Disclaimer: anything recognizable from either the Marvel universe or J.K. Rowling's works does not belong in any way, shape, or form to me.
Warnings: mention of suicide; sexual overtones; swearing; Fem!Harry
The Butter-and-Crumpets wasn't in a very busy part of New York City, although busy was a strictly relative term. In nine years, the café had gathered its own crowd of regulars, all of whom were greeted cheerfully by the proprietress, who hardly looked old enough to be out of college, let alone own and manage her own business. Cathryn acted as baker, chef, waitress, and cashier, somehow managing to prepare the foods that, along with the comfortable and relaxing air of the café, kept people coming back day after day. Of course, none of the patrons knew that Cathryn Potter, or, as they knew her, Cathryn Black, was, in fact, a witch.
And not just any witch. Cathryn had, throughout her thirty (or so) years of life, collected a string of epithets: Girl-Who-Lived, Youngest-Female-Hogwarts-Seeker-Ever, Woman-Who-Vanquished-the-Dark-Lord, Mistress of Death. It was the last title that gave Cathryn the most trouble; in fact, she saw it as a curse. Although becoming Mistress of Death had allowed her to ultimately defeat Voldemort, she often found herself wondering how different her life would be if she had never collected the Deathly Hallows. Most of the time, she would shake her head and tell herself firmly, Voldemort would have destroyed everyone I love; it's better this way, but sometimes she would find herself imagining a world in which she grew old with her best friends; a world in which she had a chance to marry Fred and have a family of her own.
The irony of the situation wasn't lost on her. The fact that she, Voldemort's nemesis, had achieved what he had ultimately failed at, was almost funny. If not for the fact that she was staring at eternity on Earth.
Cathryn had left from England a little more than a year after the final battle. It had taken those thirteen months for her to discover her inability to stay dead. Even when she'd tried to off herself (in a fit of manic rage and depression shortly after Fred's funeral), she'd just been resurrected, with not even a scar to show for her efforts. She'd spent the next months after her attempted suicide distancing herself from everyone - Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Luna, Neville, Molly and Arthur, George. Not even her own godson received any visits, although she did make a point to send him gifts for Christmas, his first birthday, and other random times of the year as well, an attempt to assuage her guilt. Andromeda hadn't been impressed.
When Cathryn had finally packed up all her belongings and hopped on a regular Muggle airplane, it had taken her friends a full week to realize that she had abandoned Grimmauld Place. By then, she'd arrived in Bulgaria, where her one-time competitor had silently welcomed her into his home. For the entire year she'd spent living with Viktor Krum, the International Quidditch player hadn't once pried into her private life. Their life was simple: he went to practices and games while she took care of the house and studied those subjects she'd neglected during her adventure-filled years at Hogwarts. She'd left when Viktor had started to get serious with the girl he was dating. Cathryn didn't think Yvette would appreciate Viktor living with a English girl, even if that girl happened to be the girl who'd killed Voldemort.
After Bulgaria, Cathryn spent eight months in France, living in a hotel room while attending Le Cordon Bleu. She hadn't finished the program, but had left without warning when Bill Weasley and his wife Fleur saw her on one of her afternoon strolls through the city. She still wasn't sure if they'd recognized her - the small infant nestled in Bill's arms had seemed to hold much of their attention.
The possible-sighting in France had provoked Cathryn into crossing the Atlantic. Using forged Muggle papers that identified her as Cathryn Black, she was able to enter America without alerting the Wizarding community of her presence. It was, of course, strictly illegal, but the goblins hadn't cared after they'd received substantial incentive in the form of an old Potter heirloom, a very valuable goblin-made sword. They'd nearly bent over backwards when she'd thrown in the topaz-encrusted sheath that went with it.
With a small amount of her considerable fortune converted to American dollars, Cathryn had purchased and renovated an old bar (complete with its own speak-easy) until it met her standards. The Butter-and-Crumpets was like her very own piece of Britain. All of her foods were of British, Irish, or Scottish background; it was hard for them not to be, as many of her recipes came from Molly Weasley. She had afternoon tea specials, and every Wednesday, she had complementary crumpets available until noon, as well as a fire in the hearth for toasting them over.
Cathryn had adjusted well to living in the States. She'd only left once, to attend Viktor's marriage to Yvette, although she'd dyed her hair and used Muggle contacts to disguise her eye color. For the most part, she was happy. Yes, she missed Ron, Hermione, and the rest of her friends almost every single day, but she knew that it was better to distance herself from them, and the rest of wizarding society. If the Department of Mysteries had found out about the 'special talents' that had been accorded her by the Deathly Hallows, she knew she would have been spending the rest of her life either on the run, or in a padded cell.
At the beginning of February, Cathryn started to organize a special event for the Butter-and-Crumpets. In just a few more weeks, the café would celebrate its ten-year anniversary. None of who she termed 'the old crowd' - or those people who had made up her first bunch of regulars - remained. New York was a city of movement: people came, people stayed for a while, and then people left. Privately, Cathryn thought it a good thing that people didn't stay for very long; it would allow her greater leeway in the amount of time that she herself lingered.
All the same, her latest group of regulars were excited for her. Even the grumpy and taciturn Mr. Jones refrained from claiming that his milk was too cold. For the entire day of February 17, Cathryn refused to accept payment from her customers. As she'd suspected (and hoped) the 'sale' brought in many new faces. Most of them just looked around, accepted a free pastry and a tea or hot chocolate for the road, and then returned back to the street. Only a few took seats.
By the end of the day, Cathryn was exhausted, but pleased. Almost all of the food was gone (she'd saved herself a small slice of treacle tart), and, even though she'd discouraged it, a large number of her regulars had left tips large enough to cover the normal price of the food.
Cathryn had just finished wiping down all of the tables (by hand, since the front of the store was a large window where anyone could look in at any time) and was heading towards the door to lock it when she heard a loud noise from just outside. Instead of turning the lock, she opened the door.
The streetlamp illuminated the scene nicely: a biker had collided with a runner on the sidewalk a few storefronts down. As she watched, the biker, dressed completely in black and wearing a black beanie on his head, righted himself and pedaled away as fast as he could. The runner also got up, but more slowly and with a wince of pain.
"Are you alright?" Cathryn called out, not leaving the doorframe so that she could hide the fact that she had her wand clenched in her hand, ready, just in case it was some sort of ruse. Moody and a year on the run from Voldemort's Death Eaters had drilled constant vigilance into her well.
"Just fine, ma'am, but thanks for asking," the runner waved her off. He took a step and nearly fell down again. Cathryn rolled her eyes. Ron had always tried to play off his injuries, too.
"Here," she said, tucking her wand back into the special pocket she'd had sewn into all of her clothes and approaching the man. He was tall and well built, with blonde hair that stuck to his sweat-damped forehead. "Come into my café. I've got some ice you can put on your ankle, and you can rest for a bit." When the man opened his mouth to protest, she cut him off. "Don't even try to tell me you're fine. I've got a brother who does the same thing whenever he gets hurt." The man closed his mouth and flushed a little.
"Thanks," he said as he limped slowly after her and through the door. Once inside, he seemed to relax immediately. Cathryn pointed him to one of the soft armchairs closest to the fire, which was flickering gently, almost burnt out. "What is this place?" he asked, and Cathryn noted a small amount of wonder and yearning in his voice.
"My café," she said simply, getting a clean dishtowel and wrapping some ice in it.
When she approached him again and handed the ice over, he frowned. "Aren't you a bit young?"
Cathryn smiled pleasantly, inwardly cursing the Deathly Hallows. "I'm older than I look," she said. It was an often-used phrase in her life. Currently, she was saying she was twenty-six. She was lucky that she looked older than seventeen; someone like Luna would never have been able to pull it off. As it was, she had to take a small amount of Aging Draught each morning just before she opened, and a second dose around lunch. After a moment of awkward silence, in which the man resolutely didn't look at her, she cleared her throat. "Would you like something to drink? Or eat?"
"No, thanks," the man said. "I'll ice my ankle for another minute and then be going." Cathryn fidgeted a bit. She was no healer, but she'd had enough injuries to know when something was bad.
"Are you sure?" she asked. "I can give you a ride, you know. I don't think you should be walking on that ankle."
"I'm fine," the man repeated. "Look." He stood up against Cathryn's protests and walked - without even a trace of a limp - around the café.
"Oh." Cathryn was astounded. Maybe it had only be a strain. "Alright, then." She collected the towel from where the man had put it on the nearest table and lobbed it into the hamper behind the counter where the rest of the day's dirty linens were waiting to be washed. "Have a nice run, then."
The man made for the door, but hesitated with one foot on either side of the frame. "Thanks," he said again. "I'm Steve."
"I'm Cathryn," she replied in return. When he was gone, she finished doing the closing chores, locked the door, and, in the darkened shop, used her wand to put out the fire. That done, she collected her small slice of treacle tart and climbed the stairs to her rooms, took a warm shower, and spent the rest of the evening curled up with her old photo album.
The next day, Steve came in to the café. He ordered an English breakfast, complete with a pot of tea, and read his newspaper the entire time. The only words he said, besides ordering his breakfast, were, "Good morning," and "Thank you, Miss Black." Cathryn couldn't for the life of her figure out how he found out her last name, but in the end just shrugged. Although she herself didn't have a computer - or a television, at that - she knew that almost anything could be found on the internet.
Steve became her earliest customer, coming every day of the week for breakfast at eight-thirty in the morning. Most days, he was the only one in the café for the first ten to fifteen minutes, and it got to the point where she was patting the excess grease off the bacon just when he came through the door. Each evening, as she finished wiping down the tables, she saw him jog past the window, and they'd exchange a friendly nod. She started to save the tables closest to the window for last, and sometimes would spend twice as much time on the last table than on any of the others if he was a little behind schedule.
A little more than a month and a half after their first meeting, Steve was joined for the first time for breakfast. His friend - if they were friends at all - was a tall African American man, who reminded Cathryn of a cross between Mad-Eye Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt. He was completely bald with a well-groomed goatee and mustache, had an eye-patch over his left eye, and was dressed completely in black.
"Good morning," Cathryn greeted the unknown man cheerfully. It was forced cheer - an odd jolt in her magic had woken her up in the middle of the night, and it had taken her nearly two hours to get back to sleep. She had a few theories, but nothing definite. "Would you like something to eat or drink?"
The unknown man fixed her with an unfriendly stare. Cathryn smiled. "Just some tea, then?" She strode off before he could make any comment, gathering up the abandoned tea set that Tabitha Davis and her daughter had left on their table when they'd finished with their weekly catch-up.
As she prepared a pot of tea - standard English Breakfast - she kept an eye on Steve and his friend from the corner of her eyes. They were talking in whispers, and Steve had even forgotten to put ketchup on his eggs. When she returned to their table with the tea, they both stopped talking abruptly. The man moved his hand to the pocket of his long leather jacket, and Cathryn forced herself not to tense; even more than ten years after the war, she still got nervous when someone made to pull their wallet out of their pocket. The motion was the exact same one that wizards and witches used to draw their wands.
"It's on the house," she said hurriedly, brushing her long bangs out of her eyes, tucking them behind her ear. "It's your first time, and Steve's here often enough." The man sent an indecipherable look towards Steve, who flushed slightly and took a hasty bite of his eggs. The man glanced at her again, and stiffened at the sight of her scar, which, although greatly faded, still showed up in the right light.
"What'd you say your name was?" he asked, now ignoring Steve.
Cathryn's mental alarms went off like crazy. If he was a wizard…. "Cathryn," she said with a forced smile. "Cathryn Black."
"You from around here?"
Cathryn didn't know why he bothered asking; her British accent was still quite heavy. "I moved here a few years back," she replied. Before the man could ask another question, she added, "I'd love to stay and chat, but I've got some muffins in the oven."
As she made her escape, she heard Steve ask, a bit testily, "What was that for, sir?"
When she came back from putting the muffins in the oven, Steve and the other man were gone. Along with his usual crisp seven dollars, Steve had left a folded note. Her name was on the outside in surprisingly neat handwriting. The note was only two sentences long:
Business came up. I'll be back once it's over.
She tucked the note into the back pocket of her jeans and cleared the table, still on edge from the one-eyed man's questions. That evening, she spent a full ten minutes wiping the last table before she accepted that Steve had already left for his 'business', and wouldn't be running by in the evenings for the foreseeable future.
The next morning, just after she'd put her first batches of scones, muffins, and pastries into the ovens, someone knocked on the café door. Still in her bathrobe - it was only six thirty in the morning, although she'd been up since three with an odd feeling thrumming through her body - she peered through the blinds. A short, rather stocky man in a well-tailored suit stood in front of the door, checking his watch. Even though the sun was barely peeking over the horizon, he wore dark glasses. It wasn't difficult for Cathryn to figure out that this was a government man.
Stamping down her dread, she unlocked and opened the door partway, wishing she hadn't left her wand on her bedside table. "Can I help you?" she asked politely.
"May I come in?" the man countered.
Cathryn hesitated. Yes, she was a witch, but even she wasn't that stupid.
"It's confidential," the man continued when he saw her hesitation. He pulled an identification card out of his breast pocket and handed it through the opening of the door.
After a moment of inspection, she handed it back to him. "I've never heard of S.H.I.E.L.D. before, Agent Coulson."
"We're covert," was all he said in reply. She sighed, but opened the door the rest of the way and let him in.
"Sorry for my state of undress," she said, not sorry in the least. The Butter-and-Crumpets didn't open until eight thirty; she normally didn't get dressed until seven forty or so.
"Not a problem, Miss Potter," Agent Coulson said, looking around the café with interest.
Cathryn winced and swore at the name. "Bloody buggering hell," she said with a sigh. She collapsed into the nearest chair and pinched the bridge of her nose with her fingers. "Have you contacted the British?" she asked once she'd collected her thoughts.
"Not yet." The threat was implied. Cathryn's respect for the man grew; she didn't like him, but she could respect the unassuming-looking man.
She straightened up in her seat. "What do you want for your silence?" she asked. Mentally, she was calculating how long it would take her to pack a bag and flee the state.
"Your assistance," Agent Coulson replied. He took a phone - one of the new high-tech things that she'd never really figured out - and pushed it across the table to her. He continued to speak as she flubbed around with the phone, trying to figure out how to turn it on. "It's a matter of world-wide security. The entire planet is at risk."
Cathryn scowled as she finally managed to turn the phone on and read the file that popped up. "Aliens?" she asked in disbelief. Coulson stayed silent as she read. She scoffed when she got to the part about the Norse gods, but inside, the feeling of dread was intensifying. After all, she was Mistress of Death; it only made sense that there were other powers out there. When she'd read through the entire document, she pushed the phone back to Coulson. "I'm out of the whole saving-things business," she said sharply. "I've fulfilled my fate. I'm retired."
Coulson just tucked the phone back into his jacket pocket, and pulled out a different one. He passed it to her, and with a large sigh, she turned it on and read the file. When she was done, she glared at him. "I've got a tech on stand-by ready to send that the minute I give the say-so."
Cathryn glared at him a moment longer. "Fine," she snapped, scraping her chair back as she stood. "Give me fifteen minutes to get ready." As she stalked towards the back kitchen to remove the baked goods from the ovens, she called, "And there'd better be showers wherever it is that we're going!"
Twenty minutes later, Cathryn was locking the front door of the Butter-and-Crumpets. She'd posted a hand-written sign in the window. It read : Closed for family emergency until further notice. She'd had to dig to the very back of her closet to find the dragon-scale outfit that had been the Order's gift to her for her seventeenth birthday. The armor was skintight and more flexible than she would have originally guessed from just looking at it. Charlie had explained in great detail which breed of dragon each part of the ensemble came from. The high-collared shirt was made from the skin of an adolescent Chinese Fireball; because the dragon had been so young, the scales were much smaller, and extremely flexible, though no less adept at repelling all manner of blades and spells. The skin was also bright red, with gold tracery around the edges of some of the scales. Like the shirt, the pants made from the skin of a young dragon - an Antipodean Opal-Eye. Charlie had told her in a reverent voice that Antipodean Opal-Eyes, even as adults, had the softest scales, which would allow her greater ease in her movements and a larger range of motions that would allow her to dodge and run easier than a stiffer skin would have. The sleeveless tunic was slightly old-fashioned, with it's narrow waist and flared 'skirts' that reached down to mid-thigh, but was really the most protective part of the uniform, made from the nearly impenetrable and highly magic-resistant scales of the Hebridean Black, a dragon native to Britain. Her knee-high boots matched the tunic.
Coulson hadn't made any sort of remark about her outfit, although it was hard to see clearly in the dim light of the café, and he was still wearing his dark glasses. "Do you have everything you need?" Coulson asked as he opened the door of the waiting black SUV.
Cathryn didn't bother to respond verbally, just hefted the small duffle she'd stuffed a change of clothes, her shrunken broom, and the Deathly Hallows. Even if she didn't bring the Hallows, they'd show up wherever she was in twenty-four hours if she went more than a few miles away from them. Her own wand was strapped to her thigh, mostly obscured by the skirt of her tunic.
For the entire ride to the J.F.K. Airport, Cathryn stared out the window as Coulson typed away at his phone. Just before they got out of the car, Coulson passed her a swatch of thick black fabric. When she unfolded it, she saw that it had two holes in the middle. "What's this for?" she asked in confusion.
"It's a mask," Coulson replied evenly. Her eyes widened. She hadn't given a second thought to protecting her identity, but now that he'd brought it up, it seemed stupid for her not to have done so.
"How do I…" she trailed off. Coulson held out his hand, and she dropped the mask into the palm of his hand and scooted to the middle of the seat. The 'mask' was really just a length of seemingly light-absorbent fabric with two holes in it. Coulson tied it around her head, knotting it firmly at the back.
"Thanks," she said, reaching back to touch the knot. When she felt the sleek fabric sliding against her hair, she drew her wand, overly aware of Coulson's curious gaze, and murmured the incantation for a mild sticking charm. She tugged once at the band, and once satisfied, stuck her wand back in its holster, opened the car door, and slid out.
The SUV was idling only a few yards away from the ramp of a small jet. Cathryn followed Agent Coulson up the ramp and immediately stowed her duffle under one of the benches, making sure it was well secured so it wouldn't slide around. Agent Coulson must have given some sort of signal to the pilot, because the hydraulics activated and the ramp started to swing closed.
"It's just me?" Cathryn asked in surprise. She had assumed that there would be other people there, perhaps other witches or wizards, or even just highly-skilled Muggles.
"The rest of the team is already on base," Agent Coulson said as they started to taxi along the runway, picking up speed at a rapid pace.
Cathryn gripped the edge of the bench so hard that her knuckles turned white as the wheels left the ground. She didn't like flying in airplanes of any type; she liked to be in control of where she was going. "Who else is on the team?" she asked, partly as a way to distract herself, and partly because she was genuinely curious.
"Besides you? Agent Romanov, Dr. Banner, Tony Stark, and Captain America. Thor came in with the prisoner just an hour or so ago. Agent Barton is compromised, but we're hoping to get him back."
Cathryn frowned. "I feel like I've heard the name Stark before," she mused. "I just can't place it." After a moment, she asked, "What's Stark's job on the team?"
Coulson actually took off his dark glasses and all but gaped at her. "You don't know who Tony Stark is?" he asked incredulously. He shook his head. "Have you seen the news in the past two years?"
She shrugged. "Not really. I don't have a television or computer - magic messes with technology so there's really no reason to bother. The most news I get is reading the front pages of newspapers that customers have left behind." She hesitated before adding, in a quieter voice, "I'm not really all that bothered by - you know - non-magic news, and I stopped getting the Daily Prophet - that's the British wizarding paper - as soon as they stopped publicizing the search for me."
Coulson shook his head, but Cathryn saw a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "I'll let you ask him yourself," he said at last. "Just be sure I'm in the room. I want to film it." He chuckled. "I'll forward it to Ms. Potts. She'll love it." At Cathryn's confused expression, he added, "Ms. Potts is Tony's fiancée. She used to be his secretary and personal assistant." Cathryn raised her eyebrows a little at that, but didn't say anything.
As the flight lengthened, Cathryn found herself getting more and more tense. Several times, she almost asked if they were there yet, but managed to hold herself back.
After nearly an hour and a half of flight, the jet slowed down, and with a slight jolt, they landed. The ramp extended down, and, duffle in hand, Cathryn followed Agent Coulson of the jet and into an indoor hanger.
"Usually we would land up top," Coulson explained as he led her past a bevy of workers and pilots, all of whom stared at her with interest and curiosity for only a few moments before returning to their work. "Unfortunately, someone's hat blew off last time and nearly got caught in one of the rotors."
"So…" Cathryn trailed off as they got into an elevator. She watched carefully as Agent Coulson pushed the button labeled with a large 'CR'. "Where exactly are we?" she asked as the elevator smoothly began to rise.
"That's classified," Coulson returned, but added, "In the air."
Her eyebrows rose. "We're in the air," she said flatly. "As in, flying?"
Coulson nodded. "Quite a feat of engineering," he said proudly. "It took nearly a year to complete!" Cathryn was unsure if this was a long amount of time or not for such a task; it had been nearly twenty years since she last took Muggle history.
The elevator slid to a stop, and the doors opened. A quick glance at the panel above the doors showed her that this was the 'CR' stop that Coulson had pushed, so she stepped through the doors, Coulson right behind her. She allowed him to take the lead, and then followed as close as she dared. Agent Coulson wound his way through what seemed like a warren of hallways even more confusing that those at Hogwarts.
At some point, they joined up with an enormous blonde man dressed in black leather pants, a heavy-looking leather and silvery-metal vest that left his arms bare, and silvery wrist-guards. Cathryn felt shorter than usual walking next to him; she barely came up to his collarbone, even with the boots on.
"Good morrow, son of Coul," the man said courteously. "I have secured the prisoner with Director Fury."
"Excellent." Agent Coulson gestured to Cathryn. "This is Cathryn. Cathryn, meet Thor."
Although they didn't stop walking, both of them slowed down enough to take the other's measure. Thor - all six plus feet of him - was well muscled.
"God?" Cathryn asked, as, at the same time, Thor said, "A mortal talented in magic?"
Coulson chuckled, somehow finding humor in the situation. "Yes, and yes."
They started to slow down, and Coulson held open a door for them. "The others are waiting for you in the meeting room," he said, but Cathryn felt his words were more directed at Thor than herself.
"Aren't you coming?" Cathryn found herself asking, slightly alarmed.
"Director Fury needs me to collect Mr. Stark," Agent Coulson replied.
"I shall watch over the Lady Cathryn," Thor declared.
Cathryn drew herself up to her full height. "I can take care of myself, thank you," she said stiffly.
"I meant no insult," Thor said placatingly, but he cast a confused look to Agent Coulson that Cathryn nearly missed.
As she stalked down the hallway towards the sound of computer keyboards and low murmurs, she caught Agent Coulson's one-word explanation: "Women."
The god caught up to her just as she reached a doorway. She paused in the shadows and took stock of who awaited her in what she knew had to be the control room of the flying vessel. Seated or standing in various poses along an arrow-head shaped black table were two men and two woman. Both woman wore full-length bodysuits, with a weapons belt around their hips. The only difference between the suits was the color - the red-haired woman's was completely black, while the women with black hair wore a dark blue suit. Both had black leather boots on, but where the red-head was seated, the dark-haired woman was leaning against the railing that separated the table from the rest of the control room, arms crossed as she watched. One of the men - with sleek dark brown hair and an indefinable air of intelligence and something about him - wasn't of any interest to her, but the other caught her attention right away. It was Steve. Dressed in a star-spangled outfit.
Thor waited for a moment, but when it became clear that she wasn't going to go right away, he strode past her and into the room, towards the sole straight side of the table.
Steve spoke up right away. "Thor, what's Loki's play?" Cathryn set the duffle down next to her feet and watched from just beyond the door frame, waiting for the right time to sneak in. She wanted to stay unnoticed for as long as possible - she hated being the center of attention, and her connection to Steve would not stay un-remarked upon if she let her identity slip. She scowled as she listened to their conversation. She'd be willing to bet her broomstick (and it was an expensive one, too) that Steve's friend had been the one to tattle on her.
Thor answered Steve's question. "He has an army, called the Chitauri. They are not of Asgard, or of any world known." The god's features darkened into a cloudy scowl. "He means to lead them against your people. They will win him Earth in return, I suspect, for the Tesseract."
Now Cathryn listened with renewed interest; there hadn't been much in the two reports that Agent Coulson had shown her about the so-called Tesseract.
Steve, however, must have already known about the Tesseract, because he said, "An army. From outer space." He sounded very resigned as he glanced around the room, forcing Cathryn to withdraw further back as his eyes passed over the doorway.
The other man - the one wearing a dark purple shirt - spoke up for the first time. "So he's building another portal. That's what he needs Erik Selvig for." Selvig, Selvig, Cathryn thought furiously. The name hadn't been in the report, as far as she could recall.
"Selvig?" Thor unknowingly mirrored her silent question.
"He's an astrophysicist," the other man offered. Makes sense, she thought. When dealing with aliens and portals to other worlds, it only made sense to have an astrophysicist come into the discussion at some point or another.
Thor corrected the other man. "He's a friend." Cathryn raised her eyebrows. She hadn't realized that Thor - a god - had been to Earth before. Maybe I should pay more attention to the news, she mused.
The woman chimed in, her voice low and alluring even with the grim topic of discussion. "Loki has him under some kind of spell," she divulged. All of the sudden, Cathryn's presence made sense: when confronted with unknown magic, go find a witch. She repressed a snort. "Along with one of ours," the woman added in a darker voice. For the first time, Cathryn caught the faintest trace of an accent, similar to Viktor's.
This must be Agent Romanov, she thought, as Steve grumbled, in the least polite voice she'd ever heard him use, "I wanna know why Loki let us take him. He's not leading an army from here."
Her eyes widened. They had a second god on this floating piece of junk!? A god, who, by all stories, was a formidable wielder of both blade and magic! She was about ready to burst in and take a page out of Molly Weasley's book and chew them out, but the quiet man spoke again.
"I don't think we should be focusing on Loki." The woman Cathryn thought to be Agent Romanov raised a single eyebrow, something Cathryn had never been able to do. "That guy's brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him."
Thor bristled. "Have a care how you speak," he snapped. "Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother." Cathryn stared at Thor with interest and speculation, only looking away when he glanced her way, his keen eyes finding her unerringly in the shadows.
"He killed eighty people in two days," Agent Romanov said bluntly. Cathryn grimaced. Most of the time, she was able to keep the small part of her brain and magic that was most intimately tied to the Deathly Hallows separated from the rest of her mind with an Occlumency shield, but - as she'd found out through a seizure on the day the World Trade Center was attacked - mass deaths could still penetrate. It was likely Loki who'd woken her up for the past two nights.
Thor looked pained as he glanced from Agent Romanov to Cathryn, his eyes widening slightly when he caught the anger that must have showed on her face. "He's adopted?" Thor offered uncertainly, staring straight at her. She narrowed her eyes at him before nodding once, a short jerking of her head. If anything, Snape had taught her not to project her feelings towards one person onto another.
Her interaction with the god had distracted her, however, because two men had come up behind her.
The first one - unknown to her, but oddly familiar - stopped in his tracks, looked her up and down, shrugged unconcernedly, and continued on, striding into the room like he owned it and interrupting the conversation that had been taking place.
"It's a stabilizing agent," she heard the new man say, almost smugly. Agent Coulson had stopped next to her. He gave her a look, like one that Professor McGonagall would have had Cathryn turned in a paragraph for an essay. She glowered and slunk into the meeting room, bracing herself for verbal assault, but, miraculously, the arrogant man had everyone's eyes on him from where he stood at the odd podium with very impressive computer screens at the far end of the table, closest to the workers in the main basin of the command room.
"Means," the man continued, completely at ease with the attention, which only served to further cement her theory that this was a grown-up version of Draco Malfoy. "The portal won't collapse on itself like it did at S.H.I.E.L.D.." He gently slapped Thor's arm, saying quietly, "No hard feelings, point break. You've got a mean swing," earning a glare from Thor and an exasperated look from the black-haired woman. He continued in a louder voice. "Also, it means that portal con open as wide - and can stay open as long - as Loki wants." He paused, and met Cathryn's eyes evenly. "Who're you?" he asked bluntly.
The rest of the room - well, those not typing at a computer - looked around to see who the man was speaking to, and one by one their gazes locked on Cathryn, who was lurking in a corner. She glared at the man.
He gave her a charming smile in return.
"Ah. Yes, I do believe introductions are in order," Agent Coulson broke into the one-sided staring match. "Mr. Stark, this is the - erm - newest recruit." He looked over to Cathryn. "How would you like to be called?"
Cathryn blinked in surprise and discontinued her death-glare. She'd been told it was extra-effective due to the almost unnatural color of her eyes, but from Stark's lack of response, she was starting to think that only wizards became uncomfortable with it. "I - give me a second," she hedged, searching desperately for an appropriate name. She hadn't given any thought to coming up with a different name since she hadn't expected anyone to know her. After a few seconds of furious thought, she straightened up and stepped out of the dark corner. "Griffin," she said, raising her chin proudly, eyes darting to Thor, the only one who knew her given name. "You may call me Griffin." There was a moment of silence.
Agent Romanov was the first to speak. "I'm Natasha Romanov, or the Black Widow, whichever you prefer. And what on earth is your suit made of?"
Cathryn had to use all of the skills she'd picked up as a mischief-maker and waitress (she saw some pretty weird stuff sometimes) to stop her jaw from hitting the ground. Natasha - for that she looked like some sort of warrior princess - was acting like Lavender Brown!
"Uh. Dragon." The reactions were - frankly - hilarious. Stark did a double take from his spot on the , Steve, who had become distracted by something on his spandex suit, spun to look at her so fast that she swore she heard his neck crack, the as-yet-unnamed man pulled a pair of glasses out of his shirt pocket and slid them on, and Natasha blinked three times in quick succession. Thor just looked mildly impressed.
"I've never seen a Komodo dragon in those colors," the unknown man remarked in the resulting silence.
Thor guffawed. "You mortals! So blind to what is right in front of you!"
"Dragons…" Steve said uncertainly, glancing from Thor to Cathryn's armor, "Are real?"
Cathryn sighed. "Aliens are real?" she shot back.
Steve flushed. "Point taken. I'm Steve Rogers." He stood up and stuck out his hand. Cathryn covered the few feet that separated them with a few quick steps and shook his hand. "Would you like to sit?" He pulled back one of the black swivel chairs invitingly.
"I'm fine, thanks." For now, she was happier standing.
Steve's introduction seemed to jolt everyone out of their silence. "Dr. Bruce Banner," the man with glasses said.
The dark-haired woman, who thus far had remained silent, merely gave her name as Agent Hill before resuming her silent watch.
With everyone else's introductions out of the way, Stark bounced towards her. "I'd introduce myself, but it would be a bit pointless," he said in a blasé tone of voice. Like Steve, he stuck out his hand, but when she put hers in his, he kissed her knuckles instead.
When he released her hand, she put on her most confused face (it wasn't difficult, because she genuinely didn't know what was so amazing about Mr. Stark that he was so sure of his own fame that he didn't bother to introduce himself) and said, "I'm sorry, but I really don't know who you are."
He looked as if she'd just told him that she didn't know who the Queen of England was: utterly gobsmacked. To her right, she could hear muffled snickering; Natasha clearly thought the situation amusing. Even Dr. Banner looked entertained.
He recovered fairly quickly. "Tony Stark, at your service," he said smoothly, his expression under control. "Foremost name in clean energy, and part-time job as Iron Man."
Cathryn frowned, and Stark groaned. "Don't tell me you haven't heard of Iron Man!?"
Cathryn had, actually, heard of Iron Man - it was hard not to when it was the topic of discussion in the Butter-and-Crumpets for nearly a week, two years or so back. She just hadn't ever paid much attention to it. When Natasha's snickers started to border on guffaws, she put the man out of his misery.
"I may have heard about Iron Man once or twice in passing," she said with a shrug.
"What are you, a hermit?" Stark asked sarcastically.
Cathryn gave her most mysterious smile, one she'd picked up from Luna. "Something like that."
Stark paused and tilted his head to one side. "Sounds exhausting," he decided, before abruptly changing the subject. "Back to the iridium," he said, moving back towards the podium surrounded by a ring of high-tech computers. "The rest of the raw materials, Agent Barton can get his hands on pretty easily. The only major component he still needs is a power source."
Head spinning slightly with the subject change - very little of it she actually understood - Cathryn sat down next to Steve, who, like her, looked a bit confused. She went back to watching Stark, and only because of her years spent with Fred and George in the Gryffindor common room was she able to catch his sly movement in slipping his hand under the computer monitor.
Stark continued speaking as if nothing had just happened. "A high energy density, something to kick-start the cube."
"When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?" Agent Hill asked, eying Stark suspiciously, as if expecting him to suddenly shout 'Boo!'.
"Last night." Stark scanned the room, all but ignoring Agents Hill and Coulson. Cathryn glanced around too, and realized that, with the exception of Dr. Banner, everyone else looked as confused as she felt. "The packet. Selvig's notes. The Extraction Theory papers. Am I the only one who did the reading?"
Steve hurriedly spoke, looking slightly uncomfortable. "Does Loki need any particular kind of power source?"
Dr. Banner beat Stark to the punch, stopping in his quiet pacing. "He'd have to heat the cube to a hundred and twenty million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier."
"Unless Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the quantum tunneling effect," Stark added hurriedly, a look of building speculation and excitement on his face.
"Well, if he could do that, he could achieve Heavy Ion Fusion at any reactor on the planet," Dr. Banner said, as if it was the simplest thing ever. He looked over at Stark.
"Finally, someone who speaks English!" Stark exclaimed with a grin, sending an oddly smug glance at Steve, who muttered, "Is that what just happened?" under his breath.
Stark approached Dr. Banner and shook his hand. "It's good to meet you, Dr. Banner. Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled, and I'm a huge fan of how you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster."
Cathryn's eyebrows rose, both at Stark's comments, and his daring. If this was the Hulk - yes, she'd actually heard of him (she did live in New York, after all) - then Stark was being both very brave and very stupid.
Dr. Banner didn't look happy about the comment, and said, "Thanks," stiffly and a little awkwardly.
A tall, bald, black man with an eye patch over his left eye entered the room. Steve's friend from breakfast yesterday. He spoke as he strode confidently into the room. "Dr. Banner is only here to track the Cube. I was hoping you might join him." His eye landed on Cathryn, and he nodded. "Good to see you've accepted my offer, Potter." His use of her surname told her that this was Director Fury, the man who'd 'offered' her a spot on the team.
Once again, everyone turned to stare at her. She crossed her arms over her chest and huffed in irritation. So much for keeping her identity. "It's Griffin," she snapped. "And it's not like I had much of a choice." That garnered a few raised eyebrows from the men in the room - Natasha didn't so much as twitch. Cathryn guessed that the other woman hadn't chosen to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. simply because she wanted to. She turned her glare on Stark and Banner. "Don't you have something you're supposed to be doing? I'll be here all week."
"So she's funny and good-looking," Stark joked.
Steve came to her rescue. "I'd start with that stick of his," he suggested. "It may be magical, but it works an awful lot like a Hydra weapon."
Cathryn frowned. What the hell was a Hydra weapon?
"I don't know about that, but it is powered by the cube," Fury said, looking disgruntled at the comparison. She wondered if Fury had anything to do with Hydra. "And I'd like to know how Loki used it to turn two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys."
She raised her eyebrows at the comparison. With Hermione as her best friend, it was next to impossible not to pick up on Muggle literature, and the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz hadn't had any choice in serving the Wicked Witch of the West. As it was, she was feeling a little like a flying monkey herself.
"Monkeys?" Thor asked, clearly puzzled by the metaphor. "I do not understand."
"I do!" Steve said excitedly, sitting up straight in his chair. "I understood that reference!" Cathryn looked at him in curiosity. Something about the way he'd said that caught her attention, but she couldn't figure out why. It was almost like Ron when he'd understood some Muggle reference that she or Hermione had made - almost, but not quite.
Across the table, Stark stood up. "Well, let's get to it then. Shall we play, Dr. Banner?"
Banner stood up. "Bruce," he said, joining Stark on the way to the door that Fury had come through only a few minutes before.
"Tony," Stark returned affably, rubbing his hands together eagerly. "I'll get the programs up and running, while you initiate the…" His voice trailed off as the two of them disappeared down the hall.
Fury turned to the rest of them. "They'll take a while. You four can do whatever you like in the meantime."
He made to leave, but Cathryn called out, "Do I get a room, or do I have to find a sink to bathe in?"
Steve looked slightly scandalized, but Natasha gave a small snort. Thor just watched as Fury turned around slowly. "Agent Romanov will show you to where you can store your things," he said, and then spun and left.
When she realized that the other three Avengers were staring at her, she shrugged. "Coulson came knocking at some godforsaken hour," she explained. "I need a shower and some coffee."
Natasha stood, and Cathryn followed suit. "Lady Griffin," Thor said with a slight bow in her direction.
"Thor," she replied, in a friendly tone. He certainly was polite.
"This way," Natasha said. As they left, Cathryn turned to walk backwards for a few steps, and gave Steve a jaunty military-style salute. She grinned when he looked confused; she hadn't had so much fun in ages. Who knew that being retired had been so boring - she certainly hadn't until she'd been thrust into the middle of a worldwide crisis.
Natasha led her through a maze of corridors until they reached a long straight corridor with many doors. She opened the third door in. "My room," she said, going in. Cathryn followed, looking around. A plain, narrow bed pushed against one wall, a small desk, and a closet with no door. "It's not much," Natasha said, sitting cross-legged on the bed. "Just for when I'm here and need a place to rest or think. You're welcome to share."
"Thanks," Cathryn said, setting her duffle next to the desk and sitting in the chair.
After a moment of awkward silence, Natasha asked, "What do you do?" Cathryn shifted uncertainly. She knew what Natasha was asking - the red-haired woman was a spy and assassin; Thor was a god; Stark was Iron Man and an inventor; Dr. Banner was a physicist and the Hulk; and Steve was, apparently, Captain America.
"Um - it's classified?"
Natasha shrugged. "So unclassify it."
This wasn't what she'd expected of the agent - wasn't she supposed to follow the rules? Internally, she debated the wisdom of telling the truth; yes, it was illegal, but it was also the reason she'd been called upon in the first place. They were all going to find out sooner or later. She decided to start easy. "I've got certain powers," she said.
Natasha snorted. "Don't we all." She stood up and moved to the door. "Did you really want to take a shower, or were you just trying to make Fury uncomfortable?"
Glad for the change of subject, Cathryn grinned.
Seeing her answer in the smile, Natasha said, "You'll have to try harder than that. Fury's a spy; he's seen it all." She paused. "I'm going to try and see if I can get Loki to let something slip. Do you want to come?"
She didn't have anything else to do, so Cathryn nodded. "Let's go."
Loki was being kept in a large cylindrical container, with large windows around the circumference. The other god had black hair that reached to his shoulders, and was wearing a green shirt with a black and gold leather tunic, open in the chest to reveal a heavy gold necklace. His shoulders were protected by iron epaulets.
As with before, Cathryn stayed in the shadows by the door as Natasha went in. Loki's back was to them both, and he was pacing. When Natasha was nearly to the glass, the god stopped in his tracks, then turned around.
"There's not many people who can sneak up on me," he said, and Cathryn was struck by his voice. Like with the Tom Riddle of Slughorn's memory, Loki's voice was smooth and charismatic, and made you want to listen.
Natasha wasn't phased by it. "But you figured I'd come," she said softly, not moving from her firm stance.
"After," Loki allowed. "After whatever tortures Fury can concoct, you would appear as a friend. As a balm. And I would cooperate." He smirked.
"I want to know what you've done to Agent Barton," Natasha said, ignoring Loki's words. Cathryn itched to get closer, but the Invisibility Cloak was up in her duffle, and there was no guarantee that it would work on a god. She still didn't know if it worked on animals.
Loki's response was pure Slytherin: "I'd say I've expanded his mind."
Natasha clearly didn't like his answer, but she kept her calm. "And once you've won," she said, walking towards the large window through which she could see Loki standing in the middle of his cage, "Once you're king of the mountain, what happens to his mind?"
Cathryn's eyebrows rose. She didn't know much about interrogation, but Natasha's train of attack was certainly not what she'd expected. Loki apparently shared her opinion, because he asked, almost amused, "Is this love, Agent Romanov?"
Natasha crossed her arms across her chest. "Love is for children. I owe him a debt." Cathryn was very impressed. This was an entirely different Natasha than the one she'd just been speaking to, or the one who'd asked about her clothes. If she didn't know better - and she wasn't entirely sure she did - she'd think that Natasha was being entirely serious.
Loki started to walk backwards towards the thin cot built into the cage. "Tell me," he said, spreading his hands wide. He sat down as Natasha stared at him, perplexed.
She heaved a sigh and turned away. "Before I worked for S.H.I.E.L.D., I, uh…" She sat in a conveniently place chair. "Well, I made a name for myself. I have a very specific skill set. I didn't care who I used it for, or on. I got in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s radar in a bad way. Agent Barton was sent to kill me. He made a different call." She spoke softly, so that Cathryn had to strain to hear through the odd echoes that sounded in the circular room.
"And what will you do if I vow to spare him?" Loki asked.
"Not let you out," Natasha said right away.
"Oh, no, but I like this," Loki said with an easy grin. It was disarming, how this other god could seem so benign. Cathryn had to remind herself that he was the man who had killed all those people, and who had kept her from sleeping for the past two nights, and who was ultimately responsible for Fury finding her. "Your world in the balance, and you bargain for one man?"
Natasha shook her head. "Regimes fall every day," she said without a trace of remorse. "I tend not to weep over that. I'm Russian." She shrugged. "Or I was." Cathryn suppressed a sudden upsurge of amusement. Muggle history wasn't covered at Hogwarts, but even most pure-bloods kept up with the rapid political changes in Russia.
"And what are you now?" Loki looked genuinely curious.
Natasha stood up and paced towards the window. "It's really not that complicated," she said, not answering his question. "I've got red in my ledger, and I'd like to wipe it out."
"Can you? Can you wipe out that much red? Urakov's daughter. Sao Paolo. The hospital fire." He paused. "Barton told me everything." He stood, and suddenly Cathryn saw the predator that had somehow been masked before. "Your ledger is dripping. It's gushing red. And you think saving a man no more virtuous than yourself will change anything? This is the basest sentimentality," he said with derision. "This is a child at prayer. Pathetic. You lie and kill, in the service of liars and killers. You pretend to be separate, to have your own code, something that makes up for the horrors, but they are part of you, and they will never. Go. Away." He slammed a fist against the window, snarling with poorly suppressed rage, and Cathryn slipped past the door and into the room, lingering in the sparse shadows by the control panel near the door.
Loki didn't notice, but stared straight into Natasha's eyes. "I won't touch Barton," he promised. "Not until I make him kill you. Slowly. Intimately. In every way he knows you fear. And then he'll wake up, just long enough to see his good work, and when he screams, I'll split his skull." As Loki spoke, Natasha turned away. From her position, Cathryn could see that the words hadn't effected Natasha in the least, but Loki couldn't see and continued to speak. "This is my bargain, you mewling quim."
"You're a montser." Natasha's acting skills were even better than Ginny's had been as a teenager. She spoke softly, as if crying.
Loki chuckled. "Oh no. You brought the monster."
Cathryn grinned. Natasha was good. The red-head spun around. "So," she said casually. "Banner. That's your plan." As Loki looked startled and worried, she ran off, speaking into her earpiece. "Loki means to unleash the Hulk. Keep Banner - "
Cathryn stopped listening just long enough to stalk towards Loki, who looked surprised to see her. "Who are you, mortal?" he asked, but his eyes caught on her tunic and under-clothes. "Witch," he said, taking a step back. Then his eyes narrowed. "You owe me your allegiance, spell-weaver. Set me free from this cage."
"Not a chance," Cathryn said, tapping a finger carelessly on the glass of the window. "You brought me out of retirement, you arse, and while I'll admit it's been fun so far, I liked my life." Before he could respond, she raced off after Natasha - without the other woman, she'd likely be lost before she got even two steps.
As she left the chamber, Natasha's legs just vanishing around the corner at the end of the hall, she heard Loki call after her, "When I win this puny world, I will hunt you down, little mage!" The hairs rose on the back of her neck, but she ignored them. Loki wasn't going to win.
Cathryn and Natasha met up with Thor only a few yards from the entrance to the lab where Banner and Stark had set up. Steve and Fury were in there with them, and all were involved in a serious discussion.
A quick glance around the room told Cathryn everything she needed to know. Stark was staring down Fury with a diagram of a weapon; a diagram of the very same weapon that Fury stood next to. Steve was glaring at Fury with narrowed eyes, but Banner didn't seem bothered.
"…world hasn't changed a bit," Steve bit out as Thor, Natasha, and Cathryn entered the lab.
"Did you know about this?" Banner asked Natasha, gesturing to the diagram of the weapon with his spectacles.
Natasha responded with a question. "Do you want to think about removing yourself from this environment, doctor?"
Cathryn and Thor stood next to each other, watching the exchanges. Cathryn didn't know enough about any of them except Steve to interfere, and he didn't know that she knew him. Even if he suspected something, she hadn't taken her usual Aging Draught, and the small sip twice a day made enough of a difference in her appearance that she would look more like a sister to Cathryn Black, albeit one with uncanny resemblance.
The other conversation ceased as Banner gave a cynical laugh. "I was in Calcutta. I was pretty well removed."
"Loki's been manipulating you." Natasha was nearly stalking Banner now, tense.
"And you've been doing what, exactly."
"You didn't come here because I batted my eyelashes at you."
"Yes, but I'm not leaving because suddenly you get a little twitchy." He pulled the screen with the diagram towards him and pointed at it with his folded glasses. "I'd like to know why S.H.I.E.L.D. is using the Tessaract to build weapons of mass destruction."
There was a moment of silence until Fury pointed at Thor. Cathryn took a step to the side, distancing herself from the god. "Because of him," Fury said grimly.
"Me?" Thor asked softly, unsure. When Cathryn glanced at Stark, who seemed to know the most of any of the other Avengers, he too looked taken aback.
Fury expanded upon his earlier words. "Last year, the Earth had a visitor from another planet who had a grudge match that leveled a small town. We learned that not only are we not alone, but we are hopelessly, hilariously, out-gunned." Cathryn frowned. That must have been a hell of a cover-up job for these Muggles, who didn't have Obliviators to simply make the incident be forgotten.
"My people want nothing but peace with your planet," Thor protested. As they'd talked, people had moved so that they were in a rough circle, with Fury in the middle.
"But you're not the only people out there, are you? And, you're not the only threat. The world is filling up with people who cant be matched. Who can't be controlled." Cathryn felt a slight pang of guilt and fear - she was one of those people, as were the rest of the wizarding community.
"Like you controlled the cube?" Steve asked pointedly.
The room was starting to feel over-full, and an odd presence radiated against her Occlumency shields, but when she tried to pin-point the location, failed.
"Your work with the Tessaract is what drew Loki to it, and his allies." It was clear that Thor was getting angry. "It is a signal to all the realms that Earth is ready for a higher form of war."
"A higher form?" Steve asked. Cathryn felt a pulse of the odd energy, and staggered slightly. No one noticed.
"You forced our hand," Fury cut in. "We had to come up with some - "
"A nuclear deterrent," Stark interrupted. "Cause that always calms everything right down."
"Remind me again how you made your fortune, Stark." Yet another pulse of the energy sent Cathryn to her knees; it was getting heavier. Only Thor noticed, approaching her with worry etched on his face.
Steve and Stark continued to trade words. "I'm sure if he still made weapons that Stark would be neck-deep - " Steve started, closing the distance between himself and Fury.
"Wait, wait, hold on," Stark cut in. Cathryn was having trouble breathing; the energy was pulsing at such a fast rate that she could hardly draw a breath without expelling it as the next wave hit. "How is this now about me?"
"I'm sorry, isn't everything?"
"I thought humans were more evolved than this," Thor growled. "Lady Griffin is - "
Fury turned on Thor, who straightened up under the man's single angry eye. "Excuse me, do we go to your planet and blow stuff up?"
As Cathryn gasped for air, the four men started an all-out argument.
"Are you guys really that naïve?" Natasha asked, disgust coloring her voice. Cathryn wished that Thor would step away; from where he stood, he blocked her from the view of the others. "S.H.I.E.L.D. monitors potential threats!"
Banner finally joined in the rapidly devolving argument. "Captain America's a threat-quality?" he scoffed. A giant pulse sent Cathryn all the way to the floor, her brain feeling like a giant hammer was pounding on her Occlumency shields. With a massive burst of will-power, she concentrated on her Animagus form.
It had never been this difficult. She had to completely cut off her awareness to the outside world. After an excruciating minute, in which she feared she would be unable to shift, the change flowed over her. She shook her head, surprised that none of the other Avengers had noticed a completely black cynogriffon in the room, five feet at the shoulder, half eagle and half wolf. As a female cynogriffon, she was more wolf than eagle, lacking the curved beak and scaly front legs; in their place she had a wolf's teeth-filled muzzle and streamlined limbs, although the feathers from her eagle's wings were present all up and down her spine from the crown of her head to the tip of her tail.
Keen ears picked up the confrontation between Steve and Stark. " - back off!" Steve was saying.
"Oh, I'm starting to want you to make me," Stark shot back.
Cathryn had had enough. She growled, wings half furled and teeth bared. Everyone froze in place, and then she had two guns, a magic staff, and two men ready to wrestle aiming at her.
Sure that she had their attention, she shifted back into her normal form. Hell broke loose.
"What the - "
"Can you do that again!"
"SHUT IT!" she yelled. A tendril of the unknown energy pushed gently on her mind barrier. She shoved it aside. "Look," she said into the stunned silence. "That staff that Dr. Banner is ever so kindly pointing at me - " Banner looked at his hands in shock, as did most everyone else " - has ambient magic." At their confused looks, she snapped, "It's messing with your minds. Making you mad where you wouldn't be otherwise."
Stark was the first to recover. "It's meddling with our emotions."
"Amplifying what's already there," Cathryn said wearily.
"Ha!" Everyone looked at Thor. "She's a griffin!" he said proudly. The realization sunk in slowly; expressions of understanding crossed the others faces.
"Did you already know?" Cathryn asked Fury. Clearly still upset that the staff had gotten the better of him - he who prided himself on his ability to remain unflappable - shook his head.
So," Stark drawled, eyeing her with renewed interest. "What else can you do?"
"Loki called her a witch," Natasha offered.
"A witch?" Steve and Banner asked at the same time.
Cathryn saw a massive headache coming her way, but a beeping from one of the many screens in the room halted them in their tracks.
"You've located the Tessaract," Thor stated as Banner put the scepter on the nearest table and strode across the room to the beeping screen, Natasha right on his heels.
"I can get there faster," Stark cut in.
"The Tessaract belongs on Asgard, no human is a match for it," Thor said, a warning clear in his voice.
A flash of motion in the corner of her eyes drew Cathryn's attention to Steve and Stark. "You're not going alone!" Steve objected, grabbing Stark's arm. Stark slapped his hand away.
"You going to stop me?"
"Put on your suit and lets find out."
"I'm not afraid of you, old man," Stark spat out between clenched teeth.
"Put on the suit," Steve growled. Cathryn was astounded; in her month of knowing Steve, he'd never come across as antagonistic.
"Cut it out!" she barked at them, just as Banner, seated at his computer, muttered, "Oh my god!"
Without warning, the floor lurched beneath them and a gout of flames erupted from the grates on the floor, shattering the windows and sending the people in the room flying through the air.
Cathryn slammed against a wall, hitting her head. Thor narrowly missed smashing her further. As she shook her head, her ears ringing, she heard Steve say, "Put on the suit," to which Stark responded, "Yeah."
With the alarms' ringing replacing the buzzing in her ears, Cathryn stood shakily, assisted by Thor. "Thanks," she muttered, checking her holster to make sure her wand was still there. It was, and the scales of the tunic's skirt carried a warmth from the flames that had licked at it. She was glad that it was fire-resistant; otherwise, she'd likely be roasting in her own clothes.
As she watched, Fury sat up, shook his head like she had done only moments before, and starting speaking into his ear-piece. "Hill!" Cathryn wished she had her own ear-piece, but knew it wouldn't last past her first spell. A few moments after he'd gotten to his feet, Fury was speaking again. "Stark, do you copy that?! Coulson, initiate defensive lockdown in the detention section, and then get to the armory!" Fury strode out the door, acting as if he hadn't just been blasted into the wall. Next to her, Thor muttered, "Loki!" and ran out the door.
Without an ear-piece of her own or any instructions, Cathryn pelted after him, dodging around grim-faced personnel who were hurrying through the corridors. She hoped that Thor knew where they were going, because she sure as hell didn't. When they reached yet another intersection of corridors, Thor stopped. "Follow the hall to its end, and then turn left, left, and right. It will take you to the detention center," he said quickly before sprinting down in the opposite direction of the one he'd just indicated. She stared after him for a moment, confused, before the blaring alarms reminded her of the situation.
When she got to the detention center, Loki was sitting calmly on his cot. "So, you came back," he said lazily. "I imagine my guests have arrived."
Cathryn took a breath to calm the stirrings of anger within her, and then said, "I wouldn't know. I'm new to this whole S.H.I.E.L.D. thing."
Loki quirked an eyebrow. "Are you? Your attire suggests otherwise." He leered appreciatively at her body. "Mayhaps if you are lucky, I shall let you live and take you as consort. Does your magic run strong?"
"Don't flatter yourself," Cathryn sneered, but his words had lit something within her. She'd been fearing eternity alone, but didn't gods live forever? Maybe she wouldn't have to be alone after all. She stalked over to the chair that Natasha had sat in earlier, but before she could sit, Loki spoke again.
"Voldemort was a fool."
Caught by surprise, Cathryn whipped her head around, and found herself staring directly into Loki's electric blue - unnaturally blue - eyes. She wanted to ask a thousand questions - staring with how the hell Loki knew about Voldemort - but found she couldn't even blink. Then, a hundred times worse than with the staff, she felt Loki's magic attacking her Occlumency barrier.
As if from a great distance, she heard Loki say, "Your walls are strong. I am stronger," but then the strain of the fight sent her to all fours and her vision blacked out.
When she came to, Loki was crouching over her, not touching her but staring with unnervingly blue eyes.
Head fuzzy from the attack, she blurted out, "How'd you escape?"
He chuckled; it wasn't a nice sound. "My idiot brother fell for the same trick I've used since we were children." He gestured to the left, and Cathryn saw a silently fuming Thor, locked in place but trembling as he started to overcome Loki's magic. "See, brother," Loki taunted, "This little human mage took more effort for me to overpower than it did for me to best you, an Asgardian!" He ran a finger down the side of Cathryn's face, and she snarled at him, but couldn't muster the energy to physically force him away; only her fingers gave the barest of twitches.
"Don't you touch me!"
He grinned. "I'm tempted to say, 'Try and stop me', but I simply do not have the time today. Perhaps once I rule this planet. But I will leave you something to remember me by, little mage." He bent forward, as if to kiss her, but Thor broke free of the spell with a roar, surging towards the glass. Loki grinned, and a thrill of foreboding shot down Cathryn's spine.
Thor swung an enormous hammer at the glass - it cracked but held. A loud click sounded through the chamber, and all three of them - four if Cathryn included the man dressed like a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, likely under Loki's sway - looked up. The clamps that had held the top of the cage in place had released.
"You are too easy to provoke into stupidity, Thor," Loki gloated, rising from his crouch and moving towards a small control panel. "The humans think us immortal," he said. Cathryn tried to push herself up off the floor, but her muscles felt like jelly and her limbs flopped uselessly. Instead, as Loki spoke, she found her wand and drew it. "And it's mostly true," Loki continued, sauntering ever closer to the controls. "But even Asgardians such as ourselves can be killed if pushed too close to death." As she tried to aim her shaking arm at Loki, his hand hovered over a large red button. "Shall we test that?"
As his fingers neared the button, a thump caught everyone's attention. Small, unassuming Agent Coulson stood over the fallen body of Loki's enthralled S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, the largest gun Cathryn had ever seen in his hands.
"Move away, please," he said, speaking to Loki. Loki did as instructed, moving directly into Cathryn's line of sight. She narrowed her eyes, wondering if her magic would even affect the god.
"You like this?" Coulson asked, hefting the gun. "We started working on the prototype after you sent the destroyer." He shrugged nonchalantly. "Even I don't know what it does." He pulled a lever and the gun thrummed into readiness, the front six inches staring to glow with orange heat. Just as Agent Coulson asked, "Do you want to find out?", Cathryn fired a quick succession of spells at Loki: two Stunners, a Binding Charm, a Blinding Hex, and a Jelly-Brains Curse.
They all went right through Loki, and Thor immediately called out, "It's a trap!"
Coulson turned, but not fast enough. The blade meant for the center of his chest went through his ribs instead, making an odd squelching sound that Cathryn knew would haunt her dreams for a long time. At least magical warfare wasn't always so messy, although certain of the less sane members of Voldemort's army had their vices.
"NO!" Thor yelled, banging his fist on the glass. Cathryn, however, only had eyes for Coulson, who had collapsed to the ground when Loki pulled the blade from his body. The man had quite clearly gone into shock and didn't move except to breathe and blink.
Without saying anything to either herself or Thor, Loki stepped over Coulson's legs and to the panel. Without further dramatics, he pressed the button. There was a brief pause as the signal went, and then the container holding Thor dropped. Cathryn winced at the sound of metal scraping metal; the resulting displacement of air sucked and tugged at her body.
Loki slowly pulled his finger from the button and, with a sigh, started to leave. "You're going to lose," Cathryn said into the silence. Loki turned and looked at her.
"It's in your nature." Coulson had come out of his shock, and had one hand pressed against his wound, but was cognizant and still defiant.
"Your heroes are scattered," Loki started, stepping forward. "Your floating fortress falls from the sky." He shook his head in mock confusion. "Where is my disadvantage?"
Coulson had a small amount of blood dribbling from the corner of his mouth, but spoke anyways. "You lack conviction." Cathryn knew it had to hurt; the blade had probably punctured a lung. She mentally reviewed the battle-field medic-training that she and Hermione had researched. It wasn't much.
Loki appeared stunned by Coulson's words, and Cathryn took her chance. This time, she fired a Bludgeoning Jinx at the Asgardian, powering it with the force of her anger. It blew Loki through the wall.
Coulson actually looked disappointed as she managed to stand and stagger woozily over to him. "I wanted," he said with an effort, "to find out - what it does."
"You'll have time later," Cathryn said, crouching on wobbly legs and making the preliminary wand motions for the most powerful healing spell she knew. It would likely knock her out for anywhere between ten and twenty minutes, and Coulson would still need extensive medical treatment, but he would live.
"No," Coulson protested, trying to push her wand away. "The rest - they need - something to fight - for."
"They'll fight for you whether you live or die," Cathryn said absently. "They did for me." She was actually glad that Coulson knew who she was; it meant that her slip-up wouldn't cause too many questions. She finished the intricate series of wand movements and directed the wand at the wound. "Sefydlogais," she murmured. A white light suffused the area around the wound, growing brighter as the seconds ticked by. Cathryn could feel her own strength lessening, and when she felt that any more would cause permanent damage to herself, she terminated the spell.
"Told you you'll have time," she said, weakly stowing her wand in its holster. She allowed herself to lean back against the railing that separated her from a few thousands feet drop. The last thing she saw before she fainted was Fury stepping over the body of the guard that Coulson had knocked out earlier, a deep scowl on his face.
Some time later, she woke up in Natasha's room. Her first thought was that the sheets were much softer than they'd looked earlier. She stood up, glad, for the first time, that she was Master of Death. She recovered much faster now than she ever could have before - body, mind, and magic.
There was a map on the desk, and when she picked it up, she saw that two locations had been circled: the room she was in, and a room in the section labeled 'Infirmary'. The message was easy to interpret, and after adjusting her mask - it was getting seriously annoying, but she couldn't let anyone know, most of all Steve - Cathryn unzipped her duffle, gabbed the Elder Wand and her second holster, strapped it to her other thigh, and headed out the door. After years of the Marauder's Map, she missed the little dot that would tell her where she was, but she made do. It only took five minutes to get to the marked door. When she looked inside, she could see Natasha sitting on a bed next to an unfamiliar man in a S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform.
The man noticed her first, and alerted Natasha to her presence. Natasha opened the door for her, and she stepped in. "Griffin, this is Agent Barton," Natasha said, sitting back down.
"The one who brought you in?" Cathryn leaned against the wall and crossed her arms over her chest.
There was a moment of silence as Cathryn and Barton inspected each other. He had blue eyes and short brown hair; he looked like he hadn't slept for at least three days. "What's the plan?" she asked. She didn't know who was still here - she only knew that Thor most definitely wasn't, and, from what Loki had said to Coulson, chances were high that at least one other was missing too.
"Right now? There is none. We're waiting on word from Fury." Barton didn't seem too happy about it, either.
"So we just wait?" Cathryn asked incredulously.
"We're agents," Natasha said stiffly. "We follow orders." She paused. "And even if we were inclined towards rebelling, we don't know where Loki is headed. So for now, we just sit tight."
Cathryn shrugged and picked some dried blood - whether it was from Coulson or the last battle she'd worn it to was unknown - off the scales of her tunic.
"What's it made of?" Barton asked.
Cathryn hid a smile at the question; the two agents were more alike than she'd thought. "Dragon."
Now she could see that Natasha was hiding a smile as well. "Really, what's it made of?"
"Dragon." He glowered at her until Natasha spoke up.
"You know how we were talking about magic?" Barton nodded. "Well, Loki's not the only one who's got it."
Barton's eyes suddenly became wary as he regarded her from his spot on the bed, and his entire body tensed.
"I don't deal in mind magic," Cathryn assured him. "It's nasty business. The most I can do is try and block someone from getting in."
Natasha muttered, "Just hit them really hard, that works too." They both ignored her, staring at each other.
After a long moment of silence, Barton grunted, "Can you teach me?"
"Maybe," Cathryn said, thinking that this was the sort of thing that Hermione would have loved to research. "But probably not. You don't have any magic of your own."
Expressionlessly, Barton got up and left through a cleverly disguised door that led to a bathroom. Cathryn and Natasha stared at each other across the room as the water began to run.
When the door from the hall opened, neither one of them were prepared for it. It was Steve. "Time to go," he said.
"Go where?" Natasha asked immediately. Cathryn just got up and waited for Steve to move out of the doorway.
"I'll tell you on the way," he said. "Can you fly one of those jets?" Cathryn grimaced. She didn't like airplanes, especially the small ones that S.H.I.E.L.D. used.
The door to the bathroom opened, and Barton stepped out, still drying his hands on a towel. "I can."
Steve glanced questioningly to Natasha, who nodded once, and then back at Barton. "Got a suit?" he asked. At Barton's affirmative, he added, "Then suit up."
He strode off, and Cathryn, with a nod to Natasha, followed. He set a quick pace, and glanced back at her every so often. "So that's really dragon?" he asked, not questioning why she was following him around.
"Yep. Three different types," she added nervously. She was starting to regret not staying with Natasha and Barton. Being around Steve wasn't safe.
"There's more than one?" He looked a little nervous, and had slowed down considerably as the conversation distracted him.
"Different breeds," Cathryn explained. "Like dogs." She hoped Charlie never found out that she had compared dragons to dogs.
"Did you kill them yourself?"
She shook her head. "No way. That'd be suicide." In her mind's eye she saw the Hungarian Horntail she'd faced as a fourth year. She'd only had to get past it, not kill it, but that had been difficult enough.
They walked for a few more minutes in silence, passing a few groups of workers who didn't so much as blink twice at the sight of Captain America and an oddly dressed woman in a mask. Cathryn notices that Steve was glancing over at her every so often, a confused expression on his face.
"How old are you?" he blurted out at last, as they went through a series of heavy-duty doors meant to keep intruders out.
"Twenty," she replied easily. Eighteen - although closer to her body's physical age - wouldn't be plausible, and would raise uncomfortable questions.
He shook his head, but didn't make any verbal comment as he lead her through rows of shelves stocked with weapons of all sort, including medieval swords and maces, and even a morning star. Steve ignored all of the shiny blades and the flat matte of the black guns, heading straight for a shield hung carefully on the wall. The shield was painted to match his American flag uniform, and hung underneath it was a masked helmet. "You want anything?" he asked, nodding towards the rest of the armory before tugging the mask and helmet on.
"Wouldn't know how to use most of it," Cathryn told him. "The best I'd be able to do is point and shoot and pray that it'd hit what I was aiming for."
"How are you going to fight, then?"
"Worried?" she shot back, starting to get irritated with his questioning. He'd seen her transform; she was more than capable of ripping someone's throat out if it came to that, although she'd definitely prefer not to. The blood left a nasty aftertaste and put her off her food. The only person she'd ever killed like that was a Death Eater - Avery. He'd been about to snap the wand she'd been using - the Snatcher's wand - and while she hadn't been particularly attached to the thing, it had been her only weapon. All it had taken was a quick transformation and a single bite. Even the Bitch hadn't seen that coming.
"You're barely a kid," Steve pointed out.
"And you're over seventy. By rights, you should be retired and in an old folk's home. Just worry about your own arse and I'll worry about mine."
"I'll worry about your ass," Stark interrupted, sauntering over in his newly-buffed Iron Man suit. "It's pretty nice."
Cathryn scowled as she turned to glare at him. "You're engaged," she said.
"And your point is? Pepper knows that she's the only one for me." He grinned and winked. "And the best part is, she doesn't expect me to stop looking!"
"That's what she says," Cathryn muttered, fighting the urge to draw her wand and hex the man. At times, he was worse than Sirius, whose ego had recovered nicely in the two years he'd been free from Azkaban. She thought she heard Steve scoff, "Playboy - as if!", but a loud grinding noise from a few rows over muted out any words that he might have spoken.
"Let's get moving," Tony said, flipping his mask down and heading for the exit. "Can't let Loki get too comfortable in my tower!" His voice was muffled, but easy to understand.
Natasha and Barton met the three of them just outside the main entrance to the indoor hanger.
"You coming with us, Stark?" Barton asked, adjusting his quiver.
"I'll fly solo, Bird-Brain," Stark responded. "Just follow me and I'll lead you right there." Without waiting for affirmation from any of the rest of them, he activated the door and strode into the busy hanger.
"Arrogant prick," Cathryn muttered as she, Natasha, Barton, and Steve followed. Barton didn't respond, but the serious expression on his face lifted for the smallest of moments.
Steve lead the way through the hanger, navigating through the mechanics and pilots with single-minded determination. Stark had vanished to some unknown spot, leaving the four of them to find a plane on their own. Towards the far end of the hanger, a familiar-looking jet had its ramp down, and when they walked right up. Cathryn glared balefully at the benches; she would have preferred to fly herself, but wouldn't be able to keep up in her Animagus form and didn't dare expose herself to the scrutiny that riding her broom would bring.
The mechanic inside stood as the four of them approached. "Hey, you guys aren't authorized to be in here."
Cathryn suppressed a smile when Steve betrayed his old-fashioned ways by saying, "Son. Just don't." The mechanic, a young man probably no older than Cathryn appeared to be, met Steve's eyes, and backed down immediately.
"Let me just finish…" he tapered off at the hardened stares that he was receiving from all four of them. "Never mind," he said, voice higher-pitched than before, and he scampered. A ghost of a grin crossed Natasha's face as she sat down at the nearest bench. Grudgingly, Cathryn sat as well, across from Natasha. Steve took the spot next to her, while Barton, after stowing his bow behind the pilot's chair, starting the pre-flight preparations. Sooner than Cathryn would have liked, they were in the air.
"Here," Natasha said, distracting Cathryn from watching Stark fool around in the airspace ahead of the jet. She caught the small black earpiece that Natasha tossed her way. Steve received one too. "Everyone will have one so that we can keep in contact during the confrontation."
"It might not work for me," Cathryn warned as she never-the-less inserted the technology into her ear. "Electronics don't function well with magic."
"Wear it anyways," Natasha said, moving up to join Barton. "Drive faster, Clint," she ordered, buckling in. "Stark's already most of the way there."
Five minutes later, Cathryn could see the New York City skyline through the front window. From the top of Stark Tower, a bright blue energy beam projected upwards. "Sweet Merlin," Cathryn gasped, gaping at the rift in the sky, through which only darkness could be seen. As they flew closer, she could start to make out small flying shapes: the alien invaders.
"Not good," Steve agreed, tapping his shield.
"Shut it, I'm calling Stark," Natasha said, and tapped a few buttons. "Stark, we're on your three, headed north-east."
Stark's voice sounded through the jet. "What, did you stop for drive-thru? Swing up Park, I'm gonna lay them out for you." The line went dead.
"Strap down," Barton warned them. "This could get bumpy."
Cathryn made a face but added a second belt.
True to Barton's prediction, the landing was less than smooth. As they flew over the streets, firing at the Chitauri, the jet tilted from side to side to evade the alien's flying pods. After one sweep, they pulled up next to Stark Tower.
"Nat?" Barton asked.
"See 'em," Natasha replied.
"What's happening?" Cathryn asked, wishing there was a window in the back so she could see.
"Thor and Loki are fighting," Natasha responded as the plane swung around so that, by leaning forward in her seat and peering through the front window, Cathryn could see. Loki threw Thor to the ground and leveled his scepter at the plane.
"Pull back!" Cathryn yelled, recognizing Loki's intent. Barton started to move, but it was too late. A flash of blue energy erupted from the end of Loki's staff and collided with the wing of the jet, sending shudders through the frame of the plane.
"Brace yourselves!" Steve roared over the sound of the engine sputtering and failing. Cathryn braced herself as well as she could, actually grabbing onto Steve's arm, but Natasha and Barton were to busy trying to wrestle with the spinning jet.
Cathryn felt sudden sympathy for Hermione, as flashes of her other dangerous flights went through her mind's eye; even the discomforting flight on Buckbeak was better than this. She couldn't even use magic lest it interfere with the plane's controls and send them plummeting to their death for good.
Buildings flashed past as Natasha and Barton did their best to find a landing spot. Cathryn closed her eyes as they neared the ground; never before in her life had heights bothered her so much. They landed with a jarring rattle as they plowed through nearly fifty feet of pavement, ending up nose-to-door with a tall black building.
"Out," Steve barked, unbuckling himself. Cathryn followed suit, incredibly glad to be getting out of the electronic machine. She followed Steve down the ramp, Natasha close on her heels. Sirens and scared yells filled the air. "We gotta get back up there," Steve called back as they ran between immobile cars towards Stark Tower. Their impromptu landing flight had taken them a few blocks from where the beacon split the sky. They hadn't made it far when a deep groaning noise stopped them in their tracks; they all looked up, ignoring the panicking crowds running past them in the opposite direction.
From the gaping hole in the sky, an enormous, Cretacian-looking behemoth flew through. It resembled a cross between a snake, a centipede, and a manatee, with eight to ten flipper-like appendages, a thick sinuous tail, and rows of spikes decorating its spine. It flew faster than she would have expected for something so large, and as it passed over their heads, Cathryn could see that the underbelly had close to a hundred capsules, each containing a Chitauri warrior.
"This isn't going to be easy," Cathryn said grimly, drawing both her wands and going through all of the battle spells she could remember from more than ten years before.
The pods split open, expelling the Chitauri through the air. They landed on the sides of the tall buildings surrounding them, and slid down the sides, their metal armor screeching against the stone of the building. Some of them crashed through windows, and almost immediately blue flashes of light could be seen and screams started to sound.
"Stark, you seeing this?" Steve asked. Cathryn flinched slightly. It was unnerving hearing Steve from both next to her and through the ear-piece.
"Seeing, still working on believing," Stark replied. "Where's Banner? Has he shown up yet?"
"He'll be here," Cathryn said, watching as a body fell from one of the windows of a nearby building; from its lack of screams, she knew the person was dead, and she looked away as they neared the ground.
"Just keep me posted," Stark said. When he spoke again, it wasn't to any of them. "JARVIS, find me a soft spot." Cathryn winced as the flippers of the undulating creature smashed through a building, which miraculously didn't collapse on itself. As debris started to rain down, the four of them darted to an overturned taxi.
"We've got civilians trapped in the buildings," Barton said as a group of Chitauri warriors flew overhead, raking the ground with blue laser beams.
"Loki," Steve said grimly, his eyes fixed on the first pod. As they watched, the group of flying pods rained fire down upon the street, blowing up cars and sending both civilians and law enforcement scrambling for cover. "Like fish in a barrel down there."
Steve had hardly finished speaking when a flash of blue hit the taxi, only narrowly missing his face. They spun into action. Cathryn was only partly aware of Natasha firing her guns at the descending Chitauri and Barton running for cover at a second taxi as she sent several reductor curses after the retreating pods, each of which dropped Chitauri warriors to the ground as they passed over head.
"We've got this," Natasha reassured Steve. Cathryn wasn't so sure. They were outnumbered at least four-to-one, even with Steve there.
Steve shared her doubts. "You think you can hold them off?"
Barton beat her to a response. "Captain," he said darkly, "It would be my genuine pleasure."
His mood was catching, and she found herself with a savage snarl on her face. "Move it, Wonder-Boy. We've got this." Without waiting for Steve to respond, she stood from her cover and aimed her wands, one at each of the nearest Chitauri, and fired off the darkest curse in her repertoire: Snape's very own creation, much worse than Sectumsempra. The curse, dark purple in color, exploded both of the Chitauri's heads upon contact with their skin. Once more, she lost track of her companions, with only the occasional arrow whistling past to land in a Chitauri's eye and fast-paced gunfire to remind her that she wasn't fighting alone.
She ended up backed up to Natasha and Barton, the two of them facing the same direction, conversing almost calmly.
"Just like Budapest all over again!" Natasha called over to Barton, not pausing in her near-constant firing. Cathryn started to target the pods swooping overhead with reductor curses, trying to minimize the firing from above.
"You and I remember Budapest very differently," she heard Barton remark lightly.
Starks voice sounded in her earpiece an indeterminate amount of time later - it could have been a seconds or minutes, she wasn't sure. Mostly she was just surprised that her earpiece hadn't shorted out. "Well, we got it's attention. What the hell was step two?"
Surmising that he wasn't speaking to any of them - it had been explained to her on the flight over that Stark's suit was connected to his AI - she ignored the slightly scrambled response from JARVIS and concentrated on the ever-growing number of flying Chitauri. It seemed that for every one she took out, three more took its place.
Hardly a minute later, an influx of Chitauri started for them; apparently, they were targeting the fighting opposition first. Wishing she knew martial arts - of any kind - Cathryn sent out whichever spell first came to mind, ranging from Tallantalegra to Incarcerous and anything in between. Some couldn't be classified as anything except Dark, but the three spells that never left her wand were the Unforgivables. Despite her status and immense magical powers, she had never been able to cast them properly. Even the Imperious Curse, the most benign of the three, didn't do much more than distract a person momentarily before failing.
Just as three of the Chitauri backed her into an overturned SUV, Steve returned, his shield pushing them away. Not seconds later, lightning descended from a cloudless sky, frying Chitauri on the spot and leaving the scent of burnt flesh and electricity behind. Thor landed with a thud, and hoisted himself up using a nearby car. His arms were now protected by scale-like silver armor, and a red cape extended from his heavy vest.
"What's the story upstairs?" Steve asked. Cathryn flexed her wrists, grateful for the respite that Thor had brought, however brief it looked to be.
"The power surrounding the cube is inpenetrable."
"Thor is right," Stark's voice cut through. "We've got to deal with these guys."
"We need to shut down the Tessaract," Cathryn snapped, stalking over to join Natasha and Barton, both of whom were readying their weapons for the next assault. "We can fight the buggers all day and they'll just keep coming until the portal is closed."
"Let's just focus on surviving this first," Barton said, fussing with the heads of several of his arrows.
"How are we going to do this?" Natasha asked.
"As a team," Steve answered immediately. Cathryn could see the ease with which he issued the orders; like Ron had been during the war against Voldemort, Steve was a natural strategist, able to see the most logical move even in the heat of battle.
"I have unfinished business with Loki," Thor interjected, hefting Mjölnir.
"Yeah?" Barton drawled. "Get in line."
"Save it," Steve reprimanded distractedly. "Loki's going to keep his sight focused on us, and that's what we need. Without him these things could run wild. We got Stark up top. He's going to need us to - "
A sputtering rumbling cut him off. They all turned towards the sound; a motorcycle shuddered to a halt, and a shabbily-dressed Dr. Banner dismounted. "So," he said, gesturing to the burning cars and partially destroyed buildings around them. "This all seems…horrible."
"I've seen worse," Cathryn muttered, loud enough so they could all hear.
Natasha snorted. "I second that."
"Sorry," Banner said to Natasha. Cathryn wondered what she was referring to, but quickly caught on.
"No," Natasha corrected. "We could use a little worse."
"Stark, we got him." Steve spoke into his earpiece.
"Banner?" came the prompt response.
"Just like you said."
"I said it too," Cathryn muttered, absently putting out a fire on a taxi with a wave of her wand. They ignored her.
"You tell him to suit up," Stark said. "I'm bringing the party to you."
A loud smashing noise drew their attention, and as one they turned. Flying straight towards them was Stark; hardly ten yards behind him was the Chitauri behemoth.
"Worse party ever," Cathryn said, eyeing the machine for possible weak spots. She couldn't find any. "I like my parties with decent music and firewhiskey."
"You're not even legal to drink," Steve said, adjusting the shield on his arm.
"You're not legal to drink?" Natasha exclaimed. She shook her head.
"You're one to talk," Barton grumbled.
Banner ignored them all. As soon as Stark zoomed past overhead, he turned and walked calmly towards the rapidly approaching creature.
"Dr. Banner!" Steve called out, taking a few steps after him. "Now might be a really good time for you to get angry."
Cathryn watched with interest as Banner didn't stop walking. "That's my secret, Captain," he said over his shoulder. "I'm always angry." With the giant ship less than a football-field's length away, Banner turned towards the incoming beast, and with an inhuman roar, morphed almost instantly into the enormous green Hulk. One large fist met the head of the behemoth; like a fish being gutted and deboned, the creature collapsed on itself, its spinal armor flaking off like so many loose scales.
The body of the behemoth was nearly vertical to the ground when Stark warned, "Watch yourselves." Seconds later, a missile whistled past, hitting the unprotected flesh with a burst of fire, forcing the body back so that it didn't fall on top of them. They scrambled for cover as bits of metal armor and ichor rained down on top of them. Cathryn found herself crouched under Steve's protective shield, Natasha next to her. As the behemoth's body crashed to the ground, dead, the Chitauri on the surrounding buildings began to chatter and hoot in anger. The Hulk roared back in response.
Preparing for an inundation of angered Chitauri, the seven of them formed a loose circle. Cathryn blew several overturned cars further away from them. Next to her, Stark caught on and did the same with pulses of energy. The flood didn't come; looking up, Cathryn saw why. It looked as if someone had poured water down an anthill; the sky around the hole was nearly a solid black from the sheer number of Chitauri poring through the portal, and two more of the behemoths had come through as well.
"Guys," she said, nodding towards the gateway.
"Call it, Captain," Stark said, pivoting to look up as well.
Steve took a few steps forward. "Alright, listen up. Until we can close that portal, our priority is containment. Barton, I want you on that roof, eyes on everything. Call out patterns and strays. Stark, you've got the perimeter. Anything gets more than two blocks out, you turn it back or you turn it to ash."
Stark nodded his acceptance. "Two blocks. Got it."
"You wanna give me a lift?" Barton asked, nodding towards the top of the building that Steve had indicated.
"Right. Better clench up, Legolas." Stark grabbed Barton by the back of his uniform and with a final parting nod, took off.
"Thor," Steve said, staring at the rift. "You gotta try and bottleneck that portal. Slow 'em down. You got the lightning. Light the bastards up." Thor nodded and, whirling Mjölnir over his head, flew off. Steve spoke to Natasha next. "You and me, we stay on the ground and keep the fighting here. And Hulk!" Banner's alternate personality turned with a grunt. "Smash." The green giant gave a feral grin, and with a massive leap, jumped more than half-way up the nearest building, promptly crushing a Chitauri.
"What about me?" Cathryn asked, ready to do whatever Steve suggested.
"What can you do?" Steve responded in kind, eyeing her critically.
Cathryn gazed thoughtfully at the blue light spearing up from the top of Stark Tower. "I want to try to shut the portal off," she said. "Maybe my own magic can penetrate where brute force couldn't."
Steve looked skeptical, but nodded. "Try your best. If nothing comes of it, join Thor in crowd control. The less that make it through the better."
"Sure thing, Steve," Cathryn said, reholstering her wands. She shifted effortlessly into her Animagus form and unfurled her wings. As she flew away, evading the blue energy bolts shot from the Chitauri weapons, she heard Natasha mutter, "So not fair."
The top of Stark Tower was completely untouched by the war raging on the streets below. In the very center of the graveled rooftop was the portal device, a complicated mess of metal and blue energy that hummed as it worked.
Cathryn landed and shifted back immediately, searching for possible threats. There were none in sight, but she could feel the device with her magic. It felt like a giant ball of electricity, crackling malevolently just in front of her.
A sudden groan brought her to a lower level of the roof, where an older man with a small gash on his head was stirring. "Are you all right?" she asked, debating the merits of healing him with magic. Deciding that he had probably only worked for Loki because of the magic in the staff, she drew her holly wand and did a basic healing spell.
The man raised a hand to his forehead in astonishment. "Magic?" he asked in a surprisingly coherent voice.
"Different type than Loki's," Cathryn nodded, helping him up. "What do you know about the machine up there? Is there any way to stop it?"
The man nodded. "The scepter. Loki's scepter." He limped over to a computer-like device. "The energy - it's the same as the Tessaract. It can't fight against itself."
Cathryn barely refrained from cursing the nearest object. Loki's scepter was with Loki. She shook her head. "This isn't going to be pretty," she said, wheeling to face the city. Loki was somewhere in the fray, but she needed him to be here; her com link hadn't survived the Animagus transformation, so she had no way of contacting the others except… "Expecto Patronum." She heard the man make a noise of interest but ignored it in favor of the silvery-blue ethereal stag. "Tell Thor that I'm drawing Loki back to Stark Tower, and then go to Loki. Tell him that I humbly request a meeting." She grimaced at the wording, but knew it would intrigue Loki enough that he would come, regardless of the possibility that it could be - and was - a trap. The stag patronus nodded and darted away, looking like just another of the energy pulses from the Chitauri weapons.
"You should take cover," she said, scanning the skies for Loki or Thor. "This isn't going to be pretty." As she watched, three of the Chitauri aircraft veered in their direction. She wanted to draw her wands, but she refrained. She had to draw him in; make him feel comfortable…
All too soon, he was there, stepping from the hovering aircraft to the gravel rooftop, scepter in hand. Like Thor, his godly heritage had provided him with battle armor. His green cape was tugged by the winds, and the golden helmet reflected the blue energy of the portal device. A smug, self-satisfied smile tugged his lips. And in his right hand was the scepter.
"Little mage," Loki smirked. "You have changed your mind, now that you have seen the might of my power. You are wise." His pleased expression didn't reach his blue eyes, which remained hard and unfeeling.
"Something like that," Cathryn allowed, keeping an eye on the four Chitauri that had accompanied Loki to the top of the tower. She knew she needed to keep him distracted, so she kept talking. With any luck, Loki would be like Voldemort and enjoy a good monologue. "What are you going to do?" she asked, forcing herself to not look away from Loki's face; the temptation to look behind him to see if Thor was coming was a nagging thought that wouldn't go away. "If you win."
"Once I win," Loki said, and Cathryn didn't fail to notice the surety of the statement, "I will be the great and merciful ruler of Midgard, with my beautiful and obedient Queen at my side." He stared at her meaningfully and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the overt suggestion.
"I hate to inform you, Lord Loki," she said, nearly choking on the title, "But I'm anything but obedient. And it's gonna take more than a 'marry me or die' to get me to so much as punch you without gloves on." A fork of lightning rent the sky, splitting into four and frying the Chitauri where they stood. Loki spun around, anger already forcing his face into a snarling mask.
"Brother," he spat, bringing his scepter up as Thor landed, Mjölnir at the ready.
"Loki," Thor acknowledged. Cathryn drew her wands, and, feeling bad for attacking someone's turned back, even though it was Loki, she shot off two Stunners. Loki must have felt them coming, because he whirled around and deflected them with his scepter.
"You will need to learn manners, little mage," he snarled, raising the scepter and leveling it at her. Cathryn prepared to set up double-wanded shields, but didn't have to. Loki may have been able to sense the magic as it approached him, but Mjölnir was, in the end, just a large chunk of metal.
"That will not keep him down for long," Thor said, sounded a little regretful as he eyed his fallen brother.
"As long as we can get the portal down, it's long enough," Cathryn said, holstering her wands and closing the distance between herself and Loki's body to pick up the staff. It felt malevolent in her hands; not at the same level of the Horcruxes, but close. She shuddered.
"Are you well, Lady Griffin?" Thor asked worriedly. "You are not wounded?"
"No, I'm fine," she told him. "The staff - it feels evil. Even with Loki down, his weapon retains his presence."
Thor frowned. "That is not Loki's true weapon. He has always been a staff-wielder, but this is not the one he used upon Asgard. The All-Father has the Asgardian weapon locked away as remembrance of who my brother used to be."
Cathryn glanced down at the scepter. "So if this weapon still has magic coursing through it…"
"It is not of Loki." Thor looked somewhat relieved at the revelation.
"Regardless," Cathryn said, "He will have to answer for his crimes."
"Hurry!" The man had come out of his hiding spot and was fiddling with the computer. "The Tessaract fluctuates every five minutes; the last one was ten seconds ago."
"Erik!" Thor sounded pleased. "You are well?"
"Fine, fine. Jane's mad at you, make sure to drop in before you leave. She's left me at least fifty text messages. Girl! Get ready!"
Erik - Dr. Selvig, Cathryn guessed - was surprisingly bossy, but Cathryn supposed he had every right to be. She could only imagine the guilt he was feeling at building the device that had opened a portal in the sky.
"Right," she said. "Getting on it." She hefted the scepter and approached the blue energy sphere encapsulating the device. Slowly, she pushed the scepter's blade through the crackling energy; the staff shuddered in her hands, oddly familiar to the shudders an old broomstick would give off when pushed too fast. "Okay!" she yelled out over the increasingly loud snaps and crackles of the energy; it didn't seem happy to have the scepter intruding upon it. "I can close the portal! Thor - can you tell the others?!"
"No need," a new voice said grimly. Cathryn turned her head as far as she could without upsetting the staff. It was Natasha, a small cut on her forehead dripping blood down her temple. "Stark just told us - there's a nuke coming for us. He's going to shove it up the portal."
"What is this 'nuke' you speak of?" Thor demanded as both Cathryn and Selvig paled.
"A really big bomb," Cathryn said flatly, inwardly cursing whichever cowardly Muggle who had authorized the thing.
Selvig actually had the temerity to look irritated at her explanation.
"Can he do it?" Cathryn asked Natasha.
The other woman looked vaguely unsettled for a moment before a mask of calm confidence descended. "He's Iron Man," she said. "He specializes in the improbable."
"Sounds like me," Cathryn muttered. Thankfully, the buzzing of the blue energy stole her words away before anyone could hear. "Just tell me when," she said louder, widening her stance. "And you might want to back up. I don't know what's going to happen when this thing gets shut down."
"I predict a backlash of energy, radius no more than three feet," Selvig cut in. Natasha took a hasty step back so that she stood just outside the blast zone. Cathryn didn't move; she had to be this close or she wouldn't be able to get to the Tessaract.
"Any contact?" she asked Natasha, who shook her head, staring up at the gaping black hole in the otherwise cloudless sky. Cathryn didn't dare take her eyes off the Tessaract. Any time now…she thought as her arms began to ache slightly.
With a roar of displaced air, Stark shot past them. Cathryn staggered slightly but caught herself quickly. She tensed, waiting for the order, knowing that Stark's chances of survival were slim, to say the least. She heard, from just behind her, Natasha whisper, "Come on, Stark." Then hardly five seconds later, she spoke again, curt and cold. "Close it." With only a single second's hesitation, Cathryn lunged forward with the scepter, pushing the Tessaract out of the center of the device. The beam stuttered once, twice, and then failed. True to Selvig's prediction, the blue sphere shot inwards towards the Tessaract, and a backlash struck out. The energy caught Cathryn just under her ribcage and sent her flying backwards. Her last thought was, Not again, before her head struck something hard and unforgiving and she blacked out.
When she woke up, it was to Natasha's worried face.
"She's awake!" Natasha called out, and immediately the five other Avengers came over, seemingly melting from the walls. Most of them had scratches or other wounds from the recent battle; only Thor and Banner looked unruffled.
"How do you feel?" Steve asked, crossing his arms over his chest. While she had been unconscious, Steve - and the rest of the Avengers except Thor - had changed into normal clothes.
Cathryn made a face. "Got some water? I feel like I just ate six tons of Lemon Sherbets."
"JARVIS!" Stark called out as the rest of them stared at her, non-plussed.
"Right away, sir." Cathryn wrinkled her nose at the automated British accent, but didn't comment.
"Thanks," she said to Stark when he handed her a bottle of water a few seconds later.
"No problemo," Stark said with an easy grin. "I felt I owed you. If you'd closed the thing a second earlier I would still be floating around in space."
"That close?" Cathryn asked, sitting up. Someone had moved her from the roof; they were now in a room that - at one point - had probably been quite nice, but now was rather torn up. Large gouges were taken out of the floor, and all of the windows were shattered. She herself was on a couch that was decidedly worse for wear.
"Like you wouldn't believe," Stark said, almost proudly, but Cathryn thought she saw a hint of fear and relief in his eyes.
"You'd be surprised," she muttered, uncapping the water and taking a sip, making sure to swish it around in her mouth. After a prolonged silence, in which the sound of sirens floated up to them from the streets below, Cathryn asked, "So, what are we all doing up here?"
"We captured Loki, so it's our prerogative of what to do with him," Banner said in a low voice, glancing somewhat ashamedly at the gouges in the floor. Cathryn wondered what story was behind them.
"And?" she asked, looking to Steve. In the battle, he had made the calls; it was his call now.
"I am to take both the Tessaract and my brother to face justice from the All-Father," Thor cut in. "He is of Asgard; is it there he shall be tried."
Barton made a noise of discontent from near the broken windows.
"Ignore him," Natasha said when she saw Cathryn looking. "He's still mad that he didn't get to even aim an arrow at Loki."
"Thor got in a good hit," Cathryn said. "Took him right out." She frowned. "Where is Loki, anyways?"
Thor answered the question, even though it had been directed to Natasha. "Loki is being held in a - what did you call it?"
"Detoxification chamber," Banner promptly replied. At Cathryn's confused expression, he added, "To force someone through withdrawal in a short period of time."
Cathryn shook her head. "I don't even want to know why you have one, Stark."
Natasha grinned. "That's what I said. Come on, I've got some clothes that you can wear. We don't need to attract any more attention than what we've already got with Stark and Thor."
Cathryn allowed Natasha to lead her down the hall to a very posh bathroom. It was larger than her bedroom, and had a bathtub the size of a small hot tub. She groaned at the sight of the tub; her magic and...other…powers did speed up her healing to some extent, but at the moment she felt like someone had used her as their personal punching bag. In fact, she hadn't been so sore since the days of Oliver Wood's quidditch practices.
"I know," Natasha sighed, also giving the tub a longing glance. "As soon as we send Thor and Loki off, Clint and I are taking a vacation. I've got a safehouse in D.C. that's nice." She thrust a pair of dark blue jeans and a red cotton blouse at Cathryn, and then added a shoe box and an unmistakable striped Victoria's Secret bag. "I got bored while the boys were arguing with Director Fury," she said at Cathryn's exasperated look. "The manager was only too happy to give me some free undies. I hope you like lace."
Cathryn scowled and pointed to the door. "Out."
She came out ten minutes later and gave Natasha another heavy glare. "How the hell do you walk in these things?" she asked. "I had to alter them just to be able to stand up straight."
Natasha just smiled. "Practice," she said. "Part of the job. I like them." Her eyes flicked up to the mask that Cathryn still had on. "Why don't you take it off? We're all done fighting."
Cathryn paused in the doorway back to the room they'd left the men in. "I live here," she said softly. "I don't want to have to move, and I don't like publicity."
Natasha eyed her curiously, but didn't say anything except, "Suit yourself."
The rest of the Avengers were more than ready to leave. They all ended up taking different cars, and Cathryn found herself traveling with Thor in a S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicle. He looked very uncomfortable.
Their destination - in Central Park - had already been cordoned off by yet more S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, centering around a large circular plaque in the ground. Even though she had widened the base of the heel on the boots that Natasha had provided her with, she still stumbled slightly upon getting out of the car, but caught herself quickly.
She, Thor, Natasha, Barton, and Steve stood side by side as Stark, Selvig, and Banner placed the Tessaract into a holding device. Two agents marched a cuffed and muzzled Loki over. The gods murky green eyes landed squarely on Cathryn, and narrowed ever so slightly. When Thor stepped forward to take custody of his brother, Cathryn whispered to Natasha, "Weren't his eyes blue earlier?"
Natasha nodded, her sunglasses reflecting sunlight into Cathryn's eyes. She squinted and turned to watch as Dr. Selvig handed the Tessaract's container to Thor. Still staring at Cathryn, Loki took the offered handle. Cathryn raised her chin and stubbornly refused to look away. She only vaguely noticed Thor nodding to each of them in turn before twisting his handle of the holding device; the familiar blue energy of the Tessaract sprung up around the two Asgardian's bodies, and with a deep humming sound, they flashed upwards and out of Midgard.
There was no need for words. Cathryn shook hands with the men, gave a surprised Natasha a brief hug, and wandered off into Central Park, pleased to be able to go back to her normal life. A few people gave her odd looks, but after she darted behind a tree and removed the mask that Agent Coulson had given her, barely twenty-four hours ago, and added it to her magically expanded pocket, which already had her dragon-hide uniform and wands hidden away, no one even looked twice. She just looked like a typical college-aged girl out for a walk in the park, trying to evade the destruction of downtown.
Even though she could have easily caught a cab, Cathryn walked the entire way to the Butter-and-Crumpets, avoiding the debris and fallen buildings surrounding Stark Tower. The sun was sinking below the horizon when she arrived. Gazing at her café, she let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding; it was just as she'd left it - except for a medium-sized package on the doorstep.
Slightly wary, Cathryn ignored it, magically unlocking the door and taking down the sign she'd posted before carefully picking it up and setting it on the bar. Only after she'd emptied her things from her pocket and reversed the magic - jean pockets really weren't meant for that kind of strain - did she open the box. Inside was her duffle bag, with a small note on top. On it were two words: Thank you. Cathryn smiled, grabbed her things, and went upstairs, intent on taking a long, hot bath and then going straight to bed. It had been a very long day, and getting knocked out twice just didn't cut it.
The next morning, Cathryn slid effortlessly back into her routine. She got up, threw on a light robe, and started the baked goods. She made sure all of the ingredients and drinks were stocked, then went upstairs to take a shower, have a quick bite to eat, and get dressed. After making sure to take her Aging Draught, Cathryn donned her apron and started cooking Steve's breakfast in the front kitchen, where she could just barely see the door. She'd just slid the eggs onto the warmed-up plate when the chimes by the door rang, and Steve walked in, acting for all the world as if aliens hadn't attacked the day before.
He eyed her nervously, as if expecting her to say something, but when she just smiled and poured the hot water into the tea pot, he relaxed. For the first time, he said something besides the normal "Good morning," or "Thank you, Miss Black." He said, in a quietly concerned voice, "You all right?"
As she brought the tray to his usual table, the slight scuffing of her shoes on the wooden floor the only noise in the room, she said, "Just fine. You?"
Steve shrugged and pulled his newspaper out of his jacket pocket. Cathryn barely caught a glimpse of the front page, but the word 'Avengers' jumped out at her in large block letters, the photo underneath mostly hidden by the fold. She made a mental note to pick up newspapers as soon as possible - both the muggle and magical versions. It would be interesting to see what the wizarding world made of the alien invasion. "I was out of town," Steve said blandly, before adding, "Thanks," and putting his napkin on his lap.
She managed to contain her laughter until she was safe in the back kitchen, where only the cooling pastries and muffins could hear her.