Hi all. Thanks for giving OHAE a chance :) Please review whether you like it or not - concrit is highly appreciated. And I love bantering and explaining things.
Per request, note: this is not slash. In fact, I'm not planning any pairings except the canonical Tony/Pepper and Thor/Jane, and even then they'll only be in passing. I don't write romance well.
Please, enjoy. -BC
Chapter One: Of Chances and Choices
The aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts was not easily nor simple. There were parties, once everyone had slept a few days, but there was also many funerals. Then the trials began and Harry found himself jumping between helping rebuild Hogwarts and spending hours at the Ministry trying to give evidence on the many Death Eaters without implying he had been a horcrux and only knew all these things because he had seen them in his dreams.
There was a memorial for Dumbledore, one year after his death, and a sparsely-attended funeral for Severus Snape, his Order of Merlin First Class mounted onto his gravestone. There was the funeral for Remus and Tonks and arranging custody for Teddy - Andromeda was quick to adopt him, thankfully, as Harry was in no position to be looking after a kid. Harry was almost numb by the time Fred's funeral came around and he didn't remember much for a couple of months after that.
In late July, two months after Voldemort's defeat, a band of rogue Death Eaters managed to track him down, raiding the small shack he had been renting on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. Luckily Neville was visiting at the time and between them they took down the dozen wizards with little fuss. Turning the captured Death Eaters over to the Ministry was tense - the aurors had arrived just as they were wrapping up, as usual - but meant there was a dozen less maniacs out on the streets.
Hermione managed to convince Harry to move into one of the guest chambers at Hogwarts after that, despite his protests that he could look after himself. And he could, though he wasn't about to tell anyone why.
The Hallows had returned.
It had been in the middle of the fight, when they'd already put five out of action and Neville was somewhere in the backyard dueling three more and Harry was left with the remaining four in the living room. Four wasn't too many - he knew that from experience - but somehow one of them had slipped past him, coming up behind and throwing an overpowered expelliarmus at his unprotected back. His wand had gone flying and he'd stumbled from the force of the spell, tripping over the coffee table and landing sprawled on his back on the floor. Harry had panicked then, knowing that he was an easy target with his ankle twisted around the table leg like that and had watched in horror as the four Death Eaters had advanced on him, deadly dark curses on their smirking lips.
The men had spoken, light flaring from their wands, and Harry had had a last moment to think of all the ways to die and he had thrown one arm up to cover his eyes and-
And a foreign if calming weight had settled into his hand and a bright dome of white light had appeared to shield him.
The shock of it - of having somehow called up his magic with his wand on the other side of the room - took a moment to settle in. But once it had and his mind had finally registered that there had been four splashes of coloured light against the shield and that it was far too quiet, Harry had slowly sat up, his arm dropping, to find that his assailants had apparently been knocked out. It didn't look like any spell he usually used and it certainly wasn't the spells they had been aiming at him - he was sure he had heard a crucio in there somewhere - so he put it down to accidental magic and turned his mind to other problems.
Like the wand in his hand. The wand that wasn't his.
The Elder Wand.
Despite having disposed of it as soon as he had been able, it had somehow found its way back to him. Admittedly it had been at just the right time, but still. He didn't want it.
Then he had moved to stand and had felt a familiar weight in his pocket and almost groaned. The Resurrection Stone, of course, had followed its counterpart and, in almost a mockery of his first year, appeared in his pocket. The Cloak was in his other pocket, kept there permanently in case he ever needed it to escape from Death Eaters or rabid reporters. Which, of course, meant he had all three Hallows on him at once.
That was when things had taken a turn for the worse, a groan from the other side of the couch alerting him to the fact that the Death Eaters were waking up. Harry had scrambled up, Elder wand in hand, and when another Death Eater had burst through the back door, Neville on his heels, Harry had acted without thinking.
The light of the spell had erupted from the wand ten times brighter than ever before and an answering glow had spilled from his pockets. The next thing he knew Harry was blinking away the spots in his vision, Neville and the five Death Eaters were sprawled on the floor and the Hallows had disappeared.
It took three days and a visit with Hermione and Ron (both having moved into Hogwarts for the moment) before he discovered where they had gone. A flash of unexpected colour in a mirror out of the corner of his eye had been his only warning but Hermione had seen it too and she demanded to know why -and when - he had gotten a tattoo.
After transfiguring and levitating a second mirror to float behind him, a familiar symbol - a circle inside a triangle, both bisected by a vertical line - met his eyes in the magical mirror and Harry felt a thrill of something like fear run through him. He had thought he had finally gotten rid of them (though he had mourned the loss of the Cloak) but no. There they were, tattooed onto the back of his neck like some kind of brand. He was only glad that it was not somewhere more visible, being easily hidden by a collar and slightly longer hair.
It had taken a few weeks and a couple more run-ins with renegade Death Eaters for him to master the Hallows, but soon enough he could call them into existence whenever he wanted, the required Hallow simply appearing in his hand. He supposed it was a bonus of having all three - something to do with that 'Master of Death' title he really didn't want.
Eventually Harry had moved on from the rebuilding to enter the Auror Academy with Ron. Tensions had run high about midway through the course when Harry had broken up with Ginny (it was a mutual decision but Ron was still very much her big brother) but after three years they finally graduated, Harry at the top of the year.
It was a good life, as far as Harry was concerned, chasing wizards and witches around the country. There were even a few times when he got to travel abroad. But even at the start of his career Harry knew there was something wrong, something missing, and two years later it was definite.
He wasn't aging.
It hadn't been quite so obvious at first - wizards aged slower than muggles after all and that usually kicked in around the early twenties - but by the time he was twenty-three and still looked not a day older that eighteen, Harry could no longer deny it.
Hermione had noticed it long before, of course, but had originally chalked it up to malnutrition as a child stunting his growth still or perhaps the phoenix tears he had been healed with all those years ago. But five years of no change, with even his hair and nails growing at a quarter of the speed they should of, and even Hermione couldn't think of another explanation.
So being the Master of Death apparently made him immortal. Joy.
He managed three more years as an auror before the job started getting to him. He felt like he had spent his whole life doing the same thing - chasing people and constantly almost getting killed - and wanted a change. The curious looks he started getting from his colleagues as he remained eternally eighteen didn't help.
That was when Luna appeared.
He hadn't seen her in years. Part of it was that she had spent the first couple of years after Hogwarts traveling the world, looking for all manner of strange creatures, but then Harry had become a bit of a recluse when he realised he had an aging problem and then she had disappeared.
The only contact anyone had received from Luna in years were the long, rambling letters she occasionally sent out, each with a different owl and that inevitably ended in a question about some obscure spell or plant or creature or artifact.
So when Luna turned up on his doorstep one evening, as enchantingly loony as ever, he was rather surprised. He wasn't surprised when she said she'd become as Unspeakable.
What followed was a highly convoluted and confusing conversation that basically came down to, 'Do you want a new job?" Harry had stared at her, confused and slightly incredulous. Then he'd cast finite just in case this was actually some joke of the George's (having not seen her in years, Harry likely wouldn't know the difference between Luna and a glamour, though the personality would be hard to reproduce) and when that had done nothing more than make Luna smile he'd slumped back in his chair and asked why on earth the Unspeakables wanted him.
Apparently his unchanging appearance hadn't been kept as quiet as he'd thought, and rumours of it had managed to seep down even to the lowest levels of the Ministry. The only known reason for someone to age so ridiculously slow was if their magical core was immense, Luna explained, and anyone with that much power was always approached with a job offer. Add to that his status as the Boy-Who-Lived and the fact that they were still trying to deal with objects they had taken from Voldemort's various stashes after the war, and he was the perfect candidate.
Harry had narrowed his eyes and asked plainly if accepting would result in being put under a microscope himself, but Luna had just turned to stare out the window and blithely replied that a full medical was conducted annually on every Unspeakable but that, no, he wouldn't be subjected to any extra tests unless he agreed to them.
It took three weeks to decide and another two to finalise the paperwork for his transfer. Ron was furious that Harry was ditching him (though it was at least partly jealousy and partly fear of losing his best friend) , but he was quickly beaten down by Hermione who, after tricking his new job out of him, was in equal parts ecstatic and completely jealous. Glad his friends were behind him, despite the way they had been slowly, sort of drifting apart over the last couple of years, and happy to have an old friend back, Harry had started his new job with an enthusiasm he hadn't felt in years.
Eight years later and that enthusiasm was still going strong. He'd had a crash course in arithmancy and runes the first year while working on some ancient tome that drove the reader insane, despite no one being able to understand a word in it, and had been successfully coached through learning occlumency (Luna was a much better teacher than Snape had ever been, and surely that said something) and eventually legilimency. The latter he wasn't so keen on but Luna and his senior Unspeakables had insisted that it was a good skill to have in their line of work so he had persevered. He wasn't particularly skilled in it, certainly no where near a Master's level, but he was good enough for his purposes.
The only time in his career as an Unspeakable that he had questioned his sanity in accepting the job was the four months he worked on the Veil. It was one of the few artifacts that had a constantly rotating research staff due to the prolonged effects of working near it - slower and more insidious than a Dementor but with much the same eventual affect - but Harry didn't even last the usual six months before he was taken off the project. Flashbacks and panic attacks in the middle of running tests on a highly dangerous magical object were never a good idea. It was possibly also because the researchers had gotten sick of the way the Veil reacted to Harry; almost hyperactive, fluttering wildly, the calls from within much louder than usual. Needless to say he never worked on that project again.
Eight years, and he thought he'd seen it all: household items cursed six ways to Sunday; books that devoured the reader instead of the other war around; disembodied parts of every creature on Earth, including humans, that continued to work despite being locked away in a jar of preservative potion; and mysterious objects that they had no clue about.
Aurors had been called, apparently by the muggle Prime Minister, after a large chunk of rock unlike anything ever seen on Earth had fallen out of the sky and into a muggle couple's backyard one day. It would almost pass as pure quartz, and almost had, except for three facts: it had fallen from the sky, it was the wrong size and shape for a natural stone never mind being polished smooth on one side and it was lit from within by a flickering spectrum of lights.
It had also caused several detectors in the Unspeakable offices (despite not being entirely sure what some of them were actually detecting) to go haywire, and Harry suspected the rather rapid hand over of the mystery object by the muggle researchers to the Unspeakables was exacerbated by his higher ups' curiosity.
Initially Harry wasn't allowed anywhere near the thing, as per usual for any kind of new object - the Unspeakables still weren't sure what to do about Harry's magic, since the fact that he still hadn't visibly aged suggested a greater magical core than any of them had ever planned for, and they were wary about having that kind of power around unknown objects. But two weeks later Harry was again approached by Luna, the current leader of the task force working with the 'Rainbow Stone' as they had named it (technically it was object USO63793 but nobody ever bothered with that name), who asked for his help. So he left his current project in the brain room and excitedly began working on his new project.
The data, once he was given a chance to look over it, was quite astounding. Initial tests had revealed a residue on the object that was reminiscent of a permanent portkey, but even that energy, once investigated, had been discovered to be something not quite like magic. The energy felt old, ancient almost, and the closest explanation anyone was able to come up with was a thousand-year old portkey that had overshot its course and ended up in the wrong place sans passengers (which wasn't a good thought but nobody had been reported missing and that wasn't their job).
Working on that theory, the Unspeakables started running more practical tests. Someone had been sent off to study the magical activation of a portkey and came back with a theory on how to use the Stone as a transportation device. The first to try it was an elderly man, even by wizarding standards, who had worked as an Unspeakable for longer than anyone could remember and who had no friends or family left (sadly, it was for that exact reason that he often got to test things first). They put several trackers on him - spells, potions and various devices - and sent him off in the hope he'd turn up somewhere soon enough in good condition.
Astonishingly, he did. He'd been aiming for his home at the time of his departure and had landed only about twenty kilometres north of it slightly winded but no worse for the experience. His only comment was that it had been less like a hook behind the navel and being squeezed through a tube and more like being pulled through a vortex by a violent wind.
The next test had involved a young witch just out of training who had tried a forest almost twice as far away. She had been discovered almost fifty kilometres north of the forest she had been meaning to land in, about three hundred metres south of a sea cliff.
More tests had been run, the results indicating that the only physical problem caused by using the Stone was fatigue relative to the distance traveled - the man who had tried to portkey to the other side of the world had taken four days to wake from unconsciousness. There was also a problem that nobody ever managed to end up quite where they wanted to go - most appeared north of their goal, though the one Unspeakable who had tried for the North Pole had found themself slightly south in Greenland. Lastly and most curiously, the Stone never went with the person it transported.
There was light, just like a spell, and unexpected bad weather frequently appeared above the Ministry and the landing sites, but the Stone never moved from the pedestal it had been placed on. It made it easier to continue experimenting, not having to wait for the latest test subject to bring the Stone back, but it drove the Unspeakables wild trying to work out how it transported someone without going with them.
A new theory was bounced around: that the Stone, with its constant misses, was set to go to one particularly place. New tests were run, with people attempting to use the Stone without a specific destination in mind, and it was quickly discovered that how far one got towards this target destination was more of a problem that going off course.
More tests, this time of the people involved, showed that the size of one's magical core determined distance. The old man who had again gone first had made it little more than fifty kilometres from the Ministry before he was thrown from what they were calling the 'transport tunnel' with a rather disconcerting shock. Others had made it further, each with a larger core size than the last, and soon enough someone had brought out a map and started plotting the landing locations. It was rough, but the line cut across Britain and, when extrapolated, ended up somewhere across the Atlantic in Canada or Alaska.
The excitement this brought was almost ridiculous. Were the Americans messing around with a new type of magic, or had they unearthed an ancient form or transportation? Had they been dabbling in something that shouldn't have? If they had sent it over to Britain was it some kind of weapon or spying device? Luna took it all in stride, her own theories only slightly less conspiracy theorist and certainly no less sane, but Harry spent the next few days alternating between mad laughter and exhausted exasperation.
Then, of course, Luna had an idea.
By this time, after being recruited and put on the Rainbow Stone project and every thing else in between, Harry had learnt to be cautious of any ideas that came from Luna's head. Inspired, certainly, and quite often brilliant, but the Ravenclaw's mind worked in strange and potentially dangerous ways. This time was no better.
"You want me to what?"
Luna had smiled, her wand still swishing through the air above the Stone as she cast spell after spell on it. "Are the nargles blocking your hearing, Harry?"
"No, it's not- I don't-" Harry had spluttered, forcing himself to a stop for a moment to collect his thoughts. "You're serious about this?"
"Of course." Luna had replied, spells suddenly finished and wand already back in its customary place behind her ear. "You're the best person for the job, after all."
Harry had backed up, giving Luna room to walk over to a nearby desk so she could scribble down her observations, then followed her, arguing, "You want me to try the blind-target portkey spell with the Stone?"
"And you've decided I'm the best person because I supposedly have this insane magical core which, might I add, we have yet to find proof of."
"Oh, Harry," Luna had murmured, turning back to face him, hip braced against the desk. "Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist."
Harry had simply sighed, well aware he wouldn't win that argument, and ran a hand through his hair. "Fine. You want a powerful spell, I'll give it all I've got. But I'm warning you; nothing's going to come of it. I've been through all the tests and my core is above average, yes, but I'm no where near the range of Dumbledore or Voldement. I'm not going to give you the result you're hoping for."
Luna had just smiled and turned back to her work, a soft, "We'll see," drifting through the doorway as Harry left.
That was how he had ended up in the position he was in now, standing a foot from the Rainbow Stone with sixteen trackers hidden somewhere on him and his holly wand loose in his hand. The other researchers, both those on the team and a few others who had dropped by purely for curiosity's sake, had crowded around the outer edges of the room. A few were closer, running last minute tests with various spells and devices, one even double checking her calculations and wasn't that reassuring.
"Right," the witch had said, finally straightening from her papers, ink smudged across her fingers and cheeks. "You remember everything we discussed?"
"Yes," Harry had answered, anxious now and just wanting to get it all over and done with.
"You have the muggle trackers on your belt, and the spells are attached to you, your shirt, shoes and cloak," the woman had continued, oblivious to Harry's reply and twisted her quill anxiously in her fingers. "We've tried to estimate your place of arrival according to the previous patterns and your core size and you should end up somewhere in Ireland - we've cleared it with their Ministry, so all you need to do is find the nearest wizarding settlement and floo to the Ministry and they'll get you back here. If we've misjudged and you land in water don't forget a bubble-head charm - there's gillyweed in the pouch on your belt if you need to do an extended swim and-"
"That's enough." Luna's soft voice had cut in, her steps quiet as she glided to a stop next to Harry. "You'll just make him nervous if you keep rambling on like that."
Harry had given her a wry smile. "Thanks Luna."
"No problem Harry." The girl - woman now - had smiled back, then moved to stand in her customary spot across the Stone from him. "You ready?"
Nodding, Harry had raised his wand, shoulders shifting as he took a deep breath.
"Remember, Harry," Luna had added, unusually serious voice drawing his eyes up to meet hers once again, "you have to make this as powerful as possible. There's no point to it otherwise."
And suddenly Harry realised she knew - had probably seen the tattoo on the back of his neck and was eccentric enough to actually know what it meant - and that this test wasn't about his core size. It wasn't even truly about his magic. It was about the Hallows and seeing how one powerful, ancient magical artifact would react to another powerful, ancient magical artifact. And Harry had paused, drawing odd looks from the various researchers around the room, then slowly slid his holly wand into the sheath on his wrist and, with a flick of his hand and mind, drawn the Elder Wand from seemingly nowhere.
Cries broke out from around the room - Harry had never shown anyone the Hallows, let alone mentioned them - and several of the Unspeakables darted forward as if to stop him but Harry had always had a problem with following his impulses and with a quirk of his lips he had cast the spell, blinding light flaring around him on all sides.
The last thing he saw was Luna's smile, her hand raised in a jaunty little wave and her eyes echoing an almost reluctant sadness.
Across the universe a gold-clad, dark skinned sentinel jerked, a flash of unknown power skimming past the edge of his sight, aimed right at a very familiar planet.
A minute later, in a bustling city that was just settling down for the night, aglow with electrical lights, a body popped into existence, shards of something like quartz or ice falling all around it. Strays scattered in the face of the light that poured from the shape and just in time as the energy surrounding it suddenly condensed, drawing in on itself, then exploded outward in a shockwave that hit everything in a hundred kilometre radius.
High above the skies, a hundred kilometres off the coast of New York, a floating fortress suddenly came alive with alarms and flashing red lights. Agents scrambled to discover the source of the alert.
One man, standing above the others on the bridge, let his eye close for a moment - just one second - then he was snapping to attention, orders flying quickfire from his mouth.
"I want a damage report and an explanation yesterday. Find out who the relevant people are and get them on the phone. We need to know what's happening. And for god's sake, someone shut off those goddamn alarms!"
The cacophony ceased, decreasing his headache slightly, and the lights flickered back to their normal white. The man raised one hand to rub at the bridge of his nose, glaring down at his screen as reports started rolling in, none of them good, and he felt resignation settle in.
"Find the Avengers. I don't care where they are or what they're doing or who they're doing it with, we need them here. Now."
It was going to be another big week.