Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Harry Potter or Avengers...
Here's the last oneshot before I start on the long haul of Falling Skies. This one takes place between The Letter and Choices, though this one and Choices don't have to be read in order.
I'll put an extra chapter up in Finding Home when I post the first chapter of the sequel but I prefer keeping the oneshots separate since they're only somewhat connected and bits of it will be recounted in Falling Skies anyway, not in great detail but it'll mention, for example, why some of the Weasleys are in New York.
Summary: Oneshot in the Finding Home!verse. Things get explosive when Harry breaks the bad news. All Harry can think is: why me?
Difference of Opinion
"HAVE THEY LOST THEIR MINDS?"
It wasn't exactly possible but all six Avengers within hearing distance would swear blind that the Helicarrier itself shook from the force of Fury's voice.
"You know what I've noticed?" Clint remarked as they all quickened their pace. "Potter always seems to be the bearer of bad news."
"Or he just wants to see how far he can push Fury until the man bursts a blood vessel," Tony pointed out.
"Stop that," Natasha scolded half-heartedly. "We don't know it's Potter this time."
"HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND, POTTER?"
"…Proof enough for you?" Tony asked dryly, his ears ringing.
Natasha rolled her eyes as they turned a corner and filed into the meeting room. Sure enough, there was Harry sitting at the table with a mixture of annoyance and boredom on his face as Fury towered over him, trying and failing to put the fear of God in the wizard.
The Director looked up when they entered, immediately zeroing in on Tony. "Stark, talk some sense into him!" He snapped. "I give up!"
Tony arched his eyebrows and took a seat beside Harry. "So what's new?" He asked cheerfully as Harry shot him an irritated look. "I'm sure it must be something monumental if you've driven Fury around the bend again."
Harry sighed as the other Avengers grabbed seats around the table. "You remember that letter I got earlier?" He finally spoke. "It was from one of my… friends back in the Wizarding world. The bottom line is they somehow got wind of a threat coming to New York and they've decided to put up death wards around the city to contain it."
"Death wards?" Steve frowned, leaning forward. "That doesn't sound good."
"It's not," Harry said grimly. "Death wards are like a death sentence. Once they're set up, only the group of wizards who put them up in the first place can take them down, and not just one of them either, the whole lot of them has to do it together. The other way is for an extremely powerful wizard to destroy them, but that's true for all wards. If you're strong enough, you can take them down by force.
"But death wards are somewhat different from normal wards. While they still keep people out, they're also used for execution. If you're inside those wards and you wander too close to them, they'll kill you. Instantly. Sucks you into the wards and dumps you out the other side, dead. Basically, they're set up around a town, or a city in this case, and they wait for people to leave without knowing about the wards or for the food supply to run out, for people to become desperate enough to chance it, and the wards…" Harry trailed off, shrugging as he saw the horrified realization on each face.
"And the British Ministry wants to put this up around New York City?" Natasha demanded. "Are they insane? They shouldn't even have jurisdiction in America!"
"They're coordinating with the American Ministry," Harry explained. "Probably managed to convince them one way or another."
"But what of all the humans who reside in this city?" Thor interjected, an expression of disbelief clearly written over his features. "Surely they would not simply condemn all of them to death. They have done nothing wrong!"
Harry was silent for a long moment. When he finally spoke, his voice sounded hollow with memories. "I don't think what they're doing is right; far from it, but you have to understand: Britain has gone through two Dark Lords and three back-to-back wars. Most of the older generation of British wizards still alive today have participated in at least two of those wars. I was… lucky; I only saw the end of the second war, and started and finished the third," He paused, gaze studying the metal table in front of him but not really seeing it.
"There's nothing lucky about being in even one war," Bruce said sharply, making Harry look up. The mechanic smiled wanly but soon returned to his explanation.
"Perhaps not, but it doesn't change the fact that most of Britain's magical community is downright paranoid when it comes to preventing another Dark Lord from rising. Back during the aftermath of the last war, after I killed Voldemort, his followers made a run for it. Needless to say, we were all ordered to hunt them down. Every last one. And nobody protested; we didn't want one of them taking his place after all. But about six months into the Death Eater hunt, the Ministry revealed what they had been working on: death wards."
Harry stopped, his features strained as he recalled the past. "There was a town," He started again softly. "A small town, practically a village, don't even remember the name; I try not to think about the place, but a bunch of Death Eaters, about three dozen or so, tried to hide there after the war. Maybe they figured they would be safe amongst Muggles, or maybe they thought no one would think to look in such an insignificant town. Whatever the reason, someone found out and reported back to the Ministry," His voice became bitter. "And before anyone could coordinate an attack on the Death Eaters while making sure the Muggles weren't caught in the crossfire like we were supposed to bloody do, some brilliant bastard suggested death wards. Why not? What was a few dozen Muggles compared to taking down a bunch of evil wizards? Apparently nothing because a month later, two-thirds of the town had been killed by the wards and the rest were either starving to death or had already been starved to death." His mouth curled into a disgusted sneer. "They got all the Death Eaters alright; they just got most of the innocents as well. Fucking bastards."
Dead silence met his recollection. Even Tony seemed at a loss for words, his face paler than usual as he stared at Harry.
"But where were you?" Steve asked faintly. "You would never have let that happen."
Harry's jaw tightened. "It's different here in New York. Because there are so many Muggles living in this city, wizards and witches tend to stay away. I'm the first wizard you people have met, so I seem to be able to do a lot of things, and while that is true, and I can do magic a lot easier than others, I'm not all powerful. More powerful than most, yes, but a strong Notice-Me-Not charm cast simultaneously by several Aurors, especially when I was running around in France tracking down another set of Death Eaters, can work even on me, much less on everyone else. I didn't even know death wards existed until after they were taken down, and by then, it was too late."
"But they're planning something like that for New York," Clint cut in. "Doing it on a village is sick enough, but on a city this big? What, they don't think people will notice when invisible walls come up around a major city in the States and bodies start appearing?"
Harry shook his head. "Most likely, Aurors will patrol the perimeter at all times. Notice-Me-Not charms, Disillusionment charms, Confundus charms, even Memory charms, and loads more; whatever it takes to keep the whole thing hidden. A forgotten city, you could say."
"They can do that?" Clint had taken on a slightly pensive expression. "Just make people forget New York City even exists? What about family? Some person living in Washington would just forget they have parents in New York or something?"
Harry released a short sigh. "What happens when there's a terrorist attack?" He asked abruptly.
Clint looked taken aback and it was Tony who answered, eyes serious for once. "The army would be sent in to fight or clear the civilians."
Harry nodded. "Exactly. The charms are for them. Worried friends and family would call the police, the government, and people would be dispatched. They would be turned back before they hit the death wards, memory-wiped and sent back or held in the Ministry and allowing the world to think they're handling it. Trust me when I say it's not hard to infiltrate governments. The Ministries will already have a handle on that. Then there are the civilians who will try to get their family or friends out themselves, only to be stopped in exactly the same way. Reporters will either go the same way or a tape would be forged to show the rest of the world. Definitely not hard to do considering how many wars there've been. And the containment will continue even as the rest of the world thinks it's nothing but another terrorist attack." Harry shrugged, the movement stiff. "Easy."
"…Well they must be stopped," Thor glanced around before focusing on Harry again. "Obviously, they cannot be allowed to set up these death wards."
Fury snorted, finally drawing attention back to himself. "Apparently, we can't do that."
"And how would you go about it?" Harry demanded sharply, harsh resentment edging his words. "I would like nothing more than to beat some sense into those idiots back in Britain but even I can't face an entire race alone and come out on top. And sending S.H.I.E.L.D. agents out to, what, blast a place you can't even see into oblivion? You can't afford to do that, not when a hole will be opening in the sky and some mad destruction specialist will be raining down hell in a week! And I can guarantee that there'll be an Obliviator on standby next to your President if you try to contact him! You think I don't know what I'm dealing with?"
Fury's temper got the better of him and he was soon yelling again. "SO YOU'RE TELLING ME I SHOULD JUST LET THEM PUT UP THE WARDS? THEY'RE KILLING MY PEOPLE!"
Harry shot to his feet, chair skidding back before toppling over as he bellowed back, "I'M TELLING YOU TO LET ME HANDLE THEM! I'M ASKING YOU TO TRUST ME!"
"TRUST YOU!" Fury roared, voice echoing around the room. "DO I HAVE TO REMIND YOU THAT YOU'RE PART OF THAT RACE OF FREAKS?"
A ringing silence fell as Harry failed to shoot back a retort. Instead, the mechanic looked a little stunned, as if what Fury had said had been truly unexpected.
"That makes no sense," As expected, Tony jumped into the sudden hush, casually slipping forward to stand a little in front of Harry. "We're all pretty much freaks here, aren't we? Thor's the only hammer-wielding demigod on the planet, Cap's literally the first and last living legend, and you can't get much freakier than big and green with anger issues. And me; well, I get to be the only guy with a suit of armour that can kick bad guy ass. At least there's more than one wizard."
It was just like Tony to make light of the situation but the warning was very clear in the look he leveled at Fury, hard and unforgiving even as he joked.
Some of the anger ebbed from Fury's face but the glare remained as he ignored the stare Tony was directing at him.
"I can handle the death wards," Harry spoke up again before anyone could say anything, features expressionless. "For now, there are civilians out there who are leaving town as we speak. The wards aren't up yet but I'll know as soon as they do. Traffic jams are easy to cause, especially in New York, and that'll stop them long enough for me to cast the Imperius. We don't want to start evacuating people when Thanos arrives anyway. Preferably, most will be underground by the time he shows up. In the meantime, the best option right now is to extend the shelters to the rest of the city, not just Manhattan. The death wards will be set up all around New York City. I'll have wards of my own ready to counter them but it would be best if the people living in other areas have a place to stay as well. The transmitter will also have to be amplified to encompass the entire city. If you can do that, I can perform the magic."
He finally paused, stepping to the side to face Fury's hard features head-on. "I can run anytime," Harry said evenly. "That letter Ron sent me? I could just as easily have taken it as a warning for myself alone and left, as it was intended to do. I could still leave. Anytime. But I didn't and I won't. I fought against Loki with all of you and I've been working my arse off to prepare for the next war for the past two weeks. I am beyond committed here."
He stopped and looked around before taking a deep breath. "So," He reached down to right his chair before looking back at them. "Seeing as I'm the most experienced here right now, do you think you can trust me, just a little, and do as I ask?"
Harry didn't wait for an answer, spinning on his heel instead and walking from the room, footsteps silent as he disappeared out the door.
"…We should start upgrading the transmitter," Bruce was the first to break the uncomfortable silence, looking over at Tony.
Tony immediately nodded, not bothering to glance in Fury's direction as he made his way to the door with the scientist. "I think if we recalibrate the broadcast to a three-sixty…" His voice faded along with their footsteps as they also left the meeting room.
Thor said nothing as he headed for the door as well, but the frown on his face said it all. He was worried of course, but Harry had always been able to keep his word and had never let them down.
Steve at least had the decorum to nod at the Director drilled into him before he too hurried away, and the remaining three agents saw him pull out a map of the city before he disappeared from sight, no doubt already looking for the best places in the other counties to hide several hundred citizens.
"…Really, Director?" Natasha was aiming her patented you're-an-idiot-but-you're-also-my-boss-so-I-won't-say-it-out-loud look at Fury. "Are all these meetings going to end this way?"
Fury gritted his teeth. "A bunch of wizards, and British at that, are coming into the States to execute a city just because they've gotten a little paranoid, and I can't do anything about it."
"That's no reason to take it out on Potter," Clint shrugged under the weight of Fury's dark scowl. "It's certainly not his fault they've decided to put up death wards. And he made some good points, didn't he? We've already got Thanos to worry about. We can't go running all over the country trying to find people who have been hiding since the Dark Ages just so we can shoot a missile at them and hope they don't see it in time to stop it with a wave of their hand."
"Just leave it to Potter," Natasha cut in before Fury could say anything. "He's been pulling his own weight ever since we met him and this time's no different. If he says he can do something about the death wards, then I believe him. He's fighting Thanos to save the people. He'll fight the death wards for the same reason. If he didn't think it was all worth it," She rose to her feet as she finished tersely, "Then he's right; he could've left anytime."
Clint tilted his head in a half-shrug, half-nod as Natasha left before following as well.
Fury was left in the meeting room, irritated and frustrated in turn as he surveyed the empty room. "And this is why I don't like him," He muttered as he pulled up a map of his own on one of the computer screens.
The most infuriating thing of all was that their resident wizard did have a point. He supposed he could give in one last time. His entire team didn't seem very inclined to disagree after all.
"I will not return your magic," Odin said gravely.
Loki fought hard to not roll his eyes. "I am not asking you to, father, but I am somewhat skilled with a staff or a spear and neither requires magic."
Odin was silent for a long moment, moving his gaze to where the Tesseract glowed on its platform. His adopted son had been making visits to the relic quite often for the past week, ever since Thor had left.
"You are grasping at straws, my son," Odin finally said. "Why do you wish to return to Earth so badly?"
Loki schooled his features into that of indifference. "I have grown weary of Asgard's weather," He gestured at the falling snow they could see through the window. "And at least Earth provides some entertainment, if only in the form of my bumbling brother."
Odin arched an eyebrow. "If that is all, I am sure the Warriors Three would be happy to include you in one of their training sessions."
Loki held back a grimace with difficulty. Just what he wanted, more time with weapon-wielding air-for-brains warriors. "I would much rather go to Earth," Loki pressed, before reluctantly admitting the truth. "Thanos will be a worrying opponent and Thor only knows how to hit things. Someone has to be there to point him in the right direction."
Odin suppressed a smile. This was the Loki he had watched grow up, sharp-tongued but with an underlying edge of exasperated affection beneath his words.
"Be that as it may," Odin shook his head, gesturing for Loki to follow as he started drifting to the door. Just inside the room, Loki's guard for the day, Lief, stood at attention, watching the trickster god carefully. "It is too dangerous. Leave Earth's matters to your brother and his comrades."
"…There is another," Loki scowled when his father turned back with an interested expression. "A…human. I owe him a life debt."
Odin mulled this over for a moment before asking, "Would this human be a Harry Potter?" At Loki's surprised look, he continued, "Thor has mentioned him. Your brother speaks very highly of this man. I did not know he saved your life."
Loki shifted a little but was privately glad that Thor hadn't told their father everything. "I do," He confirmed. "So in order to cancel that debt-"
"No, Loki," Odin objected. "A mere staff will not stand against Thanos. You will be defenceless on the battlefield. Another time, perhaps. You will have other chances to return that debt."
"Loki," Odin said, voice gentle and stern at the same time.
Loki fell silent and his father nodded, motioning at the door again. Well, he hadn't really expected Odin to agree, Loki thought idly as he used the spark of innate magic inside him that his father hadn't been able to take and levitated the key that would activate the Tesseract into his hand. The magic he could do were all disgustingly simple, locking doors, levitating objects, but at least it was something, especially in this instance. He was well-known as a trickster after all.
Pretending to follow and waiting until his father and Lief had moved into the doorway, he threw out a hand and slammed the doors behind them, turning the lock with a flick of his wrist. Outside, a startled shout came from Lief and Odin's voice roared above the storm outside.
"So sorry, father," Loki called back nonchalantly as he made his way to the Tesseract. He had examined it for a week and was quite certain it was still set to Earth. Behind him, he heard someone trying to force the doors open. "But I have urgent business on Earth that cannot wait."
Another muffled crash sounded and Loki really did roll his eyes this time. Honestly, warriors. Didn't any of them have a brain? Even without magic, the key to the Tesseract chamber was down the hall.
Placing the key into the tiny slot on one side of the cube, he placed a hand on top of it as it began to glow.
He would probably have an even longer sentence when he returned but he didn't have a choice. Or not much of one anyway. While he couldn't care less about the planet he was teleporting to, he supposed he preferred Thor alive rather than dead, and he might as well see what he could do to repay his debt in the meantime. He may not have magic, but he knew how to fight a war.
The blue light exploded around him just as the door burst open, and the last thing Loki saw before the Tesseract's energy whisked him away was the oddly proud look on his father's face.
"My liege?" Lief pulled up when Odin raised a hand to stop him. Without hesitation, the All-Father drew out the serpent-head staff that still glowed with Loki's magic and sent it after his son.
"Let him go," Odin removed the key and tucked it away again. Did his son really think he hadn't noticed the sleight of hand? He wasn't that old.
"But my liege-!" Lief protested when Odin turned to go.
"This journey will be good for him, I believe," Odin said with finality. "If he stays true, his magic shall be his own once more and his sentence shall be lifted when he comes home." His mouth curved up into an amused smile. "If it worked for Thor, there is no reason it wouldn't work for Loki."
"Finished up there?"
Harry blinked and then craned his neck to peer down at Tony who was standing on flat ground and out of his suit for once. He nodded, giving the balcony of the penthouse one last cursory glance before Apparating down to the billionaire's level.
"The wards will shoot flames if something unfriendly breaches them," Harry told him. "Among other things."
Tony grinned. "Cool. I have half a mind to shoot something at it just to try it out."
Harry snorted before making his way over to the couch, accepting a glass of scotch Tony passed over to him.
"…So, earlier," Tony started casually.
Harry rolled his eyes. "You're not my therapist, Tony."
"Nope," Tony agreed. "But I am your friend and it's a friend's job to find out as many dark secrets as I can about you. I did promise after all."
Harry arched a skeptical eyebrow at him but Tony only looked back expectantly and Harry sighed, taking a gulp of alcohol to gather his thoughts.
"My uncle used to call me that when I was a kid," Harry finally disclosed, staring into his drink. "I mentioned them before, didn't I?"
Tony nodded. Harry had told him, in passing, that he had been raised by his aunt and uncle and that they had never gotten along. Being called 'freak' by one's own uncle wasn't something Tony would throw in the 'never got along' category.
"They're not the best people, and they didn't tell me I was a wizard until I turned eleven and an acceptance letter came from the British magic school," Harry continued, and then added, sounding almost anxious, "That's why he called me a freak; because I was a wizard and they never liked anything out of the ordinary."
Tony nodded again and then asked with forced cheer, "Is he dead?"
Harry looked up, staring with obvious surprise before a half-laugh tripped out of his mouth. "That really isn't funny, Tony," He scolded, but his grin faded a little when he caught sight of the gleam in the billionaire's eyes. "You're not joking."
Tony shrugged noncommittally and took a gulp of scotch. "So is he?"
Harry studied him for a moment before nodding slowly. "Yeah, he and my aunt and cousin were all caught in one of the raids during the war." When Tony only grunted with obvious apathy, Harry added, "It's just a word. I was just startled earlier when Fury said it because no one's called me that in years. Almost two decades. Don't worry about it."
Tony just sighed and patted him on the shoulder. "I know all about crappy adult figures. My dad was pretty bad himself; the no-show type." He paused, fiddling with his glass as he glanced out the windows for a moment. And then, in an obvious attempt at changing the subject, he said, "So any other secrets you're willing to tell me? How about how you flew to Germany?"
Harry really did laugh at that. "Still hung up on that?"
"Of course!" Tony looked indignant. "I always get to the bottom of things. So tell me."
Harry sighed, nodding and watching with growing amusement when Tony leapt eagerly to his feet. "You can't possibly look more like a child than you do now," He teased, reaching into a pocket for his shrunken broom.
He had spoken too soon because once he had shown his Firebolt to a gaping billionaire and did a demonstrative loop around the penthouse, Tony became positively thrilled, looking like a five-year-old presented with a new toy.
"Please tell me you don't need magic to ride a broom," Tony begged, and then grinned when Harry wordlessly handed over the Firebolt.
There were a few near-crashes with walls and a rough collision with the coffee table, but with Tony's long practice in his suit, the billionaire was soon quite adept at flying. And before Harry could stop him, the man had shot straight out of the penthouse, almost giving Harry a heart-attack when he swooped down into a dive, dropping like a meteor towards the streets of Manhattan.
With a curse, Harry threw a disillusionment charm and a cushioning charm after Tony, and then breathed a sigh of relief when he heard an excited shout and almost mad laughter as the billionaire pulled out of the dive.
"You are crazy," Harry told him flatly when Tony finally returned after half an hour of doing loop-de-loops around Stark Tower, cheeks flushed and eyes bright with adrenaline as he dismounted.
"Aw, c'mon Harry," Tony grinned, flopping back onto the couch and accepting the bottle of water Harry tossed at him. "Being serious all the time will turn you into Cap. We need to have fun once in a while."
"Your 'once in a while' is most of the time," Harry pointed out wryly.
Tony shrugged freely. "That's because I've learned life's first lesson."
"It screws you over?" Harry suggested sardonically.
"Nope," Tony nudged his leg with one foot, grin softening into a crooked smile. "Grow old, but never grow up."
Harry stared at the billionaire for a long moment before finally giving in to the urge to laugh as he dropped back down beside Tony on the couch. "Well, I suppose if anyone's mastered that, you have."
"Exactly," Tony agreed, before squirting a third of the bottle in Harry's face, rushing for the door as Harry remained frozen in shock for a few seconds. "And you, my friend, seem to have mastered exactly the opposite. But don't worry; I'm here to-"
"Aguamenti," Harry smiled in satisfaction when a jet of clear water caught Tony's back, soaking his shirt and making him yelp. But the billionaire only threw a grin over his shoulder, squirting another stream of water at Harry, who ducked, before running out of the room, clearly delighted when Harry gave chase.
It soon turned into an all-out battle when both of them caught Thor in the crossfire during one of their exchanges. The demigod spent five seconds blinking water out of his eyes and looking from one guilty face to the next before calmly setting his hammer down and asking Jarvis for a water supply. The A.I. obliged willingly and Thor was soon chasing both of them down the halls of Stark Tower, crashing headlong into Bruce and Steve who had just come back from one of the shelters and soaking them with the water balloons they had found in a cupboard.
Bruce and Steve had shared a confused look and the Captain had just started to object when Tony caught him with another water balloon full in the face, taking off with a gleeful cackle, and that was that. There was no way Steve would take that lying down. Bruce had merely sighed and given in to Harry's what-can-you-do shrug, and then promptly teamed up with the wizard before setting off to cause more havoc.
The real surprise came when several water balloons came from above, and then, when they had all looked up to try and locate Clint, who was the only person who could manoeuvre the tower's balconies and terraces without trouble, several more balloons caught them from the left, and they had all spun to find Natasha smirking tauntingly at them, still tossing one balloon up and down in one hand.
By the time all the balloons had run out and Harry had refused to conjure anymore, they had all collapsed in the penthouse, with Tony in such a good mood that he only complained once about all the water that they would need to mop up later after Harry told them he wouldn't be vanishing it for them.
A war was on the horizon, and, if not won, an apocalypse not far behind. But Tony always could be counted on to remind them all that life was still for living, no matter the circumstances.
Finished! Here's another oneshot! Hope Loki was okay. I had a lot of fun writing his bit.
Review, review, review!