Well, the good news is that I now have my full manuscript again! Not just for COS, but for its sequels and AU's too. Yay!
The better news is that this is my Summer Holiday and I have a lot more time to write now. The only reason a chapter hasn't been put up yet is that I've been phasing the work I did when I was without said manuscript into the main text(s). And I still have about 52 pages of handwritten A4 from when I was minus any sort of computer to add in. And yes, the chapter you have all been waiting for, the one where Sirius is found! Huzzah! It also features an article by Christine Everhart, which I'm not too sure about, mostly because I felt it was a bit long, meandering and got away from the main point. But, hey. It is what it is, and if it bores you, you can skate over it.
The views on Love Potions are partly my own and partly the view of any 21st century person when confronted with something like that. I do not think that they are romantic in the slightest. I think they are legalised tools for rape and manipulation. I also think that most wizards don't realise consciously how horrible they really are, hence James/Thor's casual first reaction to them, having grown up with them as a normal part of society.
Also, the bit about the Suggestibility Potion (my own invention) in the Marauders Era? Well, partly inspired by 'It's All Politics', a fantastic oneshot from Lily's point of view, I considered that the Marauders Era was essentially a world on the verge of open war, if not one in the middle of a dark, quiet, nasty war. It wasn't all merry pranks, sneaking out after hours and bromance between the Marauders. No, I think it was, at points, a lot darker than that. Especially for Lily. The Marauders are powerful, popular and in the case of James and Sirius, from strong Pureblood families , albeit blood traitors both. Remus and Peter are at least half bloods. I'm thinking that they and Lily, an unconnected, outspoken Muggleborn, would have been treated very differently…
My personal fancast for Lily Evans Potter? Rose Leslie. She feels right for Lily. Though I have a certain fondness for Karen Gillan in that role.
The chapter title is a quote from T.S. Eliot about the Jacobean playwright John Webster, who had a knack for seeing the darker side of human nature beneath the masks they wear, and wrote 'The Duchess of Malfi' and 'The White Devil'. I'm using it as a metaphor for the Wizarding World at large. There is far more than meets the eye, and not all of it is nice.
"What's your dad's girlfriend like?" Ron asked curiously. They were in the Common Room of Gryffindor Tower, and Harry had spent another weekend at Avengers Tower. This one had been quieter. Well, relatively speaking. Ron, Hermione and the Twins had joined him, and then there had been the visit from that nice reporter. Her article was coming out
"Nice, very clever, easily distracted, funny, pretty… I like her," Harry said.
"She seems a little soft mate," Ron said, tone dubious.
"Ron, we're talking about the woman who used to chase tornadoes for a living and faced down a machine designed to kill gods. Soft is not the right word for it."
Ron stared at him. "Really?"
"Okay, so she's crazy."
"Maybe, but that just means she fits right in. I mean, her best friend is Darcy. Darcy is one hundred percent pure awesome, but she's not normal," Harry said. This admiration of Darcy had, partially, manifested in taking on some of her vocabulary.
Having met the Avengers, Ron could only concede this point. And he had something of a crush on that pretty reporter. He'd been amazed by all the scandalous clothing muggles wore as a matter of course. It was something his mother would not approve of. That said, he wasn't complaining. He remembered Darcy's cleavage and blushed. No siree, he was not complaining.
"It was a great weekend," he said eventually.
Harry nodded vigorously and thought back. It had all started with a conversation.
Harry sighed. It was Friday afternoon and he was on the phone to his uncle. This week, they would not be flying over. In the space of a remarkably short time, Jane had jury rigged what she called a dimension door from the Bifrost gate at the heart of the Tower. Instead of sending a signal to the gate of the New Bifrost on Asgard, as controlled by Heimdall, requesting an opening, it sent one to the Headmaster's fireplace, essentially forming a temporary floo connection. Loki had tested it several times, pronounced it, "safe for Asgardians, but not necessarily for humans", then Tony, as ever curious as a kitten and equally mindless of his own safety, had tested it himself, and pronounced it, "Yeah guys, it's fine – OW! Pepper, that's my ear! Owowowowowowow!"
"Is it wrong that I want to be normal?" he eventually asked his uncle. He, Hermione, Ron and the Twins were being picked up later that evening, but he wanted a private chat first.
Loki half smiled. "No, it isn't wrong. As I have mentioned, I too wanted to fit in," he said. "I somewhat managed it." He glanced at Harry. "I'm afraid, however, for you, normal isn't really... what is the phrase? Ah, yes. 'On the cards.'"
"How many Midgardian children, magical or otherwise, have prophecies that apply to them before they are born, have the Sorcerer Supreme for a paediatrician, survive unsurvivable curses and somehow contrive to have three sets of biological grandparents, all of whom are or were near peerless in the fields?" Loki asked dryly.
Harry didn't really have an answer to that.
When the Avengers came, they came en masse and slightly early, so the more curious souls could poke around the school and learn more about magic. In simplified terms, to get the scientists to stop bugging Loki all the time because his patience was wearing thin and no one wanted an extensive remodelling of New York. Again.
"What are they doing?" Remus asked curiously.
Jane, Tony, Bruce and Erik were alternately questioning Loki - in Erik's case, from a slight distance -and furiously debating.
"Unlocking the secrets of the universe," Thor said laconically. "Or rather, of Hogwarts. They should be done by lunchtime."
Remus stared at him. "Hogwarts still has parts that are a mystery to the greatest magical scholars," he said. "James, I know your friends and girlfriend are genii, but aren't you overestimating them a little?"
Thor smirked at him. "It took the greatest minds in Asgard two and a half centuries to design and build the Bifrost. Jane built the prototype for the New Bifrost in her backroom in six months from spare parts with only the help of Darcy, Erik and SHIELD Agents whenever she needed convenient people for heavy lifting," Thor said, with definite pride in his voice. "Tony built a flying suit of armour in a cave out of scraps while also miniaturising the most powerful power source short of the Tesseract. It took him less than three months, including the time it took to recover from open heart surgery. Bruce is the leading authority on Gamma radiation in the world - though I am still not entirely sure what that is, tracked down the Tesseract in a matter of hours when no one else could, is a skilled biochemist - which I think has something to do with understanding the very building blocks of humankind - and has the breadth of expertise to keep up with both Tony and Jane in their own fields. Erik was Jane's mentor and designed the device that opened the Tesseract portal over New York, again, in a matter of hours."
Remus' jaw had dropped.
"It also helps that they are talking to the person who singlehandedly built Hogwarts," Thor added offhandedly.
While it was not possible for a jaw to drop off, Remus' was making a spirited attempt.
"What do you think of Jane?" Thor asked, tone curious and nervous.
"What do I think of her?" Remus asked.
Remus half smiled. He could recognise the same tone that James had used when he – finally, after a lot of teasing from Sirius – admitted his attraction to Lily, mid fourth year. It said that he wanted his friends good opinion and support, but if he didn't have it, that wasn't going to change anything with the object of his affections.
"I don't know her yet," he said honestly. "But what I do know is good."
Thor gave him a hopeful look. It only compounded his resemblance to a thunder god/wizard shaped Labrador.
"Yes, James, I like her," Remus added, amused. "What did you get up to this last week?"
"Oh, nothing much," Thor said airily.
"Well, Florean Fortescue said that Slug & Jiggers is now under the ownership of Stark Industries and Mister Stark has banned love potions from the store," Remus said, tone mild. "After the Avengers paid a visit."
Thor gave him an innocent look. Remus gave him a look that said, 'Prongs, are you really trying this on me?'
Thor acquiesced and explained.
"So... What do these do?" Tony asked, pointing at a small bottle on the shelf. The Avengers were being given a guided tour of Diagon Alley by Thor, and were all acting like kids in a sweet shop. This was a place of weirdness and wonders.
"Love potion," Thor said casually. "They make the drinker infatuated with the person who uses it. They're looked down upon, but a reasonably common. And they aren't hard to brew if I remember correctly.
There was a long silence. The Avengers exchanged looks. "Thor," Jane said slowly. "We have those too."
"They're called Date Rape drugs, big guy. As in, they leave you helpless and at the other person's mercy," Tony said, eyeing the bottle with extreme distaste. "And then they usually sexually assault you." He winced. "And these sound even worse. At least roofies don't make you think you're in love."
"Thor," Jane said gently. "I realise you once grew up with these as being... not out of the ordinary," she said, looking for words. "But what if someone..." she took a deep breath. "What if someone used one on Harry? Or on me?"
"And you have no idea how many times I had to slip you the antidote for one of Amora's brews," Loki muttered. He looked at Thor. "One time, I missed it. And Amora nearly made you kill Sif, who she perceived to be a rival. Brother, these things are indescribably dangerous."
Thor's changing expression was like a rockslide. It started slowly, then began to gather pace, meaning nothing good for whatever had the misfortune to be in its way. A few moments later, he was directing a vicious glare at the bottle. "I never looked at it that way," he said through clenched teeth. A distinct smell of ozone was beginning to fill the air.
Tony nodded. "I can see that," he said. He looked at the proprietor who was looking worried. He bared his teeth. "I'm off to have a little chat with the manager," he said.
Ten minutes later, Tony owned the store. Five minutes after that, all the love potions were destroyed and the manager was fired when he dared object.
Thereafter, Tony was a man on a mission. First off, he went into Flourish and Blotts and ordered every book on the history of the use and legality of love potions. It was not pretty reading.
"Okay, so they were originally invented by a spurned potions master to, oh man, this is fucked up, seduce the woman he loved, who just so happened to be very beautiful and betrothed to his arch rival," Tony said, eyes flicking across the text at near superhuman rates. While he preferred computers, he was no slouch with books.
Thor promptly went crimson with rage and started twitching. The sky outside darkened ominously and Bruce, Jane, Clint and Natasha began eyeing him worriedly.
"Fortunately, he slipped it in the wrong drink, the drink of his rival, and the witch was just as talented a potioneer as her spurned lover, so she brewed up an antidote, and duelled the potions master… yeurgh, oh nasty," Tony said, deep in the book. "She force fed him his…" Tony went green. "Well, I don't think he ever tried that again," he said, shutting the book. "You magic people are messed up!"
"Thor?" Jane said gently. "What's wrong?"
"Easy," Darcy said. "He's getting worked up at the idea that that greasy potions dude who so obviously had the hots for Harry's mom might have tried it."
Everyone stared at her. "What? I may not know super science or super magic, but people are easy. I mean, sure he's pissed at Thor, but why would he hold on to a grudge for that long? Why would he hate Harry so much? Because he swung and missed," she said, shrugging.
"You are scarily perceptive," Tony said eventually, keeping half an eye on Thor.
"Thor," Jane said softly, putting a gentle hand on his arm. "It didn't happen. Relax. Calm down. Getting angry solves nothing."
Thor seethed for a moment more, sparking blue eyes meeting Jane's steady, warm brown, flicking down to her small, soft hand, then he relaxed, tensed muscles that could tear apart cities and shatter mountains untensing. Loki looked relieved. He didn't particularly want to spend the afternoon picking up the pieces from a Thor Odinson TM rampage and explaining to the Minister of Defence, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister why a large portion of London was now a sinkhole. This, of course, presumed that there were any pieces left and that said sinkhole didn't claim Whitehall and Downing Street as well.
"Thank you, Jane. And you are right, it did not," Thor said, voice low. "Unfortunately, as James, I had in the past had cause to think such a thing and it brought back some rather nasty memories."
Tony opened his mouth to inquire. Bruce and Loki didn't have to look, hands shooting out to cover his mouth. Thankfully, the rest of the trip passed without any further incident. But it was a near miss.
Remus nodded slowly, remembering said incident. In Sixth Year, Lily had started hanging out with the Slytherins, particularly Snape and his fellow would be Death Eaters. She had been suspiciously at ease with them, and her friends had been worried, not unreasonably so. The Marauders, led by James – who was naturally suspicious and pissed off by this turn of events – and Sirius – who hated most things Slytherin, had investigated.
As it turned out, Lily had been being drugged with a Suggestibility Potion. Essentially, it made her more likely to agree with what the person who administered the potion said and did, slowly, over time and with more doses, bringing them totally under their control. It was, essentially, like a far more subtle and slower version of the Imperius Curse. It's advantage was that it was harder to break, because you didn't know you were under it. And everything the person who administered the potion said or did was considered normal. The implications had chilled Remus' blood.
Most Death Eaters disdained it, finding the Imperius Curse quicker and easier.
Snape, it seemed, didn't actually know about this. This was proven by Sirius forcefeeding him Veritaserum. And he wasn't particularly pleased when he found out, which the Marauders had considered the one and only point in his favour. Of course, as James had privately asserted, he was mostly pissed off because it wasn't him doing it and he hadn't noticed, though Remus had disagreed.
When this had been revealed, Snape had assisted in brewing an antidote – something the Marauders were grudgingly grateful for – Remus had spiked Lily's drink at lunch, and once it took effect, something signalled by Lily's expressions shifting like the stills of an old film, shifting through shock, comprehension, horror, anger, and finally, icy rage. She promptly showed that she was free of the potion by drawing her wand, stalking over to the Slytherin table and opening fire. The Sixth and Seventh Year Gryffindors, apprised of the situation, had followed, leading an assault on the guilty party.
The Fifth Years had followed, and once rumours had filtered back of just why the by now vicious duel was taking place, the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had joined in. The Hufflepuffs because they had felt that this was an injustice and were not very fond of the underhanded tactics involved and the Ravenclaws because they prized independence of mind and retention of faculties above all. Having one's ability to choose compromised in any way, shape or form was horrifying to them.
While one might expect that Gryffindor, house of the chivalrous and noble, would be home to a lot of boys seeking redress for this wrong against a fair maiden, and indeed it was, it happened to be said fair maiden and her friends that did the most damage. Sirius, tone admiring, had later said, "I don't care what they say, girls are scary. They're clever, dangerous and they do not fight fair."
Since Jugson had had a lit candle shoved where no candle, lit or otherwise, should go while prancing around and singing 'Sweet Transvestite' from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Avery had been found rocking and sobbing in a corner, eyes wide and horrified, seeing some nightmare beyond the reach of mortal man, Travers had only been identified by the name inside his robes, the rest having become a faintly purple and vaguely slug shaped mass with lots of orange warts and multi-coloured tentacles and the Carrows had been transfigured into toads, then loosed into the dungeons, it was generally considered that he had a point.
James, however, had been just as vicious, as Mulciber, the ringleader, had found out. And so had everyone else, when they found him artificially splinched, with one leg floating in the lake, the other in a broom cupboard in the Astronomy Tower, one arm wedged in the rafters of the Great Hall, the other in a stall in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, and his head and torso, still functional, in the deepest, darkest parts of the dungeons that the Marauders knew of. With a silencing spell on his mouth. It took them two days to find all of him.
McGonagall had been furious. When she'd found out the why of the attack, she'd passed into the sort of cold tranquillity that makes people want to emigrate to Australia, grow beards, change their names and consign themselves to a lifetime of bad beer and sheep jokes rather than face it.
Since Lily hadn't been forced to do anything heinous – much to everyone's relief – and James' spells had been cast perfectly, in full knowledge that it would only make the would be Death Eater wish he was dead, therefore allowing the teachers to put Mulciber back together again, no one was expelled. Mulciber would have been if Veritaserum had been used on him or his friends and his true intentions were discovered.
The Marauders knew. Lily knew. Snape knew. And aside from the ringleaders, that was it. As to what they were… well, Lily was a beautiful young woman, and Mulciber had plans 'to show the world where mudbloods belonged'. And to make her like it. Pictures do need to be drawn, and all that needs to be said was that there was very good reason that Mulciber was number two on Thor's 'to smite' list after Voldemort himself.
The honest reactions of the Marauders, their fury and genuine concern, and their even stronger than usual silence on the matter, had, if not endeared them to Lily, had made her realise that they were a lot smarter, a lot braver and a lot more mature than they let on. It had led to three things.
One, Lily, already a formidable duellist and a genius at potions, developing her expertise in both in whatever spare moment she had, and carrying a bezoar everywhere. She swore never to be helpless ever again. Two, the Marauders starting to mature more as they realised how serious things were getting. This was not kids' stuff anymore. This was war. It just hadn't been declared yet. Three, the battle lines were drawn. You were either on one side or the other. No middle ground. No second chances. No way out.
All in all, Remus was amazed that there was anything left of Diagon Alley.
"You have changed. For the better," he said.
"Maybe I have. I'm still killing Mulciber first chance I get," Thor said flatly.
"I never doubted that," Remus muttered, inwardly vowing to hold the bastard down.
Thor turned, expression brightening, to see his son, who shamelessly hurtled in for a hug, ignoring his Professor entirely.
"Hello, Harry," Thor said, grinning. "How are you?"
"Happy to see you and the others," Harry said.
Remus watched father and son banter for a while, before he felt a light touch on his arm, designed to unobtrusively get his attention by someone who was used to jumpy people. He looked down slightly, and saw a man of medium height, with dark, curly hair, tanned skin, warm, intelligent brown eyes and a gentle, kindly demeanour. But there was something beneath the surface, something… dangerous. It put Moony's hackles up. It was like dealing with another were creature, but there was no dispute over dominance. Not in terms of strength.
While contests of dominance among werewolves were settled by conflict in human and wolf form, there could be no thought to fighting a creature like the one he sensed dwelt beneath the mild mannered exterior of the man before him. It would be like fighting a storm or an avalanche, an unstoppable force of nature. He blinked as the man stuck out a hand.
"Hi, I'm Bruce, Bruce Banner. You're… Remus, right?" the man said.
Remus nodded. "Remus Lupin, Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts," he said. "Doctor Banner… James mentioned you as one of the Avengers."
"I'm the Hulk."
It was a matter of fact statement, and from such a small, seemingly harmless man, should have been utterly ridiculous. But even if Remus hadn't been able to trust Moony's senses, the hard look in the man's eyes would have gone some way to convincing him that the man was telling the truth.
"Oh. How do you manage your… condition?" Remus asked, then inwardly cursed. He could hardly have been more tactless if he'd tried.
Bruce caught his expression and smiled wryly. "When I first met Tony, he told me he loved my work and 'the way you lose control and turn into a giant green rage monster.' I'm used to it," he said calmly. "I've actually been wanting to have a word with you about your…" he lowered his voice. "Furry little problem."
For a split second, Remus was furious that James had told anyone, let alone people that he, Remus, did not know, then reason asserted itself. One, the Avengers weren't part of the Wizarding World. There wasn't the expected stigma. Two, this was the one man in the world who wasn't a were who might really, truly understand him. "All right," he said quietly, and allowed Bruce to lead him off to the side.
"To answer your question, well, let's go back to the start. I was a scientist working for a guy called General Ross. I was dating his daughter, Betty Ross, who was working on the same project. We were trying to recreate the Super Soldier Serum, the same stuff that gave Steve his abilities. I thought that gamma rays, a form of radiation that can lead to mutation, were the key. I wanted to help my country, I thought their serum was the key to freeing all mankind from disease and pain," Bruce said. "They weren't the key. I knew it was risky, so I tested it on myself." He grimaced. "Cue the Hulk. The first rampage put Betty in hospital. It nearly killed her." He looked at Remus. "I think you can guess what happened next."
"You were hunted. They thought you were a monster."
"No, not just a monster," Bruce said, bitter amusement in his tone. "They thought I was a weapon. They thought I was the key to a new kind of soldier. Who wouldn't want to have an army of guys who can tear castles and buildings apart, ignore bullets and probably spells like bee stings and leave chaos wherever they go? So I ran. I hid and looked for a cure."
"I'm sorry," Remus said quietly. "I… I was bitten as a child. My father had offended a powerful werewolf called Fenrir Greyback. He's a savage, who embraces his condition – last I heard, he was more wolf than man. He enjoys killing and biting. Especially children. He likes raising them away from civilisation, so they obey him and him alone."
Bruce made a face. "Yeah, I've met his type before," he muttered. "Recruitment tactic as old as time, make them believe that no one else will have them, take 'em in and they'll kill for you. Simple as that."
Remus looked at him, surprised. Though intellectually he knew that this man had been on the run, and that the he also happened to be the Hulk, it was hard to imagine him encountering things like Greyback. Or maybe, he thought, as he looked deep into the other man's dark eyes, and saw just the tiniest hint of green, it wasn't.
"I went to some pretty bad places, Professor Lupin, and met some pretty bad people. I know the type," Bruce said. "On the embracing thing… he's mostly wrong. Not completely, though."
Remus frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I came to accept the Other Guy, that he was part of me and was always going to be. We've come to an agreement," Bruce said.
"I occasionally let him out, to fight and to run around in the desert or something like that," Bruce said calmly. "I'm willing to bet that it was a lot easier to transform when you had your friends with you, and something to look forward to."
Remus thought back and realised that Bruce was right. Transformations had been easier, smoother. He and Moony… well, they hadn't quite been one, but they had worked together.
"The secret isn't giving up control or trying too hard, it's balance," Bruce said gently. "We can help. Not just me and the Hulk, but Loki and Thor too. Loki's a shapeshifter and in Asgard they have a group called the Wolf People, a race of natural born werewolves. If we can't help, they can."
Remus stared at him for a long moment, imagining a life without constant dependency on Wolfsbane, with no fear of losing control and eating someone or turning them… and smiled. It was worth a shot.
"When do we start?" he asked.
"Monday," Bruce said. "This is going to be risky and secret, so we don't want anyone else in the Tower."
Remus nodded. "I'll look forward to it," he said. "But, I'm teaching –"
"Professor Dumbledore has approved sick leave. Loki is filling in at lesson times," Bruce said, and smirked. "The school should still be standing when you get back."
Remus grinned. Things were looking up.
The main thing that was different about this weekend as compared to the last was that a journalist came to visit. The one journalist that the Avengers even vaguely trusted. Her article follows:
Inside the Ivory Tower
by Christine Everhart
Avengers Tower, formerly Stark Tower, isn't made of ivory. Instead, it is made of glass, titanium and steel, a tall, gleaming, defiant challenge to any who would harm the innocent, presiding over the New York skyline like a modern Colossus of Rhodes, powerful, remote and both unnerving and inspiring. It stands out, removed from the everyday in a way that instantly attracts notice and despite the fact that it's very obvious, no one in their right minds would even consider attacking it. It is larger than life and can't help but attract attention. Much like the Avengers themselves.
The Avengers are a mixed bag of oddballs by any standard. A supersoldier from World War II, two near immortal Princes from another dimension who were worshipped as Gods in the ancient past, one of whom is a recovering supervillain, a genius billionaire philanthropist (the playboy part fell by the wayside some years ago) in a hyperadvanced suit of armour, a mild mannered, kindly scientist who occasionally turns into a Hulk and two master spies. Somehow, this group of highly dysfunctional individuals has formed one of the deadliest fighting forces in recorded history.
And that's even before meeting them and their equally unusual family and friends. And by family, I refer to none other than the mysterious son of Thor, who stunned the world merely by existing when he cropped up a month ago.
In retrospect, it isn't so surprising. Thor is an immortal warrior god, or as near as makes no difference, and from an objective point of view, handsome and attractive. It is logical that he would have a child. The reality, however, is somewhat startling, and speculation has been rife. Many rumours swirl around the boy, yet only one thing is certain. The Avengers are ferociously protective of their youngest affiliate.
Footage of a recent battle in Central Park has shown the Hulk, remarkably, shielding the boy with his body from a barrage of heavy duty laser fire, then holding him close to his chest and protecting the boy while he quite literally single handedly destroyed any robot within reach. Thor's response to his son being threatened was a marked increase in violence. Any robot the Hulk did not smash, Thor obliterated.
Perhaps this is not surprising. The Avengers aren't known for having many who they hold dear, and are very protective of those who they do care for. The sight of Tony Stark mowing his way through a homegrown terrorist cell when one of them dared make threats to Pepper Potts, his fiancée and, as I can personally attest to, the one person in the world he trusts implicitly, was terrifying. The only reason any of them survived to be arrested was because Thor managed to get him in a restraining bear hug before he could unleash the heaviest weapons in his considerable arsenal.
Then there was the arrest of Thor's sister in law and her husband, who had been granted custody of Harry on his mother's death and father's… well, I wasn't sure how to put it until Loki helpfully suggested 'discorporation'. It seems an appropriate word to describe the complex and highly mystical arrangement that led to Thor being incarnated as a memory less human baby, living, dying and returning to his natural body. Thor's obvious and understandable fury caused weather patterns all over Northern Europe to go haywire, and a very large yet localised thunderstorm to form over the South Eastern English county of Surrey. The meeting room used for meetings of the British Government's Emergency Council, COBRA, was also sporting a large, suspiciously Thunder God shaped hole.
This undoubted and understandable protectiveness of Harry shows how important one thirteen year old boy is to them. And it helps go some way to understanding the Avengers as a whole.
Tony Stark's father is a difficult subject. His mother was much loved, as shown by the charitable wing of the Stark fortune being called the Maria Stark Foundation, but she was also often abroad when he was young. Steve Rogers lost both his parents before he left high school. Neither Natasha Romanova nor Clint Barton have revealed anything about their pasts, but if I had to guess, both are orphans. When I began to ask about Bruce's father, Tony clamped a hand over my mouth and shook his head urgently. His mother is also dead.
Only Thor and Loki have both parents, but each have their own traumas. Loki was a bookish academic among boisterous warriors, and did not, apparently, fit the Asgardian ideal with his smooth tongue, magical skill, scholarly brilliance and sly trickery.
"I became resentful," Loki says, over a cup of truly excellent coffee. When I mention this, he laughs. "It is a hobby, but I thank you nonetheless," he says modestly, though I can see a twinkle of pride in his bright green eyes. He returns to his previous subject. "As I said, I became resentful. Thor was, through no fault of his own, the perfect Asgardian. Brave, boisterous, honest, hearty and as good hearted as it is possible to be, if one ignored the unsurprising arrogance. A not unreasonable Midgardian comparison would be that he was the Big Man On Campus while I was the biggest nerd of them all. I was… considered useful, I suppose, and I did have some very good friends. I just saw them as being Thor's friends first, mine second." He shrugged. "A fairly minor thing, you might imagine, but if I remember my Midgardian history correctly, was the most evil tyrant in modern history not a frustrated and resentful artist with a knack for words?"
He refers, of course, to Adolf Hitler, and I have to admit, the comparison is an interesting one. As I tell him he was not as bad, his lips twist.
"I appreciate your kindness, my lady, but the truth is that if I had not been stopped, I would likely have been far worse," he says grimly. He lightens. "But thankfully, I was stopped. And now I work to undo what I did."
It is at that moment that I first see the elusive and mysterious Harry. Short for his age and slender with it, with black, messy hair and, behind round glasses, green eyes that are only a few shades different to Loki's, dressed in casual clothing, he is very much his uncle's nephew.
He hovers in the doorway, and gives me a cautious smile. I return it, and get a dazzling grin in response. His uncle follows my gaze and smiles. "Please excuse me, Miss Everhart," he says politely, before turning to his nephew. "What is it, Harry?"
Harry says that his friends, whose names have been removed for privacy reasons, and he have gone looking for Thor and can't find him.
Loki tells him where he'll be – the gym – and is about to dismiss Harry when he sees him looking at me with a strange mix of childish guileless curiosity and the sort of calculation and assessment that I would expect to see in the eyes of Tony Stark. He clearly wants to talk to me.
One of the conditions I was given for this article was that I was not to interview Harry. At all. Or even quote him unless I got express permission. This, Tony made especially clear. "We want the kid to have his privacy," he said firmly, with a sort of willpower behind it that you could bend steel bars around. The Avengers are very definite about the people they care about. That said, I was allowed to talk to him, and Loki suggested we all go and find Thor.
While I can't report the conversation, I can tell you that Harry is a strange mix of his father and his uncle, with some elements that can only have come from his deceased and much missed mother. He has his uncle's dry wit, mischief and, once he gets going, his way with words.
This is mixed in with, once he is comfortable with me, a brash cheerfulness, honesty and openness that is pure Thor, along with the fact that even a few minutes observation tells me that he is the undisputed leader of his little band of three friends. The other two are a fourteen year old boy and girl, the boy with a shock of red hair and numerous freckles and being of lanky, puppyish proportions that promise strength in years to come, whose blush on seeing me clashed horribly with his hair, the girl with bushy brown hair, sharp brown eyes and what has to be a genius level IQ, who occasionally snapped at the red haired boy in a fondly exasperated fashion. They both follow him implicitly. Even the redhaired twins, older brothers of Harry's friend by two years, who Loki casually mentions are two of his apprentices, defer to him. This instinctive leadership, tempered, as I witnessed, by the ability to take suggestions, are very much traits he inherited from his father.
When we get to the gym, Harry calls over to his father, who turns. The instant smile on his face, not in the least dimmed by the fact that Barton, his opponent, takes the opportunity to brain him with a hefty dumbbell, was truly heartwarming. It helps that more damage was done to the dumbbell than Thor, who merely stumbled, gave a hearty laugh and scooped his son up when he ran over with unusual enthusiasm for a teenager.
The actions of a younger child, maybe, but in the context, they make sense. From my earliest dealings with the Avengers, Thor has always been the most tactile, being completely innocent of embarrassment and of the concept of personal space. His son, again, takes after him in this, and is making up for a good twelve years of lack of familial love. Certainly, I doubt anyone would begrudge him the chance to act a little younger than he is.
This juxtaposition of a childishly carefree nature and, as he later reveals, astonishing maturity, is one that permeates his very being. As Stark observed, "He's a demigod. Contradiction comes with the territory."
I came to Avengers Tower intending to interview them all separately, but I quickly changed my approach, if only because when Harry is around, they drop their guards. Or, in the case of Romanov and Barton, as much as they ever drop them. It is hard not to relax around such an energetic, earnest person.
One moment he's helping Stark tune up one of his cars and getting completely filthy, the next Pepper Potts or Jane Foster – long term girlfriend of Thor, who must be rather relieved that his son and girlfriend get on well - is pointing him in the direction of a sink to get himself cleaned up, watching him to make sure he actually does it while he chatters away to Clint Barton – a highly qualified pilot and the one who usually pilots the various Avengers 'Quinjets' - about flying, laughing raucously with his friends at some joke made by Darcy Lewis, Jane Foster's former assistant and friend to the Avengers, then he runs off with his female friend and the twins to watch his uncle refine the wards on the Tower in his study at the very heart of the Tower, green eyes wide with wonder as he watches Loki's hands twitch and dance, pulling at half visible strings of navy blue, ice white, solid red, shimmering emerald green, daring crimson and vibrant, burning gold, weaving a cat's cradle of protective magic. He is always on the move, and, it seems, almost always welcome wherever he goes.
It is remarkable to see how patient Stark is in teaching him, how affectionately firm Potts and Foster both are with him, the way Barton is happy to listen to him and the way his uncle finds the time to spare him a small, confidential smile while in the midst of what I am informed is immensely complex magic.
It is quite extraordinary. Yet there is something about him that invites you into his confidence, invites to pay attention to him and to like him. Within two hours of entering the Tower, before I knew it, I found myself a co-conspirator in one of his pranks upon the endlessly patient Steve Rogers. This strange charisma, which makes those who are disposed to like him like him all the more, is another thing he inherited from his father. While Loki can be a little intimidating at first, Thor is a big bundle of fun, all smiles, warmth and bone crushing hugs – though it seems that his restored memories have aided him in understanding the concept of personal space – and is instantly likeable, much like a particularly benevolent fraternity brother or a thunder god shaped Labrador.
While Harry is not quite the same – his aura is more of a lovable, warm, smiling child on the edge of adulthood, much like a cross between his father and uncle - it has much the same effect. Even the occasional SHIELD Agents and other scientists who visit the Tower spare him smiles, kind words, ruffled hair and in one amusing case, sweets. It isn't supernatural, as such. His personality is merely magnetic.
And this is shown in no better fashion than an article that was supposed to be all about the Avengers became all about their youngest affiliate. Maybe that is fair enough. He reveals a lighter, more relaxed side to the Avengers, who are all too often only seen at stage managed galas and in the heat of battle. He is the lens through which I saw the truth of the Avengers.
I saw Stark as a relaxed, patient teacher, treating Harry like a favourite nephew. I saw Potts and Foster act as a mother figure and an older sister figure respectively, Potts revealing her carefully controlled softer side. This does not mean that she's lost any of the sharpness that has made her America's richest woman and one of its most successful business people. Far from it. Instead of being replaced, the image of Pepper Potts I previously had merely gained another layer of complexity.
I saw Thor as the doting father that I suspect he always has been at heart. I saw Loki as the sort of indulgent uncle that every child might wish for, much like Tony – as he is in everything – but quieter, gentler, never raising his voice, in a sharp contrast to the fire and bombast of his actions and words in battle.
I even saw beneath the masks of Barton and Romanov. I didn't see much, but I saw the people they could have been. Barton, like Stark, treats Harry a sort of nephew/little brother, encouraging his mischief, and is quite happy to listen to the boy's babble. Romanov actually gives him genuine smiles, and he is one of the very few people who are not intimidated by the reputation of the Black Widow, which I suspect she finds somewhat refreshing.
And then there is Rogers. Rogers the really almost too good to be true. In all my life, I have never met anyone so honestly and unfailingly nice as Captain Steve Rogers. I once asked Stark about it. He said, "Well, I figure Cap was just born that way. I mean, the Law of Averages dictates that you're going to get someone ridiculously nice eventually, if only to balance out people like me."
Rogers is somewhat more forthcoming. "What Doctor Erskine [the creator of the Super Soldier Serum. His secret apparently died with him when he was assassinated by a HYDRA spy] said was that it made 'a good man great and a bad man worse'. It magnifies everything, Miss Everhart, not just the physical attributes, but mental too."
His tone is self-deprecating, and it is clear that Erskine's quote embarrasses him. He doesn't mind being thought of as a good man. A great one, however, is another matter. "I'm just another kid from Brooklyn," he says, tone dismissive. "Nothing special about me."
His statement is somewhat ruined by Stark and Loki rolling their eyes in the background. For all their cynicism, both believe otherwise.
"I have lived since your kind counted their years in three digits," Loki said. "I am arguably the most extensively travelled of the Aesir [the larger and more powerful of the two known sub groups of Asgardians], and have been walking the Nine Realms for millennia. And Steven Rogers is quite possibly the most remarkable individual, of any species, that I have ever met."
His brother agrees. "There are very few men or women who I would follow into battle, and only one I would follow without question. Steven is that man."
Quite the endorsement, especially when added to the fact that he is the one authority figure that Tony Stark is willing to listen to.
Despite all their apparent remoteness and distance, the Avengers are as human as you and I, on the inside. Even if they occasionally need the presence of an innocent child to show it. Like the Tower itself, once you get past the intimidating, shiny exterior, you'll find that there is warmth, gentleness and humanity within.
As he finished the article, and nodded his satisfaction, Loki stiffened suddenly, then ran to his room.
"Brother?" Thor called. "What is it?"
There was a loud cry, then a call of, "Brother! I have found him! I have found Sirius Black!"
Sirius Black was beginning to wonder if he'd finally lost it. It was rare that sane men saw deceased best friends appearing out of the blue with enormous hammers and strange pseudo-medieval armour.
"Padfoot?" the hallucination said. "Is that you?"
"Go away," Sirius said coldly, and sighed as the figure recoiled. "Look, I'm sure you're a perfectly nice hallucination, but I don't have the time to be insane. I'm busy looking for my godson."
"Harry is safe," the hallucination replied.
"No he isn't," Sirius snapped, unsure of why he was arguing with a hallucination, but doing it anyway. "Peter's at Hogwarts. Waiting."
"Peter?" the hallucination asked. "I'd have thought that he would be as far away from Harry as possible."
Sirius shook his head. "His information led to Voldemort going down. If Voldemort comes back, he'll need something big to get back in favour."
"Like Harry," the hallucination said, nodding. "How did you find out he was there?"
"An article in the Prophet," Sirius said, sitting down. He might as well get comfortable if he was going to talk to a hallucination. "About the prize winning Weasley family."
The hallucination nodded. "The youngest son is a close friend of Harry's," he said. "And I believe that the youngest child has something of a crush on him. In fairness, he did rescue her from the Chamber of Secrets."
Sirius paused. His delusions never offered information he didn't know, even in his dreams. For instance, he'd known that Lily was a screamer since that time he'd walked in on her and Prongs going at it in a disused classroom in Seventh Year. Of course, he would later admit, that might have been shock rather than an orgasm.
"Prongs?" he asked in shock.
"It's me, old friend," the hallucination that he was pretty sure was James Potter said.
"Am I dead?" he asked hopefully. "Am I at peace?"
He could literally see James' heart break.
"No, Padfoot," he said quietly. "You haven't yet got the rest you so richly deserve."
"What's with the armour?" Sirius asked.
"My birth name is Thor Odinson, God of Thunder and Lightning. I was sent to Earth to be born and live as James Potter by my father, as an object lesson in humility," James said. The sky above darkened briefly by way of emphasis. "I had no memories of who I was. Until Voldemort killed me. I was helpless to stop him killing Lily and marking Harry. And I wasn't able to save you. I went mad with grief when I returned to Asgard, and father was forced to put a block on my memories. My brother Loki sensed that Harry was in danger – dementor attack at a Quidditch match – and restored my memories. Now here I am."
"Is Harry alright?" Sirius asked sharply.
"He is, and probably plotting some mischief with my brother at this moment," James said, smiling fondly. He reached out with his left hand. "Take my hand."
Sirius took it, and was pulled to his feet.
"HEIMDALL!" James cried. "OPEN THE BIFROST!"
A shimmering rainbow portal opened, which James pulled him through.
"Where am I?" Sirius asked in awe. He was standing on a rainbow bridge, and far in the distance was a golden city, all great towers and mighty spires, with a vast sea rolling below. It was beautiful.
"Welcome Sirius, to the Realm Eternal. Welcome to Asgard," James said softly.
Sirius made to step forward, then saw a tall, scary black man in golden armour with eyes that were the same colour. He gulped.
James nodded to the man politely, and he nodded back.
"Um… hello?" Sirius said.
The man looked down at him and smiled. It was somewhat reassuring. "Greetings Lord Sirius of the House Black. I am Lord Heimdall, gatekeeper of Asgard."
"My pleasure," Sirius said, then paused. "Did he say Lord Sirius? I thought I was disinherited."
"Your mother is dead, and the inheritance defaults to you," James said, walking on. "Oh, and if I look like this," he said, face shifting. And it wasn't just his face. He grew a few inches and bulked up, with shoulder length blond hair and blue eyes. In a couple of moments, he was a completely different man, tall, powerfully built, and superficially intimidating. Or rather, intimidating until you saw his expression, a warm smile and kindly blue eyes that shone with age, wisdom, kindness and just a hint of mischief. "It's because that is my base form as Thor. My brother granted me the ability to shift from one," he shifted back. "To the other," and back to Thor form. "At will. Like an animagus transformation."
"Why are you in Thor form now?" Sirius asked.
"Because we're in Asgard, you idiot," James said fondly. "The people here recognise me as their Prince. Though they are getting used to my James Potter form, and Mjolnir in many ways acts as a name badge," he said, tapping the hammer. "They are more used to this form." He grabbed Sirius. "If I fly you to the Palace, do you promise not to vomit?"
"Vomit? Why would I do thaargggh!" Sirius said, yelling as James took off.
And there you have it. Enter Padfoot. The next chapter is largely Asgard centric. Sirius is introduced to the Warriors Three. This, as Thor will reflect, is probably not a very good idea.
Also, yes, this is light on actual Harry, but he casts a strong shadow over proceedings, if you follow me. This is also a somewhat darker, more serious chapter, ergo, less Harry/Thor family bonding.
To be honest, this is my could-be-great, could-be-shit chapter. I'm not entirely sure how it all hangs together, so please, review. Every little piece of feedback makes me a better writer.