Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. For better of worse that belongs to JK Rowling. The Ultimates and everything within the Ultimate Marvel Universe belongs to Marvel Comics. Which I don't own either. If I did I would retire at the age of twenty three.
Chapter Three: The Fork in the Road
By: Water Mage
Harry awoke to the sounds of beeps. They were steady and unfamiliar, rhythmic. He followed the thin lines attached to his wrist across and over to the machine they hooked up to. The heart monitor and IV bag were enough clues for him to fill in the blanks. Another hospital room. Great. He took a glance out the window that covered a good portion of the wall opposite the door. The familiar sight of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s impressive facility stretching across the island dominated the view. So he was still at the Triskelion. He couldn't decide if that was a good thing or bad thing.
He lay in a distant haze with the soft continuous beeping acting as a sort of metronome. Stark images of burned out carcasses and rains of fire and blood soaked streets played behind his eyelids. The screams of the dying echoed in his ears, mixing and flowing into the steady sounds of beep beep beep. A nurse entered and then quickly left, the door barely sliding closed before a doctor took her place. He checked over Harry, his words a drone of sound like a barely heard song. He watched him blankly silently tracking his movements, offering him nothing but an emotionless stare when pressed for answers.
The door opened again and Steve Rogers walked in wearing his all green service uniform. The doctor stepped closer to the man, speaking in a hushed tone and gesturing at the chart in his hand. Rogers clapped him on the back and politely dismissed him after the report.
Harry turned his head as the door slid closed, piercing the captain with a sharp stare. "Send me back."
Rogers shook his head and said, "I'm afraid that'll be impossible."
"Why not," Harry snapped. "You sent me there so send me back... You don't understand— there's people dying there."
Glassy green eyes frozen in death burned in his mind.
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Rogers, sounding like he truly meant it. "It really is impossible. The transporter's been dismantled and all transdimensional projects have been shut down until further notice."
"Why?" Harry demanded, abruptly sitting up.
Rogers looked at him pointedly. "Let me shine some light on a few things for you. You've been unconscious for a little less than forty eight hours. Your healing factor was stretched repairing all that damage. For good or bad you're a by product of SHIELD engineering, and anything that can take out one of ours puts us on alert. High alert."
"Covering your own backside is that it?" Harry asked, a harsh frown overcoming his expression. Keep them safe, Harry, Sirius' last words whispered into his thoughts like the murmur of the wind.
The soldier straightened, blue eyes going flat. "If it protects this world, then yes. SHIELD is the first line of defense against hazards and we'll intervene in any way to insure we do our job. Can you say with certainty that whatever messed you up can't follow you here?"
Harry averted his eyes from that penetrating stare. Once upon a time he might have said yes, Voldemort was powerful but he couldn't jump universes. It was impossible to even fathom. Insane and idealist, yes –that was the Voldemort he was used to. The Dark Lord he had personally taken out.
This alternate Voldemort was something that had crawled forth from the deepest pit of Hell. More inhuman than human, he brought his full anger to bear and decimated the planet in one genocidal campaign. Human and wizardkind didn't know what hit them till they were brought to their knees. Honestly, Harry wasn't sure what that Voldemort couldn't do.
"No," he breathed out, looking out the window lost in thought. "I can't say. That Voldemort was different, maybe he'd made more horcruxes… "
In a flash of memory, Harry saw the truth. He remembered a somber Lily recounting the world's fate to a group of dazed survivors -- Voldemort's aligned himself to demons of the old world, and by the end of the night blood will cover the Earth.
That could only mean this Voldemort hadn't just split his soul, but he exchanged pieces of it too. If he truly aligned with the demons of eons gone by they would demand no other price for leasing their power. Those things were older than old, the first dark creatures birthed by magic and twisted by the harsh environment of the then primitive planet. Slumbering beneath the Earth they were the things in dreams that terrify, and all the tales and folklore about demons and devils originated in their hidden halls.
"You're right," Harry agreed, reflecting on unseeing green eyes and cities bombed to hell. "I can't go back there… There's nothing left anyway."
Rogers stare softened and something like understanding shone in his eyes. "What happened there?"
"A lot of people died," Harry sighed. "It was awful and it was bloody. One man led a genocide that basically turned into a damn Armageddon. It was endgame and there was less than a hundred thousand people left standing." He looked down at his clenched fists, renewed fury threatening to explode outward. "I tried to help. Merlin almighty, I was this close to taking off that bastard's fucking head."
The anger and frustration coming from him was so strong that Rogers felt a sense of empathy with him. He knew that hard knot of emotion swelling up inside. It was resentment from seeing a fight left unfinished, a war left unfought – victory hanging in the balance. Yeah, he'd been there.
"Do you think this guy will be looking for revenge?" asked Rogers. "What are the chances of him tracking you and bringing his crap down on us?"
He left nothing of himself behind that could lead back to him by magic. He didn't state his full name not even once. If that neo Dark Lord wanted to find Harry then he would need to search so deeply through the abyss that he would lose himself before even locating him.
Harry licked his lips and said thoughtfully, "The possibility is close to zero."
"But not zero?"
Holding the man with an even stare, Harry admitted, "No. Not zero. He was impossibly powerful. Stronger than the man I'm used to."
Rogers tilted his head. "So you know this guy in your universe? Sounds like a real piece of work."
Understatement. "You have no idea. Where I'm from we stopped him for good. These people weren't so lucky." Harry pushed the bitterness away and instead asked, "I'm here for good aren't I?"
The soldier hesitated for a beat and then nodded. "It looks that way. They ran the numbers and the risk of a dimensional incursion due to mulitverse exploration is too high. Hell, we could've sent you to a universe that saw you as a biological weapon. We can't bring those kinds of unknowable threats to our doorstep. Especially with what you are—"
Harry arched an eyebrow, confused. "And what am I, Captain?"
Rogers held him with a quiet gaze. "It's what we both are. You're a Person of Mass Destruction. You don't need a weapon. You are a weapon. You're a force of devastation all on your own."
Locking eyes Harry saw all of what Rogers didn't… or couldn't say aloud – they're walking disasters, a breathing nightmare. He was an arsenal of doom. Harry understood all of this and more. Rogers jaw clenched and he looked away, moving so he faced the window turning his back to the wizard.
"Is that what they call you?" asked Harry, sitting up and causing the blanket to drop down to his thighs.
A chuckle left the man, yet he still didn't turn around. "Not to my face. But it's true and I make no apologies for it."
Harry knew the writhing storm he could unleash. His enemies had lain broken beneath his feet then in that other universe. He could remember them coming in waves and they all crashed against him like the rock in a stream. SHIELD didn't just turn him into a weapon but a soldier of ruin, a damn living calamity.
"When can I get out of here?"
Rogers turned and the corner of his lip lifted up into a wry smile. "Anytime you want. That healing factor's got you back in top shape. A nurse can show you to the quarters' that's been arranged for you."
Harry stilled, narrowing his eyes. "Let's get one thing clear. I'm not about to be locked up here, you got it?"
"No ones locking you up," Rogers stated honestly. "I imagine General Fury will be the one to run over your options with you. You're not a prisoner here."
Relief made Harry relax his shoulders and he managed a short nod. "Good. Look, it's not that I don't get you're a good guy and all, but SHIELD hasn't done me any favors."
Rogers ran a hand through his blond hair and sighed. "I understand what you're feeling. Don't think we're all like those guys that did this to you. They're honest people here and we do good work..." His watch beeped and he glanced at it briefly and pressed a button to shut it off. "I'm late for an appointment so a nurse will show you to your room. I'll catch up with you later."
They exchanged nods and the captain left the room leaving Harry to his thoughts.
"Think he's being truthful?"
The question came just as Rogers took a seat in the curved plastic chair. General Fury sat on the opposite side of the mahogany desk, staring thoughtfully at the monitor attached to the wall. The screen's image was of the room Rogers had just left. A nurse moved across the screen, coming to Harry's side and helpfully detached the lines that connected him to the machines. Her lips moved in a soundless chatter and Harry watched her, occasionally nodding or halfheartedly shrugging.
Rogers crossed his arms, sending his superior a shrewd look. "Spying, General?"
"Please, I'll pretend that was rhetorical," replied Fury, rolling his eye. Even with the other covered by an eye-patch the action didn't lack its punch. "What's your assessment of him, Captain?"
He leaned back in the seat, taking a long moment to think. "He didn't show any outward signs of lying, like vocal changes or bodily moments. He's guarded though but that's expected, all things considered."
"Goddamn shadow ops," Fury growled. "Shit happens more often than anyone likes."
"I think he's telling the truth on everything so far," said Rogers. A half smile tugged at his lips. "He reminds me of myself after I woke up after the freeze."
Fury regarded him warily. "I can see that—both of you were taken from everything you knew without warning… Still, Rogers, don't go getting too close until we know for sure he won't snap."
"You think he would?" asked Rogers, frowning.
"He's been through a lot in a short time," said Fury. "He really hasn't had a real opportunity to process it all. I just want to be sure we don't have a time bomb on our hands." He flipped open a folder on the desk, shuffling through the stack of papers inside. "Have you had time to review all this? The shit they put that kid through was insane. He's like the bastard result of the Super Soldier Project crossed with Weapon X."
"Enhanced physical abilities, durability, tactical knowledge and regenerative healing factor," Rogers supplied, skimming through the page Fury pushed toward him. "Surgical implants to enhance unknown bioenergy."
"You see why I'm cautious," said Fury, smirking. "Kid's a demolition man. It'll take a lot to put him down if he goes rogue."
Rogers shook his head. He had a feeling and he doubted if he was wrong. "I really don't think he will."
"I hope you're right," sighed Fury. "We already have a potential dimensional incursion to worry about. I have the boys downstairs on constant surveillance doing sensor sweeps across the globe. Any EU entering our universe we will instantly know about and we'll deal with it."
Blue eyes lit up as Rogers smiled. "I bet Tony would love for that to happen. He's been itching to try out that new armor."
"The thing cost millions to build," said Fury wryly. "You'd think one suit was enough but he keeps finding excuses to make a new upgraded model."
The other man laughed. "Prototypes he calls them."
"Prototypes my ass," said the General. "If his sexual exploits weren't reported in every gossip rag I'd say he was overcompensating."
Rogers looked past Fury and out through the row of floor to ceiling windows that made up the back wall. The man made island that supported the Triskelion spilled out in all directions, each facility structured in such an ultra modern style that sometimes it skewed with his senses. No matter what era he was in now, he was still a byproduct of the 40's.
"I've spoken to Jan and Hank Pym recently since the Hulk encounter, as well as Tony, when they're not doing PR work, that is. Thor's been a little harder to pin down. I know we only recently recruited him but the Ultimates are a team. I don't need one member off doing God knows what till there's a Level two or damn near a Level one emergency before they decide to saunter to the plate."
Fury pretended he had an itch to hide his growing smile behind his hand. "We're lucky we even have him on the team. Don't worry about him. He's probably off in a forest somewhere with his hippy groupies singing kumbaya." He let out a theatrical sigh. "And he wonders why we don't take his being a god BS seriously."
"I've been meaning to ask about this 'son of Odin' matter," admitted Rogers. "Does he really believe he's Thor, the god of thunder?"
Fury shrugged. "That's his claim. He's got a big powerful hammer and can throw lightning around like nobody's business. Plus, he just knows things, you know? On the other hand…"
"On the other hand what?"
"There's the history of mental illness. Before the Odinson stuff he was an ex-nurse by the name of Thorlief Golmen. He had a nervous breakdown three weeks short of his thirtieth birthday and spent eighteen months in a lunatic asylum. After that he started to appear everywhere, with his tours and self help books. "
"All of which has made him millions that he donates to charity," said Rogers. "I watch the news."
Fury nodded. "You heard right. You ask Thor and he'll tell you he's a God made man, the living incarnation of a Norse thunder deity sent here by his father in Valhalla to prevent us from damning ourselves to oblivion."
"That's his side," said Rogers, sounding completely and utterly amused. "What do you think?"
The General grinned. "I say as long as he's above money and only cares about bettering mankind, I'll accept his word as gospel. We get him for free and that's A-okay for my budget."
The soldier gestured at the monitor. "What about him?"
"We can't send him home so he's stuck here. What comes after that…" Fury made a thoughtful noise, tapping a finger against the desk's edge. "That depends on him."
"What are you planning, General?" asked Rogers, studying the man.
General Fury spread his hands out, his lips tugged up at the corner into a smirk. "What makes you think I have something planned?"
Rogers leveled with him a look. "You always have plans within plans."
"I'm the man," Fury said slyly, shrugging one shoulder.
That part was very true. Nick Fury wasn't chosen for director of S.H.I.E.L.D. based on his winning personality. His mind approached scenarios from multiple angles. He was an exceptional combatant and strategist. Nobody but God knew all the plans the man kept under lock and key.
The suite was decorated with cream furniture and the walls were coated a soft teal. Soft light shined from slim disks protruding from the corners of the room, each disk stacked on top of the other in an unusual ladder of lights leading from floor to ceiling. Harry took a seat on the bed, lying back with his hands tucked behind his head acting as a pillow.
Thoughts cycled through his head in a sick slideshow of blood, pulsating flesh and dying whispers. It had been a long time since he had seen so much death. Even then never on such an enormous scale and with such unparalleled destruction. There was war then there was extermination. It had been the end of the world in every definition of the phrase.
There was nothing he would like more than to go back to that place and rip Voldemort's freakish head from his shoulders. Revenge boiled in his gut this close to spilling over and choking him. But he was here and never could go back there.
He didn't trust these people. It was the same organization that held him like a lab rat. Unsanctioned shadow project or not, they operated through the same government channels. If he charmed his hearing no doubt he would pick up the subtle working of electronic circuitry hidden in places around the room. Odds were the room was bugged. They probably had a team watching him now with one hand on the panic button, wondering if this was the minute he would snap.
He was so tired of this place, this universe. All he wanted to do was go home and that option was lost to him.
Harry closed his eyes waiting for the darkness to take over. The feeling of vertigo was a dizzying and forbidding sensation that made him feel trapped as he lost himself somewhere between mind and body. When he opened his eyes he's greeted to a sight that brought a light smile to his face.
Red and gold were the primary colors that decorated the circular room. The window showed the sprawling grounds of Hogwarts under a twilight sky. He caught a flash of brown hair before arms wrapped around his body squeezing him tight.
He breathed in deep, smiling down into a pair of brown eyes. "Miss me?"
"Don't give me that coy smile, Harry Potter," said Hermione, her eyes narrowed. "I'm not one of your fangirls. You're lucky to be alive!"
Ron leaned against the couch and sent Harry an exasperated look, miming a wand spelling him in the face. "Oh, lay off him, Hermione! You're worse than my mum, honestly."
Hermione glared at Ron. "Do you have a heart? Your friend just escaped death for the countless time."
Ron smiled so hard Harry could see the back of his molars. "I know and it was bloody brilliant. Really working at putting that boy who lived title to the test, mate."
"Once again Harry Potter gives death the finger."
Hermione rolled her eyes as they laughed. She stalked off to the study table and picked up a book and buried her face in it pointedly ignoring them. Harry and Ron shared a look, smiling. For a moment it was almost blissfully easy to forget that he was in his own head and that all of this wasn't real.
Harry looked around. "Where is…he?"
Hermione looked up from her book and she and Ron met eyes. She cleared her throat and pointed to the stairs that led up to the boys dorms. She didn't look particularly happy.
"He's been up there since you got back from that other universe," explained Hermione. "He didn't like being reined in after you let him loose."
"Too bad," replied Harry, pulling up a chair at the table. "It's my mind he's in and my body, so he can just shove off."
Ron made a noise of agreement. "I told the psycho that. Fucker almost took my head off. He can stay up there and rot for all I care."
Hermione closed the book and pushed it to the side, having apparently giving up the pretense of anger. "Listen, Harry…" she sighed, laying a hand over his forearm. "Don't rely on him too much, please. He's dangerous… You didn't see the look on his face."
Harry turned away from her pleading expression, focusing his thoughts. "Considering you guys are a part of me I can imagine just fine."
"That sounds kind of dirty," muttered Ron sliding on top of the table, eating a biscuit that appeared in his hand from nowhere. "And I'm okay with that."
Harry couldn't resist the smile that tugged at his lips. By the look on her face Hermione looked as if she was fighting not to reach for her wand to curse the smirking man, who was giving her a leering look. It was just as he remembered it. Lazy Sunday's spent in one of their flats with bottles of wine at their feet, minds buzzed and conversations endlessly flowing.
"Glad you're crazy, huh?" said Ron, laughing easily. "You get to see this dashing mug whenever you fancy."
Hermione patted his shoulder, glaring at Ron. "He's not crazy." She turned to Harry, her face softening with a warm smile. "Having alters doesn't make you crazy. Dissociative Identity Disorder is a mental condition that doesn't mean you're any less sane than other people."
Harry blinked. "The fact that I'm in my mind talking to my multiple personalities is a sure sign a screw's loose, Hermione."
It was true. He was crazy and he knew it. The training had broken him so utterly that at one point he had retreated so far in himself that when he came back he wasn't right. His mind fractured. The event took bases of his personality and imprinted them on memories and forms that he already knew. Hermione was born from his intelligence and wit. Ron was born from his adventurous nature and love of life, and he was born in fire and pain from a will to live, survive and kill.
His captors hadn't noticed the change in him. If they did they would have noted his eyes seemed less dim and his movements not as zombie like. They helped him when he needed it most. While they never took over his body like others with multiple personality disorders, the trigger was there but the Occlumency was enough for him to keep the alters in check.
"I wish you wouldn't talk about yourself like that," she said, not meeting his eyes.
Harry shrugged. "It's true."
"You're mad," Ron said simply, blue eyes studying him. "Not crazy or whatnot, but angry. This is classic, broody Harry Potter circa sixth year."
Hermione groaned. "Honestly, Ronald. It's called tact. Learn it."
"I can't keep but thinking about all those people…" he scrubbed a hand down his face. "I was just about to bring hell down on that bastard."
"You don't always need to be the hero, Harry," said Hermione, voice calm and even.
Ron chuckled. "Did you forget who you're talking to? He had an Order of Merlin before he was two." He sobered up and nodded at Harry, smile turning slightly proud. "You did brilliant back there. At least you helped get those people to safety."
"I can't believe they're going to Avalon," said Hermione, stars practically appearing in her eyes as she gushed. "Imagine what they'll see! It will be the greatest discovery in history."
"I can't believe I actually have to point out to you of all people the fact they're refugees," said Ron, goggling.
She had the decency to blush. "Well there's that."
Harry shifted awkwardly in his seat. "Why do you know so much about Avalon? You're practically me, so I should know what you know and that isn't much."
The witch straightened her shoulders and her eyes gleamed as she prepared to delve into scholar mode. Ron shot him an annoyed look and he took a seat in a chair, kicking his legs on top of the table and getting comfortable. This was going to take a while.
"We're manifestations of various natures of your mind and we know it better than you sometimes," explained Hermione as knowledgeable and patient as her namesake. "Whether you can't consciously remember things doesn't mean you don't know it subconsciously. I can recall every lesson you sat through in History of Magic. Even if you weren't paying Professor Binns attention you still heard his lectures."
He pondered on that bit of information. Although he wasn't expecting it, the explanation made sense. In the end it might prove to be helpful.
"Hit me with your best shot," said Harry. "What do you know about Avalon?"
Ron snorted and muttered. "What doesn't she know?"
"Classless," Hermione sighed, turning her nose up at him. "A lot has been lost through history and time, but we know Avalon is the home of magic. It's the birthplace of wizardry and the origin of all wizards. The exact factors that occurred are unknown -- historians think it was war, but it led to a great exodus. The people fled to Earth and the three leaders at the time locked the way back with magic and blood."
Harry dug in his memory till he found a string of names. "The leaders… They were Lilith, Adam and Eve. Right? The Garden of Eden. The story of Adam and Eve, this is where it comes from."
Hermione nodded. "That's right. Eden was the capitol city on Avalon." She took a moment to remember her place and then continued. "The refugees found Earth to be wild, primitive and the humans were barbaric. Some integrated with the muggles, shedding their old way of life and taking on new ones. Others secluded themselves away, preferring to hide in the secret places of the world and keeping from sight."
"And so began the founding of the wizarding world," said Ron, making his voice sound exaggeratedly aged and winded.
Hermione ignored him. "Merlin's arguably the most famous wizard to actually come from Avalon. He made it his life's work to guide muggles on a path toward enlightenment."
"Where's Avalon anyway?" asked Harry. "I know the way to it was sealed and that only the three bloodlines combined could open the doorway. And also, kind of surprised Dumbledore's bloodline goes that far."
"Are you really?" asked Hermione, plucking one eyebrow knowingly. No. He really wasn't. "No one knows where Avalon is exactly. The rhyme goes, East of the Sun, west of the Moon; Between the stars and beneath the wings of the moon; There lies the land of magic's birth; Where lords of light still walk the earth."
Harry tapped his finger against his chin. "It must be a pocket dimension or microverse just at the edge of reality, some kind of place out of phase with the rest of the universe."
"I'm glad Auror training taught you advanced theoretical magic," said Hermione impressed.
"I aced that class." Harry pointed at her. "Like you didn't already know all of that. What's your plan on getting home?"
She picked up her wand and waved it sharply. Ron's chair skidded back and his feet landed with a heavy thud against the floorboards. He glowered at her and she smiled back smugly. Hermione tapped her wand against the table and the surface began to light up. Forms and shapes rose up into images, a visual memory projected.
"That's me and the team about to arrest the dark wizards that got me into this mess," said Harry frowning. "How?"
Hermione smiled smugly watching the image earnestly. "We're in your mind so technically this whole place is a pensive. Never tried this before but I had a theory. Hmm, looks like a bit like a hologram."
The scene played out exactly how he remembered. He watched as his simulated form stumbled into the summoning circle. His blood and the blood of the dead touched sparking a catalyst that spurned on the magic saturating the air. It caused it to shift violently into something wild and fierce and uncontrollable.
Hermione studied the projected images. "The parameters that triggered the event that sent you to this universe… the blood and then the ritual alone…I'm sorry, Harry…"
"Just say it," he growled.
Ron spoke up before she could. "Even I can tell it would be damn unlikely to recreate all that." He looked truly apologetic. "Sorry, mate. You're stuck."
Harry's shoulders slumped and his face fell. "I knew you were going to say that."
"I think these people mean well, Harry," said Hermione, eying him with concern. "Please try and trust them a bit."
"I'll do the best I can."
He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he was back in the room in the Triskelion with nothing but the quiet and loneliness to greet him.
A pile of clothes landed on the bed near Harry's stretched out form. He looked at it then up at Rogers who stood in the doorway dressed more casually than Harry had ever seen. He wore a pair of jeans with a black aviator jacket over a dark blue cable knit shirt.
"Get dressed," said Rogers, jabbing a finger at the pile of clothes. "We're going out."
"But Captain I hardly know you," said Harry dryly, sliding into a sitting position. "It would be terribly improper."
A grin stretched across the man's face. "Very funny, smartass. We're going for a drink. Figure you could use it."
Harry was out of bed at that and standing up, stretching with his fingertips toward the ceiling. "You should've said that from start, mate."
He cast a switching charm with a wave of his hand. His previous outfit appeared on the bed and he now wore the clothes Rogers that had thrown at him. He ran an eye over his outfit. He was clothed in a pair of slacks, a beige cashmere sweater and a black pair of oxfords.
"I'm a little weirded out that everything fits properly," said Harry, brushing at the wrinkles in his sleeves.
Rogers smirked. "This is SHIELD. They probably know what age you lost your virginity, who it was with and what time."
"On my Earth, we call that invasion of privacy."
"We call it a Tuesday."
Harry couldn't help chuckling as he followed the man from the room. He spent the better part of yesterday in his room sleeping and coming to terms with everything. Repression had been his friend for so long that he got emotionally overwhelmed when he finally really let go.
He didn't what to say to the man as they made their way through the complex to the helipad. Rogers was an easy enough man to talk to but this unexpected outing was playing with his nerves. Honestly he didn't know what to expect outside these walls. It would be his first time to experience the civilization of this alternate Earth.
The unmistakable hiss of helicopter blades was as always louder than expected as they approached the small, sleek black-and-gray copter. Rogers waved to the pilot at the controls and he and Harry climbed into the back.
Harry slipped the headset over his head, giving the other man a look as the copter lifted off. "You do know how to travel in style."
"It beats the helicopters back in my day," he admitted, watching the bay fade away as they went into a sharp ascent vector that took them at an altitude free of strong winds.
They passed the chunks of rock that was Ellis Island and Lady Liberty with her torch acting as a glowing beacon in the night. The Upper Bay of the New York Harbor disappeared as they accelerated past the Brooklyn Bridge. It had been too long since Harry had a seen city like this lit up in the night and it was impressive and as beautiful as he remembered as they flew over lower Manhattan. From the skyline the skyscrapers stood guard over the city and the pilot took them lower, veering past the upward thrusting office buildings and into a neighborhood that was less steel and glass.
"How good are you with heights?" Rogers' voice came through the speakers in the headset.
Harry looked at the man and then through the window. The copter hovered over a semi crowded entertainment distract. He would estimate the drop to be at least a hundred feet or a little over. It didn't take nothing but a second for him to realize what the man had in mind. He turned around and the Captain was already sliding the door of the copter open.
"What about a parachute?" asked Harry.
Rogers raised an eyebrow. "Why? You need one?"
"I was asking for you."
Harry's face split into a grin. He ripped off the headset and dived through the open door. Wind battered into him as he cleared the copter's radius. Harry twisted his body so his feet were angled down and he felt his descent smooth out. Two heartbeats later he landed in a crouch in an alleyway. Not a full second passed before Rogers landed at his side in much the same fashion. He took a quick look around and then waved up at the copter as it took off.
A cough was heard behind them and they turned as a bum fell out of a trash can. He was gray haired, dirty and clothed in ragged cast offs. Despite that he looked at Rogers like he was the second coming or a world wonder.
"You're…him! I can't believe it," the bum crowed, gray eyes wide and full of awe. "Goddamn Captain America! Your face has been all over the TV's, but I remember the recruitment posters back then. My dad used to show them to me when I was a kid. You're why I served in Vietnam."
"I'm flattered, sir." Rogers smiled, bright and genuine, and stepped closer to the man, reaching out to stuff a handful of bills into his hand. "Here, take it. From one soldier to another."
The man spluttered his thanks. Rogers gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder and then he and Harry made their exit. Harry had to admit the neighborhood wasn't exactly classy. Some of the buildings were rundown and boarded up, provocatively clad women walked the streets and there were questionable activities going on in the shadows of buildings.
"Hey, daddy, you looking for some action tonight?"
A woman, Harry did a double take and smirked, make that hooker, winked at him as she strolled past.
Harry tipped his head at her then turned to his companion. "Nice neighborhood."
Rogers swept his eyes around taking everything in with a clear look of disapproval. "I lived in this city my entire life. I won't leave because some hooligans are trying to give it a bad name."
"Hooligans?" questioned Harry amused. "Little old fashioned, huh?"
He jerked a thumb at his chest. "Made in 1917."
"Relic," Harry joked, stuffing his hands in his pocket.
The other man laughed and they didn't walk far. Their destination was just on the corner. They stepped into a hole in the wall bar. The interior was smoky and lazy music played from a jukebox in a corner. There were people scattered at tables and at the bar-top was a single man at the end nursing a beer.
They took a seat at the bar and the bartender was a bald man with a thick mustache with muscle on top of muscle. He looked more like a bouncer than a bartender. Only the white towel tucked in the back of his pants gave him away.
"Scotch and water for me," Harry said after the bartender grunted at him.
Rogers just pointed to one of the beers on tap. The bartender gave them their drinks then made himself busy wiping down the counter at the end of the bar.
The soldier raised his beer and his eyes looked past Harry, distant and solemn. "Here's to fighting the good fight and to all those who didn't make it."
Harry somberly stared at his glass and then raised it high. They clinked glasses and Harry took a large swallow, feeling the liquid burn its way down his throat and light up his stomach. His chest went tight and he huffed out a sigh.
Harry traced a figure around the rim of the tumbler and stared into the glass like it held the answers to life's mysteries. "Why did you bring me here?"
"Thought you could use a drink," Rogers answered downing a quarter of his beer. "I was asleep in an ice floe for sixty years. I know what it's like to wake up in a different place with no family and not a friend in sight."
"Were you locked up like a rat and tortured for months?" asked Harry deceptively casual. His snort broke the silence. "Didn't think so. Look, I don't want a pity party or anything. I don't even want to think about it really."
Rogers shrugged looking unphased by the retort. "Whatever you say. Just thought you could use a friend. It's a big world out there."
"One that I don't fit into," said Harry, taking a sip of his drink. "I don't know what I'm going to do. You know anyone looking to hire an Auror?"
"Dark wizard catcher, bit like a policeman but more specialized like your country's FBI or CIA." Harry waved his hand, his lip curling up into a half smile. "Fat lot of good all that training's going to do me now. So what's your story? I got the history book version from Fury. What's your side?"
He stared at his beer for a long moment. The pause was so long that Harry was unsure that he had heard the question. But he knew that he did. He gave him all the time he needed as Rogers gathered himself and spoke steadily.
"I had a girl once," he began out of the blue. "There was no other woman like her. Gail stuck by me through everything even though she hated the project. But I was set on serving and fighting back. We loved hard and we argued hard. She was everything to me. We were going to get hitched."
Harry eyebrows rose. "What happened?"
"Six months before our nuptials instead of coming home I was declared K.I.A. and stuck in ice…. As soon as I joined the project and they started pumping chemicals in me, Gail said it would destroy us—Guess she was right... She's someone's grandmother now and married to my best buddy." Rogers smiled wide and with a touch of awe. "But even with a head full of silver hair my girl still looks gorgeous. She's one of my reasons why I keep on fighting."
Harry understood the sentiment. He became an Auror because he didn't want wizards bent on power to destroy families the way his was. Harry made it through training knowing that he had friends to make proud. They were all he had and they were his reason.
"I'll drink to that," said Harry, saluting with his glass. "So what's SHIELD's real directive? I know what they led me to believe and I have a guess but enlighten me."
Rogers laced his fingers together and rested them against the bar's edge. "The Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate is responsible for counter terrorism and intelligence gathering, as well as stopping all threats that are too great for normal channels to handle."
Harry leveled him with a teasing grin. "You sound like a walking brochure."
"Some things never change," Rogers laughed, shaking his head. "My buddy Bucky used to say the same thing. Kept calling me Captain Boy Scout once I got the super soldier upgrade."
"Friends are the only thing I'm going to miss from my Earth," Harry muttered, expression distant.
Rogers watched him closely. "No family?"
"If I didn't believe you were honestly curious, I would tell you to piss off," said Harry, leaning back in his chair and appraising the blond. "I kind of like you though. You're an alright guy… I don't have any family. I was an orphan."
Harry turned to order another drink and Rogers did the same. He seemed to sense that Harry didn't want to delve further into that particular topic. He was right. There was no way in Hell he was going to be caught dead discussing his parents and getting all chickish, discussing feelings, in a bar with a virtual stranger. He shuddered at the thought.
"In the battle of Normandy I punched a man so hard he called me the wraith of God before he clocked out."
Harry blinked at the declaration and a slow smile spread across his face, mirroring the sly expression Rogers wore. "We're exchanging war stories now? Hell yes."
Rogers waved at the bartender. "Can we get a couple of shots Cuervo and another round?"
"Now you're speaking my language."
It's a little after three in the morning as they make their way down Avenue A. Rogers has his arm wrapped around Harry shoulders and he's singing some song from the 30's that has them both laughing like it's the funniest thing on the planet. Harry grinned widely not caring how dumb they look, his head felt light and his body was pleasantly warm.
"You sound like a drunk Irishmen," said Harry with a bark of laughter.
"My parents were Irish," Rogers said fondly. "They immigrated here before I was born. Lived over in the Lower East Side."
They crossed a street to an empty lot that was suitable to rendezvous with the copter. A group of six young men noisily jeered at them from their sprawling positions on top of a single car in the lot. They were easily ignored and had the opposite effect of just riling them up even more.
"Hey! I'm talking to you!" one of the men called out.
Another man with red hair jumped in front of their path, a lead pipe in his right hand. "Don't you fellas hear him talking to you?"
All traces of inebriety faded as Rogers shoulders straightened and he faced the men with clear eyes. "You gentlemen don't want to do this. We don't want any trouble and this will only end in you having a bad night I assure you."
"Please," said Harry meekly, prompting Rogers to give him an exasperated sigh. "We don't want any trouble."
He ducked his head to hide his smile. He didn't want any trouble, but a little fun wouldn't hurt. The men circled them like their numbers mattered.
"Give us your wallets," said a redhead with a thick Jersey accent. "Them shoes too. My old man needs a new pair."
His buddies laughed and one of them shouted, "Happy Father's Day!"
Harry blinked. Was this real life? That wasn't even remotely funny. Rogers shared his disbelieving expression and held up his hands to the gang in a placating gesture.
"I'm almost out of patience with you wiseguys so just take a hike."
The redhead let out a mocking laugh. "Dicksmack over here sounds like my grandpa. You a retard or something, man?" His grip tightened on the pole and the group closed in. "I'd be more than happy to beat some sense into you."
The pole swung wide and Rogers twisted his midsection almost lazily to avoid the blow. His arm came up and he snatched the pole from the attacker like plucking a flower. The action threw off the man's momentum and he tripped right into Rogers' waiting fist. The punch lifted him clear off his feet and he was knocked out before crumpling to the ground.
Instead of seeing the moment for what it was, which was them getting their asses handing to them, the men surged forward. To Harry's eyes their movements were sloppy and slow. But then, he and Rogers had reflexes faster than the normal human being. Harry pushed a man and the force sent him rocketing backward like he was hit by a car. The landing was brutally painful and sent him skidding across the pavement flat on his stomach and face a good three yards.
Rogers cross kicked a thug in the head and then his arm came up lightning quick. His fingers latched onto the wrist of a scowling man wielding a knife. A swift punch to the captured arm broke it and the bone ruptured through the skin of the forearm in a spray of blood and agonized screams.
Harry fingers tightened around the shirt collar of a particularly brave attacker who thought that he could sneak up behind him. He kicked the man's leg and barely noted he broke it before his fist was pounding into his pained face. It all happened in two heartbeats. He dropped the man unceremoniously and turned at the sound of a gun being cocked.
The last man standing, pale and terrified, pointed a gun at Harry with shaking hands. He backed up slowly and Harry saw the tightening in his muscles and knew without a doubt the man was going to shoot.
"What's with the snake?" Harry asked with a cheery smile.
Harry winked and the man's confusion turned into full blown panic as the gun rippled like liquid and morphed into a four foot long python. Hissing it wrapped around the man's torso and its head darted in again and again, incredibly fast, as it bit him repeatedly in his exposed flesh. Before the fifth bite could occur his eyes rolled back and he fell to the ground.
There was only the sound of whimpers and groaning in the fight's aftermath. Harry snapped his fingers at the snake and it evaporated in a waft of airy gray smoke. Rogers bent over to lay his hands over the pulse point in the man's wrist.
"The snake wasn't poisonous," Harry explained before he could ask. "Too complex to conjure that kind of anatomy. He'll come around in a bit."
Rogers stood up and shook his head at the spot the snake vanished from. "Well, that's different. Could have used some fancy tricks like that back in the war."
"My world had the same war and the outcome was pretty much spot on," Harry replied, staring at the sky with his hands behind his back. He met the other man's stare with a grin as the copter came into view. "I gotta say, Rogers. A bottle of scotch and a good brawl makes me feel right at home. I think we're going to get along alright."
"Gee, that makes me feel all warm and tender, right here," he teased, tapping his heart. "Save it for your diary."
Harry's rolling laugh was drowned in the whop whop of the whirring blades of the descending helicopter.
Sunlight steamed through the floor to ceiling windows throwing light into the corridor. Steve Rogers was one of the many uniformed people passing through the hall. The others wore various shades of blue depending on their job code within the Triskelion base.
Rogers glanced to the side as Tony Stark appeared next to him, completely in step and dressed in a sharp suit that probably cost more than what some folks made in a month. The billionaire glanced at the taller man with a sly grin.
"So I hear you had an interesting night out a few days ago?"
The soldier smiled crookedly. "I see the pilots have been gossiping. Someone's looking at some KP duty."
"That's all Hendrickson talked about on the ride here," Tony confirmed, looking entirely too amused about the whole affair. "If you weren't that kid's hero before you definitely got a fan now."
He made a mental note to avoid riding with Hendrickson for awhile. The young man was a fine pilot, but was new to the base and wasn't quite subtle in his idolizing.
"Great," said Rogers with a sigh. "It was a just misunderstanding. We handled it like gentlemen."
Tony snorted, blue eyes twinkling. "That's not the way I hear it. Word is you and ET moped the floor with them."
Rogers frowned at the unfamiliar term. "ET? I think you mean EU. Potter's an extrauniversal visitor."
The billionaire looked at him like he couldn't decide if he was joking or not. Then Tony smirked and rolled his shoulders in a casual shrug.
"Silly me," he replied, biting back a laugh.
Rogers glanced at the polished metallic briefcase in the Tony's hand. "I take it you haven't come all this way for a social meeting?"
Tony grinned and jiggled the briefcase. "I need someone almost as brilliant as me to go over these specs. And since Richards is off doing something fantastically heroic or whatever it is his group does, I'm forced to consult with Banner."
Rogers narrowed his eyes at the thought of the Bruce Banner. Dr. Banner's job as head of the Operation Rebirth project had been the recreation of the super soldier serum. He thought he succeeded, and tested the serum on himself. The results were disastrous. He didn't turn into a super soldier. Banner transformed into the Hulk -- a big, green monster with Class 50 superhuman strength, a penchant for destruction and the libido of an adult film star.
"Did you clear it with Fury?" asked Rogers. "You need clearance to gain access to the holding area."
"Of course I did," stated Tony, and then he frowned. "Look, it's not like he's a real criminal, Cap. They almost pulled the plug on this whole Ultimates gig if it wasn't for him making us look like heroes."
Rogers pressed his lips together. "Good intentions or not, Tony, the man was responsible for a three-figure death toll that day. And that I cannot abide."
With public opinion at an all time low for the twenty first century defense initiative, for its funneling of millions of taxpayers dollars and no super-villains in sight the media had a field day with SHIELD's utter uselessness. That's when Banner had the shortsighted plan to give the Ultimates a monster to fight and to show something from his life's work. In the end Manhattan was wrecked, the Ultimates were elevated to national heroes, and Banner was stuck in a holding cell with his DNA forever altered.
"All well that ends well, and all that," Tony replied easily, unconcerned and unphased by Rogers disapproval of the scientist. "Bruce Banners for all his shortcomings is kind of a genius, and any input he can give on these specs would be fabulous."
Rogers shrugged. "You know where the holding area is. I'm not stopping you."
Tony nodded and started passed the man. He didn't take a couple of steps before he stopped and turned back and called out to the retreating man.
"Hey, Cap," he said, gaining the Captain's attention. "I'm having a private dinner at my place Friday night. It will be just the team mingling and mixing. Thor's even coming. What do you say, old boy?"
That was a friendship that came out of nowhere. No one had seen Tony Stark and Thor becoming chummy. After the Hulk fight weeks ago, the two had spent an hour and a half hanging around having a laugh.
A genuine smile, small, but honest spread across Roger's face. "Count me in too, then. We're overdo for some team bonding."
"Fantastic!" said Tony, smiling that smile that donned covers of countless magazines. "I live over on Park Avenue. I'll send you full directions later."
Whistling a jaunty tune, Tony gave a short wave and turned the corner with his briefcase swinging at his side. Rogers shook his head with a wry smile. There was something about that man that you couldn't help but like no matter if his ego was larger than life. If charm was a weapon Tony Stark wielded it with deadly accuracy. And there wasn't a damn way you could tell him differently.
Rogers' office was located on one of the higher floors of the Triskelion base. This was for security reasons more than anything, but the level had the added benefit of granting a spectacular view of the Statue of Liberty from the windows.
It was a surprise more than anything to step into his office and find his view obstructed. Dressed in black slacks, and a blue shirt that served as SHIELD's more casual uniform was Nick Fury. The General stood in front of the large windows that wrapped around the room. While it looked like glass, the windows were made of transparent aluminum that could easily resist high amounts of damage before breaking.
Looking just as composed and professional as he had ever seen her was Betty Ross, the longtime friend to the Pym's and Bruce Banner's onetime girlfriend. Currently her role was a dual one, acting as the Communications Director and Public Relations Officer for the Ultimates. Because of her quick thinking it was her who put a spin on their fight with the Hulk to work in their favor. The public was none the wiser to the Hulk's true identity and affiliation with SHIELD. If the truth was brought to light, all Hell would break loose.
"Good afternoon, Captain Rogers," Betty greeted, smiling up at him from the chair that faced his desk.
He nodded at the brunette. "How are you, Miss Ross?"
"I can't complain," she answered, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "Public opinion on you guys is at a record high, so it's a good week."
Fury chuckled and faced them. The sunlight hit him just right and the golden emblem emblazed over the right breast of his shirt gleamed smartly. The one eyed man pinned the Captain with his one dark eye not covered by a patch.
"The boys in Washington are making happy noises at that news," said Fury. He raised one slim eyebrow. "You're late."
Rogers crossed the room to his desk and took a seat on the ridiculously expensive chair that came with the office. He crossed his arms.
"I wasn't aware that we were having a meeting, General."
Fury pointed to the monitor on the man's desk. It was shiny and looked brand new like it had seen little use. It hadn't. Give him a weapon and he could tell you the best way to use it to kill a man. He was catching on quickly to things, but the more technological aspects of today made him feeling woefully inept.
"I sent you a memo," explained Fury.
Rogers glanced at the monitor and smiled guilty under the man's scrutiny. "I'm adapting pretty well to everything, but I'm not as proficient as I would like."
"I know plenty of women who wouldn't mind giving you some private lessons," said Betty smiling a little too innocently and causing the man to color slightly. He wasn't accustomed to this sort of talk in mixed company.
Fury cracked a smile as Rogers' apparent embarrassment. "Don't mind her, Captain. Betty here sometimes has no brain to mouth filter."
"Oh, please, like you're any better, soldier-boy?" she retorted, giving him a knowing stare. They had been working closely together since the Ultimates were assembled, and she could definitely now count Nick as a friend.
He pointed at her, mouth tilted up in a half smile. "Tact, ma'am. I have it. You don't."
"You wish, General," said Betty, cherry red painted lips widening at the corners. She faced Rogers who watched them with a patient smile. "Now, Captain, I do believe that file on the desk is for your eyes only."
Rogers glanced at the folder lying flat across the desk's surface. He slid it closer and opened the cover. His eyes scanned the front page and his face must've have mirrored his emotions because the General didn't bother to hide his open laughter.
"You're kidding, right?"
Fury shook his head. "The President already signed off on it. This is legit."
"I don't understand. What brought this on?" asked Rogers, thumbing through the rest of the signed off orders.
The General crossed his arms and leaned against the window. "Like it or not, Potter's a successful subject of the super soldier serum and Weapon X engineering. He's got class 20 superhuman strength and that magic of his resonates on an Alpha level, maybe Omega. We don't know what the cap is. It seems to be limitless." He scratched at his goatee. "Doctor Strange would be an ideal judge of that, but we couldn't get a hold of him."
Betty rolled her eyes. "He's apparently astral projecting to another plane. Whatever. I know a blow off when I hear it."
"Simmer down, Betty," Fury teased her with a little smirk. "Point is, Potter's gone through enough psych evals and has been cleared by the docs. The higher ups want him on the team so he's being offered a slot and I okay-ed it."
Rogers nodded and said almost absently. "This is going to be a shock to him. He thought he was just going to be hustled off into civilian life."
Fury shrugged. "That's still an option. This is another one."
"If he takes it we'll have to hush up his origins. Can't have the public knowing that our friend was experimented on and held hostage by the government, of course." Betty said this briskly as if cover-ups were her specialty. They were. "The fact is SHIELD needs to show results and Potter is perfect. With his skills, those green eyes and sex bomb looks people will fall in love with him."
"A public relations coup," supplied Fury helpfully to Rogers. "A perfect killer with the looks of a movie star that you can take home to mom. They'll eat it up."
He had to admit the entire idea was sound. With Hank Pym being a louse ever since getting taken down by the Hulk he had been sulky and uncooperative. Frankly, Rogers had seen better attitudes on girl scouts. The "Giant Man" didn't live up to his hype and his ego took a beating worse than his body. It would be a few weeks before Hank could perform another height multiplication and transform into his giant form.
If Harry was on the team then maybe that would be a good thing. Hank had been a letdown, and if Harry wanted on the Ultimates it would definitely be a step-up from the surly Doctor Pym. Rogers liked Harry. The man was quick witted, good in a fight, and damn powerful from what he'd read.
"What about his powers? That magic of his," Rogers clarified, feeling weird to be discussing the topic of magic seriously. "How are you going to explain that one? That's definitely not part of the super soldier package. People might take him for a mutant."
And the general populace didn't do well with mutants.
Betty waved her hand dismissively. "We're going with it being a side effect from the new formula. Plus the focus groups numbers have been majorly positive in response to magic approval rating."
"I see you covered all your bases," said Rogers, sounding suitably impressed. He folded his fingers together and leaned back in the chair. "Now all you have to do convince Harry, General Fury."
"What do you think he'll say?"
He shrugged because honestly he didn't know. "Who's to say? He really, really hates SHIELD, General."
"Hate?" asked Fury thoughtfully. He nodded, then. "I've dealt with more violent emotions. Hate, I can work with."
The gym housed in the Triskelion was just as large as one of those huge corporate ones that dominated the fitness industry. There was enough exercise equipment located in the gigantic room to satisfy an Olympic athlete. Harry picked the farthest treadmill he could away from the curious eyes of the gym's other occupants.
Harry jabbed at the buttons on the machine and turned his eyes to the rhythm pounding of his feet hitting the tread. He could practically feel the curiosity aimed at him. They wanted to see what he was capable of, what kind of show he would put on. Well too bad. They weren't getting one. He already felt like a gerbil in a ball. He wasn't about to become fodder for water cooler gossip later.
He knew he was strong. They knew it too. He could curl 600 pounds with one arm. Hell, he could bench press a Toyota without strain. Harry closed his eyes to settle himself into a peaceful run. Rogers told him they would get over it, but it was reminding him eerily of his youth. The stares, the subtle gawking, except there were no flickering gazes to his scar. That was a plus.
Harry shook himself out of his maudlin thoughts. A quick glance down revealed he was running at approximately 35 miles per hour. He wasn't even breathing hard. Okay, that was kind of cool. His endurance was phenomenal. He shook his head huffing out a short laugh. That was such Hermione thought.
He slowed down till he was running at a speed that was more typical for an athlete, maybe an Olympic one but still within human parameters. A smirk hinted around his lips as he caught sight of a stretching woman near the free weights covertly staring at his chest. He flexed his pecs unconsciously and she briefly met his eyes before ducking her head with a deep blush.
So maybe there were some perks to this super soldier thing. He had never been lanky like Ron, but he had been toned. Now his shoulders were broader, his arms and chest were bigger. There was no way he would ever make a good Seeker again with the amount of muscle on him. Rugby player maybe. He took a glance at his protruding bicep. Definitely.
Still that didn't decrease his wish for flying. He wished he had his old broom with him. Sure he could charm one, but it wouldn't be the same. Broomcrafters jealously hoarded their secrets of spellweaving the right magic into brooms. With his luck he would go tumbling out the sky midway through a Wronski Feint.
"They don't kid with that Super Soldier title, huh?"
Harry blinked hard at the woman leaning on the free machine next to his. She grinned up at him through her eyelashes, violet eyes tracking his run with open wonder. Her dark hair was cut short and styled into soft spikes like a pixie.
Harry tilted his head, trying and failing to place her face. "I've seen you before…"
"Probably the 6 o'clock news," she offered, smoothing out the wrinkles in the lavender sports bra she wore. "I'm Jan Pym."
"Wasp," Harry muttered, finally connecting the dots. "You're one of the Ultimates. Giant Man's wife, right?"
Jan smile teasingly. "Why? Does my husband owe you money?" She laughed light and quick and almost melodic. "Just kidding."
Harry wiped his hand against his shirt and stuck it out. "Harry Potter... You probably already know that, huh?"
"I kind of do," she grinned, shaking his hand firmly. "A shadow op working under SHIELD's umbrella, boy, Fury was pissed. How's that whole super soldier thing working for you?"
Harry blinked at her blunt curiosity. "Hurt like a bitch. Don't have any complaints right now."
Jan cracked a guilty smile. "That was kind of rude. You have no idea how long people have been trying to recreate the super soldier serum, and then bam we find out there's you. So you're a pretty big deal around here."
Putting it like that made him seem a little less like that gerbil in a ball. To them he was pretty much a walking miracle and a confirmation that what they strove for could be accomplished.
"So all I have to do is meet your husband and Thor, and I'll have met the whole team," noted Harry, pressing a button to slow his run to a light jog.
"Pretty much," said Jan. "So what's the plan? Are you, like, living here?"
Harry shrugged. "I'm supposed to meet General Fury later today. I think he's going to talk to me about getting a public identity. I think they might get me shuffled into civilian life."
"I suppose I'll have to tell you that New York is full of starving models," said Jan with exaggerated concern. "So you'll have to pick a different career path."
Harry snapped his fingers, frowning. "Damn. What will I do now? All I have is my looks."
"Such a shame," she chirped brightly. "You would've been a hit at it."
"Why, Ms. Pym, are you flirting with me?" asked Harry. He dropped his voice an octave, so it was deeper and smoother, his accent coming out delightfully charming. "Not that I would mind."
"It's Mrs. Pym," she purred, eyes bright with amusement. "And married women don't flirt. We tease."
Harry held up his hands a lopsided, apologetic grin on his face. "Sorry, Mrs. Pym. Can't blame a bloke for trying."
"Mmmhmm," she murmured with a nod, a little smile on her face. "So how have you been enjoying your stay at the, oh so fabulous Triskelion? Beats the Hilton."
Harry had to admit that was true. While his first stay at a SHIELD base was living Hell, much could be said about the New York headquarters of the United States Superhuman Defense Initiative. The fact that he could exit his rooms without a damn collar and chain was already a step up.
"It's been alright," admitted Harry with a shrug. "Three square meals and a hot shower seems like a luxury now."
Jan's eyes dimmed a bit. "I heard about that. I mean, about what happened to you—everyone doesn't know, but the Ultimates were at the debriefing." She reached out to pat his arm, and then pulled back halfway unsure whether the touch was wanted. "Listen, for what its worth. I'm sorry."
"Thanks," he said in an even tone. "What's done is done. You can't change the past."
"I hope you get what you want," she replied. "Maybe I can help you get yourself set up when you go civilian. I helped Steve with his wardrobe. God knows he needed it."
"Steve Rogers?" he asked, and then grinned at her affirmative nod. "So are you the Super Soldier welcome wagon?"
"More like stylist consultant," Jan shot back, staring at his long-sleeved red shirt and green athletic shorts. "You look like Christmas come early. The serum must make you boys color blind."
"Looking my best to workout isn't a priority."
Jan laughed in his face. "Keep telling yourself that."
She flicked her eyes to the left and he turned. A group of women were working out in front of a mirror and were using the reflection to blatantly check him out, their movements jerky and uncoordinated as they were keenly focused on their ogling. Harry flushed and quickly turned back only to encounter Jan's smirk and raised eyebrow.
"I suggest wearing a wife beater next time," advised Jan. "They'll really go gaga then, like a pack of dogs in heat. It will be amazing."
He imagined himself in a tank-top working out next time and he had couldn't resist liking that idea. Because really, it had been too long since he had a little action. And going without just wasn't healthy.
A slow smile spread across his face. "I like the way you think."
"I know. Tell me I'm awesome."
He let out a surprised laugh and shook his head. Okay, he begrudgingly admitted, maybe these guys weren't all so bad.
Rogers and General Fury occupied spots around the metallic table within the conference room. They watched the play by play of emotions dance across Harry's face in the wake of the proposal they just dropped on him.
This was…unexpected. Harry had expected a meeting that involved getting the Hell away from SHIELD, and hopefully somewhere far, far away with a nice check with a bunch of zeroes, and freedom. This was the exact opposite.
It was a good thing that he worked out before this meeting or he would be a hell of a lot tenser than he currently was and furious. Instead the only thing he felt was a lucid calm and a growing disbelief. A single thought cycled through his mind, what the Hell. He blinked hard realizing that he had said that persistent thought aloud.
"I'm not really following," said Harry slowly.
Fury calmly repeated the offer. "We want you to join the Ultimates."
"I heard you," Harry corrected, looking between the two men. "I'm just not getting the why."
"You represent a great many things to SHIELD and you have a rare set of skills at your disposal," clarified Fury. "That's why you've been given this opportunity."
"You say opportunity I say manipulation," said Harry, carefully trying to keep the anger from his tone. He was so close to snapping. "SHIELD made me this way. Rescued me and now you want me to work for you. How… convenient."
Rogers glanced at Fury and then leaned forward, meeting Harry's eyes with open honesty. "I promise this is on the up and up. I know you didn't sign up to be a super soldier, but it's what you are now. You can do a lot of good, Harry."
It finally sunk in and Harry stared at them neutrally. "You're really serious? Do you know what you're asking? You want me to fight not only for the country, but the very same organization that held me prisoner and experimented on me. I would rather take an Avada Kedavra to the face."
"We can make it worth your while," said Fury. He slid a folder over to Harry, who didn't bother to open it. "The money's more than nice and we're willing to negotiate anything you want within reason. It's a sweet deal, kid."
Harry pushed the folder away without glancing at it, and crossed his arms stoically regarding the men. "What's behind door number two?"
"Once we've finished falsifying your background, you can be settled into civilian life," said Fury as glibly as discussing the weather. "It will be like witness protection. You can't tell anybody who you really are, what you can do, and everything about you will be a lie. Every month you'll receive a government stipend, and if anybody discovers the truth you'll have to be relocated and given a new false background."
Harry narrowed his eyes. "So you'll be keeping tabs on me?"
"Like a hawk watching salmon swim upstream," Fury answered smoothly. "Ain't the first time security services had to watch a former prisoner of a shadow op. You were trained to be an assassin, and that type of conditioning doesn't go away."
The fact was this wasn't surprising really. To hear it confirmed so straightforwardly was the surprise. After a life full of half-truths and misdirection's having something divulged without a quest or research was kind of refreshing.
Harry nodded. "I suppose that's expected. You're the king of paranoid."
"I see you've met Jan Pym," Fury said with a laugh shaking his head. "I do love her little nicknames."
"And there were quite a few of them," confirmed Harry.
Rogers cleared his throat. "Are you going to think about the offer?"
"About joining the Ultimates?" Harry asked, turning to the man, "Is that a rhetorical question?"
"Harry," said Rogers sighing, "please reconsider. We need a tough team and you make the cut."
Rogers really wasn't a bad guy. He liked Jan too, and he found Tony Stark's charm amusing. Yet there was a part of himself that wouldn't agree. He just couldn't say yes. He did find pleasure in denying SHIELD, but it was more than that even being in this compound made his skin crawl. If he couldn't rain hell down on the organization then this little bit of cathartic pleasure was all he could seek.
"I'm going to go ahead and pass on that offer," said Harry not even bothering to sound apologetic. He narrowed his eyes at Fury then. "You're not going to take no for an answer are you?"
Fury snorted. "Most of the team said no before they eventually caved. Thor was the last hold out. Once the President doubled the U.S.'s foreign aid budget, we got ourselves a bonefied thunder god."
"I can't be so easily bought, General." Harry leaned back and grinned coolly. "I'm not for sale."
"I'll let you think it over and we can make final decisions tomorrow," replied Fury easily.
Harry rolled his eyes and muttered, "It's like talking to a brick wall."
"I get that a lot."
Rogers stood up along with Harry. "I'll walk with you. I'm leaving too."
Harry shrugged and let the man walk at his side as they exited the room. Passing people were very respectful as they greeted the soldier in the hallways. His greetings weren't forced and each wave and smile was sincere and authentic.
"You're not going to change my mind," said Harry as they strolled through the atrium.
He was met with a raised eyebrow and wry expression. "You're awfully full of yourself, aren't you? I wasn't going to bring it up actually."
Harry blinked. "Oh."
"But since we're on the subject now," said Rogers smiling teasingly at Harry's glare. "I'm only joking. This isn't the place or the time really. You have your options and it's your decision."
"Thanks," said Harry quietly.
If maybe they had met under different circumstances then maybe, maybe. Harry sighed internally. Life used to be so much simpler. A longing flared deep in his chest for moving stairs, portraits that talked and a castle that felt like home in a way that no other place ever did.
Harry didn't notice the red flames licking at his heels, flickering in and out as his yearning waxed and waned. His thoughts were full of waving wands and cloaks and rolls of parchments. The fire deepened red hot and Rogers shouted at the sight of the expanding flame. Harry let out his own shocked cry as the fire burned brighter, gentle to him, yet very real.
And for the second time in his life Harry's phoenix abilities kicked in and he teleported without prior intent. Before Steve Rogers and a gathering of SHIELD employees Harry Potter vanished in a burst of fire and light.
Rogers pulled out his mobile, tapped two buttons and pressed it to his ear. "General this is Rogers. We have a situation."
In a flash of fire Harry fell to his knees on firm earth. He looked around his surroundings with alarm. Rolling green hills stretched out before him and in the distance was a mountain range. To his immediate left was a clear lake and far off was a sprawling forest.
"Gryffindor's bloody ghost," he swore, taking a deep breath of the freshest and cleanest air he'd smelled in weeks.
This was just unbelievable and utterly embarrassing. He hadn't done accidental magic since he was a teenager. The aspects of his phoenix given abilities were as powerful as they were unpredictable and untrained.
Harry swiped his fingers through his hair. He twisted on feet to apparate and found himself facing the same green countryside. Trying again he gained another failed result. That bit of magic that allowed him to slip through time and space wasn't there. Harry took a long moment to think. Without that damn collar whatever alterations done to him was further altering his body and magic. The muggles experimented on him with all the foreknowledge of lab tests, and now he was paying for it in spades.
"Alright, get it together, Potter," he said aloud. "I was thinking about Hogwarts and then I apparated…" No, that wasn't right. "I teleported – like Fawkes."
That was insane. The only thing that had been on his mind before he had found himself here was Hogwarts. He looked around with a doubtful sneer. And this sure as Hell wasn't the sight that served as the castle's extensive grounds. Mid gaze he stopped and stared. Or possibly… it was.
That loch resembled Black Lake at a glance, and the forest to the east was a less gloomy and dense version of the Forbidden Forest. Even so in his mind eye he could envision slopping lawns with vegetable patches, flowerbeds and greenhouses and a full-size Quidditch pitch. Hogwarts loomed just ahead in all its majestic glory with its jumble of towers and battlements. Harry blinked hard to reset his vision and the images vanished as the normal countryside returned.
"Oh," he muttered numbly, staring around with disbelief.
He looked around the Scottish landscape, because yes, that's where he was. In his universe this was the sight of the most ancient stronghold of magical knowledge in all of Europe. So far there hadn't been anything in this entire universe that gave him a connection to home. Even without the castle standing as a bastion of magic this place still pulled at his heartstrings like no other.
Harry wasn't up to Professor Dumbledore's skill at sensing magic. He lacked the age honed talent the elder wizard possessed. Though at most times he could faintly sense the whispers of energy magic gave off when he concentrated, and now, focusing, there was nothing here. Not even a faint inkling of even a past trace.
He scrubbed at the scowl on his face. He shouldn't even have bother trying. Harry knew nothing had ever been built in this spot. He was the only one of his kind here and he needed to make his peace with that.
Harry took a seat on a piece of flat rock that jotted out from the soil like a stone bench. He took off the camo union jacket that SHIELD donated leaving him in just a black checkered shirt and jeans. There was a chill but it was barely noticeable. Rubbing at his inner forearms, Harry grimaced as his fingers rubbed against the wand and bone fusion lying just under his flesh.
He dropped his arms and muttered, "Bastards."
Dropping his head into his hands Harry heaved out a sigh, and then raised his head to look out across the lake. Harry closed his eyes hard and he felt light in body for a still moment. He opened his eyes to the sight of the Gryffindor common room.
Ron sat on the ledge of a windowsill and gave Harry a lazy wave. "No Hogwarts here, huh? That kind of fucking sucks."
"Language, Ron. Learn some manners," Hermione admonished sitting up from where she'd been lounging on the sofa. She walked over to Harry and folded her arms around him in a warm hug. "Hey, Harry."
Harry let her lead him over to the sofa and he plopped down on the arm, and she took up her original position. Hermione smoothed her palms over her pleated skirt and rested her book on her lap. She looked at him with a wry look and smile.
"You're going to have to get a handle on your altered magic," said Hermione.
Ron rolled his eyes. "Hermione Granger, pointing out the obvious. Story of our lives."
"Ron Weasley, bottomless stomach and endless smart comments," Hermione shot right back. "How I managed to fall in love with you I'll never know."
"S'probably my wicked body," Ron grinned lewdly, flexing a bicep in her direction. His shirt was a little tight and her eyes lingered for a moment till she threw her nose up.
"Such a romantic," said Hermione, failing to keep the fondness from her tone. Ron smiled pleased and shot Harry a wink.
Harry watched them with a fond smile. He knew they weren't his real friends, but this was as close as he could get. And he would take it. Never mind if that made him a little bit crazy. He was definitely okay with that.
"I'm worried about your magic," said Hermione, squeezing Harry's arm to get his attention. "It looks like your ability to teleport has overwritten your apparation capability. Admittedly it's a better pay off what with phoenixes able to get around wards and anti-apparation enchantments. But…"
"But my magic can still be changing," interjected Harry frowning at his hands. "I can lose more abilities."
"Or gain more powers," Ron spoke up, conjuring a treacle tart and taking a huge bite. "I wouldn't worry about it. Seems to be an even trade so far to me. It's not like you're going to have a Burning Day." He barked out a laugh. "Can you imagine bursting into flame then bam— baby Harry all wrinkly and chicken like."
Hermione and Harry stared at the laughing man with something like disbelief and nausea on their faces. As ludicrous as the idea was and eerily not funny, the theory was not completely outside the realm of possibility.
Harry snapped his head to Hermione. "You don't think…"
"No," she snapped out, shaking her head and looking several shades lighter. "That's crazy."
Harry stared at her hard. "You don't sound completely sure."
"I guess time will tell," she finally settled with shrugging weakly.
There came a rolling laugh that halted all sound in the room. Ron stopped mid laugh and his face went slack as his features tightened. Hermione pressed her lips together in a thin line and stared at the fireplace. Harry faced the stairwell and he couldn't resist narrowing his eyes at the figure.
"You," said Harry in a hissing whisper.
The third alter that inhabited the confines of his mind, created in the fracturing of his psyche during his imprisonment, was unlike Ron and Hermione. The man towered a few inches above six feet and was dressed in a charcoal gray suit with a black open cloak that made him look quite dapper. His square jaw and chiseled features looked cut from stone with how handsome his face was. Black hair was combed back in a conservative style, similarly to Steve Rogers, and a cool smile appeared on his face as he pinned Harry with green eyes marred by a thick ruby red circle around each iris.
"I heard the mudblood speaking of things beyond her station and I was compelled to make an appearance."
Hermione's fists clenched at her side and Harry wrapped his fingers around her wrist to comfort her. Each alter had been born out of an aspect of his personality and crafted from his mind and memories and experience. The Dark Lord was the algorithm of pure SHIELD conditioning and Harry's thirst for vengeance and lust of destruction all with the face of his sworn enemy. A testament at how cracked he was in the head.
"Don't call her that," Ron snapped, throwing down the treacle tart.
The Dark Lord made a disparaging noise and sighed. "I do hate to see good bloodlines marred by horrid taste in mates." He looked sadly at Ron. "Your family has always been such a disappointment."
Harry looked wearily at the wizard who gazed down at him like proud father. "What do you want?"
"Harry, Harry. Please don't take that tone with me," said the Dark Lord. "I only want what's best for you. I'm one of your defenders, am I not?"
Harry gave him a dark look. "I don't have to like it."
The Dark Lord smiled politely and Harry tensed as it was aimed at him. "I only exist because of you. You made me. All those horrible things the muggles taught you, everything they forced upon you…" He tapped a finger against his temple. "I know it all and I am it all. Embrace me and realize your full potential, Harry old friend."
"As a sociopathic killer," spat Hermione with a hot glare.
He merely smiled at her indulgently, but there was a coldness lingering at the edges. "Someone take the whore from the room." He shook his head. "Close your legs and your mouth when talking to your betters."
Ron slapped his hand against the wall and stood up red with fury. "That's enough!"
The Dark Lord tilted his head and faced Ron with a regal bearing so like the royalty that his namesake always imagined himself to be.
"You would think to challenge me?" he asked. He let out a charming laugh. "I marked Harry Potter as my equal and you are not him. You don't even come close. You reek of the mudblood and it's positively turning my stomach."
They were in Harry's mind, but the tools they had weren't equal. They were only as gifted as they were created to be and limited in capacities that came from their birth. The Dark Lord would have the edge in this fight. He was everything he claimed. Everything SHIELD wanted Harry to be. Savage in a fight, heartless, and tempered with a cold efficiency for killing. It was all the qualities that Harry didn't succumb to, but were installed within him.
And Ron knew it too. He glared at the smiling wizard with pure hatred. "I can't wait for the day that Harry get's his shit straightened and figures out a way to take you out." His voice went far calmer than Harry would've imagined. "And then Hermione and I will laugh in your face as you die screaming."
The view from the windows darkened as the sky outside went black as day turned to night, and the voice the Dark Lord spoke with evoked old memories of night terrors and felt like magic's deadliest embrace. It echoed in the air and chilled the skin all at once.
"Braver men have stood against masters of magic and found their souls burned to ash." He took a step forward and Harry stood to intervene. "I am devastation given thoughts and even in this form I can unmake you. There's a revolution coming little pureblood and everyone will reap what they've sowed." His smile turned wicked. "Even you." He looked at Hermione then. "And especially you."
Harry stomped his foot and the light blazed through the window as darkness was chased away. Light poured in as the day replaced night. Harry faced the Dark Lord with a hard look of rage.
"Enough!" he roared. "You're starting to piss me off. You aren't wanted here. Go!"
They watched silently as he followed the command without a word of defiance. He only shrugged gracefully and departed the common room the same way he came. There was a long moment of quiet that was broken by Hermione.
"He's getting bolder," she said quietly into the silence. "He thinks you'll merge with him."
Then he would become a mindless assassin that hungered death above all. He shook his head. "I'm proficient enough at Occlumency to keep him locked down. I have to figure out a way to erase him."
"I'm all for that idea," Ron growled staring at the stairwell like he was ready for a round two. "I really wish he didn't have You-Know-Who's personality as a baseline."
Harry felt something like a jerk and he was back on the rock overlooking the lake. Harry's eyes slide open, blank and glazed and rapidly starting to clear. That's when he noticed the hand lying on his shoulder.
The hand was attached to a blond man. He was big, built like he was used to hard labor like construction or farm work, and he was broad shouldered. His goatee was the same color and his mouth formed a kind smile as he looked down at Harry.
"Are you okay?"
Harry nodded and noted the casual wear of slacks and brown sweater the man wore. "Where'd you come from?"
He pointed in a direction that meant nothing. He slid his hands in the pockets of his pants and regarded Harry like he was worried for him. It made him uneasy.
"You never answered my question," said the man. He had an accent that Harry couldn't place. It made his voice deep and slow like he was used to speaking something much heavier sounding.
Harry shrugged. "You never really answered mine. You got a name, big guy?"
Harry raised an eyebrow. "That a first name or a last name?"
"Last name," Golmen answered with a smile that was bordering on amused. "My first name's a bit off-putting at times."
Harry laughed then. Considering all the wacky names that people in the wizarding world were saddled with he'd heard it all.
"You would've fit in with kids at my school then," said Harry still chuckling a bit. "My name's Harry. Harry Potter."
"So what has you so deep in thought, Harry?"
He said this in a tone that wasn't prying. It was gentle and even as big as he was his bearing radiated patience. Harry turned away from him and stared across the lake with a firm scowl.
"You're awfully nosy for someone I don't even know," said Harry.
Golmen made an mmhmm noise and said, "I know you have a lot on your mind. I know that you face difficult choices that will decide your future."
Harry tensed and regarded him with flat eyes. "SHIELD sent you, didn't they? How'd you find me so fast?"
"A special trick," said Golmen still wearing that peaceful look. "I'm doing this as a favor to Steve Rogers. He's a good man and he asked me to find you."
"Well tell Rogers I'm okay and I'll be back soon."
Golmen didn't move. In fact he shifted closer to the stone. "I found you, but I am not a messenger." He flashed white teeth at him in a mirthful smile. "Perhaps I can help solve your dilemma. I would be honored to help Death's bane."
"What did you just call me?" asked Harry standing up and regarding the man stiffly.
Golmen looked at him. "Death's bane. Master of the Hallows, Green Phoenix of the Corps." He traced the lightning bolt scar on Harry's brow with his eyes. "Marked by thunder and forever named the Boy Who Lived."
"What was your name again?" asked Harry faintly.
His mind was reeling. There was no way that Golmen should know about him being the Boy Who Lived, never mind those thrice damned Hallows. Harry didn't have a clue about the other titles, but they sounded lofty and pretty much meant nothing to him.
"As the bringer of thunder, fate clearly wants me to be your guide," said the man standing incredibly taller as his shoulders straightened. "I'm Thor, God of Thunder, son of Odin and welder of Mjolnir."
It finally clicked where he had seen this guy before. Like Jan Pym Harry caught the man on the news. He was bigger up close. More intimidating and looking less like any god he'd ever imagined. Harry glanced at his blue jeans and met the man's eyes.
"Gods don't wear jeans."
Golmen, that didn't fit anymore, Thor, shook his head and looked at him askance. "Modern mortals and your waning faith. You aren't the first to question my divinity and surely not the last." He looked at him solemnly. "You may not believe in me, but I believe in you. All of Asgard knows your deeds from slaying basilisks to conquering dragons, and putting down the cursed Wraith Voldemort. There's been a place for you in Valhalla's halls since you were a babe. Your unwavering courage is praised throughout the higher planes."
Harry blinked. "Um, thanks."
He didn't know about the godhood factor, but this Thor was uncannily right on his facts. It was just too impossible to fathom that he was talking to an actual god. It was unbelievable. Instead he settled on what he understood and Harry snapped his head up to level Thor with a wide eyed stare.
"How do you know all of that?" he demanded. "You've been to my universe haven't you?"
Thor heaved out a sigh and shook his head. "Your universe is one of many the old gods withdrew from. A compact was formed when they left that made interference taboo."
"So you can look but can't touch," Harry said letting out his own disappointed sigh. "Figures."
"It is the way of such things," replied Thor simply. "For what it's worth it will be an honor to fight beside you."
Harry backed up. "Whoa, whoa. I didn't say I was joining the team. You Ultimates seem alright, and you seem to do fine without me. Kudos on that Hulk take down by the way. They rerun it almost everyday on TV."
"It was a team effort," said Thor humbly. "It may seem easier, but the shadow life isn't for you. The fifth age of man is at its peak. I was sent to Midgard to save the world from itself. You are to stand with me in preventing mankind's destruction. I will help them find faith in gods again." His stare was deep and went straight through Harry. "And through you they will believe in magic."
"The way you tell it on the news you hate the military," Harry pointed out, sidestepping the topics Thor breached. "So why are you helping SHIELD?"
"I detest military aggression against world powers and the military-industrial complex itself," he explained his tone growing heated and passionate. "Being a part of the Ultimates allows me to spread my message further, and at the same time save lives that are endangered."
Harry shook his head. "That's admirable, but it's not for me. I can't be the poster boy for magic again." He sighed. "Not for SHIELD. Not for anybody."
"A war is coming that will shake the Earth to its foundation. My father in all his wisdom has seen it." His expression grew clouded. "He's also foreseen you standing with me."
"Another prophecy," muttered Harry. "Typical. Basically I join you and we'll save the world. I don't and people die."
That wasn't much of a choice. Really he had no other option but to say yes. When shit hit the fan and he was off pretending to be some powerless civilian he would drown in guilt. He already knew what his choice was.
"Fight me," said Thor, breaking him from his thoughts and making him gape in bafflement. "If I win you will join the Ultimates."
Harry cocked his head. Guess that nixed that brief idea of Thor being a telepath. He already had been leaning toward saying yes. On one hand it was worrisome that a god wanted him to fight at his side this badly and on the other hand if they were bargaining…
"What do I get if I win?"
Thor crossed his arms and looked heavenward. "I will take you to Asgard, to my father. Odin can show you many things. It's within his power to grant you a vision of the beloved world you call home, and all the people you left behind."
Harry swallowed and thought about it for all of a second. "Done."
"We will battle till the other yields. Agreed?"
Thor backed away while keeping his eyes firmly on Harry. "I am the god of thunder so don't think to take it easy on me. I can take a beating and give it right back. Don't spare me any favors for I will not do the same for you."
"Good," said Harry a wicked smile blossoming on his face. "Because I had no intentions to."
Great wreaths of fire gathered around Harry's hands. Orange and white flames howled the distance separating them and slammed into the god. The fire surged outward and then upward in a thick pillar as it hit its mark. A dark flash darted in his peripheral and Harry turned to see Thor roll from the blast radius.
The man was smoking and his clothes were charred wrecks. Yet his skin was burn-free and his hands deftly ripped at the blackened remains of his shirt. Small fires stubbornly clung to his pants and they were ripped away as quickly as the shirt had been leaving him in a previously hidden ensemble. Thor now wore dark pants and a sleeveless armored vest. Four reflective plates were woven into the vest, and along with two identical disks pinned to his belt they all glowed an ominous electric blue.
Harry's eyes were drawn to the very heavy and very dangerous looking hybrid hammer-axe at Thor's side. The head was about three feet long. One side was wide and flat like a regular hammer. The other side was fashioned into a gleaming blade. The metal was a strange color that reflected the light oddly and looked unearthly.
"Finally," said Thor, his tone an approving rolling baritone. "A worthy opponent."
The roaring thunder and lightning overhead was all the warning that Harry got before the waiting storm was unleashed. Harry teleported in a burst of flame as lightning slammed into the space he once occupied. Thor was flying toward his location before he fully materialized. He pulled the hammer back and the blow passed directly through the wizard. The illusion vanished and Thor let out a laugh.
"My wretched brother Loki is a trickster," said Thor turning around and searching for the wizard. "Such methods won't always work."
Harry watched the god under a disillusionment charm. Something nagged at his thoughts as he scrutinized his opponent. He pulled at the persistent thread and a package of information executed. Stats unloaded in his head courtesy of Weapon X.
Weapon—Mjolnir. MWC-18. Indestructible, capable of teleportation across space and between local dimensions, control and manipulation of weather on a wide scale. Threat level: High.
In other words, don't get hit. The hammer was just as dangerous as it looked. He was confident he could survive a blow from it, but whether he would immediately get back up was another story.
Harry dodged the next blow as Thor finally saw through the charm's glamour, still the information continued to stream into his consciousness. The problem was Thor was just as fast if not faster so he had to make his movements as unpredictable as possible. He ducked out of range by delivering a snap kick to the god's chin. He recovered from the hit quicker than expected, and Harry couldn't evade the fist to his temple. It took him off his feet and backward over a dozen meters. He saw stars as he landed and skidded through dirt leaving a deep trench in his wake.
He recovered quickly and rolled forward to hop up on the balls of his heels. Harry cupped his hands around his mouth and spoke a string of harsh sounding words in a guttural foreign language that sounded like a bastardized German crossed with Arabic.
The ground shuddered around Thor and he uttered a noise of surprise as he found himself sinking into the earth. Thor's hammer was moving as Harry let loose a viridian bolt of energy at his immovable target. The spell was deflected by Mjolnir with ease, and there was a groan as the earth struggled to swallow its victim. Thor let loose a resounding roar and flew from the quicksand like a bird freed of its cage.
He hovered above the earth with his eyes shining a brilliant white. Angry dark clouds rolled in and thunder cracked across the sky sounding like the moon splintering to its core. Wind blew in from the North cold as the Arctic and then from the sky rained a shower of hail, sharp as daggers and as fast as bullets.
Harry's arm moved instinctively bringing up a dome shaped shield around him with a snap. Old habits made him flinch reflexively as the knife-like projectiles rebounded two inches away from his face. Concentric circles of pale blue light spread out from the points of impact as the hail of ice hit failed against the magical defense.
Waving his arms in a dismissive gesture, Harry banished the raining hail back to its caster. Thor suddenly found himself under attack by countless wickedly sharp shards of ice. Taking a note from a sorcerer from another universe Harry stomped his foot hard against the ground. From the earth erupted a roaring spray of crystalline molten lava.
Thor dismissed the hail storm only to narrowly dodge the torrent of lava that blasted through the air. He flew out of the way and found the lava tracking his flight path. At the same time Harry sent his mind searching through useful spells that would disable the god.
That damn hammer was dangerous, but the belt the thunderer wore was even more worrisome. He pulled at the information – there, Thor's belt was designated a MWC-19. Grants class 50 superhuman strength, flight, minor psychic abilities, increased durability and stamina. Threat level: Very High.
Thor was already strong, but the belt made him stronger.
Harry dug too deep into the store of knowledge and couldn't escape the bolt of lightning that struck the ground less than four centimeters away from his feet. The ground exploded and splintered and Harry was sent rocketing backward and into the lake. He sank deep beneath the restless waves till his vision was murky and his lungs burned. Harry moved his hands around his head conjuring a bubblehead charm that formed with a pop of displaced oxygen and water. He took a deep gasp of breath.
He closed his eyes briefly to center himself and then began murmuring an old spell he picked up from one of the books left to him in Dumbledore's will. At the lake's surface water began bubbling like it was boiling. Steam billowed up from the waves and then a gigantic arm made completely of water towered upward from the loch. Thor narrowed his eyes at the massive water construct as its gigantic fingers curled into a fist. The construct reared back and aimed its colossal fist at the god.
Thor wasn't one to back down and met the punch with his own. The resounding boom shook the air and cracked the ground forming deep fissures in the earth. Miles away terrified people fell to their knees as the ground trembled and quaked as if it would never stop.
Ground and dirt compress. Liquids don't. The punch obliterated the construct and Thor went shooting backward as the resulting force of the collision counteracted his forward momentum. Harry burst from the depths of the lake and landed on the ground, facing the thunder god who was picking himself up from the crater his landing caused. He smirked at the recovering deity.
Blue eyes twinkled in amusement and Harry's smirk was returned. Each attack had been returned strike for strike. This was one fight neither planned on losing. Thor was a tough sonofabitch. Harry knew that going into the fight, but expecting it and seeing it was two different things. Harry took off the kid's gloves – Time to ante up.
"You're a fine opponent," said Thor graciously. "But the end is nigh. I will make your defeat swift."
Harry cocked his head. "Funny. I was going to say the same to you."
They shared a smirk and the ground exploded. Thousands of crimson snakes erupted from the earth each as wide as a man's torso and twelve feet long. Hissing and spitting they converged on Thor just as Harry snapped his fingers and uttered a curse in old Latin. Shadows winded away from their source and transformed into hulking beasts that resembled trolls but had skin like tar and soulless blank eyes.
Thor crushed the snakes beneath the heels of his boots and Mjolnir hummed through the air as it bashed through the pair of shadow creatures' skulls, sending clear goo all over the ground. They provided enough distraction that Thor didn't see the jet of superheated plasma until it slammed into his chest. Through the haze of pain his world turned into, the god had enough sense to throw himself to the ground to avoid the next shots that flew over his head and impacted the tree line of the forest.
Harry was in the middle of casting a volley of dark spells when Thor blurred forward, with a remarkable speed that he'd previously hadn't used. Moving on instinct alone at seeing the god appear in close combat range, Harry caught Thor in the nose with the back of his elbow and spun out of the move to provide distance. He wasn't fast enough, and Mjolnir cracked across his shoulder instead of somewhere vital like his head. Immediately his entire left arm went numb. Harry almost fell to his knees in pain, but wasn't given the chance as he was lifted off his feet in a goddamn tornado.
His body went battering around like a ragdoll in the inner cone of the twister. Wind howled its approval as a storm like no other waged through the countryside as Thor manipulated the weather. Harry gave a scream of pure anger and lashed out without spell or focus only pure magic. Pylons of white light blasted from his body like he was a nuclear bomb, and ripped apart the tornado till it was nothing.
He fell to the ground in a low crouch and was casting before he could catch his breath. He finished by raising his arm into air and closing his hand in a tight fist. From the thick storm clouds gliding through the air on tattered black cloaks Dementors came to pass. Harry sent every dark and gloomy thought he'd ever had into their creation and set them loose on the god without mercy.
"Take him down!" Harry shouted over the din of the storm.
A chill settled over the area as half a dozen Dementors launched themselves at the god. Thor surveyed the wraith creatures with something akin to pity in his eyes. Without a trace of worry or fear that emanated from the creatures like webs of despair, Thor raised his hammer high above him and light shone from within the metal like a miniature sun all bright and radiant.
The Dementors circled around the thunder god, but kept their distance as the hammer's light acted as sort of a deterrent against advancing forward. Instead they increased their influence of desolation and a strange call sang on the back of the wind. Its notes of hopelessness, forlorn sadness and neverending anguish even miles away weakened the stoutest heart. People clutched at their chest as their darkest memories brought them to tears and sent the weak of spirit into raving fits.
"Foul creatures of decay, your snare of misery I will tear asunder," said Thor, his voice as resolute and booming as the cracking thunder. "By Odin's light!"
Lightning split the sky and struck the hammer resulting in a brilliant flare of white light and eardrum shattering sound of thunder. Harry threw up his hands to shield his eyes as the equivalent of a supernova went off. The searing white light went in all directions and the Dementors shrieked in agony as the beams of light impaled their cloaked bodies and eviscerated them in half. The pieces flew off in different directions, their dying screams reverberating shrilly in the air.
Thor's boots skimmed the ground as he soared forward and Harry rushed in with superhuman speed. Harry feigned left instead of throwing a punch and grabbed the arm that had been cocked back to deliver a devastating blow. Thor was thrown off balance as Harry held his arm in a vice grip. Harry stepped in and locked the joint, reversing the appendage in a swift move that brought it behind his back.
Harry slammed his knee into the small softness of Thor's back and as he left out a whoosh of air, the foot whipped out again at his left wrist. The surprise move sent Mjolnir sailing from Thor's hand.
"You're tough but you aren't unbreakable," said Harry firmly, hyperextending the arm in his grip.
He had to apply a ton of more pressure than he would for a normal human, but there was a satisfying pop and Thor grunted as he held back a pained shout. Harry followed through with a punch to both kidneys tagged with a savage roundhouse kick to the back of his head. Thor stumbled to the ground and took the fall in a roll. He kicked away the hand glowing with disastrous ruby light with a foot. Thor came up with Mjolnir back in hand, stepped in and swung hard.
Harry's entire world went white as blinding pain screamed through body. Thor took advantage of his dropped guard and buried his fist in the wizard's exposed abdomen and hammered in three more punches in a swift combination breaking ribs with efficient blows. Harry doubled over and barely avoided the knee aimed at his solar plexus by dropping to the ground in a roll. It was sloppy but he was able to blindly kick and catch Thor in the kneecap. He didn't dislocate the joint, but it sent the bigger man staggering back. It was enough to buy Harry time as he clutched at his torso wincing as his healing factor knitted his ribs back together to keep him in the fight.
Thor's head snapped up a scowl on his face and wrathful power shining in his eyes. The storm grew impossibly more severe and powerful. The lake waters swirled furiously against the shore as rain and wind and burst of hail brewed a violent maelstrom.
Harry held his stance and smiled mirthlessly as he panted to catch his breath. "Dramatic much?"
"We are just getting started."
Harry blurred out of sight.
Thor spun around only to see Harry standing less than a meter away. The wizard grinned and brought his hands together in a mighty clap. Sheer concussive force of gold light blasted through the air. Thor brought his arms up in an X before his chest and the crackling energy hit him head on. Instead of atomizing him, as it was designed to do, it only sent the god toppling over and skidding across the ground like he had been hit by a Mack truck.
Thor sat up in the deep trench gouged in the earth, wiping at the bloody gash across his left cheek. "Good one."
The man leveled his hammer at the wizard and deadly shards of ice and lightning as thick as a tree trunk split the air. At the same time lightning fell from the sky striking the earth. Harry flicked his fingers and the attack launched by Mjolnir was met by a shimmering shield adorned by a roaring lion. He looked up just as lightning roared from the heavens and struck him head on. His scream of pain was horrible as powerful waves of energy washed over him. Another strike joined the first, forming a more powerful force and then another supercharging the attack.
There was a thunderous boom and the entire area in a quarter mile radius went up in a spectacular explosion. Earth and soil fell in a spray and mixed with the raging storm making it even harder to see. Thor peered into the rapidly clearing dust cloud.
"There's perks to being a super soldier," said Harry, spitting out a mouthful of blood.
He was at Thor's right side and a chuckle made him turn to the left. Another copy of Harry was at his other side, identical right down to their shared cuts and blood on his face. Both Harry's made a series of complex motions with their fingers and the falling rain in a circle around the god transfigured into liquid nitrogen. The god lifted his hammer and opened his mouth just as the ice solidified and trapped him in a block of ice. Harry winked at his copy and he faded away with a jaunty wave.
Black flames coated Harry's hand and he laid it on the god's ice covered chest. At point blank rage there was no way that the god could beat the full brunt of this spell. A god wouldn't die from having his organs superheated, but it sure as hell would bring him to his knees. Harry opened his mouth to finish the spell and the ground rumbled and heaved and the statue exploded.
In a shower of ice Thor soared free into the air. There was an awesome spectacle that followed as Thor unleashed the terrible powers of the elements and Harry combated it with magic. The air was alive with flashing lightning, booming thunder, and multicolored explosions of light and the thick smell of burned ozone. Thor hit Harry with a semi twister backed by lightning that left Harry's torso a smoky mess of ruined flesh that was already healing. A curse that should have burned a hole clean through Thor's sternum merely singed his skin and made him cough thickly.
Harry snapped out the curse and a dozen meter wide balls of crimson energy surrounded the god. They quickly darted in and Thor contemptuously batted away the first trio. The next two met the blunt end of his hammer and he swung wide at the next three, cleaving them cleanly into nothing. The wide swing left a hole in his guard that the swirling energy globes ruthlessly exploited. They slammed into him and he gave a pained cry as magic raced up and down his spine like acid poured directly onto his nerves.
Thor only had a split second to recover before Harry was whirling on him. Blood from his bleeding palms splashed through the air and instead of falling toward the ground each drop hovered in the air and then at once blew up. Detonation after detonation kept the god busy as the blood burned the ground where it fell and sizzled against his skin like acid.
Harry disappeared beneath the spray. The storm washed away the blood before it could do real damage to him and Thor peered through the storm for his adversary. Harry stepped out of Thor's shadow and grinned at the surprised god with bloodied teeth.
Silver light leaped from his fingers in a blinding arch. Thor was too close to dodge and the searing bolt of magical energy lit up the sky and Thor let out a scream as the deadly energy danced over his body and sent him catapulting away till Harry lost sight of him within the black thunderclouds.
Harry tensed and kept his stance as he stared up through the rain. He would be ready for the god. If Harry could get him away from that hammer then his chances at winning this thing would rise significantly. That thing had a metaphysical weapon class designation high enough to easily beat Voldemort into a bloody pulp, horcruxes or no horcruxes.
Light flashed in the clouds and Harry slid into a tighter stance as Thor descended. His hammer was raised and blazed blue-white like the lightning that embraced him in an aura of awe inspiring power. The power disks attached to his armor channeled the building power and they were filled to capacity and lit up almost to overload.
Weapon X programming screamed at him at the apparent class six power up and what that meant. Harry cast the strongest shield charm he knew and his arms rose as electricity slammed at him from all sides at once. The area lit up with white-hot light as sheets of lightning fell from the sky and battered into the shield. Countless tendrils of flashing light came from the ground as Thor pulled lightning from the air and the earth itself to attack Harry in a blinding display that was surely seen from space.
Harry winced at the strain, knees buckling as exertion caught up to him. The shield was lit a constant burning blue as the storm above and the earth was used against the wizard. Thor's roar was heard above the clap of thunder and the outpour increased as the powerful waves of electrical force finally overcame his defense.
Harry screamed as the lightning cascaded over his body and the electrical attack dumped its full potential into his body. His internal organs went into spasms as his nervous system overloaded at the influx of energy. He screamed. Oh how he screamed as pain took over his mind, body and soul. He blacked in and out of consciousness as his healing factor went into full blown overdrive to repair the internal damage.
"Yield." Thor's voice penetrated his fog of pain. "It's folly to continue as you have clearly been beaten."
Through blurred vision and gritted teeth Harry spoke softly yet determined. "No."
He didn't want to give up the chance to see his friends. Even if they couldn't see him it would be alright. He just needed to know they were okay. Thor was Old World. Their word was true and their bond. He might have mercy and take him to Asgard anyway, or he might not… Harry clenched his fists and dug deep for something, anything left to continue.
A song trilled just beyond his hearing growing louder as he concentrated. He knew that song. It roused his heart and filled his veins with courage. The phoenix song was just as miraculous and wonderful as the first time he heard it years ago. It soothed his aches and Harry opened his eyes. Thor's face filled with shock as eyes swirling with dancing flames glared at him.
Harry rose to his feet as flames licked across his hands and he stared at the god. "I. Will. Not. Yeild."
Fire engulfed the wizard in a blaze of red-orange, white flames. Thor took a step back as Harry looked at him with fire burning in his eyes. The aura of flames around Harry suddenly blazed outward in an explosive and radiating display. Harry stood within the column of fire unharmed and his face was fixed into a completely foreign expression of supremacy. He lifted his arms and the fire surged in a brilliant emanating halo that took the shape of a fiery bird-form.
"If you want me to quit," Harry spoke slowly, his voice dropped an octave lower as scorching power filled him to the brim. "Come make me."
Thor stared at the firebird surrounding Harry with its expanded wings in stunned surprise, wonder and concern. "I yield."
Harry stared at Thor and struggled to rein in the power that only wanted to strike out and destroy. "What?"
"This battle is yours," said Thor, turning away from the magnificent sight. A slight smile tugged at the corner of his lips as he looked around the battlefield. "If we were to continue our fight will destroy this land and nothing would ever grow here again. That's not my wish and would do no one any good."
A sigh left Harry as he finally relaxed. He wiped the trickle of blood away from his brow before it dripped into his eyes. The firebird faded away as the flames dissipated without Harry's thirst for vengeance to fuel the power of the phoenix.
He surveyed Thor critically, taking in the smile with calculating eyes. "You already knew I was going to say yes, didn't you? You know I'm going to join the Ultimates."
"Of course," said Thor simply.
Harry shook his head feeling tongue-tied. "How?"
Thor smiled enigmatically. "I'm a god."
Harry let out a loud exhale completely flabbergasted. "Then why? Why go through all this?"
"If you can stand against me without succumbing to death then you will be a worthy ally to have in the end of days."
"A test then?" asked Harry, rolling his eyes. Of course. "Story of my life."
Thor stepped forward and clapped him on the shoulder with his big hand. "You are a fierce warrior. Haward I name you, which means high defender in the tongue of my people." Even with the blood on his face he still looked genuinely happy. "We will be great protectors to this world. Our enemies will fear our combined might and tremble."
"Because your father prophesized it?" Harry asked skeptically.
Thor nodded. "He's wise as he is powerful and Odin is powerful indeed." He raised both eyebrows and stared at Harry. "I see the fading doubt as to my godhood."
Harry shrugged, rubbing at his bicep to get complete feeling back to his arm. "Even if you aren't the Thor. I've never seen anyone else chuck lightning like that. Who am I to doubt you?"
Thor glanced into the distance where a swarm of aircrafts were advancing through the now clear sky. He frowned at the black jets and his expression was of intense dislike.
"Nick Fury and his little soldiers approach."
Thor said this like it left a bad taste in his mouth. Harry stared around the battlefield and winced at the wanton destruction. The lake was half dry, a majority of the trees of the forest were toppled over by the storm and the grass was scorched so badly that it actually looked reasonably better than the crater holes that dotted the grounds.
"I guess once I give him my answer, he'll officially be my boss." Harry groaned partly at the thought and also at the headache pounding between his eyes. "I'm going to get docked for this, I know it."
Thor laughed as they watched the SHIELD transports land and turned to the wizard. "Welcome to the Ultimates."
This chapter was long coming. It was mostly completed months and months ago, but due to circumstances I was forced to redo it from scratch and there's nothing more daunting than rewriting over 21.6kw. So I finally sat down and decided to hammer it out or I would never get it done. Here's the finished product and I hope it's well received. I have no pairings in mind for Harry. That's not to say it won't happen, but I haven't really given it much thought as to who would make a good fit.