Yes, ladies and gents, I'm back. Sorry this one took a little while from after I got back, but I've been caught up with Real Life stuff, watching 'The Winter Soldier', dealing with ensuing Bucky feels/plot bunnies, and getting back into the swing of things. In compensation, a really bloody long chapter, with lots of Harry as promised, and, oddly enough, lots of Thor and Dumbledore (definitely not intended, but not entirely unwelcome. I hope), a fair bit of Wanda and some Sirius, all setting up an arc of exploration for Harry.
If there are any quibbles, please do bear in mind that a) I'm getting back into the swing of things, b) I finished this at 5:15 am.
BEFORE YOU GET STARTED, THERE HAVE BEEN SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS TO CHAPTER 44. LIKE ABOUT 4 – 5,000 words. READ THOSE. THE CHAPTER MAKES MORE SENSE NOW.
As soon as Harry had got on the Hogwarts Express, he had known that something was up. People stared at him openly, when they thought he weren't looking, but when he returned their gazes, they tended to look away, embarrassed. He was pretty sure that he saw some students of more obviously wizarding background all but bow to him and heard them murmur, 'milord' in respectful undertones.
When, distinctly unnerved, he broached this subject in the compartment they'd selected, Ron had snorted. "Isn't it bloody obvious?" he said. "Mate, you're the son of Thor."
"That doesn't mean that people should be…" Hermione began, then slowed as Ron gave her a look that suggested she was being extremely dense. "Oh," she said quietly. "Of course."
"What?" Harry asked.
"Harry," Hermione said quietly. "This may be hard for you to hear… but your father was worshipped, right?"
Harry nodded slowly. He'd known this in the abstract, and in any case, aside from the odd neo-pagan sect, which his father seemed mostly to be embarrassed by, it was in the distant past.
"Well, in the Wizarding World, some people still worship him. Loki and Odin, too, and the rest of your pantheon."
The words hit him like a punch in the stomach. From the Hulk.
Not, the still functioning part of his brain pointed out, that the Hulk would ever hit him. Where Harry was concerned, he was the Big Green Cuddle Machine.
Harry brushed that aside, and gulped as he touched the edge of a fundamental truth that he'd been skirting around, backpedalling away from and generally pushing to one side for most of the last two months.
He. Wasn't. Human.
Really, he thought distantly, it shouldn't be so much of a shock. His father, his uncle, Sif, even Diana, had pointed it out to him.
But it did. Because just like that, there was an enormous gap between himself and his two friends.
His father had lived for nearly a millennium and a half, and still looked like a fresh faced young man just entering the prime of his life. His uncle, likewise. His grandfather did, admittedly, look like a particularly vigorous old man, maybe in his seventies.
But that was because he was well over five thousand years old.
As a matter of curiosity, Harry had inquired of his father how old the oldest Asgardian ever had been.
Thor had given this some thought.
"It is difficult," he said. "To say for certain. Some men and women have been known to live to seven and a half thousand years old, but they were severely aged on their death beds, and, frankly, long into their dotage." He hesitated.
"Well, it is little more than rumour," Thor said slowly. "But some say that my great-grandfather, Buri, your great-great grandfather, is still alive. History tells us that he disappeared many millennia ago, abdicating the throne to his eldest son, Bor, choosing to spend the remainder of his life travelling the Nine Realms. Others have suggested that Bor did away with him."
Harry's eyes widened, and Thor gave him a grim look. "My father speaks little of his own father, but what little I have gleaned from him, mother and history says that King Bor was a very hard man. A ruthless one. Even a cruel one. So I would not rule the possibility out." He shook his head. "But I think it severely unlikely. If nothing else, Buri was a Skyfather, and a renowned Master of Sorcery, something which fell out of favour in Bor's time, making him a very hard foe to survive, let alone defeat and slay."
"So you think he's still alive?"
"I think that he chose to spend the last years of his life in peace and quiet," Thor said. "But if that were true, and he was still alive, he would be at least eleven thousand years old."
Harry's eyes bugged out, and Thor chuckled. "It is but rumour, Harry."
"Still," Harry said slowly, struggling to wrap his mind around the concept of such age.
"We are a long lived race," Thor said matter of factly. "And our dynasty is an ancient one. Our ancestors have been kings and queens for over a thousand centuries, a royal line older than the existence of mankind as we know it."
Harry stared at him, astonished, jaw hanging loose.
"We are an ancient people, Harry," Thor said gently. "Older than mankind, by a very long way." He smiled slightly. "But it is not something you need, or even should, dwell upon. Older does not mean wiser, after all. For instance, I am older than your uncle, and I think that it is fairly obvious which of us is the wiser."
"Yes," Loki said, drifting past. "You. Wisdom is not the same as intelligence, brother, and while you may lack sense on certain occasions… wisdom is not the same as sense, either. Though Valhalla knows you could do with some more of that," he added, a touch exasperated.
Thor sighed, said, "Yes, brother," then comically rolled his eyes at Harry, who stifled laughter, sharing a grin with his father.
That particular conversation had ended happily.
Harry wasn't so sure about this one.
"You know, I think we've still got an old shrine dedicated to Frigga," Ron said thoughtfully. "From dad's side of the family. They used to pray to her for a girl." He shook his head. "It's bloody weird to think of her as being your gran, mate."
"From my point of view, it's bloody weird to think of her as a goddess," Harry said quietly. "I don't know her very well yet, but… she's acted just like I'd, well, expect my gran to act, I suppose."
"Harry," Hermione said gently. "This doesn't change who you are."
"Yes. It does," Harry said. He looked Hermione in the eye. "Hermione, when I was in Asgard… my grandfather said that one day, all of Asgard would be mine." He shook his head slowly. "The Realm Eternal, a place no one believed was real until two years ago, a world of gods… and it'll be mine." He shivered, hugging his knees against his chest.
There was silence.
"It's a big universe," Harry said eventually. "There are empires the size of galaxies out there, billions upon billions of species. There are monsters that make Voldemort like a baby throwing a tantrum."
This got him a pair of sceptical looks, which he returned with a flat one. "Guys, I heard about how an entire planet was murdered. Voldemort is a very long way down the scale by comparison."
"… Bloody hell," Ron said, voice low. "Is the person that still did it…?"
"Out there? Yes," Harry said flatly. "Uncle Loki ran across him." He was quiet for a moment. "He doesn't talk about it."
There was a sober silence.
Then Hermione spoke. "What I meant, Harry, was while this changes what you are, it doesn't change who you are," she said carefully. "You're still you."
"And you're still our mate, mate," Ron said casually.
Harry smiled, slightly wanly. "Thanks," he said quietly.
After that, his first couple of days or so at Hogwarts had been suspiciously… normal. No one brought up his newfound status as a demigod any more than before, not even Colin Creevy – though Harry was pretty sure that the somewhat reverent and thoroughly disturbing expression that had taken up semi-permanent residence on Colin's face was new.
Then came the news of the battle.
Students pored over copies of the Daily Prophet in fives and sixes, each jealously jockeying for viewing space, complaining that someone else was hogging all the space/reading too fast/reading too slowly.
Harry bypassed this completely by opening up his Stark Phone – though only after he made sure that Snape's attention was distracted – and Ron and Hermione crowded around him.
The details on major news sites were sparse and, Harry suspected, likely filtered, but the general gist of it was that there had been a ferocious battle on the motorway just outside Windsor, where all the Avengers had been present, along with a few other unnamed superhumans operating under the command of MI13, Britain's answer to SHIELD. Harry felt that they rather sounded like Torchwood, and the Royal Tank Regiment.
At the same time, several squadrons of fighter jets, War Machine and a mysterious silver 'angel' had been spotted north of Luton, engaging an unknown aerial enemy, the last of which was defeated by War Machine over Luton Airport.
Coincidentally, at roughly the same time, a gigantic pillar of white hot flame erupted from beneath Paris, flash frying everything in its way – which, fortunately, did not include people, the area having been deserted in recent months - doing millions of pounds of damage to roads, drains, electrical supplies and just about anything else that involved pipes or wires.
The first two were ascribed to 'a series of uncoordinated terrorist groups testing out artificial constructs similar to those used by HYDRA in World War II', though, defying all logic, the last had been ascribed to a build-up of gas in the catacombs underneath Paris that ignited.
"We won't find anything on the news," Hermione said. "Not yet."
"Why?" Ron asked.
"Because SHIELD will have covered it all up," Hermione said bluntly.
Ron's eyebrows rose. They had gone through fifteen separate news sites, including the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. "Bloody hell," he said quietly. "Are they that powerful?"
"Probably," Harry said.
"Yes," Hermione said firmly, and Harry half shrugged, half nodded, deferring to her.
"That's… that's a little scary," Ron said. "I mean, we know it was magic."
"We know that the first two were magic," Hermione corrected.
Ron had by this time acquired a Daily Prophet by promising Seamus that he could copy his Transfiguration homework. Since it was commonly known that Ron and Harry either copied from Hermione or had their work edited by her, this was considered to be a good piece of business.
"Oh come on," he said. "Dresden was in the city. It has to be him."
"Who's Dresden?" Harry asked, puzzled.
"A fake wizard," Hermione said dismissively, then stopped as she saw Ron's disbelieving look. "What?"
"Why in the bloody hell do you think that he's a fake?" he asked.
"Well, he advertises, and the Statute of Secrecy," Hermione began.
Ron snorted. "He's White Council. It doesn't apply to them."
"White Council?" Harry asked, getting confused.
"It's like the Ministry for the most powerful wandless witches and wizards in the world," Ron said casually.
"So, like a government?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, but they're bloody scary," Ron said with a certain dark relish. "Their version of the Aurors –"
Harry's memory flipped a card, going off Sirius' mentions of his past career. "Dark wizard hunters?"
"Right," Ron said, nodding. "Well, their Aurors are called Wardens, or Grey Cloaks, because they wear grey cloaks, and they're really powerful."
Harry repressed a sarcastic comment and nodded. "So, wandless wizards with cloak wearing police."
It was Ron's turn to look puzzled. "Police?"
"Muggle Aurors," Hermione said simply, and Ron's expression cleared, then resumed its previous state of delighted horror.
"Yeah, right. But if cross the Aurors, they chuck you in Azkaban. If you cross the Wardens… you're never seen again."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, getting the feeling that he already knew.
"I mean that if they come across a Dark Wizard, they call them Warlocks for some reason, they don't mess about," Ron said darkly. "They just chop off their head, and good riddance. We should have done that with the Death Eaters."
"Okay," Harry said, before Hermione could say something disapproving about Ron's blood thirstiness – Harry was pretty sure he'd end up agreeing with Ron. If Voldemort had been caught early… well, he'd still have a mother. "Wandless wizards with scary homicidal powerful policemen, got it. Now who's Dresden?"
"Well… put it this way. You'd be scared of the Wardens, right?"
"Yes," Harry said slowly, and in all honesty, he probably would be.
"Well, they are scared of him," Ron said, and sat back, letting this sink in.
Harry munched on a piece of toast, wondering why this would be and preparing to ask Ron once he'd finished his mouthful, then inwardly sighed as Hermione said, "That's ridiculous, Ron. If, I repeat, if, Dresden was a genuine wizard and not some kind of conman, I doubt the White Council – and yes, I have heard of them – and the Wardens – them too - would be scared of him. All seven members of the Senior Council are all as powerful as Dumbledore, if not stronger. The only person stronger than them is the Sorcerer Supreme. And maybe the Scarlet Witch."
"Oh yeah? Did you know about the White Council and the Vampire Courts being at war?" Ron asked, folding his arms, temper rising. "'Course you didn't. Because it hasn't been in a book for fifty years."
Harry sighed as the argument escalated, then opened the note function on his Stark Phone, noting down the names of all these things that were either going straight over his head or needing a lot of background. At the same time, he kept half an eye open. Loki hadn't taught them anything dangerous yet, but Harry wouldn't put it past Hermione to spontaneously develop the ability to throw fireballs. Or, he thought idly as she went redder and redder, maybe she would start breathing it instead.
Eventually, he finished note taking – Hermione and Ron's argument had descended into their usual and easily comprehensible slanging match – put the phone away, finished his breakfast and snagged the Daily Prophet. He glanced up at Ron and Hermione, and considered throwing a glass of water over each of them, then decided that all that would achieve was getting them both mad at him.
So he tuned them out and examined the Prophet. It was rather more enlightening, presumably because SHIELD hadn't got to it and there was no reason to conceal the details from the Wizarding World, though Harry would probably have done just as well by searching the web, which Hermione would have suggested if she hadn't been distracted. If nothing else, at least he'd have had multiple sources and, to be frank, it would have been funnier.
As it was, the Prophet's reporting was accurate enough, though, naturally, it focused entirely on the Wizarding World and only really mentioned the Avengers in passing. The front page read in big bold letters, WHERE WAS THE MINISTRY?
Details were thin on the ground, though Harry was interested to note that the Royal Tank Regiment had been transported to the battle by the Ministry's Department of Transport and that Obliviators, who, from the context, he assumed that they were the same memory modifying wizards who had dealt with Marge. He shook his head slowly. It hadn't even been six months ago, but it already felt like a lifetime had passed. So much had changed, frankly, for the better.
"Oh, Hagrid's going to be upset," he said aloud, upon reading of the probable extinction of the Hebridean Black as a species. Then he sighed as he realised he wasn't being listened to, and carried on reading.
The tone, he thought, was grudgingly grateful towards the Avengers and the non-magical military, but emphasised the failure of the Ministry. This was a magical problem, it said, so it should have been handled by wizards, and it should be in the future.
The main piece of information he took away from it, however, was that the gigantic army – and it truly was gigantic, pictures on the internet showing that the remains stretched for well over a mile along the motorway, and the dragons were all undead, and raised in one night, by one necromancer. Harry's mind had a very hard time grasping the concept of that much power.
He got out his phone again and typed, 'ask dad/uncle Loki about necromancer'.
Afterwards, he went back to the paper. There wasn't much else, he thought.
Page 2 – Massive Fireball sighted in Paris. Dresden and SHIELD involved?
That was just vague speculation, as well as quiet terror about the power required to fuel such a blast, which neither Dresden nor SHIELD was believed to possess. But since all the other candidates, according to the Prophet, were in Hogwarts (Dumbledore), in Edinburgh (that 'Senior Council' Hermione had mentioned), on the battlefield (Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch – his godmother), leaving only the famously reclusive Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange, as a possibility. Harry was personally more minded to believe that they'd underestimated SHIELD.
Page 3 – Who is behind all this?
Again, vague speculation, with no real answers – apparently the only candidate was one of Grindelwald's wandless lieutenants, a Dark Lord in his own right, called Kemmler, who was apparently deader than dead – it had taken six goes for it to take - and had been for over forty five years.
Page 4 – Is SHIELD dismantling the Statute of Secrecy?
Vague speculation once more – Harry was beginning to sense a pattern – mostly fuelled by indignation that SHIELD had prevented the Obliviators from removing memories, and had apparently done so at gunpoint, causing a deadlock, until Director Fury had personally come over and told them to '**** off', whereupon they had. Harry could guess what the asterisks stood for.
Page 5 – Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy still missing after battle at Malfoy Manor.
This one was more concrete, with a detailed report of the wreckage at Malfoy Manor, with bullet holes being found in the walls of the Manor and the ruins of a SHIELD marked Quinjet found in the house itself, which had been torn apart, along with several dead house elves. The head house elf, one called Drippy, a long-time family retainer, was apparently missing.
Harry sighed and made a mental note to keep an eye out for Draco. He'd been friendly enough recently, but this could, not entirely unreasonably because they were his parents after all, make him revert. That said, Harry felt that if anything had happened to Lucius Malfoy, he'd had it coming.
The article also connected SHIELD to the disappearances of numerous 'prominent citizens', something Harry was already learning was code for 'rich purebloods' in recent months, and shrilly speculated that they were going to secretly take over.
Page 6 – Has the Winter Soldier Returned?
This one was more interesting, if genuinely chilling. It spoke of an unstoppable assassin, a merciless creature in the shape of a man, a faceless wraith clad all in black that had stalked the Earth until 1990, then disappeared, never to be seen again.
And now, deaths that apparently carried the hallmarks of his assassinations were appearing again. He was back.
The article went into some detail about how no one had ever beaten him, accounts of how he'd cut down two squads of Europe's best aurors in Krakow in 1973, witnesses saying that not one of them escaped alive. The Soldier, apparently, hadn't taken a scratch.
He favoured Muggle weaponry, though, the author mentioned, this did not mean that he was a muggle. That was patently impossible. Instead, it speculated that, like someone called 'the Hellhound', he was some kind of half demon, without magic but with enhanced physical abilities that compensated.
It concluded with a quiet hysteria that seemed far more unnerving to Harry than the hysteria surrounding Sirius' escape, when he'd been believed to be Voldemort's right hand man, suggesting that this man – or whatever he was – was well into the Voldemort category of evil. Indeed, in some ways, he might be worse. You generally knew when Voldemort was after you. The Soldier, on the other hand… he could kill you before you even knew to be afraid.
Page 7 – Where is the Sorcerer Supreme?
This article carried a tone of mingled panic and petulance, essentially asking where the Sorcerer Supreme – Harry vaguely remembered a picture of a man in a red cloak with white templed black hair, blue eyes, a short beard and a slight smile on his face – was. Apparently he was famously reclusive, having last been seen in the aftermath of the fall of Voldemort, having aided the Order of the Phoenix against the Death Eaters, and then before that, during World War II, aiding the Allies against Grindelwald, flattening half of Berlin in a cataclysmic duel with the Dark Lord, which ended in a draw, before Dumbledore had, soon after, duelled Grindelwald and beaten him.
Page 8 – Muggle Vigilante Peter Wisdom appointed Director of MI13.
This was, essentially, more of the same as Page 5, with further speculation that this Peter Wisdom, vigilante implicated in the deaths and disappearances of a number of minor criminals and dark creatures and protégé of Director Fury – Harry made a note – was working with Fury to remove resistance to a SHIELD coup in the British Wizarding World as had, apparently, happened in America.
Harry didn't know anything about the American Wizarding World, and realised that this was quite simply because he'd never bothered to ask.
The article had also been full of indignance about the concept of muggles sticking their noses where they didn't belong, with an undertone of 'the business of their betters', that Harry found rather annoying.
"Well," he said. "The Prophet wasn't very helpful."
"Really?" Hermione asked, disappointed. She and Ron had stopped arguing, but they weren't talking to one another either.
"Yeah," Harry said, and, on the way to lessons, relayed what he'd learned.
"You're right," Hermione said, frowning. "That is pretty thin." She looked worried. "But if they're right and the Winter Soldier is back… well, heaven help us all."
"Who is he?" Harry asked, then paused. "What is he?"
"A nightmare," Hermione said darkly, as the lesson began. "Now sh!"
Harry sighed and acquiesced.
The following two days passed. The Prophet was filled with the same speculation, but it no longer had the freshness of the original material and everyone had got bored with it. Everything was normal. Or at least, as normal as Hogwarts ever could be with the Twins, apprenticed to Loki and in cahoots with Tony Stark, itching to cause chaos.
"Behold," Probably Fred said, in the tones of a showman.
"Our latest –"
"And innovation –"
"That will completely –"
"Revolutionise wizarding transport –"
"As we know it."
The trio stared at the object.
Harry broke the silence.
"It's a sofa," he said, in complete disbelief.
"But not just any sofa," Almost Certainly George replied, raising an admonitory finger. "This sofa is enchanted."
"However did I guess," Harry said flatly, thinking that this sofa was also not just any sofa because the Hufflepuffs had recently been complaining that one of the sofas in their common room had gone missing. "Does it do cartwheels?"
The twins shared a thoughtful look.
"No," Maybe Fred said slowly. "But maybe we could add that to later versions."
"How does it work?" Hermione puzzled.
"Hover charms –"
Harry had to go to quite some effort to stop himself from saying something sarcastic. As usual, he laid the blame (in this case, quite rightly) at Tony Stark's door.
"And repulsors –"
Hermione nodded slowly. "That's… that's actually a pretty good idea," she said. Then she frowned. "Wait… when did you two learn how to enchant things?"
"My dear Hermione –"
"We watched –"
"Our father –"
"On what?" Harry asked, suspiciously.
"Well…" On Balance, Most Likely George said awkwardly. "Ron, you know your second puffskein?"
"The one I got after you used Henry for bludger practice?" Ron said, tone reproachful, folding his arms. "Yeah, I do. Graham. One day, the year before I came to Hogwarts, he disappeared." He caught Harry and Hermione staring. "What?"
"Graham?" they asked in unified disbelief.
"It's a good name for a puffskein," Ron said defensively.
"What is a puffskein?" Harry asked, puzzled.
"They're small, round, fluffy scavengers with yellow fur," Hermione said.
"Famous for eating bogeys," Quite Possibly Fred put in helpfully.
"Though they will eat anything from leftovers to spiders," Hermione continued, a touch sharply, then rounded on the Twins, hands on her hips. "And really, Fred, George, how could you use one for bludger practice? Your brother's pet, to boot?"
"To be honest –"
"Dad had got a bunch of muggle tennis balls."
"Ah," Harry said, seeing where this was going.
"Right," Maybe George said, nodding at him. "We'd never even seen one, and the late and much lamented Henry was asleep, so…"
"You see, we thought that all tennis balls made that sort of squelching squeaking noise when you hit them."
"So we didn't notice until he'd sort of… splattered."
"All over the walls."
Harry gulped, and choked out, "I'm sorry."
"It's okay, mate," Ron said, subdued, completely unaware that Harry was trying desperately not to laugh and feeling very guilty about it. Hermione, being more perceptive, wasn't, and was shooting Harry an evil glare. Then Ron gave the twins a sharp look. "What happened to Graham?"
"Ah. Graham," Not Implausibly Fred said slowly. "Graham… well, he might still be alive."
"Might?" Ron asked, for one disturbing moment sounding very like his mother in sabretooth tiger mode.
"Well," Likely George said. "We tested a hover charm on him."
"Both of us."
"And we sort of…"
"So Graham went shooting upwards –"
"And didn't come back down."
"We think he's living in the upper atmosphere now."
Ron stared at them. He opened his mouth, then shut it again, and shook his head mutely, expression turning from disbelieving to miserable.
"Ron?" Harry asked gently.
"I've got bloody horrible luck with pets," Ron said. "These two bloody idiots killed my puffskeins –"
"Well, Ron, both times –" Plausibly George began, before Harry shot him a very cold glare, being upset by his friend's genuine distress
"Be quiet," he said, voice soft and dangerous and… strange. It was like there was a second voice speaking, a fraction of a second behind Harry's own. And just for a moment, his eyes flared gold.
The Twins' mouths shut like traps.
"Good," Harry said, voice still carrying that dangerous harmonic. "Now, Ron. You were saying."
Ron shot him a grateful, if slightly unnerved look, and said, "They killed my puffskeins and my rat… my rat was a bloody traitor!"
"Ron," Hermione said gently. "None of us had any idea what Scabbers was. No one but Professor Lupin, Sirius Black and Thor knew that Pettigrew was an animagus."
Harry considered mentioning that Loki, Frigga and Odin, all of whom had kept an eye on his father during his days on Earth, had known or probably known, but felt that it wouldn't really help at this point. Instead, he said, "Ron, even Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore didn't know."
"But he wasn't their pet, was he?" Ron said miserably.
"And he'd been Percy's for a long time before yours," Harry pointed out. His voice, by now, was completely back to normal. "And Percy is…"
"Anal retentive?" both Twins said in perfect unison.
"I was going to say clever," Harry said. "But that fits."
"What, and I'm not?" Ron asked.
Harry would once have stuttered and stumbled over his words, digging himself deeper. Now he took a leaf out of Pepper's book: he folded his arms, raised his eyebrows and gave Ron a 'we both know that you know perfectly well what I meant' look. What he had, in fact meant was that if Percy hadn't picked up on it in all the years he'd owned him, at least three times the amount that Ron had owned him for, it was unlikely that Ron would pick up on it.
Ron wrinkled his nose, but his hackles settled. "Fine," he mumbled.
Hermione, meanwhile, was giving Harry a careful look, and, that evening, she cornered him in the Common Room, leaving Ron to play chess on Harry's phone against JARVIS. It looked, remarkably enough, to be a close contest.
"It happened again," Hermione said, utterly without preamble.
"What did?" Harry asked, tone evasive. He knew exactly what she was talking about.
"The same thing that happened last night," Hermione said quietly.
"That was different," Harry said, folding his arms.
"Yes," Hermione acknowledged calmly, voice steady. "You started glowing and floating and you burned to the touch. And then you somehow healed Ron's hand, something you shouldn't know how to do, without your wand, which you shouldn't be able to do." She gave Harry a serious look. "That time… well, from what Ron said, you didn't frightening. Just… odd. This time, though, well."
"Well what?" Harry asked quietly.
"You seemed dangerous. Fred and George shut up at your command, something they never do. With anybody. They always leave off with a little quip or something, even with teachers like McGonagall. But with you, they shut up in an instant," Hermione said. "And your voice… Harry, it was like there was two of you in the room. One of you was, well, you, and the other sounded… older. Powerful. Authoritative."
"Well," Hermione said slowly. "Just a little, yes."
"I see," Harry said quietly. He was silent for a long time, and Hermione felt the need to break the silence.
"Harry, I think, I think that this is your powers coming through. I think it was triggered by what happened last night," she said, a cold shiver running down her spine as she remembered, mercifully only in the vaguest of terms, darkness, writhing tentacles and the kind of horrors that had blazed their way across Lovecraft's fevered imagination – though ever since she'd found out about magic, Hermione had wondered whether Lovecraft had actually been onto something. "That power gave us all a big jolt. Maybe in you… it woke something up?"
"That's not exactly the most reassuring turn of phrase you could have used," Harry said flatly. "But, I think you're right." He sighed. "He pretty much told me that this would happen, at Christmas. That I was changing."
"Who was he? And whoever he was, he was right," Hermione said.
"Prince T'Challa of Wakanda," Harry said casually. "What?"
Hermione was staring at him, dumbstruck. "You met the Prince T'Challa," she said slowly. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard. Got a Masters Degree from Cambridge. Earlier this year finished a PhD at Oxford, his thesis discussing the industrial applications of Vibranium. Heir to the throne of Wakanda and the current Black Panther."
"… Probably?" Harry said, shrugging awkwardly. "I just know him as the guy who beat up a racist lech who hit on Carol then used the n-word when he intervened. He also gave me some good advice. He said that some things I would have to work out for myself, but I should ask people like dad and uncle Loki about it. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about. And isn't the Black Panther an animal?"
"He probably would," Hermione said. "Harry, the Wakandan royal line claims descent from the Egyptian Goddess Bast, or someone similar. Wakanda was, along with Ethiopia, one of the few African nations that was never colonised, partly because of their advanced technology, organisation and… the Black Panther."
"What is it?"
"A mantle of power," Hermione said. "When the firstborn heir to the throne, male or female comes of age at 18, they go through a ceremony which tests their worthiness to possess the power of the Black Panther. No one knows the details of the ceremony, but it is said to involve an extremely rare sacred herb. The end result is a superhuman on par with Captain America, with additional super senses, and, apparently, predator instincts."
Harry had seen Steve in action. It had been an impressive sight to put it mildly.
"Yes," Hermione said, reading his expression. "Even the British Empire at its height didn't want to cross the Panther Kings. None of the colonial powers did. Not after a couple of battles." She paused. "Well, I say battles… let's just say that the British had learnt the lessons of Isandhlwana and didn't underestimate their opposition. So most of them survived. The French, on the other hand… not so much."
A light appeared in Hermione's eye and she opened her mouth.
"The short version," Harry added hastily.
Hermione huffed, then said, "In short, a British army invaded Zululand, in South Africa, on a pretext in 1879 and got destroyed, because they didn't expect to face a disciplined, well trained and well commanded army in the open."
"Oh. Okay. And the lesson was…"
"Don't underestimate your enemy. And don't get surrounded," Hermione said.
Harry got the gist of this and nodded. "How do you know so much?" he asked. "Seriously, it's amazing."
Hermione blushed. "I read," she said. "Books, mostly, though I wish I could get bring my laptop."
"You could ask Tony to customise it for you," Harry said casually. "He'd love to do it." He paused. "Of course, this does run the risk of your laptop coming back sentient and able to fly." He shrugged. "Or uncle Loki could help you."
"Maybe," Hermione said slowly.
"If you don't want to risk your laptop, I can buy you one," Harry said.
Hermione gave him an astonished look. "You would do that?"
"You're my friend," Harry said, shrugging. "And, well…" he lowered his voice. "When dad went to regain control of the Potter vaults, he found out that, well, we're rich."
"I know, Harry, but still –"
"The account is worth £1.5 billion. At a conservative estimate," Harry said flatly.
Hermione's jaw dropped.
"Billion?" she whispered.
Harry looked uncomfortable. "Yeah, don't tell Ron," he said. Before, he'd privately estimated his wealth at 'buy a nice house in Chelsea' levels. Now, it was more like 'buy a nice island in the Caribbean with pocket change'.
"Apparently grandpa Potter was a very good investor and was one of the early investors in Stark Industries," Harry said, frowning, trying to remember. "Rolls-Royce, Wayne Enterprises…"
"I thought he was a pureblood," Hermione said, the inference being that he would have known next to nothing about the muggle world, nor likely wanted to.
"Who was friends with Howard Stark during World War II," Harry pointed out. "And apparently Gringotts handled most of the rest of the investments, or at least the fine details." He shrugged. "And as for the rest… well, the Potter family has been around for a very long time. If I had to guess, they didn't do that by being stupid. Or all that nice, really. A bit like my Asgardian family, probably."
Hermione was silent. While Harry was quite obviously dispirited, she wasn't sure what she could say to make him feel better that wouldn't be outright lying. Asgard was a warlike realm, one that, as far as she could grasp, had only relatively recently stopped smacking heads simply to stave off boredom.
Of course, if you took relatively recently in a historical context to mean up to five generations, as far as Asgardians were concerned, at the very least you were looking at 10,000 years.
"Harry, you aren't responsible for what your ancestors did," she said. She paused. "What did they do?" she asked, well aware that she might not like the answer.
"That's the thing," Harry said, frowning. "I don't know." He looked away. "But I do know that my great-grandfather Bor was bad enough that dad thinks that when he took the throne, it's likely that he killed his father to do it."
"You aren't him, Harry," Hermione said gently.
"I have his blood in my veins though," Harry said.
"I thought that you thought that blood didn't determine who you were," Hermione pointed out. "Of course, you might have forgotten that for the sake of indulging in pointless self-recrimination," she added tartly.
Harry glowered at her half-heartedly. "Stop being logical," he said. "I'm trying to brood."
"That," Hermione said, with the air of someone laying down an ace. "Is exactly why I am being logical." She sighed. "Around here, someone has to."
Harry considered that this might be a thankless task, due to the pervasive lack of logic in the Wizarding World (don't know who was mind controlled and who wasn't? Why not use a powerful truth potion to find out? Because we don't do things that way), and indeed the continued survival and very existence of he, Harry Thorson, her one her two best male friends.
But he had to applaud her for trying.
So he did.
But as Hermione was trying to figure out whether he was being sincere or his James/Sirius/Loki/Tony influenced 'snarky little shit' side was in charge, and therefore whether to smile or glare, he considered that he didn't really know much about his family's past. And as a fair bit of its more recent Earth related history – well, within his dad's lifetime, anyway – had been in and around Hogwarts… maybe here was a good place to start.
However, before Harry could get his teeth into researching his family's past – something he still boggled at. If you'd told him six months ago that he'd be looking forward to researching something, he'd have thought you were insane.
Then again, he noted, he'd have said the same about being told that he was a demigod, son of Thor, God of Thunder and Avenger, second in line to the throne of Asgard, the Realm Eternal. And he'd have said it a good deal louder.
But here he was, and both had come to pass. Now all he could do was adjust to them.
One thing he certainly didn't mind adjusting to was his father, who arrived in the evening of the day after the dream and the battle.
It was a cold, crisp January evening. The sun had set early, as it always did. This had been normal. What hadn't been normal was Harry, despite having been in the dungeons about to have a Potions lesson, had known it. He didn't know how he had known it, or why, but he had. The knowledge had simply plopped into his brain with the same unthinking certainty that 2+2 equalled 4.
Otherwise, however, the evening had been normal. The moon had risen early. Frost had started to form on the dead, cold grass and the bare, grim looking trees of the Forbidden Forest. Snow had started to fall, covering the ground in a steadily thickening soft white coverlet and a bitter breeze twined around the ankles of the unwary like an affectionate cat.
The first sign of his arrival was the wind picking up, swiftly progressing from breeze to gust to full blown gale.
The second sign was the rumbling of thunder and the flashing of lightning.
The third sign was two hundred and seventy kilograms of free range Norse deity hitting the ground at approximately half the speed of sound.
Thor had many admirable traits. Subtlety was not one of them.
As he straightened up from his three point landing position, he heard a dry voice effortlessly cut through the still howling wind and say, "I see that you have not lost your flair for drama."
"Hmm?" Thor said, puzzled, then grinned in comprehension. The gale stopped as if someone had flicked a switch, and the flashes of lightning stopped entirely. "Sorry," he said. "In these times it pays to look dangerous. You know that as well as I, Albus."
"True," Dumbledore said, a touch amused. "But I would prefer, in future, that you didn't leave craters in the path." He gave Thor a look over his glasses. It said, 'I don't care who and what you are now, I remember when you were eleven years old and crying for your mummy at night. I have entire portfolios of blackmail material. Watch it.'
Among Albus Dumbledore's many talents, one of them, as might be obvious, was giving very meaningful looks.
Thor, God of Thunder, Crown Prince of Asgard and the Mightiest Avenger of them all, shuffled his feet and looked awkward. "Sorry."
"Oh, no harm done," Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling, waving his wand. The ground rippled and flowed back into place, though the snow was still rather muddy. "Do come in."
"Thank you," Thor said, following him in. "It amazes me that since I regained my memories, I have a far greater appreciation for your powers than I would have as I was before my mortality, or even during it."
"Yes. As James, I simply assumed that you could do anything, but I knew the… difficulties, shall we say, of magic," Thor said. "And before that, I had seen my brother do many amazing things with incredible ease, things I now know to require incredible amounts of power and skill, which is beyond most mortal wizards, but not you and…" He paused and frowned. "And this made a lot more sense in my head."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Doubtless it did, though I suspect I have the gist of it: your knowledge as Thor grants you a wider perspective on the scale of power being used and your knowledge as James granted you perspective on the skill required."
"… I think so."
"So," Dumbledore asked, as they walked up the stairs. "What brings you to Hogwarts?"
"I wish to speak to my son," Thor said. "About the battle. If nothing else, to tell him that we are all right."
"Many parents would send a letter," Dumbledore said, tone mild and inscrutable. "Or use a mobile phone."
Thor blinked at him.
"Yes, I do know what a mobile phone is," Dumbledore said. He smiled. "After meeting Howard Stark, I became interested in muggle technology. After all, I had seen the wonders it could achieve, and I got the feeling that the only way was up. And I was right." He shook his head slowly. "In less than a century, muggles went from barely managing powered flight to putting men on the moon. Is that not a wonder?"
"Do you feel that magic cannot achieve wonders?" Thor asked, curious.
"On the contrary, I know it can, and, if you will forgive me, I know that rather better than most," Dumbledore said. "Asgard itself is evidence enough of that." He sighed. "But so many of my fellows are complacent with their lot. To them, it might as well still be the Middle Ages. Many have no idea, none at all, about just how dangerous muggles were by the time of Captain Rogers' birth. They have become infinitely more so in the interim, now being able to meet the supernatural on its own terms, or close to. And that is not even touching on their surveillance capabilities. But the Death Eaters and their like would have us believe that we can remain hidden forever, or if we revealed ourselves, easily rule openly as an elite. Fools."
They walked in silence for a few moments.
"The Death Eaters are, or were, the last death throes of an old order," Thor said grimly. "No less dangerous, for all that, but you are right, Albus. The ordinary mortals of Midgard are beginning to come into their own. They are starting to notice the strangeness around them and investigate it. The Death Eaters were always a collection of individuals, held together by the will of Voldemort. When he was removed, they fell apart. SHIELD, by contrast, is an entity composed of individuals. If you removed Director Fury tomorrow, another would take his place." He shook his head. "What makes Lucius Malfoy, possibly the most generally dangerous of our current foes, so dangerous is that he understands this. Which is why he has co-opted the name and body of HYDRA. With them at his side, he has a coherent organisation that works together for the same end."
"That and their high compliment of insane yet extremely intelligent scientists, who specialise in creating extremely deadly weapons and artificial abominations," Dumbledore said. "I feel that that would appeal to Lucius' preference for using catspaws. Bloody hands at arm's length, as it were," he added, with distaste.
"Quite," Thor said quietly.
"And then… there is the matter of the Winter Soldier," Dumbledore said. "Who is simply dangerous because that is what he is."
"Yes," Thor said slowly. "I had not truly grasped how dangerous an enhanced human could be until I heard about him." He shook his head. "One thing that I have come to realise is that mankind has a genius for war."
"No," Dumbledore said. "Asgard has a genius for war. Your people evolved specifically for combat. From what I have gleaned, each individual Asgardian is an army all by themselves. Incredibly strong, incredibly fast, Humanity, on the other hand, evolved for something different, and, in the long run, arguably far more dangerous. Survival."
Thor opened his mouth to dispute this, then thought about it. "Yes," he said slowly. "I can see that."
Because survival carried the implicit hint of adaptation, compensating for physical shortcomings, of which there were many. Humans, Thor knew, were, by and large, physically among the weakest and most fragile species in the universe. Yet they produced men like Tony Stark, who in his pursuit of survival, had refined a source of technology comparable to that used by most of the great powers of the universe, and created a suit of battle armour that could take on gods on equal footing.
Under pressure, humanity adapted. And it evolved.
"You understand," Dumbledore said. "What I saw, indeed, what your mortal father saw, in muggles was their potential. In order to survive and protect themselves against a harsh universe, one that they are barely consciously aware, much of which sees them as entertainment or food, they adapt. And they evolve. Technologically and biologically. I sensed that from people like Howard Stark, Steve Rogers, Peggy Carter and the first Spitfire."
"The Earth is ready for a higher form of war," Thor said softly, repeating what he'd said years before when Loki had invaded with the Chitauri at his back.
"Yes. Survival, after all, is often a matter of becoming strong enough to defeat all threats, advancing, developing and growing. Charlus Potter exploited that knowledge for financial purposes. I chose to follow the example of my mentor, Nicholas Flamel, and learn about the muggles and their science. It was very illuminating," Dumbledore said. "And very humbling. Yet also very frustrating."
"In the view of the Wizarding peoples of the world, the three most significant discoveries are the invention of the Wand, the creation of the Philosopher's Stone and the discovery of the Twelve Uses of Dragon's Blood," Dumbledore said, and a hint of bitterness entered his voice. "One man had a hand in two of those. In the muggle world, you could name a dozen discoveries, all of similar significance and not one name would need to appear twice. The once noble calling of the Alchemist and the Research Wizard has been cast aside. The greatest minds are limited to little more than exploration of old principles, and that in their spare time. The only researchers and innovators that remain in Britain are those at the Department of Mysteries, and their discoveries are suppressed or used for the sole benefit of the Ministry and the current elite. There is no sharing of information and no desire to use the information for the betterment of wizarding kind, let alone mankind at large. The situation is much the same around the world."
Thor got the sense that he was witnessing long held frustrations coming forth, which was why he was very glad that he'd had the sense to cast a privacy bubble before the conversation had really got going. "This vexes you," he said.
Dumbledore gave him a wry look. "What was your first clue?"
Thor chuckled. "I have seen this before, usually in the very intelligent, frustrated by the foolishness of the rest of the world," he said. "And a climate which seems to be almost afraid of cleverness."
"Sometimes it feels that way, I must admit," Dumbledore said tiredly. "The only reason that Nicholas and Perenelle, and by extension, myself when I was working on the Twelve Uses of Dragon's Blood, were allowed to work unfettered was because they were very powerful, personally and politically. Now, I try to foster an interest in learning, to learn as much as possible, and a desire to use that learning in order to aid others, or even simply to encourage learning itself." He shook his head. "I would have loved nothing more than to be able to research, to explore the boundaries of magic, and yes, science, to confer with minds such as Howard and Anthony Stark, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Brian Braddock, Charles Xavier, Hank McCoy, Virgil Swann and T'Challa Udaku. At best, I am limited to Nicholas and Perenelle, the occasional member of the White Council – Wizard McCoy's book on the basic principles of moving energy was a fascinating read, for instance, and I had a rather pleasant correspondence with him about it - and Stephen, when he doesn't simply drop off the face of the Earth for a decade or three. And while they are all fine minds…"
"Your circle of correspondence is rather limited," Thor said, nodding.
"It can be dreadfully frustrating," Dumbledore said. He chuckled. "Though complaining about it does make me feel, what with all my advantages, like a man complaining that Heaven is too comfortable."
"No," Thor disagreed. "You have just reason for frustration. In another life, well… what things you might have achieved." He stopped. "But I disagree with your implication that all you want is to learn and foster learning."
Dumbledore stopped, and drew himself up, suddenly looking a lot less like the slightly barmy and amiable grandfather he pretended to be. The smile was still there, but it was harder, and the twinkle had been replaced by a careful watchfulness. "Then what do I really want?"
"Power," Thor said simply. "You desire power. The power to change the world, to make it better, improve it in the ways you know it can be improved. I heard it in your voice, in your frustration." He gave Dumbledore a shrewd look. "But you realised long ago where that path usually ends, didn't you?"
Dumbledore's face had turned inscrutable, and remained that way for several long moments. Then he sighed. "Yes, I did. I learned that lesson as a young man. But I was not the one who paid the price. And in many ways, that was so much worse." He turned away from Thor. "I learned that I could not handle power save that which was mine by birth, so I restricted myself to that, and, later, to teaching. And even then, I faced temptation."
His face was calm and impassive, but his hands had clenched into fists, knuckles white and fingernails digging into the palm of his hands.
"I could easily have decided that I, who was born with so much power, should therefore take more, because I was born to greatness. Voldemort would have been nothing compared to me. I could easily have used my influence over the students to form an army, or, far more insidious, a group of followers, dancing on my strings like puppets. Horace Slughorn would have been an amateur by comparison. I could have done far more with my offices as Supreme Mugwump and Chief Warlock than I have done, becoming effective ruler of every wanded wizard on the planet."
He closed his eyes. "So I denied myself. I took every day as it came. I ignored that little voice saying that it would be fine if I accepted one of those offers to be Minister, that the people wanted me to rule them, refusing even a drop of power because I knew that one drop would be one too many. I am a flawed, weak man. I am not of the calibre of that famous muggle statesman of ancient times, Cincinnatus, or that famous muggle statesman of modern times, Nelson Mandela. I would not know when to let go."
Thor was silent. While he did not know of Cincinnatus, he had heard a little about Mandela, leader of an oppressed people who had, despite ample cause – Thor certainly didn't think he would be half as magnanimous after being imprisoned for a third of his life - forfeited revenge and brought about a peaceful revolution that united a country, before stepping down after only four years of rule. A great man, to be sure.
But so was Albus Dumbledore.
"Albus," he said gently. "You are flawed. But only as we all are. And no man or woman with wits in their head would call you weak, even without knowing how you have tortured yourself all these years." He laid a hand on the other man's shoulder. "To resist such temptation for so long… it is a feat of strength that astonishes me. Very few, of Earth, Asgard or any other realm, have the courage to acknowledge their own failings, let alone confess them to another. You are truly a great man, Albus."
"Thank you, Thor," Dumbledore said quietly. "Though you honour me more than I deserve." He smiled slightly. "Now, I hear things about the Aurors having a run in with Nicholas and Wanda. Is this true?"
"It is," Thor said, and explained what had happened immediately after the battle.
Director Fury was, on the whole, satisfied. HYDRA's desperate counter stroke had been thwarted handily, with no more than half a dozen casualties, only one of those a death, and in that case the poor bugger had been servicing a tank which had been transported early by the idiots at the Ministry – though, he would grudgingly admit, they had otherwise done an excellent job with no complaints, despite the circumstances and the time of night – and had been caught by a stray shell.
HYDRA was gutted. Now all that remained was finding and burning the rest of it to ashes.
Of course, the black spot on his good mood was that one of those non-lethal casualties had very nearly been a lethal casualty, and that casualty was his protégé and, dare he say it, friend, Peter Wisdom, formerly known as Regulus Black, one of only four people he both thought capable of succeeding him as Director of SHIELD and that he'd trust to do it. The other three were, of course, Coulson, Romanov and Hill. He'd trust Rogers to try, but the man had too good a heart for the spy business.
Wisdom on the other hand, had the perfect balance of conscience, guilt and ruthlessness to make an excellent Agent and Director, so he'd been pissed off to put it mildly to hear that he'd almost been eaten. Part of the reason was that Wisdom had made him promise that if he was ever critically injured and it was possible that he would die – and indeed, it was still a possibility, though one shrinking by the hour according to the doctors – that he, Fury, would get Sirius Black out of prison and to his bedside.
When he asked why, the answer he'd got was simply, "To apologise."
Of course, that now had a few other problems. Because, though Fury had brought some of his own medical staff to work on Wisdom, they were at St Mungo's. Which was in the British Wizarding World. Which Sirius was effectively exiled from.
He had, however, decided that his given word was more important than the feelings of Fudge and the British Wizarding Community, who, as a collective, he could not give less of a fuck about for several very good reasons, and had turfed Sirius out of bed and had him brought over by Bifrost gate.
He hadn't told him that it was his brother – by now awake. He'd simply pushed him into the room, shut the door, then leaned against the wall in a careful pose that combined comfort with a sense of 'if you fuck with me I will ram a red hot poker up your ass', and settled into wait. There had been shouting from inside, but none of the healers had tried to enter after Fury had glared at one of them and said, "Nothing to see here, just a family dispute."
This was technically true, but it left out a lot. Such as the fact that both brothers were wanted criminals – or rather, one was a wanted criminal, and the other had been a wanted criminal until his 'death', and would be a wanted criminal again if anyone figured out who he was.
But news had inevitably got around, including the identity of Fury's guest, leading to the second black spot. A group of five Aurors, led by one who Fury vaguely recognised. Dawlish, Fury thought his name was.
"Director Fury, I am Auror Dawlish from the DMLE and I have been informed that Sirius Black is -" Dawlish began.
"An innocent man," Fury said. Dawlish tried to push past him. Fury checked him effortlessly. Wizards tended not to be very muscular. Fury was. "You're not going in there."
"You have no authority here," another auror snarled, drawing his wand.
"He doesn't," a female voice said from behind them. "But not only is cursing the Director of SHIELD very stupid, if you're going after Sirius Black, you'll have to go through me."
The Aurors turned, and froze as they saw Wanda, who was striding towards them in a fashion that suggested that they could move out of her way or be moved. The choice was theirs.
"M-m-miss Maximoff," one stammered. "We weren't aware that you were..."
"Out of retirement?" she asked, turning and raising an eyebrow in a fashion that was simultaneously gorgeous and terrifying. Fury took a moment to appreciate the sight. "This is a one off. I owed Director Wisdom a favour."
There was a moment of silence, then Fury said, "You want my authority?" He hooked a thumb at her. "She's my authority." He smirked. "Her plus the knife I'm holding to your balls."
Dawlish looked down. Dawlish gulped and considered future actions and their groin related consequences. Dawlish wished that he hadn't come on this mission.
"You seem like a smart man, Dawlish," Fury said. "And I know just what you're thinking. You're thinking that if you go back to base and say that Sirius Black was long gone by the time you got here and that the friend he was visiting was Director Wisdom of MI13."
He paused and smiled as the other man's face drained of blood. Apparently he hadn't known who was in the room, otherwise he would have thought twice and brought someone junior enough to throw to the lions. Wisdom had a carefully cultivated and very well earned reputation for being an exceedingly dangerous man to cross.
Wanda, meanwhile, seemed to be enjoying the show. The other Aurors, on the other hand, weren't, split between their desire to help their leader and their desire to survive the evening, keeping one eye on Fury and Dawlish and the other eye on Wanda. This, Fury felt, was the most sensible thing he'd seen them do.
"Oh, you didn't know that?"
"Well, everyone makes mistakes," Fury said calmly. "Now, that's what you're thinking, right?" He pressed the knife slightly closer for emphasis. Dawlish nodded emphatically. "Good. You can go."
"Knife?" Dawlish said, voice high.
Fury removed the knife. Dawlish breathed a sigh of relief, saluted, then apparated away, followed by his fellows.
"You enjoyed that," Wanda said, amused.
"A little," Fury admitted. "People get frightened at the least little thing."
"Yes... You've changed," Wanda commented. "You're harder now. Colder. And much more dangerous." She frowned. "You don't look like you smile any more."
"Don't have much to smile about," Fury said, shrugging.
"No," Wanda said quietly. "You don't, do you?"
"You haven't had much to smile about yourself, the way I hear it," Fury said.
"I've got by," Wanda said, arranging herself against the wall beside Fury. "Are they having a little reunion?"
Fury glanced through the window. The two brothers were laughing and joking.
"Good," Wanda said.
"You should get to be with your family sometimes," Fury said.
"Well, since my family composes of my father and Pietro, my little brat of a half brother, forgive me if I'm not exactly eager to do that," Wanda said dryly.
"Your daughter might appreciate your company," Fury said casually.
Wanda froze. Then, slowly, her face relaxed into something cold and frightening. "If you speak of her existence to anyone," she said softly, with deadly sincerity. "I will dedicate my life to destroying you as slowly and painfully as I know how."
"I thought so," he said calmly. "That was what Wisdom blackmailed you with, wasn't it? Her existence."
"He's a good speaker," Wanda said after a moment. "He had me mostly convinced. And he didn't threaten to reveal her."
"What did he do?"
"He threatened to tell her."
Fury chuckled grimly. "That sounds like him," he said, and indeed it did. Minimum civilian risk, maximum emotional threat. "Before your arrival and Dresden's act tipped the balance, it was a damn close battle."
"I know why he did it," Wanda said quietly. "And that was Dresden? He's not... oh. His Death Curse?"
"The poor boy," she said softly. "He didn't even manage to kill Gravemoss."
"He saved Lady Sif from becoming one of that bastard's servants and one of SHIELD's best, as well as vaporising every single one of the veidrdraugar under Paris," Fury said. "And don't go mourning him yet. Your old mentor pulled a deus ex machina and brought him back."
"Stephen was there?" Wanda asked, astonished.
"Yeah. He's been more active recently too. Helped us out on the odd case," Fury said casually.
Wanda gave him a sharp look that said that she wasn't fooled by his tone, then chewed her lip. "That's… well, obviously it's good that I might actually see him for the first time in a decade, but when he gets involved…"
"Things get messy," Fury said grimly. "Yeah. I'm hoping that this is the worst of it."
Wanda snorted. "Since when were we that lucky?" she said derisively. "There's a necromancer out there with the Darkhold. One powerful enough to get people into Asgard." Something bright and furious flickered in her eyes for a moment. Her godson had been threatened, put in mortal danger, and for that the Scarlet Witch would have a reckoning. "They'll be quiet for a while. But they'll be back."
"And we'll be ready," Fury replied. He glanced at her. "Can I count on you?"
"I won't force you," Fury said, uncharacteristically gently. "And I'll tell Wisdom to back off if that's what you want. I owe you that much at least."
Wanda was silent for a moment, then said quietly, "My godson is in danger as long as those people are alive. Of course you can count on me, Nick."
"Thank you," Fury said.
They shared a companionable silence for a while. Then Sirius walked out, and started. "Wanda?" he said in disbelief.
"Hello, Sirius," Wanda said, smiling. But her tone was slightly tense. Sirius noticed it and his mouth went flat.
"So. You didn't adopt Harry."
"Not for lack of wanting to," Wanda said.
"Don't start, Sirius," Fury said. "The only people who have any right to call her to task are Lily, James and Harry. Lily's dead, Thor doesn't seem to have made an issue of it and Harry's accepted it."
"The hell I don't," Sirius snapped. "I'm his godfather, she's his godmother. One or both of us was meant to take care of him."
"And neither of you could do it," Fury said. "You were bound by literal chains, she was bound by metaphorical ones. But that doesn't mean they were any less tight where Harry was concerned."
Sirius glowered at him, then at Wanda.
"Sirius," Wanda said softly, fingers flicking and glowing red, bringing up a privacy enchantment. "I was Stephen's apprentice, and when I became Harry's godmother… I always thought that if the worst came to the worst, you, Peter or Nicholas would take him in. Remus and I could visit. But then… Peter betrayed Lily and James, you were framed – and yes, I knew you were innocent. You'd have had an easier job eating the Moon than betraying them. No, no one listened to me. Nicholas was barred by the fact he wasn't a blood relative, and, less obviously, because he wasn't magical. Remus… had his furry little problem. And me…" She shook her head. "Sirius, I had to abandon my own child for her own safety."
Sirius' head snapped round, eyes widening. "Constantine's?"
"Yes," Wanda said quietly.
"Oh," Sirius said, and a fair bit of the anger seeped out of him. "Well, that… that explains a few things. Did anyone else know?"
"Lily was her godmother. I wanted to give my daughter Lily as a middle name, but Lily dissuaded me, saying it was too risky, so instead, for her middle name, I went for a name that ran in Lily's mother's family for her. Jean," Wanda replied.
Sirius nodded slowly.
"There was no way I could take Harry in, when he'd have been at the same risks as her and worse. Both times, it was logical. Both times, was the only choice I had. Both times, it hurt more than I could bear."
She unconsciously crossed her arms under her breasts, hugging herself. "And it's killed me inside every day for the last fourteen years." She met his gaze. "You may hate me right now. But rest assured, Sirius, you cannot possibly hate me more than I hate myself. And I'm speaking as the daughter of the man who wrote the bloody book on hatred."
Sirius gave her a long look, then looked away sharply. "Your accent has changed," he said roughly.
"I moved to the States," Wanda replied.
"How is he?"
"In one piece, more or less," Sirius said. "Bloody idiot. Why didn't he tell me?"
"Because it would have put you both in danger," Fury said bluntly.
"I know that," Sirius said, shaking his head. "It's just…"
"No rational answer will satisfy you," Wanda said, and gave him a tight smile. "Daughter of Magneto. I've been there."
"You know," Sirius said. "I didn't believe you at first when you said you were his daughter, remember?"
"Yes. You were very tactless and Lily laid you out with one punch," Wanda said, lips twitching. "She had a vicious right hook."
"Merlin yes," Sirius muttered. "One thing I'll say for James' girlfriend, she's not violent."
"What's she like?"
"Sweet. Kind. Brilliantly clever. Spine of goblin steel," Sirius said. "She and Harry get on pretty well, after they got used to each other. She treats him as a sort of little brother." He grinned. "There are some pictures that Clint took early one morning that you have to see to believe. They are, dare I say it, adorable. So adorable that I had to drink three beers and make five rude jokes to regain my manly status."
"I look forward to seeing them," Wanda said, amused.
"You should. Clint loves showing them off," Sirius said casually. "Mostly to embarrass Jane and Harry."
Wanda was silent for a moment. "I'm not sure if I should go to the Tower yet," she said quietly. "Harry says that he's forgiven me, or at least, that he understands, but that's in the head. In the heart…" she shook her head. "Well, we're sticking to letters for now. And speaking of which, Harry should be getting my next letter soon."
"Soon?" Sirius asked, eyebrow raised.
"I haven't got used to sending letters by owl again," Wanda explained. "If he's more comfortable, we could email or instant message…"
Sirius looked blank. Email he'd got a basic grasp on, along with the internet. While living in the same house as Tony Stark, this was less gaining knowledge, more self defence. However, it was a broad strokes understanding.
"Instant message is like swapping notes through magically connected pieces of parchment," Wanda said. "But the range is worldwide."
"Ah," Sirius said wisely. He looked thoughtful. "Well, owl post isn't quite that fast, and I haven't sent any owls recently either, but if I had to make a guess… he'll probably receive the letter tomorrow."
"That," Fury muttered. "Should be interesting." He stood up. "Come on you two. We'd better get Sirius out of here before the locals get restless."
As of next chapter, Dumbledore and Thor will quickly part ways, Thor and Harry will chat with a bit of family fluff and Thor encouraging Harry on his quest to discover his family's past, promises to answer all questions, but warns him that he may not like what he finds. And he would be dead right about that.
If Wanda comes off as a little easily forgiven here, it's because Thor has anticipated this and had a few quiet talks with Sirius to the effect of 'I understand why she did what she did, so should you unless you want a lightning bolt up your arse'.
And, for the eagle eyed among you, Wanda's daughter's middle name being Jean is a honking great clue as to who the daughter is. And no, that daughter is not Jean. That is impossible on several separate levels.
Yeah, so the references to Isandhlwana and an African nation kicking European arse are products of my time in South Africa – I worked at a place called Fugitive's Drift, a historical lodge which primarily runs tours of the battlefields of Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift. Rorke's Drift is the battle immortalised in the film Zulu – great film, though inaccurate in some places. A pity, really – the story is more than exciting enough as it is.
The history of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 is lengthy and fascinating (I recommend David Rattray's audio book, Day of the Dead Moon, with accounts from both sides, British and Zulu, presented equally and fairly), but in summary, Britain's man, an ambitious sod called Sir Bartle Frere, in South Africa wanted to pull the whole of what is now South Africa under British rule.
The main obstacle to this was the Zulu Empire, referred to as 'the Black Spartans' for good reason for their military prowess (though I might argue that by this logic, you could refer to the Spartans as 'the White Zulus'), ruled by King Cetswayo (spellings differ), a truly remarkable man, and one who was anxious to maintain good relations with Britain, conducting a policy of damage limitation – when the British invaded on a carefully constructed pretext, his orders were to kick them out, no more.
The results were an absolute Curb Stomping at Isandhlwana, justly called a great Zulu victory. The British commander, Lord Chelmsford, was baited into running off with the majority of his force, chasing ghosts, while the main Zulu army, 25,000 men (though 4 or 5,000 essentially went to block the escape. These were the ones who got bored/wanted some of the action and attacked Rorke's Drift), advanced on the rest of the British force at Isandhlwana. Of 1700 highly trained, highly experienced, excellently equipped and very brave British soldiers – a Zulu who was there seemed to sum up general opinion when he said, 'ah! Those British, they fought like lions' – 55 survived. 55.
Rorke's Drift was a supply depot staffed by 139 British soldiers, 100 or so of whom were combat effective – the locally recruited soldiers having sensibly run like hell when they heard what happened at Isandhlwana – and got attacked by the previously mentioned force. Essentially, this was a bunch of men in their thirties or forties, proud warriors, who resented a) not being able to fight and b) the lack of opportunity to take part in the 'Washing of the Spears'. They had to have killed an enemy – in battle, not simply straight up murdering the guy – to be allowed to marry.
So they basically said, 'screw our orders', crossed the border, then sacrificed all tactical sense and ran straight in British riflefire at the hastily fortified Rorkes Drift. Also, the advantage of a night attack lies in the people with guns not being able to see you. Therefore, setting the thatch of a building on fire in order to smoke out some of your opponents and conveniently lighting up the entire battlefield is a touch counterproductive. Even so, numbers nearly told, until eventually after 12 hours of fighting, the Zulu's got tired of being shot and cut their losses.
King Cetswayo, a man with a sense of irony, punished them by a fine of five cattle each and, crucially, banning even those who had 'washed their spears' from marriage. So, essentially, they'd fought and died for nothing. It seems an appropriate metaphor for the campaign.
To this day, there is something of a sense of national embarrassment about Rorke's Drift in Zululand. All the Zulus really say is words to the tune of, 'oh, those bloody idiots who disobeyed their King and went to dig holes in the walls of a house of a man who'd never done us any harm.'
Of course, this all led to the British deciding that, no matter how unlawful the war – Frere had pulled a fast one on his superiors and lied his arse off to them in order to be granted the authority to start the war – their pride couldn't take it. So, six or so months later, despite some further defeats along the way, 16,000 men marched into Zululand, despite Cetswayo's repeated attempts to call for peace, and, armed to the teeth, goaded the Zulu's into the battle at the capital, Ulundhi, on an open plain. This was essentially a gigantic firing range for 16,000 powerful rifles, cannons and Gatling guns. The battle lasted for 40 minutes. Then the cavalry was unleashed and it was over.
So, yeah. A pointless war in which, nevertheless, a British army was destroyed by an African army in the field. History lesson ends.
Me, I reckoned that a similarly organised and well trained army led by one, if not two, Captain America level superhumans, equipped with modern weaponry (Wakanda is noted in canon to be ridiculously technologically advanced. My take is that, unlike in Marvel canon, due to a confluence of factors, it had an industrial revolution around the same time as Europe and developed in step, if not faster at points), would be pretty bloody scary to fight under any circumstances.