Disclaimer: The Avengers universe and all its characters belong to Marvel. Likewise with Harry Potter.
Chapter 4: In Which Natasha meets a Kiss-the-Cook Wizard
They came in the night.
For that, Harry was thankful. Ten minutes after Donna left, he got to work, opening up files and protocols long unused and unearthing security measures he didn't exactly want to see again. Still, him being what he was, this was inevitable. Every few years, this happened, like a Ferris wheel that started, rose, dipped, then ended exactly where it began. Harry knew the tune, the whirl, the grunt of machineries running in the wheel's engine. He knew it well. This compulsory goose-chase with certain organizations who either felt him a threat or a prize to be captured, put in a cage, and studied at length, or any combinations thereof. So while he worked a brisk pace, he was in no true hurry. The wheel turned a new round, and he walked just two steps ahead of it. One so that the wheel didn't catch up to him in full, and one more for precaution.
It was a slow day in the museum and all around slow season for Harry. He hadn't appeared in any guest talk in the local universities for some times and hadn't any scheduled for the next month or so. He had no meetings booked, except for the bogus one which he had sent Donna to. Not a mark on his calendar to worry about, so he walked around his museum leisurely, closing down exhibitions and turning up the individual wards one by one, whistling as he went.
Hogwarts, as he had come to call it since its second birthday because he was allowed to be nostalgic at his age, was neither large nor small. Yet in her bosom lay magical artifacts in the thousands. Some he had taken on the last leg of his journey here. Some he had created himself, out of a one-of-a-kind necessity, on this new land he had come to call home. He passed by Gryffindor tower, then Ravenclaw enclave. Hufflepuff nursery lay in the back, out in the open, and full of magical faunas that weren't supposed to exist here, and he had to veil it with a ward twice the strength of the others. Slytherin dungeon was fifty feet below the basement, but Slytherin dungeon was for super secret things and always warded unless he needed to open it for crisis situations, so he didn't go anywhere near it.
Harry liked to think he needn't bring out the big guns to deal with people who had the courtesy to come to him in the night and not in the morning. Less panic that way. Less people hurt.
Further in was the International Library of Magical Kinds, though they didn't know it by that name here. Here they called it the Occult Archives, which, while not entirely incorrect, sounded demeaning and trivializing to Harry. But he was the one living in a glass museum, so he best not threw any fireballs.
The Ministry of Magic lay in a sequestered niche of its own, full of half-done projects, ancient treatises, and other such things that had taken him almost forty years to sort through. They used to have experimentary weapons here, but he had long since moved the working ones down to Slytherin so the one that stayed were more gigantic dust collectors than real honest-to-Merlin magical weapons.
Still further in, appearing upstairs to some Muggle and downstairs to others but was actually a round-way and branching off in different directions, up, down, East, West, and sideways all, were The Burrow, then Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, then Godric's Hollow ruin, which he had renovated in his second decade here. The room next to last was where Harry stored the Invisibility Cloak, the Goblet of Fire, his Pensieve Collection, Nicholas Flamel's stones and other assorted artifacts. A row of cabinets on the right housed a collection of time turners large and small. The row on the left kept the potions in perpetual zero C-degree and ready for use.
He picked up his Invisibility Cloak as he passed it, and it came fluttering into his pocket like a live thing made of liquid cloth, happy to be in close proximity to its brothers the Ring, which he wore on his ring finger, and the Wand, which stayed with him always.
The last room was the one where Harry least frequented out of them all. It was the highest room in the entire museum. It was also the deepest underground, far deeper than where Harry had built Slytherin dungeon, and the furthest in, further than even the Ministry of Magic. Magic in this room threaded and weaved and coiled in layers, like spider silk after a century of building and rebuilding by an army of Aragog's children. Threads of magic, strands of magic, blankets so thick he was sure there was not an inch of the room that wasn't covered with magic. Some of the magic were Harry's. Some weren't.
He opened the door with his finger, inserting them inside the lock and letting its steel teeth prick his skin and draw blood and drink it, and watching the meteorite-made contraption on the door turn and whirl and give and the door opened.
The Mirror of Erised stood in the centre, quiet and solemn.
He had covered its face with thick drapes after his journey here. Harry stared at the mirror. It stayed silent. He stood there for maybe ten minutes before deciding not to go in and pull off the drapes and take a look. Instead, he closed down the room and turned up its ward to maximum with his Elder Wand and left without saying a word, without moving a foot into the room.
It left a bad taste in his mouth every time he was here. But he had to make sure nonetheless. Every single time he was 'discovered' by the unmagical, he had to come and take a look. Sometimes, when the silence got too loud and the years so heavy he could hear his bones crack under their combined weight, Harry came here. But he never pulled the drapes and took a look.
After the first century of his first life, looking into the mirror became a painful thing to do.
When he retraced his steps and walked back out, Harry closed down the rooms after him in subsequent orders, the room second to last, then Godric's Hollow (he could hear his parents laughing as he walked by under their second-floor windowsill), Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, The Burrow, The Ministry of Magic, all of them.
When he got back upstairs (or downstairs, or to the front, or to the back, to the left side, or to the right side. Magical architecture became a confusing thing to navigate for Muggles as they aged. For Harry, it was simply a matter of getting from point A to point B), it was six thirty and the dying sun was drawing a fiery stretch of red, orange, and purple over the skies and on the street in front of Hogwarts museum glass door. Harry walked to the front (and only front. He kept this part relatively simple and magic-free for his Muggle assistant and customers), closed the door and flipped the 'Closed' sign facing outward. Then he made a call to the shift-working cleaners, janitors, and the security company he signed up under and told them he was closing early today for a business trip tomorrow and that they had a paid week free until further notice from him.
Then he went back to his office, turned up all the mirrors, and sat down before his laptop and watched. And waited for their first move.
Natasha was uneasy.
The window in front of her looked at a perfect forty-five degree down the front of the Museum of Exotic Arts and Hogwarts Archives. Glass door and brick walls in her vision. And windows opening right into the office of one James P. Evans… who was eating a late dinner of extra-size Burger King takeouts while watching YouTube videos of randomly dancing Korean singing 'Gangnam style' at the top of his lung (God, was that open Gangnam style or open condom style? Natasha really had to brush up on her Korean if she couldn't decide which of the two it was).
She edged her Widow Maker on its stand, peering at Evans's face through the crosshair. He looked even younger in person than on photos. That might have something to do with the Triple Whopper deluxe combo he was chewing on, all three quarter-pound layers of beef patties, assorted vegetables and crusty sandwich, two extra-large disposable cups of Coke, two helpings of french-fries, a box of deep-fried onion rings and several packs of chicken nuggets. White sauce dribbled down his chin, which he wiped clean with two fingers, sucking on them afterwards and wiping them again on his after-office-hour jeans.
Any moment now, Natasha expected to see a pimple come blistering from his face, red and shiny and angry and popping out from the most embarrassing of places, the type that made people look away and would leave acne scars in the future. He looked that young!
"Damn…" Stark's voice came into Natasha's ears through her earpiece, trampling all over the central channel. "… watching him eat reminded me that I hadn't eaten yet. No dinner. Nothing. Nuh-uh. And whose fault was that?"
"… I thought this channel was secure?" Nick Fury's voice came in the Stark's wake.
"What? You thought that flimsy excuse of a firewall you used to protect your com channel could stand up against the super special extra awesome awesomeness that is Tony Stark?"
"… we just updated the protocol… this morning."
"Well yeah, that gave me some problems. But news flash Nick, your special move copy protection sucks. I pirated your software from the last time you hacked Jarvis. That was mean, by the way. And what do you know, it fucking worked! Must be because both are developed by the same cyber-warfare department, eh?" Stark replied, cackling gleefully over Natasha's earpiece.
Awkward silence ensued.
"… situation report, please." Nick Fury requested after one full minute of silence, voice calm and even. Natasha knew what was going on in Nick's head, something along the line of 'If I ignore him long enough, he'll disappear. With his attention deficit disorder, he'll lose interest. He'll leave me alone. He'll leave us all alone.'
Well, unfortunately for Fury, Natasha didn't think that was gonna happen. Stark wasn't going to bite, not with that obvious a bait anyway. He was going to poke Fury, in the proverbial spot between the eyes. Natasha just knew it.
"Anybody hankering for some pizza?" Stark butted in before anyone on the official channel so much as opened their mouth to reply to Nick's query.
Natasha resisted the urge to slap her forehead with her trigger hand and derail her Widow Maker from its perfect bullet line. She hated being right sometimes.
"How about it guys? Pizza after this? There's gotta be plenty of rolling stomachs around here, cause I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only guy that got dragged off before my date with a dinner plate by our esteemed director. So how about it? Pizza Hut, tonight, my treat, right after this… whatever it is."
"The son of Stark is right." The voice of a certain demigod boomed into Natasha's ears with some customary reluctance. "I do feel a bit peckish."
"We have a mission, Thor." The voice of one Captain America followed closely, almost kicking Thor's rumbling baritone off the channel and managing to sound admonishing even to a semi-immortal demigod. "And Stark is not the son of… well, he's not the son of… anyone."
"Touché, big guy. I ain't a son of anyone eh?"
"Wait… is there anybody here that does NOT have access to the main com channel?" That was Bruce Banner, mishap clear in the voice that was quivering through Natasha's earphones.
"Nope! I invited everyone to the party. Didn't want nobody to feel left out."
"I thought the purpose of the main com channel was to prevent traffic blockade and to always have a secure line? Why is everyone here then? And don't you all already have your own channel codes? Isn't this, oh I don't know, a bit self-defeating?"
And on it went, with people Stark had 'invited' trickling in one by one.
"Agent Romanoff" Natasha's other earpiece buzzed on a private channel, straight from director Fury to her. "I'm trusting you to do something about this."
Way ahead of ya, tough guy. Natasha thought as she butted her Widow Maker to a downturn, barking with clear authority into her mouth piece and cutting Stark off mid-sentence.
"Target moving. Six o'clock."
A hush fell over the main com channel, followed closely by a rush of situational reports as SHIELD training kicked in and Stark and his shenanigans left behind in the flurry.
"That was mean." Her private channel buzzed again, this time filled with Stark's voice.
"If you are so against Fury's plan…" Natasha drawled, all professional. "… then you should find other ways to protest." Then she pushed a button on her cat-suit and blocked him out. Sometimes, it really took a scheming magnificent bastard to shut up another scheming magnificent bastard. In Stark's case, sometimes was code-speak for 'all the times' and the first 'scheming magnificent bastard' for 'agent Romanoff'. Nick tried, but he just didn't have that feminine wiles touch that Natasha used so well.
Down below in the museum, her target moved from his table to the mini fridge, then backward, closing the fridge door with a kick, another can of Coke in his hand. The clock on the wall of his office struck nine-thirty PM. Hewitt-Cooper Street was empty, as most streets with an inhabitant group consisting of museums, art galleries, business offices and vocational colleges tended to be at this hour of the day. Most had closed shop since nine, some because their working hours ended way before that, some was 'persuaded' by SHIELD (discreetly of course, and after layers and layers of middlemen). Aside from the museum, only a single-manned round-the-clock convenience store still shed light on Hewitt-Cooper Street. The empty business office Natasha was sitting in, half-height glass windows, bare concrete walls, and a 'for rent' sign and all, offered her a hundred percent visible vantage point. Sitting in near total darkness, the crosshair of her Widow Maker trailed James Evans as he moved about his office.
"He closes at ten. Initiate plan A." Nick's voice flooded the main com channel, over-riding all other signals.
"Plan A initiated." Went the answer from a designated SHIELD watcher agent. Immediately, two figures appeared under the street light of Hewitt-Cooper. A man and a woman in non-descript black suits, walking in unison.
"I thought these guys were supposed to look non-threatening." Stark voice fizzled on the main com channel.
"They aren't carrying any weapons." Steve Rogers answered.
"They don't need no weapons. Just look at them. They look like tax agents from the IRS or funeral house employees! Now tell me you are not scared of that?"
"Steve…" Natasha butted in before it could snowball from there. "… please don't feed the troll."
"Oh… oh right…" Steve Rogers went silent, just in time, the two agents were right in front of the Museum door. One of them gestured to the sign on the door. 'Closed' it said, but the museum door wasn't yet roped down from inside and a certain museum curator hadn't yet exited. One of the agents made for his cell phone.
Natasha pulled the crosshair from the pair of agents, trusting them to execute plan A flawlessly.
Plan A, also known as Soft Persuasion (kid-gloves in Nick-speak). Talk to him, Nick had said. Softly. Gently. Non-threatening. Be reasonable. Use words that enticed, that lulled. Appear normal. Conceal all weapons. If plan A failed, there was plan B. Hard persuasion, which included Natasha, her Widow Maker and a good plastic bullet in a place that would knock someone out but would not kill (there was also plan C but Natasha preferred not to have to wring that out from SHIELD's blueprint drawer. Too messy, that plan. And it probably wouldn't work, not for immortals any way). But for a target of James Evans's importance (… and suspected skill, Natasha had to admit. Anyone with this kind of power that managed to stay under SHIELD's radar this long had to have skill), SHIELD would really prefer not having to enact plan B and other subsequent plans. It was, therefore, imperative that these agents made the best first impression possible on the good doctor.
And talking about first impression, Natasha herself was having a hard time formulating one concerning this one particular doctor of Anthropology. She moved in the darkness, tense, unease, hoping against hope that the usual 'first go is a no-go' prediction wouldn't hold true this time.
Down below and completely oblivious (or at least appearing to be oblivious) to her blight, James Evans put on a hideous pink apron. Natasha's crosshair almost did a double take upon spotting it. 'Kiss the Cook' said the monstrous apron.
"Oh… that is… some very unfortunate sense of fashion." Tony Stark commented on the main com channel. This time, Natasha didn't put a stop to him.
The doctor's cell phone was on his table, right next to his Alienware laptop, and a split second after he put on the pink apron, it rang, vibrating against laminated wood to the tune of 90s Bugs Bunny opening music. On the other end of the museum, an agent was holding his own untraceable and untappable phone expectantly. Natasha watched as James Evan threw the quivering phone a cursory glance, picked it up, flapped it open then snapped it close in one single motion, effectively ending the call before the agent could so much as open his mouth. Natasha's disquiet went up another notch.
"Call again." Nick. On the main channel.
This was all so ridiculous, thought Natasha upon hearing Nick's order. These were specifically trained agents, not trainees from Washington that needed to be supervised and led every step of the way. And Nick god-damn Fury! On the com channel! Directing field operation with orders like 'Call again'!
This whole operation was testament to how on edge SHIELD was about James P. Evans, nervous enough to have their highest agent directing on the field, nervous enough to surround a whole street in the middle of New York city with plain-clothes agents and special response and tactical teams, nervous enough to have the whole Avengers Assemble on standby.
All the big guns, pointing at a target that was, for all intents and purposes, a normal civilian. Except James Evans really wasn't a run-of-the-mill civilian was he? His blood had tested out as alien blood, hadn't it? And he was suspected to possess abilities similar to magic, wasn't he? All these questions and not one answer. An operation executed on blind intel. Their supposedly biggest target thus far, possibly even bigger than Loki, and they knew next to absolutely nothing about him, nothing concrete anyway. If anyone called Natasha out on her nervousness, she could give them all these reasons and tell them to go suck on it.
The agent made another call. Natasha's trigger finger quivered on her gun. Nervous tension threaded through her as the James Evans in the circle of her crosshair quirked a brow at the once-again vibrating phone. Instead of picking up his call, he ignored it, going instead to open the drawer of his work table, withdrawing from it a...
"… is that a frying pan?" Stark asked the question for her. "What is a frying pan doing in there? And what's he doing with it?"
Questions whose answer she would also like to know. Natasha trailed after Evans as he moved across the room, heading for the door of an attached washroom, ignoring his ringing phone entirely. There was something about his gait that was making a mess out of Natasha's nerves. Something about it that pulled at her brain, like certain details she should recognize but couldn't. A certain kind of physical confidence that didn't quite belong on a supposedly lifelong intellectual, the quietness of his step, the economy of movements, tiny gestures full of purposes. His body language screamed loud and clear that this was a man who knew exactly what was going on around him and exactly what he wanted to do with it.
It hit her as the door closed behind him. James Evans did not walk like a doctor of Anthropology (or any other titles the Ivy Leagues of Oxford bestowed on his kind). James Evans moved like a soldier.
"Back door unit?" Nick crackled in her ears as Natasha was suddenly consumed with an intense curiosity. Birds of the same feathers knew each other. Natasha had never met another of her breed without recognizing them for what they truly were, and now more than ever, she wanted a close-up view of James Evans, to look into his face and really know for sure what he was. Not like Bruce Banner or Tony Stark or Thor, not even like Steve and his boy scout soldier honor. No. Like her, like Hawkeye. Wet-worker. The breed of soldier who also doubled as cold-blooded killer who slunk in the dark. If (a humongous if with a sky-scrapping percentage of being true) James Evans was of her type, then that would explain why, for the last thirty minutes, Natasha felt like she was the one being watched, the one viewed under the scope of a sniper riffle, and not the other way around.
"Negative." Went the answer from the backdoor team. "Target's not visi…"
A tiny disturbance in the air was the only trigger for Natasha, an iron stake under a sky riddled with lightning. She was already in hyper-sensitive mode from her nervousness and her gut accepted the fact that there was someone else in the room beside her without preambles. Someone that was not there the second before that.
Acting on instinct, she tore her M-98 Widow Maker from its tripod stand, whipping it like a baton as she spun a one-eighty. She caught a flash of the pink 'Kiss-the-Cook' apron as a hand closed around her Widow Maker's throat. The frying pan descended from above, heading not for her but for the back of her M-98. Natasha pulled the trigger. Her gun quaked with the force of a 14.55 mm anti-material, anti-tank bullet exiting its metal throat under the pressure of controlled mini-explosions. Natasha didn't know which happened first. The bullet exiting the gun nozzle or the frying pan making contact with its metal back and (surprises upon surprises) cutting her beloved M-98 in half like it was hot butter on an ill-conceived date with the famed Honjo Masamune.
There was a whispery crack in the air, the sound a gun under a silencer made. The single red cut on James Evans's cheek was the only evidence that her bullet grazed him. The wall behind him was punched in a good two inches.
"Feisty." He said. And in a gone-horribly-right wish-fulfillment scenario, Natasha found herself face-to-face with a coldly smiling James Evans, who was at once shorter and taller, and smaller and larger than she'd thought, and the icy thread underneath the green of his eyes was all too familiar.
Natasha dropped the remains of her M-98, rearing backward. It left her hands burnt and smoking. She slipped easily into cool professionalism, one thought running in her head, suppressing the pain in her burnt hands and all other superfluous trains of thoughts.
Alert the others.
"Nick…" That was as far as she got. The moment the name formed in her mouth, Evans closed in, ridiculous frying pan at the ready. The rest of the sentence evaporated from Natasha's mouth along with her breath. She reared back again, hitting the wall. Belatedly, she realized she was in a bad place. Her previously perfect sniping spot was now a death corner. Out of the hundreds of SHIELD agents crowding Hewitt-Cooper Street, James Evans had chosen her for this exact reason.
Natasha dropped her hand down her leg, foregoing her handgun – too unwieldy for close-range combat – and heading straight for the Tungsten-Cabide dagger strapped to her thigh. She brought it up just in time to parry the butt of the pan off her face. She took another step backward, her back hitting the wall.
Not good. She thought as Evans pursued relentlessly with his pan, caught halfway between alarm and incredulousness. She was in a knife fight for her life… against a man who wielded a frying pan. Natasha didn't even have time to think on that thought as the next few minutes the fight broke out in full. She slid down the wall, using it as a stabilizing point as she unleashed a volley of upper-cut slashes, hoping to force an opening with which she can escape. Her opponent parried skillfully, using the butt of his pan to steer the trajectory of her jabs in circle while his other hand cut down on her wrist.
Natasha got the opening she wanted, a lull one second long enough for her to roll out of the corner he had forced her in… at the price of her knife hand which hung limply from its bruising wrist. Her Tungsten knife lay discarded on the floor. Evans didn't give her a chance to pick up her knife as the very next moment he went straight after her, smiling, never stopping to say a word or even to gloat as she had hoped he would.
Not good! Rang in her head for a second time. She was at a severe disadvantage, weaponless and with one injured hand… against an opponent of this caliber.
"Coward!" She stalled. "Drop that and face me like a man!" The best scenario would be for her opponent to heed whatever sense of gentlemanly honor and actually dropped that blasted pan of his and engaged in fisticuffs with her. Natasha was confident she could turn it around in hand-to-hand combat… though she didn't think her opponent would actually buy it. That cold glint in his green eyes said he wasn't the type. Failing that, she hoped to stir up anger at the insult and derail his game plan against her. As all trained professional assassins knew, even the tiniest mental disturbance may change the tide in a fight between two trained combatants of this caliber. In her career, due to her specialties, Natasha had rarely ever had to go up against another of her kind this close before (the only one occasion being the first time she met Clint, in which she had lost quite soundly), and this thought itself was a testament to how desperate she was getting.
"Oh please…" Her opponent smiled indulgingly as he closed in on her, moving in ever tightening circles around her. "Like I would fall for that." Then he went for the plunge. "Let's dance."
Shit. Natasha brought up her arms, bracing herself. There were noises coming through her earpieces. She had alerted the others, but not soon enough. Stark's earlier shenanigans had loosened their vigilance, and the agents, thinking this might be a payback mock from Natasha, had reacted precious seconds too late.
If she survived this, thought Natasha, she was going to have a long, hard date with Tony Stark and a room full of metallic implements of the sadistic kind. That was also her last coherent thought as the next few minutes turned out like Blitzkrieg with fists, feet, and a frying pan. The pan opened the second volley, flying at her face, then above her face as she dipped and slipped on her feet, hoping to use Evans's momentum to bring his unprotected right flank to her ready fist. That didn't happen. Left chop, on her shoulder, followed by a textbook haymaker, forcing her backward again. Natasha hooked right, spreading her legs and going for his feet, trying to swipe him off. Evans spun around her, trapped her left hand with a twist of his pan-handle, and together they twirled in a deadly parody of a waltzing couple.
It took only a few more minutes for Natasha to realize she wasn't getting out of this. Not early enough for reinforcement to arrive. Not even nearly. With that realization, her priority changed.
If clear victory can't be achieved, change your approach. That had always been Natasha's MO.
She let her defense lapse and with careful timing, put herself in the path of a sucker punch to the stomach. The stars in her vision were expected, as was the fall. She lay on the floor, going in and out of consciousness. The next thing she was aware of was the hands on her ears and chest.
"Sorry for that." Evans commented, looming above her. "But I didn't want to damage this." He pulled her earpieces and their transmitter pod from her. She made to move, but this only served to remove all thoughts of a surprise attack from her as she discovered she couldn't move an inch, her body frozen in stasis on the floor.
Evans looked her in the eye, smiling. "Come now. You really thought I wouldn't think of that?" Not really. Any wet-worker worth his salt should know the sneak attack staples, but Natasha had been forced to a corner and while she wasn't that desperate yet, every little bit helped.
There was a tense moment when Evans surveyed her from head to toe, making sure she didn't have any special tricks left up her sleeve. When he was satisfied he wasn't going to get jumped the moment he turned his back, he switched his attention from Natasha to the communication set he'd taken from her. With deft moves of his hands, he clipped the transmitter onto the belt of his jeans, clipped the pieces onto his ears, then with a turn of his fingers, reopened Natasha's channel code and entered the main com channel.
"Hi." He said, effectively ending the buzzing going on in the main channel. "So you're the guys who were stalking me all day today?"
End Chapter 4
1. This chapter comes out a bit slow… mainly because I was recuperating after my accidental encounter with Fifty Shades of Gray. I probably am going to get the quacks for saying this, but because of it, fan fiction and the self-publishing circle are going to get the slam from mainstream opinions. Say what you want about Fifty Shades of Gray (you can like it. Everyone's entitled to his/her personal preferences), but the quality of writing there can use a lot of improvement.
2. Why are people still asking me what the pairing of this fic is after last chapter? Obviously it's Harry's-pink-apronxHarry's-frying-pan. Come on! I thought it was pretty clear with the main characters field up there. In case you didn't get my sarcasm, it's LokixHarry. There, I said it! I'm going to slash this fic till kingdom's come. And no, I'm not going to follow the yaoi seme-uke dynamic (that is just eff-ed up). Unlike a lot other writers, characterization comes before romance for me.
3. Next chapter: Loki appears… maybe? And sparks fly, literally, in between bouts of gunfire, lightning and collapsing buildings.
4. Sorry for the possible typos and mistakes. English is not my native language (nor my second language)