Disclaimer: To my eternal sadness, I do not own Harry Potter, Iron Man or The Avengers.
Note: This story will be updated infrequently because I'm currently working on a really long Harry Potter/Avengers crossover, where Harry travels to an alternate universe and develops a deep, unusually co-dependent friendship with post-Avengers Loki. Together, they explore the boundaries of their different types of magic and have crazy adventures on Earth and different planets, trying to sort out Loki's enemies and steal a golden apple of immortality. I do plan to finish The Observer Effect, and have the plot mapped out and several segments written...It just won't be speedy...probably.
Also, I apologize to those of you that hate Harry being female. I just liked the idea of it better for this story. In (most of) my (unfinished and yet to be posted) Harry/Loki stories, Harry will be male. There's also some bashing of HP characters in the first couple chapters of the story. What can I say? I was in a dark mood when I wrote the beginning, and have since lightened up. Besides, in order for Laurel (fem. Harry) to make the jump to another dimension, she needed to have nothing to keep her in the wizarding world.
Laurel gasped and woke with a start, shakily reaching for the glass of water that rested on her bedside table. Gray morning light filtered into the dingy room, and she flopped back onto the mattress in irritation. It was earlier than she had intended to wake up, but too late to justify going back to sleep. Perfect.
She stalked into the bathroom barefooted, wincing at the cold, before she turned on the old-fashioned tap and liberally splashed her face with water. Glancing up at her reflection, she felt a moment's triumph that she had finally taken corrective measures for her eyes and done away with the hideous, ill-fitting glasses she had grown up with. She had had to wait to act until things had calmed down after the war and she was no longer under the Dursleys' authority.
Her aunt and uncle had always taken a vindictive pleasure in making her ugly. They had starved her, and for years her figure had suffered for it. Even now, she was far slighter than her mother had supposedly been. Lily…her flame-haired, peach-skinned, voluptuous, perfect ten of a mother…a legend, whom she had loved with a lost child's devotion, but who had only been as real to her as a character in a fairy story. She knew that she didn't measure up to her mother. Professor Snape had made that clear enough during her years of schooling, although the bitter spy had hardly been the only one to remark that she had fallen far short of James' comedy and Lily's beauty.
At the time, it hadn't helped that her Aunt Petunia had forced her to keep her inky hair cropped short—the more it had stuck up all over her head like an untidy boy's, the happier the loathsome woman had been. As a child, it had often grown back overnight, but the consequences the next day had terrified her so much that she had eventually managed to suppress the tingling that heralded a hairstyle change. Laurel had only realized much later that her hair growth had been evidence of metamorphmagus ability. Her grandmother had been a Black, and the rare talent ran in their family. She had probably done irrevocable harm to the gift by forcibly subduing it as a child. Although she experimented now, and had coaxed out a few minor changes, she doubted that she would ever be a full-fledged shape-shifter. It irritated her that her relatives had deprived her of such a useful, precious ability, and that they had succeeded to a degree in their avowed attempts to "beat the freak out of her."
Due to the hair and glasses, her looks had been compared to James' far more than Lily's. Before she returned for summer holidays every year, Laurel had been forced to chop off whatever length she had acquired during the school year in the lavatory of the Hogwarts Express. She couldn't remember ever descending the train without the sound of her classmates jeering at her. But she had had no choice. Her relatives would have beaten her savagely if they had known she'd grown her hair out even a little. She had learned to choose her battles at a very young age, once she had realized that no one would be coming to save her.
Laurel had become skilled at managing on her own. She knew how to hoard and ration food and manage hunger, which might have been why she had been able to continue the horcrux hunt long after Ron and Hermione had abandoned it. She knew the best places to hide, how to keep secrets, and when to run away. She had learned early to fear the cruelty of adults, but had come to expect it and inured herself to it. All of these lessons she knew by rote before she turned eleven, but it was only then that she was exposed to ruthless manipulations for the first time, although it took years for her to recognize them for what they were. That lesson she accredited solely to Albus Dumbledore.
But she shook off the coldness that came from letting her mind dwell on the deceased wizard, and shivered as she slowly walked to her dresser to place something else in her bottomless bag. She had tossed in her favorite bedroom slippers three days ago. Now she would deposit her much-prized photo album. Over the last few months, this had become a ritual. She was slowly severing ties, placing an item or two a day into her ridiculously over-the-top bug-out bag. But this gradual, almost subconscious good-bye to her current life was the only way she knew to make the dreams loosen their searing hold on her heart. She still felt the tug, and the longing, but it was more manageable. The dark-haired witch had never told anyone else, but she had been feeling this way ever since she had destroyed the horcrux lodged in her scar. She no longer felt tethered to her world, and it was an extremely disconcerting feeling. But tonight she finally planned to do something about it. Still groggy from her dreams, her heart clenched as she suddenly remembered her plans. It was well that she had risen early, because today would be a busy day, filled with many preparations.
For the last seven years, following the end of the wizarding war and her mastery of the Deathly Hallows, Laurel Potter had been having dreams about the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. She recalled the whispers that had beckoned to her the day Sirius had fallen through, and they had grown more insistent over time. She would wake up in the middle of the night, heart beating erratically and her soul filled with a desperate longing to see the other side. She gathered that it was a gateway, but for some reason she couldn't explain, knew that something more than death awaited her should she pass through. The whispers had been indistinct at first, but they were clearer now, a siren song of other worlds, new life, and a fresh start. They lured and taunted her. "How can you be Master of Death, when you have the heart of a slave?" they called. In the end, she never knew whether the voice was destiny or some deeply buried part of her, but it did its work well. The truth of the accusation burned through her like a purifying coal, and she finally found the strength of will to match her discontent.
Laurel felt trapped, and when she was honest with herself, admitted that she had never felt otherwise. The closest she had come to freedom was flying, but even that had merely been an illusion. It had been a privilege, one that had often been taken away from her. She had grown accustomed to her cupboard, and only her handler had changed. First it had been the despicable Dursleys, then Dumbledore, and now the Ministry of Magic. All seemed to operate under the assumption that she belonged to them. And she had not done nearly enough to prove them wrong. Becoming withdrawn and quietly choking on her own misery had hardly improved her situation. But being the perfect drone had not worked out for her either. She had been sleepwalking for years with her hands tied behind her back and never known it. These dreams had changed her, had struck a vital part of her and drawn blood-no small feat-as she was more stone than flesh these days. But perhaps the main reason she yearned for whatever was on the other side of that door, was due to the feeling that it was secret, special, and just for her. Perhaps best of all, it didn't have a damn thing to do with anyone else's 'greater good'. Death treats all equally…unless one is its master.
The dreams had reached a crescendo, and she was having them every night now, but she had never told anyone about them. Firstly, she had no one she trusted enough to tell, and secondly, because she didn't want to do anything to end the dreams, even though she woke up every morning disappointed, full of unfulfilled desire. She cherished the thought that, maybe if she made it to the other side of the Veil, she would finally feel whole, managing to shake off the chains and the gnawing emptiness.
These dreams felt nothing like the visions from Voldemort during her fifth year of school. Those had felt…like an echo of someone else's happiness, someone else's determination. They had been tainted and she had felt like a helpless spectator involved against her will. In comparison, these felt like…the inevitability of prophecy…like the heavens had rolled back and revealed her path, her fate.
She had put off acting on the dreams for a while, although she had begun to pack for a long journey, just an item or two in her bottomless bag a day, but it had felt like progress. Laurel bitterly recalled the night she had realized that things weren't going to get better. It had happened about a month ago, on her twenty-fifth birthday. Hermione, Ron and Ginny had been visiting. Hermione, as usual, had been scolding her about her about her irresponsibility and disregard for the common good, while subtly trying to steer her towards a marriage with Percy Weasley, who had irritated her from the moment they'd met, when Ron had spoken up. "Look, it's not really much of a choice anyway. Dumbledore swore mum a wizard's oath that you would marry one of her sons before your thirtieth birthday, and he was your magical guardian at the time, so I reckon it's still binding. Percy's the only one of us not married—you know he's been waiting for you, right, mate? He's been giving you time while he concentrated on his career. He'd hoped you'd do the same, but, well…see how that's turned out," he murmured snidely.
Speechless over what she had just heard, Laurel had stood frozen for a few beats, before Hermione piped up, breezing over the revelation of her 'betrothal', as if it were common knowledge among the Order of the Phoenix members. Perhaps it had been. "He doesn't mean that how it sounds," Hermione began condescendingly. "We're happy that you have a new-found interest in learning, but, well, everyone expected you to become an Auror, and to cooperate more with the Ministry. You haven't even let me write your biography…."
"Half a minute," Laurel interrupted her, turning towards Ron and Ginny. "Were you serious? Your parents and Dumbledore secretly arranged a marriage for me?"
"Not secretly," Ginny huffed. "Everybody knew about it. We thought you did too. Why else do you never date anybody? Why do you think we always talk him up to you? And why do you think Order members always look at Percy and ask his advice when your name comes up? We never imagined that Dumbledore didn't tell you."
"Right. Not a secret, but somehow I never got wind of it. It never came up…in the past decade or so?" Laurel said evenly, but the silverware was beginning to clatter on the table, and she knew that if she didn't get herself back under control quickly, she would release a vicious wave of accidental magic.
The others looked slightly alarmed, and Ginny made the mistake of meeting her eyes. Laurel had become a fairly accomplished legilimens. She had grown adept at occlumency after her wide open mind had gotten Sirius killed, and legilimency had been the natural next step. For her, it had been by far the easier discipline to learn. Acquiring the skill had actually been an accident. And so when Ginny looked at her in alarm, Laurel saw conniving whispers, covetousness, and conspiracy in the depths of her eyes. She had seen enough, because if they all knew, and none had warned her, then they were all guilty.
"May the punishment for oath-breaking be added to Dumbledore's sentence in hell. I'll speak to a solicitor and curse-breaker about this situation, but your family should know that a marriage is not on the table. There will be no bargaining. You had better hope that I am not bound by that old fool's words, because I'll see Percy dead before I risk my magic. If I find that he is a danger to me, I will end him," she whispered. "Now get out."
They eyed each other anxiously, completely unnerved by their erstwhile friend's flinty bearing. They had seen glimpses of her ruthlessness during the war, but it was frightening to witness her usual friendly attitude towards them vanish and be replaced with an icy, almost alien focus. Ron drained his firewhiskey and dropped the tumbler on the shaking kitchen table before he warily nodded and headed for the front door. He trailed Ginny, but Hermione hesitated. She reached towards the dark-haired girl, but Laurel flinched away. Hermione gave her most put-upon sigh and said, "Laurel, don't make a mistake. You're practically a member of the Weasley family already. This would only make it legal. Besides, would a husband really be such a bad thing? Percy is very responsible. You could use somebody to make the rules for you. Ron and I can't always be there to get you out of trouble-"
Laurel wanted to rant and rave at her, to list her grievances and curse her unrecognizable, when all at once, her anger evaporated, leaving her coldly amused. Her 'friends' didn't know it, but they had just given her the sign she had been waiting for. She had been holding her breath on the edge of the precipice for months, but after the discovery of this new conspiracy, even the least adventurous part of her demanded she act.
"Always be there? That's the most amusing thing you've ever said, you humorless, pedantic, self-righteous, treacherous hypocrite," she answered mockingly. "You really should look up the Ministry's laws on bigamy, and see if they won't allow you to take on Percy. He's practically the male you after all. I can't imagine that you're not soul mates. And it's not as if anyone doubts you're bossy enough to manage two husbands. In fact, if Ron and Percy are able to split the burden between them, they'll probably both live longer."
Preparing to interrupt, Hermione placed her hands on her hips in her swottiest pose, and Laurel allowed herself to feel infuriated by it. She had always found the other girl abrasive, but had repressed her annoyance with her for years. Well, it seemed that tonight was to be a night for all sorts of revelations, Laurel thought, as she added with vicious satisfaction, "If only I had a time machine, I could go back and refrain from intervening when you were almost eaten by a troll, because all I did was interfere in a natural process. You managed to become a little shit all on your own without any troll to assist….It just took longer. So congratulations, I guess, on turning into Ministry material."
Hermione puffed up like a toad, reminding her of Umbridge for one hilarious moment, and Ron, who had hesitated at the door, turned back and snarled, "Don't talk to my wife like that!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Ron, I don't mean to disparage your investment. By the way, how much did you pay for her? Because under the table deals are apparently how the men in your family get their wives. I imagine that the prize money from that Order of Merlin first class that I lobbied for came in handy. I was good for that, at least," she rejoined nastily.
"I earned that Order of Merlin! …And 'Mione's not some whore," he retorted hotly.
She blinked at his utter blindness. "Neither. Am. I," she intoned, and then sneered, "and the hell you earned that award! You got it for being publicly recognized as the best friend of the Girl-Who-Lived and the brother of two heroes, not through your own brave and selfless actions. For Merlin's sake, you and your wife abandoned me when I was hunting for horcruxes. I was alone, injured and wandless-"
"I thought you were over that!" the ginger exclaimed in embarrassment and outrage.
In a soft, outraged voice she whispered, "I will never 'get over that'. I may be stubborn, but even I can learn a lesson if it's repeated enough. And that lesson is that you were never there when it counted. You would take the first couple of steps down the path with me, but always turn back at the first opportunity."
Ron looked momentarily abashed, before he scratched his head and mumbled, "Hey, what about the troll? I was with you all the way on that. And in the Department of Mysteries."
"Look in my eyes and tell me that I had anything to do with the troll. You tagged along because of your own guilt and you know it. Besides, that happened back when you were eleven and still had potential," she hissed.
He flinched, and she added, "As far as the Dept. of Mysteries fiasco goes, it doesn't take a trained psychologist to recognize that peer pressure was driving your actions that day."
Ron scowled, but didn't disagree. "You know," he said coldly, "I don't know what's happened to you. You used to know how to get along. If you don't get your act together and stop being so moody and hateful, I won't even want you to be a member of my family."
Gasping out a bitter laugh, the dark-haired girl looked between husband and wife wildly, noting their thin lips and pitiless eyes. "You fool," she whispered to Ron. "I was never meant to become a member of your family. Dumbledore swore that oath to your mother with his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek. He promised to deliver me over to your family with one hand while he was busily plotting my death with the other. He never intended for me to survive the war. He was stringing you along with that vow, and hedging his bets. It was all about control. He liked the idea of controlling me through the Weasleys. On the off-chance that I survived a little past majority, I couldn't be allowed to escape his machinations. My new husband would keep me under his influence and the Weasleys could inherit my fortune when I died, as the old bastard had ensured I would. Then the combined riches of the Blacks and Potters would belong to Dumbledore's most faithful lackeys, for him to disseminate at his whims."
"How can you spread such lies about Dumbledore? You know that he always cared for you!" Hermione interrupted, too outraged to stay silent.
"Yes, he cared for me just like a farmer cares for the fatted calf!" she snarled.
Ron and Hermione shared a glance that seemed to say, "She's mental. There's no talking to her."
Giving her most patronizing sigh, Hermione said, "Look, Laurel, you have been overreacting and insulting us all night. Go to bed early tonight, and maybe tomorrow you'll remember who your friends are."
With grim finality, and a thread of sadness running through her words, Laurel replied simply, "I have no friends."
She had intoned the words as one would a vow, and, before the others could utter a rejoinder, an irresistible wave of sheer magic forced them out the front door in a rare show of power. Moving immediately to change the wards, Laurel suddenly felt very tired, and slumped down against the wall in the shadowy main hall. She had long suspected that something was wrong in her friendships, but she had never had any friends before, and so had ignored her instincts, and the thousand little betrayals. But she didn't think that friends kept each other in the dark, or knew about abuse and didn't tell anyone, or allowed each other to be sold into marriage and never warned about it.
A month later, as she remembered that ugly scene, Laurel scowled and pulled a brush through her long hair with unnecessary roughness. Her festering resentment had finally boiled over that day, and she had said nasty, terrible things to them. She didn't regret a word.
None of her erstwhile friends had dropped by in the past several weeks, although a few letters had come and been burned unopened. Molly hadn't dared to send a howler, although no doubt she had been tempted. Laurel had kept far too busy to care about her isolation. In fact, she had welcomed it. There was officially nothing left here for her. Her friends had fallen by the wayside. They didn't like who she had become, and didn't need her anymore. She had no family, and the Ministry was about to make life very difficult for her. She couldn't stay here.
Today, Laurel would finally go forth and seek her fortune. She felt a tingle of excitement as she quickly dressed and shrank her bottomless bag so she could wear it around her neck. She needed to visit her vaults, and then wait until nightfall for her attempt on the Ministry.
It had taken a month to sell off her properties quietly, and Narcissa Malfoy had secretly signed the contract for Grimmauld Place the day before. The blonde aristocrat would drop by in a few hours to take possession, and so Laurel wandered through the dreary halls one last time, searching for anything she might have forgotten. She had planned and prepared, but knew that in all adventures, chance played a roll. Her odds of success were slim, but she had worked with less.