A/N: This chapter replaces the old Chapter 31 completely! More notes at the bottom.
"World Walker… no, Harry Potter. You are a surprise."
"If you say you expected me to be taller…" Harry grumbles good naturedly. The enormous green snake flickered out it's tongue, and Harry got the distinct impression it was laughing.
"No, you are entirely unexpected." It explained with a shake of it's gigantic head. The deep green scales glittered nearly iridescently in the weak sunlight" "When my brothers and the one who fathered us stepped foot onto Midgard soil, I could sense their presence because though I have never met my brothers, the bonds that tie us did not break with the one that tied us with our father. But you… you I have felt many times. The magic of Midgard trembles with your footsteps. The air shakes with your casting. In all my long life in this exile, I have felt your impossible presence and been drawn to it. I have seeked you out, but every time, before I could reach you your presence has just… disappeared."
Harry balked slightly. "You make me sound more grand than I am." He insists. Fenrir struggled in his pack, his yellow eyes trained on the massive scaled face and his nose cast to the air.
"No, you are far more than even you realize, I think. My sister calls you Master, my brothers call you pack. You mere existence changes the fates of those around you and of the Nine Realms. The information you sent to me in that fascinating manner told me very little about you-"
Between one blink and the next, instead of looking into the giant eye, Harry was face to face with a slender dark haired man, who held out his pale hand to be shaken. "-I would very much like to know more." The man said, his deep voice hoarse with disuse.
Hel's slender fingers worked diligently, twining and twisting with practised ease as her face was set in a moue of deep concentration. Her di-colored hands moved around each other, a dance of yin and yang, life and death. The glowing thread strung between her fingers weaved with her direction, until with a cry of triumph, the Goddess of Death held up her creation.
A successful cat's cradle.
With the formation of her soul collectors, golems of smoke imbued with her power, her job had become less collecting souls, and more finding ways to entertain herself. She rarely escorted anyone to her realm these days.
Slumping in her throne, she cast aside the cat's cradle and looked around for something else to do. On either side of her, her soul collectors swarmed past, some leaving to go acquire their assigned souls, some returning, leading the dead of the universe behind her throne and into her realm, where the weighing of worth and the river of souls awaited them.
All very standard for her.
A small growling sound caught her attention, dragging her from her thoughts. A collector was moving towards her with the soul of what she recognized was a A-Chiltarian. which was struggling and reaching back as if to grab for the life they left behind. She, for it was female, would not be able to escape the soul collector's grasp, though, so Hel nearly looked away in disinterest before realizing that the A-Chiltarian wasn't reaching back towards the realm of the living, but was instead trying to touch the soul behind her, a smaller A-Chiltian. Probably her offspring.
Then behind that one was another, and another, until her entire hall was filled with soul collectors leading what seemed to be the entire race past her borders. No, not the entire race, Hel realized, as her inborn knowledge of both the living and the dead filled her head and the tallies ticked away. Half of the entire race. Almost precisely.
"Oh." She said blankly, then her expression sharpened in anger. She stood from her throne, and her cloak whirled into existence around her. Her scythe was a comfortable weight in her dark hand as the realm she ruled swirled away in a water color blur.
She landed without a twitch of her muscles, and scanned her surroundings. Hel had never personally been to A-Chitar III, but she imagined that it did not look like this before. Huts were burning and A-Chiturians everywhere were crying over bodies long left behind by souls.
The killing seemed to have stopped, and the one behind it seemed to have left, but even now there were a few soldiers of Thanos moving among the beings, deflecting desperate attacks and making their way to a single ship. Stragglers on their way to the next destination.
Hel felt distinctly uncomfortable as she left the A-Chitarians to rebuild. She could do no more to help than to breath life into the dying crops she passed. Anything else was outside her influence, and even so they could not see her.
Instead of aiming to leave this world and return to her realm, she instead set a course to Earth. The blue planet was uncomfortably close to this one, and her Master must be warned.
Harry took the hand, pointedly keeping his eyes on the other man's angular face. Fenrir was barking in high pitched panic, and Sleipnir had pranced a few paces back, both of them shocked by the unexpected change in their elder brother.
Honestly the wizard had seen weirder. Though…
"So, do I need to conjure clothes for you or something, because if nothing else I don't want Fenrir to be scarred for life." He offered conversationally, and Jormungand looked finally from his intense scrutiny of Harry's face down to his own body. His own naked body.
"Ah, yes, human bodies and their exposed genitals." He did not sound at all concerned with his own state, and Harry finally gave in to impulse and covered Fenrir's eyes. Pants wrapped themselves around Jormungand's legs, and the snake/man nodded in satisfaction. It was still less than what Harry would prefer to see a complete stranger in, but he would take what he could get.
Sleipnir was the first to get over the surprise, and gingerly trotted forward to snuffle at the air around his brother, still keeping a careful distance and hiding most of his bulk behind Harry.
"Ask him how he did that." The horse commanded. Harry laughed lightly and turned to do so, but Jormungand answered before he had the chance to convey the message.
"We are sons of a shape shifter, whether he claims us or not. His powers are our heritage. My power is yours." He explains.
Harry and Sleipnir looked at each other, the horse turning its gray head to meet the man's eyes. "He did mention you still had a bond." Harry said after a moment. Sleipnir seemed to mull that over.
"So you can hear me, and sense me, then. And Fenrir?" He directed at the half naked man, who was now wringing water out of his waist long black hair.
"Mmm." Jormungand hummed in confirmation, absorbed in his new task. "Though his thoughts are far simpler to parse due to his age. I do not hear sentences from either of you so much as distinct… feelings. Hel and I share a similar bond, when my sister calls upon me to visit."
"Uh… right, so…" Harry ran a hand through his shaggy hair, at a loss. He had planned to meet Jormungand, explain the consequences of the broken bond, and offer to help clear the resulting damage, but now he had more questions than he knew what to do with. He waved his hand, and a table and chairs appeared from nowhere. "We've got a lot to go through, and I'm not sure how much time I've got this place to myself, so… tea?"
When in doubt, good old fashioned British manners won out.
Jormungand stared at the furniture in amazement before settling gingerly on the offered red upholstered arm chair. When it did not disappear under him, he settled the rest of his weight on it. It creaked alarmingly much to Harry's confusion, but held. When he saw the wizard's expression, the snake laughed gently. "I can change my shape, but not my mass. As both this form and my natural one I weigh the same. I am surprised your construct can hold up under even that, though. You channel magic much differently than anything I've seen. I doubt my father could conjure an actual chair, only the illusion of one."
"Ah, good to know!" Harry said thoughtfully. If he and Jormungand were going to fix the damage that Loki's carelessness had wrought, then they would have to do so in the privacy of Stark Tower, and obviously the helicopter that had brought him and the kids there would not hold up under the World Snake's mass. He pulled a thermos out of the pack on his lap, much to Fenrir's displeasure. The pup had been warming his butt with it. Two teacups appeared on the table with just a negligent wave of his fingers, and he poured the hot tea into them.
While he was lost in thought, Sleipnir took the opportunity to find out more about attaining human shape. Having two legs would be even more off putting to the god horse than only having four, but the convenience of communication and travel may outweigh the cost.
Being able to actually tell the Avengers that he will bite the next person to threaten to braid his mane or tail would be much more satisfying than relaying the message through the World Walker.
"So you were able to do achieve that form from an inheritance through our sire, then? Is there anything you did beyond that?"
"Well, it wasn't so easy as that, really. It took me nearly a century to perfect this shape, though I am rather proud of it. I was motivated by necessity, though, once the humans began exploring the depths of my oceans, I knew I would not be able to remain hidden for much longer. I had no real template to work from at first, but once our sister found me I was able to progress much quicker. Your connection with this one might help you immensely." The World Snake explained, accepting the tea from Harry.
"Huh?" The wizard snapped back to the current conversation.
"Apparently tying myself to you will finally be of some use to me, other that rousing me from my warm stables and dragging me from my original planet." Sleipnir told him dryly. The wizard barked out a laugh.
"Glad I can be of some use to you at last." He said with sardonic amusement. The horse snorted at him. Fenrir, unable to hold back any longer jumped nimbly from the pack and onto the table, almost upsetting the tea cups. He trotted over to the man on the other side of the table and with careful balance took his front paws from the table and put them on the man's bare chest so he could reach to smell his face. "Fenrir!" Harry chided in exasperation, "That's rude." The wolf pup ignored him, intent on his investigation.
"Not father." The pup announced. "But… pack?" There was hope in the cub's small mental voice, and it tugged on Harry's heart.
Jormungand had been taking the cub's curiosity with wry patience. He smiled at the pronouncement, getting the general idea. "Hello little one, I am your brother." He said softly.
"Pack." The cub said decisively, with a puppy grin. Harry stood and gathered Fenrir in his arms with a murmured apology to Jormungand, then conjured a large pen to put the pup in so he could explore the ground without falling down the rocky cliff at the uncomfortably close edge of the island and into the churning water below. Fenrir immediately began stalking a bug, his gray rump wiggling intently in the air. Harry smiled and left him to it, knowing Sleipnir was keeping one watchful eye on his younger brother even while he discussed the steps it would take to gain a human shift. Rejoining them at the table, Harry sat forward. The light of mid day reflected off of Jormungand's shoulders, revealing the fact that his skin was not entirely smooth, but instead shifted seamlessly from pae flesh to equally pale green scales on his shoulders and down his chest.
Checking his watch, Harry took a sip of his tea and waited until the snake seemed to run out of ways to explain his transformation from serpent to biped, and both of them turned their attention to him.
"So, you said before that you know about the bond that Loki broke between you. What do you know about that?"
"Admittedly nothing much about the bond itself, or the breaking of it, but I am very familiar with the effects."
"Oh?" Harry prompted."
The man tossed his hair, "I am old, World Walker. I have been on this planet for over a millenia. And most of that was spent with little to no intelligent company. I have spent almost a decade exploring the depths of my own mind, and found the scars of my father's carelessness. I was not able to fix them myself, but their placement concerns me."
"That sounds… lonely." Harry said after a beat. Jormungand did not comment. "So you know about the damage a broken bond can cause. Yeah, it's hard to heal it yourself, and most people who try end up doing more harm than good." When the other man held out his empty tea cup, Harry obligingly refilled it from the thermos.
The wizard launched into an explanation about how he could help, and the two discussed hor they would get Jormungand to Stark Tower in order to fix what Loki had done to him. When that line of conversation had petered out, Harry sat back and steepled his fingers.. "Look, you're a bit too old for me to adopt, I think." He said with a grin. Jormungand tilted his head, smirking back. "But that doesn't mean you can't stay with me. What you told me about how you've spent your time on Earth… seems really lonely. I'm sure Fenrir would love to get to know you better, and Sleipnir will probably want to pick your brain some more, and I've honestly got more questions than we have time for…"
The snake stared back at him, unblinking, for a long minute. "Would I be able to think about it?" He asked finally.
Harry drew back as if slapped, waving his hands. "Yeah, yeah, I'm not trying to force you into it! Take as much time as you need, and even if you decide you don't want to come live in Stark Tower, well I won't keep you from your brothers. You can still visit and vice versa." He said quickly, and Jormungand gave him a thin lipped smile.
"Well, then, World Walker. I will see you here in three days for our first session. I will have an answer for you then, I think." The both stood at the same time, one turning to the ocean to make his way back to his den, one turning towards the pen where Fenrir had fallen asleep, belly up, in a patch of sun.
Both stopped when a patch of air shimmered a few feet away.
"Uh…" Harry said intelligibly.
"Sister." Jormungand said, smiling widely even before the form before them took a recognizable blonde shape.
Hel appeared in a dramatic haze of dark energy, her cloak billowing behind her. It was all very impressive. At least it was before the girl coughed and waved her pale hand, dispelling the smoke. She took a moment to look at the two men before her, before throwing herself at Jormungand quickly for a hug. The snake enfolded his long arms around her with a laugh, and buried his face in her shoulder, looking peaceful. The two embraced for a few moments. That done Hel turned to Harry with a serious expression.
"Master." She said without preamble. "We have a problem."
"When don't we?" Harry asked in resignation.
"Yes, but this is a big one. Do you remember the one time you came close to true death?"
"… What?" Harry was unaware there had been a time that he would have actually moved on, instead of to the next world. He screwed up his face in thought, casting his mind back through his long life until a particular instance stood out to him. "You mean on that burning ship? With the purple dude? I nearly actually died then?" He asked incredulous. He didn't know if he was scared at that prospect or disappointed it hadn't happened.
"Yes. Thanos the Mad Titan." Hel confirmed, and jumped slightly when Harry snapped, turning to Sleipnir.
"Thanos! That was his name. Remember I told you there was one I couldn't save? That was him." The horse rolled it's large dark eye, pointedly looking over Harry's shoulder and back at Hel. Harry did the same. "So… what about him. He's dead, right? Or is this before that point in the timeline? All this time and space travel has me a bit mixed up."
"You… hm… you are actually fighting him right now. Or well, your battalion is. I estimate it to be a week before you face him yourself." She said after a thoughtful pause.
"So I kill him in a week, then. What's the problem?"
"He doesn't die." Hel said simply.
"He doesn't die." Harry repeated blankly. "He doesn't die?! What a tough sunova-"
"Master, that is not all!" Hel interrupts. "He will not die in a week, and in a month when he is recovered and found three infinity stones, one of his scanner ships will pass by Earth, and they will detect you."
"And then he'll be after me, stronger than before and mad as hell, huh." Harry said in a defeated tone, groaning when the goddess of death nodded her head. "I hate Mondays." He grumbled, his face in his hands.
A/N: So there we go. There we go. The first new chapter in nearly 3 years. Or over 3 years. Sorry it took me so long, I had to reread the entire story, rewatch some of the older Avenger's movies, and then try to figure out where the heck I was going with the old chapter. And I have no idea. I don't think I ever did. So I picked a new direction, and we will forge ahead in that one!