyes at Harry.
"I overheard her, she didn't tell me. I need to talk to her about it but I didn't have an opportunity to do it today. We're staying in a hotel tonight and I only had enough time to talk to her about my suspicions about HYDRA, nothing else. Listen, I learned my lesson about telling people someone's personal information before discussing that information with the person of interest. I would have thought you would approve of me for keeping silent on her name," Steve told Harry, his subtle accusation that Harry was being hypocritical displayed on his face.
"On the one hand, I am very proud of you for keeping her name private until you've talked it out with her. On the other hand, my curiosity demands to be sated," she explained.
"Well, tell your curiosity to give me a day or two," he replied jokingly.
"Is her name Smith? Sharon Smith?" she asked, deciding to guess instead of waiting.
"Harry, you are not going to guess her name," Steve told her, his tone stern.
"I bet you I can," Harry challenged, a smirk on her face.
"You've been talking to Stark too much – he's starting to rub off on you," he commented.
"Ugh, no, that's terrible," she said sarcastically, causing Steve to smile.
Silence descended around them once more, which Harry regretted when she saw Steve's face fall with his thoughts.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked once more.
"Talk about what?" he asked, confused.
"The hallucinations, do you want to talk about them?" Harry asked. She didn't want to leave Steve depressed for the rest of his night.
"There's not much to discuss – they were about the people I love dying because I didn't make the right call," he explained, his eyes unfocused as he thought back on the hallucinations.
Harry hummed in understanding. Her nightmares were filled with scenarios where she couldn't save the people she loved; she was not surprised that Steve feared those scenarios as well.
She wondered who he saw die in his hallucinations. Would he think of his past or his present? Or both?
"Is her name Sharon Carter?" Harry asked, taking a stab in the dark. She had thought of Peggy Carter, a prominent member of Steve's past, and had guessed Carter simply because it was a common enough name.
Judging by the fact that Steve blushed, Harry could sense that she was right.
"Wait, is her name really Sharon Carter?" Harry asked, amusement in her voice.
"Goodnight Harry," Steve tried to say, neither confirming nor denying her question.
"Am I right?"
"'Night Steve, you wanker."
"Tony, why do you have black walnut on your desk?" Harry asked, pointing to the planks of black walnut wood on his table.
"I'm taking up woodcarving," he said, walking away from the phone and returning with two planks of hornbeam.
"Tony, you can't make wands," Harry told him with a sigh.
"Why not? And who said anything about wands? I'm taking up woodcarving – isn't that right, JARVIS?" Tony asked his faithful AI.
"Yes, Sir has decided to experiment with woodcarving. I still don't understand it myself why Sir would want to, considering his propensity for technology – his recent hobby almost seems counterintuitive," JARVIS replied, causing Harry to smile.
"I just needed to find a hobby. Think of it like I'm taking up knitting, except I'll be playing with knives instead of needles," Tony explained, laying the hornbeam next to the black walnut.
"At least you won't be playing with explosives like before; cleaning up wood shavings is less of a hassle than repairing a destroyed lab," JARVIS stated.
"Don't you already have hobbies?" Harry asked, referring to his suits and all his other pet-projects he has been developing in his boredom.
"Nothing wrong with having another hobby – I might need to see your yew wand, though. Not because I'm trying to make a wand – just because whittling wood down to a stick is good practice," Tony explained, trying to deter Harry from telling him no.
"If you want practice, just keep whittling until you get a toothpick – there's no need to bring my wand into this," Harry said, her face set in the same expression she uses when telling the twins 'no' when they want something.
"Isn't there?" Tony asked, ignoring Harry's face.
"No, there isn't. Now is there a reason you called or did you just want me to compliment you on your wood?" Harry inquired.
It looked as if Tony wanted to laugh at her question.
"I know it's a double entendre Stark – Ron, Fred, and George were no strangers to dick jokes," Harry said, rolling her eyes.
"It's just so weird, hearing it from you. Almost as weird as the Cap cursing," Tony explained, amusement clear in his voice.
"Speaking of the Cap," he continued, much more seriously, "we're going to call him as well. Test out the three-way calling and all that."
"Hmm, first I see your wood and now we're having a three-way. Stark, you've got to ask me about these things first, otherwise its rape," Harry said in monotone.
"You stop that right now," Tony replied, pointing a finger at Harry as if it was enough to scold her. Judging by his twitching lips and crinkled eyes he didn't really mean it.
Harry smirked in triumph.
"Why are we calling Steve?" Harry asked, changing the subject as she watched Tony type something into his phone; she was treated to a close-up of his face as he typed.
"The call went through," Tony said instead, moving away from the camera on the phone. His hand flew over the camera as he went to expand the phone so he could see both screens at once.
Following his example, Harry went to fold her phone out into its 'V' shape.
"Stark, I said I would call you," Steve hissed, his hair in disarray from sleep. Steve was on one screen, Tony on the other, allowing Harry to look between the two of them with ease.
"I said that I'd call you," Tony replied, feigning confusion.
"No, we agreed that I would call you – I told you that I didn't want to be interrupted if I was on a mission or interacting with my team," Steve explained, sitting up in his bed.
"You were asleep – no harm, no foul," Tony said, waving his hand as if he could wave off the problem.
"You have a really bad habit of calling people when they're asleep," Harry told Tony, who shrugged his shoulders in response.
Harry saw Steve's hands fly over his side of the screen as he morphed his phone so he could see both screens at once.
"Not my fault you two sleep too much," Tony responded.
He was treated with two matching looks from Harry and Steve – the looks that expressed "are you kidding us right now."
"I think you two are talking too much; you're starting to have the same facial expressions. I mean, it's an improvement for Rogers, but Harry you can do so much better," Tony joked with a smirk.
Harry rolled her eyes while Steve continued to glower.
"Can we get to the point of the call?" Steve asked, looking expectantly at Tony.
"Yeah, alright, no need to delay Capsicle's beauty sleep any further," Tony joked; neither Harry nor Steve laughed.
"Stark and I have been talking," Steve began, getting the conversation on track.
"I'm sorry," Harry said to Steve, grimacing out of sympathy. Steve smiled slightly while Tony rolled his eyes.
"The Cap and I have been talking," Tony reiterated, his tone taking on a serious quality to it. "We figure that, since you're basically stuck here for the foreseeable future, and you're growing bored babysitting Tweedledum and Tweedledee, we were wondering –"
"Do you want to join the Avengers?" Steve finished for Tony, who nodded and pointed to Steve as if to say "what he said."
Harry felt her eyes go wide in surprise; her immediate reaction was to say yes, but she had a few questions first.
"Isn't the Avengers a SHIELD based project?" Harry asked, looking between Steve and Tony with her eyebrows drawn in question.
"The Avengers Initiative was created by SHIELD, yes," Steve replied.
"But we figured that you can join now and if SHIELD has any problems with it we can just claim that you're an honorary member," Tony explained.
"And the others are okay with this?" Harry asked, not wanting to interfere with the team dynamic.
"Bruce likes the idea, and I don't see a reason why the others would disagree," Tony told her.
"Plus you've already met Barton and Thor – the only member you haven't met has been Natasha, and I don't see any reason she would object to you being on the team," Steve continued.
"I can see a reason," Harry injected. "I have magic, she might think I'm like Loki; Barton might think the same when he finds out."
Not for the first time she cursed Loki for screwing up people's perceptions of magic.
"Please, the two assassins would talk to you for five minutes and know that you aren't anything like Loki," Tony said, assuaging Harry's worry. Steve nodded in agreement, which helped to calm Harry's nerves.
"What would I do if I said yes?" Harry asked, already knowing what her answer was going to be but wanting to make sure she wasn't signing up for anything crazy.
"Nothing would change. You keep living your life until the world is threatened and then you come help us try to fight against whatever it is that's trying to kill everyone," Tony explained casually.
"So I'd just continue to behave like I normally would," Harry reiterated, knowing that her hero-complex would make her fight against any world-threatening force whether she was an Avenger or not.
"Basically," Steve confirmed, causing Harry to smile.
"Yeah, okay, I'll join," Harry said, nodding her head. Tony and Steve didn't seem all that surprised by her response, but they still smiled out of relief.
"See, told you we had nothing to worry about," Tony said to Steve, who rolled his eyes.
"I'm pretty sure I recall saying we had nothing to worry about," Steve replied, causing Tony to wave his hand as if to wave the discrepancy away.
"Sir, I just finished running diagnostics: there was no detection of malware or viruses within the GUARD's system," JARVIS spoke up, causing Steve and Harry to look pointedly at Tony.
"Thanks JARVIS," Tony said, looking irritated at the interruption. "Start combing through his program for discrepancies."
"I have already started – so far there is nothing out of place but I am only half-way through," JARVIS replied, his news causing Tony to scowl as he thought.
"Stark, what's going on?" Steve asked, his body was tense after JARVIS's interruption.
Tony sighed, picked up one of his tablets and started to type something onto it.
"Did Fury tell you about what had happened?" he asked Steve, who frowned and shook his head.
"A group of HYDRA agents tried to steal the Zodiac," Tony explained, not looking up from his work.
"Is it still secure?" Harry asked before Steve could.
"Oh yeah, the Zodiac and the other object there are both still safe; it's just the GUARD might have worked a bit too well for Fury's liking," Tony reassured the two.
"What did the GUARD do?" Steve asked, his voice hard from his worry and ire.
Tony looked like he didn't want to answer at first, but after a moment he looked up from his tablet with a grimace.
"It might have killed all of the intruders," he confessed.
Harry's eyes widened and Steve clenched his jaw.
"God damn it," Steve said under his breath.
"See, I told you it was weird," Tony told Harry, referring to their conversation before Steve joined.
"Why would it do that?" Harry asked, bringing the conversation back to what was important.
"Because Fury wanted a fail-safe. Apparently the HYDRA agents got too far along in their robbery attempt which caused the GUARD to resort to deadly force so as to keep the Zodiac and the other object out of their hands. It worked, we just don't know why they wanted to steal the Zodiac now," Tony replied. He was defensive about his creation, not liking the fact that it resorted to violence but also not liking the judgmental tone he heard from Harry's question.
"It's not that difficult to guess why HYDRA wanted to steal the Zodiac. I just want to know how they found the location of the Zodiac. Fury said it was a top secret location that only a few knew of. How did HYDRA find out where it was when I don't even know where Fury hid the thing?" Steve asked, his anger at the situation clear in his voice.
"Well, it seems to me like your theory was just confirmed to be true," Harry told Steve. He sighed in response, not liking the fact that he was proven correct.
HYDRA was still in SHIELD.
"Well, whatever their reasoning, I still have to reprogram the GUARD," Tony said, once more typing away on his tablet.
"How are you doing that? Is it there with you now?" Harry asked, not sure how Tony could reprogram the GUARD any other way.
"No, it's still guarding the Zodiac. I've just reconnected him to JARVIS so I can reprogram him from my lab. JARVIS has the connection encrypted and running through a personal server that no one else has access to. This way it can still stand guard over the objects and I don't have to be flown out to some ridiculous location to run a simple diagnostics check on it," Tony explained, answering Harry's questions.
"And no one else can intercept the connection, right?" Steve asked, wanting to make sure that Tony wasn't doing something idiotic.
"Right. And even if they could I have it so JARVIS will wipe all of the GUARD's programming at the first sign of intrusion. That way no one can hack the GUARD to make it do their own bidding," Tony answered. He sounded as if his pride had been wounded by Steve's question – as if Tony hadn't already thought up of a hundred ways to protect his creation from others.
"Well, at least there's that," Harry said to Steve, who nodded his head in agreement. Tony rolled his eyes at their antics.
"Everything is going to be okay. I'll reprogram the GUARD so its first instinct isn't to kill, I'll sever the connection once more, and it'll be off doing its own thing, making Fury proud and all that," Tony said, throwing the situation into a more positive context.
It didn't stop Harry from feeling uneasy. From past experience she knew that events such as these don't end well.
"Whatever you say, Stark," Steve stated. He sounded just as uneasy as Harry felt.
"Stop worrying you two – everything will be fine," Tony told them.
Harry would have worried less if Tony didn't sound as worried as she felt.
"Harry, can I ask you a question?"
Harry looked over to her floating phone, her hands occupied with entangled Christmas lights. She was out in the living room decorating the Christmas tree that Rolf and Luna had brought home earlier that day. It was twelve days before Christmas and Rolf wasn't kidding when he said that the Scamanders take Christmas seriously. Even at that very moment, Rolf, Luna, and the twins were out for Christmas shopping, leaving Harry alone to decorate the house.
"Sure, what's up?" she replied, looking at Steve as he tried to gather his thoughts.
"So, Sharon and I went out for burgers earlier today. And we talked for a while. We had a nice time. Did I go on a date with her?" he asked, genuinely confused. Harry paused in her attempt to untangle the mass of stringed lights in order to give Steve an incredulous look.
"I don't know, did you both say that it was a date?" she questioned, still looking at Steve like she wasn't sure if he was being serious or not.
"No," her replied, though he still looked unsure. Harry rolled her eyes at him and went back to her task.
"Then you didn't go on a date. Why, did you want it to be a date?" she inquired, looking briefly at Steve before going back to untangling the knot.
"I wouldn't say no to going on a date with her. We're teammates, though, and dating would be against the rules," he explained. He sounded embarrassed to even admit his attraction.
"I highly doubt SHIELD really holds those rules in place. I mean, Luna and Rolf are both agents and they're married. I feel like the 'don't become romantic with a fellow agent' is more of a guideline than a rule. And besides, if you want to go on a date with her, then ask," she told him, silently celebrating as she got the final knot out of the lights.
"It's complicated," Steve replied, watching her celebration uneasily.
"Why? Because Sharon is Peggy's great-niece? Yeah, that's going to be weird. You know how to make it less weird? Talk about it with her," Harry told him.
She remembered the conversation the two of them had once Steve finally told her who Sharon really was. Suffice to say, Steve didn't know whether to be hurt that Sharon didn't think he could differentiate between Peggy and herself or if he should be thankful that she wanted to disassociate herself with her great-aunt until Steve had been able to see her competency without the family name backing her up.
If Harry was honest, she would have to say Steve was more grateful for the latter, and she couldn't blame Sharon for keeping her name a secret. As the great-niece to one of the founders of SHIELD, Sharon had gotten a lot of flak from her peers that she only got her job because of nepotism. By not using her real name, Sharon was able to show Steve and the rest of her team that she deserved her high ranking position, rather than getting it through family connections.
"Is that going to be the extent of your advice? Just talk it out?" Steve asked Harry. He sounded disappointed, like he was expecting more advice from Harry than what she was giving him.
Harry began to levitate the Christmas lights so she could wrap them around the tree more easily.
"It's great advice – communication is a wonderful thing. If only Ron and Hermione had communicated their love for each other during our sixth year then we could have avoided the Lavender Brown/Cormac McLaggen situation Ron and Hermione brought on us all. And I'm sure Neville would have appreciated their relationship during the horcrux hunt if they had been together. Seriously, it took at least five years for the two of them to admit that they loved each other – I swear to Merlin if you put me through something like that again I'm going to kill everyone," Harry threatened, pointing an ornament ominously at Steve.
As her rant ended, the lights fell into place around the tree, perfectly wrapped around it in a spiral that climbed up from the bottom branches to the very top.
"So what I'm getting from you is that I should talk to Sharon," Steve said sarcastically.
Harry shot him a look before she began to adorn the tree with at the Christmas ornaments the Scamanders owned.
"Yes, please, talk to her. Be an adult and use your words. At best, she'll accept your dating request, at worst she'll reject you and you'll be back to where you started. As long as you don't become bitter if she rejects you then you really have nothing to lose," Harry told him, finally caving and using magic to place the ornaments on the tree rather than place them herself with her hands.
"I guess," Steve said, though he didn't sound convinced.
"Listen, do you like her?" Harry asked, looking directly at Steve with her arms folded across her chest.
"Yes," he answered without hesitation.
"Do you like her personality? Maybe you find her looks appealing?" she continued, watching his face for any indecisiveness.
"Yes to both," he replied once more without stopping to consider his feelings.
"Is she an adult who can legally consent to your advances?" she inquired. Harry knew that Sharon was of consenting age, but she was on a roll and wanted to ask anyway.
"Yes," Steve answered with a smile, finding Harry's question to be humorous but important.
"Then ask her out," Harry told him, holding her hands out as if to ask what his problem was.
"But it's still weird, her being Peggy's great-niece," Steve said, finally getting into the root of his problem.
"Is it weird? I mean, do you want to date her because she's related to Peggy? Or do you find it weird because you think that it's fucked up that you want to date Sharon even though she's related to Peggy?"
"I'd say the latter, but not in those exact words. I definitely don't want to date her out of some Freudian need to date Peggy," Steve answered Harry's question. He watched as Harry levitated the Angel to the top of the tree.
"Then ask her out. I don't understand why this is hard for you to grasp, Rogers," Harry said, looking at Steve with confusion written all over her face.
"Is that all your advice? If I find someone attractive and I want to date them, I should just ask?" Steve asked incredulously.
"Pretty much. Why, is that weird advice?" she asked back, inspecting the tree to make sure everything looked good as she did so.
"I just – you're not taking into account certain things. Like, what happens if you give that advice to someone and they end up asking their cousin out on a date?" Steve asked jokingly. It was a bit of a stretch, but he wanted to hear what she would counter with.
Harry grabbed her phone from the air and angled it so she was looking directly at Steve.
"Seriously? You're asking me about incestuous relationships? I don't know if you know this, but the wizarding world is basically just one big incestuous family. Practically every pureblood and half-blood is related to each other in some fashion, and all the pureblood-loving families wanted to keep marrying into pureblood lines. I'm related to the Weasleys, and my godfather, and the Malfoys, and a whole bunch of other people – mainly Death Eaters. Hell, I think I'm even related to Voldemort! If it wasn't for my mother I'd be another inbred pureblood just like the rest of them.
"I'm not condoning incestuous relationships – I'm just trying to say that they aren't all that taboo of a subject where I'm from," Harry concluded, once more levitating the phone so she could get back to decorating the living room.
"That's all rather frightening," Steve commented. He had been unaware of that fact about the wizarding world; it wasn't a fact that he wanted to know in the first place.
"I know! I was flabbergasted when I learned all of that from Sirius. Now, he was an inbred pureblood; I think his mother and father were first cousins once removed but I'm not completely sure about that.
"Listen, what I'm trying to get at is this: if there's one thing I have learned in my short life it is that arguing with what the heart wants is fucking pointless. If you want to go on a date with Sharon, ask her out. If you don't want to, then don't. Whatever the case is, just use your fucking words because I swear if you end up like Ron or Hermione I am going to kill you. I cannot deal with anyone else who exhibits their level of sexual tension and poor communication skills ever again," Harry concluded her rant by hanging the stockings over the fireplace.
"Alright, I get your point," Steve said, a smile on his face. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Harry replied, once more looking at Steve. "Now is that all you wanted to ask or do you have something else you wanted to talk about?"
"No, that was pretty much it. How are you so good at giving relationship advice?" he asked her, partly as a joke but mainly out of sincerity.
"I've had a lot of practice. I was basically the person all my friends went to for dating advice. I honestly don't know why they did; it's not like I've ever had a boyfriend or a girlfriend ever in my life – or been attracted to anyone, for that matter. I guess they'd just known that I didn't care who they liked and I tend to give good advice," Harry admitted, shrugging her shoulders at the last part.
She ran a hand through her hair as she inspected the living room. It wasn't 'Hogwarts at Christmastime' brilliant but it would have to do.
"Thanks," Steve said once more.
"No problem," Harry replied. "Good luck on asking her out."
"Thanks," Steve responded. They were about to hang up for the night when Steve started to speak once more.
"Oh, could you not tell Stark about this?"
Harry felt her head tilt to the side, her eyebrows drawn in confusion.
"Why would I tell Tony about this? It doesn't concern him. Although, maybe if he knew you were finally dating someone he would stop assuming we were together," she said, thinking about how nice it would be for Tony to stop insinuating that she and Steve were dating every time they talked.
It was honestly his know-it-all tone of voice he used whenever he brought it up that bothered her the most – if he could just stop using that tone then maybe Tony's teasing would be bearable.
"I highly doubt he would stop assuming that even if we were both dating other people," Steve told her. He was also tired of Tony's accusations about his and Harry's relationship, but like Harry he tended to ignore Tony every time he brought it up.
"Good point. Don't worry about it; your romantic interests are safe with me."
And with that, their conversation was over.
"Is that a dress?" Tony asked, pointing past Harry.
Harry looked up from the phone and over her shoulder, spotting the fancy cocktail dress Luna had picked out for her. It was a knee-length, emerald green dress with two tiny sleeves and a deep neckline that was supposed to show off cleavage.
Or at least, that's what Luna said it was supposed to do; Harry hadn't tried on the dress yet.
"Yeah, unfortunately," Harry replied, turning back to look at Tony. He smiled at Harry's lack of enthusiasm in her response.
"You don't like dresses?" he asked teasingly.
"No, I can't say that I do," she answered, going back to drawing more runes for Tony to see.
"Why not? I bet you'd look gorgeous in a dress," Tony commented, picking up a box of Chinese food from his desk so he could eat from the container.
"One, you're old enough to be my father – please don't try to compliment my appearance it's just creepy. Two, I just never had the need to wear a dress. I don't have anything against them personally, I'd just prefer not to wear them," Harry explained.
"So why do you have a dress hanging up on your door?" he asked as he chewed his food.
"Because Luna and Rolf have this company Christmas party they're going to tonight – something the science division of SHIELD does every year in the UK apparently – and they're allowed to bring their family to the event. So I'm supposed to go in order to keep an eye on Lorcan and Lysander, which means I need to be in a dress because it's a formal party," Harry said, her tone conveying how much she was not looking forward to it.
"That seems like a weird tradition. Never thought SHIELD would endorse a company party that allowed family to come in and mingle – especially not when they could be talking about top secret information," Tony commented.
"Technically it's against the rules for SHIELD agents to discuss their work outside of the workplace. All the agents know not to talk about their work amongst their own families, I'm pretty sure they can keep silent while at a party," Harry said as she went back to her work.
"Will they have alcohol at the party?" Tony asked, taking another bite of his Chinese food.
"Probably," Harry replied, already knowing where he was heading with this line of questioning.
"You're bound to get one or two agents who'll get so drunk that they'll discuss their work with anyone who'll listen," he said, his mouth once more full of food.
"And I'm sure there will be agents with tranquilizers just ready to put to sleep any agent who gets too drunk," Harry said, part joking and part serious.
Tony gave a snort of amusement at Harry's response.
"So it's just the scientific side of SHIELD that gets invited to the party?" he asked, intrigued by this party that he had never heard of before.
"Apparently. According to Rolf it's supposed to promote inter-department unity within the science side of SHIELD. He's discussed before that there's a rivalry between the engineers and the biochemists at the SHIELD academy – this party is meant to force the two groups together in a situation where they aren't discussing work. I guess it's similar to the Yule Ball – just one night of fun between rivals without having to discuss the basis of the rivalry. A pretty good idea to create inter-department friendships, though throwing in the family might be too much," Harry concluded, looking up from her runes with a frown.
"No, it sounds like a great idea. I'm just imagining you now being surrounded by a bunch of scientists who are all speaking 'technobable.' Now I really want to be there just to get a picture of your face," Tony said with a smirk, clearly amused by his fantasy.
"I'll probably be the one getting drunk if I have to deal with that," Harry responded, causing Tony to laugh.
"Where's Pepper?" Harry asked suddenly. She hadn't talked to Pepper in what felt like forever, Tony never calling at a time when Pepper was also awake. Considering it was half-past noon, Harry figured that Pepper was up by now.
"She's on a business trip until the 23rd; she's been in board meetings practically every hour she's been away," he answered with a frown on his face. It was clear to Harry that Tony missed his girlfriend.
"Well, you'll see her in two days. Where's the trip?" Harry asked, knowing that Tony needed to be reminded that Pepper was going to be back in less than 48 hours and that Tony really should consider cleaning up his lab before she gets back – the empty food containers scattered around his lab were really beginning to worry Harry.
"She's in Zurich. Before that she was in Tokyo. She's been gone for a while, actually," he said, his frown deepening.
"At least she'll be home for Christmas. Unless today is really the end of the world, in which case, oops," Harry joked in an attempt to get Tony to smile.
"Oh, is today the day the world is supposed to end? I must have misplaced my calendar," he joked back, causing Harry to snort in amusement.
The date was December 21st, 2012 – apparently that meant it was the end of the world to some people. To Harry it just meant that today was the winter solstice.
"So when's the party?" Tony asked.
"Why? Are you planning on flying over to party with me?" Harry asked in response.
"You know, now that you bring it up, that sounds like a fun idea," Tony said, causing Harry to roll her eyes.
"You are not doing that," Harry replied, her tone stern.
"Why not? I have nothing else to do. I finally finished reprogramming the GUARD – as soon as it's updated into the GUARD's system then I'll be free to do whatever I want. My woodcarving project has been finished for a while now, and my pet project for Steve's shield is still in R&D. I have nothing to do except bug Bruce, except he's out giving a lecture at Georgetown University. So either I'm going to DC to bug Bruce or I'm going to your party. To be honest, your party has the promise of alcohol so I'm leaning more towards that than Bruce's lecture."
Harry smiled at Tony's rant; by the end of it she was almost willing to invite him along to the party.
"Why don't you go and see Pepper? I mean, Zurich isn't that far away from London. You'd already be crossing the Atlantic; why not fly over to Switzerland while you're at it?" Harry asked.
"Listen, I love Pepper more than I have ever loved anyone, ever – she's the greatest person I have ever known and I do not deserve her at all. But there is a reason I made her CEO of Stark Industries and it was because I never want to sit through another board meeting ever again. I love Pepper, but I'd rather spend Christmas with her alone than spend time with her during a bunch of board meetings with a horde of stuffy old men with sticks up their asses."
Tony stabbed his food with his fork in order to emphasis his point; Harry snorted at his dramatics.
"Alright, good point," she admitted. "I highly doubt Pepper would want you in the board meetings either."
"No, she would kill me if I sat in on a board meeting – so really, not seeing her is a win-win for the both of us," Tony said.
"Well, the party starts at seven, if you're still interested. That puts you at about six hours to get to London," Harry told him. She hoped he was joking about coming to the party – if he was being serious, though, at least her night got a hundred times more interesting.
"I'll be there by eight," he told her, reaching over to type something into his computer.
"Does it take you seven hours to fly from New York to London?" Harry asked, not sure how long it normally takes for air travel between continents.
"Oh god no," Tony said, offended, "I just like arriving fashionably late. It's always more interesting that way."
Harry was about to respond, but before she could something terrible happened.
The screen flickered.
"Tony, did you see that?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, I –" Tony started to reply, but he stopped, frowned deeply, and turned his full attention to his computer.
"JARVIS, what happened to the connection?" he asked confused.
Tony was typing faster than Harry could process. Moments passed, but JARVIS didn't answer.
"JARVIS, what's –"
The screen began to flicker again. Harry watched with growing horror as the screen switched from Tony's lab, to black, to something grainy – something humanoid.
Then the screen switched back to Tony's lab.
"– corrupted – zzzzzzzzzbbbbbbbbbzzzzzzz"
"JARVIS, come on buddy," Tony exclaimed, voice wavering with panic.
"Tony, I just saw something," Harry called out over the dial tone noise that permeated the lab.
Except Tony didn't hear her. He was far too busy typing away, his eyes glued to a monitor.
"Hang on JARVIS, you'll be fine," Tony was whispering under his breath, over and over again.
"Tony, what is –" Harry tried again, but the screen flickered once more.
The lab, to black, to red now.
A metallic hum accompanied the glowing red.
Harry's heart was pounding away in her chest. She didn't know what was going on but she knew that whatever it was, it was bad.
"I – AM – ALIVE."
Harry's blood ran cold at the robotic voice that called out. Each word spoken caused the red to flicker to black – as if it was a primitive mouth opening and closing in order to speak.
The screen switched back to Tony's lab, but Tony was not at his spot at his computer.
" – no, no, no, no, fuck, JARVIS!" Tony called out somewhere behind his desk.
"STARK!" Harry called out, thankful that she had at least put up silencing wards around her room before the call.
"Harry?" Tony exclaimed, running back into the phone's frame.
"Tony, I keep switching to a different connection –" Harry stated quickly, unsure when her connection would change once more.
"This can't be happening – this isn't –"
The connection cut from Tony's lab to a room, a humanoid figure standing in the center.
The figure was a robot – a metal body that shined in the dim light, a domed head that glowed red. It stood in the center of the room.
And behind him was the Zodiac. And grasped in its hand was a yellow orb.
It was the GUARD.
The robot tilted its head up, and stared into the security camera in the room – the camera was the connection she could see on her phone. Harry felt like it was looking directly at her, which caused a chill to run down her spine.
The connection switched back to Tony's lab.
He was typing furiously into his computer.
"Tony, it's the GUARD –"
"I know, I saw him," Tony said, cutting Harry off before she could say anything else.
"This shouldn't be happening. None of this is possible. He doesn't even look like my design – his arc reactor is missing and his sensory dome is supposed to be black, not red."
Tony was mumbling to himself, his eyes wide with fear and desperation.
Harry's heart picked up speed, her hair standing up along the back of her neck.
"Tony, what can I do?" she asked, needing to do something.
"None of this should be possible – I had severed our connection. We shouldn't even be talking right now," Tony said in a rush.
"What do I do?" Harry demanded.
"I've – I've lost – I've lost JARVIS – I can't. That's not –"
Tony stopped typing, his body becoming rigid and still. His face had fallen in his horror – he looked as though he had just watched his best friend get shot down for no reason.
"TONY, WHAT DO WE DO?!" Harry yelled, trying to snap the man out of his shock.
Before he could respond – before he could comprehend what had happened – Harry's connection with Tony was lost once more.
"WHAT – CAN – YOU – DO?"
Harry was once more looking upon the GUARD, his words sending a shiver throughout her body.
Harry got up from her seat, needing to do something to get rid of her growing panic.
"What Can You Do?" the GUARD asked again, its speech coming naturally the more it used it.
"What are you? What happened to JARVIS and the GUARD?" Harry asked, hoping to Merlin that it would hear her.
The robot looked down at the yellow orb it held, raising it up to the level of its head. The robot looked up at Harry, its red face unblinking.
"I Am Alive," it said, taking a step forward.
"I Am Ultron," it declared, raising the orb towards the camera.
"And the WORLD – WILL – BE – CLEANSED."
A bright yellow light pulsed out from the orb, causing the connection to be dropped immediately.
Harry's heart hammered in her chest as she looked down in horror at the phone.
Suddenly, a counter appeared.
Harry's eyes widened. Without thinking, she tossed the phone up in the air and conjured a magical shield around it.
A muffled 'BOOM' sounded within the shield, and Harry watched as her phone exploded, causing a fireball to appear. Harry let the shield expand to accompany the added pressure the explosion had created. The force from the explosion caused her magical strain as she tried to keep the shield up and effective.
After what felt like minutes the fireball burned out, leaving a mass of black smoke within the shield. Harry vanished the smoke before she vanished the shield as well; she was left with no evidence that an explosion had just occurred in her room.
She collapsed onto her bed, her heart racing.
"Unhackable my arse, Stark!" she exclaimed, as she tried to prevent herself from going into shock.
She didn't understand what had just happened. She was confused and scared and worried and felt totally useless.
Something happened to JARVIS; something happened to the GUARD.
What the fuck was Ultron.
But the thing that worried her the most was this –
If her phone exploded, then what about Tony's phone?
What about Steve's phone?
Were they okay? Or were they –
She just didn't know.
Maybe it was the end of the world after all.
So remember how I said I was going to get back into the weekly updates? Well I lied. My bad. I'll try to upload once a week, but finals are coming up in three weeks and I need time to study. Expect shorter chapters from now on because this one just about killed me.
Anyway, thanks again for the continued support. I'm floored because there are now over 900 people who have favorited this story, which is something I never thought would ever happen. So thank you all for the love and support.
As for the descriptions of wand woods - I used the Pottermore results to base the wands off of the characters. You can look at all the wand wood descriptions either on Pottermore itself or on the Pottermore wikia page under wand woods. That being said, remember how I said I'd reveal Steve's and Bruce's wand woods like, three chapters ago? Well, now you know.
And as a second reminder: if anyone wants me to put up certain warnings for future chapters, you can either PM me or review saying what you want a warning for.
Have a happy Sunday.