Disclaimer – Anything you see and recognise does not belong to me. Harry Potter is JK Rowling's; The Avengers and other related characters belong to Marvel. I'm simply playing in their sandboxes.
Chapter 69 – Home Away From Home
Tony was bored, which was never a good thing. He needed to be doing something. Anything. He'd never been one for sitting still, without a tool in his hand or some tech to tinker with. And especially after New York, it'd become an obsession. Usually, he could cover any agitation he felt by ensuring that, whatever was going on, whoever was around, he was at the centre of it all.
And now here he was, stuck inside a quinjet on a ridiculously long flight and not only was he not in charge, he wasn't even piloting or allowed to know their ultimate destination. Oh, that didn't mean that he had no idea of their trajectory and the most likely place that they'd set down. No, Jarvis in his ear kept him apprised of those sorts of details.
Not that he could determine why they were being taken to the Azores of all places (assuming that that's where they actually stopped and that they didn't continue on to Africa).
The other thing that was bugging him was the fact that his quinjet, his highly functional and efficiently designed quinjet had been turned into a large, relaxing lounge area, complete with large screen TVs and a multitude of sofas. Not that he wasn't enjoying having Pepper leaning right back on him, his arms wrapped around her as they enjoyed the in-flight entertainment. Nor the fact that the insides of the quinjet were about three times larger than they were supposed to be.
Leaning his head backwards over the top of the couch, Tony eyed Harry in the pilot's seat (and wasn't that something else to give him a bad case of nerves).
"Are we there yet?" he asked, only to have Pepper poke him hard in the ribs.
"Child," she muttered.
"Actually, just about," Harry replied.
Tony's eyes widened as Harry spun his chair around, brought up his wand and waved it at the walls of the quinjet.
Instantly, the walls shimmered into seemingly non-existence. Only the fact that there was no wind whipping in at them told Tony that the walls had only become transparent and had not actually vanished. Interestedly, Tony took in the full three-sixty-degree view. Most of the sky was a beautiful blue with only the odd cloud to be seen. Below them was the North Atlantic Ocean stretching from horizon to horizon, only broken by a number of landmasses, islands. The Azores, Tony realised.
Directly behind them flew the second quinjet and Tony wondered if Harry'd charmed their walls the same way.
A ripple of some kind washed over the quinjet and Tony's eyes widened even as he pushed Pepper to the side and shot to his feet. Not that he was the only one. Steve and Nat had done the same from where they'd been sharing another of the couches (and sitting quite closely, heads bent together for the past hour, Tony noted). Peter, Gwen, Doreen and Matt had their heads up, their eyes wide as they stared around. And wasn't that a strange sight to see on the blind man, but then, considering that an island had just materialised in front of them out of no-where, obviously hidden by magic, it wasn't such a surprise – Matt did have a strange connection with magic, being able to see it and all.
Stepping closer to the wall of the quinjet, Tony stared at the island. It was huge and filled with forests, hills, valleys and even a river. Golden beaches surrounded much of the island. It looked like a paradise, a pristine land that had been untouched by man. A trio of great bronze creatures flying through the sky suddenly banked towards them and Tony blinked as he realised that he'd just found the missing three dragons from Brazil.
"Excuse me, Sir," Jarvis said into his ear. "But I am having difficulty locating this island on any map. It appears to be a tenth island of the Azores when all records indicate that there should only be nine."
Tony only nodded, completely understanding the almost whining tone that his AI had just used.
Daphne followed the others along the path from the large tarmac where the two quinjets had landed, her head constantly swivelling from side to side as she took in what she was seeing. Not that she was the only one. Of the two dozen of them, only Potter seemed oblivious to his surroundings, although that Merlin-be-damned smirk of his told her that he was enjoying seeing all of their reactions.
When the walls of the quinjet had turned transparent, she wasn't the only one who'd squeaked in alarm. Obviously, Potter had layered some kind of delayed charm into them before they'd left New York. The tingling wash of powerful magic – wards, she realised – had Daphne searching out Lavender's eyes. And yes, the way that she stared back had told Daphne that she'd felt them, too.
The island that had come into being below them had been completely unexpected, that was until she thought about who was in charge of this 'field trip'. And then it'd all clicked into place and she'd realised where they were being taken. Well, not exactly where, but at least the type of place. A family secret, one that was hidden under a host of powerful magic, most likely including unplottable wards and a slew of muggle and magical notice-me-nots.
She'd seen the dragons flying alongside them and shuddered. The ones way back in fourth year had been close enough, thank you very much. They, at least, had been chained up. These weren't. Thankfully, they'd veered off after only a short look at them and flown away towards the far side of the island.
As the quinjets came in to land, Daphne wasn't the only ones to spot the gleaming white stone and glass buildings a short distance away. James, beside her, refrained from pointing, but she noticed that his eyes were darting every which way, taking it all in.
And then they'd landed, the quinjet had powered down and they'd disembarked. Once the passengers of both quinjets were loosely gathered together, Harry had told them all to follow him.
As the path that they'd been following emerged from under the trees, Daphne paused. The sight before her was simply stunning. It was like a small park filled with pathways, fountains, ponds, benches under trees, swathes of grass and flowerbeds galore, all meticulously landscaped and cared for. The scene was so incredibly relaxing after so much time in the hustle and bustle of New York that Daphne immediately felt her shoulders lose some of the tension that they'd been holding.
Surrounding this garden paradise were a number of those buildings that she'd seen as they descended. There were six smaller buildings, well, smaller in relation to the large, slightly curved building that followed the curve of the hill that Harry was leading them towards.
Daphne was pleased to note that none of the buildings dominated the landscape. They were all nestled in beautifully, almost artistically, with the trees and gardens. They also didn't tower over everything. The six smaller buildings were only two stories high, while the larger one was three.
"Head straight on up to the top level," Harry instructed the group from where he was holding the door to the large building open.
Following his instructions, Daphne walked inside, giving him a nod as she passed.
"Alright, Potter, you've got us intrigued, what is this place?" Tony asked.
"I suspect that that's what Harry's about to tell us," Steve replied, and Harry could hear the unspoken addition that he, too, was curious and expected answers.
Harry looked around the room at the twenty-three people seated on a variety of different chairs – couches, stools, beanbags, recliners and even some dining chairs that had been pulled over. And even with this many people here, the room still felt mostly empty.
It was huge, a large, multipurpose common room. There were a pair of pool tables to one side, a mini theatre area, a number of tables of various sizes, a full length bar, mini kitchen, a small library over in one corner and numerous sitting areas, all designed for people to be able to congregate together or to do their own thing without the feeling that they were encroaching on each other.
"Actually, before we begin, how about some snacks?" Harry suggested. "Gangee?"
Instantly, Gangee and three other house elves popped into the room, all bearing trays of drinks – both hot and cold – and bowls and platters of finger food.
"Exactly what are these … people?" Helen Cho asked nervously as she accepted a mug that was floating towards her.
"These are house elves; they're a magical creature," Harry explained. "There are twenty on the island and their job is to look after the place. And when I say job, I mean that it's not only what they're asked to do, but it's what they enjoy doing. If any of you need anything done or food or whatever, you only need to call for a house elf and they'd be more than happy to help."
"Gangee, Tinky, Nak, Bikum, thank you. We'll have dinner in a couple of hours," Harry said after everyone had been served.
"Yes, Master Harry," Gangee replied with a bow for all of them before they popped away.
"Welcome to Paradis Noir," Harry said, opening his arms wide as though attempting to encompass the entire island that could be seen through the great glass windows behind him.
"Black Paradise," Nat translated.
"Exactly," Harry nodded to her.
"As in the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black?" Lavender asked.
"The one and the same," Harry grinned.
"You're saying that you own this island?" Bruce asked incredulously.
"I do," Harry confirmed. "Paradis Noir has been in the Black side of my family since the early 1500s, when one of my ancestors decided that having his own private island hideaway sounded a brilliant idea and promptly covered it in a host of magic spells and wards that hid it from the non-magical world. You won't even find it on any map or satellite image."
"Where exactly are we?" Darcy asked, her hand half-raised.
"The Azores," Tony answered. "Seems as though that there's actually ten islands in the chain, not nine. What? Jarvis kept an eye on where we were going, alright?"
Harry chuckled. "I would have been surprised if he didn't."
"How big is this island?" Erik asked.
"The energy that would be needed to hide an island this size must be astronomical," Jane added, looking at her fellow scientist.
"Just over a hundred square kilometres," Harry answered.
"Your ancestors must have been extremely powerful wizards to cover such a size for so long," Thor stated sounding impressed.
"That answers where we are, but not why we're here," Rhodey stated.
Harry swept his gaze over the room, taking in everyone before he answered. Yes, there was no doubt in his mind that this was the right thing to do.
"Paradis Noir was just sitting around doing nothing," Harry began. "Actually, it's hardly been used in the last couple of centuries. Thus, I had part of it developed for our use. This is for us, for the Avengers and our friends, a place where we can come to and relax, a place where we can simply be ourselves, without the world's expectations banging on our doors or the world's eyes watching us. A place for us to just be … well, us.
"Here, we don't need to hide who we are. We can show our true selves," here Harry looked at Doreen, his eyes sweeping to her tail. "We can climb the walls if that's what takes our fancy," and here Harry locked eyes with Peter. "Where we don't need to pretend to be what we're not," and Harry's head moved between Matt and Jennifer.
"You built us our own resort?" Clint asked.
"Well, that's one way of looking at it," Harry grinned lopsidedly. "And while that's it's main role, that's not all it is."
"What else is it?" Tony asked sounding not only suspicious but also something else that Harry couldn't identify.
"Perhaps if I explain what all of the buildings are, you'll understand?" Harry mused.
Murmurs of assent sweeping the room confirmed that his idea was accepted.
"Well, let's start with this one," Harry said. "As you can probably guess from this room, this building has been designed for us to live in. There are three floors that, in total, hold fifty apartments – twenty on each of the two floors below us and ten on this floor – five to each side of this common area. Every apartment has two bedrooms, each with their own ensuite, a small study, a lounge, kitchen and dining room."
Turning about, Harry looked out the wide windows and pointed at each of the two closest smaller buildings to the far ends of the main one.
"Each of those are additional apartment buildings," he said. "There are three apartments, all identical to the ones in here, on each of their two levels. Now, the three remaining buildings.
"Directly across from us, on the other side of the park, is the building dedicated to fitness and training. There are a number of gyms and weight rooms and rooms large enough to spar in, either as pairs or as a large group. There's also a large, Olympic-sized pool attached to it with its own retractable roof.
"To the left of that building is the one dedicated to engineering. At the moment it's mostly empty, just awaiting whatever the engineers and tinkerers among you want installed. The last building, the one to the immediate right of the training one, is a building dedicated to science, with lab space galore as well as a mini hospital, just in case.
"And, as you would have seen when we landed, the tarmac is large enough to handle a dozen quinjets or even the S.H.I.E.L.D. Bus if we decide to allow it to. The hanger up there is even big enough for whatever toy Tony can come up with."
"What about that one?" Clint asked, pointing to the hint of a roof poking through the trees way outside the main compound.
"Ah," Harry said, "I hadn't noticed that you could see it from here. That one is the Black Bungalow. It's my family house. Actually, if any of you ever wants to settle down on the island, there's plenty of room and it wouldn't be that difficult to build a house or something for you, especially not with magic."
"Would that be dangerous for the non-magicals?" Daphne asked. "I'm sure that we all saw the Vipertooths and I'm guessing that they're not the only magical creatures here."
"There's probably magical plants here as well," Lavender guessed.
Harry nodded. "Yeah, you're both right. But there's not a lot that's really dangerous. As long as people use their brains and think. The biggest of the animals would be the hippogriffs – think half horse, half eagle animals – and the mooncalves, but they mostly stay in their burrows and only come out under the light of the full moon. And I don't think that there's any overly dangerous magical plants – at least, I haven't seen anything like Devil's Snare around. The best bet is that if you see something and you don't know what it is, simply walk away. I have had magical wards erected around the compound that should keep the magical animals out."
"Doing all of this, its's incredibly generous of you, Harry," Steve remarked. "But why? Why are you doing this? Creating this place for us? Opening your family's private island like that? You don't have to and I'm sure that it wasn't exactly cheap."
Harry sighed and took a couple of paces away, his hand rubbing the back of his neck. How to explain? Finally, knowing that he was likely to ramble, he turned back. These people, his friends, deserved an explanation.
"You're right, Steve, it wasn't cheap but when it comes right down to it, I've got more gold in more vaults than I know what to do with," Harry said, waving off the easiest question first. "And most of that money came from the two magical families that I'm the Head of at the cost of almost everyone in those families. Really, the only family I have left is a non-magical cousin that I don't get on with and a distant cousin and her grandson, who also happens to be my godson and heir – Ted.
"Family's something that I've never really had, not a normal one, anyway. Back when I was in school, my family was basically Hermione and Ron and by extension, Ron's family. Everyone else wanted a piece of me. I was the Boy-Who-Lived and later, after the war, I became the Man-Who-Conquered. I drifted away from Ron's family and then I left, off to travel the world for five years,
"I guess I was trying to find my place, find somewhere where it wasn't going to feel as though I was constantly being stared at or sought after. And then I landed in New York. I set up the Den and started doing some good, especially for the teens from Midtown who seemed to claim it as their own. It got them off the streets, somewhere safe for them to hang out."
Here, Gwen and Peter smiled at him and nodded.
"I guess it was my old 'saving people thing' as Hermione once called it," Harry continued, ignoring Lavender's snort of amusement. "I seem to be hard-wired to do something for those in need. Of course, then the Chitauri happened and I met the Avengers and became a part of something bigger. And over time, I met the rest of you and we've done some extraordinary things, things that have helped others, made the world better, at least, I'd like to think we have.
"Each of you, all of you, have become family to me. We're unconventional, there's no debating that, but we're a family and that's something that I've always dreamed of having.
"As I said, I know what it's like to be stared at all the time, to have people piling expectation after expectation on your shoulders. It can get too much, be too big a load to carry. And this place was simply sitting there doing nothing. And I thought, why not? Why not open up the island, give my friends, my family a place to retreat to, to be themselves if they want it? A place where they could forget, even if it's just for a while, the pressure that the rest of the world demands. So, I did it and this place was born. Our home away from home.
"Besides, with how many of us there are now, the Tower was starting to get a bit small. We've got a bit more room to spread out here," Harry finished with a shrug.
There were laughs around the room at that last bit.
"Nearly twenty-five thousand acres and he says 'a bit more room'," Sam laughed. "Yeah, I'd say that's definitely a 'bit more room'."
Actually, now that Harry looked, he noticed that not everyone was laughing, a fact that someone else noticed as well.
"Tony?" Pepper asked.
"What?" Tony countered almost … sulkily?
"What's wrong? You don't like this place that Harry's designed?" she asked.
"Oh, no, it's great! What's not to love about it? It's got all the bells and whistles. And even has lots of room to spread out if we want," Tony replied.
"Is this because he dissed your Tower?" Rhodey asked. "'Cause even you have to admit that it's starting to get a little crowded."
"No! Of course not," Tony protested before he sighed. "And he's right, it is getting a little small."
"Then what's the problem?" Pepper asked again. "You're starting to act a little childish."
"Starting to?" Bobbi muttered causing those around her to snicker.
"I wanted to solve the problem of our space issues!" Tony finally replied. "In fact, I've already solved it. Or at least, nearly. By the end of next month or the one after that at the latest, it'll be done."
"What will?" Nat asked.
"Avengers Compound," Tony replied. "At least, that's what I'm calling it. It's got accommodations and labs and tech areas and everything that we'll need. I've even got another four quinjets in the pipeline."
"And you're upset because everything here is bigger and better?" Bruce asked.
"No. He's upset because Harry beat him to it," Nat stated shrewdly.
"You can't always be first at everything," Pepper said patting him on the back consolingly.
"Yes, I can!" Tony protested. "Well, at least my facilities are bigger. I mean the tech, training and science buildings that I've designed are easily three times bigger than those ones out there, even if I only have a measly hundred acres to play with."
Harry's eyes met those of Daphne and Lavender and he was sure that the two magical women were thinking the same thing that he was. The buildings may be small on the outside but with magical expansion charms …
"And at least the Compound is closer to the action," Tony continued. "And we can use for holding media conferences and mission briefings from people who aren't Avengers. Having to take an eight hour flight to get here is going to limit how much this place gets used."
"Um, I only brought you all on the quinjets this first time so that you could have the experience," Harry stated. "I've got a much better, easier way for everyone to travel between here and New York from here on out. Gangee?"
This time when Harry called, only a small table appeared and not the house elf himself. The table, though, was covered in jewellery display cases. There were rings – both sized and designed for both men and women, all with the stylised 'A' of the Avengers on them. There were also a number of pendants and even a few toe rings, for anyone who wanted something that was a little subtler and more inconspicuous.
"I'm guessing that those aren't simply pieces of jewellery," Maria half-stated, half-asked.
"You're right, they're not," Harry nodded. "I'm guessing that you all noticed when the quinjets entered the magical field that hides Paradis Noir from the outside world? Well, the only way that the quinjets could do so was because they had some special, magical rune-based 'tech' installed in them that stopped the navigation on the quinjet from going haywire and also stopped the pilot and passengers from having the uncontrollable impulse to go somewhere else and to do something else."
"So, that's what that was?" Jane asked.
Harry nodded. "These pieces of jewellery have all been heavily enchanted. Firstly, and most importantly, they allow anyone who is wearing one to pass through the wards that hide the island. They also have portkeys built into them – a special magical way of moving from place to place. There's two destinations set on them – right here in this room and in the main common room of the Tower. A simple phrase will activate the portkey, depending on where you want to go and transport you and whoever and whatever you're touching to that location."
"That sounds useful," Jennifer said. "We could be here and … portkey back to New York for some shopping."
"Or a mission," Bucky added.
"Exactly," Harry agreed. "And it could come in handy in an emergency."
"And with the modifications that we've made to the Iron Man and War Machine armour, they won't blow up if we use them," Tony nodded.
"They also have a compulsion charm added to them," Harry continued. "You won't be able to tell anyone who doesn't already know the location of the island. However, you will be able to talk about it, but only if you really, really want to; they will prevent you from any accidental slip-ups."
"Sounds like a good security precaution," Bobbi nodded in approval.
"So, who gets what?" Sam asked. "Only, I'm not wearing a necklace for anyone. Sorry, Harry."
"Didn't expect you'd want to," Harry grinned. "Nope, it's all your choice, although I'd expect the Avenger rings would be for the Avengers, not for our friends and support staff."
"Oh, you're no fun; I was looking forward to showing one of them off on my next date," Darcy stated, although the smile on her face told him that she was joking.
"Well, what are you all waiting for, come on up and pick one and then feel free to explore the island," Harry said, stepping back from the table slightly.
Phil Coulson, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., made sure to hang the lanyard with the triangular-shaped identification card around his neck before tapping in the code that would unlock the door to the facility, after all, there was no need to have the agent inside annoyed with him.
"Agent Koenig," Phil greeted as he stepped through the door.
"Director Coulson," Agent Koenig returned.
"How are we looking, Sam?" Phil asked.
"Come see for yourself," Sam replied, before turning to lead the way down the hallway.
The walk down the hallway wasn't long, after all, they needed all of the space available for what they were doing here. And really, when it came down to it, this was a secret base, so secret in fact that not even May knew about it and she knew about almost everything, including his current 'condition'.
Once again, a code was input into a door, this one longer and more complex, in conjunction with the scanning of their identification cards before the door would open.
Phil stepped out and up to the railing, his hands automatically coming up to grab onto it.
What he saw before him was pleasing. Oh, it wasn't as 'pretty' as it once might have been, but to his eye, it looked ready and able to get the job done.
"How close?" Phil asked.
"A week, two at the outside," Sam replied.
"Personnel?" Phil asked.
"Billy and I've been calling in a lot of old favours and reaching out to a lot of people. We'll be ready. She won't be fully staffed but there'll be enough to get the job done," Sam replied.
"So, Theta Protocol is ready?" Phil clarified.
"As ready as we can be," Sam confirmed.
"Let's just hope that we never need it," Phil sighed.
"As Director Fury would say, 'you always hope, but in our experience, trouble always comes knocking'," Sam replied.
Phil could only nod in agreement.